Monday, March 30, 2009

Raphael, Study of Soldiers in The Conversion of Saul, ca. 1515–16
At the Met
An amazing drawing, though it's amazing also how the low resolution almost makes that hard to see. An object lesson, quite literally, in the principles and poetics of the High Renaissance: simultaneously static and full of motion, a perfect but lightly held balance of action and reflection, observation, representation, and free craft. Rigor seemingly without tension, or tension seemingly without its affect. Imagine a performer on a tightrope or balancing on a sphere, and walking with the casual gait of someone on flat solid ground.

The figures fly off the page, yet they're anchored as solidly in place as they would be seated and face forward in a Byzantine mosaic. And they demonstrate this incongruity, this absolute, categorical, conflict while responding to our anxious questions with courtesy and concern: as if to ask us what is wrong. A Stendhal moment occurs when a work pulls you so strongly at once in both of its directions that your mind is overwhelmed. I went back to this drawing three times over the course of an afternoon and felt dizziness and chills each time.
see also

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The last one reminded me of something. All very William Morris.
But this is not social democracy; it's all part of the new social economy of service (and servants). I used to get fresh mozzarella and pasta in Williamsburg because it was an Italian neighborhood. And you can get very good pickles in the Hasidic delis on the South Side. The transition from culture to design. And the self-conscious but un-self-aware designers see themselves as cultureless or neutral, at least as neutral before they found their callings. They weren't of course any more than now, but they see themselves in their intentions not in the record of their actions, and are thus less able to imagine the possibility of outside reaction and response. They see the world through their enthusiasm itself, not through what they're enthusiastic about.
It's a mannered narcissism. The clearest illustration of this years ago: it amused me when a hardware store which had been forced to move after a rent increase was replaced by a shop called Brooklyn Industries. Nuts and bolts were replaced by their images, on t-shits and messenger bags (though the store has since expanded, in both locations and inventory.)

What's happening in the immigrant communities is much more complex, Williamsburg was dying with the young Americans moved in; other parts of NY are not. In other neighborhoods as I've said we're witnessing the bourgeoisification of people by themselves, and the terms have changed. The reasons I'm more interested in the culture of Tehran or Ankara than I am in the culture of Tel Aviv are why I'm interested in the culture of NY as a whole and not just that Manhattan and gentrified Brooklyn. Artopolis [archive]  is a neighborhood business, from a neighborhood culture; it's not an imposition. But it's new, There are many other places like it, catering not only to those within their group also outside it, as part of a larger network of reciprocal relations in economic and social life (including both food and sex) epitomizing the pleasures and tensions of cosmopolitan life. The new foodies of Williamsburg, by comparison—like its craftsmen in other fields—are geek narcissists: they're tribal.
There are many things to be critical of in the new modernity, but distinctions are important.

A map of a city with an ethnic and culinary diversity unrivaled on the planet gets you this. To be fair, Eric Asimov would cringe.
From last year and related

And more on Brooklyn Industries: Immigrants. And the opposite of artisinal: cold calculation and crap.
That's for another day.
John Holbo responds to Charles Murray, Goldberg, Douthat et al.
Chris Bertram responds to Holbo in a post from 2007
"Seem[s] to me that something like the following is going on … (glib and oversimplistic summary follows)

SoH regret that the things they value about England are being squeezed out by a crass commercialism (partly of US origin, partly not). They also regret that English people are ignorant of their own folk traditions. This is also true though a good deal (though not all) of the loss happened with 19th C industrialization and a good deal (though not all) of the “folk tradition” is a manufactured response to the same. Lots of stuff that strikes a chord there – loss of authenticity, commodification etc etc.

Lots of people who also feel, with them, the loss of that sense of place and belonging also (unlike them) blame their own anomie, alienation, etc on immigrants, the EU and so on.

A rallying cry to defend English culture attracts a lot of the same people, unfortunately.

This kind of dialectic has been played out since the dawn of industrialization and, of course, it leads the market-utopians to want to tar all the particularists (for want of a better word) with the same brush. That’s a charge that should be rejected because William Morris ain’t the BNP (or even UKIP). But we’ll carry on squirming and feeling uncomfortable because the left and the right both share a discontent with modernity."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

So stupid [and again] As if newspapers have ever been reliably serious (any more reliably serious than people). If the US press is terrible it's because of the US model for the press is terrible: Americans are always looking for someone to trust. Murdoch gave us right-wing news and left-wing entertainment: The Simpsons. Democracy is vulgar and needs to be, but here the indignant intellectual elite still lectures the masses, without realizing how things have changed, for the worse and for the better.

Interesting to note that Watchmen and the aspirations behind it made Battlestar Galactica possible, and that the second surpasses the first not because the intellectualisms are superior -they're not- but because of the focus on human relationships and responsibilities. The maturity is in the details. What's central as well is that it's not made by geniuses or by those who want to imagine themselves geniuses but by professionals (and a fashion model who became one over the course of the job.)
The fictional Galactica is manned by a crew of hacks happy to have something interesting to do and smart enough to see the possibilities. And even the occasional or even the many false notes didn't overshadow the effort: they were paid to conjure up the complexities of human feeling and they worked hard and well at it. You learn to respect the characters but more importantly you learn to respect the actors. I'm thinking of Tarantino.

Roger Cohen has been good recently on on Iran. But compare him with Elaine Sciolino (also here). And look what she writes about most of the time. Cohen, like Baer, takes himself seriously as a man of ideas, but ideas aren't details they're glosses, and for Sciolino, like the actors of Galactica, the details are the point. Cohen is at least looking for them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement.
Nothing new.

"At first the specified action was to go into a house. We were supposed to go in with an armored personnel carrier called an Achzarit [literally, Cruel] to burst through the lower door, to start shooting inside and then ... I call this murder ... in effect, we were supposed to go up floor by floor, and any person we identified - we were supposed to shoot. I initially asked myself: Where is the logic in this?

"From above they said it was permissible, because anyone who remained in the sector and inside Gaza City was in effect condemned, a terrorist, because they hadn't fled. I didn't really understand: On the one hand they don't really have anywhere to flee to, but on the other hand they're telling us they hadn't fled so it's their fault ... This also scared me a bit. I tried to exert some influence, insofar as is possible from within my subordinate position, to change this. In the end the specification involved going into a house, operating megaphones and telling [the tenants]: 'Come on, everyone get out, you have five minutes, leave the house, anyone who doesn't get out gets killed.'

"I went to our soldiers and said, 'The order has changed. We go into the house, they have five minutes to escape, we check each person who goes out individually to see that he has no weapons, and then we start going into the house floor by floor to clean it out ... This means going into the house, opening fire at everything that moves , throwing a grenade, all those things. And then there was a very annoying moment. One of my soldiers came to me and asked, 'Why?' I said, 'What isn't clear? We don't want to kill innocent civilians.' He goes, 'Yeah? Anyone who's in there is a terrorist, that's a known fact.' I said, 'Do you think the people there will really run away? No one will run away.' He says, 'That's clear,' and then his buddies join in: 'We need to murder any person who's in there. Yeah, any person who's in Gaza is a terrorist,' and all the other things that they stuff our heads with, in the media.

"And then I try to explain to the guy that not everyone who is in there is a terrorist, and that after he kills, say, three children and four mothers, we'll go upstairs and kill another 20 or so people. And in the end it turns out that [there are] eight floors times five apartments on a floor - something like a minimum of 40 or 50 families that you murder. I tried to explain why we had to let them leave, and only then go into the houses. It didn't really help. This is really frustrating, to see that they understand that inside Gaza you are allowed to do anything you want, to break down doors of houses for no reason other than it's cool.

"You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won't say anything. To write 'death to the Arabs' on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing in understanding how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It's what I'll remember the most."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Touting Religion, Grabbing Land.
I thought at first it was about Israel.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Complete here
From GalaBiR, who has a long list of Russian films: from Tarkovsky, to Kidnapping, Caucasian Style to the 2005 Russian television production of The Master and Margarita.

Gone. Too bad.
One of the films he had I remember from childhood of watching too much TV. The Amphibian Man used to play on a local station, dubbed of course.
Running out of things to say, again.

Smart questions for stupid people:
What's the relation of this to this
[more here]

What's the relation of a NY Times review of a Martin Kippenberger exhibit to the debate within the American Philosophical Association over discrimination against homosexuals (limited specifically -and pathetically- to whether or not universities that have policies viewed as discriminating should be allowed to post on the APA's jobs page?

The simple answer concerns the relation of rationalism to optimism and the desire, institutionalized as an unacknowledged requirement, to see yourself in the best light at the expense of any understanding of your position in world (outside your imagination.)
It just occurred to me, embarrassingly late, that this is just another a debate over multiculturalism in the academy. But it's not like anyone can question the notion of accredited Christian Universities so all that's left is the fight in a subsidiary organization in one field in the humanities: over who can post on the philosophy department version of craigslist.
It's like drawing a line in the sand, on your living-room floor.
Read the Kippenberger article and if you know the work or knew the man himself, and some of you did, compare it to what you know and to the following simple thumbnail sketch:

Kippenberger was a German who hated Germans, a fan of America who hated America, a lover of high art who hated snobbery and a lover of popular culture disgusted by vulgarity. He hated celebrity but wanted to be and became one. He lived a suicidal life and saw himself as dying for our sins, but knew what he was doing and knew his sense of tragic humor would amuse us and allow him the glorification he needed. And he was an asshole. But the communication is what lasts, not the melodrama. Pieces could be powerful -precise though you'd never know how the precision came about- charmingly nihilist, or pathetic. His last works were elegiac hippy utopianism, and lovely for it. His direct antecedent in German culture would be Fassbinder and his offspring for Europe at large might be Houellebecq, though the relation of the democratic to the aristocratic arts makes things more complex.

Jerry Saltz of all people is a little better.

The APA hubub reminds me of debates over academic "freedom": the pretense that some socially constructed orders are absolutes not out of formal or structural/social necessity but because of some higher moral standing.
Idealism and democracy don't mix. And any defense of democracy must defend it for what it is not what you want it to be.

As always: the rule of law exists to oppose the rule of reason/ the rule of reason will always become the rule of the reasonable/ the rule of the reasonable will always become the rule of unreason.
"One of the most important aspects of this debate is in what sort of image we wish to create of our field..."

A small minority of your membership is bigoted. I would expect nothing else.

As you've just admitted your interest is not principle or logical consistency but politics, and the shallow politics at that of optics. "What will the [gay] neighbors say?"
The issue for you is less discrimination against others than your own self-image. That's why they call it "liberal guilt." But I think students, even homosexual students, are smart enough to know where they're not wanted, and that your energy would be better used telling them they're welcome where you are than feeling shamed by association with idiots from whom you can easily separate yourself.

If you were interested in principle you'd search yourself for lapses, down to your foundations, and face them. Then you'd be able to recognize those situations such as this one where casuistry is the only option. No I don't think we'll be able to remove accreditation from Wheaton College, or Pepperdine, or Bob Jones University, any more than we could remove it from Harvard Business school (though it and others like it are equally deserving.) Pick your fight: know what and why you're fighting and whom you're trying to help, and decide what best serves your goal.

Intentions alone mean nothing. Rationalism unchecked serves nothing more than narcissism and by its own rules can't even recognize the fact, as you can't recognize that the only interests you're focused on with right now are your own.
And I shouldn't have to explain to a philosophy professor why popularity is not a good foundation for an argument.
Even this is about prestige.
Actual logic is secondary, because in this case the only applicable logic is worldly.
That's what amazes me.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ewe Reinhardt was on NPR yesterday. He told a story of his mother, still in Germany, having to wait 2 weeks for a doctor's appointment. When he offered to speed up the process she shamed him for wanting to help her jump the line.

The "value free" study of our base mediocrity reinforces mediocrity. The overlaying of quantitative language on issues previously considered qualitative treats the former as the latter.

Technocratic intellectuals' insistence on expert opinion misses the point, and misidentifies or misconstrues the relationship of law and of themselves to language and society. When we argue we are not engaging primarily in the search for the truth but in a collective act of self-definition. The search for external eternal truth has always been largely a McGuffin. Very few people actually believe in God, they believe in systems and stability. 

To obsessively study the opinions of others is often a way to avoid acknowledging that you have opinions of your own. manifested in the pretense that you are only interested in objective truth. Ignoring your opinions' status as opinions or values makes you prone to bizarre misreadings of yourself and others.

Brian Leiter imagines judges' opinions as ideological but is unable to see that they spend most of their time trying to further their cause, to convince others to agree with them. Judges are members of society and the public debate itself is more important than courtroom decisions: the stops along the road are not the road. Public debate changes people, some of whom end up judges in the future.

Wishes oppose preference as hopes oppose facts. If one marks what we want people to think of us, the other marks what we are.
Removed one.
Too rambling; too many mistakes. And I said it all better in the past.

Monday, March 09, 2009

"I come from a family of lawyers.

A lawyer doesn’t defend what he believes, he defends his clients. A good lawyer should be able to prosecute a case one day and defend one the next, as a good actor should be able to play a comedy in the afternoon and a tragedy at night.

Abstract philosophical debates are exegetical: are arguments over ideas as constituted in texts. Arguments over the meaning of the Bible, Macbeth, The Critique of Pure Reason, or the U.S. Constitution are structurally more similar than not.

Works of art are arguments in defense of themselves, their intimate meanings unknown and unknowable to anyone but their maker, if that. What we respond to we respond to as structure. The same is true for any communicative act. The physical space between each of us is like the distance of time.

All we have of one another are artifacts, and artifacts are largely formal. To say, “I love you,” means nothing apart from inflection and cadence. Content and form are distinct but inseparable, and form leads more than it follows. Wishes oppose preference as hopes oppose facts. If one marks what we want people to think of us, the other marks what we are.

Art is the desperate defense of our preferences. It’s a defense made in rhyme when none exists in reason"

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"A Baby, Please. Blond, Freckles -- Hold the Colic"

The reaction is predictable. Moral this, moral that... and then most often it comes down to some sort of religious objection. Religion is used as the foundation for the argument against. But the only reason is to give the argument the authority of a force beyond ourselves, to make it a commandment from above.
Curiosity is a moral value as well as a practical one. Experience makes us flexible, but resilience is the common goal. We want to survive as ourselves: we want to recognize ourselves at the conclusion. A central fear of the emotionally disturbed is that if and when they're cured they will have become someone else. Many acts of suicide are the consequence of a sense that the narrative arc is complete and completion always ends in death. Suicide is a final act in defense of continuity.

Being given what you want is neither interesting not does it promote evolutionary fitness. Design is not always a means -a lens- through which we focus on experience, often it's just laziness.
The popular unthinking knee-jerk reaction is the correct one. But the loudness is an acknowledgment of the desire for the choice that is being opposed.

Facebook and the disambiguation of relationships

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Towson State University. Baltimore.
European Patent Office, The Netherlands.

Just curious.
Any statement intended as a statement for or from an intellectual position and made "at leisure" (removed from any practical necessity) should be made in such a way as to acknowledge both the position it argues and the one it manifests. Great authors engage with subtexts, even those of which they're not quite aware. Hope engages preference: history will be the judge of which is more central to the work (if either is).
Content, as opposed to subject matter, may be described in the words of Peirce as that which a work betrays but does not parade. It is the basic attitude of a nation, a period, a class, a religious or plulosophical persuasion—all this unconsciously qualified by one personality, and condensed into one work. It is obvious that such an involuntary revelation will be obscured in proportion as either one of the two elements, idea or form, is voluntarily emphasized or suppressed.

Erwin Panofsky, The History of Art as a Humanistic Discipline, in Meaning in the Visual Arts
"What is the good of philosophy if it does not make me a better human being?"

Monday, March 02, 2009

Japan’s Crisis of the Mind
The truth is, Japan is a mess. Mr. Aso’s approval rate recently hit 11 percent, and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party is in open disarray. His predecessor barely lasted a year. The opposition Democratic Party of Japan just offers more of the same. This is largely because we have become a nation of bureaucrats. What passes for national policy is the sum of various ministerial interests, often conflicting or redundant, with jealously guarded turfs and budgets.
There can be no justification for all those mostly unused airports. Or for roads that lead nowhere. Or for the finance minister who appeared to be drunk at the Group of 7 meeting this month in Rome. Our problem is so deep that it sometimes seems that no political party can tame the bureaucracy and put in place a coherent national agenda.

But what most people don’t recognize is that our crisis is not political, but psychological. After our aggression — and subsequent defeat — in World War II, safety and predictability became society’s goals. Bureaucrats rose to control the details of everyday life. We became a nation with lifetime employment, a corporate system based on stable cross-holdings of shares, and a large middle-class population in which people are equal and alike.

Conservative pundits here like to speak of this equality and sameness as being cornerstones of “Japanese” tradition. Nonsense. Throughout much of its history, Japan has had social stratification and great inequality of wealth and privilege. The “egalitarian” Japan was a creature of the 1970s, with its progressive taxation, redistribution of wealth, subsidies and the dampening of competition through regulation. This all seemed to work just fine until our asset-price bubble popped in the 1990s. Today, the hemmed-in Japanese seem satisfied with the knowledge that everyone around them is equally unhappy.

Since the middle of the 19th century, our economic success has relied on the availability of outside models from which to choose. Our model for social security took inspiration from Bismarck’s Germany, state planning from the Soviet Union, public works from the Tennessee Valley Authority, automobile assembly and manufacturing from Ford. Much of Japanese innovation has involved perfecting what others have created. Sony is famous for its Walkman, but it didn’t invent the tape recorder. Japan’s rise to economic greatness was basically a game of catch-up with the advanced West.
India Maintains Sense of Optimism and Growth
While most of the world grapples with a crippling financial crisis and a recession, optimism reigns in much of India as its economy continues to grow.
India’s trillion-dollar economy remains a relative bright spot, some say, in part because the country’s bureaucracy and its protectionist polices have kept it insulated from the fallout of the global downturn.

“India is not as vulnerable” as other countries, said Rajeev Malik, head of Indian and Southeast Asian economics at Macquarie Capital, who recently wrote a report titled “India: Better Off Than Most Others.”

On Friday, India reported that its economy grew 5.3 percent in the quarter ended in December when compared with the previous year. While that was down from the 7.6 percent growth in the earlier quarter, it was in sharp contrast to the retrenchment in other countries.
Washington, for example, reported Friday that gross domestic product for the end of the year had contracted at an annualized rate of 6.2 percent, and Japan recently reported that its economy shrank at an annual rate of 12.7 percent.
Even after the G.D.P. figures were released, government officials pledged the economy would grow more than 7 percent this year, and major stock indexes finished last week in the black.

Advocates of free enterprise often complain about many of the country’s economic policies, including a state-dominated financial system virtually unconnected to foreign markets; sluggish export growth because of bureaucracy and shoddy infrastructure; and hundreds of millions of farmers who raise crops mainly for domestic consumption. But such policies have helped the country maintain its ground as the world slides into a recession.