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.
Once upon a time I had plenty of admiration for Thérésa. It seemed as if, in that huge voice with its low-pitched notes, there vibrated the soul of the people. She stirred me and made me shiver; more than once she brought tears to my eyes. In the last two years I have gone to her comeback performances as if to visit an old friend, searching for that impression of the past which she cannot reawaken. Her fine diction, so strong and clear, is spoilt now by pretentiousness, pomp, and solemnity. No doubt she imagines she is now a social force, and that each word she drops will have repercussions in the world. She adopts without discernment songs which are inept, and tries to colour their empty words with a redundant sentimentality and a false picturesqueness. Instead of the brutal and sincere art which used to delight me, the singer displays a procedure which has grown uniform and a search for violent effects.

[An anonymous Parisian newspaper columnist in 1886. From "The Bar at the Folies-Bergère" the last chapter in T.J Clark, The Painting of Modern Life.]
Earlier in the chapter Clark writes: "The songs Thérésa sang, and the general run of the entertainments which the calicot enjoyed, could best be described as 'popular.' The best discussion of this word in a comparable context is the one provided by T.S. Eliot in his 1923 obituary of Marie Lloyd"

Jump ahead for a discussion of Eliot and Clement Greenberg.

Monday, October 13, 2008

More from Fried.
And John King, another former student, testifies to Wittgenstein's distaste for British (as opposed to American) movies precisely on the ground of their theatricality. "The Mill Road cinema . . . was the one he most favoured," King recalls, "and here he sat as far to the front as he could get, leant forward in his seat and was utterly absorbed by the film. He never would go to any British film; and if we passed a cinema advertising one he pointed out how the actors looked dressed-up, unnatural, unconvincing, obviously play-acting, while, in comparison, in the American films the actors were the part, with no pretence" ("Recollections of Wittgenstein," in Rhees, ed., Recollections of Wittgenstein, p. 71).
Reminds me of Charles Laughton's awe of Gary Cooper.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

We Have No Manchester

Watching the first episode of the American version of Life on Mars it occured to me that we don't really have an equivalent to Manchester in the public consciousness. Relocating the story to New York makes sense in a conjure up image of gritty city way, but lacks the ability to convey the pecularities of smaller city crime and policing that I think were rather important in the original series. New York is too big of a canvas.

It's what The Wire did with Baltimore, but Baltimore had to be explained to people instead of simply being invoked.
I've called Duncan Black a technically educated no-nothing with a good compass, moral and otherwise, that shows how the country has changed, and is changing.
That's an interesting paragraph.

Of course he made up for it the next day

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Note taking
I would spend all I had to save the life of someone I loved, while I would spend less on someone I was merely fond of, and maybe I’d toss some money to Oxfam for a kid somewhere.
Viewed objectively all three are equally deserving, but that’s not the way the world works.

Also: is Tony Judt a leftist in the US but merely a liberal in London?

Is liberalism rationalism and systems-building, or is it cosmopolitan empiricism and the cultivation of the flexibility required to negotiate their inevitable failure?
The comments above were rendered illegible, "disemvowed," by Chris Bertram: "I thought I’d made it clear that you aren’t welcome to comment on my posts. Any more, and you’ll get a comprehensive ban from CT as a whole."
I sent him an email and told him just to do it. I'd posted an additional comment, writing that the post itself was probably the most honest thing he'd ever written at the site, if not ever. Snide but true. Rather than disemvowel it he simply made it vanish.

I want to write more about the post itself. maybe when I'm sober. I'm still reading essays by and about Michael Fried which by chance also have a connection [see wednesday] And there's an obvious relation to this:

from this post

If you take the above model as describing how we respond to each other, how we learn about each other and ourselves, then the the failures of liberalism, and of the human imagination, are less traumatic. In fact they're only traumatic to idealists who think those failures can be avoided or righted. They can't.

The advantage of the arts over the sciences as a basis for philosophy is that in the arts it's better to be good than right. That this is a subject for philosophy as a whole rather than aesthetics is shown by the fact that the same rule holds for lawyers. Lawyers are craftsmen not scientists.

I've written those two sentences in various forms dozens of times by now. One of these days it's gonna stick

Friday, October 10, 2008

Warnung vor einer heiligen Nutte

Listening to the second in a series of mixes by the house DJ at a boutique hotel in Paris and wondering at the first track. Looking it up and realizing both what should have been obvious and how it makes perfect sense.
There I held a trembling hand
Seeking shelter in strange apartments
Til the day they turned her in
Being Judases of nowadays
Doris Days-To Ulrike M.
I think of Fassbinder
This made me smile.
... China would impose two conditions. First, it would declare that the offer of money was conditional on the US government’s adopting a particular approach to rescuing the banks, namely to favour in the next round the use of government money to recapitalise the banks. Europe has been using this approach and evidence suggests it is the most effective way of dealing with large-scale financial crises.

The US government – like third world governments in the past – has been unable to adopt the most efficient course of action. This stems from an ideological obsession against “socialising” banks or because inducement is necessary to overcome any domestic opposition to it.

The second condition would relate to “social safety nets”, which had become standard embellishments to World Bank/IMF adjustment programmes. China would stipulate that monies be devoted to cushioning the impact on vulnerable homeowners, so that they would not be forced into forgoing the American dream of home ownership. Chinese conditionality on this front would achieve an outcome that several economists on the left and right have argued for on grounds of fairness, and also to address the fundamental problem in the housing market.

For China, this offer of help would have three virtues. First, it would be riding to the rescue of a situation partly created by its own policies of undervalued exchange rates, which led to lax global liquidity conditions. Second, its economic interest would be served because successful US efforts at rescuing its financial sector could help avert an economic downturn, protecting China’s exports, its growth engine.

Perhaps most important, it would seal China’s status as a responsible superpower willing to deploy its economic resources for the sake of protecting the world economy. And if the means for achieving that are by providing the current hegemon with the largest aid package the world has ever seen with a healthy dose of sensible conditionality, well, what could be more statesmanlike than that?
From Helena Cobban, who I think had the same reaction.
This is not a laughing matter. So I want to be clear what I was alluding to when I referred to “borderline criminal incitement.” John McCain has a first amendment right to smear and (at least free of criminal penalties) slander Barack Obama by suggesting he’s in league with terrorists. But as we’ve seen many times, even offhandedly threatening comments directed at a Secret Service protected individual, can earn you a visit from the guys with the earpieces. And McCain and Palin are now routinely holding rallies in which they whip supporters into such a delirium by castigating Obama as a dangerous terrorist-lover that members of the audience shout what can very reasonably be interpreted as threats against Obama’s safety. Am I saying they’re breaking the law? No. But I do think they’re nudging up against the envelope and getting near that line beyond which, if McCain were not a presidential candidate, his rallies would be getting some attention from those charged with protecting Obama’s safety.)
Others don't seem to get the point.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

More on the science of the passive.

Germans and Israelis agree: Shiksas are hotter
The software program, developed by computer scientists in Israel, is based on the responses of 68 men and women, age 25 to 40, from Israel and Germany, who viewed photographs of white male and female faces and picked the most attractive ones.

Scientists took the data and applied an algorithm involving 234 measurements between facial features, including the distances between lips and chin, the forehead and the eyes, or between the eyes.

Essentially, they trained a computer to determine, for each individual face, the most attractive set of distances and then choose the ideal closest to the original face. Unlike other research with formulas for facial attractiveness, this program does not produce one ideal for a feature, say a certain eye width or chin length

...Agreeable arts are those which have mere enjoyment for their object. Such are all the charms that can gratify a dinner party: entertaining narrative, the art of starting the whole table in unrestrained and sprightly conversation, or with jest and laughter inducing a certain air of gaiety. Here, as the saying goes, there may be much loose talk over the glasses, without a person wishing to be brought to book for all he utters, because it is only given out for the entertainment of the moment, and not as a lasting matter to be made the subject of reflection or repetition. (Of the same sort is also the art of arranging the table for enjoyment, or, at large banquets, the music of the orchestra-a quaint idea intended to act on the mind merely as an agreeable noise fostering a genial spirit, which, without any one paying the smallest attention to the composition, promotes the free flow of conversation between guest and guest.) In addition must be included play of every kind which is attended with no further interest than that of making the time pass by unheeded.

Fine art, on the other hand, is a mode of representation which is intrinsically final, and which, although devoid of an end, has the effect of advancing the culture of the mental powers in the interests of social communication.
Pretty is passive. Beauty takes effort.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"Nationalizing the Means of Production...

As Atrios puts it: Awesome!
WASHINGTON — Having tried without success to unlock frozen credit markets, the Treasury Department is considering taking ownership stakes in many United States banks to try to restore confidence in the financial system, according to government officials.

Treasury officials say the just-passed $700 billion bailout bill gives them the authority to inject cash directly into banks that request it. Such a move would quickly strengthen banks’ balance sheets and, officials hope, persuade them to resume lending. In return, the law gives the Treasury the right to take ownership positions in banks, including healthy ones.

The Treasury plan, still preliminary, resembles one announced on Wednesday in Britain. Under that plan, the British government would offer banks like the Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and HSBC Holdings up to $87 billion to shore up their capital in exchange for preference shares. It also would provide a guarantee of about $430 billion to help banks refinance debt.
Only Nixon could go to China. Only Bush can finally bring the Marxist Revolution home!
As a friend in the market, and who spent the day buying, said tonight: "I'll pay. But if you're gonna turn this country into Europe, then I want better cheese, better wine and topless beaches."

a good time to repeat myself.
There's no way to escape the need not only for quantifying rationality but also for the more obscure notion of "judgement" and for discussions of and concerning values. The rationalism of unfettered individualism is done. If the consensus is that people act as individuals alone and strictly in their own interests, then that consensus helps create and maintain itself and the culture it describes (and if anyone argues against it you'll point to your "research.") But by the logic of simple reinforcement description then becomes prescription.

Now however for a period of time at least, we're going to managers with a major role in large financial institutions who aren't making a percentage. It won't be the end of the world. The crisis was well timed: if we're waking up in the morning with a more social democratic economic policy, we've been building a more social democratic culture.

The basis of society (and therefore social democracy) is not in Aristotelian non-contradiction -rules- but in the way people choose to face contradictory obligations. The man who opined in favor of better wine and topless beaches also berated me for thinking that I should have sold over the past week to buy. I sold nothing and I'm down $200,000. "Don't be an asshole. You'll be fine. Imagine if everyone did that. Stop thinking short term!"
The eternal conflict between self-interest and self-respect.
Self-respect is a function of the social; and my stockbroker is more of a humanist than any economist I know.
I'm more pissed off—disgusted—by people who lie to themselves than I am by those who only lie to others. Choosing to lie is an acknowledgment of responsibility; lack of self-knowledge is beginning of the end of it. 

Apropos contemporary American politics and social life, and other things:
Robert Pippen, "Authenticity in Painting: Remarks on Michael Fried’s Art History" PDF.
Michael Fried, "Jeff Wall, Wittgenstein, and the Everyday" PDF


I hadn't read Arendt on the politics and truth.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Big Bro looks so serious.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Visser on the Democrats again
During yesterday’s vice-presidential debate, Joe Biden repeated the basic thrust of Barack Obama’s comments on Iraq one week ago. According to Biden, “John McCain was saying the Sunnis and Shiites got along with each other without reading the history of the last 700 years.”

In other words, Barack Obama’s apparent assumption of an endless conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq was more than a slip of the tongue. Instead this seems to constitute a key ingredient in the Democratic narrative on Iraq: the country can be held together only by a strong ruler, otherwise Shiites and Sunnis would be at each other’s throats. Biden’s incarnation of the argument also served to clarify that Democrats quite literally are thinking of hundreds of years when they advance this contention; by his counting, the problems began in the early fourteenth century. That is certainly a slightly odd place to start, since Baghdad at the time was governed by Mongol rulers who themselves were rather difficult to label, sometimes they were pro-Shiite, sometimes pro-Sunni. At any rate, even if the exact number of centuries in this case may be attributable to a Biden idiosyncrasy, the main point is clear. Democrats do not think Shiites and Sunnis have any tradition of coexistence in Iraq.

This assumption overlooks the fact that there were in fact no more than three major episodes of large-scale sectarian violence in Iraq prior to the rise of the Baathists: in 1508, 1623 and 1801; in all cases violence was instigated by foreign invaders from Iran or the Arabian Peninsula. Still, many will dismiss this entire discussion. Why should we care about such historical details when there are bigger issues at stake such as the US economy? The reason these matters are important is that they relate to a more fundamental aspect of Democratic strategy in Iraq which has become clearly evident over the past weeks, despite apparent attempts by Joe Biden to avoid going into too much detail about his notorious “Iraq plans”. Democrats want a “settlement” in Iraq, otherwise they think that US forces will have to be sent back there again. (Biden told reporters a few weeks ago, “Without a political settlement, Tom, we’re going to be back there in another year or two or three or five.”)

A shift to the political sphere instead of the almost exclusive emphasis on the military found among many Republican strategists, now that seems perfectly plausible. But the danger with regard to Democratic strategy has to do with exactly how they want to perform this shift and what sort of knowledge about Iraq is going to inform it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Crisis in the Market and in the Academy

"The question here is what better describes the current situation.
Is it A: A lack of data which science and bla bla bla will help us to bla bla bla until we are able to bla bla bla to a new scientific understanding?
Or is it B: The population of his fucking country is so divided among delusional Lay-Z-Boy riding frontiersmen, a reactionary peasantry, and condescending intellectual pseudo-aristocrats with fixations on Bloomsbury (without the sex) that nothing is going to get done?"
A comment -since removed- made here.
I made others that were better received, at least by readers.

Writing, rewriting. Too sloppy, too slick. Too casual, too tight. Later.
A good time or better to revisit my problems with academic political discussions. Ingrid Robeyns' bookish anxiety is really annoying.
It's a discussion of political ideas held in the context of a very real crisis. But the crisis concerns less a lack of ideas -the majority of economists seem to be in agreement- than the fact that our political class is divided between the corrupt and the cowardly. The crisis becomes an excuse to have a discussion of academic interests that bear only secondary relation to the situation on the ground. Yet the tone is panicked. This discussion replaces a discussion of political maturity that will not happen because maturity is too amorphous an idea for a philosopher to grasp. Formalist academics are fundamentally immature -formalism is childish- and since such a discussion is off limits they're unable to recognize what they represent.
There are two kinds of narcissism, The narcissism of those who do nothing but stare in the mirror, and the narcissism of those who never have and never will.

Discussions of ideas constructed from ideas are the discussions of specialists. Discussions of cowardice and courage, discussion of ideas built on acts, can use the common language. The common language is where this discussion belongs. This isn't a defense of "theory" as opposed to "analysis" but as I said in another comment, at least Althusser came clean in the end.
Precision is desirable to most people only as the capacity for precise description, but precisionism is a value system: a moral esthetic, and a brittle one.
All conversation is social bonding. New threats need to be responded to by the existing social/linguistic order. That's the root of Robeyns' anxious questions.