Tuesday, March 30, 2004

I'm disgusted obviously by both the policies and the behavior of our frat boy Caligula, but I'm made almost as nauseous by the claims to glory made on behalf of his predecessor:
President Bill Clinton's administration knew Rwanda was being engulfed by genocide in April 1994 but buried the information to justify its inaction, according to classified documents made available for the first time.

Senior officials privately used the word genocide within 16 days of the start of the killings, but chose not to do so publicly because the president had already decided not to intervene.

...It took Hutu death squads three months from April 6 to murder an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus and at each stage accurate, detailed reports were reaching Washington's top policymakers.

The documents undermine claims by Mr Clinton and his senior officials that they did not fully appreciate the scale and speed of the killings.

"It's powerful proof that they knew," said Alison des Forges, a Human Rights Watch researcher and authority on the genocide.
And the coda: "A spokesperson for the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation in New York said the allegations would be relayed to the former president." The Guardian.
And I'm not referring to Dean.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Realism and Kitsch.
When you watch a commercial, you are not watching people perform, but watching people lie.
Acting not as art but as simulacrum.
I remind myself of this sometimes, most recently tonight after watching a Bush TV spot.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Fintan O'Toole. Our Own Jacobean NYRB, October 7, 1999
Harold Pinter's imagination was shaped to a large extent by Shakespeare, Beckett, Joyce, and Kafka. But in a speech delivered in 1995 and published now in Various Voices, a collection of his essays, interviews, short stories, and poems, he recalls the schoolteacher with whom he went for long walks in the 1940s and 1950s:

Shakespeare dominated our lives at that time (I mean the lives of my friends and me) but the revelation which Joe Brearley brought with him was John Webster. On our walks, we would declare into the wind, at the passing trolley-buses or indeed to the passers-by, nuggets of Webster....

He goes on to quote, as if from memory, lines from The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil like "What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut/ With diamonds?"; "There's a plumber laying pipes in my guts"; "My soul, like to a ship in a black storm/Is driven I know not whither"; "I have caught/ An everlasting cold. I have lost my voice/Most irrecoverably." And, of course, "Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young." He adds, "That language made me dizzy."
I've said this before without quoting the article. My God, how that reminds me of my childhood ecstasy, listening to the 1958 recording of Mahagonny. I felt as if I were being torn apart, and smiling. Second to this at least was my parents' recording of Der Jasager, the only opera that has ever made me cry, and which I've thought for years should be staged with the cast in the uniforms of the Hitler Jugend. I've always associated Brecht with just the sort of decadence, of formal rigor and conflict, that Pinter responded to and O'Toole describes.

I have caught/ An everlasting cold. I have lost my voice/Most irrecoverably.
I just laugh and laugh.
Note taking.
It's a truism that the most powerful and resilient works produced by any society always contain within them an element of the popular, of the vulgar.

Easterbrook is one of those guys who never learned to distinguish between "what is true" and "what he believes is true." Ditto for David Brooks. Atrios.

Atrios says in one sentence what the authors of logical/philosophical critiques of conservatism, such as those that appear often enough at Crooked Timber are unable to put forth in volumes. There is no rational defense for the logic of fear and need, and such emotions are the operative forces for most of us, in politics as in life, especially so for social conservatives. David Brooks is not a rational actor, and those who waste disk space pondering the weaknesses in his logic, rather than rebutting him as simply as Atrios does, are acting on assumptions identical to those of the philosophical/economic conservatives with whom Brooks finds common cause. Rationalist arguments against the right, both technocratic and leftist (those of Chomsky and his followers) are as based upon the same flawed reasoning as rationalist arguments of rational economic conservatism.

I haven't read yet Steven Weinberg on Bush's policies regarding space exploration etc. in the NYR, but I'm guessing I'll find it all pretty annoying. I'm betting he'll spend most of the time talking about the relative scientific value of the choices, when to most people the choice is between science and theater.
With my family background in language and law, I prefer theater.

See also this bit of light comedy,
courtesy, again, of A.

Anne Carson

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Asia Times: KARACHI - Amid reports of an escalation of resistance and even foreign complicity, fighting continues between the army and suspected al-Qaeda militants in Pakistan's tribal region of South Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan.

link from Atrios


(We have long been uncertain whether or not we should print this article, which we found in an old book. Our respect for St. Peter's see restrained us. But some pious men having convinced us that Pope Alexander VI had nothing in common with St. Peter, we at last decided to bring this little piece into the light, without scruple.)

One day Prince Pico della Mirandola met Pope Alexander VI at the house of the courtesan Emilia, while Lucretia, the holy father's daughter, was in childbed. No one in Rome knew who the child's father was -the Pope, or his son the Duke of Valentinois, or Lucretia's husband, the Duke of Aragon, who was supposed to be impotent. The conversation was at first very sprightly. Cardinal Bembo records a part of it.
"Little Pic" said the Pope, "who do you think is my grandson's father?"
"Your son in law, I imagine" answered Pic.
"Eh! how can you believe such nonsense?"
"I believe it through faith."
"But don't you know that an impotent man cannot have children?"
"Faith consists," returned Pic, "in believing things because they are impossible. And besides, the honor of your house demands that Lucretia's son shall not be considered the fruit of incest. You make me believe even more incomprehensible mysteries. Do I not have to believe that a serpent spoke -since when all men have been damned- that Balaam's she-ass also spoke very eloquently, and that the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of trumpets?" Pic then ran through a litany of all the admirable things he believed.
Alexander collapsed with laughter on his sofa.
"I believe all that stuff, just as you do," he said, "for I know that only by faith can I be saved, and that I shall not be saved by my works".
"Ah! Holy Father," said Pic, "you have need of neither works nor faith. They are good for poor profane people like us, but you who are God's regent on earth can believe and do whatever you choose. You have the keys of heaven, and there is no chance of St. Peter shutting the door in your face. But for myself, who am only a poor prince, I admit that I should need potent protection if I had slept with my daughter, and if I had used the stiletto and the cantarella as often as your Holiness."
Alexander could take a joke. "Let us talk seriously," he said to Prince della Mirandola. "Tell me what merit one can have in telling God that one is persuaded of things of which in fact one cannot be persuaded? What pleasure can that give God? Between ourselves, saying that one believes what is impossible to believe is lying"
Pico della Mirandola made a great sign of the cross. "Eh! God the father!" he cried. "May your Holiness pardon me, but you are not a Christian"
"No, by my faith," said the Pope.
"I thought as much" said Pico della Mirandola.

I should have been working tonight but I wasted the evening, and not even here.

I listened to the hearings again today. I'm torn between a certain optimism, and sense that Bush can't last, and a sense of doom, the fear that he will. The press imagines they represent the people and they do, in their timidity. The responsibilities of democracy require indoctrination, while the freedoms are self perpetuating. "In dreams begin responsibilities" We have one without the other - I've said that before- so I'm worried.
I'm trying to come up with something about rational actors and political theater but I don't have it in me.

I'm tired. Good night.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A friend asks why I haven't posted on the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin. What should I say, that he looks like one of Mel Gibson's Jews? That I believe in pouring gasoline on burning houses? What can I say to those who defend the morality of crime but that their enemies defend the morality of revenge? I've said that before.
Killing Yassin was stupid.

I listened to the hearings today and got a kick out of the occasional applause.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

After a long quote from the Richard Clark interview, Josh Marshall adds this:
Rather than adjust to this different reality, on September 12th, the Bush war cabinet set about using 9/11 -- exploiting it, really -- to advance an agenda which had, in fact, been largely discredited by 9/11. TPM
Note taking:

There's something odd about the position of narrative in 20th century philosophy and esthetics. It goes underground.
But when it appears or reappears it does so in eccentric ways. The best art of the modernism was never entirely abstract. Visuality -is that even a word?- without mimesis or narrative falls almost literally flat. And architecture is narrative: you have to walk in and around it. Mondrian's best work is his last and least resolved. 'Broadway Boogie Woogie' and 'Victory Boogie Woogie' are rough edged and indecisive, and the indecision is their strength. They are more rigorous for that, not less. In general I say that Klee was the 'best' maker of pure abstraction because he was the only artist to create abstract forms that worked as metaphor. His grids of color, so handmade, so idiosyncratic, seem to depict the same world as his cities and flowers. Still when I saw the Malevich show last year a few of the works had the same sense of depth, of almost narrative depth of late Mondrian. The sort of depth that stands outside of a school of art or thinking. I'd never thought of Malevich as outside of the Russian school- Suprematism /Constructivism- in the same way as Mondrian stands outside De Stijl. I'd never thought the work escaped the idea in such a way, and I was wrong.

Dieter Roth went from graphic design to an all over producer of things, of stuff, of crap, and that's not necessarily an insult.
Design is a bastardization of the creative impulse. I'd love to see a study of the growth of design and the concomitant decay of the idea -of the meaning- of craft. [As an aside to an aside: couldn't we begin a description/history of the philosophical/esthetic -and therefore moral- failings of outsourcing with the first outsourcing of the authorship of a presidential speech? Is that not odd in a democracy? Or is that what democracy now means: to be inarticulate?]

But Roth's freedom from craft is also his limitation (see above.) In the childishness of his self absorption he bumps into the limits of bourgeois sensibility. That's the point. But the question remains how articulately did he do it? What is there to separate him from others like himself? That he was first? That's enough for Constructivism and De Stijl but it's not enough for Mondrian or Malevich. His work is about narrative without exhibiting the rigor that is necessary for it to succeed as a philosophical esthetic and moral counterpoint to idealism. The explicit choice for narrative, in the 20th century -for a philosophical defense of narrative- is most often linked with a choice, contra order, for chaos. And that's a false dichotomy.
Joanna (Chapter One) sat in the plane,
Smoke pouring from her nostrils. Outside, rain;
Sunset; mild azure; sable bulks awince
With fire - and all those visible at once
While Heaven, quartered like a billionaire's
Coat of arms, put on stupendous airs.
Earth lurched and shivered in the storm's embrace
But kept her distances, lifting a face
Unthinkingly dramatic in repose
As was Joanna's. Desiccated rose
Light hot on bone, ridge, socket where the streak
Of glancing water - if a glance could speak -
Said, "Trace me back to some loud, shallow chill,
Underlying motive's overspill"

James Merrill
from "The Changing Light at Sandover"
I'm paying attention to politics, I'm just not posting about it. And I'm not going to watch 60 Minutes, I'm just hoping it moves things along. Today I'm doing the laundry and pruning the rosebush in the backyard. Then maybe I'll go see Mel Gibson or Dieter Roth.

Go read Juan Cole
A classic from the minor but noble genre of stoic love poetry.

The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chokan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married my Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
For ever and for ever and for ever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noises overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!

The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the west garden;
The hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-sa.

Ezra Pound
After Li Po / Riyuku

Saturday, March 20, 2004

"other priorities"

Thursday, March 18, 2004

I've been looking at Rawls a bit again. Sometimes I'm really amazed at the perversity of liberalism. A Theory of Justice is a perverse piece of work. That, and absurd.

A little more on this post on conscious rule following. Any tradesman, musician or athlete will tell you that the hand teaches the mind. That's the basis of the verb "to practice." For a writer the process of writing teaches the skill of writing, teaches the use of the imagination. Writing, for the sake of writing, is the mind working as a hand. Categories of experience are created by being 'discovered.' The naming, if it comes to that—there can be recognition without naming—comes after the action is complete.

Philosophical, as opposed to political, liberalism quite literally does not understand the arts because it can not allow that methodologies predicated on such ambiguity can have intellectual, and therefore moral, weight (sports in this context are rule following as mere entertainment).

Philosophical conservatism on the other hand is blatantly hypocritical, defending the pleasures of ambiguity as such only in secret and only as reserved for the elect. That's why there are so many priests in favor of homosexuality... for priests.

I've said this enough in the past: Alterman is a vulgarian and an ass, with a fan's contempt for both musicians and athletes.

I've got to write a letter. Go read Belle.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Josh Marshall equivocates, trying to sound reasonable, others go this way and that. Kleiman sounds like he has a stick up his ass either way. Atrios does fine, and Leiter nails it in a sentence or two. But so far the best rest response I've read is by Juan Cole:

Did al-Qaeda Win the Spanish Elections?

This silly question is being asked by billionnaire Rupert Murdoch's and Conrad Black's media outlets all over the world in blazing headlines. For some strange reason, the billionnaires aren't happy that the Socialist Workers' Party won the elections in Spain, and are trying to portray the outcome as cowardice on the part of the Spanish public.

The entire argument is specious from beginning to end.

Read the rest here.

Monday, March 15, 2004

A quick comment. Looking at the blog tonight I reread my post that ended up talking about rules and games, and I laughed. I think that I blanked in some way, because I was thinking about sports and the memory of my days as an athlete made what seems an obvious comment read, to me, as something else. I'll try again.

A writer's relationship to language is different than a linguist's, but both are aware of rules in ways most people are not. Written dialogue is not everyday speech but a re-creation of it. A trial lawyer's language is just as artificial, just as consciously constructed. Both are conscious rule following activities.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Saturday, March 13, 2004

I've always come down squarely in favor of the practicioners of anything over the defenders of the same. Defenders always need to oversimplify, and if I believe in anything- if belief is the right term- it's in the complexity, the irreducibility, of the world. Why shouldn't I prefer market players to economists? After all, athletes aren't interested in the rules, they're interested in the game.

That last sentence is actually a very good description of the problems of linguistics, consciousness studies et al.
What is the difference between the rules and the game?

"I prefer a history of systems to a theory of them. Theory by its nature excludes psychology. I have no interest in the 'theory' of Catholicism, of Lutheranism, Judaism or Islam. I am interested, if I am at all, in their history."

History is an intellectual pursuit predicated on the placement of itself within its own field of vision.
Philosophy, at this point, is predicated upon its absence from the world.

Friday, March 12, 2004

It's getting there.
Noon: 3/13
No, That's it.
Rewriting the post below, I added this before I even understood what it meant. I'm amazed to realize it's true.
It's sad.

"When I begin to think of stockbrokers as being more humanist in their attitudes than academics, there's a problem."
[Still ruff draft]

Title: I Hear Joan Didion is Single

Chapter One.
At what point in history did the realist observation that people are greedy become transmogrified into the idealist notions of academic economics? I'm going to reread the beginning of Rawls tonight in the bathtub, just to find the sentence where the just is transformed [By what magic?] from the object of a collective search, into the mechanical byproduct of self-interest. Is there no contradiction? I've argued enough that the foundation of law, as of religion, is not morality but structured argument. But law is not designed as a function of daily life; on the contrary it's designed to resolve exceptions to it.
Economics, as theory, is daily life, or rather is prescribed [not described, that would be too Marxist] as determining it.

Imagine that if I am interested in the just, my self-interest must be superseded by my desire to discover if that interest corresponds to what is just. But I'm no saint, so let's assume that I, like everyone, else face a conflict. But if this conflict is a given, is it necessary or advisable that I be labeled as having no interest outside self interest? In a court of law, we give defendants the right to argue this way, even giving them certain advantages. The justice system is in a sense a machine, a formal system, that produces approximations, all instances spiraling around an untouched and untouchable nucleus of 'absolute' justice. Our system demands that the state give us the adversarial option if we request it. Market theory demands that we be offered nothing else. The market demands that we behave in an adversarial manner in every aspect of our lives. Justice, moreover, is thought to be an argument concerning the rights and responsibilities of the individual in relation to the state, while the market is seen as an argument of one individual with another with the state as an arbiter (if that is even to to be admitted.)
Why the distinction?

Can this measurement of man by his lowest common denominator even be considered "humanist"? When did self-interest become seen not only an inevitable aspect of daily life, but as moral in itself, or rather, as manifested in each of two opposed actors, as the fuel for a "moral machine?" And is this simplistic understanding of human behavior not strangely similar to another, appearing at about the same time, arguing that self-interest is, in fact, neither moral nor inevitable? Did one absurdity produce the other, or are they just products of the same desire? Which, if either, is more modern?
The authors of the logical machines of both technocratic economic theory and analytic philosophy seem intent on removing sophistication - judgment- from consideration either as a means, or my own preference obviously, as an end.
All the same I really can't escape thinking of the awful title of Alex Cockburn's The Golden Age is in Us. What book is there on market theory, utopian or otherwise, that can't be placed by its side? Are these my choices: bloodless mechanism, romantic mechanism. or bloodless moralism? Bloody moralism I shouldn't have to mention, but I'll add it anyway.

The financial analysts I know are as philosophically abstract about capitalism as trial lawyers are about law. They may be barbaric, but they're smart. And they win because they understand the details that mechanistic philosophies can't contain. There may not be 35 Inuit words for snow, but nobody will ever fully translate Mallarmé or Pushkin.
The paradox of anthropology.
I've begun to think that at least these days stockbrokers are more humanist in their attitudes than academics.
And I don't know any sophisticated leftists.

Where to add this? From the land of the philosophers comes a request to dumb down the language.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Sometimes spellcheck does no more than demonstrate your failures to the world.
Changed one or two words in the last post. Too many pots and empty vessels. On to better things.
Or not:
"I am the Chief... "The Military Chief."
"I am not interested in politics. The president is the legal president, so we follow his orders."

"His account of the Communists shows in the most extreme form what I came to loathe in the abolitionists- the conviction that anyone who did not agree with them was a knave or a fool. You see the same in some Catholics and some of the 'Drys' apropos of the 18th amendment. I detest a man who knows that he knows."

I'm enjoying reading Terry Teachout for more reasons than I should. As I've said, the value of conservatism is in its defense of the idea of systems as such. I've quoted the founder of the Philadelphia ACLU as saying the ACLU was and is "a conservative organization."

It's a pleasure to read a blog by someone who understands, as any critic should, the importance to observation of infinitesimal gradations of sense. Politics is a coarse business and coarsens what it touches. But that's as it should be, so the quote above from Oliver Wendell Holmes isn't something I'd refer to, as Teachout does, without comment. History has declared the abolitionists necessary irritants, and the Drys not. Fanaticism is a problem but not always one that can be solved by its lack.
On that note, I made it somewhere into the first paragraph of David Brooks this morning before having to fight an urge to puke.

Colin DeLand has been dead a year. I just brought the laundry back from the dryer down the street, and now I'm off to a party in his memory.