Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Marc Lynch: Victory for the AKP.

"Even the relatively mild variety of political Islam in Turkey (which seems likely, under the right conditions, to turn into a Muslim version of Christian Democracy) seems to make US policy makers break out in hives."

Henry Farrell wrote that in May of this year. He's right about the US response but not I think about the AKP and Islam. Islam like Judaism is a religion of scholasticism, and its process of secularization will be a process of expanding intellectual achievement. The history of Christian conservatism is crap.

Had a discussion a few months ago along these lines, with Badger or Non-Arab-Arab, but I can't find the links.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power It ranges from interesting to almost brilliant, all beginning with presumption. There's no reason for presuming that consciousness initiates action. There's no reason to accept "reasons." Consciousness could just as easily be described as the penumbra of physical processes. That's the simplest solution. Until we know better, why not except it?
1- I punched a hole in the ballot paper because I wanted to vote for George Bush 2- I got a bad headache because I voted for George Bush 3- The glass fell on the floor because I accidentally knocked it off the table.
Searle relates 2 and 3 as simple causality, with one being the exception as having to do not with causes but reasons. But before we get to where he wants to go I read them this way:
1- I punched a hole in the ballot paper because I wanted to vote for George Bush 2- I got a bad headache because I voted for George Bush 3- The glass fell on the floor because I accidentally knocked it off the table.
First of all, everything beyond this needs to be tested, and some of them hold up better than others. Searle however jumps immediately to building a logic separating causes from reasons for action. How does he defend the existence of reasons? By arguing that we experience our reasons for doing things.
Assumption 1: Explanations in terms of reasons do not typically cite causally sufficient conditions. Assumption 2: Such explanations can be adequate explanations of action. How do I know that assumption 2 is true? How do I know such explanations can be and often are adequate? Because in my own case I often know exactly what reasons I had for performing an action and I know that an explanation that cites those reasons is adequate.
What is this knowledge and where does it come from? Searle doesn't say. It seems to come from the same place Chomsky's language tools come from, his own sense of its moral necessity. "I drank a glass of water because I was thirsty" Is that a description of causes or reasons? --- July 25 I set my alarm-clock to ring at 6 Am. Does my alarm-clock have free will? I began by giving Searle some credit, but following and picking through his arguments I have less and less patience. He's not interested in the simplest and most direct solutions but in the simplest and most direct solutions that serve his purposes. He seems both awed and flummoxed by notions of time and memory, though he doesn't use either term. In his discussions of man as the only political animal (many animals are social) and his in his discussion of free will, he vests his "gaps" with far more significance than they can bear. A promise is not the creation of a "desire-independent reason" it's simply a delay. The human mind has the capacity to remember details that make such deferments possible. There's nothing in his arguments that wouldn't be better and more simply explained by describing consciousness as the byproduct of brain function, but that notion offends him so he avoids it. Consciousness is not rationality or reason, it's indecision [its manifestation]. That's what separates animals from the machines they make.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

This, as they say, is an opinion piece:

What happened in northern Lebanon, according to the simplest interpretation, is that the Hariri/Saudi group and its allies in the Bush administration, which had previously supported a salafi group called Fatah al-Islam, decided to pull the plug, with Hariri abruptly ending monthly payments to group-members. This was followed by expressions of displeasure including a bank-robbery, and then a couple of months of reports about the heroism of the Lebanese Army in reducing the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp to rubble. The result is a new strategic importance for the Lebanese Army, previously considered an institution with a nationalist core, now part of the Hariri- and US-led alliance. This simplifies and escalates the "moderate versus extremist" road-map for the Americans and their allies. Having groups like Fatah al-Islam put pressure on Hizbullah was one stratgegy, but using the Lebanese Army for that is a much simpler and more powerful one for the long haul.

In Gaza, where Fatah leaders fled rather than defend the Dahlan organization, we are asked to believe in a David versus Goliath miracle-victory for Hamas against the US-armed Dahlan group, when a much more plausible explanation would be that the US decided to pull the plug on that corrupt former cats-paw as well. The result here is also a new strategic configuration, isolating Hamas in Gaza, and thus escalating and simplifying the pressure on the "extremists". Having groups like the Dahlan gangs put pressure on Hamas was one strategy, but isolating Hamas in Gaza and using an overt Fatah-Israel coalition to do that seems to be much simpler and more powerful in the long haul.

In both cases, the facts we know are more consistent with the hypothesis of this kind of a strategy-development in Washington than they are with the kind of freakish and unexplainable sequence of events that have been reported in this weirdly unquestioning way by the media.

In Baghdad, where the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) was declared last October...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tony Karon on Dennis Ross
We've been here before
Manic specialization is less intellect than symptom. It's a sign of desperation, having less to do with and interest in the complexity of the world than with a fixation on the complexity of the self.
Going back to recent comments and then farther: its more than adversarialism, what's necessary is divided loyalty. The new model of intellectual life is of the individual and the specialist, and the new model of democracy is the wisdom of crowds: the bundling of monads. But you won't understand the importance of conflict in itself [as such] if you don't have conflicts within yourself [don't recognize that they exist]. And the logic of specialization and atomization almost literally runs away from such awareness, encouraging a simplified telos that can only be countered by the telos of another. That's the dumbing down of intellectual life, its redefinition as unidirectional desire and as monomania and geekdom. And the ideal of the intellectual or citizen as technician finds it's parallel in the the ideal of soldier as technician of violence.

Divided loyalty is the definition of moral responsibility and full adulthood in a democracy. Lawyers are loyal to both their clients and to each other, to the justice system. Soldiers in the army must see themselves as both servants of military authority and free citizens. Citizens are loyal both to themselves and their community. The model of unidirectional telos is the logic of classical economics and the Chicago school but also of Noam Chomsky. It would be nice for someone to do a study of Chomsky and the theory of rational action. I've probably said that before. I've said almost all of this before.
Technicians are not paid to be curious but competent. Hyper-competency is not a value it's a surrogate.

note taking
Interesting that Shalizi refers to free market theory to defend the artificial manipulation of the academy.
Also of course the reference to markets presumes that markets are foundational. “Diversity of heuristics and perspectives tends to be linked to diversity of values and interests.” That’s a case for strengthening or reinforcing those systems that counter the market. There are those who say that individualism itself does not need a counter-force, but they would have to document the degree to which individuals are actual free agents, and so far the reach of that argument has far exceeded its grasp. In the meantime individualism can not counter itself.

There are two questions involved here: how to do things well, and what to do. Diversity and democracy are concerned with both. In the long run that requires not an understanding of complex systems but of the fact of overlapping and conflicting, even mutually exclusive complex systems: the definition of “consciousness”
and again
An another note returning to the discussion of Doormen. I looked through the book today and I'd guessed right. Aside from the mannerisms of social scientist as naif [is this supposed to imply objectivity?] he has no knowledge of the history of the city, and history is context. He makes some vague reference to the racial mix among doormen, but that’s it. The upper west side was built, literally to mirror the UES where wealthy Jews were not welcome (and in some buildings still may not be) Also my experience [as a workman in manhattan] is that the racial mix among the population of doormen on the UES is majority ethnic white. I’ve asked around and others I’ve worked with are of the same opinion. I’m willing to bet the author’s data would show the same thing, if he'd bothered to run the numbers.
But he didn't
"...the mannerisms of social scientist as naif" There's a whole book in that one.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Saturday, July 14, 2007

If someone says "close the door" and I slam it shut, did I do as s/he asked? And if a third party is asked to decide, to designate my action—name it—as closing or not, how does s/he do it? What is his or her "opinion" What's it made of? Reading up on HLA Hart et al. Strange that a culture that views the Oxford English Dictionary as opposed to a government administration as authoritative for language should be the home of a theory of law as the reverse.
The Autistic Child says:
"I don't have emotions, I have patterns"
patterns without time

Adults create patterns out of their emotions.

Friday, July 13, 2007

"In 1974 we German filmmakers were still fragile, and when a friend told me Lotte had suffered a massive stroke and I should get on the next plane to Paris, I made the decision not to fly. It was not the right thing to do, and because I just could not accept that she might die, I walked from Munich to her apartment in Paris. I put on a shirt, grabbed a bundle of clothes, a map and a compass, and set off in a straight line, sleeping under bridges, in farms and abandoned houses. I made only one detour to the town of Troyes because I wanted to walk into the cathedral there. I walked against her death, knowing that if I walked on foot she would be alive when I got there. And that is just what happened. Lotte lived until the age of ninety or thereabouts, and years after the walk, when she was nearly blind, could not walk or read or go out to see films, she said to me, ‘Werner, there is still this spell cast over me that I am not allowed to die. I am tired of life. It would be a good time for me now.’ Jokingly I said, ‘OK, Lotte, I hereby take the spell away.’ Three weeks later she died."

Werner Herzog

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A note to Brad DeLong:
Professional orchestral musicians are talented and bright, and know their place. They're craftsmen and only journeymen at that.
Academics these days are all Platonists with delusions of grandeur.

The professionalization of knowledge, the rule of experts you're so in favor of, has destroyed academia; it's the same thing that's destroyed the press. Men like you are loyal to what that know, not to the questions that need to be asked. The press has known for years that democrats are weak on national security, so they must be. You know what rationality is so it must be what you know.

But the issue isn't knowledge, it's power. Like Bloomberg who wants to be loved but still can't see his way to a genuinely progressive congestion tax, you end by defending your status not your knowledge.
You understand the slippage? Like the cop who steps over the line and says he is the law? You proved it again yesterday.

You've said you're a proud technocrat and defend the rule of technocrats. But Platonist technocrats are what others call fascists.
What would you call a decent but powerful man who thinks he doesn't have to watch himself? And, so if he doesn't have to watch himself, surely no one else does.
You don't understand the rule of law. It's the opposite of everything you stand for. And it's all we have to protect us from people like you. The arrogant and dimly bright.
The last vestiges of modernist authoritarianism are in the academy. I know I was born there.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

[Neatened up and updated, again, since DeLong removed my first and second and now fourth[!] comment. He left up the third which was the rudest but there's no context. My first comment didn't include either the numbers or the anger. It was curt, that's all. And that's all the post deserved. DeLong is behaving like a child.]

New York is not an "economically rational animal." It's not even an animal. Its run by way of conflicts among competing self-interested parties concerned mostly with their own short term gain. In another context DeLong would approve.

Bloomberg wants to be remembered as a good king. Whether the dream itself is rational or whether we should approve are questions that rmain unasked. Noblesse oblige has its limits: under Bloomberg's proposal private cars are charged $8 and commercial vehicles $21. In the context of NYC, that's a regressive tax.
DeLong is mixing the language of markets and Louis XIV. He's torn between idealism and realism, but won't admit it. Nobility or democracy? He can't reconcile and he's not willing to face the complexities of trying.

My last comment, also deleted, was a response to this question by another commenter:
"Is traffic congestion in Manhattan really an issue the federal government should be concerned about and spending federal tax money to mitigate?"
Yes: in NY and every other major city in the country.

Lets see how long this one stays up
It lasted half an hour.

Monday, July 09, 2007

TPM Cafe and the rule of law.
It's beyond funny. And I'm surprised I hadn't thought of this before. It's so obvious.
I finally looked at the FAQ to see how the system works.

It's also interesting since if lack of popularity really does result in limiting your access to information, then TPMCafe is an ideal poster-child as counter-example for the arguments promoting network neutrality.
Same source as below. My comments (just record keeping)
The president's commutation was a political act, for which he may and should pay a heavy political price. What's most important in our system is not that every agent have the best intentions, but that ever agent or branch be assumed to defend his/her/its prerogatives. The executive, the judiciary and the legislative; the prosecution and the defense; the press: all should exist in tension. Objectivity is not assumed as in a courtroom between prosecutor and defense it is not allowed: a lawyer may not betray his client except in the most extreme circumstances.
Also you ignore the role of the jury.
Of course there's always the question of who makes the law, and it's a question again that has to be debated continuously. The only people who get around this issue are fundamentalists who argue that only god's laws matter. If pedants like PZ Myers and others would stop arguing with believers and start listening to them (as a matter of ethnography rather than logic) they would realize that religious fundamentalism is the logic of legal foundationalism and that science as such is irrelevant. It's not rational, it makes no sense, to argue with priests about science. The only reason to do so is to defend faith-based naturalistic epistemology. The argument to have with fundamentalists is whether or not we are capable of being moral creatures without being tied down to a stake. Argue with fundamentalists about moral philosophy. That's all they care about. The rest is smoke and mirrors.
Meanwhile naturalism is the logic of Chicago school economics and the delusional ahistorical rationalism.
I'll end where I came in:
"Politics: About Conflict"
As a matter of history and language would you have said the above so directly and simply even 4 years ago? And would it have seemed as obvious to so many people then as it does now?
I doubt it.
That's not a criticism, it's just an observation of how language and ideas change, and how people are changed by events.
Some people like to think it's always the other way around.
Naturalism is as vulgarly foundational as Nino Scalia's Judicial reasoning. It operates under the illusion that the stability of numerical meaning can be transposed to language.
Would this post on this subject, politics, have been written as clearly and directly 4 years ago?
No. Simply No.
History. Context. Zeitgeist. Call it what you will.
Americans are the only people on the planet who still think that they live outside the rules that govern everything else. We're the products of history. Refusing to look back changes nothing.
With reference to Scott Lemieux and
John Holbo at Crooked Timber. From my comments at CT:
Strengthen community and you will strengthen individuals’ sense of social obligation, creating a counterforce to the urge to maximize. Obviously, quite obviously, contract and market theory are irrelevant at this level. What is relevant is the context in which they are applied. Arguments that begin from rules of contract begin with individualism and individuals in opposition to one another; but Individualism can not argue against itself. And again of course individualism is the basic element for most of the posts on this site.

The European model is first a social model, not legal and not economic. Those who try to bring scientific clarity to social thought, who are fans of a naturalist epistemology are unwilling or unable to see their logics as anything but foundational. But naturalism is the intellectualism of nerds. And how are nerds not a product of their time?
If you assume freedom, you’ll lose what little of it you have. Individualists are all alike. How many more trusims and taglines can I offer?

One more comment:
Strengthening community is not strengthening the nanny state.
The nanny state and liberalism generally conflates pity with concern. Pity reproduces power relations, concern lessens them.
To give another example closer to home: the research and professional model of academia imported from the sciences into the humanities (naturalism again) reinforces relations of authority while the fast fading pedagogical model opposes them (big-shots with an elite corps of acolytes don’t cut it).
Here's here's a good place to insert a quote from Lemieux in the older post on abortion and choice, responding to this paragraph by yours truly:
The issue is not one of internal consistency. Or rather the argument with the majority of abortion opponents will not be won by trying to convince them that their arguments are illogical (or that they are illogical under the circumstances they choose to accept). Their arguments are attempts to impose a sense of "moral seriousness" by means of law.
How do you respond to that desire? That is the only question that is not academic: that does not revolve around the two of you and others like you talking amongst yourselves.
Well, first of all, the terminology gives the arguments he's demanding I respond to a rational content they don't have. Criminalizing specific acts (with the attendant ruination of lives than ensues) out of an inchoate sense that people are making choices you would prefer them not to be making is neither moral nor serious. But as to the question of how to appeal to people who have made a priori commitment to bad laws based on irrational gibberish, I'm sure I have no idea. Once I again I will repeat that I am not a political operative; when making political arguments in these forums am I trying to expose positions that are factually, logically, or normatively deficient. How to appeal to people who simply don't care about defending their positions in terms that are intelligible to others is not my department.
There you have it: Scott Lemieux will not debate those who are not "serious." Scott Lemieux is not a political thinker.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

This is truly amazing.
Obscene and amazing. And from the same site mentioned in passing in the last post, here's a reminder.

Yglesias is a social climber, and he's slick. He uses "we" to refer to the elite and then again when talking about progressives, and he ends up with a paean to the wisdom of Anne-Marie Slaughter, one of the more important and most air-headed figures at TPM Cafe, whose posts come in for withering assault from almost every commenter for whom ass-kissing isn't a professional necessity.

M.Y. would no doubt say as his defenders have, that he's doing no more then offering a realist's assessment of the american political/intellectual scene vis-a-vis the mideast. But social climbers are realists too. That's his game, and it's not one I have even an ounce of respect for. But he's not stupid.

I posted the last two paragraphs at Arablinks, and they read better than what I had here before.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years. At MoMA

Prop, 1968, Whitney Museum of American Art. Photo: Harry Shunk.
Image from this article by Jerry Saltz on Artnet.
What Saltz doesn't tell you, though I think he probably knows, is that the piece in the exhibition is not the piece in the photograph. Serra has been having his old work returned to him and has had them remade with new materials, often with new chemical compounds. The original Prop was made of lead. The new version -and that's what it is- is made of an amalgam more likely to keep it's shape; the original piece was destroyed. Most of the oldest pieces in the show are in fact the newest. There were some protests at the Whitney but the decision was treated as a fait accompli. He's been doing this over the past few years with both private and public collections. As far as I know, nobody's turned him down. Serra gets what he wants.

It's a good show. That is to say he's one of the most important artists of the post-war era and he's likely to stay that way. It's interesting that the brute materiality of his early work has transformed into high style; he's rewriting his own history to make the transformation less obvious but it's still there. For years I'd walked through his shows getting my hands dirty but the new pieces have a carefully manufactured and uniform coating of orange rust and you're not allowed to touch them, while the compound curves that new technology has allowed him to make over the past 10 years are developing the grace of haute couture. A couple of years ago a few of the pieces had the vulgarity of broadway choreography, but that's gone.

In reference to this and the last few posts, it makes sense, since I have the opportunity, to oppose the example of Serra and of art as methodology to the pseudo-science of naturalized epistemology. We follow Serra's work not because it leads but because it follows: it mirrors the transformations of culture as a whole. And if it maintains its dynamism as it changes that allows us to follow the larger narrative more closely.

"...the materiality of his early work has transformed into high style."

So now Serra and Frank Stella fit alongside Frank Gehry. Stella began as a Greenbergian idealist and Serra began with low materials kept as they were, not elevated. But the works of both have moved towards a form of baroque post-enlightenment if not necessarily post-humanist sensibility. Serra's work has moved into the conservatism of Haute Couture, Stella's into a free-form and visually narrative abstraction closer to Gehry. What's interesting about Gehry's work over the years is its empirical and experiential anti-idealism. There's no truth, but there's a rigor. Gehry and Stella have a more democratic sensibility, Serra's is explicitly aristocratic.
This is bizarre
I'm not sure if I should be honored or depressed.
From October 30, 2004, found in the archives by accident:
Spent some time with this, [link is dead] then went back to the bookshelf and pulled out Taking Rights Seriously and looked up the references to H.L.A. Hart.
In reference to the above and to Jack Balkin:
The point of having faith is not to escape reality, but to see it clearly, as it is, and still be able to go on, because one has hope for something better and believes in something higher.

I have no interest in faith, nor in anything 'higher.' But I also have no interest in the technocratic formalisms of DeLong or their philosphical or legal eqivalent in the vulgarisms of Brian Leiter. In law as in life, every object or act has a two-fold existence, as a discrete thing, unnamable in nature, and as an example of a thing. I do not need a religious understanding to state that I am a specific substance/subject unlike any other. I also don't need a technocrat to tell me that I am a member of a community of Americans or english speakers. It is the genius of representative government moreover that the community decides how ideas become law, and it is the genius of the courtroom that decides when and how discrete actions and events take on the character of a thing named under law.

But such an argument requires an acceptance of contradiction. Every thing is an instance of a thing and yet nothing but itself. Some people may tend towards romance as a result of such ideas. Others may try to bypass the contradiction and choose a formalism that is clear, precise, and over simple. I prefer Jack Balkin's logic to Brian Leiter's not because I have any faith [in anything] but because I like complexity, and it seems to be that the world is complex. Balkin's arguments allow for that complexity. But that's not enough.

As I said recently, my interests are the interests of a craftsman. I'm interested in football as it's understood by the players. A lawyer wants to be a good lawyer; at his best he winks at the distinction between victory and truth. Philosophers tend to think of truth as someting obtainable. Others claim to be the avatars of the fact that there is none to be found. They speak the words of the great anarchist leaders of the past.

What interests me in the religiosity of Balkin, Russell Arben Fox, or I imagine Juan Cole [should I include Sistani as well?] is the sense that religious argument is about skill; that like legal argument it is about process, and that the truth as such, as a thing, is impossible to know. Such arguments strike me as more liberal that any argument by neo-liberals technocrats like DeLong, or the condescending pseudo-leftism of Leiter and his ilk (there's a long list).
On The Obvious:
In constraining any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest.
David Hume
That sentence carries in it every debate about society and politics of the modern period, but accepting the premise doesn't imply that people should be encouraged to act as knaves. The passage describes the logic of government and law not human interaction per se; laws are referred to after all only in a crisis. How many people raise their children to be schmucks? Even those who do try to find ways to justify their actions as moral; true objectivists are as rare as they are ugly.
vulgarize |ˈvəlgəˌrīz| verb [trans.] make less refined. make commonplace or less subtle or complex : [as adj. ] (vulgarized) a vulgarized version of the argument.
Government and law are maintained by the oversimplification of thoughts, ideas and experience. That vulgarization is necessary. But to begin all discussion as if that oversimplification were the base, the atomic structure, of imagination does nothing more than reproduce and reinforce knavish behavior. Both modern liberalism and modern conservatism are based on contract: the vulgarization of thought for practical ends. But society as opposed to government is not built on single contracts but multiple, interlocking and contradictory obligations. And obligations are not contracts: there is no single measure of their strengths and weaknesses.
See here.

Reading Chomsky on language. I'm amazed at his capacity for air-castle constructions, his anti-empiricism is pathological. But his political writings are nothing but empiricism and reportage. His capacity for intellectual grunt-work [and that's all it is] would seem to be a useful side effect of his contempt for empiricism as a higher methodology.

Monday, July 02, 2007

This may appear in the comments on this post at Tapped. We'll see:
"Unless one simply has an a priori normative opposition to judicial policy-making, that's a tough case to make."

The courts are a non-democratic force in a democratic society. One of the weaknesses over the past 30 years or more of "progressive" policy is the degree to which it has paid more and more attention to the interests tastes and preoccupations of the middle class and up. I've made enough comments about intellectual snobbery on this site. And I've gotten in tiffs with Scott Lemieux when he seemed unable to understand a simple point by Ronald Dworkin about abortion.

I'm about to ramble a bit, but I'll get there:
The indifference of the so called MSM is only one example of the remove from daily life that's endemic to elite discourse in this country. The reliance on and trust in leadership and leaders, (or academic intellectuals) has created as much of a disconnect for 'serious' liberalism as much as for ABC or Fox, in some ways more of one, since Fox knows how to pander, and you have to pay attention to people to know how to do that. Murdoch was smart enough to know that America wanted right-wing news and left-wing entertainment, so he gave us both. But Anne-Marie Slaughter got slammed by the readership at TPM Cafe, and she damn well deserved to be. Though I agree with Max Sawicky. about the general lack of historical awareness, I give the readers and commenters at TPM Cafe credit for being well ahead of many of the official pundits there (and on foreign policy ahead of almost all of them.)

An Intellectual disconnect has become basis of elite democratic politics. From the half-assed defense by Gore in Florida after the election, to Kerry's bumbling, to the need for faddish self-help books by people like George Lakoff. Could you imagine a trial lawyer having to be told how to be adversarial? And The democratic party has to pay people to teach them. The blogisphere is full of academics and policy wonks with as much disdain for adversarialism as the press. But these academics have the defense of preferring "reason," as if adversarialism were not developed out of the failure of unaided reason to supply justice. It's the rule of "reason" that says the press should collaborate, should let down its guard among friends. "Trust us" It's the rule of reason that allows the "reality based community" to pretend that's just what they are, and to defend... Bill Clinton. And there's still been no solid rebuttal to Tony Judt.
Question: How's the reality based community's response to Israeli expansion?
Answer: It sucks.

The preference for judicial policy-making is a preference of the elite for the opinions of its own. It's good to remember that in the 20th century's taste for leaders gave us both its proudest moments and its worst. As long as we have the constitution we'll always have judicial review, but it's interesting to realize how much and in how many ways the elite in this country, and that includes the intellectual and cultural elite, left and right, are being outmaneuvered by events around them.
At this time, in this context, that's cause for optimism.