Wednesday, June 29, 2011

BRUSSELS - EU and US intervention in Syria is designed to harm Iran and to protect Israel and Lebanese Christians, not Syrian people, according to Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer with experience of the region.

..."We've taken sides in the Middle East. We've taken sides with Israel and with the Sunnis, from the US to the Dutch and the French. It's part of our cultural and historical background," he said.

Baer added that France, the former colonial power in Lebanon and Syria, is mainly interested in protecting its old friends, the Maronite Christians in Lebanon: "They don't want to see the roof blown off Lebanon because they still feel responsible for the Maronites. They are tightly wrapped up in Lebanon."

...An EU diplomat backed up some of his analysis. ..."We have reports that Wahhabists [radical Sunni Islamists], who are not necessarily controlled by any state, are coming into Syria from Iraq and from Saudi Arabia to create chaos. Inside Syria, there are snipers shooting at demonstrators who are not controlled by Assad but by the deep state, and other snipers who are shooting at both demonstrators and police."
Art Market Monitor
Sometime in 2011, Philip Hoffman of the Fine Art Fund became the voice of the art market, the go-to interview for journalists on the state of things. Here he speaks to Bloomberg touting his fund’s purchase of Chinese vase for £600k that the fund is looking to sell for £2.5m after holding it only 3 years. Hoffman says there are only 3,000 works in the world that have sold above a million (£ one presumes but possibly $) but far more than 3,000 persons looking to buy works at that level.
Update here, on the "Knobe effect."
I didn't give the new research the credit it deserves. Neither did the researchers.

Also rediscovered the line below, from my comments here
If philosophy is to be more than the philosophy of knots, it has to include the philosophy of knives, the philosophy not only of untying but of cutting.
Found after someone googled the phrase: ended badly. why? "she was a monarchist." here

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chris Marker. And Alexandra Stewart's voice.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Landis/Syria Comment
Serendipity I guess. The "Knobe effect" again.
And previously.

The older post connects the discussion to rationalism in philosophy and art. The one correction I would make to it would be to add that the meanings of words change not just over time but from one person to another. As I pointed out in my comment linked above, "Intention" is not the best word to use to capture the motivations for people’s response. It’s the word researchers chose and subjects used the words given them to describe their reasons only as best they could.

Questions of cause were translated by the subjects into questions of morality. That translation is performed every day in daily life. The structure of law is that intentions are secondary. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." Intentions play a role only in punishment: it's the difference between murder and manslaughter, of degree not responsibility as such.

If by accident you invent something valuable people will give you less credit than if you'd worked to achieve it. They may even begrudge you your newfound wealth, but in the US at least they won't say it should be taken from you. But still the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. See the last post on Syria.

The really idiotic, morally sleazy aspect of the focus on intention is that it focuses on the desires of the actor, his sense of his own emotional state, his "sincerity", rather than the outcome. From the post.
Yet it’s natural to think that our moral judgments about the outcomes of people’s actions are themselves sensitive to whether or not those outcomes were intended or mere side effects. There’s a world of difference between me walking up to someone in the street and punching them square in the face, and accidentally hitting someone in the face as I’m trying to provide directions to another passerby (a feat I once achieved on London’s Tower Bridge). In the first case, my intentions would be bad, and so the outcome is judged as a moral offence; the latter was an accident, a side-effect of trying to help someone else, and therefore not morally blameworthy. It seems that judgments about intentionality should come first, with the moral judgment deriving from that.
The definition of liberal moral self-regard.

In common morality people are held responsible for thoughtlessness that results in a bad outcome while not being given credit for thoughtlessness that results in a good one. Thoughtlessness is thoughtlessness. It is not something we the community should encourage. And as always the answer to the trolley problem, which the author calls the "Footbridge dilemma", is the example of the utilitarian military, where actors, as officers, are kept at a physical and emotional remove from those they send necessarily to die. The answer in other words is the choice between the ambiguities of democracy, where meanings and intentions are judged to be private (if not incommunicable), or the rule of universal meaning: fascism.

update 6/29
My responses were too focused on Knobe, even though this paper takes his arguments in a much more interesting direction. I ignored the difference, which was sloppy, and stupid, especially since the research behind the paper confirms something I've argued for years, in fact confirms my arguments more than those of the the authors. Again, my comments, posted here.
I want, or need, to add something else, since my response was too directed at the origin of this discussion, in Knobe's claims. I haven't changed my mind about them, but this paper deserves credit for making something interesting out of what I still think of as banal. What it shows -and I'm relying on the synopsis here- is not how decisions seemingly based on normative belief are based on a search for consistency, but how much we mask our moral assumptions in logic. This ties into my response above to claims about what is and is not "morally blameworthy" but its clear that Sripada and Konrath have given us new information about why Dan Jones would make that claim, and why they make the claims they do about data that shows them to be wrong.
"The basic idea is that when we encounter cases like Knobe’s Chairman scenario, we make two different judgments: one about his attitudes and values — is he anti- or pro-environmental? — and another about whether the outcomes of his actions are consistent with those attitudes. Neither of these judgments is normative; they are descriptive judgments about the facts of the case."
But "logically" the response would be to take the chairman at his word and say that he was neither pro or anti environmental. According to his statements, absent perceived moral implication, the question would be the equivalent of whether or not a pebble would end up on his desk or a glass would contain water or seltzer. The responses documented in the paper are based on assumed and implied values, but only after being shrouded in logic; shrouded to a degree that the authors, like the subjects*, like the author of this post, saw the logic but not the moral foundation. This, with the discussion of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, makes this paper much more interesting than anything by Knobe.
*More sloppiness on my part. I tossed that in without thinking; as far as I know the subjects weren't asked. A group of non-participants were asked later to offer an explanation: "The vast majority cited normative factors — precisely the explanatory factors that the structural path analyses undermine."
Adam Curtis on Syria
What is happening in Syria feels like one of the last gasps of the age of the military dictators. An old way of running the world is still desperately trying to cling to power, but the underlying feeling in the west is that somehow Assad's archaic and cruel military rule will inevitably collapse and Syrians will move forward into a democratic age.

That may, or may not, happen, but what is extraordinary is that we have been here before. Between 1947 and 1949 an odd group of idealists and hard realists in the American government set out to intervene in Syria. Their aim was to liberate the Syrian people from a corrupt autocratic elite - and allow true democracy to flourish. They did this because they were convinced that "the Syrian people are naturally democratic" and that all that was neccessary was to get rid of the elites - and a new world of "peace and progress" would inevitably emerge.

What resulted was a disaster, and the consequences of that disaster then led, through a weird series of bloody twists and turns, to the rise to power of the Assad family and the widescale repression in Syria today.

I thought I would tell that story.
Link from Issandr El Amrani/Arabist

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Punching Bag: Thoughts on cultural heritage, cultural economics, and cultural politics. Lawrence Rothfield

SAFE: Saving Antiquities for Everyone.

Oligarchs bidding on mediocrity.
£17.9 Million (including premium)

From the Beyeler Estate (see earlier post)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

The friday edition of The Times traditionally has the bulk of the the week's art reviews. It's not clear online but in the print edition the friday fine arts section shares space with style pages under the heading "Weekend Arts: Fine Arts/Leisure" Today it came to 10 pages. On the first page, above the fold was a review of Ryan Tricartin's exhibition at PS1.
“Am I overexisting or am I overexisting? That is my inner joke.” These words — evoking a doubt-free Hamlet unfazed about whether or not to be — bounce forth from the tumult of video, furniture, music, extreme makeup and insistent jabberwocky that form “Any Ever,” Ryan Trecartin’s game-changing exhibition...

His PS1 spectacular is his first major museum show in New York; it reveals an immense but not fully developed talent that seems bound for greatness.
Below the fold (but listed online under Travel) is "Where Lone Stars Don’t Feel So Alone"
“TEXANS make the best New Yorkers,” Robert Leleux says loudly. “It’s because we’re bred for size. New Yorkers appreciate that — our extravagance. We wouldn’t play so well in Indiana.”

...He guides me over the wooden floors to the shoe department (“The holiest of holies!”), where he pronounces Christian Louboutin’s red-soled architectural marvels to be the most Texan of footwear. “Animal hides! High heels!” he says. “They’re just like cowboy boots! Texas is the only place in the world where men’s footwear costs as much as women’s.”
Beginning above the fold, on the left in a single column is a review of Art in Cameroon: Sculptural Dialogues, at the Neuberger.
To fit African art into Western art history, we had to contain it, tame it. One way was by sorting the art into so-called tribal styles, in much the way we split up the continent into countries. Sure, the divisions were fake, but they gave us a feeling of control.
All the articles are continued inside the section.

Weekend Arts: Movies/Performances is 24 pages. Page one begins with a review of The NY Philharmonic's production of Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen
Yet “Vixen” is a more elusive and complex work than its story might suggest: a fable about an impish vixen who is captured young by a forester, laments her fate as a pet, makes an escape, mates with a fox, raises a brood of offspring and is killed by a poultry dealer. The human characters are troubled souls, especially a drunken priest who has never lived down the false accusation that he seduced a woman in his youth, and a mopey schoolmaster who loves a villager from afar.

What’s more, the glowing, urgent performance that Mr. Gilbert drew from the Philharmonic brought out all of the music’s modernist touches, with whole-tone scales that recall late Debussy; modal melodic writing that evokes Moravian folk music; and the extensive use of repetitive figures that lend the score a ritualistic strangeness.
Below it is an article is on the response to The Normal Heart of gays and lesbians too young too have lived through the period the play describes.
Daryl Roth, the lead producer, said she decided to try to bring “The Normal Heart” to Broadway during a conversation last fall with the actor David Hyde Pierce, who had attended a staged reading of the play. “David brought two young friends,” she said, “and he told me afterward that the two knew nothing of the history, the legacy of AIDS, the struggles that people had just 30 years ago.
At the bottom of the page, on the left hand side, is a review of TV shows made by self-described urban sophisticates describing, and indulging the eccentricities of "the sorts of people and places most would overlook."
“Rhett & Link: Commercial Kings” is based on the pair’s “I Love Local Commercials” Web series, in which they make medium-concept, no-budget ads for small businesses with a taste for risk, and also kitsch (though that last one might be involuntary).

...These ads are presented as acts of charity, more or less, but they come with consequences. Rather than being elevated to something beyond their means, the subjects are instead trapped in the amber of their own quirks, or the ones Rhett and Link would like them to have.

Rhett and Link don’t do this with malice, per se, but rather with a narrow set of ideas about presentation; they want to direct the commercial of their own dreams, not the client’s.
As I've said, questions in what are now defined as the philosophically engaged fine arts are fading into questions of style. The review of works by Lee Ufan, on the 9th page of the same section asked that question directly. [see below] The assumed authority of "art" means that those considered to be trained in it as "artists" are given the benefit of the doubt to a degree no critic of "entertainment" would allow. Entertainment critics responding less on reflex engage what's put before them not objectively, since that's not possible, but much more honestly.
Ken Johnson review of the Lee Ufan exibition at the Guggenheim: A Fine Line: Style or Philosophy?
...A much published philosopher as well as an artist who divides his time between Japan and Paris, Mr. Lee has enjoyed considerable recognition in Europe and in the Far East. Last year the Lee Ufan Museum, a building designed by Tadao Ando, opened on the island of Naoshima, Japan.

But Mr. Lee’s reputation has not extended to the United States. This exhibition, his first in a North American museum, gives a sense of why. His art is impeccably elegant, but in its always near-perfect composure, it teeters between art and décor.
Soren Melikian in the IHT: When Catalog Descriptions Dictate Value
LONDON— An entirely new approach is determining buyers’ decisions at auction. Abstract considerations such as the artist’s name or the previous owners’ celebrity are now the prevalent criteria, while visual achievement becomes almost irrelevant. At this week’s sales of Impressionist and modern art, this had a dramatic impact on prices.

Christie’s experts, vividly aware of the changing attitudes in the constituency they cater to, cleverly pressed all the right buttons in their catalog presentation.

The estate of Ernst Beyeler, one of the most influential 20th-century art dealers, had consigned 41 works of art ranging from Impressionism to post-World War II avant-garde movements. The proceeds of the sale were to benefit the Beyeler Foundation set up by Mr. Beyeler in his hometown, Basel. The museum, erected in Riehen, needed the cash to finance its exhibitions program and its acquisitions fund.

Christie’s made sure that the Beyeler theme, spun in reverential tones, was widely dealt with in the media. Potential buyers were made to feel that acquiring a Beyeler picture amounted to securing a badge of cultural honor.

It worked brilliantly right from lot one, a 17th-century Spanish trestle table that Mr. Beyeler used as a desk in his office until his death in 2010. The printed estimate for the table was £8,000 to £12,000, or $12,000 to $18,000 plus the sale charge. It ended up at £289,500 — setting a world auction record for banal Spanish provincial furniture.

This kind of fetishism sent many of the 41 pieces of Beyeler memorabilia to levels that bore little relationship to the art.

...Picasso’s “Couple, Le Baiser” dated Nov. 28, 1969, so sloppily dashed off that it seemed hopeless, realized £6.53 million, courtesy of a lone telephone bidder.

...The corollary of the almost exclusive attention now accorded to abstract considerations is that the most beautiful pictures often fetch comparatively modest prices. Cézanne's “La rivière,” a pure masterpiece of 1881, made only £2.5 million.
Not "an entirely "new approach" but it's gotten worse. Monets are worth more than Cezannes because they're prettier, not more important. Markets are based on greed and desire for what others desire. Scarcity means "insufficient for the demand": outside of necessities the application becomes fluid. That a Bernini modello sells for a fifth of the auction price of a Giacometti is both predictable and absurd (so therefore not).

I was talking to video editing tech yesterday about the new Final Cut X and he said what Apple has been dumbing down their product line because they make more money in the mass market than the market for professionals. Towers now have slower processors than IMacs and with the new changes in Final Cut professionals are talking about going back to Avid.

Craft is a social activity. Craftsmen take pride in their abilities, defined as something other than acquiring wealth, because their audience respects them for their skills and at their best for their refusal to pander. The integrity of craftsmen relates to the integrity of those who respond to them. Structural integrity is "the state of being whole, the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction." But this isn't absolute, since absolute integrity would mean indifference, so the result is a divided consciousness, integral but looking outward. And the relation of craftsmen to their craft and to their audience becomes the model for lawyers' relation to their clients and the bar, and by extension again of individuals to one another: loyal to themselves but responsive to others. Laws are formal in the sense that democracy is formal, and structural integrity becomes a form of moral integrity. The rule of law is the acceptance by individuals of their being bound by social process and through that to each other.

John Quiggin: You say you want a revolution
As promised in my previous post, I’m setting up a separate thread for discussion of my premise that a socialist revolution is neither feasible nor desirable. ...

Update: I’ve updated to link to the earlier post remove an unjustifiably snarky reference to aristocratic sentiment and to include a para from the previous post, on situations where revolutions are likely to turn out well.
the offending paragraph:
At a deeper level, the appeal of revolution has a substantial residue of aristocratic sentiment. In the course of the last 200 years, and even allowing for the defeats of the past 20 years or so, the achievements of the Left have been impressive, starting with universal suffrage and secret ballots, going on the creation of the welfare state, continuing with progress towards equality without regard to race, gender and sexuality, preserving the environment from the disastrous impact of industrialism and so on. Yet most of this progress has been achieved in a thoroughly bourgeois fashion, through long agitation, boring committee reports and so on. Gains that are ground out in this way, with two steps forward and one step back, are not noble enough for an aristocratic sensibility: far better to fail gloriously.
The logic of bourgeois liberalism, and liberal intellectualism specifically, results in the monetizing of all social relations. Desire is simplified in the interest of clarity and the interest of self-interest: Apple, no matter how successful, is doing what it "needs to" or "should" do. Methodological and ideological individualism are born twins, one of the reasons that modern art, as modern craft, even in its most radical (leftist) moments, is shaded by the sentiments of equally anti-bourgeois aristocratic conservatives. But as technocrats have become the new aristocrats aristocratic art has divided into the decadence of luxury and the decadence of technocratic scholasticism. It's left for the majority as bourgeois, as even the working class define themselves now, to argue for craft, for sociability and for "the social" against technocrats, philosophers, and the defenders of the false aristocracy of economic oligarchy.

Amr 7a7a

Thursday, June 23, 2011

As in Greece...
Denied Right to Vote in Michigan: “Democracy Emergency”
Someone posted a link to this. I've added to it a bit. And I'll add to it here too with a passage from something written elsewhere.
Antonin Scalia in a dissent from 2009
This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.
Scalia says this because the Constitution refers to due “process” not to outcome.
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The letter and the spirit of the law. The phrase itself undermines the claims of naturalist epistemology. What is judging? Who’s to judge? Here we get back to the relation of art and law and of abstraction to representation.

On the letter of the law Scalia is correct. To argue from the spirit of law or language is subjectivism, and subjectivism is inarticulate, in-formal, isolate: the end of the social. But to argue only from the letter is cold, inhuman, unjust.
“He’s just a boy! He didn’t mean it! It was an accident! He’s my son!”
“Okay Let him go.”

“He’s just a boy! He didn’t mean it! It was an accident! He’s my son!”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s the law.”
Does it matter that he killed five people?
Who’s to judge?

Formal logic in the world of experience is pedantry, and military pedantry in civic life is fascism. Pedantry will always become hypocrisy. Policemen enforcing law will always tend to identify themselves not with its enforcement but its embodiment. “I am the law.” And by identifying themselves with law the law's authority will become theirs. St Paul says: "To the pure all things are pure.” That’s the pull of the short circuit, of identification. [I am the law/I am the social/I speak for you/I am you]
"Democracy is the culture of language in use." It's the rule of multiple experiences not of reason. It is and needs to be the rule of process. Assemblies and law courts are fora for collective decision-making; the only truth is the truth of process. Lawyers in practice as "practitioners" understand this. Legal philosophers, as philosophers, as "theoreticians" do not. In democracy, as in the arts, as in language, practice precedes theory. Laws do not make democracy, people make democracy. The laws are written after the fact to codify formal relations among people who agree as to values: collective subjectivity, collective preference.

All so fucking obvious.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Syria Comment

"Jisr al-Shaghour – the Government Story as told by a Foreign Member of the Organized Press Visit"

“Where is the Truth in Conflicting Reports? Not in the Middle but at the Extremes,” by a Foreigner in Syria"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively."

Monday, June 20, 2011

I'm not a fan of Diller and Scofidio; and the High Line is full of mistakes, if you can call them that. It's an elevated boardwalk, over-designed in the name of art when simple responsiveness would have been enough. The design, from the furniture and railings to the direction of the decking, has been built and installed to accentuate it's structure as a stripe. It speeds you up when it should slow you down; the northern half is reduced to a scenic highway to nowhere. On saturday it was crowded so stopping for a moment caused a traffic jam.

Benches and rest areas aligned at an angle mimicking exit ramps, again "flowing" in the direction of the walkway. The rhetoric of foreward motion even at rest.

Foliage locked off, to be looked at.

One of two sets of risers, group seating facing outwards, for people observing but not communicating. The second is on an overpass; you can sit and watch the cars slide under you.

Once of the few times I saw people facing one another in a group.

It's not a question of whether it should have been done or not, though even at that level there's a lot that I doubt has been thought through. Or maybe it has. An architect I know is betting that the southern half at least will be private or semi-private in 10 years, with 24 hour direct access from hotels and buildings, but not from the street.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

note taking posted elsewhere. It didn't make it.
The problem isn't the just the ignorance of craft, it's the focus on "creativity". The psychiatrist who called the girl a dancer was observant. He paid attention to her. Proust was observant and articulate not creative.

"most serious dance they see on television has more in common with a strip tease than Alvin Ailey."

The girl grew up to become one of the people who choreographs Walt Disney rather than striptease, G Rated rather than R rated banality. Black Swan is striptease and ballet; the irony is too much for Andrew Lloyd Weber or TED.

"...just what American culture hopes for. Creativity. Individuality. Authenticity. Opposition to Convention. Wealth. Success"

This goes back to my old comments on MIT and Grant McCracken TED is neoliberalism as culture. If the men behind Grand Theft Auto are TED's optimist "Creatives",  what are the singers of Narcocorridos? People go to museums to see paintings by Velazquez not pictures of his client, Philip IV. Velazquez' works are incredibly skilled but pessimistic if not tragic. The specifics of that tragedy are what his skill describes. The description is compelling, not the skill.

Education should focus less perhaps on rote learning, but definitely less on "creativity" as a respite from grunt work. Schools should try to foster skills of observation and judgement. At 14 they should still be teaching you how to read, but no longer how to write. In the same sense they should teach the basics of reading and performing music, the foundation for a possible later hobby, but not more. More literature classes, more art history. Creativity as an ideology dumbs down the humanities and makes them palatable for people such as those at MIT who like their values prepackaged.

It's a real advantage (one of many) that films schools are still treated as trade schools while art schools are swamped by intellectualization. There should be a moratorium on the academic teaching of the contemporary arts. We'll never understand ourselves as well as our children will. False objectivity is less than counterproductive: it's destructive.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Quoting myself from the past
On the front page of the NY Times this morning, below the fold, is a photograph taken by a camera hovering two feet above the ground, of a naked emaciated child with her head leaning on her mother's thigh.

Get up and walk away from the keyboard, into the middle of whatever room you're in. Bend forward and put your hands in front of your face as if holding a camera; close one eye and look towards the ground with the other and imagine that child at your feet. Move your index finger downwards toward your thumb and make a clicking sound, and see if you can understand what you've become.
Journalism is hackwork; it's ambulance chasing. Photojournalism is lower still because less necessary, but claims for photojournalism as art are more offensive than the work itself. Both the photographs above are crap, but one of them won an award.

Journalism needs to be defined again as advocacy not for justice or truth or high morality but simply for the public's desire, and need, to know. Advocates by title are not gatekeepers. Once journalism is defined again as it once was, then honest hacks will be more willing to accept responsibility for their actions, and on occasion may choose to intervene or at least not take the shot.

Weegee would have made something interesting out of the first shot, but he wouldn't have felt the need to travel very far to shoot it. He found his voyeurs and dead bodies where he lived, and voyeurs as much as anything were his subject. He photographed the totality. And again, the voyeuristic photograph here won the award.

Following the link above, takes you to a discussion in English and more links. It's interesting to follow the moral logic, the sense of professional distance and false intimacy: referring to the dead girl by her first name; the discussion out of a photo-club debate in 1955, of pudgy voyeurs in denial.

Regardless of the discussion of follow-up with the her family, and the rhetoric of journalists as medical diagnosticians of war the most obvious point is forgotten: if it were taken in Sweden and the girl were white the award-winning photograph would never have been published.

Jean Léone Gérôme, The Slave Market, 1866
Gérôme, like journalists, economists, and philosophers, saw himself as having an "extended mind"; he was observing barbarism, not taking part in it.

Photographs, from the top: Nathan Weber, Paul Hansen, Jan Grarup/NOOR Images, Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star
Jack Balkin: George W. Obama and the OLC

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The comments at the bottom are rewritten
Kristof for Liberal Fascism and military paternalism
You see, when our armed forces are not firing missiles, they live by an astonishingly liberal ethos — and it works.

...“It’s the purest application of socialism there is,” Wesley Clark, the retired four-star general and former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe, told me. And he was only partly joking.

“It’s a really fair system, and a lot of thought has been put into it, and people respond to it really well,” he added. The country can learn from that sense of mission, he said, from that emphasis on long-term strategic thinking.

The military is innately hierarchical, yet it nurtures a camaraderie in part because the military looks after its employees.
Wild in the streets, in Vancouver

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Gerry Kahrmann/Postmedia News Service
and Athens

Louisa Gouliamaki /AFP/Getty
Laws in a democracy are an extension of citizens' informal obligations to their neighbors. Democracy is a system of authority, but people owe allegiance to the community, not its leaders. The theory of democracy abstracts from practice: authority ascends before it descends; laws are the result, not the cause. This is something that philosophers, first as theologians and now as liberal or even "radical" technocrats, do not or cannot understand. Kristof and Clark defend authority but not democracy.

In Greece they're rioting against mismanaged paternalism. In Canada, under well-managed paternalism, they're rioting out of boredom.


 Jason Payne/Postmedia News Service

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Contemporary defenders of naturalism are prone to argue from a very artificial sense of self. Dan Sperber in the NY Times, NewAPPS and elsewhere. I'm beginning to think all academics now descend from priests. It's depressing.

We reason when we perform basic functions, calibrating our actions when we walk, ride a bicycle and drive a car. From Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket
Joker: "How could you shoot women and children?"
Door Gunner: "Easy, you just don't lead 'em so much."
The question is formed by and concerns complex reason: intellectual, philosophical, moral. The stated answer is formed by and concerns simple reason: basic empiricism, calculation. The exchange itself, in a screenplay and therefore as art, is formed by and concerns reason as reflection (intellectual and philosophical, empirical and rational), playing off the disjunction between the two forms of reason proffered at cross purposes, the whole manifesting as ironic comment.

Simple reason is driven by simple preference, though it may include complex calculation. Complex reason is ruled often by complex desire. Reason in the service of greed or glory is not reason as such. We tend to believe what we want to believe; and loyalty, to dreams and to people, is considered generally to be a virtue.

"He studies the ashtray, and tries to rule out/ preference/ preferring over/ not preferring/ but he prefers."

Robert Ashley, from Private Lives.
It's dated, and in a sense it was when in was made. But the first few minutes have stayed with me.
I prefer his line reading in the original video.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Leveretts:
Iran's 2009 Election, two years on
The educated class
"I started reading superhero comics over the last couple of years."
I don't even bother criticizing Republicans.
update: John Holbo quotes J.S. Mill in a discussion of X Men
“Speculative philosophy, which to the superficial appears a thing so remote from the business of life and the outward interests of men, is in reality the thing on earth which most influences them, and in the long run overbears every other influence save those which it must itself obey.”
Modernism, from tragedy to farce. Philosophy reduced to a 12 year old boy's fantasy of power. Mill was simply wrong. I don't know what to say about Holbo.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Google Books "Ngrams" Charting references in "lots of books"

Friday, June 10, 2011

I discussed Holland Cotter's review of the Alexander McQueen Show here, and McQueen in relation to the Bellini installation at the Frick (also Bronzino). Now Cotter has written a review of the Bellini, and it's interesting to compare them.
On McQueen:
In galleries that combine the look of baronial halls and meat lockers, clothes come at you like electrical zaps: a blouse threaded with worms, a coat sprouting horns, shoes that devour feet. A pert little jacket is printed with a crucifixion scene; the hair on a full-length hair shirt is carefully waved and combed; a corset has a cast-metal animal spine curling out from behind.

And everywhere there are arresting delicacies. The yellow-green beadwork is so fine it looks as soft as moss. Floral-patterned lace has been cut up, flower by flower, then stitched together again, but only partially, to give a dress the illusion of having being torn.
On Bellini, more specifically on St. Francis:
He was, in life, exceptional: a spiritual power generator, a social lightning rod, and a charmer. He was born in the Umbrian hill town of Assisi around 1181, the son of a rich cloth merchant. He had poetic tastes and immersed himself in romantic tales of chivalry. By temperament he was ardent, wired, prone to emotional extremes.

...He could be impossibly self-depriving; people had to persuade him to eat, wear shoes. But he was correspondingly self-giving. You needed a bandage, a pep-talk, a prayer, a kiss? Francis was your man. If he found a hurt bird he nursed it back to health; if he met a wolf with a mean streak, he’d say, “Watch your mouth,” and give it a pat.

Some people thought he’s a lunatic, this guy who suddenly bursts into song, in the middle of nowhere, for no reason, as if he was plugged into an iPod:

“Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures, Especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day and through whom You give us light.”

And he’d go on and on this way, about Sister Moon, and Brother Wind, and Sister Water — “very useful and humble and precious and chaste” — and Brother Fire, and Sister Death.

Maybe it was all a performance, a theatrical method of preaching and teaching. But he approached life in a genuinely countercultural way. On the verge of the great age of Humanism, he was an un-Humanist, in the sense that he didn’t hold Man up as the crown of creation. He considered all beings, from bees to bears to people, equally reverence worthy. He was like the Buddha in this. Or maybe the Buddha was Francis in an earlier life.
Though I didn't say anything specific, in the earlier posts I didn't give Cotter the credit he deserves. I read the decadence and anti-Humanism (post-humanism to what Cotter refers to as "un-Humanism" of St. Francis) but missed the commentary in his closing paragraphs on McQueen. have to ask critical questions. The chief problem with the fashion-as-art fad of the 1990s was precisely that it didn’t ask them.

To take two examples, for its 1997 exhibition “The Warhol Look: Glamour Style Fashion,” the Whitney Museum did little more than fill a floor with Warhol paintings, back issues of Interview and a Diana Vreeland tape and basically said: Let’s celebrate.

Two years later the Guggenheim — though it denies this — effectively rented its Manhattan premises to Giorgio Armani for his retrospective. (Such deals are now the norm, and the Met is forthright about stating that most of the money for the McQueen retrospective comes from the fashion house called Alexander McQueen.) My point is: If you’re going to deal with fashion as art, treat it as art, bring to it the distanced evaluative thinking, including social and political thinking, that scholars routinely apply to art.

Such an approach is standard in exhibition catalogs that accompany most Met shows, but not in the McQueen catalog, which, beautiful though it is, is heavy on pictures, skimpy on text.

To be fair, the show and the book were both assembled in record time during the year following Mr. McQueen’s shockingly sudden death. Suffice it to say that future researchers will want to take him out of the all-purpose tent of Romanticism and place him firmly in the cultural milieu he shared with artists like Damien Hirst, Matthew Barney and Leigh Bowery, not to mention Lady Gaga, with her cutlet couture.

And why not compare him, as a politically minded designer, with one from an earlier generation, Rudi Gernreich. They make an instructive pair. Mr. McQueen deserves this detailed accounting.
McQueen belongs with Hirst and Bowery. How long any of them will be remembered is another question.

That a critic should associate Humanism more with the Enlightenment than the Renaissance documents the fine arts' self-reported relation to philosophy as opposed to history, and that's part and parcel with the mannerism his writing describes: from pre-Humanism to post-Humanism, the young saint like the fashion designer, "ardent, wired, prone to emotional extremes."

The Enlightenment Cotter would call Humanist derived its rhetorical force from the sciences, and was anti-historical. High art (and expensive craft) derived authority from the ideal Church and the Monarchy, and their defenders if they could made the logical switch to the idealism of science, philosophy, and/or revolution. Couturiers had fewer options. The complexity of 19th century art, and of 'fine' art up to the present is the complexity of forms torn between their aristocratic heritage and bourgeois reality. McQueen, Cotter, the curators at the Frick and at the the Met all understand this, without thinking, as does Michael Kimmelman, writing about Manet. It would be better if they all thought about it a little more.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Joseph Massad in Al Jazeera
Under the Cover of Democracy
link from Nir Rosen

"...Whaddaya wanna to do about it, asshole?"

It's always amused me that Brian Leiter was "Joseph D. Jamail Centennial Chair in Law" at UT Austin. Below are two videos of Joe Jamail. Watch the first one. It's short.

"Lawyers... are the rule of law." Lawyers, not judges. Joe Jamail is a legal realist. Brian Leiter is not.

Legal realism as naturalism is empiricism in practice, and theory only as derived from and returned to practice. I never want to see Leiter in a courtroom as anything other than an advisor or an expert witness. Like Quine, he's a theoretical empiricist, and we don't live our lives in a theoretical world. We live our experience. To pretend otherwise is the politics of pretension.

Philosophers defend themselves as judges, within and above a system. Advocates defend themselves only as within a system. They're not judges they're players, and Jamail is a playa. He's a storyteller, and defends the humanities with more force than a philosopher ever would, or could. [see the previous post.]

If the videos vanish at some point: The first is "Texas-Style Deposition." Joe Jamail and others in action.
Jamail is off camera to the right. He is deposing (what I assume to be) an expert witness for the Defendant in that case, the Monsanto Corp. The guy just off screen to the left is Edward M. Carstarphen, the Defense attorney representing Monsanto. The other voice you hear ('Tucker") is either a co-plaintiff's or co-defendant's attorney. Joe begins by asking the witness if he met with the attorney for Monsanto and what was discussed. Since the attorney represents Monsanto, and not the witness, there is no attorney-client privilege over such communications. The witness doesn't answer the question truthfully. It degrades from there. Carstarphen objects and tries to instruct the witness. Since he isn't the attorney for the witness, he gets called on instructing him.
 "...Whaddaya wanna to do about it, asshole?"
"I'd like to knock you on your ass"
"Come try it. Come over here and try it you dumb son of a bitch."

The second video is Jamail at Stanford. The man who introduces him is an asshole. He begins by telling a story of Jamail bragging about the size of his collection of single malt scotches:"the biggest collection you ever heard of," at 12, while the schmuck from Stanford has 36. I was surprised at Jamail's claim, but it's clear he's still a small town lawyer who made it big. He's a billionaire, but he comes off well. He defends the honor of lawyers, plying their trade as storytellers for their clients. His humility is not an act.
Chris Bertram on Martha Nussbaum's Not For Profit
However, the central idea of the book, that receipt of a certain type of humanities education is necessary for people to acquire the capacities for empathic imagination that (according to MN) are necessary virtues of democratic (and indeed global) citizenship strikes me as (a) obviously false and (b) insulting to those of her fellow citizens who haven’t been the beneficiaries of such courses. Those given a more technical education are described as “useful machines” as early as p.2. There is very little empirical support adduced for any of the causal claims in the essay which tend to rely on more or less a priori arguments from various educational and psychoanalytical thinkers that Nussbaum likes.
Henry Farrell on Gambetta and Hertog's Engineers of Terror
Their preferred explanation lies in the combination of a particular mindset given to simplification, monistic understandings of the world and desire that existing social arrangements be preserved, with key environmental factors (most importantly, frustrated professional aspirations due to a lack of opportunities). Interestingly, Gambetta and Hertog suggest that the same mindset which drives engineers in the Islamic world to become terrorists, may lead to the marked tendency of US engineers to adhere to strongly conservative political views. This is the kind of topic that lends itself to the worst kind of uninformed pop-journalism academics, but as best as I can tell (I’m a consumer rather than a producer of the statistical literature) Gambetta and Hertog are extremely careful about their analysis, and up front about the limitations of their data.
[Concerning the above I'll ignore the lack of differentiation, (none of this is new). See below on Hamas, and again, Robert Pape on suicide bombing.]

The Guardian
Harvard and other major American universities are working through British hedge funds and European financial speculators to buy or lease vast areas of African farmland in deals, some of which may force many thousands of people off their land, according to a new study.

Researchers say foreign investors are profiting from "land grabs" that often fail to deliver the promised benefits of jobs and economic development, and can lead to environmental and social problems in the poorest countries in the world.

The new report on land acquisitions in seven African countries suggests that Harvard, Vanderbilt and many other US colleges with large endowment funds have invested heavily in African land in the past few years. Much of the money is said to be channelled through London-based Emergent asset management, which runs one of Africa's largest land acquisition funds, run by former JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs currency dealers.

Researchers at the California-based Oakland Institute think that Emergent's clients in the US may have invested up to $500m in some of the most fertile land in the expectation of making 25% returns.
Richard Serra, Untitled, 1972, Charcoal on paper, 29 3/4 x 41 1/2 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of John Coplans, 1975

There's something very interesting about this drawing. When it was made, and why.

"Philosophy opposes fiction, and theories of modern art opposed the 'fiction' of pictorialism. The implications of that preference are unexamined."
Look at the shape. How it appears flat and then seems to recede. The beginnings of a return to pictorial art: affirmed/denied/affirmed
Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective
South is South: The Women of Hamas
While preparation for the film began before the 2006 election of Hamas, Arraf found herself unable to travel to work on the film due to the Israeli blockade. She directed her contacts to film without her, and their sensitive eyes and ears capture not only the central narrative—four leading women in the Islamic resistance—but the seldom-seen sensory experience of Gaza. Children too young for the avalanche of traumatic events in their surroundings play together as children everywhere else. Street corners and alleyways are tagged with both politically-motivated graffiti and the solitary hearts of the lovelorn. Arraf combines these scenes with a wonderfully creative use of interviews that distinguishes this film from other ‘Skyped-in’ films I’ve seen. Her discussions and banter (both light and serious) with one crew member in particular, 28-year old Azhar, make for exciting cinema.

Having filmed in Gaza at the height of the Israeli military siege, Arraf’s concerns about finishing her film rang funny and true. Example: ‘If you go the fence and throw the tapes over…’ is considered a serious mailing option in a place where the average DHL shipping service runs $400-500 per package, military interventions notwithstanding.
Suha Arraf Q&A at the BFI.

From the past: Helena Cobban here and here

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Pankaj Mishra in The Guardian
...Of course, occupations damage the occupier no less than the occupied. Revanchist nationalism has corroded democratic and secular institutions in both India and Israel, which, not surprisingly, have developed a strong military relationship in the recent decade. Hindu nationalists feel an elective affinity with Israel for its apparently uncompromising attitude to Muslim minorities. In 1993 the then Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, reportedly advised the Hindu nationalist leader LK Advani to alter the demographic composition of the mutinous Kashmir valley by settling Hindus there. Advani, later India's deputy prime minister, fondly quoted from Netanyahu's book on terrorism, given to him by the author. Israeli counter-insurgency experts now regularly visit Kashmir.

India and Israel, both products of botched imperial partitions, were the Bush government's two most avid international boosters of the catastrophic "war on terror", fluently deploying the ideological templates of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – democracy versus terrorism, liberalism versus fundamentalism – to justify their own occupations.
The Guardian
Rock stars tethered their jet skis to the back of it during the film festival in Cannes, its clean lines have impressed quayside onlookers in Antibes, and England footballer Frank Lampard is reportedly set to propose to his television presenter girlfriend on board.

There can be no doubt that Roman Abramovich's enormous yacht Luna is enjoying the spotlight this summer as it tours the Mediterranean. But the citizens of Venice, a city more familiar than most with extravagant displays of wealth down the centuries, are not impressed.

The Russian oligarch's £115m, 377ft behemoth moored unannounced last week at one of the city's most stunning lagoon locations, as Abramovich and his girlfriend, Dasha Zhukova, pitched up for the Venice Biennale.

Local residents, accustomed to stunning views over St Mark's Basin, found themselves staring straight at the twin helipads and bulletproof windows of the vessel, which dwarfs all rival yachts at what has become an annual reunion of some of the most expensive private vessels in the world.
Cannes and the The Biennale:
An awards ceremony and marketplace for the makers of products that offer an ephemeral experience, products which are available relatively cheaply and in many cases worldwide; a festival based on the market for valuable objects, nonetheless including theater of the sort fit for an audience of aficionados of contemporary objecthood.

Cannes deals in visual "entertainment" while also making claims to seriousness. The Biennale deals in visual "art" and claims to represent a heritage of vanguardism. What are the economics, the politics, the philosophics of each? Which is more modern, more democratic, more post-democratic, more reactionary? What are the relations of modernism, anti-modernism, and anti-bourgeois conservatism, to authoritarianism, fascism, anti-fascism, and democracy? Complex questions. At some point people will begin to ask them.

Philosophers descend from priests, and contemporary philosophers if they're interested in art, choose to ignore that the first art in the age of mechanical reproduction was the novel. Philosophy opposes fiction, and theories of modern art opposed the "fiction" of pictorialism. The implications of that preference are unexamined.

Richard Serra, Untitled, 1972, Charcoal on paper; 29 3/4 x 41 1/2 in.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of John Coplans, 1975

There's something very interesting about this drawing. When it was made, and why.
more later.
update: here

Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective

Monday, June 06, 2011

Continuing, indirectly, from the previous post

That this is from Think Progress shows how much things have changed, not the facts but their presence in the public consciousness; and not through reason but through seepage.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The event took on the trappings of a spectator event on Israeli television, which broadcast the scene live with running commentary from reporters on the ground.

"Hopa!" exclaimed a correspondent for Israel's Channel 10 television. "A Palestinian youth just bolted from a trench. An Israeli sniper fired at him three times, but it looks like he missed."
How do we put discussions such as these in the broader context that includes the above? Or are we better to puts the specifics of the events in the Golan in the "broader context" of theoretical debate?
I've quoted this before. The last paragraph of Skinner's, last paper, finished the day before he died. Can Psychology be a Science of Mind?
But what about the illustrious philosophers who throughout the centuries have tried to follow the injunction of the Delphic Oracle and to know themselves through introspection? Is there a similar justification or have they been uselessly pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp? To say so would seem little short of arrogance if there were not an illuminating parallel. Equally illustrious men and women have searched much longer and with greater dedication for another Creator, spelled this time with a capital 'C,' whose reported achievements are also being questioned by science. It was Darwin, of course, who made the difference. It holds for the origin of behavior as well as for the origin of species. After almost a century and a half, evolution is still not widely understood. It is vigorously opposed by defenders of a creator. As a result, it is still impossible to teach biology properly in many American schools. A creation science has been proposed to be taught in its place. The role of variation and selection in the behavior of the individual suffers from the same opposition. Cognitive science is the creation science of psychology, as it struggles to maintain the position of a mind or self.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Seymour Hersh on the Arab Spring, "Disaster" U.S. Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Looming Crisis in Iraq

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Another reason you’re so antithetical to T.S. Eliot’s stance as impersonal poet and critic? 
B: Oh, he’s a fake about that. The man’s a strong poet because of his personality, a High Romantic imagination with power over rhetoric and diction. His supposed stance as poet and critic is completely bogus. I’m tired of talking about him. You can’t educate people if they don’t want to understand the truth about Eliot.
Every poem is fake, and every poet is a con man. We read to watch the mechanics of the con and ourselves be conned. Bloom is a con man as critic: an explicator and fan of great cons. He's criticizing Eliot for the dryness of his art, not for his ideas. Or maybe he wants poets to believe their own lies fully, so that the secret ironies are only for critics to discover. Between garbage and scholarship, scholars prefer their garbage-dealers innocent. Maybe it's best when they are, but Bloom's art is just as problematic. England, perverse conservatism, (monarcho/anarcho-populism), and Gilbert and George. A couple of practical cats.
On the situation in Syria