Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Duncan Black
"I think a major consequence of the lack of reading non-fiction other than textbooks is that when in late high school or college teachers want research paper type things, the students have a lot of trouble largely because they've never read any."
linking to Yglesias
"Like a lot of people I know, I read a lot and what I read is mostly nonfiction. But as Dana Goldstein points out in a great piece lots of Americans read very poorly and schools teach reading almost exclusively through fiction"
Andrew Koppelman at Balkinization on a paper:“We Don’t Want to Hear It: Psychology, Literature and the Narrative Model of Judging.” The first paragraph below is the abstract.
"The 'narrative' model of legal judging argues that legal decision makers both do and should render judgments by assembling sensible stories out of evidence (as opposed to using Bayesian-type, linear models). This model is usually understood to demand that before one may judge a situation, one must give the parties the opportunity to tell their story in a manner that invites, or at least allows, empathy from the judger. This Article refers to this as the “inclusionary approach” to the narrative model of judging. Using psychological research in emotions and perspective taking and the more intuitive techniques of literary criticism, this Article challenges the inclusionary narrative approach, arguing that, in practice, the law gives equal weight to an “exclusionary approach.” That is, in order to render sound, legitimate legal judgments, the law deliberately limits the sort of stories parties are allowed to tell—and does so on moral grounds, not, or at least not only, to improve the “accuracy” of the legal judgment. That is, as both a descriptive and normative matter, impoverished narratives can be better than enriched ones in leading decision makers to morally acceptable legal judgments."

[Koppelman] One of Bilz’s most interesting claims is about literature: she argues that it isn’t possible for a good work of literature to make us sympathetically identify with an evil character. I think that the point needs important qualifications, in the face of some obvious counterexamples, but I am reluctantly convinced. Sometimes it’s morally appropriate to be stupid and insensitive."
Jon Mandle on another paper
"But of course the scientists are not adjusting morality with a magnet, they’re affecting people’s moral judgments. I don’t think anyone ever doubted that manipulating the brain in various ways can lead people to alter their judgments – moral and otherwise. This is obvious to anyone who has observed the results of alcohol, for example, or – much more indirectly – framing effects."
Really, really, fucking stupid.

My comment at Yglesias' page: "Most of what you read is lies and most nonfiction reinforces enthusiasm without question. Fiction questions enthusiasms and assumption; as a heuristic it's the most well suited to the training of functioning adults. No one should be teaching Twilight or Harry Potter, the kids understand them better than the adults. The adults should teach Shakespeare and Euripides... What kids shouldn’t be reading, beyond 7th grade, is textbooks." Teach Tocqueville not academic essays based on him. Teach the past, live the present, and leave the purely academic stuff for later. And even academics admit most academic writing is shit.

From what I can tell, I'll look more closely when I have time, Kenworthey Bilz doesn't understand fiction, morality, or law. None of these idiots can imagine they have ever or will ever lie to themselves. Law is a function of society regulating itself, maintaining order and stability. It has little relation to imagined Platonic truths.

"One of Bilz’s most interesting claims is about literature: she argues that it isn’t possible for a good work of literature to make us sympathetically identify with an evil character." There are very few if any evil characters in good fiction, what there are are evil acts. A good work separates one from the other. If that's not possible the work fails.

Kieran Healy: "Amazingly, you can also change people’s mathematical judgements in much the same way (including with alcohol), which may be disconcerting to people who view physical laws as some kind of immutable, lofty feature of Nature. But such people will just have to get used to this radical new world." What's amazing is that Healy views morality as some kind of immutable lofty feature of Nature. As I've said more than once, philosophy professors, now called 'philosophers", are theologians in drag. Popular storytellers are the first atheists.

See the previous post... and again

I get the impression that high school literature is taught now at the level of what was once called "Art Appreciation," and that these assholes are the product of that and worry now that too much time is spent on it.

6/22/11 This post is getting a lot of hits today so along with fixing a couple of typos I'll add two more links.

Joe Jamail
John Mortimer

And why not… Jan Van Eyck

Look at the smile. That's the face of a great bastard. You can't help but like him

3/14 I used the Pacino images first and never got around to replacing them.

3/30/2020 It didn't register at the time but the discussion at CT misses obvious points. That I missed them too doesn't mean they weren't obvious: the relation to autism (now part of the literature) and the seeming irrelevance of utilitarianism, trolley problems etc. But the descriptions including the authors' are muddled.  From the abstract: "When we judge an action as morally right or wrong, we rely on our capacity to infer the actor’s mental states (e.g., beliefs, intentions)." Mandle: ...they have identified a part of the brain that is important in attributing mental states to others."
But the actors' intentions were stated flat out in the experiment. There's no room for inference. The result of the experiment is to render intention less relevant as a category.
The discussion of law is just as simplistic. People who are deemed "liable" are judged guilty.
Everything above is storytelling.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

note taking [my comments] same post as before
"The problem in UK universities is that the government are putting them under pressure to demonstrate their 'social and economic impact', and this includes the Humanities as well as the Sciences,"

But the humanities have played into that. "Theory" attitudinizes itself as science as much as economics does. Even the fine arts are taught in terms of "theory" and "practice." Follow the language of contemporary design and it's all modeled on the terminology of "research." And recently it's infected the language of foodies. Cooks now conduct research. Outside of popular -and thankfully still vulgar- culture every aspect of taste is now treated in the manner of objective knowledge. And manner is all it is.

The humanities are founded in this: that every 29 years or so someone will write another book on Abraham Lincoln, George III, or Plato. And each book will be different from the last. There was a "Lincoln for the first half of the 20th century" and there will be a Lincoln for the second of of the 22nd, if anyone is alive to write it. People will be writing histories of the important figures of their culture long after the last facts about those people are known, because in each and every case, those histories describe the periods in which they're written. For the humanities the description of things is the description of our relation to them, not the "things themselves" whatever they're supposed to be. The humanities oppose the sciences. That's their job and moral responsibility.

We test ourselves against the world in order to gauge what we are. The most important thing history and literature and the arts give us is a more objective understanding of ourselves. The world is a MacGuffin. We fill it with desire, And we can do it knowingly or not.

There are two kinds of narcissist, the one who spends his life staring in the mirror and the other who's never looked at his reflection even once, and can't even imagine being looked at. For him what he is is normal, even universal. That others might think otherwise is unthinkable or irrational. The telos of science is as absurd as any other but its internal logic makes it seem superior to its enthusiasts. But technological progress is just that, no more. The culture of progress in the humanities gives us this

The culture of moral exceptionalism in the sciences gives us this. See chapter 15. It's unreconstructed racism, straight out of the 19th century.
The only reason it's in the book is the irrationalism of its author and the obeisance of his editors.

The proper study of mankind is man. Perhaps if Weinberg had been better trained he wouldn't have made such basic errors of logic and morality.
I've linked to Weinberg's book enough, but most people don't even know it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

M. de Palancy, who with his huge carp’s head and goggling eyes moved slowly up and down the stream of festive gatherings, unlocking his great mandibles at every moment as though in search of his orientation, had the air of carrying about upon his person only an accidental and perhaps purely symbolical fragment of the glass wall of his aquarium, a part intended to suggest the whole which recalled to Swann, a fervent admirer of Giotto’s Vices and Virtues at Padua, that Injustice by whose side a leafy bough evokes the idea of the forests that enshroud his secret lair.
the "symbolical fragment" is a monocle.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Untangling, 1994, cibachrome transparency and light box, 81.5" x 95"

Restoration, 1993 Ilfachrome transparency and light box, 46 7/8" x 16 ft. 7"
[click on the image]
And here. [updated] It's worth zooming around the images in Flash. [the new page includes a link to the archived page]
One of the few living artists whose work has once or twice given me a Stendhal moment. At its best the work is supremely academic, and still alive.

The bottom image: three women, the crossed arms of the two on the right, facing opposite directions and mirroring each other; the contrapposto of the figure on the left; three art restorers, an image of the aftermath of war; three nurses, three graces; cinemascope and The Bourbaki Panorama.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Note taking
“genial incompetence.”
And what form of incompetence is Tyler Cowen and the rest of the GM economic department supposed to represent?
No matter what, I think I prefer the Italian variety.

And why do at least two of the academics in the small circle posting their choice of 10 important books put the Bell Curve as a positive influence?

Get off your high horse.

Umberto Echo-Echo

I think people should acknowledge that one of the reasons for what you would consider “positive” change is the fading of the old aristocracy and the rise of the aspirant petit bourgeois. In England that meant Thatcher, and in France Sarko. Since the subject of the miners’ strike comes up now and again on this site, it’s worth noting that the old aristocracy had at least a sense of noblesse oblige. Thatcherites had none. But now London is full of millionaire stockbrokers with accents straight from the pub or the coal mine.

Enzensberger argued once that Italy should be something of a model: nothing gets done, nobody starves.
I’m not entirely unsympathetic to that argument.

Clod Levi-Strauss

“the rise of the aspirant petit bourgeois.”
I guess I should have written “victory.”

Pierre Bourdieu wrote a silly book called “Distinction,” with arguments that could never be applied to the US and apply less and less to western Europe. The words of old “oiks” describing their childhood relations to the “toffs” in another post and the words of the miners linked to a couple of weeks ago here made the same point. “We are what we are and it’s ok,” but a little more respect would be appreciated.
Those days are done.

I wish people wouldn’t confuse the old conservatism of land and the new conservatism of capital. It gets tiring to hear “economic liberals” refer to Tocqueville as one of their own. As tiring has hearing neoliberals refer to themselves as socialists

Clod Levi-Strauss

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This begins here
Think of the second graph as built upon the model of historical observation (across time) becoming a model of contemporaneous communication across space: we observe each other acting, communicating only by way of mediating form. The sciences efface both the mediation and the self, imagining a collective consciousness of universal knowledge.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The absurd American dislike of partisanship is mirrored by the equally absurd desire for absolutes. Witness the popularity of the slogan: "Health care is a right." Health care is a good, but not every good is a right.

Liberals like to think their goals are justified by logic and "objective" reason before preference. Universal truths are timeless: they don't evolve. So whatever liberals are defending at any given time, whether health care or welfare reform, Zionism or the rights of Palestinians, tax cuts or the Great Society, anyone who opposes them is assumed to be acting on impulse or making arguments founded on irrationalism. 20 years ago it was Reagan and the Palestinians, and even today the assumption regarding the latter holds for many. Facts be damned. But all agree that the Republicans are nuts.

Conservatives opposed to health care mythologize work as pain and relief from pain only as earned. This is conservative principle and it's ridiculous to argue that opposition to various proposals and to abortion for example is based on anything else. There's a question whether or not this principle is something conservatives are or have ever been capable of upholding, and the answer by and large but not entirely is no. But conservatives see life as lived according to principles only alongside the inevitability of failure, with punishment and a concomitant shame. There's plenty of room for hypocrisy in that but there's hypocrisy as well in Duncan Black's downplaying the problems of urban gentrification while not acknowledging that the masters of the "hellhole" -as he affectionately calls the city I was born in- made room for him and those like him by forcing out the previous residents of the place he calls "his" neighborhood. Atrios got his home the old fashioned way: slum clearance.

If liberals have principles so do conservatives, ditto for the failure to live up to them. But liberals have enlightened reason on their side so there's no need for punishment. They have their idealism and the best intentions.
What a stupid fucking country.
A year ago passage of some sort of health care reform seemed inevitable, and not a tremendous challenge. Only a year of dithering and bipartisaning and gangs of wankers and pre-compromising and, frankly, failure to put forward something simple and popular jeopardized it.
Duncan Black is an asshole, but assholes can be right. The Democrats won the election and have played defense ever since. Another example of conditioned response winning out over rational action. Josh Marshall is right to call it the "bitch slap" theory of politics.
The past isn't dead. It isn't even past.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mash-ups again.
I made another comment after I the realized the obvious: mash-up culture as a culture of reference is pastiche culture, with all that word implies. [and then I discover the Yglesias actually uses the term] Pastiche is to collage as illustration is to art: dependent on its references for strength; like bragging about who your parents are rather than boasting about who you are as their son, or daughter. The distinction is subtle but important.
Rationalists/Conceptualists do not understand performance.

"No idea's original/ There's nothin' new under the sun/ It's never what you do/ But how it's done."

In a passage from one of the Five Lectures on Psychoanalysis Freud says that as the result of a successful treatment repression is replaced by 'a condemning judgment'. He doesn't explain the difference between the two. What's the difference between "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother" and "I don't want to kill my father and sleep with my mother."
That's a decision for the audience to make.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I posted both years ago. They bring back memories.
note taking/posted elsewhere. Teaching the Young
A previous commenter had linked and quoted Le Guin
“But art is not essentially content. Art is essentially form. Art is object, not subject.”

So Ursula Le Guin, [] a fantasy author, of all people, is the first to say the obvious: that culture is form production, not content production. Form embodies meanings; it does not merely carry them, and it rarely embodies what you want it to.

But of course the reason geek and technocrat intellectuals read SF, and the reason they read Rawls, is that it’s all about ideas, so therefore about their own wish fulfillment; like earnest cafe revolutionaries whose fantasies have no relation to a reality other than their own.

Mash-ups are collage and collage is form. But don’t pretend a mash-up has much to do with the originals. The history of collage is the history of art made from crap. The new history of mash-ups in most cases is the history of crap made from art: crap made by idiots piggybacking on someone else’s work.

Picasso wasn’t the most articulate schmuck but he said one thing that was on the mark: “Bad artists borrow, good artists steal.” If you do a mash-up like you own it, then everything in it is raw material. If you make it just as reference, it’s like saying “Hey everybody I just wrote a paper about Nietzsche! Cool huh!?”

Works of art are made to be read against the grain. Subtext is the point because the maker’s focus is on form. Even a Holocaust novelist is a novelist first, not a “Holocaust person.” That’s why badly written Holocaust novels like badly written love letters rarely get the point across. Mash-ups are the culture of citation as a claim to authority. Why does it remind me of academia?
I'll add that mash-ups are popular with "intellectuals" who prefer an art of intention [illustration] and for whom an art of form is considered light entertainment rather than the most intimate record of ourselves that we will leave behind.

Who Sampled.
Arthur Baker and Afrika Bambaataa took what they found and made it theirs. It wasn't footnotes for prestige.

Adding more from Le Guin. She gets sloppy later in the piece but what's below is good, and obvious to writers and readers of fiction as a whole.  Turn some of the words around and you can reconcile her arguments with mine. What she calls theft, I call borrowing, but they mean the same thing in this case.

Readers of fantasy and speculative fiction may be fans of illustration, but good illustrators still know something about art. It's sad that you can't even trust anthropologists to understand this anymore.
Information is essentally content. Content does not, or should not, belong to anybody. It may take Einstein to think it up in the first place, this little equation, this bit of information, but once he’s published it, once you’ve learned it, it’s yours. And you can do whatever you like with it. No question about that.

This lack of ownership is of course anathema to capitalism. The corporations would like to keep all their scientific and techological information secret forever. An individual’s right to profit from discovery of information is more defensible; a chemical formula for making a useful or salable substance, for instance, is information of immediate money value, and it doesn’t seem unfair for it to be kept secret for a while so the originator can profit from it. Inventors can patent an invention (on the same principle as copyright). But information in the sense of knowledge rightly belongs to anyone who will learn it. You cannot patent the knowledge of how to perform a mastectomy. You cannot copyright a mathematical equation.

If you suppress information so that only you can profit from it, it’s very likely to get away from you. And it’s extremely difficult to keep information secret. As all governments know, the more you classify, the greater the leakage. As a general rule, the best thing to do with information is release it, set it free. It is in this sense that information really does want to be free.

Content flourishes when it is allowed to be common knowledge, or at least available knowledge.

But art is not essentially content. Art is essentially form. Art is object, not subject.

You learn a subject. Surgery, or math. History, or philosophy.

You don’t learn an object.

You can study it, sure. You can observe an object, you can look at it, listen to it, read it. You can learn how it was made. You can buy it, or ask permission to borrow it or use it or copy it. You can steal it.

And these days, if the art object is an object made of words — a poem, a novel — and you want to steal it, you refer to it as “information.”

And that’s supposed to legitimise the thievery. To glamorise it, even. To postmodernise it. To make it authentic…

Monday, March 15, 2010


From Lobelog

Helena Cobban: More on Patreus
"Salaries soar for heads of British universities More than 80 university heads, generally known as vice-chancellors, now earn more than the prime minister"

From the past: comments removed
A history of the modern academy would show that the fixation on money began in the 70’s first with the astronomical rise in salaries of administrators and the concomitant shrinking of the salaries of faculty. It became a scandal decades ago. [link*] Then the faculty caught on. The contemporary culture of academia, of professional intellectuals, is one of a neoliberal individualism (as others have said: traceable to the 60's). That some are paid $150,000 or more to preach against neoliberalism is irrelevant.
A response to Anthony Grafton [published then removed by the administrator]
Grafton refers twice in the first paragraphs to "humanists", opposing them to "bureaucrats, and 'managers'" as if the latter were not members of the professorate, but over the past 40 years the bureaucratic ethos has come to dominate the academy in the classroom as well. The academic study of bureaucracy in economics and political science has become in the age of Sputnik and mass man, the celebration of it - outside the academy there's a more appropriately ironic take. The humanities now are thought of wishfully as demi-sciences, and literature and history as forms of interpersonal communication have become instead the study of stories as inanimate objects.

The arts and humanities are thriving in the outside world as they're dying in the academy because the academy has ceased to defend them on their own terms. Humanism is said by philosophy professors to have its beginnings in Descartes and the Age of Reason, and that's simply not true, as any scholar should know. It's Descartes who said "History is like foreign travel. It broadens the mind, but it does not deepen it." That's not the beginning of humanism, that's the end of it.

The humanities out of delusion or desperation have tried to piggyback on the sciences and failed. Universities have become technical schools and a lot of what is taught is the "techincal" mastery of hot air, packaged like collateralized debt. Economics is not science. "Technical" philosophy like "technical" Marxism are creatures of a bureaucratic age, "Naturalized" epistemology is founded on analogy. The humanist academy has become a bubble economy and the true technical academies shrug.

No, scholars do not "innovate" they observe the history and effects of technical innovation and remind us, even when almost no one wants to listen, that not much has changed.
That last line sounds too much like an argument from passivity. I live my life in the unending hope that someday everyone will grow the fuck up.

*During his tenure Liacouras became the highest paid university administrator in the US.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mark Perry in Foreign Policy
"The Petraeus briefing: Biden’s embarrassment is not the whole story"
On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM's mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) "too old, too slow ... and too late."
Read the rest. It's gets interesting.
To whom it may concern etc.
"Countering the prosecution in court at Saint-Étienne, Crozet, a.k.a. Aramis, presumed prolific thief, met all questions with silence"

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"They Fucked The Whole Thing Up"
Atrios (Ph.D, Brown University, 1999) links to Chris Hayes, (BA, Brown, 2001): "The Twilight of the Elites"

Atrios' new neighborhood:
"Despite the positive results of the initiative’s efforts, it ultimately led to significant community displacement. The former residents of the MLK towers were dispersed during the construction. In addition, the amount of residential space was reduced after the redevelopment, and the vast majority of former residents could not afford to move into and sustain a living in the new MLK complex. This has ultimately changed the demographic of the neighborhood; prior to the government intervention and development provided by Hope VI, the neighborhood was predominantly African American, however, since federal intervention the community is 67% White, 12% Black, 15% Asian, and 6% Latino."
It's true elite culture is becoming more democratic: it's becoming more vulgar while the popular is becoming more sophisticated (Atrios and Hayes are exemplars of both). But if leadership is becoming more diffuse the higher levels are also becoming much more secretive.

Jack Balkin on The National Surveillance State [and here]
Most people know the names Microsoft, Bill Gates, and Google but far fewer have ever heard of Sergey Brin. That diffuseness of representation is I think one of the reasons for Google's popularity as an institution even among those who should know better. It's true that unlike Microsoft they're good at what they do but it's not just that. In the long run Google will have to be nationalized [literally: internationalized] but that won't happen for awhile. Siva Vaidhyanathan

This country's academic and political elite are probably unique in their lack of intellectualism. Or rather unique in their having replaced intellectualism with a love of "ideas."

Friday, March 12, 2010

A movie about a man who faces questions of moral responsibility.
A movie about a man who doesn't.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

George Monbiot has been good if too theatrical (as usual) on "Climategate".
Considering his arguments you might think the various writers at Scienceblogs would say more; but since he agrees with them on questions of science they ignore his questions regarding the behavior of scientists.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Road to Hell
We serve ethics requirements for many majors, and what we do in those courses is NOT tell them what they ought to think about ethical issues, but introduce them to intellectual resources which, when used by people of good will, will help them to get closer to the truth concerning the hard ethical questions they will face as citizens, professionals, and in their personal lives.
Teachers of the humanities no longer know how to defend the humanities.

"Aesthetics is for artists what ornithology is for birds." Barnett Newman
"Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds." Richard Feynman,

Not that I'm a fan of Newman...

(see here and here [update 5/2012| [PDF] p.18) but he and Feynman both have a point. And I want to say that Newman's claim is probably the stronger one. And again to philosophy and Broch

On whether artists need aesthetics any more than scientists need philosophy. In a sense both are equally relevant or not: the primary relevance of philosophy is to understand that you have one by default. And the ability to recognize and then articulate that philosophy allows you to understand criticism of it or even to criticize yourself. And if you refuse to separate ethics and esthetics, then an understanding of your esthetic is just as important. Then the question is whether in either case an understanding of philosophy, and therefore of yourself, will make you a better practitioner or just a better person. They aren't necessarily related.
"If we have one state for two peoples, it will be our doom."  [link is dead and not archived. Rozen linked her own article in Mother Jones]

Shorter David Kimche (and Laura Rozen): Germans of Turkish descent aren't German. And what about the US?

Minority births on track to outnumber white births
Minorities make up nearly half the children born in the U.S., part of a historic trend in which minorities are expected to become the U.S. majority over the next 40 years.

In fact, demographers say this year could be the "tipping point" when the number of babies born to minorities outnumbers that of babies born to whites.
I've said this before: that American-born Zionists are like Southerners living up North who support bussing in Boston but Jim Crow in Tennessee as a matter of cultural heritage. Being of mixed parentage I must be "post-doom." And again to repeat myself: "Are Jews white or black?" "That depends."

A scenario:
At the end of WWII, in a newly liberated concentration camp. The former prisoners are about to be bused to a DP camp and a few of them rebel, overpowering the Allied soldiers and barricading themselves inside their old prison. Other survivors come back to join them, also now refusing to leave. Word spreads and the Allied commanders become increasingly nervous that the rebellion could grow.  After a discussion they agree and order their troops to attack. The fight is brief but brutal. The rebels are killed and the forced exodus resumes. The movie is shot at Buchenwald and the Jews are played by Turks. The film is shot in German,  English, Russian and Turkish.
The name of the movie is "Masada."
What a stupid motherfucking century. People are peasants. And Israel is not a "modern" country.

For future reference: Adam Serwer, Bernie Sanders,  and "demographic threats"

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

First it was Pepy's Diary, now it's Felix Fénéon:
"Hey there! novelsin3lines is using Twitter"
Equipped with a rat-tail file and deceptively loaded with a quantity of fine sandstone, a tin cylinder was found on Rue de l'Ouest.

Monday, March 08, 2010

"Seeking to exploit the Internet’s potential for prying open closed societies, the Obama administration will permit technology companies to export online services like instant messaging, chat and photo sharing to Iran, Cuba and Sudan, a senior administration official said Sunday."

"Unlike other Arab Gulf women, Saudi women still face an uphill struggle to gain political and social rights and need the consent of male guardians for almost everything, including obtaining a passport and travel. They are also forced to cover up from head to toe when in public, and due to strict segregation rules their work opportunities are severely restricted."

"As the world marks International Women's Day, ambivalence, impunity, weak law enforcement and corruption continue to undermine women's rights in Afghanistan, despite a July 2009 law banning violence against women, rights activists say. A recent case of the public beating of a woman for alleged elopement - also shown on private TV stations in Kabul - highlights the issue. In January domestic violence forced two young women to flee their homes in Oshaan village, Dolaina District, Ghor Province, southwestern Afghanistan. A week later they were arrested in neighbouring Herat Province and sent back to Oshaan, according to the governor of Ghor, Mohammad Iqbal Munib."
So fucking stupid.
Links to AA since he's my aggregator.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hillary Clinton in Latin American
But she has been even more diplomatically clumsy that Bush, who at least recognised that there were serious problems and knew what not to say. "The Honduras crisis has been managed to a successful conclusion," Clinton said in Buenos Aires, adding that "it was done without violence."

This is rubbing salt into her hosts' wounds, as they see the military overthrow of President Mel Zelaya last June, and subsequent efforts by the US to legitimise the dictatorship there as not only a failure but a threat to democracy throughout the region.

It is also an outrageous thing to say, given the political killings, beatings, mass arrests, and torture that the coup government used in order to maintain power and repress the pro-democracy movement. The worst part is that they are still committing these crimes.

[...]In Brazil, Clinton continued her cold war strategy by throwing in some gratuitous insults toward Venezuela. This is a bit like going to a party and telling the host how much you don't like his friends. After ritual denunciations of Venezuela, Clinton said "We wish Venezuela were looking more to its south and looking at Brazil and looking at Chile and other models of a successful country."

Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim responded with diplomacy, but there was no mistaking his strong rebuff to her insults: he said that he agreed with "one point" that Clinton made, "that Venezuela should look southwards more … that is why we have invited Venezuela to join MERCOSUR as a full member country." Clinton's rightwing allies in Paraguay's legislature – the remnants of that country's dictatorship and 60 years of one-party rule – are currently holding up Venezuela's membership in the South American trade block. This is not what she wanted to hear from Brazil.

The Brazilians also rejected Clinton's rather undiplomatic efforts to pressure them to join Washington in calling for new sanctions against Iran. "It is not prudent to push Iran against a wall," said Brazilian president Lula da Silva." The prudent thing is to establish negotiations."

"We will not simply bow down to an evolving consensus if we do not agree," Amorim said at a press conference with Clinton.
Two links from Helena Cobban on Turkish democracy, the Armenians and Israel. The second link to M.J. Rosenberg, continuing his long march to the left. He links to the JTA: The Zionist right was against genocide resolutions when the Turkish military were in control.

The religious parties in Turkey are more modern than the secular military. As I've said before, the facts of cosmopolitan modernity undermine the logical ideas of rationalist anti-cosmopolitan modernism.

Related: reading Quine.
Modern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is a belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic, or grounded in meanings independently of matters of fact and truths which are synthetic, or grounded in fact. The other dogma is reductionism: the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience. Both dogmas, I shall argue, are ill founded. One effect of abandoning them is, as we shall see, a blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science."
Another refutation of the law of non-contradiction as applied to communicative acts: a brilliant man can be an idiot. That's a truism (and the dictionary says Truism is a synonym for Cliché).

Numbers are in formal relation to one another and that formal relation is seen roughly to parallel the world of facts, words are in a formal relation to one another and simultaneously are used to "represent" the world of facts. Parallelism is not representation. Quine ignores perception and perspective and the psychological weight that accrues to both. If numbers operated on a formalism akin to natural language the French would eat with their assholes and shit from their mouths, and the writings of Georges Bataille would be considered treatises on physiology.
Once the theory of meaning is sharply separated from the theory of reference, it is a short step to recognizing as the business of the theory of meaning simply the synonymy of linguistic forms and the analyticity of statements; meanings themselves, as obscure intermediary entities, may well be abandoned
The willing away of debate over meanings is the end of politics, whether in the name of naming or of the holy name of god.

Quine's empiricism of ideal forms (or idealized relations), Weinberg's straight Platonism. and Chomsky's theoretical rationalism (as well as the empiricist practice that is the only basis for his continuing fame) are all varieties of formal systems as enclosed as the ideologies of the Turkish military the American foreign policy elite or the founders of Zionism, in the service of rationalized but otherwise irrational ends.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

From another link at Leiter's page, again on Fodor. The link is to an MS Word doc. The author's page is here
The interesting issue isn’t whether Fodor is right—he isn’t—but why he should have taken against Darwin so. Some of his arguments suggest an answer. One of the founding principles of Fodor’s computationalist school of cognitive science is its rejection of associationist psychology. Where computationalists like Fodor hold that we are born with innate cognitive programmes, associationists maintain that our brains are shaped by experience of stimulus-reward patterns. Fifty years ago psychology, under the leadership of BF Skinner, did little but study such patterns in pigeons and rats. That is all now history. Young computationalists today are brought up on tales of how Noam Chomsky, Fodor’s longtime colleague at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, slew the associationist dragon once and for all with his demolition of Skinner’s theory of language in 1959.
Fodor wants do to Darwin what Chomsky did to Skinner. At various points in their book, Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini point out that there are strong analogies between associationist psychology and Darwinism. Both appeal to mechanisms that favour items that produce favourable effects. So it is arguable, and Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini repeatedly argue it, that if associationist psychology is all wrong then Darwin must be all wrong too.
Chomsky on Skinner, in 1959, and 1971:
A century ago, a voice of British liberalism described the "Chinaman" as "an inferior race of malleable orientals."1 During the same years, anthropology became professionalized as a discipline, "intimately associated with the rise of raciology."2 Presented with the claims of nineteenth-century racist anthropology, a rational person will ask two sorts of questions: What is the scientific status of the claims? What social or ideological needs do they serve? The questions are logically independent, but the second type of question naturally comes to the fore as scientific pretensions are undermined. The question of the scientific status of nineteenth-century racist anthropology is no longer seriously at issue, and its social function is not difficult to perceive. If the "Chinaman" is malleable by nature, then what objection can there be to controls exercised by a superior race?

Consider now a generalized version of the pseudo-science of the nineteenth century: it is not merely the heathen Chinese who are malleable by nature, but rather all people. Science has revealed that it is an illusion to speak of "freedom" and "dignity." What a person does is fully determined by his genetic endowment and history of "reinforcement." Therefore we should make use of the best behavioral technology to shape and control behavior in the common interest.
Is he criticizing Skinner's science or only his morality? Science is amoral, that's its weakness and its strength. In a later preface to his 1959 review, linked above
I had intended this review not specifically as a criticism of Skinner's speculations regarding language, but rather as a more general critique of behaviorist (I would now prefer to say "empiricist") speculation as to the nature of higher mental processes.
"Hypocrites Have No Shame..." And neither do the desperate. Leiter only defends the humanities as continuous with the sciences, and actual scientists aren't interested. Why should they be? There is no scientific fix for the seductions of authority -the slip from reason to unreason- and even a writer of cheap fiction understands that more than Steven Weinberg. Philosophers "are not meta-physicists" [Hacker], and the pretense is costly. Following Leiter's link and to another:
Planned cuts at King's College London have sparked an international outcry, with scholars warning that the institution risks "disastrous" damage to its reputation and the loss of crucial research.
I understand the notion of the "research" university, but at some point the imaginary weight of terminology becomes too much. Universities are more than a playground or a sandbox for experts. The process of teaching is more important than the material. Any humanist knows, or should, that the act of communication itself is the most important thing. Teaching students about elementary particles so that they may be able later in life to find more elementary particles and know more about the universe is seen as carrying more weight than teaching students about Shakespeare so that they can teach more students about Shakespeare and maybe enjoy some esoteric dirty jokes they might otherwise have missed. "Research" implies "Progress". In fact outside those fields directly involved in saving or preserving life most academic fields are equally absurd, as absurd, as I've said, as mountain climbing: "We must go...!" Where? The process of developing sophisticated understandings of the world and the past are part of a process of developing sophisticated understandings of each other and ourselves, so that we may be become adults engaged in absurd activities rather than children. The purpose of education is or should be a wider perspective, not myopia. Bemoaning "the loss of crucial research" on the chemical composition of the grout used in the floors of Winchester Cathedral just telegraphs the anxiety of the humanities in the age of Sputnik.

Monday, March 01, 2010

This is either really interesting, or really stupid.

Democracy is not a system of or for the finding of truths, it is a system of formalized and public decision-making. Absolute truth, whatever that may be, is secondary because fundamentally private. In democracy, understanding is inseparable from perception, as communication is the communication of perceptions-as-ideas in common form. The rule of law is not the rule of reason but interpretation, and interpretation is fluid. We describe the past reading words on a page to describe the present and ourselves, and justify this process by the understanding that in fact it's all any society has ever done. Platonists and Churchmen, believers in absolutes, hate democracy, preferring stability and what they consider if they're honest -with themselves- to be noble and necessary lies. Scalia's "Vaffanculo..." is a moment of honesty before the public.

Interesting looking again at the debate over formalism in law. The references are to judging and whether judges are loyal to form or their ideological slants. And this focus I guess has something to do with the supposed moral seriousness of those august men of enlightened wisdom and blah... blah... blah. Or whether other men of superior critical and blah... blah... blah. But judges aren't at the center of our system of justice any more than legal philosophers, that position is held by defense attorneys. And defense attorneys are formalists because it's their job to be formalists. They defend whomever they're paid to defend or if they think of themselves as noble they defend the poor or unpopular, and that is because they defend not individuals but formal principle: equal protection of the motherfuckinglaws.

The lawyers in Guantanamo are at the center of our system of justice and morality not because in some cases they represent a few who might actually be innocent but because they know -recognize even in these extreme cases- that it's not their job to think about that one way or the other. And in defending formal integrity they become models of moral integrity.

All obvious.