Friday, October 31, 2003

"Professor Timothy Mitchell, of the New York University Political Science Department, spoke on contemporary Middle East affairs in Ann Arbor on Thursday. Mitchell is among the more original and insightful thinkers about the region. One point he made was that successful democratization, whether in Japan, India or elsewhere, has always been preceded by land reform." Juan Cole.
Briefly before I give out for the night.
In re: Tapped and the the second of two posts on Al Sharpton.

"SHARPTON: We were the ones that worked with Saddam Hussein. The United States worked with bin Laden. I went in 2001 and met with Arafat at the insistence of the Israeli foreign minister. Would anyone here meet with Arafat, in terms of trying to get peace in the Middle East?
Let's put the hard questions out, Senator Lieberman. Would you meet with the head of the Palestinian Authority? (APPLAUSE)
In answer to your question, I think that Boykin's statement is wrong. This is not about one religion against another. It's about right versus wrong.
I said it earlier when we were talking about right to choose, one of the reasons I'm glad to be in this race is we're going to have the battle between the Christian right and the right Christians. (APPLAUSE)
IFILL: Senator Lieberman, you've got 30 seconds to . . . (APPLAUSE)
. . . you can hardly hear me -- Senator Lieberman, you've got 30 seconds to respond to Reverend Sharpton's statement. (APPLAUSE)
Senator Lieberman?"

Tapped: "The applause that followed Sharpton's demand seemed unpleasantly enthusiastic...
Sharpton has a long and unpleasant history with the Jewish community in New York, but in recent years he has been smart enough not to cross any obvious lines."

What the hell is wrong with anything Sharpton said here? Is the phrase 'the right Christians' now coded anti-semitism?
"...unpleasantly enthusiastic." Talk to me about the racial politics in Brooklyn, Ms. Franke-Ruta, when you are ready to go into detail. Until then you're talking crap.

[I had a lot more, but I was too angry. It's not worth it]
I'm trying to fix some lousy writing.
Another long week.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

I listened briefly this morning to Hollywood studio flack Jack Valenti do his spiel on downloading. I have to admit the people who defend it sound silly, much sillier than those who just shrug and push the button. And there's a reason for that.

People are lazy and easily corrupted. They try to get away with things, and are allowed to within the limited context of what the population as a whole considers normative. Exorbitant rent, ridiculous prices for goods and services, and absurdly high salaries for CEOs are accepted if not defended by the majority because in the name of personal freedom, we have decided that there should be limits on our ability to sanction or impose rules of behavior.

On a case by case basis downloading is a minor offense, with an economic impact only because it's popular. In the minds of the majority a petty crime is being redefined as an acceptable if not moral act. The people have spoken (and we are not after all talking about murder.) Hollywood and the rest should find another way to make money off their products.

This is an outline of a complex argument, but I'll leave that to somebody else.

Brad Delong on Luskin v. Luskin.
An interesting article in the Times on Tuesday on what physicists call the Anthropic Principle - in this case, the Weak Anthropic Principle. What interested me is that although WAP is being put forth only as a nonmathematical parameter for scientific, mathematical, research - we exist in this universe, so why not use our existence as a point of reference- those who are opposed to it seem irrationally to equate the inclusion of nonmathematical factors with a religious impulse. But the explicitly religious Strong Anthropic Principle, or SAP, is something else entirely.

If physicists can come around to the use of such terms, how long till mainstream economists become willing to factor non-mathematical criteria into their calculations? It's not quite the same situation, but the fear in the hearts of purists is the same. And it clarifies the relationship as it has developed between individualism and the hard sciences.
8 AM Friday:

Of course economists use non-mathematical criteria. To say otherwise as I did above, is silly. And the result of WAP is to make physics more like economics: my point was perfectly backwards. But greed, unlike our presence in the universe, is both a constant and a variable, and as such is a subject for sociology and literature as much as- more than- mathematics. The use of various mathematically derived, simplistic and explicitly vulgar 'constants' in economics reduces the complexity of human behavior to its lowest common denominator. Technocracy is banality. The Weak Anthropic Principle, by comparison, is simple logic.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

I'm exhausted, but at least I'll add a link. I ran into an old acquaintance at the memorial on Sunday. So here are Simon Grennan and Christopher Sperandio. The Kartoon Kings.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

I have a little time and chance gives my my subject:
Read Chris Bertram on why he likes this quote from Colin McGinn.

The metaphor that best captures my experience with both philosophy and sport is soaring: pole vaulting, gymnastics and windsurfing clearly demonstrate it, but the intellectual highwire act involved in full-throttle philosophical thinking gives me a similar sensation - as if I have taken flight, leaving gravity behind. It is almost like sloughing off mortality. (Plato indeed thought that acquiring abstract knowledge is a return to the prenatal state of the immortal soul.) There is also an impressiveness to these physical and mental skills that appeals to me - they evoke the “wow” reflex. Showing off is an integral part of their exercise; but as I said earlier, I don’t have any objection to showing off. In any case, there is not, for me, the discontinuity between sports and intellectual activities that is often assumed. It is not that you must either be a nerd or a jock; you can be both. It has never surprised me that the ancient Greeks combined a reverence for the mind with a love of sports: both involve an appreciation of the beauties of technique skilfully applied. And both place a high premium on getting it right - exactly right.

One thing here should be obvious to anyone who considers himself either thoughtful or observant. And that is that unlike philosophers and scientists, artists and athletes are more interested in being good than 'right.' Sport is skill. And even allowing for the comparison of athletics to intellect, there's no such thing as "exactly right" when you're competing against another human being. There is no strategy without context

"There's a Sucker Born in Every Medial Prefrontal Cortex" The NY Times Magazine

Measuring brand influence might seem like an unusual activity for a neuroscientist, but Montague is just one of a growing breed of researchers who are applying the methods of the neurology lab to the questions of the advertising world. Some of these researchers, like Montague, are purely academic in focus, studying the consumer mind out of intellectual curiosity, with no corporate support. Increasingly, though, there are others -- like several of the researchers at the Mind of the Market Laboratory at Harvard Business School -- who work as full-fledged ''neuromarketers,'' conducting brain research with the help of corporate financing and sharing their results with their sponsors. .

Saturday, October 25, 2003

I posted this a few months ago, but for various reasons, personal and otherwise, I'll post it again as a link today.
Have a good weekend.
Another long week. I wake up from a long dream not sure where the world ends and I begin. Politics is draining, not the discussion of it but the experience. I need to sit by myself to remember how to think rather than just react.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold
I turned on the stereo when I fell out of bed and got my bearings listening to early Schoenberg: simple, almost vulgar narrative. No wonder he became an ultramodernist. If not for that he would have ended up doing film scores for Errol Flynn. Listening to Verklarte Nacht I keep imagining Olivia de Havilland staring out a window.
From Childhood I associate Chopin with Charlie Chaplin, and not the other way around.

This weekend is going to be pretty busy as well, most of it taken up with a long going away party for my friend Colin de Land, who died a few months ago. A small party tonight; tomorrow at the great hall at Cooper Union; and a concert tomorrow night at CB's. I think Debby Harry is playing, and Lou Reed may show up. I'm a minor player in this scene, on the outer reaches of the inner circle, but need to be there. And it should be fun. It's not going to clear my head however.

From The Times:

"But in his parliamentary appearance, Mr. Hu went beyond economics by painting China as an all-around global player that was reaching out for broad diplomatic and cultural relations, including an increase in the already tens of thousands of Chinese students attending Australian universities.
In contrast, Mr. Bush in his address on Thursday, dwelled on a narrow agenda of the campaign against terrorism, and his gratitude to Australia for sending troops to Iraq.
The biggest difference was in style, with an almost complete role reversal of what might be expected. The Chinese leader was gregarious; the American president, aloof.
Mr. Bush left after 21 hours in Australia, stuck to this sleepy capital, and was whisked around in motorcades on routes swept clear of ordinary people. He declined to hold a news conference, and was criticized in the usually pro-American press here for offering little beyond a pledge to complete the outline of a free trade agreement with Australia soon.
Mr. Hu is lingering for three days. He took the traditional outing for visiting dignitaries — a cruise on Sydney's splendid harbor. He met with Australian business executives at a working lunch, and, in an unusual move for a Chinese leader, held a news conference, albeit a fairly scripted affair.
'Bush came, Hu conquered,' headlined the Financial Review, the conservative, business newspaper"

If I were much of a nationalist...
But I gave that up for Lent years ago.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Krugman on Mahathir Mohamad:
"At that time, rather than accept the austerity programs recommended by the U.S. government and the I.M.F., he loudly blamed machinations by Western speculators, and imposed temporary controls on the outflow of capital — a step denounced by all but a handful of Western economists. As it turned out, his economic strategy was right: Malaysia suffered a shallower slump and achieved a quicker recovery than its neighbors."

He doesn't mention his position at the time. My first thought is that he was not one of that 'handful' but I don't want to make any assumptions.

update: Crooked Timber.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Go read Riverbend.
I had a short paragraph on Easterbrook, with links to Atrios and Josh Marshall, but it got lost due to an accident before I clicked 'publish.' The gist of it was this:
The charges of anti-semitism are overblown, but the piece itself is awful for any number of other reasons. Easterbrook, whoever he is, is an unsophisticated putz. And it doesn't say much about the Washington press corps that it can only criticize stupidity in its ranks as a means of self defense.
How the hell did David Brooks ever get a job at the Times?

Sunday, October 19, 2003

James Atlas has a piece in the Times today about Hitchens and Berman and the neoconservatives. Ignoring the facts on the ground in a way that seems absolutely bizarre, Atlas' argument only confirms the obvious: shallow self indulgent liberalism will become lazy conservatism, and the serious responsible left –sorry Christopher– has to hope that right wing realists will save the day.
Someday someone will write a critique of the the events of the sixties focusing on the final destruction of community and the rise of technocratic individualism. And the person who writes it won't be a liberal.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

"Those in Congress who voted for the loan are motivated by domestic political considerations. This is not new. Underlying it is something legitimate: the Bush Administration has redirected huge resources while neglecting the domestic economy. It failed to deal effectively with the recession, and it suffers the proliferation of service cuts in state and local governments. People are saying, how about some charity at home? One can hardly blame them."

The problem is that most members of congress agreed with Bush, or at least agreed to follow him, and now are trying to back away from the only appropriate action- appropriate by their own definition since they would never choose to cede authority to the UN- out of concern for "domestic political considerations." So yes I do blame them, as I blame those they represent.

"A hundred years ago, the radical Randolph Bourne opined, "war is the health of the state." Imperialism requires domestic tranquility, and that costs money. In U.S. history, every great military venture was accompanied by expansion of the welfare state, strengthening of the tax system, and measures to forge cross-class national unity. A cross-dressing Maggie Thatcher could never pass for Bismarck. Bush probably doesn't know who Bismarck was. He's not up to the job of empire-building, and he's too stupid to back down. It seems more and more likely that elites -- by whom I do not mean Barbara Streisand and Alec Baldwin -- will do their best to bring down this incompetent Administration."

I've been arguing this from the beginning, but Max states it well. Maxspeak
And again though it's a week late.
What I like is the way there is a no separation between storytelling and description. There is no falsely neutral scientific 'objectivity.' She takes sophistication for granted. It's so fucking un-American.
She writes well and has a nasty, almost patrician, sense of humor. If she were British, she'd probably vote Conservative; but she's not British she's Iraqi...

Evening Tea and Turkish Troops.
"It's like this: imagine America being invaded and occupied by, say, North Korea. (Note: I only say 'North Korea' because of the cultural differences between the US and North Korea, and the animosity.... I, unlike Chalabi, am not privileged to information on WMD, etc.) Imagine Korean troops invading homes, detaining people and filling the streets with tanks and guns. Then imagine North Korea deciding it 'needed help' and bringing in?. Mexico. And you ask, "But why Mexico?!" and the answer is, "Well, Mexicans will understand you better because the majority of Americans are Christian, and the majority of Mexicans are Christian- you'll all get along famously." Riverbend
"No idea's original, there's nothing new under the sun. It's never what you do, but how it's done."

Thursday, October 16, 2003

I've had a very busy week.

Monday, October 13, 2003

"The Former Republican Communications Staffers and Speechwriters Group of Washington." aka "FREAKSHOW."
And again.
Mark Kleiman again, this time commenting on the possibility of charging both the leaker and Novak with fraud:
"It would be a horrible travesty if the Plame scandal became the means by which we adopted an Official Secrets Act via the back door."
Yes it would. And it's why I've argued against encouraging chants of 'Treason!.'

Saturday, October 11, 2003

When Mark Kleiman goes on a tear, I'll follow him sometimes even if I can't share his anger: my interest in the Wilson/Plame affair is practical. But he's also the only other person I've read who has responded to the Vatican's policy on birth control, in the age of AIDS, in a way appropriate to the crime: "Makes you want to believe in Hell, doesn't it?"
Yes it does.
"Economics101b: Fall 2003: Problem Set 2 Due at start of section on September 9. 1. Consider an economy with the production function: (Y/L) = (K/L)a(E)1-a a. Suppose a = 1/3, E=1, L=100, and K=64; what is output per worker Y/L? b. Suppose a = 1/3, E=3, L=196, and K=49; what is output per worker Y/L? c. If both capital K and labor L double, what happens to total output Y? (Not output per worker Y/L, but total output.) d. Holding E=1, suppose that capital per worker increases from 2 to 4 and then from 4 to 6. What happens to output per worker? 2. Would the balanced-growth path of output per worker be shifted upward, shifted downward, or remain the same if capital were to become more durable--if the rate of depreciation on capital were to fall? 3. Consider an economy in which the depreciation rate is 3% per year, the rate of population increase is 2% per year, the rate of technological progress is 1% per year, and the private savings rate is 19% of GDP. Suppose that the government increases its budget deficit--which had been at 1% of GDP for a long time--to 4% of GDP and keeps..." Brad Delong.

It may seem odd but I can't read things like this without feeling a certain despair. The words describe a philosophy of relative value. I've spent the last half hour trying to find a comment I made recently to the effect that individualism as an ideology is destructive to individuality as lived experience; that freedom is destructive to the notion of choice. Anyway, I can't find it, and I'm almost out of time, but the exercises described above make me want to act in an even less predictably 'economic' way than I do already. I want my individuality back [sic].

Remember I'm a construction worker:
Sheetrock is the modern replacement for plaster applied over wood or metal lath. It's economical to use, and in relative terms the two are identical: they serve the same purpose. But sheetrock is cheap and flimsy. It sucks. It's the 'Big Mac' of building materials. And it is ubiquitous.
I gotta go, but part II of this if I get around to it- and the timing is perfect- is to discuss an acceptance of cultural givens and values and truths, including my defense of plaster and brick, or stone or craft itself, as representing 'absolute' values. "Absolute Value? You mean like the Pope?"

It's sloppy but it's a start.

To begin with, here's David Brooks' defense of the of the begetter of crimes against humanity.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

I'm coming close to making an argument for the banality of all scientific discourse, whenever that discourse itself is seen as the engine of change. The notion of a 'scientific imperative' is beginning to disgust me. And, of course, I have no interest in a 'return' to religion.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

This is disgusting. This is evil: "The Catholic Church is telling people in countries stricken by Aids not to use condoms because they have tiny holes in them through which the HIV virus can pass - potentially exposing thousands of people to risk. The church is making the claims across four continents despite a widespread scientific consensus that condoms are impermeable to the HIV virus. A senior Vatican spokesman backs the claims about permeable condoms, despite assurances by the World Health Organisation that they are untrue."

I don't have it in me even to ask how officials of the church can imagine they serve a moral purpose. Catholicism has become a parody of itself. It has become murderous kitsch. I wish death upon this man. I wish death upon the pope.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Waiting to pick up a Pizza I walked into a local electronics store to browse. The DVD of The Matrix Reloaded was playing on one of the large flat panel screens. Watching it and the blank affectless expressions of the characters, what struck me was that the moral esthetic of the film is one of a sort of autistic perfection, a supreme competence predicated on nothing more than itself.

When wisdom is irrelevant all that there is left to judge is skill. The esthetics of information is based on this assumption, being a philosophy of tools and techniques rather than of their use. It's the philosophy of Neat -'That's neat!'- an esthetic of preadolescent invention, the worldview that considers science fiction a noble art. I'm amazed at how many people refer to Tolkien. And now we have Neil Stephenson. How much acquired knowledge can you put into 800 pages?
That seems to be the only point. It's the MENSA theory of value, sprung from the minds of half-educated youth, and it is mind numbing, good only for libertarians and narcissists.

It's been commented on before by others, but Sebald in On The Natural History of Destruction writes well about post war Germany and the moral philosophy of empty perfection that gave birth to the economic miracle.
Gerhard Richter, Eight Gray (Acht Grau), 2002 

From Altercation
I hadn't realized Nathan Newman has put up three posts on the Wilson/Plame story. I linked to the second one yesterday. Here is the first, with a list of agency crimes, and here is today's.
My only comment would be to add that we 'need' the CIA only because of our position in the world, a position that is not and has never been predicated on morality. Operatives may perform good deeds, and feel proud of doing so, but that's not their job. Every small independent state needs ways of gathering information, but we are not a small independent state, and except in our collective imagination, haven't been one for a long time. If Valerie Plame is such a paragon of virtue, why doesn't she work for the UN? I would probably say it's because she puts her country first.
And how is that the 'moral' choice?
And Assad's intelligent response.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Bush has backed Sharon. The stupidest thing he could possibly have done.
I've deleted the Schwarzenegger post from yesterday. The tone was offensive. I wasn't taking his actions seriously enough, and my comments on the schism between social conservatives and the neocons was wishful thinking. But there's a thought that victory could cause problems for his party, as the Times has noted, and now considering how much is coming out, his victory may become something of a disaster. If the election were two weeks away, I don't think he'd have a chance. And even if he pulls it out it's quite possible that he, and not his wife will be seen as damaged goods.
Thank you Nathan.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

Atrios displays his know nothing sense of decency. I find it amazing that the citizens of this country, even the "advanced" ones, are so often so willing to claim a right to ignorance about those things they haven't bothered to learn. It's embarrassing.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Reuters "Four months after the Security Council ordered an independent board to monitor U.S. spending of Iraq's oil revenues, diplomats on Thursday accused the United States of blocking it from taking up its duties.
The diplomats blamed the delay on U.S. disagreements with the designated members of the as-yet nonexistent International Advisory and Monitoring Board over its duties. The board was to be created under a May 22 Security Council resolution."
Analaura Esparza.
"Until October last year, Mr Kay was the vice-president of a major San Diego-based defence contractor, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), co-ordinating its homeland security and counter-terrorism initiatives. It was while he held this role that he claimed that Iraq could launch terrorist attacks on the US mainland...

SAIC's spokesman acknowledged earlier this year that the company is deeply involved in the current war in Iraq, including its role in leading a $650m contract for services and support for the US army. Among other activities, the company runs the US-funded radio station in Umm Qasr, "Voice of the New Iraq", and helps to provide senior advisers to the US occupation authorities in Baghdad. It is not known if Mr Kay retains financial interests in SAIC."
The Independent
Mark Kleiman makes reference to the an op-ed in the LA Times by the despicable Philip Agee. Now, remind me, what was the CIA doing in South America in the 60's?
As Kleiman would say... "Riiiiight."
There is a conflict in Agee's piece. What defines the "appropriate kind of exposure" that he defends? But is morality always bound by the same distinctions as law? C'mon kids, you know the answer. Life is a set of actions, law a set of rules. The two have a relation to each other but one is always more complex than the other; that's why we have literature. And, of course, if life is forced to be as simple as the law, we have no freedom.

My mother likes to quote E.M.. Forster: "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I would have the guts to betray my country." The first time I heard her say that -many years ago- I was a little shocked. I said, "Well, it should depend on the country." She was nonplused.
I still don't agree with her, but I appreciate the thought. Sorry Mr. Kleiman.

"...if life is forced to be as simple as the law, we have no freedom." [??]
I should have written 'imagination' rather than 'life.' They're not the same thing obviously, but imagination implies an option to act outside the law, and having that option is the definition of freedom.
This is getting silly. How hard would it be for an agent of a foreign power to find out the name of the Valerie Plame's 'employer' using previously available public information? I sincerely hope, for the sake of her contacts Ms Wilson/Plame was working in countries with a relationship to us no more antagonistic than Sweden.
This is a Republican debacle, and I'm enjoying it fully, but if they go after Novak himself, it will set a bad precedent.
And then I'll have to reverse my reversal of opinion about liberal demogoguery, if only because -in this case- it will be serving the forces of reaction.
Suzanne Goldenberg returns to Iraq.

Friday, October 03, 2003

Rereading my last post some of it frankly sounds silly. Liberal demagoguery is too oxymoronic for me or anyone else to call risky; it's stupid and that's all. As I've said I'm back at work and writing at the ends of long days, if that's an excuse, but I have no patience for partisans of the democratic party.
I'm tempted to say on occasion that I don't have a dog in this fight, but I do. It's just that the lesser of two evils, while less dangerous- and George Bush is a dangerous man- is no less banal.
And I'm a snob, with lungs full of dust.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Two points on hypocrisy.
Limbaugh is falling and everyone understands why. Shut up and let him do it on his own.

It's not as if Valerie Plame went around the world calling herself 'Mildred Natwick.' She used her maiden name, and is listed in "Who's Who" as both Plame and Wilson. If that's deep cover, it's amateurish. And I'm more than a little uncomfortable with anyone yelling treason!, whomever they're accusing. Am I really supposed to make a principled defense of the CIA? I'd be happier defending the Catholic Church.
All that we need to do is to continue pointing out the hypocrisy of the Republican right; there's there's no need to wrap ourselves in the flag while we're at it. It's stupid, and it's risky.

The above refers more to the take at Buzzflash and The Horse, than it does to Mark Kleiman who's less partisan, and more interested in principle (though not ones I share.) Still, he links to an article in the NY Daily News that has some new information on Plame's job, without even mentioning the absurd context: "She's the perfect spy Outed CIA agent had glamour job & looks to match."
I glad -I'm relieved- all this is happening, and I take it all very seriously. But that doesn't mean I have to take the people involved very seriously.
Sometimes I feel optimistic. But then I think it's probably just despair.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

I'll leave the Wilson/Plame affair to everyone else, I'm waiting for the next explosion. But I've read that the Zinni and Johnson interviews are not getting a lot of play, so if you haven't seen them heard them or read them, you'll find the links a few inches down the page, in my last post.
"World War II had its "krauts," Vietnam had its "gooks," and now, the War on Terrorism has its own dehumanizing name: "hajji. "
That's what many U.S. troops across Iraq and in coalition bases in Kuwait now call anyone from the Middle East or South Asia. Soldiers who served in Afghanistan say it also is used there.
Among Muslims, the word is used mainly as a title of respect. It means "one who has made the hajj ," the pilgrimage to Mecca .
That's not how soldiers use it.
Some talk about "killing some hajjis" or "mowing down some hajjis." One soldier in Iraq inked "Hodgie Killer" onto his footlocker." News and Observer
It's a snide piece of work in the English manner. I read it a few days ago but now Alterman has linked to it so I have to comment: "The man who 'sexed up' literary theory believes that postmodernism is dead."
I like reading Terry Eagleton but I hated reading Christina Patterson, so I'll keep it simple. And besides, I'm tired.
No, Postmodernism is not dead; the ideology of Postmodernism is dead, just as the ideology of Modernism came into being long after the era it hoped to describe was born, and died before it ended. Postmodernism is not an ideology but an epoch, and it will be here for quite a while.
It's been a long day. I'm back at work.