Saturday, January 31, 2004

Humanism and good writing both are in limited supply on the web. It's a thing made by and for conceptualists: ideas matter, not the forms they take. It may be important to eat and have a roof over one's head, but it doesn't matter if the roof is made of tin, the walls are made of sheetrock, and the food comes as a pill. So I wander through discussions of technology, linguistic analysis, and economic theory, references to Star Trek and Tolkien, and 'best of' lists that are predicated on such ignorance I can have no response.
People who are interested in, who take pleasure in, the strength and flexibility of language have other things to do and other ways to keep themselves engaged. The only exceptions I've found, the only others more interested in means than ends, for whom the idea of 'content' is implicitly, and in one case explicitly, vulgar are women:
two observant Muslims and a Jewish whore.
We know that after 9/11 there were intense battles pitting the Intelligence Community against political appointees in the administration and that those battles were over almost every aspect of the Iraqi threat: nuclear weapons capacity, ties to terrorism, whether Saddam would use his arsenal against the United States, degrees of certainty about the state of Saddam’s chemical and biological programs, everything.
We know of many points of controversy. And, to the best of my knowledge, every last one involved administration politicals pressing for more extreme and ominous interpretations of the Iraqi threat against skeptical members of the Intelligence Community. Every last one.
Josh Marshall.

Someone should send Hutton a copy of the Carnegie report. The BBC should should have stood their ground, and they had better start to now.
Nathan and I disagee.

Friday, January 30, 2004

The Bad News and the Good:
Monsanto, the world's largest genetically modified seed company, has been awarded patents on the wheat used for making chapati - the flat bread staple of northern India..
The Guardian
However, Mr Scalia's protestations of neutrality have met outrage, with nearly two dozen newspaper editorials calling for Mr Scalia to step aside. Their fury has not been abated by the refusal of the chief justice, William Rehnquist, to ask Mr Scalia to stand down.
Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte
For no one reason in particular, but for a few: Louis Feuillade.
I've seen only Barrabas, in one long -six hour- afternoon, at MoMA. It was astonishing.

I spent a lot of time in Tom Gunning's classes, though I was never one of his students. Once we were at a lecture by his old teacher Jay Leyda, at the opening of a series of early silent films at the Whitney. I think this was about 1987. My girlfriend worked for the Whitney's film curator, and at the same time I had gone back to Purchase to finish my degree. Leyda was old and frail, and spoke with a knowledge and affection for the history of film that seemed odd for a man his age. He spoke like someone who had discovered his life's work in childhood, and who not only loved movies but understood their importance, and had done so from the first. In the car going back up to Westchester I mentioned this to Tom.
"But what's Leyda's degree in?"
"Film Studies"
"At his age, where did he get a degree in Film Studies?"
"Who'd he study with?"
There's an attitude in Godard, despite the assertions of wanting to converse, that says, Don't argue or cross me about such things. And this book does not alter the notion of his brilliant immaturity. The most fascinating point of all applies more broadly than to Godard; it reaches out to anyone who believes that film is more important than the world. Maybe film is not the great new language of engagement with the world that Bazin hoped it would be. Perhaps it is, instead, a vehicle more suited to dreaming, sensationalism and not wanting to grow up. Perhaps language--the construct of words--was always subtler, deeper and more humane.

Here's a remarkable passage from Godard the young theorist, writing in 1956, trying to pin down the virtues of and the affinity between cinematography and montage: 
If direction is a look, montage is a heartbeat. To foresee is the characteristic of both: but what one seeks to foresee in space, the other seeks in time. Suppose you notice a young girl in the street who attracts you. You hesitate to follow her. A quarter of a second. How to convey this hesitation? Mise-en-scène will answer the question 'How shall I approach her?' But in order to render explicit the other question 'Am I going to love her?' you are forced to bestow importance on the quarter of a second during which the two questions are born. It may be, therefore, that it will be for the montage rather than the mise-en-scène to express both exactly and clearly the life of an idea or its sudden emergence in the course of the story. 
How odd that this furious analysis misses the clarity, the exact hesitation, with which words have evoked the moment. It reminds me of a scene in My Life to Live where the philosopher Brice Parain tells a story from Dumas's Twenty Years After: how Porthos puts a bomb in a cellar, and as he walks away with head down, notices the movement of his own legs. How does that happen? he wonders. The mystery transfixes him, and he is killed in his own explosion. "In sum, the first time he thought, it killed him." 

There's a lost writer in Godard, to be sure, and it's never clearer than in those lovely and poignant places where he actually writes on film--the hand, the curling of the letters, the line of sense. Could it be the ultimate lesson in Godard's career that plunging into the dark was a misreading of his map? 
Probably the best brief description of the intellectual and esthetic limitations of cinema, and of the life and works of its greatest fan, that I have ever read. David Thomson in The Nation

Thursday, January 29, 2004

And don't forget The Carnegie Report:
Last week, the non-partisan Carnegie Endowment for International Peace issued a 111-page report entitled “WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications.” The report concludes that “Administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq's WMD and ballistic missile program” by treating possibilities as fact and “misrepresenting inspectors' findings in ways that turned threats from minor to dire.” The report also charges that U.S. officials “politicized” the intelligence process to help its arguments for war.
Within minutes of asking for help with blogger's syndication feature, I wrote, published, rewrote and republished a post at least five times.
I annoy enough people already. Syndication would piss off the few I like.
It didn't work anyway, and now it's gone.
Courtesy of Atrios:

The Center For American Progress.

Imminent Semantics
KAY IGNORES THE FACTS: But Kay's remarks are belied by the facts. Numerous intelligence agencies of the U.S. government – including the CIA, DIA, DoE and an arm of the State Department – warned the White House that there was inadequate evidence to definitively establish that Iraq possessed chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. (Read the detailed list of pre-invasion intelligence warnings). The Financial Times reports the international community also expressed their doubts.
That's what I want more of.
CT send us to The Economist, which says George Bush and Tony Blair exaggerated, but they did not lie.

So the BBC is in danger, because of what exactly?
I want more. Either Cheney was lying last week, or he belongs in a fucking nut house.
Pick one.
More from Crooked Timber.

The Teenager is an idiot.
I don't know where to begin.
A Journey Through Genocide.
There is Houy the deputy head of security, Khan the torturer, Thi who kept the registers, who all seem detached as they recall, almost wistfully, Khmer Rouge ideology; and there is Poeuv, indoctrinated as a guard at the age of 12 or 13. In one spellbinding sequence, he becomes robotic, as if seized by his memory and transported back. He shows us, with moronic precision, how he intimidated prisoners, fastened their handcuffs and shackles, gave or denied them food, ordered them to piss, threatening to beat them with "the club" if a drop fell on the floor. His actions confront all of us with the truth about human "cogs" in machines whose inventors and senior managers politely disclaim responsibility, like the still untried Khmer Rouge leaders and their foreign sponsors.
I'm waiting for more from anyone on the Hutton report and future of the BBC. And I'm waiting for more comments like this on David Kay.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Juan Cole.
Helena Cobban's interview with Shiite thinker Abdulaziz Sachedina of the University of Virginia is a must-read contribution. Sachedina has recently been to Iran and moved among the Shiites. Interestingly, he seems to think that there is more support for Muqtada al-Sadr than for Sistani except in Basra. From a distance, I would say that Sistani has more general, but vaguer authority, whereas the devotees of Muqtada are really devoted. Sachedina doesn't think Sistani has read Gandhi or knows his philosophy, but allows that some of his followers may have. He believes that Sistani wanted to get the UN involved in the Iraqi elections, and that was one of the real goals of his recent activism. I concur entirely.

Monday, January 26, 2004

I looked at Sitemeter today and found a link from google to this post. Rereading it now, it's a bit rough, but all in all not bad. Here's one paragraph:

What is it Kitsch?
We live in a world of language. We comminicate by way of language. As I wrote elsewhere, the difference between a lover who sounds convincing when expressing his/her love and one who sounds like a fool, is the language. It is the language or the gesture that 'convinces'. It is the telling of the story that makes someone into a convert, to love or christianity, not the story.
The interesting thing, to me, about religion is that it elides the obvious: that it is the mediating form that attracts people to one specific faith or another. The language of faith/ the rhetoric of faith/ the demonstration of faith... is faith. We can not escape the means of communication and mediation, even, or especially, when that escape is the object of our desire. It's all brilliantly circular, though no believer can accept such a definition.
But what is kitsch? Kitsch is unmediated faith. It is the equivalence of the plastic Jesus with Michangelo's Pieta. That is a standard definition. But what does it mean? It is belief without rhetoric. In a sense it is the only actual demonstration of a faith in something outside of language, or out of the world. It is the only example of a faith where the rules of rhetoric and representation do not apply. And that very fact makes it off limits to discourse; makes it considered absurd, even by the vast majority of the faithful.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Gone for the day.

It's Sunday, go read Belle
Happy New Year:
PARIS, Jan. 24 - The Eiffel Tower turned red to celebrate the Chinese New Year on Saturday, but it might just as well be blushing at the country's ardent embrace of all things Chinese on the eve of the Chinese president's arrival here.

President Hu Jintao's first state visit to France, which begins Monday, coincides with the 40th anniversary of the two countries' diplomatic relations. The anniversary is being commemorated with a national, government-sponsored campaign that has produced an outpouring of Orientalism in the French capital.

As part of the country's "Year of China" promotion, officials closed Paris' grand avenue, the Champs-?lys?es, on Saturday afternoon for a huge parade dominated by a dancing dragon ? the first time the avenue has been taken over by an intrinsically non-French event since German troops marched down it during World War II.
Chalk the Gallic eagerness up to China's market potential and its emerging role as a strategic node in the multipolar world that both France and China hope will eventually supplant the world's sole-superpower status quo.


The New Manchester:
"If Marx could see Guangdong today he would die of anger," says Dai Jianzhong, a labor relations expert at the Beijing Academy of Social Science. "From that perspective, China is speeding in reverse."
Not surprisingly, Chinese officials do not put it that way, and few here believe that China needs another Marxist revolution. Nor would Communist Party officials say that democracy, rather than an authoritarian political system, is needed to bring greater social justice to China.

Still, Communist leaders increasingly seem convinced that neither economic growth nor China's tattered legacy of socialist laws will prevent social unrest, even violent upheaval of the kind that helped bring the party to power in 1949.

President Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, have vowed to raise peasant incomes and stop the most egregious abuse of workers. Executives of multinational corporations say they have a harder time getting appointments with Mr. Wen and Mr. Hu than they did in the past.

"Inequality these days is too stark to be ignored," says Kang Xiaoguang, a leading political analyst in Beijing. "The party has begun to recognize that its legitimacy cannot come from economic reform as such. It needs to stress fairness and justice."
Talking Head Sunday.
Gay marriage and the President's duty to upold the Constitution, with examples: the right to visit a partner in a hospital and to inherit property. "I'm not personally supportive of gay marriage but I'm a supporter of rights in America, and I think we have to protect rights"

Kerry plays it very smart, everything down the middle, which still makes Bush seem out on the fringe.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Damage/grammar control. I can pretty much guarantee that if I throw off a few paragraphs without thinking, and they hold up well -or more than well- on later inspection, the next post, written the same way, will be crap.
Reading around the political blogs, Marshall, Atrios et al.:
If the Democrats continue to play the sincerity card, they'll continue to lose.
Esthetics as Ethics.
Astaire v. Kelly: A study in classical rhetoric and communication.
The one a performer of popular dance, brought to perfection on its own terms and thus to a level of art.
The other a trained artist working in a popular medium, engaged in a process of esthetic 'elevation.'
The first interested in issues of formal value, non formal issues being taken as given, the second in intellectual value under the assumption that givens are such are no longer applicable.
The former 'conservative'
the latter 'liberal.'
The one restrained/ The other free.
The one Early, the other Late.

"Political emancipation is the reduction of man, on the one hand, to a member of civil society, to an egoistic, independent individual, and, on the other hand, to a citizen, a juridical person."

I could argue with much of what Scott Martens says here. For one thing I have no fear of Islam at all. As I've said more than once, Islam is the only religion at this point for which I have any respect, because it is the only modern religion that still exists as an 'order' of language. When religion becomes a hobby it becomes meaningless.

As I wrote in an email to Riverbend a while ago, Islam is becoming the new Judaism in that it's returning to us a sort of scholastic rigor born of religious debate. But this happens only as Islamic thought becomes secularized, as Germanic culture was transformed by Jewish assimilation.

The quote from Marx is lovely. Legal argument is the only form of reasoning in secular society which is acknowleged to allow, indeed to demand, a sense both of absurdity and of formal intellectual rigor. Again and again I return to the notion of 'imperfect justice' not as the product of a philosophy but its manifestation.

I used to work with a sheetrock taper who had a few phrases he used to mumble or yell on occasion apropos of nothing, while we were on the job. We'd be working in silence and suddenly I'd hear a shout: "I see!! said the blind man!" followed often, as if roared from a pulpit by: "Members...of the Jury." And a chorus of women would reply in song: Yeeeeeaaaaaahhs!!!

Say 'Amen,' somebody.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Keith M. Ellis, another comment writer from Crooked Timber [not a member as I had said previously] wrote me a note this evening. He was perfectly reasonable, though I had not been.
Here's what I wrote him in response. Sloppiness, Typos whatever:

I'm very tired. I'll respond in as much detail as I can later. People are rude in these arguments. To not take someone's ideas seriously is to insult them and that's all well and good. But I have a hatred of a sort of over determined intellectualism. 'designer's disease' I heard it called recently, maybe on CT. Linguistic analysis as a tool for the observation of and commentary upon the world, as opposed to merely upon itself, is something I find absurd. The study of internally consistent systems is not philosophy it is simply formal logic. The scientization [is that the word?] of all intellectual discourse frankly disgusts me. If you'll read my blog, however, you'll find I have no interest in religion or metaphysics. The truth of science, however, is used to reinforce the truth of the market and a technocratic ideal. Individuals become defined as unidirectional in their interests, and even choose to define themselves as such. This saddens me. Scientists who go to museums to see how the other half lives don't count for much.
My interest in legal argument as experience, as opposed to legal philosophy as idea -as science- comes from my interest in the inevitability of ambiguity in communication. I have no interest in systems or ideas as objects and quanta. I am interested in relations between and among those ideas and objects. I am interested in narrative: with all its limitations the basis of any and all understanding of the world AS WE EXPERIENCE IT. The curiosity basic to science- the search for concrete truths- is simple by comparison. A mathematician may by brilliant and 8 years old. A lawyer will not.

To equate consciousness with a clean functioning system, a model, as if to work towards an end is to make an argument from a teleology of mechanical process: it is rooted in history as much as in science. It also does not do a very good job of explaining how we actually behave. Create a computer with a desire- a need- to exist, to function. Create a program that learns by way of conditioned response Give that computer obstacles and threats to it's survival, and problems whose solutions contradict its reflexes, and it will become conscious. It will doubt.

It's never a matter of ideas and objects but the struggles between them. Designers hate that. They want their designs to be right. And they never are. Why is there never any discussion of an unconscious in designers' chatter? Because it implies that the designers are not in control of their own minds. Their taste for over determination is as good a demonstration of this as any. I find it frustrating that designers by their very nature can not know what 'over determinization' even means. Science does not recognize such a thing, nor should it, but any understanding of communication demands it.

I hate designers, I hate technocracy. I hate the twin ideologies of science and of markets. The world itself exists and people are greedy, but an awareness of both is not a 'belief' in either. My anger is ethical and logical, personal and political.

Well, I gave a long answer after all.

The Best Laid Plans and all That.
The French fiasco with the headscarves etc. -last I heard someone was trying to add beards to the list- is a perfect illustration of the limits of philosophical rationalism.
Again, all my interests tend to dovetail into one another, and more and more as I grow older. Case in point, this crap from Crooked Timber. My response is to the comments more than anything, I already did my bit on McGinn:

Consciousness is the spontaneous product of the conflict between a conditioned response -'It's always happened that way before'- with a clearly exceptional event: "Not this time MF!".
When what had previously been, in the experience of an organism, a reflex, an automatic mechanical activity, is challenged by an observation, made possible by a capacity for objective computation and reason, the resulting INDECISION is the first act of consciousness. Consciousness is not reason, it's the conflict between reason and conditioned response, or the memory of past experience.

All Consciousness is FLAWED CONSCIOUSNESS. You fucking idiots,

Searle is right but like seemingly everyone else, is unable to focus on a space between the two competing forces. It's not A or B that matter but their anxious relation.
Now someone buy me a god damn beer.
Courtesy of Cacoa
Originally from the Times of India.

A protester against a proposed ban on headscarves in Lille, northern France.
French girls are sexy.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

From a letter

It's really become a running theme for me that people tend to look to ideas as objects to be named. I was amazed reading Solum v. Balkin on constitutional change. Solum yammered on about how it change should occur without any mention of how it actually does. And of course I would say it occurs as a form of assimilation that's documented -or demonstrated- in rhetoric and art. When an idea can be described in a form of common grace, and I remember I've used that phrase recently, its time has come. Until then it's the property only of visionaries and intellectuals, none of whom will ever be as valued as the one who, building on their work, for the first time describes their idea as if it had always been obvious.

I don't think there's that much for science to study in Bush's con, any more than there was in Clinton's, but the con worked and continues to. Dean had the guts to stand out in front, but he can't articulate a clear and 'popular' response from ideas the majority take for granted. If Edwards is as good a courtroom performer as you say, then he might do a better job at it, and be able to build on what Dean began. But the country will still have to be ready for him. The process is key. The normative is in constant motion. Do we move it, or does it move us?

What are the differences between the language of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X? Why did my parents as 'intellectuals' prefer Malcolm X hands down as smarter, edgier and more complex, while King is rightfully more 'important.' What was it about Lincoln that made him able to articulate not so much a moral position as a moral ambiguity that white Northerners understood but that abolitionists rightfully disdained? Does it take more brilliance to be appropriately ambiguous than to speak the truth? That's a question for the Platonists (and the answer can't make them happy.)

Bush is feeding, as Bin Laden is, off the last gasp of reaction. And if the two of them don't get us all killed, in time they will be seen as having done no more than mark the final victory of technocratic neoliberalism in the US and the rise of Modern secularized, technocratic, Islam.
Brian Leiter says Colin McGinn is not being nice. McGinn enjoys his arrogance; I only wish he were smarter. What I've read of his work of esthetics is crap. His work on consciousness I know less of- though I've read him in the NY Review- but given the state of the field as a whole, I'm suspicious.
Here's my response to one bit of sloppy reasoning.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Brian Leiter:
Of the "major" contenders for the Democratic nomination, only one would be considered a mainstream social democrat in, say, Canada or Germany: namely, Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio congressman. He got 1% of the vote in Iowa last night--which pretty much sums up the morally depraved state of America, but that's a topic for a different day.

He's almost as funny as Max.
He's going with Edwards; read the whole post.
Garance Franke-Ruta at Tapped:

"I feel like I'm in a foreign country," said one Perfect Stormer[!?] wearing a lilac windbreaker. "I'm off the net. I'm not watching television. I can't find the New York Times. When I'm at my desk, I read 40 papers a day, all the political pundit sites...Now I'm doing something different. I'm talking to real people who have real lives raising kids." She looked around the KFC at the families eating extra-crispy chicken like they were a novelty, instead of her countrymen.


"Sushi, Herr Leutnant?"
"Ja. Vielen dank"
Yesterday I said it was Kerry's style. On Friday I said this:
"As the war drags on and the economy slides, it will get easier -it already has- for the rest of the Democratic contenders to speak out. The more timid candidates will have 'permission' to be impolite. This may not be good for the two who spoke first, who may become sacrificial lambs on the altar of consensus, but it's good for the Dems as a whole."

Radical outsiders have always played a part in mainstream politics. In this country that is their only importance beyond the academy (that's both our strength and our weakness.) It's a sign of the times that the role is being played now by a moderate whose only claim is to speak for common sense.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Mark Kleiman on Clark: "And if you think about it, John Wayne almost never raised his voice. He didn't have to."
Jesus Fucking Christ.

But he also links to poll numbers in Iowa showing Kerry ahead of Dean, and New Hampshire showing him behind (and well behind nationally.) I'm still tempted to think that Kerry on the ground and in person makes the difference.
Kenji Mizoguchi was one of the best and perhaps the greatest director in the history of film.
Josh Marshall says no one understands just why John Kerry is surging so fast in the polls. The answer seems obvious enough: the whole state is involved, the candidates are spending more time there than anywhere else- walking around, shaking hands, listening to people kvetch- and Kerry comes off better off the cuff and in person than Dean. People support 'the idea' of Dean, not the man. As far as his manner is concerned, he's a good stand in for John McCain, another awkward, arrogant SOB. The Kerry organization did not understand political theater, but Kerry understands what it means to be respectful and polite. For Dean it's the reverse. Simple, no?
This doesn't mean I'm betting either way. Dean's people say they aren't polled. Who knows.
Film by its nature is about absence, the shadow of the thing no longer -if ever- here. Most film, however, ignores the obvious, claiming to be about presence: of the story, of the characters and the objects in the frame. Indeed what is most interesting in the greatest film -and what is at the heart of all American film- is the presence of the dream, the presence of the illusion, in all innocence. This is also true, of course, of the worst film.

"All technical refinements depress me. The perfection of photography, the big screens, the stereo sound, all of it makes possible a servile reproduction of nature; and that reproduction bores me... The artist's personality interests me more than the copying of an object." Jean Renoir

The most wonderful thing about Renoir, or Mizoguchi, or Ford, was their ability to make illusion itself profound. By contrast Crimson Gold, like most serious films fights the illusion, fights the effortless narrative of film mechanics, so as to avoid the banality that any intellectual now recognizes -has recognized for 50 years- as a very American/Capitalist form of false consciousness. Crimson Gold is about absence. But then its makers do not claim to be innocent, so we sense a purpose when a camera is placed—as an eye—to look at an object or event; we sense the gaze of the lens carrying a moral weight that we do not experience often in American visual culture. It was the genius of Renoir and Mizoguchi and Ford to have carried that complexity, not without intellect or thought, but also not without a certain casual, and in a sense common, popular, grace.

2021.  Barthes and photography.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Riverbend on Sharia and family law: We're going backwards.

I usually ignore the emails I receive telling me to 'embrace' my new-found freedom and be happy that the circumstances of all Iraqi women are going to 'improve drastically' from what we had before. They quote Bush (which in itself speaks volumes) saying things about how repressed the Iraqi women were and how, now, they are going to be able to live free lives.
The people who write those emails often lob Iraq together with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan and I shake my head at their ignorance but think to myself, "Well, they really need to believe their country has the best of intentions- I won't burst their bubble." But I'm telling everyone now- if I get any more emails about how free and liberated the Iraqi women are *now* thanks to America, they can expect a very nasty answer.
Tom Dispatch
Let's not mince words. American policy today toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insane
"Gee Tom, y'think?"

Except for his "collective madness" dig at the wogs -condescenscion being one of the perqs of greatness -not a bad performance by an asshole.
I don't link much to Keven Drum, but this time why not?.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Thank you, Katharine Gun.
Gun appears in court tomorrow accused of breaching the Official Secrets Act by allegedly leaking details of a secret US 'dirty tricks' operation to spy on UN Security Council members in the run-up to war in Iraq last year. If found guilty, she faces two years in prison. She is an unlikely heroine and those who have met her say she would have been happy to remain in the shadows, had she not seen evidence in black and white that her Government was being asked to co-operate in an illegal operation. [...]

At the time Gun, who was sacked after her arrest and whose case is funded by legal aid, said in a statement: 'Any disclosures that may have been made were justified on the following grounds: because they exposed serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the US government who attempted to subvert our own security services; and to prevent wide-scale death and casualties among ordinary Iraqi people and UK forces in the course of an illegal war.'

She added: 'I have only ever followed my conscience.'
Also see the [Mis]adventures of a self hating Jew: 'Ambassador, you're really spoiling our party'.
Juan Cole: al-Hayat reported that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's representative in Karbala, Shaikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala'i, warned that the coming days will witness demonstrations and strikes, and possibly confrontations with the occupation [Coalition] forces if they insist on "their colonialist plot and in designing the politics of this country in ways that serve their interests." Al-Karbala'i called everyone in his Friday sermon before hundreds of worshippers "to support the religious leadership," affirming that "the Shiite leadership in Najaf takes a great interest in the process of transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi people through general elections."
Brian Leiter links approvingly to this bit on epistemology and the left/right divide. It's witty, and in terms of Washington politics it's just fine, but it goes nowhere towards understanding conservatism or the conservative impulse. As Spencer Coxe, the founding director of the Philadelphia ACLU used to say: " The ACLU is a conservative institution." The notion of law itself is conservative. We need a more complex description of the history and roots of what we read as David Brooks' stupidity than Benjamin Hellie gives us. I would expect more from a 'philosopher.'

Friday, January 16, 2004

"The real division in the race for the Democratic nomination is between those who are willing to question not just the policies but also the honesty and the motives of the people running our country, and those who aren't."
I hadn't thought about it but my last post was if anything a response to Krugman.
A general comment on American politics and the situation in Iowa and New Hampshire:
As the war drags on and the economy slides, it will get easier -it already has- for the rest of the Democratic contenders to speak out. The more timid candidates will have 'permission' to be impolite. This may not be good for the two who spoke first, who may become sacrificial lambs on the altar of consensus, but it's good for the Dems as a whole.

It's interesting that Dean now is getting a long list of name supporters as he's beginning to slide into the pack.
[see below] I had said I could 'quibble' about the equation of Nassar and Saddam, but it's more than that. Hussein, like Reza Pahlavi, was a modernizer, if a corrupt one. The house of Saud is not. Religion is an occasional tool of our 'pragmatic' foreign policy. We contradict ourselves -that's what pragmatism means- but we also do it stupidly.
Max does good:
The concession to Islamic supremacy over secularism is not some short-term slip out of pragmatism. It is fundamental to U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, and always has been. Theocracy is one of the U.S.-aligned Oil Cartel's weapons against secularism, nationalism, and democracy. The other one is expansionist Zionism.

Theocracy is synonymous with privatization of oil, for the sake of putting international markets (=foreign customers) first, and Arab national interests last. That's why the U.S. backed Osama and the mujaheddin against the Soviet-friendly Afghani government, why it upholds compliant monarchies, why Israel attacked the PLO before Hamas. It's why the corporatist Right inveighs against people like Saddam Hussein and before him, Nasser, and ignores equally horrendous crimes against human rights in other places.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Juan Cole

The Baghdad/London daily az-Zaman reports that there were widespread demonstrations on Tuesday by women against the order decreeing abolition of Iraq's uniform civil codes in favor of religious law, which they say "repeals women's rights" in Iraq. This story appears to have been completely missed so far by the Western news media, which is a great shame. Women are important, too, guys.
Women activists representing 80 women's organizations (including the female Interim Minister of Public Works!) gathered at Firdaws Square in downtown Baghdad to protest the IGC decree, issued three days ago. Minister of Public Works Nasreen Barwari complained to az-Zaman about the lack of "transparency" and of "democratic consultation" in the promulgation of the decree by the IGC. Protesters carried placards with phrases like "No to discrimination, No to differentiating women and men in our New Iraq." and "We reject Decree 137, which sanctifies religious communalism." Activist Zakiyah Khalifah complained that the law would weaken Iraqi families.

The last two paragraphs:
Since the Interim Governing Council was appointed directly by the United States, it is in effect an organ of the Occupation Authority. As such, it is a contravention of the 1907 Hague Regulations for it to change civil law in an occupied territory. The US appointed a number of clerics and leaders of religious parties to the IGC, almost ensuring that this sort of thing would happen.
The US is now in the position of imposing on the Iraqi public, including the 50% who are women, a theocratic code of personal status. The question is whether this step is just the first in the road to an Iraqi theocracy.
There is a story I've heard, and maybe repeated here, about a well known analytic philosopher [Belgian?] who renounced his calling after spending a day watching lawyers in a court.

I sat through 8 hours in a waiting room today, and was called in once for a voir dire and let out. The judge who introduced the legal process to us was graceful and witty as an old Jewish New Yorker can be, and calmed the fears of his nervous herd without condescending. The two lawyers, in ways opposite to each other, were uninteresting: one a mannered copy of the judge, as insecure as he had been confident; the other a younger but not young woman struggling with the pomposity and sexism of an old fart.
Rational actors, my ass. People on the whole, neither particularly smart nor particularly stupid, are nervous around authority. They often do not understand because they assume they're not supposed to. I spent some time with a Belarussian Jew who was worried about losing his job at a Yeshiva if he ended up on a jury, and an Arab immigrant who didn't know enough English to understand that he could have been let out by 9:30 if he'd raised his hand to say he couldn't understand English. I helped the system run a little more smoothly I suppose.
Law is theater.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Up and running again. My absurd hobby.
Sometimes it's best to keep things simple.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

It's Sunday, go read Belle.
It takes more imagination to describe the world, than to describe what it should be.
Juan Cole: Read the last few posts.
I find it really annoying when liberals, Atrios for example, get annoyed at pundits who focus on style. Does anyone think Clinton ran on substance? Clinton, Carville et al. understood that politics is theater. It's packaging. Dean understands this more than most, Clark less so (Mark Kleiman's fandom, in this context, is amusing) and Lieberman is the definition of an incompetent: one who does not realize his own incompetence.
Courtesy of Brian Leiter. A letter from a US soldier about the situation ''on the ground" in Iraq.
I watched a few of the Sunday talking heads this morning. It was interesting to see John McLaughlin's crew, including Buchanan, come off as serious compared to the absurdity of Fox. How far we've come.

Will Paul O'Neill's 'revelations' -here
and here- have any effect?
Nathan Newman says Bush is toast, but things will have to fall far, and fast.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Bush is such a whore it's ridiculous. It'd be amusing if it weren't so tragic.
There's no logic in (Human Behavior.)
I'm taking a break from plastering a ceiling; Bjork on the stereo,
no money in the bank, but today my small portfolio is up 30%.
In this context two things come to mind: one, obviously, is -are- my social connections; the other is that my broker is a firm believer in the moral seriousness, but not the moral perfection, of the market. This makes both for interesting conversation and good advice. Needless to say, he hates Bush.

Frontline (symbol: FRO)
OMI (symbol: OMM)
Golar LNG (symbol GLNG.)
He was following Frontline at $6, but I had no money, and no interest.
And in the next year I'll have a dealer (gallerist) again in NY: a woman I trust absolutely, at least with my money and my work (about other things questions remain, and will for years.)

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Friday Morning: Writing still sloppy, and still on someone else's computer.

Nathan Newman on Bush and immigration.
rough draft on the fly

I've made my opinions clear on this issue a few times already (as clear as they can be).
Societies are structured on one of two basic paradigms: that of convention, or that of desire. The manic desire for upward mobility manifest in capitalism makes the status quo for all but the idle rich appear as failure. The working class in this country live an empty existence, denied a pleasure in their own social economy, they live to serve as vessels for the desires of the market.
Immigrants come to this country as both radical escapees from their own history and as conservatives, carriers of a memory that in their children and grandchildren will gradually fall away. Each new wave reimagines its own bourgeois revolution/ is the force behind all that is considered both destructive and yet noble in the modern economy.

I work with illegals. I am able to talk with them about the world in ways I can talk to few Americans, even of my own education and background. [The cheapest and the worst tradesmen in the country are foreign born, but so are the best. ]
In the interest of the construction of an American populace that sees itself not as it wants to become but what it is, I am opposed to open borders. Immigrants are fresh meat for the economy, and anyone who thinks they don't drive down wages is either lying or deluded (I can give you a list of the rates of various tradesmen and their various nationalities if you like.) I've talked with Nathan about this in the past, and he ended up defending inclusion as the only moral choice, regardless of the consequences. Union moves towards an acceptance of immigration are made out of necessity and are not healthy in the long run: as immigration continues each generation competes with its predecessor. Union organization across national borders is a different matter, and worthwhile.
The last time I posted on this I ended with a joke: Close the borders, I said, but then I'll have to leave the country; I won't have any friends here anymore. Maybe in 20 years I'll come back.

None of this is to say that Bush is anything more than a cynic. This has nothing to do with his whoring. I'm responding only to the substance this administration abhors.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

My laptop had to go back to Apple for the second time. Back by the end of the week (maybe.)
I actually spent an hour at the computer store writing a post: on The New York Review, Oliver Sacks, narrative and consciousness, John Rawls' Theory of Justice, and the humor of J.M. Coetzee...
then the store's computer crashed.

Go read

Sunday, January 04, 2004

The computer's down again. It lasted all of a day (and barely that.)

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Comrad Max says "Communists don't want your Metallica collection."

And read the recent posts by Juan Cole: on Plame, and more importantly on smuggling of drugs and oil, and on the porous borders around Karbala, with the population literally doubling with the influx of Iranian, Shiite, pilgrims.
"No idea's original, there's nothing new under the sun. 
It's never what you do, but how it's done...
From Czechoslovakia to Texas metropolis..."

happy new year

And a recap from Dec. 12 (below)
"The normative, as such, is a function of any given system, and can not at such be denied its role in argument.
Anti-foundationalism is not banal if the system it describes is complex enough to exist as an organic whole. Society, as a collective construction, is complex, self perpetuating and foundationless. Technocracy is foundationless, simplistic and inorganic, and is arguably the very definition of banality: an inorganic, indeed anti-organic, totality."

For the metaphysics of argument not victory.
Technocracy denies the dialectic its most important role by representing it as acting most forcefully between two figures that each manifest the same desire. But given the complexity of the world, of our living in the world, that is not so much description as projection of a wish.
The dialectic at its most basic exists between the individual and the collective, between person and state, individual and community, between speaker and language. Science is merely a factotum in the service of other interests.
I've been doing damage in the last weeks: whiskey and tequila. I've got a hangover, $250 in the bank, and a few thousand in the markets, long term; that's where it all goes from here on- there and the few other places where money does the work of man.