Saturday, July 31, 2004

The last Modernist: As Ophelia Benson is a victim of her own stupidity, Brian Leiter is truly a victim of his own brilliance.
Against the primacy of ideas, but unwilling to accept the primacy of process.
see below

Friday, July 30, 2004

I've been futzing with this since thursday. The paragraphs below are written in response to questions raised by two posts: by Brian Leiter on conservative Christianity, and at Crooked Timber on moderating forces in contemporary Islam. See "Fun with Ophelia Benson", below. I'm a better editor than I am a writer.

I have more faith in American vulgarity than I do in American enlightenment, though of course I don't have much faith in either. Intellectuals no longer pretend to lead but they still believe they should. They once maintained the fiction of being foreigners in their own land (this applied to the US more than anywhere) but in the end alienation failed both as romance and as ideology. My parents lived off the intellectual remnants of the old left, cut off from working class politics and surrounded by hippies -their students- for whom they had a studied contempt. They were left wing academics of the sort one rarely sees today, both committed and superior. My awareness and my cynicism mean I'm more bothered today by the arrogance of their ex-students -now rump modernists and technocratic liberals- than I am by the conservative faithful.

Modernism argued that social transformation could begin with an intellectual awareness; it doesn't. Social change has always generated intellectual change, not the other way around. A Marxian analysis does not cure a Marxian reality. Economic factors cannot be made to follow because we now understand they lead. The successful civil rights movement was not led by intellectuals, though they followed along with pads and pencils, but by members in full of the community they represented. Martin Luther King was a preacher, and a popular one. My parents, who epitomized the contradictions of intellectually snobbish but committed leftism, always preferred the more marginal, but also more intellectually serious-read: modern (and isolate)- Malcolm X.

It's all too easy to conflate the authority of any process with that of an individual, as in the subtle rhetorical transformation that allows a policeman to say, "I am the law." It's always the reactionaries who 'are' The Church, as it's always radicals who 'are' the revolution. And authoritarians, or more often their willing servants, are often unable literally to understand just how they twist logic to insulate themselves, to keep their sense of their own morality intact regardless of their crimes. Never mind Saddam Hussein, witness the current farce in the Austrian church, and the strange psychology of Tony Hendra.

The people aren't getting any smarter, but they know more Pakistanis and lesbians than they used to. And truck drivers are eating sushi for the same reason they eat it in Japan, because it goes well with beer. I worry about religious -Christian, Islamic, and Hindu- fundamentalism. But I worry more about the response to all of them by the intellectual and technocratic elite. Protestations of logical and moral clarity by the partisans of modern society ring dangerously hollow.

Change preceeds an awareness of change. You learn to play the piano by practicing; understanding appears after the fact. Modernism posits a dichotomy between logic and faith, under which any unintellectual heuristic is seen as suspect, as undermining the primacy of consciousness. But what are the implications of our having to learn by doing, by flexing a muscle, by performing the same mindless action over and over again? And what is it precisely that we learn? Modernism has no answer, and it refuses even to ask the question, leaving it in the hands of hippies and the faithful. What about those of us who are neither Modernist nor religious? What about those us us who observe without Belief?

Where is the secular intellectualism that takes this form of learning into account, that takes into account this 'silence'?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Fun with Ophelia Benson.
I caught some of Obama on the Sunday morning chat. He's a smart man. Russert was an ass.
Update Tuesday: More fun with Ophelia Benson.

“Law and Anthropology.”

Sunday, July 25, 2004

I'm a fan of Kitano 'Beat' Takeshi, and have been for a few years. Zatoichi will fill my mind for days.

It's art as popular entertainment, and popular entertainment as art. It's incredibly violent, and yet has passages that are as gentle as anything I've ever seen on film. The scene that describes the transformation of a young boy into a woman, made by overlaying two shots of him/her performing a geisha's dance as a child and then as an adult is simultaneously tragic, because of the act that initiated the transformation, and in every way the reverse, for the woman he becomes. And all this in a movie with fake blood, and swords and severed limbs flying everywhere. It's pure theater, and more moving for the fakery.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

I had an early breakfast yesterday at The Carlyle, sitting at a banquette next to an ex, an old friend, who stays there when she's in town. The food, what I had of it, was uninteresting, but the decor was lovely and the clientele nicely dressed and very well behaved. I passed: white linen drawstring pants from French Connection and a dress shirt, collar open, sleeves rolled up two turns above my wrists; I looked like a man who doesn't need to wear a suit. Facing out into the room I watched the servants come and go, and the tall and very pretty teenage daughter who walked by our table one too many times. I'd noticed her before so that was fun.
Afterwards we walked down Madison as it began to rain. We dipped into a store to buy a pair of rain boots, another to buy a pair of socks, and another to buy an umbrella, which was small, and since I'd left my own at home and my bag is waterproof, I walked alongside my ex, chatting and getting drenched. We walked slowly. On 72nd I exchanged a smile with a handsome blonde, who was impressed that I seemed to have accepted my fate, but not so much that I would not still smile at a passing girl.

The morning was a very pleasant lie.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Renoir and Mallarmé, with Degas—the photographer—reflected in the mirror.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

From an old friend of my father, and an occasional reader of this blog:
Dear Op-ed Editor and Public Editor:

I think the Times needs to provide a correction for a statement by
Stephen Sestanovich in his Op-ed article "How Saddam Failed the Yeltsin Test."

In his next-to-last paragraph Mr. Sestanovich writes: "When Saddam
Hussein forced out United Nations inspectors in 1998, President Clinton
responded with days of bombings. . . ." This statement, which presents
a view repeated endlessly during the run-up to the Iraq war, perpetuates
misinformation about the cicumstances under which UNSCOM inspectors left Iraq in Decembeer 1998. Coming from someone who held a high post in the Clinton administration at the time and who is currently a senior fellow at the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, this statement would seem to carry considerable authority. But it is wrong--or, at the very least, misleading--as the Times reported in 1998 and has reaffirmed within the past two years.

UNSCOM Executive Chairman Richard Butler withdrew the weapons inspectors from Iraq in a coordinated arrangement with Washington just two days in advance of a new bombing campaign by the United States. Butler, the head of a UN agency, took this action without securing the agreement of the UN Security Council. The correct story of the inspectors' withdrawal is essential because the issue of what was seen as the inadequate response to renewed UN inspections under Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei in 2002 was so important a part of the Bush administration's justification for acting unilaterally in invading Iraq.

I find Mr. Sestanovich's statement astonishing and one calling for
correction, not just because it is false but because, uncorrected, it
becomes part of the backlash by the Bush administration and its
supporters against the recent criticisms of the Bush administration's
case for going to war in Iraq. Both the Clinton and Bush
administrations should take responsibility for undermining the UN
inspection regime and so opening the door to the war policy upon which
the Bush administration chose to act.


Joel Isaacson

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

If I put up anything later this evening or tomorrow, I'll probably stay away from politics; I'm not really in the mood.

There's a part of me, the part with the blackest sort of humor, that thinks it would be sort of fun if Bush won in November, only to be destroyed by scandal. This is so much worse than Vietnam or Watergate; this is farce; but the longer it takes for him to fall, the more people he'll take with him. I'm not voting for Nader, it's not worth the risk or the cost, but if Bush gets a second term the Democrats will attack more than ever, and they'll be getting more ammunition by the day.
The way things are going, bookies will be giving odds on impeachment before the race is over.

[I was so wrong]

Sunday, July 18, 2004

''That was not something that required a war,'' he said.

Link from: Holden@Eschaton
Sailing Towards a Storm
Quietly and with minimal coverage in the U.S. press, the Navy announced that from mid-July through August it would hold exercises dubbed Operation Summer Pulse '04 in waters off the China coast near Taiwan.

This will be the first time in U.S. naval history that seven of our 12 carrier strike groups deploy in one place at the same time. It will look like the peacetime equivalent of the Normandy landings and may well end in a disaster.

At a minimum, a single carrier strike group includes the aircraft carrier itself (usually with nine or 10 squadrons and a total of about 85 aircraft), a guided missile cruiser, two guided missile destroyers, an attack submarine and a combination ammunition, oiler and supply ship.

Normally, the United States uses only one or at the most two carrier strike groups to show the flag in a trouble spot. In a combat situation it might deploy three or four, as it did for both wars with Iraq. Seven in one place is unheard of.

Operation Summer Pulse '04 was almost surely dreamed up at the Pearl Harbor headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command and its commander, Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, and endorsed by neocons in the Pentagon. It is doubtful that Congress was consulted. This only goes to show that our foreign policy is increasingly made by the Pentagon.

According to Chinese reports, Taiwanese ships will join the seven carriers being assembled in this modern rerun of 19th century gunboat diplomacy. The ostensible reason given by the Navy for this exercise is to demonstrate the ability to concentrate massive forces in an emergency, but the focus on China in a U.S. election year sounds like a last hurrah of the neocons.

So stupid. So fucking stupid
Some people wonder aloud why there are those, mostly from backgrounds where access to information is limited, who believe the world was created in six days. I wonder more at those, from backgrounds where information is plentiful, who believe that capitalism is just, economics is a science, Rachmaninoff is a great composer, and Spiderman 2 is an interesting movie.

I have more patience with the defensiveness of the uneducated than the arrogance of the educated, but I stand by what I said before: by denying Bullshit its role and proper place, you lose the ability to communicate anything of objective worth.

On the front page of the NY Times this morning, below the fold, is a photograph taken be a camera hovering two feet above the ground, of a naked emaciated child with her head leaning on her mother's thigh.

Get up and walk away from the keyboard, into the middle of whatever room you're in. Bend forward and put your hands in front of your face as if holding a camera; close one eye and look towards the ground with the other and imagine that child at your feet. Move your index finger downwards toward your thumb and make a clicking sound, and see if you can understand what you've become.

I hate photojournalism.
I hate the educational mandate that teaches the acquisition of knowledge before imagination.

I have no fear of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity; one can argue with any theological defense of violence. In any language there's debate over the meaning of words, Koran or Constitution makes no difference. But what can defend against the pure mechanistic rationality of scientistic logic, or the illusion that it can be made to apply to our lives without stripping away their complexity? What defends us from the likes of Brad DeLong, from the polymath who poses as a humanist?

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Max Speaks.
The editorial page issues a mea culpa, but the culpa's all wrong.
They claim the problem with the war is not enough international support. Rubbish. More international support would get us more beheadings of Germans, French, and Russians.
They claim they should have disbelieved the WMD stories. But Saddam with WMDs is still not a credible threat to the U.S. North Korea has WMDs. Why don't they come after us? Why haven't they blown up Seattle. Because they're not crazy. Nor was Saddam. Even Dick Cheney once enunciated a case for not toppling Saddam.
The third bankrupt premise is that, whatever the ill-advisedness of the invasion, now we have to stay until "stability" is achieved. But there is nothing about what that means. There is no meaningful exit criterion.
Bottom line: New York Times liberalism condones invasions under international auspices for bad reasons absent considerations of feasibility and without exit strategies.
We need regime change more than we know.
"Foundations change with every decision, but are still foundations; languages change, but are still language. There is no either/or. Such a narrative philosophy, by way of, rather than concerning narrative, is as frustrating to leftists as it is to conservatives, as frustrating to bureaucrats as it is to analytic philosophers. It simply denies the law of non-contradiction. Such a process can be rigorously formal and intellectual, but it can not be static, except inasmuch as we are limited by the parameters of being. One person can not invent language, and it is impossible to circumvent the ambiguities caused by its creation."

At some point, philosophy fails, and something else must take its place. To practice philosophy as if this point does not occur is to choose systems in isolation from the world, over a reciprocal relationship with what they are supposed to represent.

In other words: By denying Bullshit its role and proper place, you lose the ability to communicate anything of objective worth.

Fix/re-edit, of below.
Well, Fuck. I take it back.
Brian Leiter
Addendum [to a long, and very good, post on the topic du jour, the relation of science to economics] (July 16, 2004): It does seem to me in retrospect that too much is made to turn in this analysis on whether economics is a “science”; I was prompted originally to write on the topic after hearing lawyer/economist colleagues state, in all seriousness, that they viewed economics as on a par with physics, not quite as successful yet, of course, but still…. Making clear why this was utterly silly seemed worthwhile. But having done that, it would be a mistake to conclude that we should not try to bring scientific techniques, methods, and styles of explanation to bear on unruly human phenomena. Qualitative and generic predictions can be worth quite a lot, especially if it’s all we have! And holding our theorizing about human affairs to epistemically robust standards like those we see exemplified in the hard sciences seems good for intellectual hygiene, even if the results are never going to be as powerful. How well, of course, economics fares by even these more relaxed criteria is an open question; as Hausman and Rosenberg document, the record is mixed. (And, conversely, the record of much maligned explanatory paradigms, like Freud’s, are actually rather good—but more on that on another day.)
He took the words, some of them anyway, right out of my mouth; the Freud reference is spot on. Leiter's response is much more interesting to me than what I read at Crooked Timber.

Leiter still wants it both ways, in a way I enjoy. His arrogance gets its start in the association of the intellect with a scientific ideal, but he refuses to vulgarize his interests and he slams anyone who does so as quickly and as harshly as he slams the Texas Taliban. He reminds me of a specific sort of Modernist, one who walks a line between opposing forces. He lives a sophistication that he's unable to describe. It's not dishonest; it's conflicted, and complex.
[I gave him too much credit]
I've just read Jack Balkin's discussion of the Youngstown decision, and its relation to the what has become known as the OLC's "Torture Memo." Here are the three paragraphs Balkin quotes from the decision of Justice Jackson:
1. When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate. In these circumstances, and in these only, may he be said (for what it may be worth) to personify the federal sovereignty. If his act is held unconstitutional under these circumstances, it usually means that the Federal Government as an undivided whole lacks power. A seizure executed by the President pursuant to an Act of Congress would be supported by the strongest of presumptions and the widest latitude of judicial interpretation, and the burden of persuasion would rest heavily upon any who might attack it.

2. When the President acts in absence of either a congressional grant or denial of authority, he can only rely upon his own independent powers, but there is a zone of twilight in which he and Congress may have concurrent authority, or in which its distribution is uncertain. Therefore, congressional inertia, indifference or quiescence may sometimes, at least as a practical matter, enable, if not invite, measures on independent presidential responsibility. In this area, any actual test of power is likely to depend on the imperatives of events and contemporary imponderables rather than on abstract theories of law.

3. When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter. Courts can sustain exclusive presidential control in such a case only by disabling the Congress from acting upon the subject. Presidential claim to a power at once so conclusive and preclusive must be scrutinized with caution, for what is at stake is the equilibrium established by our constitutional system.
Two points: One is to acknowledge the brilliance of the opinion, which is clear even to a layman, though in my case I grew up around debates over Con Law. The other is to recognize, or be reminded of, the fragility of any line of argument as it passes through history's currents and contingencies. One understands why Justice Scalia argues so forcefully for stability, for the notion that it is the closest we can and should come to justice. How do you defend curiosity, as a value, against such ideas? By arguing for curiosity itself as a stabilizing force; this Balkin does well.

Brian Leiter's intellectualism encompasses ideas, Balkin's intelligence encompasses the ambiguities inherent in their communication. His collegial manner argues by example. On a more directly intellectual level he argues from an understanding that foundations may simultaneously exist and not. Foundations change with every decision, but are still foundations; languages change, but are still language. There is no either/or. Such a narrative philosophy, by way of, rather than concerning narrative, is as frustrating to leftists as it is to conservatives, as frustrating to bureaucrats as it is to analytic philosophers. It simply denies the law of non-contradiction. Such a process can be rigorously formal and intellectual, but it can not be static, except inasmuch as we are limited by the parameters of being. One person can not invent language, and it is impossible to circumvent the ambiguities caused by its creation.

My interests may lie in a more violently schizophrenic variation of this logic. I may have no choice given my upbringing. And sometimes in Balkin's writing I miss a certain aggressiveness or even aggression, of the sort I indulge in (and enjoy in Leiter.) In a world where his opinions were commonplace, as they should be, I'd have a lot to disagreements with him, but we are not in that world, and Balkin is pretty damn good.
"We spent a day with his lawyer discussing the knight," said one official. "Fischer said the horse's nose was too long."
And they want to drag him back into the country to stand trial.
In Cold Blood

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Brad DeLong on Jack Balkin on Posner and Vermeule, defenders of the torture memo. I liked DeLong's last paragraphs.
It seems to me that Yoo misses a great many points. The hypothetical he describes--Osama bin Laden himself, a ticking nuclear bomb, a city that cannot be evacuated, et cetera--is not a situation in which torture should be legal. It is, however, a situation in which torture is pardonable. If you find yourself interrogating Osama bin Laden in such a situation, you do what you must do--and then you ask the president for a pardon. And the president has the power to give you one.

That's what the procedure is with respect to torture. And I think that's what the procedure should be.
And this by John Yoo, author of the OLC memo: 
It is easy now for critics to claim that the work was poor; they haven't produced their own analyses or confronted any of the hard questions. For example, would they say that no technique beyond shouted questions could be used to interrogate a high-level terrorist leader, such as Osama bin Laden, who knows of planned attacks on the United States?
To Which Balkin responds: 
Here Professor Yoo shows himself to be the master of the false dichotomy. Either the torture memo is right or Osama gets off scot free. How silly of us to think that there might be a third alternative that doesn't give the President carte blanche to torture and maim. Professor Yoo is certainly right about one thing: It is easy for critics of the torture memo to claim that the work was poor. That's because it is poor work. Yoo has done many fine things in his career. This is not one of them.
I want to add something without overstating it.  Brian Leiter, in his impatience with fools and foolishness, doesn't give enough importance to the formal properties of the legal process as described and defended by Balkin. I have no doubt that Leiter would defend this process, contra the arguments of John Yoo, but the full complexity and weight of the issues seems foreign to him. Why continue with the process when we know Bin Laden is guilty? Why follow a procedure when we know the outcome? Why put up with absurd arguments against evolution?
Our democracy gives time to those who are accused of foolishness for the same reason it gives time to those who are accused of crimes. Leiter et al. sound less like legal philosophers than prosecutors, arguing one side of a case.

More on Abu Ghraib:
Seymour Hersh says the US government has videotapes of boys being sodomized at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
"The worst is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking," the reporter told an ACLU convention last week. Hersh says there was "a massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there, and higher." ...
"The disaffecion inside the Pentagon is extremeley accute," Hersh says. He tells the story of an officer telling Rumsfeld how bad things are, and Rummy turning to a ranking general yes-man who reassured him that things are just fine. Says Hersh, "The Secretary of Defense is simply incapable of hearing what he doesn’t want to hear."
The Iraqi insurgency, he says,was operating in 1-to-3 man cells a year ago, now in 10-15 man cells, and despite the harsh questioning, "we still know nothing about them...we have no tactical information.”
Link from Atrios.

WSJ,"A 'Torture' Memo And Its Tortuous Critics"

Posner and Verlmeule's op-ed was pulled so quickly that Balkin had to link to a cache file that died within a year. Now the piece has been republished. There's no telling if it's been cut but I'm betting it hasn't. That's how far we've come. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

"I don't know, I'm just a geologist"

Most people admit that there are others who know more than they do about many things. I'm a carpenter and a pretty good one; in matters of general construction I'm just shy of expertise. I know more than a lot of people about a variety of subjects, but beyond those few I make no great claims. That's why in my criticism I stick to basics.

Brian Leiter is pretending to be a scientist again.
"Professor Steve Dutch, a geologist at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay...imagines a critic"
"I'm sick and tired of self-appointed so-called experts and their know-it-all, arrogant attitude. Why don't you people stay out of things you know nothing about? To hear you tell it, you know everything and the rest of us are stupid."
professor Dutch replies:
"I've seen this script before. At this point I'm supposed to get all humble and apologetic and say 'There, there. We didn't mean to make you feel bad. You're really a good person and a valuable human being and your opinions do count.'

"I'm tired of playing that game.
"We're not 'self-appointed' or 'so-called' experts. We are real experts. We're not 'authority figures.' We are real authorities.

"It's not arrogance to say what you know professionally. It is arrogance to reject expert opinion without having expertise of your own.

"If hearing the experts say you're wrong makes you feel bad or stupid, that is your problem, not ours. See a therapist and work on your self-esteem. If you think this is rough on the ego, try getting a paper or grant proposal you've worked on for months rejected, something real experts face all the time. We don't know everything, but we do know more on our subjects of expertise than other people, especially people with no training at all.

"Unless you have real evidence to back up your opinions, they don't count. If you hear something that conflicts with what you think you know, and you don't bother to check it out, you shouldn't feel stupid. You are stupid. If you want to take on the experts but won't spend the time, effort and money to become an expert yourself, you're not just stupid. You're lazy, too.

"If you think I'm disrespecting you, you're right. I have no respect for people who are uninformed, get angry when someone contradicts them, but are too lazy to get informed and too cowardly to face failure, criticism, and the possibility they might have to change their minds. You're not a good person. Nobody who is lazy and cowardly can be called 'good.'

"Where did you get the idea you're so valuable? There are six billion of us. You're not all that unique. How exactly did you get the notion that you stand so high in the cosmic scheme of things that you have the right to make real experts treat you as an equal without bothering to acquire any knowledge yourself?"
BL as I've mentioned before is so addicted to his own sense of superiority he won't even link to anyone who's not an expert. Here he is on his happy discovery of Max Sawicky:
"The squishy, polite "liberal" blogs were getting tiresome, and the popular Atrios and CalPundit simply have no relevant knowledge base, intellectual framework, or technical expertise--as a consequence they never rise much beyond good intentions and light amusements.".
By all means, let us leave carpentry to carpenters and politics to politicians. [Leiter's post was updated four times and it's a confused mess, since all but one of the people he attacks are full credentialed experts]

Leiter is a Platonist who imagines himself a leftist. That he seems unable to recognize the contradiction is something I guess I find amusing.

As far as Prof Dutch is concerned, I can only say that the world is full of strange creatures, and he seems to have met a few of them. Perhaps he should write a book of short stories. I bet it would sell.

My mention of the post at Body and Soul (see Mon.) wasn't a dig at Jeanne D'Arc. Her acknowledgement that she prefers the lesser over the greater in choosing between Ellington and Basie was the first interesting response I'd read, so I decided to put something up. It also ties into my new argument; professor Dutch's dentist strikes me as more interesting than he is. He's got more of an imagination certainly.

Monday, July 12, 2004

3. Count Basie or Duke Ellington? Ellington's better. I wish I was the kind of person who preferred Ellington.
I wasn't going to take the bait until I read that line by Jeanne D'Arc at Body and Soul.

Of course there are people who would choose Tchaikovsky over Bach, so there's no point in arguing. But Tchaikovsky or Chopin? Which example of borderline kitsch do you prefer? (I'd go for Chopin.)
I won't run through the whole thing, partly because I'm too embarrassed by my blind spots, but also because even acknowledging them, there's something about the whole thing that's annoying. Teachout's comparisons reduce intellectual and even moral issues to matters of taste.

Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven? - The Formally rigorous, the theatrically well mannered, or the great reach with an unsure grasp.
Jane Austin or Henry James? The observer, or the voyeur?
Picasso between 1906 and about 1918 is unbeatable in the last century, if not before, but he faded, while Matisse aged gracefully; the late cut-outs are brilliant mannerism. Still the more interesting questions remain:  Picasso or Duchamp? Ellington, or Stravinsky?
And for the hell of it, for my old teacher Tom Gunning, though at the time I didn't understand:
D.W. Griffith, or the great, great, Louis Feuillade?
The last is just for fun. I think I've made my point.

Finally since TT has been nominated by Dear Leader to serve on the NEA, and since he himself obviously is either a same-sexer or on good terms with a few,  he should do the honorable thing and use his new position to speak out against the cruel discrimination faced by his friends.

The best thing I can say about Teachout is that he reminds me how often I wish Daniel Mendelsohn had a blog.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Dear Mary

Until a few months ago I would have worried that this was a wedge issue, and that too much pressure might backfire. As I said then, this is no longer true. And given the circumstances (see below)...
The Guardian
The US government came under scathing attack from senior members of the medical establishment yesterday for blocking scientists from attending the International Aids conference which opened in Bangkok.
The biennial conference, with 17,000 delegates, is more political rally than scientific meeting and bears huge significance for those involved in the fight against HIV/Aids.
The US government has sent only a fraction of its usual contingent of scientists, pleading cost - 50 instead of the 236 who attended the last event in Barcelona in 2002.
The Department of Health and Human Services, headed by the health secretary, Tommy Thompson, was yesterday accused of actively preventing certain US scientists and doctors who had a contribution to make from travelling to Bangkok.
Many suspect that behind the action lies a rift between the US and Aids activists who oppose America's approach to the global pandemic.
Joep Lange, president of the Sweden-based International Aids Society, which organises the conference, said it had been forced to retract papers that had been accepted for conference sessions after the US scientist authors had been refused permission to come. Many meetings, some to train developing world researchers, have had to be cancelled.
"I really think it is shameful that they restricted the US government participation, particularly when you think they are putting so much money into the fight and people in the field who have to do the job are directly prevented from coming here," said Dr Lange.

"It stymies the ability of scientists to discuss and learn from each other," said Dr DeAngelis. "It is wrong."

She pointed out that the trip would have been paid for by the American Medical Association, not the US government. "It is an incredible example of political pettiness. It is anti-intellectual and it is interfering with scientists and the scientific process and means American government-employed scientists are not allowed to be here to share their knowledge," she said.
At Crooked Timber: Nannies etc.

My comments are included.
Postponing elections: Tonight on the local news they are making the comparison with Spain explicit. "The same thing could happen here." It's obvious the newscasters have no idea what it is they're saying. They're simply afraid of democracy.
The Baby and the Bureaucrat. Brad DeLong has no patience for Barbara Ehrenreich's self-indulgence. God knows neither do I, but I don't have much patience for DeLong. It's one thing to be annoyed by earnest emotionalism that masks a conflict, but it's quite another to counter that with the stern but empty rigor of a systematic moral logic. DeLong links to his earlier review of Nickel and Dimed
The working poor are poorly paid and their wages are stagnating not because bosses are mean (although many are: the Wal-Mart boss who told Alyssa that she could not apply her employee discount to the $7 clearance polo shirt in a simple exercise of malevolent herrschaft comes to mind). They are poorly paid because our technology has dropped demand for low-education labor at the same time that our educational system has failed to upgrade the formal educational skills of our workforce. An earlier generation of leftists would have talked about how bosses are bearers of socioeconomic forces, which they cannot contravene or they will go bankrupt. As inadequate as many of its analyses were, at least it was looking in the right place.
If you don't like Ehrenreich the review is funny, but what exactly are 'socioeconomic forces?' Are they laws of nature, like gravity or magnetism? As I remember reading somewhere, Delong admits that the economically successful Scandinavian social democracies contradict standard economic theory, so I wonder if this means he accepts that socioeconomic 'forces' are social constructions? I have no patience for the romantic proclamations of (self) love poured forth from the hearts of ex hippies. I'll never forget Ehrenreich's speech at a Washington march in the early 90's—I think it was about the abortion 'gag-rule'—where she said that here we would find "new friends, new connections, new communities and new lovers." This was yelled into a microphone at an audience that was impressively diverse, which implied to me that many of us didn't have that much in common beyond our belief in the importance of the issue at hand. I thought that was a good sign, but Ehrenreich seemed happily unaware, and I was left shaking my head. 

I have no patience with appeals to emotionalism, but is there no sense in arguing that self interest is not a moral force? Again I'm struck by Delong's willingness to proclaim the classical virtues of wisdom and truth on the one hand, and the morality of impartial market forces on the other. I don't think he would argue that wealth is the result of virtue. He seems to say otherwise. And in the comments section, to this question, "Can you please explain to me why you equate wealth with happiness—or I should say, that money and happiness are directly related?" he responds: If your money and your happiness are not related, then please send me all your money. It will make me happier, and it will not make you less happy.

I was taught that for the wise man, the pursuit of truth is happiness. There are contradictions in my life, but the science of human behavior doesn't interest me much, so I can laugh. DeLong hasn't allowed himself that luxury. Does he believe in virtue or in science? And if so, in a science of what? 

Someone else, who likes Ehrenreich more than I do probably, but who would agree with me on Delong, reads Krugman

Saturday, July 10, 2004

"Someone should make a realist study of great works of art, and of the historical and material means of their production."
Of course they could begin by reading Wolfflin.
Legal Realism.
Killing time, reading this. Linked here

Ideas come to maturity. They have their time. Someone should make a realist study of great works of art, and of the historical and material means of their production. Some idiot was on NPR last week talking up the 'radical middle' in the past and the present, claiming for example that Lincoln occupied the moral high ground vis-a-vis both abolitionists and slave holders. Crap. Lincoln's genius was in his ability to be both moral and amoral, idealistic and coldly practical, to function within ambiguity as he understood it. The abolitionists had the moral high ground, and without their extremism moderation would not have been redefined as quickly or as powerfully as it was. Lincoln's talent was political and formal, was in his ability to create an authoritative rhetoric that described, both made manifest and responded to, the contradictions faced by mainstream America. The 'core claim of realism' fits well with this. But all cultures are cultures of argument, of which legal arguments are only one example. And there can be no predictive principle for law any more than there can be a predictive principle for literature or culture at large. Only in retrospect can we understand which claims of authority were valid for any period. There is no way to avoid indeterminacy in acts of interpretation. And even if we allow realists their points, there is no way for us to determine which ideas will be seen as representative of us in the future. No one will ever be a better judge of us, of our morality or of our art, than our grandchildren.
Sun. 11AM: Logic would imply that a realist should spend his time observing the manners of his compatriots, and learning to understand their tastes and pleasures. Reading books, going to movies, walking in the park and listening to people talk would seem more useful to that end than science or analytic philosophy.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


Sitting in my day care, the art is decopainted
Blessed by the drink
Upon the corner's where we've seen it
Chased by the plane it
Haunted by the medium
Too high to flow toward to break the tedium
Glow from my tv set was blue like neon
Activated the remote I put the BBC on
I've seen this city somewhere
I'm looking out for no-one
Pallor in my eye it get blue like neon


Hell is round the corner where i shelter
Isms and schisms we're living on a skelter
If you believe i'll deceive then common sense says shall you receive
Let me take you down the corridors of my life
And when you walk, do you walk to your preference
No need to answer till i take further evidence
I seem to need a reference to get residence
A reference to your preference to say i'm a good neighbour
I trudge so judge me for my labour
I walk in a bar and immediately I sense danger
You look at me, girl, as if i was some kind of a
A total stranger


Hysterical, ecstatical no matter, call me stags(?)
Hard to get a drink or a girl to relax
Upon phono, no go zone i go through
Aching awaits just to relocate you
Kill us with your fist
Now baby mix it with me
You see me function better when i get approximately
High by my technical flyby
I function better with the sun in my eyes
So goodbye


Take a second of me you beckon i'll be
And when you're sad i'll mourn
And when you tear i'm torn
Take a second of me
Take a second of me
I stand firm for our soil
I lick a rock off foil
So reduce me, seduce me
Dress me up in Stussy.
Show me and i'll stick em
Will you be my victim
Take a second of me


Mad over you, mad over me, an analogy
Baby tagging up up all of my stationary
Sitting in my daycare, media dego painted
Colliding with the jam
Until the drink got dated
Window indigo when they go boom
I run inside my room
No sense you can trust me
Climb on my sofa
Roll in a daydream
Spliff make daddy go sleep-a-trip dream.

Massive Attack
Chello Norway.

I have a few regular readers. I'm curious who you are.
Promoting Untruths and
Tangled Webs

Rough draft. Just a short one I hope. It's a nice evening and I've got a good reason to go out and enjoy it.

Both the links above are to posts at Crooked Timber, both of which in turn are responses to posts on other sites, one by Norman Geras and one by the teenage philosopher, Matthew Yglesias.
I was going to do something earlier, but the best I could do was add a link to my old post on the Donmar Warehouse productions I saw last year. My comments on den Beste and Laura from "Apt 11d" also apply. You may as well reread everything I've posted since Friday to understand the context. And as I write this, I remember another post from the week before in response to Brian Leiter, on the notion of sophistication and the a defense of the notion of connoisseurship and "depth."
...there's something illogical in shallow presumptions of one's own logic. One does not learn by subsuming oneself in systems, one learns by using systems to organize information; but there are always things that do not fit.
I'll put this simply. As Laura from Apartment 11d is not a sophisticated judge of human nature, neither Matthew Yglesias nor Henry Farrell are particularly sophisticated readers of art, while Norman Geras in his similarly programmatic response to Paul Krugman's piece in the Times on Fahrenheit 911, comes off almost as a political vulgarian.
So, how I read all this is that it's OK, according to Krugman, to promote untruths, unproven conspiracy theories, other tendentious stuff, in the service of partisan political judgements. This reminds me of three things. One is what was recently said by some on behalf of Piers Morgan when he published pictures of British brutality in Iraq that were not authentic. Another is this snatch of conversation from Sleepless in Seattle:
Co-Worker: It's easier to be killed by a terrorist than it is to find a husband over the age of 40!
Annie: That statistic is not true!
Becky: That's right it's not true, but it feels true.
The third are the reasons in favour of political honesty, especially over issues that are highly controversial.
First of all, Spiderman 2 is intelligent hackwork. It's smart but sloppy: everything in it done by the numbers, by people who know how to do better but have no need to. Farrell and Yglesias know those numbers, not the cinematic but the thematic variety, and debate the ways and manners of servitude. They aren't debating movies, they're arguing over systems. As for Geras, he seems to forget the reasons we have a system of adversarial justice. As someone said in the comments at CT, Moore is acting as a prosecutor. He is 'telling a story.' There may be arguments to be made about the esthetics and ethics of storytelling in the courtroom, or the public sphere -I remember from my childhood the dinner table discussions of the rhetorical styles of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King- but Geras has an attachment to an analysis from systems of meaning, whereas lawyers -trial lawyers if not legal philosophers- make use of systems of form. Krugman's qualified defense of Moore's film is not an invitation to nihilism, any more than my qualified defense of den Beste is an invitation to rude behavior. And my defense of art against the rule of illustration is not an argument for obscurity but for due process, something Geras in his moralizing claims is unnecessary.
I was wondering why there hadn't been more comment about this:
Ouid pro quo

Monday, July 05, 2004

Juan Cole
Just a reminder.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Coming out on the other side
Tim's last kill.

I'm really not sure how much sympathy I have for either of these men, the one who is still alive or the one who isn't. I have some sympathy for their mothers of course, and more for their victims. Anyone who joins the army should be given a tour of a morgue before their tour of duty. It might have helped these poor schmucks if their mothers had done that when they were young.

I've seen 4 or 5 dead bodies, and one man gut-shot, leaning against the wall with blood pouring out of his stomach. I didn't romanticize violence before and I don't now, which isn't to say that I'm not a violent man. But what am I supposed so say about well-meaning white suburban fascists?

Three links from the past, on the esthetics of violence. In order:

And one more (since I found it by accident) on:
theater and art. Scroll down, I've linked to the month rather than the individual posts.

I'm off to Greece for the rest of the day, to celebrate their victory or mourn their defeat. Either way enjoy the company. And I'll eat well.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

[continuing from here]
So it's den Beste she's talking about. There's a book to be written here but I'm too lazy to do it. The response to the whole thing shocks me however so I should expand on my comments a little.

"If one operates on the assumption that one acts without bias, that one's responses to information are neutral and 'objective,' then one can wonder why anyone would ever feel the urge to be rude."

That's a neatening up of my original sentence, written after reading den Beste.

I could argue that rudeness is always unnecessary but that's not the point. It exists. And the logic behind a shocked and wounded response to its presence is an assumption of the purity of the interests of the wounded party. This is the anti Freudianism of technocracy, the assumption of the transparency of language. Only someone who assumes her own reason, and reasonableness, could be hurt by no more than someone else's unreasonableness. Of course who's more fragile, L. or den Beste? Both want to deal with the world only on their own terms. Both of them are afraid of the sloppy engagements of democracy, but den Beste's response is not intellectual but visceral. He makes no claim to clarity. On the other hand there's something invidious, even foul, about the response to his behavior. And, as I continue to argue, there's something illogical in shallow presumptions of one's own logic. One does not learn by subsuming oneself in systems, one learns by using systems to organize information; but there are always things that do not fit. den Beste's pontificating blather is annoying. The emotional and intellectual passivity of the author of the blog Apt 11d, is either tragic or grotesque

It's not philosophy that's become decadent, it's the academic notion of debate. Modernism has grown stale, and we're living in an intellectual's Weimar Republic. As someone who was born in such a place, I'm actually becoming more fond of democracy as I grow older.

Friday, July 02, 2004

"What do you mean I'm out of order?
You're out of order,
this whole courtroom is out of order!."

Oddly, or not, with the beard he looks a lot like my father.
My comments got too long to post at Crooked Timber. They refer to this:

"Each blog is not a democracy. It is operated by the whim of its owner. Most of the time that is all fine and good. It is interesting to get different people’s perspectives on the news of the day, their views on the latest movies, and even what their kids said at breakfast. The personality of the blogger is definitely appealing.
But when bloggers personally attack others, who are not public officials or celebrities just private citizens trying to go about their work, this undemocratic creation is deeply troubling."

I find that last sentence deeply troubling.

It says much about their removal from the struggles of life that educated liberals such as the author at Apt 11d can respond as they do to a minor insult. If one operates on the assumption that one acts without bias, that one's responses to information are neutral and 'objective,' then one can wonder why anyone would ever feel the urge to be rude. Read the entirety of the post. Her coddled fragility is embarrassing.

There is no clear line that can be drawn between rhetoric and reason, so the Nation and the NY Post are equal before the law.

On a more personal note I've had enough of 'nice professional couples' moving into my neighborhood and wondering why the people who've lived here all their lives hate their fucking guts. Gentrification is not nice, but it results from the actions of nice people, most of whom vote democratic.

It's official: Barbara Ehrenreich is the (American) left's answer to David Brooks.

"Like the notion of social class itself, the idea of a liberal elite originated on the left, among early 20th-century anarchists and..."

Jesus fuck.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Jack Balkin
The Bush Administration wanted two things. First, they wanted to round up detainees and hold them indefinitely without oversight. Second, they didn't want anyone to know what they were doing to the people they detained.

Put another way, what the Bush Administration really wanted was silence.

That's why the Supreme Court's rulings in Rasul and Hamdi dealt the Bush Administration a double blow. They not only rejected the Administration's constitutional arguments about detention, they also held that detainees had the right to speak. And once the detainees have the right to speak, they will be able to tell the world how they were rounded up and what has happened to them since.

If the Administration has acted arbitrarily or has abused or mistreated persons in its custody, giving those persons the ability to speak is bad news indeed.

For this reason, we can expect that the next struggle will be over whether hearings for detainees will be public or private. The Administration will try to close as many hearings as it can for reasons of national security. And it will try to obtain gag orders against the attorneys representing detainees preventing them from talking about the information revealed at the hearings.

Failing that, the Administration will try to quietly release as many detainees as it can over the next few weeks. But it will no longer be able to do so quiely. Releasing detainees because they are not risks to national security will lead to the inevitable question of why the detainees were not released earlier. Their release will be additional proof that the government acted willfully and arbitrarily, and used the language of national security as a convenient excuse to cover up its mistakes.

In the case of Messrs. Padilla and Hamdi, the Government may soon move to indict them criminally. As soon as it does so, however, we will begin to learn what the government did to these two U.S. citizens over the course of two years.

When the Government lost these lawsuits, it lost its right to compel slience. It lost its right to keep its mistakes a secret.

But that's part of the point of having the rule of law.