Monday, June 30, 2008

Mother Jones: Iran Panic? Talk About It With the Experts
Mr. Safdari,
As I just wrote you off list, you understand, this is not a debate about what the panelists personally advocate or would wish about their countries' policies to Iran. After all, none of them have policymaking power.
It is about what they think is likely to happen or not and why. That's the way I framed it.
It's important to recognize the difference.
It's not about what they think would be nice, or what would be preferable, but
what they think will happen. None of them- us have real policymaking power. Therefore, in some ways, what they would like to happen is not as relevant as the insights they can provide about what they think is likely to happen and why.
Posted by: Laura Rozen on 06/29/08 at 8:43 PM

My precise point is the way you framed the question is the problem, and the experts unquestioning participation in this framing contributes to this problem.
Let me explain it more simply:
Instead of asking "Whether Israel will bomb Iran" why not ask "Why should Israel bomb iran"?
We tend to skip right over the "why" and go straight to the "when" or "whether" question. The requirement of bombing Iran is therefore taken as already established, taken for granted, not open to discussion.
We have seen this before. It was precisely this sort of endless and mindless speculation by experts that connected Osama to Saddam in the public mind, for example.
Posted by: Cyrus Safdari on 06/29/08 at 9:48 PM
"It's not about what they think would be nice, or what would be preferable, but what they think will happen. None of them- us have real policymaking power."

So Laura Rozen defends the paradigm of journalism as sports page, because after all we can't change anything. So much for the responsibilities of citizenship in a republic.
I posted 4 comments. One made it. Cyrus Safdari made my point.
I've added Iran Affairs to my link list.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Returning to this post and my common theme of the obliviousness of a certain class of Americans to what's in front of them, including their neighbors and neighborhoods. An Eastern European immigrant cafe owner said simply with a shrug: "They're lying." First to themselves, and then to everyone else.
It's that simple. She says it's not worth hating them, but I can't help it.

I've added something to the previous post. It's related.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What's the average lead time between the appearance of an important idea and it's "brilliant" articulation in popular language? 50 years? 100? How long after that till it becomes a truism?

From April 2005. This is the third time I've posted it: on the art of politics.

There's a good article on John Brown in the NY Review this week (another link behind the $3 curtain.) His death precipitated a change, a hardening, in the attitudes of many white northerners in the months before the civil war. Brown may have understood this and turned his raid on Harpers Ferry, once it was clear that it had failed, into a suicide mission.

Brown was an outlier, a radical statistically as well as politically, and he was arguably a more directly moral man than Lincoln. But the fact that Brown was simply right in his absolute condemnation of slavery and of slaveholders does not make him a 'greater' man than Lincoln. Lincoln's moderation, his political and rhetorical expertise, even considered as partially corrupt make him the more interesting and complex figure precisely because Lincoln could communicate with for whom Brown would have no patience. Lincoln was more representative of the complexities of the white American imagnation. Brown, may have led the way to a certain degree but he did not 'belong.'

The only reason John Brown's ideas surprise us is that he's white. His is the fanaticism of the slaveholder's brother, not the anger of the slave. Frederick Douglass thought the raid was much too dangerous. The genius of Lincoln stems from his relationship, as belonging, to the dominant moderate party- moderate only in its own terms- of white America, and to the dominant language of Amercan culture.

Modernism celebrated the radical individual as understanding things others do not. But how can individualism represent an idea of community?
Language is in independent entity of our own creation. It is the result of a collective action, but we can only define ourselves as individuals in terms of our relationship to it. How would we define 'speed' other than in terms of measurements of space and time: miles-per-hour. There is no terminology for describing the individual that is not defined in relationship to a community. When I get annoyed at Brian Leiter or pissed off at Brad DeLong, or mock the next generation of academic liberals and leftists, it's precisely because they refuse to accept that their language and their ideas are in conflict, and that the former gives us a much more honest representation of their thought processes than their ideas -as ideas- ever will. I'm tired of people who fantacize their relations to their own statements.

Any communicative act first and foremost describes the performer of the act in the context of the preexisiting social and political community of language. Only after that does it present the meaning -as intention- of the actor. As an old friend of mine says about a mutual aquaintance, whom I find it almost unbearable to be around:
"He doesn't know that he has an unconscious!"
J. understands my response, but doesn't share it. He laughs.
The New York Times: "when television cameras captured a startling image of Mr. Mugabe holding hands with the smiling South African president, Thabo Mbeki, a professed champion of African democracy." Angry Arab Times: when television cameras captured a startling image of King `Abdullah holding hands with the smiling American president, George W. Bush, a professed champion of global democracy.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

From comments, re-written. Realism, or any other assumption or generalization tout court fosters passivity. Our academy more and more teaches generalizations -names/terms- and the practical manipulation of those terms -instrumentalism- but not the appreciation of specific events and circumstances. Balkin is aware of this, intuitively and intellectually, but he's too lawyerly and deferential to the process to see outside his role.

"That President will want more authority to engage in surveillance, and he'll be delighted for Congress to give it to him officially."

That statement mirrors the logic and modeling by academics of social and economic self-interest. But since it goes so often side by side these days with calls for responsible and serious journalism and the defense of reason, which I can only imagine is meant as disinterested reason the cognitive dissonance gets to be annoying. Is reason the acceptance of simple self-interest or the promulgation of the academic ideals of collaboration?

I've defended for the moral logic of vulgar political reportage not because I don't trust anyone to ever have the country's best interest at heart, but because I trust vulgarians more than self-important priests to know when a line has been crossed. It was a gossip columnist not a political reporter who was overheard leaving a club full of republican partyers at the convention in NY saying in disgust that they were fascists.
Jack Balkin hasn't spent his life trying to get rich, and prestige can be pleasurable without being primary. Publicly refusing to judge the actions of others tends to reinforce their logic, while screaming in anger communicates nothing beyond anger. There's always a line between awareness and indifference. Being able simultaneously to be engaged and disinterested is an art more than a science. And it's this art, the ability to negotiate ambiguity on one's own, that out academy no longer prizes.

Representative democracy is not giving the people what they want. It's being willing to join or to follow until your individual conscience says: enough. David Davis, a British MP, and a Tory, resigned his seat last week, in protest against the 42 day rule, forcing an election he may well lose. If his "self-interest" is the issue then he resigned in error. If his self interest is tied to his self-respect as a British citizen, as a member of a community, he made a rational choice. Dictatorship is telling the people what they want. The responsibility of citizens and of citizen representatives in republican government is the responsibility to refuse when you think it necessary [I'd written "to know when to choose" which is impossible- there is no one answer] to act against your individual conscience. That's the definition of the divided loyalty that is at the center of democratic culture. There's no way to avoid the ambiguities. To respond with objective passivity concerning Obama's response is shameful.

It's a soldier's job to follow orders and a lawyer's job to make lemonade from lemons. Citizens have a more complex responsibility: and lawyers and soldiers are also citizens. The theory of rational self-interest ignores such ambiguity by saying that such divided loyalty does not exist. That's simply not true.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

As'ad AbuKhalil...

and Sinan Antoon, [not Charlie Rose] 

or Josh Marshall and Matthew Yglesias?

Tell me it's a hard choice.
Just to make it harder I'll add in Henry Farrell and Dan Drezner.

Watch them all as performance. It's not that Marshall, Farrell et al. are unaware of being on stage; self-consciousness is the baseline. But for all of them self-consciousness is connected to the fact that they're posing for and with their friends—literally "narrowcasting" their opinions to a small community—and the poses and the friendships are more important than the issues being discussed. They may as well be apes picking lice out of each others' fur. But unaware that social roles are constitutive, for them as well as others, they imagine themselves very serious people. Turn the sound down and watch. Then compare any of them to Antoon and AbuKhalil.

We pay lawyers to be biased. A self-important press is not an engaged one. Claims to objectivity become the rhetoric of narcissism.

"And for the record (don't post this), Yglesias as an individual has a great, self-aware sense of humor
and is much more starkly honest (if also unapologetic) about his own elitism
than most liberals. Take him out for a beer and I think you'd find that."

And Marshall and Yglesias started out pro-war.

Marshall in Salon, Nov 11, 2002.  "Democrats: Wrong in Iraq: The opposition party not only failed to articulate a good case against war -- it ducked the hard question of what to do about a dangerous dictator."

Monday, June 16, 2008

-"Rationalist mimesis, and that’s what their arguments consist of, is a joke."
-We only know the ideal through the illusion [the fiction] of its presence.
-Literature qua literature historically has been considered an act of description (the description of aporias) Naming is secondary.
- Philosophy is a form of literature using rhetorical devices [forms of argument] in defense of a system of belief. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the development of abstract logic and simultaneously of a compressed literary form seen as analogous.
-Rationalist philosophy has become the philosophy of the equation. Rationalist literature is the literature of naming.
Give me an example of the literature qua literature of naming as opposed to description that doesn't [objectively] suck as a representation of the world.
-If the literature qua literature of naming [objectively] sucks, what does that say about the rationalist philosophy of naming?
-Give me an example of rationalist political philosophy, Law and Economics. Originalism, or Chomskian anarchism, that is not laughably inadequate as a description of language and human behavior, as inadequate in fact, as any Stalinist agitprop.
Chomsky has always expressed contempt for empiricism but ironically is known now mostly as an empiricist: a simple reporter of fact concerning the history of US government activities. His theoretical interests -rationalism and linguistics- are seen as dated.

Strict formalism has failed to give us a model of the world as we experience it. It made for lousy politics and lousy art, for the same reason it makes for lousy philosophy. That some of it may make good computer science is irrelevant. Computers as they are currently understood will never model the animal mind. The combination of complexity and formal integrity is not a valid model for consciousness. Sentience is conflict. Build a computer programmed with contradictory imperatives as to methodology. and it will have intelligence. It will be indecisive. Or rather it will experience indecision. Whether it will have free will is another question.

We must begin to ask if our primary loyalty is to the search for distant facts and dim truths or to each other. The imperative for the first is for the general, the grand and at the very least implicitly for the religious. The choice for the second is for the specific, the partial and at the very least implicitly for the secular. It is also, and this explicitly, for and of contact with and experience of the everyday. A writer's first loyalty is not to his subject but to the material of common language and it's relations to the world. This is what a writer describes. As in a courtroom, each case is specific unto itself but also must become an example. Definitions are fought over. But If in a courtroom each case moves towards a provisional finality, art never even reaches that point. A and Not A. must continue to coexist in/as the same body even as a plot draws to a close. Forward motion is secondary. Only trash fiction gives primacy to the story, because only in trash fiction does anything ever really end.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Is Plato taught as one of the progenitors of fascism or as a “philosopher?” Is Julius Caesar taught as being a tyrant, and basically a scumbag, or merely the first Emperor of Rome?

Is the past taught as the present? Should it be? Is it possible to teach it any other way?

Read those three questions carefully.

L Pitkin #231 points to Smaug [#195]:
Smaug: “How would Adam Smith’s preferred ordering of the economy compared with Karl Marx’s affect social equality?” is an academic exercise. Asking, “Because of its effect on social equality, is Marx’s or Smith’s preferred ordering of the economy right?” is a political question.”

That’s nicely put. Disinterested description is preferable in the interest of clarity, but it’s amoral. It’s also impossible to achieve.
At #258 on this page I linked to my mention on another post of Derrick Bell’s discussion of Brown vs Board of Education. He argues that segregation should have been allowed but equality enforced. He argues this with cool reason founded on fact. He’s not a self-righteous white man trying to feel good about himself. He doesn’t begin as so many liberals do with the assumption that intentions are valuable in themselves. (I think of Brad DeLong turning purple with rage at the thought of his liberal technocratic justice being questioned.)

Players don’t have the best view have the chessboard. I make my sharpest observations when I force myself to think as if I don’t really care about the outcome of a particular debate, one way or the other. Sometimes it’s easy; but then I go on just to practice my debating skills. As a parallel to the academic preference for an ideal of engaged disinterest, it’s good to remember though few people here do that our justice system is maintained by advocates and factotums for hire.
The rule of reason is the rule of good intentions. Fish is being a pompous ass and playing a political game, but the question that stands at the title to this post is the question that divides Moses and Aron. It’s standard stuff.
What’s vexing is that the answer is “yes.”

Argument is a game and you can’t assume what side you’re on. Liberals assume while claiming not to. Conservatives are chained to their assumptions and proud of it. But contrary to Liberals continued attempt to engage them, it’s not the assumptions that they celebrate it’s the chain. There is a logic to this that needs to be examined. Indeed it has been, but not by liberals.

Try not to assume. Try not to have faith, in others or yourself. That last one is really hard for liberals. If the Palestinians had a nigger Jesus like King or Mandela liberals would be more than happy to celebrate their recognition of him and bask in self-satisfied glory. But all the Palestinians had was Arafat, and that and memories of WWII meant that “reason” was against them.
Try not to have faith. Pace the New atheists, you’ll never succeed, but living “the examined life” it’s your job to try.

Here’s an old old lecture. I heard it first in about 1968:
Creative writing classes have no place in the university. And the same for courses on contemporary fiction. Business schools are trade schools and there’s no reason for them to be accredited as anything else.
Live life in the present, study the past. Without distance there’s no chance for anything approaching clarity. The objective and scientific study of the present is no more than the celebration of yourself dressed up in a labcoat. You’ll always end up lying to yourself.

So here I am 40 years later debating with academics who want to change the world by writing books. When Fish is saying if you want to go out and change the world do it. If you want to talk about ideas then do it. But don’t think that replaces anything else. I want to talk to you about living under an authoritarian government in Singapore, and you won’t do it. You probably can’t. But you want to bring politics into the academy because you can’t bring it out on the street. Fish is giving you a dare.

Do you know when I started to become an asshole? It started the first time I was lectured by academic snobs who called themselves leftists and accused me of being both under-intellectualized and reactionary, while they had the publications and the references to prove it. Publications full of dogmatic rereadings of sophisticated and ironic europeans, retooled as roadmaps to careers in the academy. And here I was, a carpenter and construction worker and the son of academics who read Chaucer and Henry James, for pleasure, and who risked arrest and having their 3 children taken away and put in foster homes, in the defense of what they believed.
My qualified defense of Fish is due to the fact that he amuses me. My unqualified contempt for you is due to the fact that you deserve it
I don't give as damn if Holbo is happy in Singapore. That's not the point.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis

The name of my constituency is Haltemprice and Howden. The word Haltemprice is derived from the motto of a medieval priory, and in Old French it means "Noble Endeavour".
I had always viewed membership of this House as a noble endeavour, not least because we and our forebears have for centuries fiercely defended the fundamental freedoms of our citizens. Or we did, up until yesterday.
Up until yesterday, I took the view that what we did in the House of Commons representing our constituents was a noble endeavour because with centuries or forebears we defended the freedoms of the British people. Well we did up until yesterday.
This Sunday is the anniversary of Magna Carta - the document that guarantees that most fundamental of British freedoms - Habeus Corpus.
The right not to be imprisoned by the state without charge or reason. Yesterday this house decided to allow the state to lock up potentially innocent British citizens for up to six weeks without charge.
Now the counter terrorism bill will in all probability be rejected by the House of Lords very firmly. After all, what should they be there for if not to defend Magna Carta.
But because the impetus behind this is essentially political - not security - the government will be tempted to use the Parliament Act to over-rule the Lords. It has no democratic mandate to do this since 42 days was not in its manifesto.
Its legal basis is uncertain to say the least. But purely for political reasons, this government's going to do that. And because the generic security arguments relied on will never go away - technology, development and complexity and so on, we'll next see 56 days, 70 days, 90 days.
But in truth, 42 days is just one - perhaps the most salient example - of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms.
And we will have shortly, the most intrusive identity card system in the world.
A CCTV camera for every 14 citiziens, a DNA database bigger than any dictatorship has, with 1000s of innocent children and a million innocent citizens on it.
We have witnessed an assault on jury trials - that balwark against bad law and its arbitrary use by the state. Short cuts with our justice system that make our system neither firm not fair.
And the creation of a database state opening up our private lives to the prying eyes of official snoopers and exposing our personal data to careless civil servants and criminal hackers.
The state has security powers to clamp down on peaceful protest and so-called hate laws that stifle legitimate debate - while those who incite violence get off Scot free.
This cannot go on, it must be stopped. And for that reason, I feel that today it's incumbent on me to take a stand.
I will be resigning my membership of the House and I intend to force a by-election in Haltemprice and Howden.
Now I'll not fight it on the government's general record - there's no point repeating Crewe and Nantwich. I won't fight it on my personal record. I am just a piece in this great chess game.
I will fight it, I will argue this by-election, against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government.
Now, that may mean I've made my last speech to the House - it's possible. And of course that would be a matter of deep regret to me. But at least my electorate, and the nation as a whole, would have had the opportunity to debate and consider one of the most fundamental issues of our day - the ever-intrusive power of the state into our lives, the loss of privacy, the loss of freedom and the steady attrition undermining the rule of law.
And if they do send me back here it will be with a single, simple message: that the monstrosity of a law that we passed yesterday will not stand.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"To Justify Something Is To Diminish It?"
Yes, of course.

Fish's arguments, and their weaknesses, are pretty clear. It's easy to understand if you know the antecedents -and isn't that part of Holbo's job description to know them?- But Holbo is "vexed."
The only example he can come up with to parallel Fish's argument is etiquette. Etiquette comes at the end of the line. It's the argument for manners when they're no longer founded on anything but themselves. Mozart's music is founded on and is considered the high point of a tradition. T.S. Eliot and Kentucky Bluegrass Banjo players are inheritors of tradition. Sonata form, lyric poetry, meter and rhyme scheme, and on and on. It's not that Holbo wants to make an argument against these things and their role in the academy, or even that he's accusing Fish of overreaching, it's that he arguing from an ignorance that they ever had a role. That's just bizarre.
I quoted Eliot:" He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it"
You may not agree with the sentiment but ignorance is no excuse.

As I said in a comment, it struck me for the first time how the contemporary culture these people are most attracted to is basically Pre-Raphaelite: proto-fascist and borderline kitsch; Randian, life as art/ art as life; life/art ordered by intention.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I don't know anything about Jenny Scheinman or her fiddle playing, though I'm not much of a fan of Norah Jones, but this quote from Bill Frisell caught my eye.
A song isn’t just a sort of mathematical puzzle for her; it has a real emotional meaning,”
I had this labeled "Autism Watch." I don't know what else to say.

Another note: Roy Lichtenstein called the romance and war comics he cribbed his images from "fascist." That his paintings aren't is what makes them interesting. That transformation is their subject.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


In progress. I'm cleaning this up bit by bit. [At this point it's become much more then that] I made some good points, which were ignored of course. But I want to be clearer. This may take a while. It may get worse before it gets better.-

Neither Dawkins nor Dennett as far as I know have ever tried to answer questions concerning the purpose or function of religion. Arguing with the faithful is arguing with people over self-reported data. Imagine asking Dawkins why he bothers. Do you think he'd be willing or able to articulate the reasons? He wants to replace religion with something just as absurd: another fictional telos. He wants people to agree with him and he's angry when they don't. Why?

People whether educated or not live their lives in response to preexisting patterns and habits. Determinism rules most aspects of life, and probably I would say all of it, but that's not the subject here. It's enough to acknowledge that acts of discovery get shrouded inevitably in pomp and circumstance. A set of allegories and analogies is built around a set of facts and fact and fiction seem to function for a while in unison, until facts change and fiction doesn't. The discovery of antibiotics begets the ideology of antibiotics begets over-prescription, a habit which lingers long after it's understood to be counterproductive. A tool becomes a crutch becomes a weakness. This changes when we move from the sciences to social life but not in any way that makes things easier.

Affirmative action can be defended only as an unfair necessity: the government acting to the advantage of one group over another. Protectionist trade policies propped up native industries in China and India, The difference between the two is the difference between inter and intranational disputes. Protectionism worked for China and India. Affirmative action has worked to a degree but was brought about under law by tortured logic. It helped break the back of the old segregationist order but in a sense helped break the back of private life, ushering a modern public -economic- measure where there had once been diversity. It helped to destroy an independent black economy and culture.
In order to understand history (as much as it can be "understood") you have to imagine it as a participant and as an outsider. The French Revolution ushered in, or continued, or completed, the bourgeois revolution. Many of it's protagonists thought it had done or would do more. There was never a chance of that.

When does a necessity become an indulgence? And if the people who've called either affirmative action or protectionism an indulgence all along win the day after 50 years of arguing does that mean that they were right 50 years ago? Also: right as a matter of law or of morality?
There’s no right answer outside of context. You could say there's no answer outside of the facts, but the facts in the case of affirmative action and trade, unlike the case of penicillin are still inseparable from the stories that surround them. Antibiotics are an externality, we and our behavior and descriptions of ourselves are not. As the man says: "It ain't worth nuthin' until somebody wants it." And the Constitution isn't broken until the majority says so. We change by rationalizing change as a form of stasis. We analogize to create continuity.
If Barack Obama becomes the next president it will be because he appeared before most people as a man rather than a black man, He won the democratic primary running not only against the Clintons but against the black elite who were used to using their blackness as a label, and who gravitated towards their older white patrons and in Hillary Clinton's case towards someone who used a similar logic of gender based resentment.
Andrew Young: “Bill is every bit as black as Barack. He’s probably gone with more black women than Barack.”
You can argue against affirmative action but I doubt we'd be on the verge of electing a black president without it. Opponents of Affirmative action say, given his background, that Obama has not personally benefitted from it. But it's also true that they themselves have. Ward Connerly says Obama is qualified. But he should admit that Clarence Thomas wasn't.

Discuss judicial review as well.

I was talking to a friend of mine about his son, whom he coddles, reinforcing the kid’s insecurity. He told me he let him stay home from school today, missing a class trip the beach[!], because the kid said he was too stressed by the need to socialize. That annoyed me and it wasn’t until five minutes later that he corrected himself saying it was his wife who led his son stay home, and that he had disagreed. “Well, that changes everything” I said. His wife does the opposite of coddling. She’s fully capable of humiliating the kid in public. If she says it’s okay that’s a whole different issue, especially since he protested. There’s no right answer. The kid has to learn on his own. He can be helped but not taught. Reversing the good cop, bad cop roles even without intending to, keeps the kid thinking. He should have gone to the beach but there's no lost ground.

Science bores me. I appreciate its practical power but as philosophy it’s thin stuff. It’s either the philosophy of planes trains and automobiles, or it’s pure Platonism. I’ll take the medicine (maybe) but won't swallow the narrative.
“also boring: books”…
Books are interesting. The Alps are beautiful but dumb.

“Science bores me.” That was a bit much, but it was hyperbole directed at those who put the word “scholarship” in scare quotes. In more mundane language I simply don’t see science, in the sense of a consideration of the world as a mapping of externalities, helping to resolve any of our central philosophical or political questions. I gave three example: trade, affirmative action and (for lack of a better word) education. In all three I’d argue generalizations are not universally applicable, either as a matter of logic or more obviously politics, but the search for generalizations is what predominates discussion.

I posted a comment on the thread about yet another abomination from Fox pointing out the thanks we owe Murdoch for reminding people that the press should be not neutral but engaged. I don’t read TPM out of some pretense that it’s neutral (and much of what I read offends me) I read it because the writers are articulately personally and intellectually involved in the debate over the issues and because by and large unlike Fox they’re not stupid. Unopinionated writing is not writing without bias, it’s writing where the biases are hidden. One of the most annoying things about unsophisticated liberals (and that’s many of them) is the sense that they’re immune to the foibles of their opponents. It the trait in so many Americans that drives people from other countries nuts.

Where are all the native Arabic speakers in discussions of Iraq? There’s not one Palestinian voice at the “reality based” TPM, and it affects the reporting immensely. It skews it to the point where it’s as deserving of mockery as Fox. But that’s something reason cannot solve, nor will it ever. Reason cannot replace self-representation. As long as so called “serious” people are allowed to frame the debate as between reason and irrationalism the debate will be bogged down in these side issues.

A note on reading. I read everything as an argument from a virtue ethic. If I read an armchair revolutionary it usually becomes clear pretty quickly that that’s what he is. Manners describe an ethos. Everything in words can be read as an example of a form and every written opinion is self-reporting. The difference between what someone believes and what they say they believe is often pretty clear, but only if you refuse to take them at their word. What’s the virtue ethic of geek culture, of libertarianism or the New Atheism? Of Darwinian Fundamentalism?

American liberals are idealistic defenders of representative government: they have a hard time not taking people at their word.
Idealistic liberalism is not the same thing as default liberalism. Seeing liberalism as the default you don't have to believe much of anything people say.

If something isn’t worth reading as a primary text, worth reading in itself, for me it’s not worth reading at all. Interesting writing is writing where the space between the author’s intentions and his desires becomes the subject. That writing, whether by intention or without it, manifests a philosophical awareness, a respect for ambiguity and the specificity of personal experience much more important to the health of a democracy than the search for scientific truth.
j thomas,
the ability to read translations of the Arabic press has been a boon, but often that translation has been done by amateurs and/or natives of countries outside the US.
The fact that experts in the English speaking world speak mostly to experts in the english speaking world is the larger problem.
Henry Farrell is behind the curve regarding American political and intellectual culture, just as Marc Lynch is behind the curve in relation to the state of play in Iraq; and both of them would consider themselves to be left of center. But even seeing them as I do as in the middle, the middle has shifted. And that’s a good thing.

One of the factors mitigating the ghettoized state of American discourse has been the influx of immigrants, legal and illegal, over the past generation. That’s why I don’t get involved with that argument one way or the other. Both sides make short sighted and self-interested defenses of their positions, but social globalization will continue to help the US ride out recent (self-induced) storms. Henry Farrell is an immigrant, and even with his Americanized sensibility he’s still a European. As I said Farrell, along with Josh Marshall and Barack Obama is the new middle. The most annoying thing to me is the argument from self-invention: as if any of them came up with any of this themselves. It’s all pretty much predictable. I’m grateful GWB hasn’t blown us up but other than that there’ve been no surprises.

My general point is the same: being a schoolmaster without an imagination is not very useful. Having a degree in symbolic manipulation means nothing if the relations of symbol to object and event keep changing. The model of the intellectual as auto mechanic is seen now more than at any time in the last century, as absurd. The academy lags.

I’d also say that being able to play chess or exchange recipes over the internet with someone in Tashkent or Cartagena is better I think, than being able to join them in imagined virtual worlds, or even than the ability to discuss politics. The former is grounded in this world, without being freighted with it, and that argues for it being another factor mitigating against societal atomization. That’s a longer argument though.

Monday, June 09, 2008


"Is sincere loyalty better than insincere neutrality?"
Oh yeah.

I could put this here or here It would work either way.
One constant refrain during the Free Press's National Conference on Media Reform was that they were a nonpartisan entity and they could not endorse candidates in federal elections. This was meant to prevent speakers and panelists from doing the same.
Due to the various constraints from tax and campaign finance law, you have a lot of organizations that are unable to take the step of linking outcomes to politics. They can't say "vote for Obama, so we'll get media reform." While in isolation it isn't that big of a deal, I think it's another thing which contributes to the lack of issues and policy in politics. A lot of people doing good stuff on policy just can't intertwine the policy with the politics, even though unless the right people get elected none of the good stuff is going to happen.
More realistic acceptance of partisanship in the press and everywhere else would lead to better discussions.

My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism. Marr calls himself a "hack" and journalism a "trade" and comments on the professionalization of the American press. Atrios has called himself a hack, or at least he used to. We need a return to a vulgar political press, and Fox started that. I'm repeating this all the time now: If the political press treated Bush the way the entertainment press treated Britney Spears we'd be much better off. The only thing that bugged me about the shit Clinton had to put up with was that the liberal press refused to dive into the mud against Bush. The liberal press is made up of holier than thou reformers catering to the educated middle class. The Nation doesn't even try to be a popular magazine. If we had some left wing tabloids it would be the sign of a healthier political culture. Instead we have, or have had for a long time an elitist intellectual left. But that's changing. Daily Kos among other things functions as a Tabloid. I was always disgusted by self-important Clinton defenders, as if the jackass deserved some sort of respect, but actually I should have shrugged, since they helped too. But not for the reasons they imagine.

Republican forms of government are vulgar. and cleanliness is next to Platonism. "Enlightened" conversation should be able to withstand mockery even if that mockery is petty and adolescent, because as often as not that enlightened conversation is a circle jerk of self-important dimwits. More than redstate I really can't stand The Daily Howler. Bob Somerby drives me nuts.
Moral hazard is a risk for everything, so everything needs a counterforce: the market, the academy, the government, and anyone who calls himself an expert. My standard defense of law over philosophy is based on the fact that law in practice is incredibly low and vulgar and yet everyone understands that it's at the moral center of our culture, as intellectual activity and subject of art. Lawyers are ubiquitous in fiction, movies and TV but at the same time they're marginal. In the real world philosophers, including legal philosophers, don't count. Talk to someone in criminal defense.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

And a guest post at Patrick Lang's Sic Semper Tyrannis
"I know and have friends and acquaintances who are African-American..."

Ignorance even in admitting ignorance.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Monday, June 02, 2008

Why brilliant fashion designers, a notoriously non-analytic breed, sometimes succeed in anticipating the shape of things to come better than professional predictors, is one of the most obscure questions in history; and for the historian of culture, one of the most central. 
Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes
Yves Saint Laurent was three when he pointed out to his aunt that her shoes and dress didn't match.

I heard the story years ago, but for a long time I thought he was older.

Vertigo and Playtime. [Tati video replaced after previous one died. ]

Sunday, June 01, 2008

I experienced the modern version of The Floating World for the first time in the late 90's, at a small private party in a rented room on the lower east side. I said to someone it felt like Limbo as an airport lounge in 1974. The soundtrack was Air, and I amused myself a bit more by deciding that Prada was Halston in brown.

The effect is akin to a narcosis that not only slows but regulates motion. It's Chaplin's Modern Times at 5 frames per second, with the gears wrapped in fine silk: aestheticized anesthetic motion. The rhythms, bass and snare and little clicks invite improvisatory response, touches of free will in a rigidly deterministic world. At 1:20 when the strings come in and at 1:29 when they modulate and the plane begins to glide across the screen I get a shiver of aphasia.
And the the scream at 0:26 is Hitchcock.

[Video, if it vanishes - I:Cube, Adore.]
I posted this in January, but I'll do it again because the obvious is still obvious, even if it's ignored.

"It's not easy, and I couldn't do it if I didn't passionately believe it was the right thing to do. You know... I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards. You know, this is very personal for me. It's not just political it's not just public. I see what's happening, and we have to reverse it. And some people think elections are a game, they think it's like who's up or who's down. It's about our country. It's about our kids' futures, and it's really about all of us together. You know, some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some pretty difficult odds, and we do it, each one of us because we care about our country but some of us are right and some of us are wrong, some of us are ready and some of us are not, some of us know what we will do on day one and some of us haven't thought that through enough.
Dowd: Can Hillary Cry Her Way Back to the White House?

Atrios responding to Dowd: "Because only boys are allowed to cry. Or something. These people are all broken. Complete monsters."

Gitlin: Hillary Teared--and Edwards Blinked

Pollitt: Hillary Shows Feeling, is Slammed

Listen to Clinton's words, and ask yourself what exactly she's crying over. The response has been based on the assumption that Clinton was describing and reacting to the pressure of campaigning itself, but that's not it.
"You know... I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don't want to see us fall backwards."
She's crying because she's scared of what will happen to the country if she doesn't win. Dowd hints at this and no one else even comes close, but it's front and center: "It's not easy" trying to save us from ourselves. The performance and response have been equally embarrassing to watch. Does Clinton even know what she's doing? Does Katha Pollitt? It's obscene that our self-righteous liberal "reality-based" political class is so incapable of self-awareness and self-reflection that their candidate's narcissism is misread as concern.

Ill add -June 1st- that Krugman's performance a Clinton hack recently has been nothing short of hilarious, and that in the end what pisses off people about Maureen Dowd is not that she's an intellectual lightweight but that she's disrespectful to their heroes. It's Dowd's vulgarity that's offensive.