Wednesday, March 30, 2005

My piss and vinegar from CT. The points are important, especially in reference to Belle and Riverbend. The beginning is from an anthropological paper on Iranian blogs and the culture of blogging in Farsi
“On one side were members of the roshanfekr class — meaning those writers and intellectuals possessing an “enlightened mind,” but also a certain degree of education, sophistication, and social prestige. The term, writes Doostdar, “has historically come to represent one who is conversant with modernist or postmodernist discourses, is a humanist, feels a certain commitment toward the well-being of his or her won society, and continually and publically [criticizes] the values, norms, and behaviors of that society."

This has a lot more to do with the argument over whether one should write in latin than with the ins and out of the technics of academic analysis. I’d prefer either side of the debate in Iran to the crap in english. Humanism? Where is that in evidence much on the English speaking web? The web is populated by enthusiastic tech heads, futurists and geeks who do calculations and imagine they represent the world. The web in Iran and China, and frankly for Belle d. and Riverbend was and is the only way to communicate otherwise common human concerns.

None of you have any sense of the value of the literary, of the community of language, in English, Persian or any other language. You’re all more interested in being right than in being good at something, which is the poet’s or the craftsman's desire. It’s why lawyers laugh out loud at at mention of H.L.A. Hart. Conciousness is logic to you people, and that’s absurd. It’s like saying justice is the words in a book.
You talk in schemas. Writers describe, as lawyers perform law.

And your friend Ophelia Benson argues the logic of religion with believers. Any anthropologist worth his weight in sand will laugh and walk away. I keep hoping for better. it’s not gonna happen

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Sunday, March 27, 2005

"So, yes, the moral case is cloudy, difficult and painful. But the legal one, as near as I can tell, is not. And that, to me, is the crux of the matter.
The law is not the same as morality. Law is rooted in values and moral judgments, yes. Often moral judgments are what prompt us as a society to pick up the pen again and rewrite the law. But the two are not the same. And that is precisely the point. That is the power of the law -- or one of its great attributes, what makes the 'rule of law' more than just empty rhetoric." Josh Marshall

my comments at CT, on intellectuals in politics and moral absolutism
"The socially conservative argument has tremendous moral force, but doesn't accord with the reality we see when we walk through a hospice. The socially liberal argument is pragmatic, but lacks moral force."

The moral force of the liberal argument is contingent on the moral seriousness of the individual actors, not on the rhetorical power of collective history and will.

I wish as always that people would look more often beyond the logic or illogic of the argument, as if they were equations that may or may not perform the function ascribed to them (they won't always), and examine them merely as thought and language.

This is the old contradiction of faith in a pluralistic society. It's been talked over and over. Seeing life as a continuum is as much a sign of faith as seeing it as black and white. Th important distinction is not in absolute but political morality: does our respect for the opinions of others within our community supersede the obligations of our faith? If the society is to continue, one hopes it does. This being said, the best response to Brooks is not to parse the internal logic of his arguments on this case but to expand an analysis.
Brooks is also an economic conservative and therefore an intellectual Bush supporter. Given Bush's economic policies... etc. Is Brooks consistent across subjects and if so does that strengthen or weaken his position?

Ronald Dworkin did a nice job on the abortion debate a couple of years ago, making the quite logical point that since most people who were otherwise opposed to abortion accept it in cases of rape and incest the debate is not about the absolute value of life- a fetus that is the product of a rape is no different in itself from one that is the result of consensual sex- but the sense among conservatives that the issue is not taken seriously enough. Conservatives want merely to enforce a moral seriousness. Those who believe in an absolute value, those who oppose abortion in all cases are a small minority (as are philosophers. and for the same reason.)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

More corruption and stupidity.
What's fascinating to me about the Schiavo business is how many self defined intellectuals have missed the point. "Tube Rape" is Lindsay Beyerstein's term for the goal of Jeb Bush's attempt to circumvent the law.

On the other hand, Josh Marshall, who's basically a journalist and an honest neoliberal, and to whom Brian Leiter would never link -since he's not a specialist- has been fine, and recommends USA today and even Sullivan as getting at the subtleties of this mess. But Crooked Timber and academia, at least the sort of academia that is willing to commune even casually with libertarian theology, have been apoplectic.

My response is simple. If someone is acting irrationally and you can not reason with them, the next step is to try to understand the reason behind their reasons, the logic behind the illogic. The problem liberal reformers have, and this is on old Anglo-American disease, is that if you accept that people act irrationally then the whole politics of rationality and progress goes out the window. Without reason, what's left?
This is the vulgar anti-freudianism of Chomsky et al. and it disgusts me.

Enough for now. It seems clear that the republican cynics overplayed their hand and that any violence at all will disastrous for them.
Update: Jeb's culture of life

Friday, March 25, 2005

When arguing with a believer, at what point does the continued attempt to convince him of his error begin to say more about the interrogator than his irrational opponent?

If we are going to defend the Hermeneutics of suspicion wouldn't it make sense to begin with ourselves?

Looking through Simon Blackburn's Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy I found a quote from Coleridge:

He who begins by loving Christianity better than Truth, will proceed by loving his own sect or Church better than Christianity, and in the end loving himself better than all.

One can design arguments that make black, white, and the reverse; scientists can become deluded, and policemen, contrary to what are often are their own assumptions, are not Law. I've always thought that Dworkin attempts to describe the process by which self-reflexive doubt is institutionalized in legal decision making, and doubt is not a quantitative understanding of the world. Rescue Marx and Freud from science and you rescue them from faith.
For what it's worth, my comments on Terri Schiavo.
I changed the last post a little, and I want to add a bit more. I hedged on the difficulty of workiing around W-. He's a killer, or he was, and his reformation is not entirely complete. That's not a simple thing to say, any more than it's a simple thing to be. If I show him no disrespect to his face, I show him also no disrespect behind his back.

Just so you know.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Juan Cole
Discussions of the afternoon: Immigrant and American blacks: the spanish language diaspora; white contractors who rely on cheap dark help and overpaid (white) site managers as front-men to talk to clients; Seaga, Vivian Blake, and life in Tivoli Gardens; why Jamaican men don't eat pussy. I'm fucking with the W- a little: "Bumbaclot! I don't put my mouth on that!" 

The lead carpenter is from the countryside but was a policeman in Kingston. W- was in a posse, but I knew that when I met him. You sense the violence right below the surface. It's an unstable, hair trigger violence, a sort of tension that's difficult to be around if you're aware of it, because if you're aware of it you're nervous and if you're nervous, you show it, and if you show it he gets nervous, and you don't want him nervous because that makes things more difficult. 

The answer is to fuck with the him without showing disrespect. I don't lie, I don't pretend to be what I'm not—I'm white [to him]—and I don't condescend. And I feel sorry for his girlfriend. 

The other carpenter working with me is Peruvian—we're both working for the cabinetmaker—and Ricky is another sort of hard; a brawler who became a Christian to control his anger. He carries a bible around in his pocket and studies Tae Kwan Do. Indian features, stocky, but tall. He's half Sicilian. He gets along well with the kid, but as I told him today, I can tell he's a fighter, and fighters don't use guns. His aggressive insecurity is more annoying than threatening—his wife teaches in the Bronx and he has two young daughters. 

W- walks up to the window and points "Look! A dead bird flyin through the broken sky!" Everyone looks and he starts laughing.

Ricky had been a cage fighter, illegal MMA. He demonstrated the iron fist by punching a concrete wall. I heard a loud dull thud and felt the vibrations.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Talking to a kid on the job, a Jamaican from the slums of Kingston, with eyes that turn in an instant from innocent to icy. Listening to him talk about the adventures of his youth, of guns and gangs and the politics of Jamaica, I make a guess:
"Yeah. I was a Seaga Boy!" He laughed.
Still proud.
When it is so easy to share, people will do it. And whether or not that sharing should be bound in some sense by other forms of obligation is largely irrelevant. 
I was too simplistic in my diss of Lessig. The problem, and it is a problem, is that he tries to build a unified field, a gestalt of law and meaning, and it's impossible to do so (forgive my sloppiness I'm a bit drunk.) He's still under the influence of his old boss, the reactionary fool Antonin Scalia. Lessig is a neatnik. Modernism is full of them—many of them near autistic in their behavior and ideas (an old theme of mine)—and there is no way to neaten up an untidy world without destroying it: no way to construct a system that succeeds in describing the whole of experience.

I make a painting. I give it to my children. They give it to their children. Let's say for purposes of argument that it's a great painting (that I'm a great painter.) Is there a limit to the copyright? Does the painting ever fall into the public domain? Should it? 

What is the difference between art that exists as reproduction, as event, and art that exists as isolate, as thing? My painting is my intellectual property. If I sell it or give it away, it becomes the property of someone else. Does it become that person's intellectual property as well? That is a subject still being debated.

I have no problem with Creative Commons, I have a problem with the thought that it resolves every problem. As I said below, the fight over downloading is extra-legal. It is illegal to download pirated data. But a crime that is so easy, and for which there is a philosophical defense in the idea and moral ideal of sharing, means that something new has to be constructed to respond to the new reality. Lessig is trying to construct a modern moral doctrine, a totality (he shares this interest with Scalia) I stand in opposition to such things.

My interest is curiosity and its defense. Wealth is not an interesting subject and neither, with a few exceptions, are the wealthy. So why all the mechanations: this market crap? The right to own property is not the same as the right to make money from it. My children and grandchildren, or more likely my nieces, nephews, and friends' children should get to keep what I give them. Whether they should have the right to get rich off it is another issue.

This is not an argument for or from doctrine. It's more of a benchmark and doctrines tend to involve arcane detail. The defense of progressive taxation is not a doctrine, except to its enemies at Cato and AEI. When a thought is a commonplace it's more than a doctrine, and the best defense of file sharing as I said above is the fact of it. This could be a defense of barbarism but it isn't. I'm not defending the mob, but it can't be ignored, any more than one can ignore changes in language. You can't ride a wave, but you can surf it.

I can't get this out of my head. The sense that it is possible to be outside of history, outside of the "organic process" was one of the bloodiest mistakes of modernist thought. And now the riposte: the thought that intelligent human design plays no part. [Although the intellectuals who argue thus claim the same authority as their fathers.] From the vulgarity of activist determinism to the vulgarity of passive determinism in one hundred miserable years. Dawkins existence, as a symptom, was predictable. That's cruel irony.

An early morning. I'm guess I'm a little surprised that people are surprised: by Volokh, by the Schiavo debacle, and by what Juan Cole calls the Islamization of the Republican Party. Reactionaries are reactionaries. When has conservatism ever been based on logic? I don't remember as a kid thinking there was much of a difference between Brezhnev era Soviet and American conservatism. And note that the worst I could drum up off the cuff against Volokh was that he's anti-intellectual.

Only Nixon could go to China: George Will on Sunday and now Brooks.

Looking into the logic of P2P networks and thinking about the ethical questions. The market/law based argument is simplistic and absurd. And the argument against file sharing will lose out. What is happening is an extra-legal debate in the world between the moral paradigms of gift giving and of some sense of the ownership of ideas. Has anyone commented on the relationship between plagiarism and sampling? Who owns culture. indeed.

When it is so easy to share, people will do it. And whether or not that sharing should be bound in some sense by other forms of obligation is largely irrelevant.

This is how morality changes and how laws change. It will take time before people work out the new rules of moral behavior, but to argue that file sharing can be legally justifiable as it now stands is silly, and to argue that the logic of the market should dominate- the libertarian dream- is equally so, or worse. Lessig seems to be another vulgar system builder, and one who thinks culture is invention rather than description.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Life and death in Argentina

More lies.

This is getting out of hand. it's just silly.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The limits of empathy:
Trying to kill two birds with one stone, Ed Kilgore makes the mistake of going after Bolton on the culture of life issue. Better to keep the discussions separate. in the Schiavo case, stay within the country's border.
"But the chances for success are immeasurably improved when we have partners..."

To take the public position that Sistani has proven himself worthy of our friendship, knowing as Friedman must that he has defeated us at evey turn. I'm too proud by half. I'm almost envious.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Wasting time, wandering around
The end of the book brings us up to the “ideological tidal wave” of neoliberalism and, thus, “Marx’s revenge” of the title. (Marx’s revenge is on the Marxists, by the way.) Monetarism and the first wave of privatizations in the ’70s and ’80s were 
midwife to the much more deep-seated change which came in its wake: the revival on nineteenth-century liberal beliefs. They are now being labelled libertarian, but they are basically the set of ideas that all nineteenth-century thinkers — Left and Right — espoused. The basic notion is civil society (the market, as well as larger society) as an organic process which is a result of human action, but not of human design. Thus, no one single agency, or even a handful of conspiring institutions, is responsible for the course of events which unfolds every day. Marx does not blame monopoly capitalists; he talks of a class monopoly of ownership. Even capitalists only seek to make profit and accumulate. They do not control the market, nor can they overcome competition.
I'm sorry, but if the argument is that simple it's just stupid. Libertarians have a dislike of any constraints on individual freedom, and therefore are not interested in—and know nothing about—culture. The organic process of civil society includes the various attempts to design and control it, and it is the struggle among these forces, of which individuals are representatives, that defines the whole. Democracy without debate is not democracy, and limiting the debate to those subjects defined by and within the market is no more or less than defining religion as anything within Catholic doctrine. Society without constraints on the both the individual and the collective is neither social nor productive, and Harry Shearer is better than Josh Marshall. "If the twentieth century taught us anything, and it didn't, it was to be very cautious about large-scale social projects based on the way people "ought to" behave."

Friday, March 18, 2005

The two volumes of Persepolis, the implacably witty and fearless "graphic memoir" of the Iranian illustrator Marjane Satrapi, relate through an inseparable fusion of cartoon images and verbal narrative the story of a privileged young girl's childhood experience of Iran's revolution of 1979, its eight-year war with Iraq, her exile to Austria during her high school years, and her subsequent experience as a university student, young artist, and wife in Tehran after her return to Iran from Europe in 1998. That Persepolis 1, a book in which it is almost impossible to find an image distinguished enough to consider an independent piece of visual art, and equally difficult to find a sentence which in itself surpasses the serviceable, emerges as a work so fresh, absorbing, and memorable is an extraordinary achievement.

...The double life Iran has forced on her has made her neither a cynic nor an idealist, neither an atheist nor a fanatic. No Molly Bloom, she says both no to the world and yes, with the shifting proportions of dissent
The Beginning and the end of Patricia Storace's article/review in The New York Review of Books

There are paragraphs here that I'd love to push down Brad Delong's throat, or for that matter, Tyler Cowen's.
It is not toward the idea of God that Satrapi is irreverent; it is toward a too credulous approach to the ambiguities of human motives and the temptations of moral aspiration. She sees how religious faith may serve as an exemption or protection from the discipline of self-knowledge, can function as a way of freeing a person from the work of moral inquiry, can create an environment in which a person's will and desires are so identified with the divine that he feels anything is permitted to him. Satrapi is the moral equivalent of an insomniac; she allows herself no moral repose. In a powerful and funny moment, after a conversation with her mother about the need to forgive people who had done harm in the service of the previous regime, Satrapi draws herself making speeches about forgiveness to a mirror, rapt in the image of her own invincible goodness. Satrapi may very well be a believer in God; it is above all toward herself that she is an agnostic
Can either of DeLong or Cowen imagine the logic of being agnostic towards oneself, towards one's own desires?  I think both Patricia Storace and Marjane Satrapi would say mature adulthood is defined by such agnosticism.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I'm bored by this crap. So Horowitz et al. [] are idiots, and Volokh is bright—and that's faint praise—but anti-intellectual. I don't take Volokh seriously and never have but many people try to. I don't take them seriously either.

Tortured logic: The recent hubbub rests on the perceived difference between our free society and its client states. Liberals defend this country without considering the responsibility of the master for the behavior of his servants. I've never gotten the sense that DeLong understands the cruelty of the neoliberal policies he espouses and defends. If he were willing to sound like a realist I wouldn't mind half as much. I'll defend with reservations the nationalism of the weak, but what's the moral and intellectual principle behind defending the United States, or any other powerful country? I have more patience with the fact of nationalism than with its intellectual defense, as I'm more forbearing of the faithful than of priests.

My mother told me one of the reasons she divorced her first husband was that he had no sense of the tragedy of life. A few years later he was working for the Johnson Administration, and my brother and sister were getting invitations to fly down to the ranch on Air Force 2. Did their father learn anything from the dying king?

I don't know.

From the journal of political literalism. "Interesting stuff"?  [] An absurd reaction to the obvious.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

David Hajdu and Jadakiss dis 50 Cent.

On a first gloss this pissed me off but in retrospect I have to shrug. Hadju's glibness is annoying but his condescension is muted. It could be a lot worse.
Rap both is and is not, pop music. Street cred is important, but so is the mainstream, and cynical gunplay is still gunplay. The tension between the need for honesty and the need for bullshit, both of which are market derived, is what gives hardcore rap it's resilience as art and product. And interestingly obviously or both, this ties in with the critique of positivism. Without the tensions of a dual allegiance rap would not be nearly as interesting as it is, and I mean by that: objectively interesting. I have no interest in taste one way or the other.

An argument for judicial discretion, in its strong form -with a capital 'D'?- is no more than an argument for closing the door on any attempt at understanding how change occurs or/and is made. Would H.L.A. Hart be able to understand or to describe the duality of those italicized words, or what it means to define the present by describing it? The whole point of Brian Leiter's philosophy in its disdain for art and literature—and indeed for language—is that description is at all times logically and morally ancillary to the attempt at definition.
Good judges in their opinions attempt to describe the present. And in doing so sometimes they change it.

More later, I'm off the the Armory Show I have a VIP pass for the weekend. And openings tonight etc.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Since my hobbies are my life, I've been (re)reading a bit of Dworkin on Hart.
Positivism in any form is an unsubtle doctrine:

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

I've been reading Max a lot recently.
Leandro Katz and Charles Ludlam...
Bedlam Days

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Briefly: Perhaps it's true that the invasion of iraq is responisble -in the narrow meaning of the term- for much of what's happening now in the middle east, but that doesn't mean the president is getting what he wanted. The idiot shot up a hornets nest and now he's trying to control the swarm.
In the best case scenario, Israel will soon be surrounded by nations with representative govenments, but the whole logic of the Israeli right is that the sand niggers are barbarians.

From a realist (nationalist) perspective there's no doubt the Bush's war was a mistake for the US: it's done nothing but speed up the decline of American power. Of course if all the administration wanted were democratic change, it could all have come about with less violence; but they wanted control, and they won't get it.
Listening to what Atrios calls the "atrocities." Idiots all 'round, Or is it just that they're trapped by the fact that they're all 'merikans and can't offend the mass? I'd say 'masses' but there's a diffference: the masses have many opinions, the 'mass' is the sum total of opinion, defined as a void. Gerhard Richter says: "Opinions are dangerous, so I don't have any." but of course he was speaking as a German.

Following this thread.
A line to remember (it's mine):
"Analytics talk as if blackjack were the only game in town. The house is “the world” and all that stands between you and money are numbers and odds.
You should try poker sometime."

Language represents the world; but a map is not a mountain. That idiots can imagine otherwise amazes me. And yet defenders of art fall into the trap of defending idealism, 'meaning,' 'spirituality' and other such crap, so what can I say? A pox on both your houses; or a bullet in the head.

Also from the NYR: Andrew Delbanco on the modern university.
The beginning of part 2 is here, but you have to pay.
The article is quite nasty about the academic bed hopping that the 'leftist' Brian Leiter spends so much time documenting, and celebrating. But at the same time Delbanco misses something. He quotes Learned Hand in reference to questions then current concerning jewish problems at Harvard: "A college may gather together men of a common tradition, or it may put its faith in learning"
All too true. But universities have become technical colleges, popping out mechanics, and that in itself is a problem. Blackjack teaches you nothing about the world away from the table.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Two things amused me recently in the NYRB: Toni Bentley on Balanchine and- not available online- Gabriele Annan's review of Richard Wollheim's Germs: A Memoir of Childhood, which could be subtitled, "The Heterosexual Faggot." The book sounds intimate, grand, and silly. And Bentley's encomium to her Master is what one would expect from a bottom. At the same time it's hilarious when worshipful servants accuse others of vulgarity. Not that she's wrong, but it's funny.

A few years ago when I was in Spain for a couple of months I walked through a street festival in a small town and spent a few minutes watching a flamenco performance. First the school children in groups, then adolescents, and finally a duet between two adults. The man was obviously gay, his theatricality slightly off, the gestures too gently mannered, unconvincing, though it would be unnecessarily cruel to say inappropriate. The woman, however, as if to compensate, was wonderfully masculine; worshipping an ideal of maleness that she found necessary, or desirable, to embody in herself.

Friday, March 04, 2005

"In truth, in Iran as elsewhere in the Middle East today, America's sins were principally those of omission, not commission. Of course, the Eisenhower administration had toppled the popular government of Mohammed Mosaddegh in 1953 -- an event that has reached mythic proportions in Iranian minds."

Does anyone outside this country take Kenneth Pollack seriously?
In truth I don't take many American political writers very seriously, the liberal ones: the nationalist bias hiddden behind the false face of objectivity, reason or reasonableness.
I can't say the American left are any better.

Oh no
Chris Sperandio (see "Kartoon Kings" link on the left, or click here) is causing more trouble.
Things do fall into place sometimes.

Robert Weisberg is a professor at Stanford, and he makes me laugh.
What he doesn't like, although he is unable to admit it, is the vulgarity of polling. Of course changes in law reflect changes in society. Laws change as meanings change.

"The Constitution that I, Antonin Scalia, interpret and apply is not living but dead."
What's an oxymoron?

Read the article carefully, and it gives almost the definition of the problematics of a scientific philosophy. Judges are members of society; they are not isolates, intellectually or emotionally. But why not argue simply as members of society, from their own definitions of terms? Anyone who speaks uses the language of the time, whether s/he wants to or not. Polling is passivity, as it implies an unwillingness to have an opinion.