Friday, July 29, 2005

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I've been thinking about the post below on China, and my indifference to American nationalist fears, trying to explain to myself my own glibness. I just don't find nationalism to be moral, and there's a continuing implication in the language of this country that it is.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. An international lawyer and expert on international institutions and American foreign policy, Dean Slaughter is the author of numerous academic articles and a frequent contributor to leading newspapers and magazines. She is a former president of the American Society of International Law and serves on the boards of the McDonalds Corporation , the New American Foundation, and the Council on Foreign Relations. Her most recent book is A New World Order. which argues that global networks of national government officials -- regulators, judges, and legislators -- are a vital but under-used tool for addressing threats from terrorism to global epidemics in the 21st century.
I don't associate capitalism with morality any more than I associate nationalism with morality, but I can respect prudence. The Chinese leadership, like smart businessmen, are prudent cynics. America's foreign policy elite continue to live a Panglossian hypocrisy that says the United States represents something more. Nobody else believes them.
Is there a more cynical corporation in this country -excepting those that are simply criminal conspiracies [read:Big Pharma]- than McDonalds?
The issues get a bit confused, and a short exchange with Brad DeLong.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I was away, packing up my mother's house. It sold quickly.
For later: What's wrong with this picture?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Read Nathan Newman and the various posters @ Balkinization on Roberts.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Amateur Hour
I'm rewriting this (again and again).

In the struggle between China and The West [sic] I don't care who wins. I don't know anyone who gives a damn about these things. Artists and stockbrokers, my social circle, are whores: they attach themselves to interesting people- the phrase is Duchamp's- and the men who run the PRC are more interesting than the men who run this country. I'm not afraid of them certainly, renegade nationalism is more of a danger in Moscow or Islamabad than Beijing, but that's not to say I have much respect for those in this country who actively abet censorship. Similarly, if I'm impressed by the struggle in Iran it follows that there are at least a few people there with money or government positions whom I would like or respect whether I would agree with them or not, but all this does is make the Bush Administration's actions in Iraq look even worse.
Juan Cole is right and wrong. Iran won the battle, not the war. The war isn't over. Capitalism will win the war, but not American capitalism.

I wonder what euphemisms and code words will become popular in China thanks to Yahoo? What will be the new slang for 'democracy.' Language under pressure will adapt and those adaptations will be interesting and some beautiful.

Knud Jensen inherited his father's business as a cheese wholesaler. 12 years later, in 1956, representatives of his biggest client came to him with an offer and a choice: either sell the company to their American employer or they would bypass him and drive him out of business. He sold it, and used the money to found a museum, now the most popular in Denmark. Louisiana

One of the ironies of the Maytag sale is that Haier would have kept jobs in the US in order to expand the American market, while Whirlpool will move the its factories to China.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Duncan Black: "Well, since this confidential but persusasive source fed you a bunch of horseshit in order to let the administration control the nomination spin don't you feel an obligation to inform your listeners who this liar was?
Haha, just kidding, I'd know you'd never burn a source, even one which used you to deceive the public. That would be a betrayal of those in power, and we can't have that."

Safire used to brag that he turned down goverment positions because he liked power and didn't want to lose it. The press has power but they're content to serve. It makes no sense. You want glory? Burn someone big who lies to you; the people will love you. That's power.
The legal genius of John Roberts.
"Ansche Hedgepeth was, at the time of her crime, 12 years old. She was waiting for a friend to buy a Metrocard at the Tenleytown/American University Metrorail station in Washington, DC when she committed the fateful act.

She opened the fast food bag she was carrying and ate one French fry – in plain view of an undercover police officer.

The police officer placed her under arrest, handcuffed her and removed her shoelaces “pursuant to established procedure,” as the opinion tells us. She was held at the local police station for three hours until her mother could come to collect her.
Things of interest to me at least from a couple of days ago.

Laura Rozen wonders why there's been so little reaction to Hersh's most recent N.Yorker piece.
Hersh: In my reporting for this story, one theme that emerged was the Bush Administration'?s increasing tendency to turn to off-the-books covert actions to accomplish its goals. This allowed the Administration to avoid the kind of stumbling blocks it encountered in the debate about how to handle the elections: bureaucratic infighting, congressional second-guessing, complaints from outsiders.
Watching the talking heads chatter about the Roberts nomination reminds me again of the absurdities of intellectual conservatism and of arguments from absolute foundations. Scalia is a Hobbesian reactionary. Is it possible to be and brilliant have such opinions? I suppose. But it's impossible to be such a reactionary and be a 'brilliant' interpreter of law. Reactionaries defend the right of the government as such regardless of rules. Can you be a brilliant tennis player if it's your policy to cheat? These idiots bore me. And of course liberals are principled moderates, men standing in the middle of a moving boat.
The only foundation that there can be to democracy and law is the foundation of a skeptical curiosity and the empathy that is its natural result. I'd agree with Brian Leiter, Dennett and the rest of the 'Brights' if it were possible to have a science of self-awareness or a vaccine against false logic and delusion, but there isn't one and there never will be. Brights confuse arrogance with intellect. Consciousness is the conflict between empirical awareness and conditioned response, and Leiter's anger and frustration are more a result of the latter than the former. That he thinks otherwise is unobservant and illogical: since when is it good politics to be anti-political?

Scalia thinks curiosity is dangerous to the state. I think it's a necessity if that state is to be just. He and I at least agree on the issues themselves. And Roberts is another uninteresting man.

Monday, July 18, 2005

"As an economist what I think would be really interesting would be a critical comparison of the rise in theory in the (or one of the) humanities (like literary criticism) with the rise and complete imperial dominance of theory in economics. Why was the former so much less successful and transitory than the latter? Why was the introduction of theory in literary criticism thought to be so transgressive and radical in the humanities both by its proponents and its critics, while theoretical economics was so often viewed as complementary to the status quo (word?) and even reactionary by its critics and (implicitly) by its exponents."

It's not DeLong. Scroll down to the comments.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Summer Repeats:
A major problem, I want to say the major intellectual problem, with liberal American political thinking is an inability to be both intellectual, in the sense of aspiring to reason, and yet be aware of the inevitability of unreason in human actions. As someone who recently for the first time in five years and only by unhappy necessity got behind the wheel of a car, I'm amazed that the roads of the world are not awash in blood and rusted steel. The fact that they aren't is to our credit but that's no justification for Chomsky's idealism or Steven Weinberg's metaphysical arguments for the superiority of hard science and our need for a new Superconducting Supercollider.
I'm more interested in how we perceive the world than in what that world might actually be, more interested in the history of law than the history of rocks. That's not an argument against medicine or medical research, but since Richard Lewontin keeps reminding us that money spent on public health would save more lives than what's spent on research, I don't think my tastes are irrational.

Two more points on Theory.
American literary theory has its origins, first post-Sputnik and then post Vietnam, in the fears and insecurities of academic readers of literature vis-a-vis the larger academic -technical and scientific- community. What in Europe was a means of ironic self reflection -Before The Revolution and after The War- became first estheticized and depoliticized at Yale, as modern architecture had been 40 years earlier at MoMA, and then in a repeat, as farce, of a simple modernist strategy, repoliticized as defense and self-justification for a younger and even more nervous generation of humanities graduates. This entire process marks the move away from a taste for self-consciously great if eccentric public characters, to the tastes of an equally self-conscious but cloistered academic ghetto. The fantasies of "progress" in the arts qua art, became the fantasy of art as science. I can't begin to calculate the amount of shit I've put up with as a skilled tradesman in the presence of supposedly educated liberals who had no awareness of my double life, and in another context as a painter, a maker of artworks in a supposedly conservative medium, among theory-besotted mediaphiles high on pseudo-Marxism, the faux-aristocratic snobbery of queer theory, and Wall Street cash. 

Paraphrasing something I wrote 20 years ago: After the failures of the sixties, of the last attempt by members of the middle class to associate themselves wholeheartedly with workers and the poor, the next generation, and the same generation grown older, found a way to dedicate themselves to themselves and call it a radical act. All that theory or theory driven art succeeds in doing is documenting its authors' fears and preoccupations. That's fine with me but they pretend it's more than that, and it isn't.

I've been on the scene for a while.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Letter E

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Electronic Intifada
Avi Shlaim in The Guardian
Doug ireland
I'm having a little fun here.

Descriptions of the Islamic faithful by well meaning liberals, at Starbucks for example, are the same as for conservative Christians, with the same condescension. I'm not making a big deal of it, commenting on it almost as a manner of style. It fits with my comments at the link above and it allows me to add something to them. Philosophy, in the continental sense, is a literary activity. You could almost call it the literature of rationalism. But when continental culture is adapted to American tastes, as Marcel Duchamp's brilliant parlor games and dirty jokes were seen as the beginnings of conceptualism, then we begin to get into trouble. Duchamp himself described one reason for being annoyed at the 'ocular' banality of painting: "No one ever called anyone a dumb poet." I've always thought of him as a conservative, in the sense of a monarchist, and someone who new him told be that's exactly what he was.
It makes sense. But one thing he did not do is hide his tastes behind a facade of false radicalism.

I might as well double up:

"The problem with theory as with much of modernist intellectualism is that it attempts to claim a quasi-scientific authority for its arguments. The deconstructive philosophical defense of literary speech is nothing more than a rationalists' defense of empiricism, made while steadfastly refusing to get your boots muddied. Is this why analytic philosophers, futurists, libertarians and theory-heads all seem to read science and speculative fiction? This is also I imagine why lawyers tend to mock legal philosophers.
Theory and analytic philosophy have too much in common, not the least of which is an inability to understand the difference between experience and idea, or art and illustration.

The most annoying thing about all this is the snobbery. The Europeans, whatever their titles or positions, have acted as public intellectuals; and Sokal and Chomsky ideological dumbasses or not have at least been activist on issues the non academic left are concerned with. But this changes nothing. What we end up with is a debate between those who say the speaking subject is not a worthy topic of discussion and those who say that there's nothing more worthy of discussion than what they wore saturday night: a war between the nerds and narcissists. And the narcissists think they're being radical! What's this, Sarah Bernhardt?

The Europeans know they're bourgeois, they understood that their words have limits. They describe them. They make jokes at their own expense. Americans being incapable of self-reflection only laugh at other people.

...I don't associate theory with post modernism but with a decadent late modernism which claims that through some sort of rationalist argument that we can close the divide between action and reflection, creating a sort of total intellectual/esthetic consciousness: a consciousness by design, hence the popularity of Sci-Fi and other sorts of Stalinist over-determination."

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Informed Comment: "All the Muslim governments condemned the bombings of London, including Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, along with Iran, as well as Turkey, and even Hamas and Hizbullah. Hamas has long foresworn violence against American and European targets, and has been holding talks with the UK, for which it has been condemned by the al-Qaeda-linked groups. Note that only at and the Chinese sites will the unadorned truth of these Arab and Muslim condemnations be reported in detail. The Financial Times mentioned it but then discussed a few negative individual responses in chat rooms, as though the Egyptian foreign minister was only as important as some guy in an internet cafe. All the Muslim governments are as vulnerable as London, and most of the Arab and Muslim capitals have been bombed by radical fundamentalists-- Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, Riyadh, Tehran, Jakarta, etc. Sometimes it has been the country's second city, as with Casablanca or Istanbul."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Juan Cole
Implications of the London Bombing
"The attack on London is not something it is easy for me to talk about in dry analytical terms. I've lived in London, doing research, have often visited, and have many friends there. I know the tube or subway stops being talked about, and have ridden the double decker bus that plies the area around Russell Square and Bloomsbury. I want all my British readers and friends to know with what horror and solidarity I watched those images.
I feel the need to add here that Cole is one of the few people I've read today who understands the difficulty of communicating sadness to an audience of strangers.

Compare the above with the boilerplate of Brad DeLong
We Mourn with the Citizens of London
We pledge to help track down and kill the perpetrators, the planners, and their helpers.

We note that it is 46 months after September 11, 2001, and that Osama bin Laden is still alive and at liberty. That somebody can plan September 11, 2001 and remain alive and at liberty provides powerful encouragement to those who think of following in his footsteps--including those who planned, aided, and carried out today's atrocity in London.

More attention to Osama bin Laden and his ilk, please. And less attention to using Osama bin Laden as a pretext for launching hair-brained neoconservative schemes, please."
I have no disagreement with his larger points; I am not a defender of bin Laden any more than I am of Neocon stupidity. But no, we do not "mourn with the citizens of London" we mourn as people thousands of miles away who were not there, who did not hear the sounds or feel the blasts or see the faces of friends in tears in front of us. And this logical understanding of distance is what prompted Cole to begin with the rhetorical device of introduction, of storytelling, asking permission to be allowed to join those who were nearer. By acknowledging distance, by demonstrating his awareness of the limits of his ability-of his right
- to respond, he demonstrates a reflective awareness that gives his expressions of sadness moral weight.

I feel a little odd using today's events as the springboard for a discussion of literary theory, but the real subject is not literary but political. Cole is an interpreter of language: he understands its form and function, and his relation to both. I have no idea if he's a secularist or religious -Christian? Sunni? Shia?- and readers of this page know I'm an atheist, but they also know by now that my central point has always been the defense of the primacy of the interpretative act, of the subject as intelligence over and opposed to mechanism.
As I wrote a month ago about the woman who watched over my mother in the last days of her life:
"There's a difference between caring for someone, in the sense of emotional attachment, and being attentive to them, to their wishes or their pain. Pain itself is lonely and expressions of sympathy are often theater used to hide incomprehension and fear.
I'm watching the old watch their friend die. They have become professionals at this. They are honest actors: the most aware both of the distances between people, and the similarity of their experience."

Numbers don't teach you the strangeness of seeing yourself in the mirror. They hide it from you.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Russia, China, Central Asia Call for US Withdrawal
Juan Cole

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I need to get back in practice.
I found a copy of Denis Donoghue's Speaking of Beauty on the bookshelf near my mother's desk. She spent some time with it, but I'd like to think not much. In any event, I'm going to spend some time tearing it to pieces. It's just this sort of crap that gives vulgar materialists: neo-liberal and conservative economists, political scientists and libertarians (and Randians) an easy target. Donoghue might as well be named Ratzinger for all he takes for granted, and for all he prefers to keep locked up and unsaid. The elisions, graceful and absurd, make my head spin.
"Yes, but what do you mean by beautiful?"
You might try saying several things. The painting thrills me. It must illuminate my life. It provokes in me a semblance of desire, virtual rather than appetitive
That last phrase speaks volumes. Art as 'indirection.' My father, for all his sincere protestations to leftism, spent a good part of his life rereading Henry James. At heart he ws an unreflective lover of symptoms.

In his review of the Donoghue's book on Walter Pater Roger Kimball scores what I would think are easy points. I'm surprised to find out for example that Pater's philosophy has been seen as 'unmodern'. It was attacked by T.S. Eliot? Well of course! But only because Eliot's critique of decadence is little more than a desperate attempt to bar the door against his own tastes. Huysmans predicted such re-turns to the Church.* But being honest to his poetry necessitates being honest to his fear, and Eliot's honesty, and his intelligence and skill are why we read him.

Donoghue has no patience for this. I'm tempted to say he has no respect for interpretation, seeing it as vulgarization of the beautiful. As a Jew, or demi-Jew, I find that particularly annoying. Again to paraphrase, this time Yehudi Menuhin chatting ot his friend Marcel Reich-Ranicki: where would German culture be without its Jewish interpreters?

* I was a little surprised that no one went after Rick Santorum more after he tried to blame liberalism for the recent scandals in the Catholic Church. The hypocrisy he condemns has always been a conservative -Pauline- vice.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Leiter sets a trap and dives in. The attack on democracy by "experts" The pretension of/to scientism; the contempt for any claims for the philosophical or moral seriousness of rhetoric: the contempt -of a lawyer!- for 'pursuasion.' . What does this say about the political/cultural life in this country? What does this say about the political/cultural life in this country that no one calls him on it? One of you intellectualkids come back to me on this.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A good one from a year ago.
Nathan Newman (read the last few posts)
Atrios links to a letter at Poynter.

The photo is a of my father, from the late 60's. My mother was less public, and less interested in theater, but she's listed on Amazon for a 32 page pamphlet (unavailable) she wrote for the ACLU in 1976: Women and the law in Pennsylvania. My father is known in academic circles as the author of one essay in the study of American detective fiction. So far I'm known for one essay on Warhol, written when I was 23, and which seems to get footnoted often, if not reprinted.

We found the FBI files in the basement, near the Norman Mailer collection, which my mother didn't get rid of after all.
We are Planning an act of direct creative resistance to the war and the draft on October 20. The locale of our action will be the Department of Justice. We will gather at the First United Congregational Church of Christ, 10th and G Streets, N.W., Washington (near Pennsylvania) Avenue) at 1 P.M. We will appear at the Justice Department together with 30 or 40 young men brought by us to Washington to represent the 24 Resistance groups from all over the country. There we will present to the Attorney General the draft cards turned in locally by these groups on October 16. (Those of us who want to include their own draft cards will be able to do so.) We will, in a clear simple ceremony make concrete our affirmation of support for these young men who are the spearhead of direct resistance to the war and all its machinery.

The draft law commands that we shall not aid, abet or counsel men to refuse the draft. But as a group of the clergy have recently said, when young men refuse to allow their conscience to be violated by an unjust law and a criminal war, then it is necessary for their elders- their teachers, ministers, friends- to make clear their commitment, in conscience, to aid, abet, and counsel them against conscription. Most of us have already done this privately. Now publicly we will demonstrate, side by side with these young men, our determination to continue to do so.

Mitchell Goodman, Henry Braun, Denise Levertov, Noam Chomsky, William Sloan Coffin, Dwight Macdonald

Note: Among the hundreds already committed to this action are Robert Lowell, Norman Mailer, Ashley Montagu, Arthur Waskow, and professors from most of the major colleges and universities in the East.
Reproduced in The Armies of the Night. Henry pointed it out to me with a laugh at my mother's memorial yesterday.

Friday, July 01, 2005

There was another greenhouse and a car-port on the opposite side. The three windows on the second story- on the flat-roofed extension on the left- look into my father's study. Below it was the kitchen. The branches coming into the top of the frame are from the oak tree that dominated the back yard.