Monday, May 30, 2005

Again, No.
On Bullshit: "Turning its back on half a century of European history..." ??

and here (scroll down to the byline): Lawrence M. Wein is a professor of management science[?] at Stanford Business School
For Theodor Adorno, this negative utopia is known as art. For others, the only true image of the future is the failure of the present. Or, for that matter, the failure of the past. As Walter Benjamin reminded us, it is memories of enslaved ancestors, not dreams of liberated grandchildren, that drive men and women to revolt. To avoid some cheap leftist triumphalism, we must move backward into the future with our eyes fixed mournfully on that great heap of wreckage that is the past. Otherwise we are merely callow modernizers or cavalier avant-gardists, who in seeking to eradicate the past will discover that it returns with a vengeance to plague us.
Terry Eagleton in The Nation

Callow adjective (esp. of a young person) inexperienced and immature : earnest and callow undergraduates.
In science of course all adjectives are suspect.

Friday, May 27, 2005

A little addendum to the post below.
What is the difference between these questions:

How can I be a more logical person?
How can I be better person?

Levitt avoids the latter as mere questions of value, but what are the values implied by his choice?

Just because you don't talk about values doesn't mean you don't have them. Just because you like to imagine yourself as functioning independently of your environment doesn't mean you are.
I'm arguing with people who would say that scientific genius can be quantified but that "there is no accounting for taste." "Art is merely subjective. Questions of value outside the value of the value free are merely subjective. The soft superiority of a greater social awareness is culturally determined - based on snobbery - while the superiority of the scientific imagination is clear and cool and not of our making and therfore fair."

The point is not to avoid the analysis of behavior, but to be aware that it can be applied to anyone, and that if you're going to deploy such logic you should be prepared for the consequences.

The next time you read Levitt or Lessig ask yourselves what each avoids, and ask: Why?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

When I get into the subway in the morning I walk into a crowd, often bunched near the doorways, leaving space in the middle of the train. A scientific study of group behavior might be used to develop train designs that limit this behavior, but it would also help if people were taught to be more observant and aware of each other. Science, or rather the Chicago school of socioeconomic behavioral studies, reduces everyone to the level of mass idiocy in the name of democracy and freedom.  This fosters a sort of hard superiority of the rational mind: all subjectivity being equal, what's left is rationality as defined in very limited terms and its opposite. For various reasons I prefer the soft superiority of the sympathetic imagination, the imagination of curiosity, that knows there are others in the room, maybe even superior to you.

Steve Levitt has the voice in his writing of enthusiastic and emotionally immature adolescence. His cutesy tone is cringe inducing. He exhibits the sort of imagination that argues the superiority of technical knowledge, the only sort he has, over the description of sense. It's the sort of imagination that ignores, represses, the speaking subject in favor of the spoken, the sort of that's unaware of or blitely indifferent to its own biases

Laurence Lessig is the same, but now I have a better idea where it came from. Lessig, like Levitt, is interested only in the mechanics of communication, not in the thing communicated. I wouldn't care if it weren't for the fact that he passes off one as the other.
Childhood trauma does strange things. It deadens you.
The Guardian: FBI memo reignites Qur'an furore

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A song from my childhood.

Another job almost over.

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Guardian: The United States administration turned a blind eye to extensive sanctions-busting in the prewar sale of Iraqi oil, according to a new Senate investigation.
A report released last night by Democratic staff on a Senate investigations committee presents documentary evidence that the Bush administration was made aware of illegal oil sales and kickbacks paid to the Hussein regime but did nothing to stop them.
The scale of the shipments involved dwarfs those previously alleged by the Senate committee against UN staff and European politicians like the British MP, George Galloway, and the former French minister, Charles Pasqua.
In fact, the Senate report found that US oil purchases accounted for 52% of the kickbacks paid to the regime in return for sales of cheap oil - more than the rest of the world put together.
Henry Farrell asks a question

Sunday, May 15, 2005

From Kerim Friedman:
ZMag: [Anthropologist] David Graeber, was fired from Yale University a few days ago. Of course, that wasn’t the official explanation. The official one reads that “his contract wasn’t renewed” because of his lack of “collegiality”. If you would allow me to translate this: the “lack of collegiality” that David had showed was when he was trying to defend his graduate students who were graduate union organizers.

Union organizers are regularly targeted at Yale. When one brilliant graduate student organizer was almost kicked out for clearly fabricated reasons, David Graeber was the only member of her committee with the courage to openly stand up for her at that committee meeting, and then later at a faculty meeting. On David Graeber’s behalf, Yale graduate students have initiated a petition which has been signed by almost all graduate and good number of undergraduate students of anthropology.
Sign the petition

David for many years was one of my closest friends. We had a falling out 1987 and haven't spoken since.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A little fun here,
and more recently here.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mein liebes feind

1. By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.

2. One well-known representative of Cinema Verité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents the amount of written law and legal procedures. "For me," he says, "there should be only one single law: the bad guys should go to jail."
Unfortunately, he is part right, for most of the many, much of the time.

3. Cinema Verité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.

4. Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.

5. There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.

6. Filmmakers of Cinema Verité resemble tourists who take pictures amid ancient ruins of facts.

7. Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.

8. Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pressure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: "You can´t legislate stupidity."

9. The gauntlet is hereby thrown down.

10. The moon is dull. Mother Nature doesn´t call, doesn´t speak to you, although a glacier eventually farts. And don´t you listen to the Song of Life.

11. We ought to be grateful that the Universe out there knows no smile.

12. Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of a hell that during evolution some species - including man - crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

A rough draft (or a beginning of one.) Nothing new.

Design annoys me. I make things for a living: carpentry is making. But what is design if not directing how something is made by others? What does it mean that at this point in time designers are so distinct from builders?
And when did the defense of craft become the defense of the ‘crafty’?

This never became the case with writing. Writers are craftsmen. What book review does not discuss both the author’s ideas and her craft. Would any literary critic ever think to separate the two when discussing a work of fiction; and isn’t it considered a compliment when the language of a non-fiction book is described as being wed somhow to the subject? Especially in the case of a novel the ideas by themselves as divorced from the language mean little; the question hinges more on whether the author has the skill to communicate the nuances of one particular experience, fact, or example. What’s the difference between one love story/murder mystery or another? How many plots are there in the theater? Even in autobiography, and let’s raise the stakes, what’s the difference between one holocaust memoir and another?

How did design, the poor cousin of art, ever get to take itself so seriously? Why did design become the paradigm for culture in the 20th century? If you do not understand how this is so then consider modern politics.

Design is joined -wed- to the modernist fantasy of intention and predictive value. Its abstraction and intentionality are seen still by some as strengths. It’s good to have an idea of what you want. It’s good to know the value of things. It’s good to have assumptions. But the failures of modernism in politics or design, are the failures of intention. As Eric said in a recent exchange while I was workig on this piece: “socialism is design.” But socialism is a failure, at least as design. Whether it is a failure as a methodology of action or of life is another matter.

I have one Italian suit. The jacket has been been tailored tightly around the waist and the pants cuffed and cut to a full break. I picked it up it after working on the importing agent's showroom. In spring I like lightweight shoes with leather soles; and I try not only to think good thoughts but to write well.

My argument is not with style in the sense that intellectuals disdain the superficial, but with the defense of design as an intellectual act, with the teleology of the market and unalloyed desire for the new. I’m disgusted with the false dichotomy of form and content, as if one were a package and the other a commodity. I’m bothered by design because it is a secondary form which in a technocratic world has become for many the definition of art itself. If we agree that the biggest questions are scientific, that they can be answered by means of logic and analysis, then there’s nothing left for art but simple pleasure (and triangular glasses and an ugly but rigorously constructed haircut are not what I’d call ‘complex’.)
The place was a cockpit of magnificent art and appalling kitsch, glutted with waltzes, whipped cream, chocolate cake and high culture. The grimmer the political climate grew, the more relentlessly frivolous the city became. “In Berlin”, remarked the Austrian satirist Karl Kraus, “things are serious but not hopeless. In Vienna they are hopeless but not serious.”
Terry Eagleton writing about Wittgenstein’s Vienna, in the TLS.

All communication involves both logic and seduction, and only a fool or a mathematician who sleeps alone in his office would argue otherwise. A courtroom is an arena wherein two people who have been hired for this purpose argue viewpoints they may or may not even give a damn about. If all communication were not fraught with ambiguity we would find such a system as this not only cruel but barbaric.
A comment and question, but not about John Bolton:
Why is it that American commentators are constantly trying to 'explain' the role of formalized hypocrisy in other political cultures? Conservatives feign disgust, while liberals respond gently, as if explaining to us as children the roots of an uncle's alcoholism. The logic is the same whether the discussion concerns the behavior of the French, the Iranians or as now the Japanese.
After all the years and all the blood, Americans still like to constider themselves naive. I'll never understand the American fear of sophistication. Or rather at this point I just can't forgive it.

And am I the only one who sees immediately the relationship of the above to this?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

I'm flying out to LA in two weeks,
on business.

It's been a good day

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Ass kissing at The Nation.
Joseph Massad respnds:
My characterization of Israel as racist is not some ideological insult but rather a description of a country that has myriad laws that grant Jewish citizens rights and privileges that it denies to non-Jewish citizens. These include the Law of Return (1950), the Law of Absentee Property (1950), the Law of the State's Property (1951), the Law of Citizenship (1952), the Status Law (1952), the Israel Lands Administration Law (1960), the Construction and Building Law (1951) and myriad others.

This racist character of the country extends to the maintenance of the exclusive Jewish symbolism that Israel deploys, ranging from its Jewish flag and national anthem (which speaks only of Jews) to its ceremonial national days and the practices of institutionalized discrimination against its Arab non-Jewish citizens in every facet of life. I am not sure why Sherman finds this "inflammatory." Would calling the United States during segregation or South Africa during apartheid racist countries also be considered "inflammatory" anti-American or anti-South African rhetoric?
No one's ever given me a logical reason to think of Zionism as anything but a racist ideology. And exceptionalism is an excuse not a defense.