Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"When Marilyn Monroe got out of the game, I wrote something like, 'Southern California's special horror notwithstanding, if the world offered nothing, nowhere to support or make bearable whatever her private grief was, then it is that world, and not she, that is at fault.' "I wrote that in the first few shook-up minutes after hearing the bulletin sandwiched in between Don and Phil Everly and surrounded by all manner of whoops and whistles coming out of an audio signal generator, like you are apt to hear on the provincial radio these days. But I don't think I'd take those words back. "The world is at fault, not because it is inherently good or bad or anything but what it is, but because it doesn't prepare us in anything but body to get along with. "Our souls it leaves to whatever obsolescenses, bigotries, theories of education workable and un, parental wisdom or lack of it, happen to get in its more or less Brownian (your phrase) pilgrimage between the cord-cutting ceremony and the time they slide you down the chute into the oven, while the guy on the Wurlitzer plays Aba Daba Honeymoon because you had once told somebody it was the nadir of all American expression; only they didn't know what nadir meant but it must be good because of the vehemence with which you expressed yourself."
happy new year
It's amazing how much the human animal argues from assumption. The only difference between TPM and RedState I think is that people at TPM have lived among a few openly homosexual negroes and have a little more understanding of technical logic.
The slow buildup for disgust with Zionism has had everything to do with the incrementalism of change in normative awareness and little with logic.
Equality under law is what it is, but somehow in the context of the mideast we've had decades of liberals attacking is as grossly unfair.
A little imagination doesn't go far at all.

related: an old fav.

"Religion, Self-Regulation, and Self-Control: Associations, Explanations,
and Implications" [PDF] linked NY Times [warning: John Tierney]

"Loving the Enemy: Militant Visions of the West" [PDF] from Conflicts Forum
This paper makes the argument that militants associated with Al-Qaeda speak from within the world of their enemies and possess no place outside it. Whether these enemies are Western democracies or Muslim liberals, militants derive strength from exploiting their weaknesses and contradictions rather than from some alternative ideology or social order. This accounts for the rapidity of militant mobilization as much as its diversity of recruitment, neither of which depend upon the indoctrination of young Muslims into a wholly foreign movement–however exotic their rhetoric and appearance. This intimacy with the world of their enemies is also what makes many such militants into suicidal individuals rather than the members of a collective movement, since their task is to destroy this world from the inside. The great paradox of violence of the Al-Qaeda variety is that it seeks the fulfilment of its enemies’ ideals rather than proffering any of its own, thus rendering militancy conceptually invisible and immune to attack by the liberal societies whose contradictions it seeks to illustrate.
The point is obvious, though still not discussed much. I wrote this 20 years ago.
In this century we have seen an escalation of attempts to remove ourselves from history, to distance ourselves from our actions and to try to avoid or escape the metaphysically complex world of our ancestors. But history was and will be a history of preference, and preference being a function of metaphysics, not of the world but of our perceptions of it.

Before the mid 19th century societies considered art a manifestation of a culture and not an illustration of it. If we accept this premise and assume that cultures including our own represent themselves through form and method and not through intellectualized processes of criticality and content, we can then try to study how esthetics or method are treated in critically produced environments, environments where ideas, objects and works of art "illustrate' concepts.

Societies, even slave owning societies, do not exist to oppress but by way of oppressing, at the same time existing as cultures that their citizens, as opposed to their victims, enjoy. When critical culture sees society simplistically as a series of absolute forces it recreates those forces (fighting an imaginary fire with fire) in an esthetic of totalization and universalization that becomes a parody of the past, as Fascism in its attack on bourgeois values is bourgeois parody of Monarchism; as the art of the Salon is precursor to the art of the Third Reich and to Stalin's Socialist Realism. All cultural groups exclude others, but by assuming that they exist for that purpose, as Fascism and Communism assumed. or as many on the “critical” [read: academic] left still do the issues are willfully occluded. Our "project" should be to understand this process, and to overcome the irrational fear of otherness, not to desire an absolute, unified, reified innately narcissistic 'one'.
The starting point of the piece was a discussion of why the art made in the horrors of earlier European history could rightly be considered great while the art made in the horrors of German Fascism and Stalinist Communism could rightly be called empty and banal, and relating that to the equally rightly assumed banality of the Parisian Salon of the mid 19th Century.

"This paper makes the argument that militants associated with Al-Qaeda speak from within the world of their enemies and possess no place outside it."
Thomas Mann made the same complaint about Kafka.

In 2012 I started rewriting the paper quoted above. still going
Joshua Landis of Syria Comment has selections from The Best on Gaza..
His link to Nir Rosen is malformed. Rosen's piece is here

And read Badger at Arab Links

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The notion of rights is a modern invention, and is based on equality of benefits and obligations for all. Rights-based societies are built upon older ethnically based states, but they can no longer refer to ethnicity as the basis of law without sacrificing any claim to modernity: states still structured politically by the logic of ethnicity can not use the logic of rights to justify their existence. No one has the "right" to be a slave-owner. Indian law does not institutionalize the caste system, the caste system exists now only outside of law.
Saudi Arabia does not have the "right" to deny free association of Jews and Muslims on its territory but it does so. For that and many other reasons[!] it can not be said to have "the right" to exist. The question of rights is rendered irrelevant because ignored.

Israel is built on discrimination less severe than Saudi but it is founded on discrimination nonetheless. It is not merely the Jewish Homeland with citizenship for all, it is the Jewish State. There is no equality between its Jewish and Arab citizens. Demography can not be a central concern under the logic of rights, yet it is the major concern of the Israeli state. That concern is responsible for the miserable fact of Gaza and the West Bank. There are plenty of semi-modern states, but Israel both in government and society claims not just our recognition but our sympathy and loyalty. It deserves neither. Within the logic of rights, and under the assumption that separation and equality will never amount to more than separate and unequal, a bi-national state of Israeli Arabs and Jewish Palestinians is not only the one moral option but is at this point the only option left.
Nir Rosen

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tzipi Livni
I've said over and over that Zionists make the arguments of Haider and Le-Pen, but somehow I've always thought the liberals at least didn't mean to. I shared some of their confusion -the cognitive dissonance- about them if not their ideas. But the difference between liberal and conservative Zionists is that the the conservatives want to force the Arabs out, and liberals want to be polite about it: in the end they both want a racially pure state. M.J. Rosenberg, Josh Marshall and Jo-Ann Mort [TPM] not only make racist arguments, they are racist people. They should have more sympathy with those who worry about the "browning" of the US. But maybe they don't because they think of America as their modern home and Israel is their ancestral home. Kind of like the New Yorker who goes home to Georgia for the summer and lives in a white enclave and goes to white country club.
I'm more than a bit ashamed for not seeing the obvious.
Make it idiot-proof: without graphs this time.
When is it permissible to speak for others? When does the urge to speak for others become self-perpetuating, therefore perpetuating the silence of the others. When does the unspeaking subject become no more than an object? What marks the boundary between concern and pity? Between pity and contempt? How is it possible to institutionalize concern? How often do liberals who attempt to institutionalize one, succeed only in institutionalizing the other? If it is difficult to institutionalize concern it is very easy to institutionalize contempt. The latter is republican policy. Questions of Data Is it possible to be a feminist and a member of Hamas or Hezbollah A lawyer in Iran? Open Letter to Farah Diba: "Kindly Come and Do Us a Favor, Oh Lady" Lets complicate matters even more. Are the Taliban even "old fashioned" conservatives? Are fascists just monarchists in black leather? This Alien Legacy: The Origins of "Sodomy" Laws in British Colonialism
This 66-page report describes how laws in over three dozen countries, from India to Uganda and from Nigeria to Papua New Guinea, derive from a single law on homosexual conduct that British colonial rulers imposed on India in 1860. This year, the High Court in Delhi ended hearings in a years-long case seeking to decriminalize homosexual conduct there. A ruling in the landmark case is expected soon.
Self-awareness is not a form of rationalism it is a form of empiricism; concerned not with "ideas" but our perceptions of them and their use. It is not science. There is no right answer, there are only cases and arguments over cases.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It should be considered a truism concerning anything made by human minds and hands that if a thing is worthy of careful study that study should not be limited to the consideration of efficacy and authorial intention.
A technician is no more necessarily an intellectual than an intellectual is necessarily a technician.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Caroline Kennedy is more qualified than Sarah Palin, but that's not enough.
Q. Do you believe that an undivided Jerusalem must be the national capital of the State of Israel?
A. Yes, Caroline believes that an undivided Jerusalem must be the national capital of the State of Israel.
That was pulled by this afternoon, but was there when As'ad AbuKhalil posted it this morning. I followed it then and read it. Someone got back to the Times, but I doubt it was because Kennedy had a talk with her spokesman. I doubt she even has an opinion.

"Israel is no stranger to self-examination."

A religious Israeli Jew now, apparently, Zionist apostate says the obvious and liberal American Jews listen.
Was it any less obvious last year or the year before? 10 years ago? 40?

Yael Bartana
What amazed me was the lack of any Arabs on screen. Every piece documents and it's a compliment of sorts to say that each manifests the presence in Israeli society of unseen others, but those others remain ghosts. Summer Camp pairs footage from a Zionist propaganda film of the 1930's, Eisensteinian montage of home-building as communal effort, by and for the new Jews of Palestine, with contemporary footage of Israelis rebuilding an Arab home recently bulldozed by the state. The family who owned the home don't appear on screen, but they're thanked in the credits. And what we see in video and color are images of sweating, miserable guilt-ridden Jews of all ages, collectively slaving away in the desert in 2006, opposing images in silvery black and white of happy sweating Zionists 70 years earlier.

Wild Seeds is shot among groups of teenage children in the settlements and it conveys a sense of violence just below the surface of otherwise benign interaction. But again we see only Jews. And unlike most of us the Israelis in Summer Camp have met Israel's ghosts and even shaken hands with them or shared a meal. So maybe the misery and guilt is not theirs but Bartana's. Maybe there are sharper lines we can draw between settlers' children, spoiled teenagers tearing up and down sand dunes in Jeeps and 4x4's, in Kings of the Hill, and Gush Shalom. Bartana doesn't ask the most important questions, but without intending to she makes it clear they need to be asked. Her works in the end are the memoirs of an unhappy narcissist, talking to us about herself. Whether in Israel, or elsewhere (very recently Germany and The Reader) it's hard for an outsider to care, because it's easy for an outsider to see the things the artist misses, and in a way that makes the work not more complex but less.

Friday, December 19, 2008

note taking
Leiter's references are to formal not empirical science. But language is a medium, like paint, or clay, while numbers are seen by most as Platonic: not as representations but as the foundation of the world.

A philosophy that sees the structure of language as replicating the structure of the world renders the sociological study of language production of secondary interest. Leiter's naturalism is the naturalism of Quine, not Santayana. Yet Santayana's terms apply, all too well.

Arguing for a philosophy ‘in tandem with the sciences,’ Leiter nonetheless admits philosophy is not a science, leaving us to assume that the relation of the two must be like the Nietzschean relation of the best of modern men to absent gods: one of sympathetic vibration. His philosophy is based on little more than romantic analogies, of philosophy to science and philosopher to scientist, that foster an insular formalism and champion a model of academic hierarchy as immune to criticism from outside its walls as the 11th century Church. I know of no other self-proclaimed leftist so utterly contemptuous of the philosophical foundations of democracy.

Again: Language does not describe the world; it is a medium through which we describe to one another our perceptions of it. It is a medium. Numbers are not. Naturalized epistemology in language proceeds only by analogy to the "natural epistemology" of number. And analogy is a rhetorical device.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I've been reading through a few things from SSRN and elsewhere: on H.L.A. Hart, the Hart-Dworkin debate, positivism, on and by G. A. Cohen. Most of it is baroque academicism preoccupied with the internal logic of its assumptions: perversity without its acknowledgment. A novel is no good if its not written in a compelling way, while academic philosophy is supposed to be about something strictly other than the language it employs. Unfortunately it often ends up about nothing else, manifesting not the narcissism of the navel-gazer, of someone always looking in the mirror but of someone who refuses to.

From Yale Law Journal: Kenji Yoshino, The City and the Poet.
On a whim, using the search function for the PDF I looked for the words Bible, Torah, Talmud and Midrash. No references. Then more seriously I searched for interpretation. It appears once, in a footnote.
Literature isn't the thing you write, it's the thing you read. "What comes down to us as literary fiction is the art not of naming but of architecture and description. What is written as literary fiction is often little more than mannerism and affect." [see below] Privileging (as jargon would have it) author over readership, individual over community, history and the study of history, brings us to the scholarship of individualism, individual "expression" and creative writing. Historians, like critics and judges, are observers and readers first. The same is true of good writers, but not bad ones.
more later.

Plato was a prose stylist who wrote dialogues involving a character, an orator and rhetorician named Socrates. And the problem with victim-impact statements is that the opposing parties in a criminal court are not the accused and plaintiff but the accused and the state.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Continuing from here. Matthew Yglesias, presumably without realizing the implications, makes the case against science as moral principle..
Reader A.L. observes to me that Gerecht is completely mangling La Rouchfoucauld’s maxim here. His point was that even though human frailty often leads people into immoral behavior, the fact that people feel compelled to hypocritically condemn sins that they themselves may commit emphasizes the soundness of the underlying moral principle. For example, any normal parent is going to be a human being who sometimes acts in a greedy and selfish manner. But any decent parent is still going to teach his or her children that greed and selfishness are wrong and that those impulses ought to be resisted. This will, yet, make the parents somewhat hypocritical. But that’s the homage vice pays to virtue — the point being that we really should teach people to eschew greed and selfishness.
My comment
That fact that you refer to the above as a truism is interesting, when of course that’s not how economics is taught. In economics realism is reason, and any argument for idealism even as counterbalance is dismissed. Any argument for the existence of divided consciousness is considered a defense of irrationalism.
note taking: my last comment from Rodrik's page
The romantic foibles of comfortable leftists deserve as much mockery as they can draw. But that mockery can turn easily into mockery of the workers themselves. And that, taken to the level of absolute contempt, is embedded in the standard defense of neoliberal economic policy. Go there if you want to witness the celebration of other people's misery. Rodrik knows this (or he should). And if he'd focused on the distinction then there'd be nothing to take offense at; disagreement and offense not being synonyms. As it is his comments are more lazy more symptomatic of intellectual laziness than Klein's.
That's a problem no amount of mathematical calculation can solve.
note taking: comment removed by Henry Farrell 
Great art is not cerebral. “Literary” fiction is fiction that has transcended its genre: Jane Austen began with a genre. What comes down to us as literary fiction is the art not of naming but of architecture and description. What is written as literary fiction is often little more than mannerism and affect. Cerebral and speculative fiction, “philosophical art,” begins from ideas and assumption [and ends as illustration]. By the definitions used by all here the Iliad and the Odyssey would be genre fiction.
More from Rodrik
Self-discovery in practice

It is remarkable to see something in theory work so well in practice. Ricardo Hausmann and I wrote a paper several years ago called "Economic Development as Self-Discovery," where the idea was that entrepreneurship in a developing country consists of discovering the underlying cost structure--what can and cannot be produced profitably. Initial investors in a new line of economic activity face a great amount of uncertainty, since foreign technology always needs some local adaptation. Plus, their cost discovery soon becomes public knowledge--everyone can observe whether their projects are successful or not--so the social value they generate exceeds their private costs. If they succeed, much of the gains are socialized through entry and emulation, whereas if they fail, they bear the full costs.

Some of the what I have been seeing in Ethiopia is a picture perfect illustration of this process at work. Most notable in this respect is the flower industry, which was started by some courageous entrepreneurs who had observed the success of the industry in nearby Kenya and wondered if it could be made to work in Ethiopia as well. Even though much of the technology is standard, local soil conditions make a lot of difference to the economics of growing flowers, and a whole range of other services--from daily cargo flights to high-quality cardboard packaging--has to be in place before the operation can succeed. To its credit, the Ethiopian government understood the need to subsidize these pioneer firms, through cheap land and tax holidays, and the industry took off. Exports have reached $100 million from zero in just a few years. There are now around 90 flower farms in the country, with latecomers the beneficiary of the tinkering that early investors have undertaken.
A defense of economic monoculture.
Robert Feinman comments
A perfect example of a poor nation getting suckered into providing luxury goods for the wealthy ones.

How is growing flowers (and shipping them by air) helping to solve issues of food shortage, consumption of fossil fuels (transportation, fertilizer and pesticides) and use of scarce tillable land for necessities?

Instead of promoting self sufficiency or regional trade the country gets to become a client state of the west and dependent upon it by supplying a market which it doesn't have any control over. If next year the Europeans decide they don't want flowers anymore then what happens to the local economy?

I see this story, not as a "success", but as yet another example of a new type of economic neo-colonialism.


[Farrell is criticizing Kunkel, of N+1, being a snob, in Dissent.]  

Sunday, December 14, 2008

From a friend.
For Bibi

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Joshua Landis/Syria Comment.
In the linklist on the right of the page. Just a reminder.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rules, law, gasoline and the filibuster

Josh Marshall posts a reader's letter on the senate republicans and the Detroit bailout
I think the fact that option (4) doesn't seem to have even been considered is indicative of the abuse of the filibuster in recent years. The filibuster is meant to be a tool to express extreme outrage, not as a device to force the threshold to passing a bill to 60 votes. At this point, the filibuster rules have lost their relevance and should be abandoned (despite the fact that it will tie Democrat's hands in future Senate sessions when Republicans are in control.
Again: the liberal academic focus on rules and rationalism, but rules don't make a society. cf. Sandy Levinson's fixation on the weaknesses in the the constitution. Society is made of people before it is made of rules. Without trust rules mean nothing. Related: Dani Rodrik is supposed to be a smart man.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Tiziano Vecellio at the Metropolitan

Venus and the Lute Player c. 1565-70
Venus with an Organist and a Little Dog  c. 1550
They're both in the same building, for a little while, but not in the same room. Titian's Lute Player is in the collection and the Organist is on loan from the Prado for Art and Love in Renaissance Italy. I called to see if the curators had thought of putting them together even for a week in public view, knowing that they'd done that for themselves. The last comment drew a laugh and a quick if slightly abashed confirmation of the obvious. I assume a few well-connected scholars and patrons flew into town just for that -it won't happen again in my lifetime- and expressed some gently-worded frustration that the rest of us won't be able to share it. In truth there really is no excuse for not placing the two works together. The show is moving to the Kimball after NY and if there were no thematic relation then given budgetary and time constraints I could see why I'd have no claims beyond simple jealousy of the access of experts. But they're a lovely pair of pairs. And if the Lute Player is all adolescent desire and youthful vanity (his Venus is manipulative and coy) the Organist and his partner are engaged in the erotic and touching conversation of adults.

One could argue that the pairing might have thrown the exhibition off balance, but that could have been resolved by moving them off to the side; they would have been the highlight of the show not its doom.

As it is they're only a two minute walk from one another, until February 16th.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

old and new

-A soldier in an army constituted in defense of a republic is simultaneously a servant of an authoritarian order and a free citizen with all the responsibilities thereof.

- All citizens should be treated equally under law.
In a state where the people are prone to act in a discriminatory way towards a minority population, it's the responsibility of the state to see that that minority population has full access to opportunities enjoyed by the majority.

-Even in a republic in day to day activity, law is law not because it is moral but because it is law. But in a republic every law is the product of public debate, and laws can be repealed. Every law therefore is both absolute and provisional, which is why a judge's defense of his decisions is as important or more so than the decisions themselves. Posner spends more time defending his philosophy than he spends in a court.

- Law is a function of the social. The powerful desire not only power but prestige. To say that the analysis of law, language, and the social, by those who see themselves even correctly as asocial is not without value is damning with faint praise.

-In the sciences the event is subsidiary, as token to its type. To claim that language works in this order is the logic of authoritarianism. Philosophy is labeling by type. Literature is description without naming. A court is a place of the public naming, a place and process used only as a last resort.

-Our justice system is founded on competition between hirelings, not truth-seekers. Lawyers are performers. Philosophers of law need to be theater critics.

-The basis of legal discourse in a democracy is not the laws themselves but the process of their making and unmaking. All laws are provisional: the foundation is argument itself. Laws are knots on a string, way-stations in language and time. Democracy is the culture that acknowledges the transience of individual laws. Democracy is the culture of language in use.

-Science is the study of facts and philosophy the study of values. Conflating the two in favor of facts, values become assumed. Values being assumed, all questions are seen as those of expertise. With expertise as the means, terms of measurement are assumed. [with expertise as the means, expertise becomes the goal.] Curiosity becomes defined by the frame, values defined by the frame moral worth defined by the frame.
Democracy is undermined as a value and then as a goal.

-There is such a thing as monarchist law because monarchist language is based on ritual.
There no such a thing as fascist law because fascist language is based on lies.

-What is the role of an elite in a democracy?

-We are taught as children not to be greedy. Greed is a commonplace. In order to navigate our way in the world we learn to understand not only what we want it to be but what it is. When does our acknowledgment of the facts become passivity and acquiescence? It's a mistake to assume that the wish to be better than we are, even as a wish largely unfulfilled, has had no impact on our behavior or our history.

As'ad AbuKhalil

Friday, December 05, 2008


#123: “whether people have a certain right is surely independent of whether we’re clever enough to know how to enforce it (e.g., the right not to be raped doesn’t wax and wane with our ability to enforce it),”

People will choose abortion whether or not it is illegal. So much so in fact that it is considered part of the argument.
People download music without paying for it. There are arguments that defend downloading as such but those arguments don’t work well. The best defense of downloading is not a defense so much as an acknowledgment of its ubiquity, and then the development of new ways of managing distribution that accommodate that fact. The question of when to accommodate and when not has less to do with science or objective reason, or "truth" than with the self-definition of a society.
As Ronald Dworkin has pointed out that the vast majority of abortion opponents are not opposed in cases in rape or incest; and since logically there can be no moral distinction between a fetus conceived through consensual or coerced sexual activity, most of those who claim abortion is murder do not mean what they say (it’s a human trait to believe your own rhetoric). Their interest instead is in a government imposition of a code of moral seriousness. Should the state be permitted to impose in this way, in the context of our most intimate decisions?
And of course the US has the highest abortion rate of all economically advanced countries.

“utilitarianism can lead to all kinds of conclusions…”
In which case, it’s not very useful as a philosophy.
What’s the definition of utility? Once you answer that, utilitarianism could I suppose describe the logic of achieving a chosen goal. But then utilitarianism is no more than the philosophy of management.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Time and Consensus

When my family and I ate out in the Italy of my youth and early decades of my marriage, we would look for any plain trattoria where we could find the kind of cooking that was closest to what my mother and father were putting on the table at home. The person making the meal may have been the owner or his wife or his mother, or someone working in total anonymity. He or she was never referred to as the chef, but as il cuoco or la cuoca, the cook.

This was the old world of Mediterranean family cooking, a world where satisfying flavors had been arrived at over time and by consensus. That world hasn’t disappeared, but it has receded, making room for a parallel world, one where food is often entertainment, spectacle, news, fashion, science, a world in which surprise — whether it’s on the plate or beyond it — is vital. This is the world of chefs.
see "Rules and Beer" from the 24th, and "Rules vs Trust" from the 22nd, etc.

Marcella Hazan

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Willem Buiter, Financial Times
What is to be done? Banks that don’t lend to the non-financial enterprise sector and to households are completely and utterly useless, like tits on a bull. If they won’t lend spontaneously, it is the job of the government to make them lend. Banks have no other raison d’être. I can think of three ways to get them to lend using the coercive powers of the state.
Helena Cobban
The Security Cooperation and Coordination Committee of Iraq's neighboring countries held its third meeting in Damascus Sunday. This 'Contact Group' brings together representatives of the UN, the US, Iraq's neighbors (including Iran), and other relevant international actors. It has been quietly working behind the scenes since April 2007 to help stabilize Iraq and expedite an orderly transition to the country's full independence. The two earlier meetings of the SCCC were also held in Damascus, in April and August 2007.

Who, consuming only the western MSM, would have known about Sunday's landmark meeting?"
The "MSM" would include Josh Marshall's organization.
Cobban links to Reuters
The United States stood alone at a conference on Sunday in accusing host Syria of sheltering militants attacking Iraq, while other countries adopted a more conciliatory tone, delegates said.
No other state present at the conference on security for Iraq joined Washington in its open criticism, weeks after a U.S. raid on Syria that targeted suspected militants linked to al Qaeda, they told Reuters.

U.S. Charge d'Affaires Maura Connelly... told a closed session that Syria must stop allowing what she called terrorist networks using its territory as a base for attacks in Iraq.

Washington's leading Western ally, Britain, has recently praised Syria for preventing foreign fighters from infiltrating into Iraq, and its foreign secretary, David Miliband, was in Damascus this week pursuing detente with Syria.

"The American diplomat's speech was blunt and short. The United States was the only country at the conference to criticise Syria openly," one of the delegates said.
The Bush administration has adopted a much looser interpretation than the Iraqi government of several key provisions of the pending U.S.-Iraq security agreement, U.S. officials said Tuesday — just hours before the Iraqi parliament was to hold its historic vote.

These include a provision that bans the launch of attacks on other countries from Iraq, a requirement to notify the Iraqis in advance of U.S. military operations and the question of Iraqi legal jurisdiction over American troops and military contractors.

Officials in Washington said the administration has withheld the official English translation of the agreement in an effort to suppress a public dispute with the Iraqis until after the Iraqi parliament votes.

"There are a number of areas in here where they have agreement on the same wording but different understandings about what the words mean," said a U.S. official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Middle East Times
Half of Gaza's bakeries have closed down and the other half have resorted to animal feed to produce bread as Israel's complete blockade of the coastal territory enters its 19th day.
Jerusalem Post
General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann said the international community should consider sanctions against Israel including "boycott, divestment and sanctions" similar to those enacted against South Africa two decades ago.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Weathermen were a small group of bourgeois romantics who committed a few violent but minor acts and then faded away. If they'd been organized enough to blow up an army base and then escape to Cuba or even if they got caught and were executed, unrepentant, they would he heroes to people in many countries. As it is they came home to Mama. But Ayers wants to indulge the romance of radicalism while enjoying the respect society offers a successful reformer. He didn't turn the offer of the title "citizen of the year" made by the city of Chicago. He should state simply that his past efforts were ineffectual and then say either that they should have blown up an army base or that the whole thing was a stupid mistake. If the former then he should stop "palling around" with mainstream politicians. Every time he opened his mouth to clarify, to make things easier for Obama, the more he made things worse. He also makes it worse for those who still harbor a nostalgia for intellectualized violence.
Marcel Reich-Ranicki has said that the only German he ever met who fully understood the significance of the Nazi era to the Jews was Ulrike Meinhof.

Monday, November 24, 2008

There is a distinctly West European flavor to the social calendar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, these days, as affluent buyers from France, Germany, Italy and Britain are transforming a neighborhood better known for attracting hipsters, Midwesterners and Polish immigrants.

...Many of the immigrants say they have chosen Williamsburg partly because it is cheaper than Manhattan, but also because it is reminiscent of the cities they left behind. They say they like its cafes, its more muted displays of wealth (well, more muted than Manhattan’s) and an artistic vibe that reminds some of the Marais neighborhood in Paris, or Brighton, England. The sense of community has softened their pain of being far from friends and relatives.

“Most of my friends actually are French,” said Scheyla Carriglio, a transplant from Barcelona who bought her Williamsburg apartment two years ago and is a part owner of Mamalu, a coffee shop with an indoor playground on North 12th Street. “I hardly have any friends who are not European.”

..When Mr. Patel longs for HobNobs biscuits or Branston Pickle relish, he heads to Marlow & Sons, a Williamsburg restaurant. When he wants to watch soccer matches, he hangs out at Spike Hill. Four sets of his British friends are moving to Williamsburg, and he is pleased that the friends he has made in the neighborhood talk less about work when they’re off the job than do most New Yorkers.

“There isn’t that same kind of talk about money and jobs,” he said. “People leave work at work. It’s more like friends back home.”
NY is a great place for immigrants to meet one another; and it's not hard to avoid Americans in social life. Left unmentioned is the fact that the Polish immigrants have been bourgeoisifying their neighborhood in similar ways, ways Americans are incapable of. And even if their sensibility is more vulgar than the new and wealthier western Europeans they have much in common. The statement of preference of Europeans for Europeans as opposed to other non-Americans may be more anomalous than the author realizes.

Marion is, by her description, “a big black woman,” and hardly a retiring type. But when she walks into the new French café in her neighborhood — a place dominated by thin, pale, chic people — nobody sees her. It’s not that she’s being ignored, she says; it’s that “I don’t exist.” In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, her longtime neighborhood, she has become an invisible woman.
On the other hand, theatergoers who attend “Taking Over,” the fiery polemical portrait gallery of a play that opened Sunday night at the Public Theater, will find Marion impossible to overlook and hard to forget. She is embodied by a big white guy named Danny Hoch, the play’s author and sole performer.

...That’s the hard-core group of New Yorkers in Williamsburg, of varying ethnicity and slender means, who have come under siege from a growing army of upper-middle-class invaders. In the segment that begins the show, set during a Community Day celebration, an angry young man of Polish and Puerto Rican descent named Robert takes microphone in hand to denounce the “yuppie alternative-rocker, post-punk white people — and black people too,” who are effectively running him and his family out of town. “Why are you here?” he screams into the audience. “Nobody wants you here!”

For all his flashy rage, Robert, it turns out, is one of the less interesting characters portrayed by Mr. Hoch in “Taking Over,” which zigzags between peaks of brilliance and plateaus of preachiness. Yes, Robert tells it like it is, in the bluest language this side of David Mamet. But he’s still a man on a soapbox, delivering a speech. And when, toward the end, Mr. Hoch shows up as Danny Hoch, a Brooklyn playwright in a fighting mood, you realize that he and Robert have a fair amount in common.
I used to claim that the US didn't have a bourgeoisie, only a lumpenproletariat with extra cash. And as I said above the new Western and Eastern Europeans have a lot in common, the westerners representing in many ways what the easterners aspire to. But there are divisions and tensions within the Polish community as well, between "new people" and "old people," immigrants from the cold war era and their descendants, and those who came more recently not to escape but to climb. The recent arrivals to Greenpoint view this country with the same irony as Mexicans and Ecuadorians, or newer immigrants from anywhere. The Puerto Ricans are a different issue, they're the Chicanos of the east coast, and Hoch's Polish-Puerto Rican character would most likely descend from earlier immigrants on both sides of his family.

And here we get to a discussion of poetry and sincerity. Read the reviewer's critical response to Robert as a character of art. Danny Hoch prides himself on his skills with mimesis, his ability to make characters "true to life."  If you ran into Robert on the street you wouldn't critique him as unpoetic; in the context of Williamsburg he's as articulate or inarticulate as many people in his situation, and his anger is as justified as theirs. To a theater critic Robert the character is "a man on a soapbox, delivering a speech."  He is just being political.

What Hoch and many others before him don't understand is that art made to reinforce political conviction also undermines it. Self-conscious "sincerity" and art don't mix well.
Danny Hoch, Primo Levi and William Ayers. More later.

Rules and Beer: Law is hard convention Convention is soft law

The connection should be clear enough.
note taking. my comments elsewhere. neatened up a bit here.
Between corporate and industrial culture and the cult of individual self-expression there's the culture of community, communication, and language. Nothing that's been made the same way for hundreds of years has actually been made the same way for hundreds of years; that applies to beer as much as law. It’s slow change. You put 20 people in a room you’ll get an argument. You put 3 people in a room followed by 3 more as the first ones leave and 3 more following again on and on for 500 years you might get something interesting, whether it’s or bread or beer or wine or cheese or Homer or the Bible.
Budweiser is not good beer. Microbrewers, by and large, miss the point. Of course they do, they’re beer geeks.

This is the critique from cultural “depth” which some conflate with mysticism or ‘spirituality.’ It’s simpler than that: subtlety takes time.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Obama: Bread and services not principle.

Rules vs Trust: Language always changes, so what are rules?

Communication isn't about ideas, it's about people.
Something Leiter et. al don't understand.

[above (in case it vanishes): Brian Leiter and Scott Shapiro-Hart/Dworkin and theoretical disagreement.]

Crooked Timber and Balkin

A judge is an orator, a public speaker trying to win over his audience, or at least gain their respect for the possible logic of his decision even if they disagree.
The purpose of law is not the search for truth but for for social stability and peace.
The truth itself is unknowable.
[Maybe he killed her, maybe he didn't.]

The foundational Ideological commitment in a democracy is the commitment to getting along. Truth is a function of the social and any conclusion must be socially acceptable.
Dworkin's Hercules is a fictional character, like Socrates.
Laws must be, or appear to be, non-contradictory. Principles are under no such obligation. Legal decisions are public performances in defense of one description of an illusory seamless web: our mythmaking of ourselves and our processes.

Positivists are interested in rules, in numbers and grammar, and of course they mythologize their own positions. Anything in language will be contextualized by history. American legal realism manifests itself as a datable aspect of an era, as does post-war American rationalism. There is no equivalent in physics or mathematics and to say otherwise is to analogize words as numbers, and perception as Platonism. Naturalized epistemology is an inappropriate philosophical basis for a democracy. The only foundation in law in a democracy is theater.

Again (a reminder): If 1 is next to 2, 2 next to 3, 3 next to 4, and 4 next to 5, is 1 therefore next to 5?
No. Numbers in their relations to one another neither evolve or devolve. Language always changes. Law in a democracy is one aspect of the public marking/manifestation of change.

The question in TVA v. Hill was whether the courts or the legislature had the right to make a decision and under what terms. Is it permissible in our system, as we define it at this time that the courts have such authority?
The question is: can we as we imagine ourselves now, get there from here?
Social truth not objective truth.
The argument in law is a public argument over the definition of our language and ourselves in the present, not an argument over external objective truths. The only natural law is the law that says language is and society are artificial.
and again
On general questions: Democratic justice is not justice, but one definition of justice. Justice or law can be defined as a language structure perceived commonly as manifesting a stable order in which things and people have a specific role and place. Law is a roadway and a map to the world. There is law and justice in a monarchy as long as people perceive it. Barbarism is society without law. Fascism is society of the hypocritical pretense of law: law as kitsch. The mechanisms of such an order make it far more violent than simple barbarism.

Art and culture are the history of human self-description and self-definition. This in law [its foundation and penumbra]

This is all so basic it depresses me to need to form it as an argument.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gaza at crisis point

And read the links on the right.

From Arabist

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm reposting this. It seemed apropos.
Notes towards something

The esthetics of oratory: the beautiful argument.
The esthetics of sense: the beautiful shape.
TJ Clark: the falseness of the courtesan/the falseness of cubism.
The falseness of language in TJ Clark's late writing: the beauty of ideas not as representations but as things.
politics is being absorbed back into esthetics as an esthetic criterion. The esthetization of politics, politics for art's sake, so no longer "representative" of anything other than itself as idea. Eliot, Duchamp, reactionary Modernism. The preference for language over the world. TJ Clark in his labyrinth.

There's the world and there's what we make of it. The greatest poetry allows each person to experience the gap between the author's representations and the external (and unknowable) but the greatest poetry is always representative. Ming vases and architecture are secondary form. The poetry of ideas -as opposed to representations- is a secondary hybrid and perverse: the idea as esthetic object, the poetry of reification. The best Modern[ist] art is the art of crisis, of dubious representation overcome by slight of hand: by formal trickery.

The imagery of Modernism is often kitsch [Avant-Garde is Kitsch] and often pornographic. Pornography being a mode of illustration, illustration being a mode of representation, and kitsch being the mode of violently aspirational illustration, poetry must be recuperated by other means. The art of Modernity succeeds, when it does, by describing desperation rather than merely succumbing to it. And when it falls it falls harder than any art before it. Art made after 1800 -art in the age of instrumentalism- is the first to face the risk of "failure." Mozart never failed, but Beethoven did. Mozart's primary interest was in his craft. Beethoven was interested in ideas.

Duchamp's Fountain is a porcelain figurine. Cut to the chase: it's a pussy. It's figurative art. In its vulgarity it's "Manet's Olympia, for 1917" making a -dirty- joke on Ingres' La Source. but it's also a step backwards. It's a step backwards from Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, as an act of representation. Les demoiselles were "Manet's Olympia for 1907" though the painting wasn't shown until 1916, and even then was labeled obscene.

Duchamp's sexuality is closer to Gerome's than Courbet's: Courbet wasn't perverse. Duchamp was always the schoolboy, mischievous or twittering (your pick), to Eliot's fragile and fearful neurasthenic. The neotenization of Modern Art: from late adolescence to early (if that).
Is a readymade installed in a large exhibition anything other than an element collaged into a public space?
Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight.
Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.
A "stock" phrase is a readymade, a stock phrase well placed and well timed can be brilliant, and the curves of Duchamp's porcelain whore are as blandly stylized as Picasso's beatific bathers from the 20's.
Kitsch: the choice for desire over craft; wishful thinking; short circuiting a process to achieve results that are in retrospect -lets face it- always silly, even the most evil. What's a happy ending without a story?
Cezanne begins with kitsch, and struggles with it. He was a failed painter before he decided to make his limitations his subject. If his work succeeds as representation it's only in the representation of the space -physical and psychological- between the object and the eye. Only one step away from the representation of "ideas."
Clark is doing Pynchon in reverse: tightening up, ending up Harold Pinter. Ending up a Modernist.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kitsch idealism. Idealism as drag performance. Nostalgia

Geek Humanism is an oxymoron.
Note-taking: idiocy
parts of my two comments
”To contemplate the possibility that words like “all men are created equal” might be bigger and more noble and enduring than the flawed men who wrote them. Like George Lucas and the original Star Wars.”

I don’t know what’s more absurd: the belabored effort to make an obvious and simple point about textual interpretation, or that the second text invoked is Star Wars….

The Constitution is a revolutionary text, and its laced with ambiguities. Did you know that in Canada the Living Tree Doctrine states that Originalism is not a valid argument in Constitutional interpretation? Imagine how boring out country would be if the opposite poles of our legal discourse were suddenly shoved that much closer to one another? The moment Scalia opens his mouth to sing, Zero Mostel shouts: "Th…ank you!!"...
From the introductory sentences to this post, referring to:
“a characteristic American tendency to see radical social change as the inevitable expression of values expressed and promises made at the country’s inception”

Divide in two:
1- Radicalism and revolution.
2- The expression of values over time.
There is no necessary relation of one to the other, and the difference between Canada and the US is in the former, not the latter. The debate over interpretation in the United States is one of dynamic extremes, the debate in Canada is not. The process itself is more or less identical.
There will never be one Constitution as there will never be one Bible, or even one King James Version [how many Christian denominations use it?]; as there will never be one history of the Revolutionary War or biography of Winston Churchill. There will never be one Shakespeare or Gian Lorenzo Bernini. In language and communication oneness is banality. Democracy is the culture of language in use. You do honor to an idea or a text by arguing over it. This is something MacDougall can't quite grasp.
I try to explain this maneuver to my students, to show them how it returns again and again in American rhetoric. And then they are free to make up their minds about it. It is logical and entirely defensible to decide, as I think Bercovitch does, that the whole thing is a kind of put on. … But I like my students to at least try to hear the music. To imagine themselves Americans for a day. To contemplate the possibility that words like “all men are created equal” might be bigger and more noble and enduring than the flawed men who wrote them. Like George Lucas and the original Star Wars.
It's not a put-on to make an argument about the meanings of a text. It's not a put-on to make an argument about Shakespeare's sonnets. I'll prove my point by contradicting myself:
Is it a put-on for a lawyer to defend a paying client?

"Rob MacDougall is the king of geek historians.”
Old is the New New. Weird History, Mad Science, Occasional Robots.

As I wrote on his site "You're describing the difference between theater and grand theater, but you're also describing theater as bunk." Historian as ironic Fordist. To a rationalist language is "weird." Look at the banner. There's a whole intellectual culture described in it: the culture of geek academic humanism, or ironic "college" radio stations; of "Cyber" and "Steam" Punk; the literature of invention or inventiveness and inventors; of "Tom Swift Studies". To see it deterministically, it's the culture of the children of idealism who are still in its shadow. It's kitsch idealism, or idealism as drag performance.

I saw all this years ago. It seemed so clear to me that I never bothered describing it, but seeing it in academia over the past few years it just becomes depressing. I'm largely a determinist. But I see it as something to fight against, not to indulge. So I remind people.
As I've said again and again, the mature multiform culture of interpretation and theater is growing, expanding outward.
But still these arguments depress me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Still the culture of desire vs the culture of convention.

Writing recently in the New York Times, David Brooks noted correctly (if belatedly) that conservatives' "disdain for liberal intellectuals" had slipped into "disdain for the educated class as a whole," and worried that the Republican Party was alienating educated voters. I couldn't care less about the future of the Republican Party, but I do care about the quality of political thinking and judgment in the country as a whole. There was a time when conservative intellectuals raised the level of American public debate and helped to keep it sober. Those days are gone. As for political judgment, the promotion of Sarah Palin as a possible world leader speaks for itself. The Republican Party and the political right will survive, but the conservative intellectual tradition is already dead. And all of us, even liberals like myself, are poorer for it.
Neoliberalism is the new conservatism and the old conservatism has devolved into open reaction. Arguments for the collective construction of language and of language as foundation come now only from the left. Foucault et al. understand Tocqueville more than American conservatives, or liberals, ever have, and William Blake understood Edmund Burke more than Bill Buckley did. It's hard to overstate the importance of the transition in public discourse [that's been going on for decades] but it's hardly the end of antagonism, even temporarily. To use a phrase Lilla would be happy with it's hardly the end of dynamic tension.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama Speech 
I think this is a dream.
Atrios 00:02
Liberals in the US and the old European Colonial powers are ecstatic; American blacks are celebrating; immigrants to this country and many former colonial subjects are impressed. Those who could still be said to fit that description: Iraqis, Afghans, and Palestinians (along with their neighbors) are less sanguine. The best description of my immediate response is relief.

The obvious irony is that as Obama moves to the right he'll be helping to ease racial tensions much more than if he remained loyal to his base. But his options in that direction may be limited by the situation itself. George Bush was forced into partial nationalization of the banks –and we're just lucky that wasn't left for a new Democratic administration, which would have been made to pay for such "radical" and "unnecessary" actions–so the Democrats could choose to see their job as being to stabilize the new reality. They won't choose to see their job that way however, and will lead a retreat.
But how far?

The fact that a black man was elected is not shocking. It's a milestone, but a milestone is only a marker. It's not a leap forward, it's just a step, and one that was going to happen sometime soon. It didn't have to happen now, though it did.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Make it idiot-proof Part II
I'm still working on the graphic. Time was implicit in the first one, but I thought that wasn't enough. And a rectangle doesn't seem the appropriate shape.

The foundation of society is society, and the proper study of Mankind is Man.

...Plac'd on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic's pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God, or Beast;
In doubt his Mind or Body to prefer,
Born but to die, and reas'ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little, or too much:
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confus'd;
Still by himself abus'd, or disabus'd;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of Truth, in endless error hurl'd:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On that visit, he laments, he “couldn’t find a single good restaurant in Tehran.” He was invited to parties, which he heard were as “wild and hip” as anything in the West, but worried that he had “pressed his luck” and stayed away. Anyway, he adds, “I couldn’t stay up that late.” Readers who enjoyed George Clooney’s performance in “Syriana” (the character was modeled on Mr. Baer) might be disappointed that in real life Mr. Baer was too timid and tired to go to a party in a private Iranian home. He might have met some real Iranians there. And did he really have so few sources on the ground in Tehran that he could not find a good restaurant? (There are many.)
The tone of a woman gently, cruelly, mocking the pretensions of a boy. Sciolino has spent a lot of time in Paris, and it shows.
It's not the absurdity of the Israeli right but of the logic of the state that liberals defend.
“He was killed 60 years ago as he was travelling to work,” she said, struggling to hold back the tears. “My mother was four months pregnant with me at the time. This photograph is the closest I’ve ever got to him.”

Six decades on from his death, she has never been allowed to visit his grave in Galilee and lay a wreath for the father she never met.

This month, after more than 10 years of requests to the Israeli authorities, she learnt that officials are unlikely ever to grant such a visit, even though Mrs Qupty is an Israeli citizen and lives only a few miles from the cemetery.

Government sources said allowing the visit risks encouraging hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees to claim a right to return to the villages from which they were expelled in 1948.

Monday, October 27, 2008

On the cross border raid into Syria, read Joshua Landis at Syria Comment and Helena Cobban.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Beep, beep.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bipartisan support for war with Iran

"Simply obtaining the ability to quickly assemble a nuclear weapon would effectively give Iran a nuclear deterrent and drastically multiply its influence in Iraq and the region."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Johann Hari 2004
"With the exception of Jean-Marie Le Pen, all the most high-profile fascists in Europe in the past thirty years have been gay."

Reprinted and updated here
The news that Jorg Haider - the Austrian fascist leader - spent his final few hours in a gay bar with a hot blond has shocked some people. It hasn't shocked me. This is a taboo topic for a gay left-wing man like me to touch, but there has always been a weird, disproportionate overlap between homosexuality and fascism.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Untitled Post

From last year [expanded a bit]:
3 men from 3 countries. 
The first says: "My country has mountains and valleys and soil perfect for the vine. Our women are the most beautiful in the world and the boys are always willing. No one ever built buildings as beautiful as ours and our craftsmen are the best in the world."

The second says: "We don't wine we drink whiskey, and your women are weaklings good for nothing but chatter, just like your poets who write about nothing. And who's interested in boys? Anyway your mountains suck more than your boys do. There's not enough snow and too many rocks. How can I ski on that?"

The third looks at the others and nods. Then he pulls out a calculator and types a few figures before he speaks: "Logic" he says "shows that mine is the necessary country."
What happens next?

1- The first two walk away together, continuing their argument.

2-The first two tell the third to go fuck himself, then walk away together, continuing their argument.

3-The first two tell the third to go fuck himself, knock him to the ground and kick the shit out of him then walk away together, continuing their argument.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I've been meaning to get around to this. I almost forgot. NY Times, October 5
On Tuesday, Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, the organization that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature, gave an interview to The Associated Press and, while not dropping hints about this year’s winner, seemed to rule out, pretty much, the chances of any American writer. “Europe is still the center of the literary world,” he said, not the United States, and he suggested that American writers were “too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture.” He added: “The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature. That ignorance is restraining.”
NY Times, October 17th
It is a commonly held assumption that Americans don’t like to read authors who write in languages they don’t understand. That belief persists here in Frankfurt, where publishers from 100 countries show off a smorgasbord of their best — or at least best-selling — books. By and large, the American publishers spend most of the week in Hall 8, the enormous exhibit space where English-language publishers hold court. Although there are exceptions among the big publishing houses, the editors from the United States are generally more likely to bid on other hyped American or British titles than to look for new literature in the international halls.
The reality based literary community.
SOFA: Final Draft Raed Jarrar

More from Helena Cobban
Posner is an "economic liberal" who sees the rule of law as nothing other than a subset of economic policy. And the rule of law to him is the rule of judges. Democracy however is not the rule of law but the rule of argument.
Posner's philosophy is asocial and atomistic. His descendants include many who ascribe to the atomism but try to reconstruct the social within the limits of atomism. An example of such a hybrid would the eccentricity of Ian Ayres. 
Posner's ideas are the logical conclusion of the logic of justice as contract, as market contract: a moral esthetic of non-contradictory order. He imagines a society of one telos. Democracy is founded on the assumption of many teloi. His theories are fundamentally anti-democratic. They are "machine fascism" posited as freedom in that we can in ideal circumstances choose what kind of machine we want to be. 
Democracy as the culture of language in use; of argument over the meanings of words and things. Posner says he has answered certain questions, and he thinks he has the right to speak for others. Economic life is a subset of social life. Posner argues it is the reverse. He s wrong on the facts. But his philosophy is more dangerous to the country than born again christianity and "young earth" creationism.
Posner's is a strain of post war american Jewish rationalism, from the right. Chomsky would be his equivalent on the left. Both are at their best regarding matters of logic and simple facts [revising my first comment somewhat]. Posner on Scalia is as sharp as Chomsky on American foreign policy. They differ on values. Though neither of them are willing—perhaps capable—of articulating anything on that subject beyond platitude, Posner is willing to see himself as embodying a form of abstract reason a variant of which Chomsky only claims to represent. But they're both Cartesian to the core. 
It's significant that legal theory Rawlsian and otherwise sees language through the prism of civil contract and an ideal of reasoned decision-making. But the heart of law and language in our moral system is in the vulgar theater of the criminal courts. Legal philosophers defend ideas they believe in. Defense attorneys defend people they don't believe in at all. They don't defend truth, they defend their clients. 
Our criminal court system is built not on fantasies of the human capacity for reason but on an empirical awareness of our capacity for unreason: for failure. That's the response to Posner, and its staring you and him in the face. What's the proper relation of the courts to the legislature to the executive? Tension.
Of the prosecution to the defense? Tension.
Of the government to the press? Tension.
Of experts to the people? Tension.
That's the only "right" answer in a representative democracy.
[Answering a question about the reference to jewish rationalism] I'm the product of that world: secularized jewish intellectualism in the service of reason, with a tension between the intellectualism of the humanities and of the sciences. Chomsky didn't begin with contempt for Skinner but for Freud, more importantly for what Freud tried to describe. Both Chomsky and Posner defend a theory of rational action. Their works function as products of "Baroque" academicism or "Late" Modernism -as products of their age- though as Cartesians neither would allow that descriptions using the terminology of history should be seen to apply to their ideas.
Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Woody Allan, or Larry David for that matter would never be so arrogant.
Scalia posits himself as the humble servant of higher authority: the text, the church the state etc...
Posner is the technocrat and servant of logic.
One filters authority through a sense of the theater of social function, the other is indifferent. One is popular, one is not. It's the authoritarianism of the priest vs the authoritarianism of the technocrat. With Posner you just have to go a little deeper to find the deus ex machina.
I prefer Scalia because he understands the social function of language. You can argue with a fundamentalist over interpretations, because whether he will admit it or not, he is interpreting a text and the text in this case is public and in the common language. You can argue democracy with a someone who holds a conservative interpretation. You can not argue with someone who claims only logical structures in esoteric form.
A government by technocracy is not democracy. It's the pseudo-science of authoritarianism. cf. the "Brights" and "New" atheists.
Technocracy like the military is an authoritarian order that must be seen to serve democracy, not the other way around.
Too many people do get this obvious point.
We need more literary critics reading law. If words have meanings, so do structures. "The passive voice" carries meanings. Posner is another rhetorician against rhetoric. That's the contradiction. Language is rhetoric. Democracy is language in use.
This is all really really basic stuff in the history of ideas.
Desire vs Convention.
There are right-wing Conventionalists and Left wing, depending on whether they see it as rooted in the people as a whole or the elite. Edmund Burke or William Blake. The rule of law is conventionalist and one of the early leaders of the ACLU call it "a conservative institution." Guilds, unions and workingmens' associations are conventionalist. Academic liberals these days are not, and are less and less aware that they could ever be anything else. But the arts are conventionalist. The wishful arts of individualism and desire, the arts of wishful thinking, operate as illustration: Ayn Rand is art for political scientists, cranks and the desperately mobile.
And Paul Krugman and Newt Gingrich both got their start with Isaac Asimov's conceptualist dime-store "Foundation Trilogy."
Enough is enough. I keep thinking I'm trying to have a conversation. I've been having a conversation with myself for 25 years.
Mostly repetition, but the description of technocrats as akin to the military in being anti-democratic forces that must be kept in check is new. Nice one.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I didn't watch Powell on Meet the Press until tonight, again until after a friend made it sound interesting in ways others had not. I agree with my friend, the most important part is here
I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim."
Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America.
Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?
Yet, I have heard senior members of my own Party drop the suggestion he's Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery. And she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards – Purple Heart, Bronze Star; showed that he died in Iraq; gave his date of birth, date of death. He was twenty years old. And then at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross. It didn't have a Star of David. It had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Karim Rashad Sultan Kahn. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey, he was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11 and he waited until he could go serve his country and he gave his life.
No Democrats have said what Powell said in the statement above. No doubt they knew they'd pay a price if they did. But there was always a right way to do it. Powell did it the right way, but there was no reason he had to be the first. No reason other than the Democrats' lack of imagination. and cowardice.

I don't like Powell much, but Jack Balkin has always wanted to.

Harold Washington was the Mayor of Chicago He won his first term in 1983 against a divided opposition. He won in 1987 against a largely united one. The first 15 seconds of the video explain why.
The relation to the post two below this one should be clear.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

We only know [experience] the ideal through the illusion [the fiction] of its presence.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

"We're voting for the nigger"

I've been meaning to put something up about this since reading posts at Eschaton and TPM discussing pieces in The Times that I hadn't read, but that a friend described later in very different terms. He described them knowing I'd have the same reaction he'd had, which was laughter.

The articles describe the problems faced by campaign workers dealing with voter racism, and the tactics they've used with whites uncomfortable with Obama but who are still on the fence.
“One thing you have to remember is that Obama, he’s half white and he was raised by his white mother. So his views are more white than black really.” Ms. Mendive looked tentative. “Well, that’s true.”
I told J the turning point would be when we saw self-described racists who were going to vote the democratic ticket. I think I said, "Racists for Obama", and I described one of the most moving scenes in Harlan County USA, when a white miner at a meeting turns to a black miner and asks him if his boys are in. The man says yes. I told J that was coming. He said, "I hope so."
Now it's here.
So a canvasser goes to a woman's door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she's planning to vote for. She isn't sure, has to ask her husband who she's voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, "We're votin' for the nigger!"
Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: "We're voting for the nigger."
And white liberals don't get the fucking point. [updated link]
[Atrios' post is titled, "Racism". The body of the post:"This election over yet?", linking the below]
Try to read an article about Obama's efforts to win Indiana, and you get subjected to this:
For others, like David Ward, who runs an antique shop with his wife in New Albany, the issue is race. Ward, a registered Democrat, said he will vote for McCain "mainly because he's not black."
Blam!! Out of nowhere, it's like a sock to the stomach.
American liberals want to feel good about humanity in order to feel good about themselves. They're bothered when their optimism is questioned, embarrassed by others' faults but oblivious to their own. If you think you're not a sexist, ask the women in your life, and ask them for an honest answer. If you say you're color blind, ask the blacks you want to call your friends. American liberals like to call themselves internationalists, but you won't find internationalists like them in any other country. Fitting my usual argument it's safe to say that only people with a direct and acknowledged experience of racism, repeatedly over time, an empirical awareness of facts and events and not only an understanding of concepts and ideas, will recognize the importance of the second exchange above, as only they will see the humor.

At the Iowa caucuses in 1988, a farmer interviewed on NPR said he wouldn't want his daughter bringing Jesse Jackson home, but that he'd vote for him for president. It's called progress.

Something from last month on the same subject; and both connect the questions now swirling around Milan Kundera.

Fintan O'Toole:
For the uncomfortable truth about literature is that morally virtuous people are less likely than morally slippery people to be great writers. Having a clear set of values and sticking to it through trials and tribulations makes for a splendid human being, but seldom for a splendid novel.
No. The ability to face the complexities of the world begins with the acceptance of the possibility of failure. The way to understanding the frailties of others begins with an ability to recognize your own. Most people who consider themselves virtuous haven't been tested, or they're less virtuous than they imagine.

Two comments—mine—posted elsewhere:
Crooked Timber: "The Moral Sense Test." [comment deleted by admin. update years later, back in.]
My problem with the test began with the descriptions, which were insulting. “Extremely morally good” or “extremely morally bad” is the language of children, and the middle term “neither good nor bad” is evasive of moral responsibility. 

Balkinization: Moral "calculus"
My father used to refer to "the revolutionary chained to the wall in the Czar's dungeon who's worried that he's getting more than his fair share of sun." 
The relevant question is whether your status in some way functions to support the injustice towards others. Given a choice between a water fountain designated for whites or blacks I would make the choice that reflected my solidarity with the excluded. But on the other hand if I was thirsty and the only water fountain around was designated whites only, I'd still take a drink. Politics is a social activity. 
Of secondary interest is the question of whether the fact of injustice in the world makes it obligatory that you become a saint. But in that case one would assume a vow of poverty would follow, making questions about 100,000 dollars this way or that irrelevant. 
Central to all the above is the question of narcissism. Politics is a social activity and a means to an end. The mannered poetics of the moral actor as moral ideal is asocial, even anti-social, and narcissistic.

Identifying with a logical calculus is identifying with a machine. A cultural trope specific to our age, and more determined by it than by reason.
The origin of the story of the revolutionary in the dungeon is here

We only know the ideal through the illusion of its presence.
Politics is a social activity and a means to an end. The mannered poetics of the moral actor as moral ideal, outside of fiction, is asocial or even anti-social. It smells of narcissism.