Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shalizi has dug so deep under the foundations of his air castles he's now being praised for his discovery of dirt.
Various attempts at comments, by me, and deleted by the hosts, now jumbled together.
His first paragraph: "Attention conservation notice: Over 7800 words about optimal planning for a socialist economy and its intersection with computational complexity theory."

And last: "These are all going to be complex problems, full of messy compromises. Attaining even second best solutions is going to demand “bold, persistent experimentation”, coupled with a frank recognition that many experiments will just fail..."

Shalizi's second paragraph: "There’s lots to say about Red Plenty as a work of literature; I won’t do so. It’s basically a work of speculative fiction, where one of the primary pleasures is having a strange world unfold in the reader’s mind. More than that, it’s a work of science fiction, where the strangeness of the world comes from its being reshaped by technology and scientific ideas—- here, mathematical and economic ideas."

Shane Taylor at DeLong: "Cosma Shalizi's conclusion may be the best précis for social democracy that I have ever read on Crooked Timber."

If Taylor is right, that undermines all the verbiage that came before it and maybe we should all be reading Henning Mankell.
Lets be clear: If Taylor is right, and he is, then not only is Shalizi being praised for dreaming of something that's existed for 80 years, but for inventing something that authors at Crooked Timber have spent hours and hours on, debating its impending doom.

Shalizi is an idiot. [That used to link to a google site search for his name on this site, but with all the recent activity the link became useless. This will do.]

We need a new generation of technocrats who understand that democracy is procedural not ideational. We don't need better, smarter, masters of the universe, we need a more educated populace and scholars with a sense of irony. We need fewer philosophers and more historians. We need a return to the understanding that greed is inevitable, but that it's a weakness, and that democracies have freedom of speech not because governments grant it but because the government is not granted the power to take it away. Technocrats as fantasists of their own power have everything backwards.

Again: The authoritarianism of schoolmasters.

If technocrats want to see themselves as aristocrats they should remember that the sensibility of the aristocracy is pessimism.

"How do you defeat an idealist?"
"Write his biography."

Modernism first as fantasy and now as farce.
We need an end to the genteel tradition.

Since he's corrected his links:
The above, continued here. Replying to Shalizi's response, here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Arrival At Santos

Here is a coast; here is a harbor;
here, after a meager diet of horizon, is some scenery:
impractically shaped and--who knows?--self-pitying mountains,
sad and harsh beneath their frivolous greenery,

with a little church on top of one. And warehouses,
some of them painted a feeble pink, or blue,
and some tall, uncertain palms. Oh, tourist,
is this how this country is going to answer you

and your immodest demands for a different world,
and a better life, and complete comprehension
of both at last, and immediately,
after eighteen days of suspension?

Finish your breakfast. The tender is coming,
a strange and ancient craft, flying a strange and brilliant rag.
So that's the flag. I never saw it before.
I somehow never thought of there being a flag,

but of course there was, all along. And coins, I presume,
and paper money; they remain to be seen.
And gingerly now we climb down the ladder backward,
myself and a fellow passenger named Miss Breen,

descending into the midst of twenty-six freighters
waiting to be loaded with green coffee beaus.
Please, boy, do be more careful with that boat hook!
Watch out! Oh! It has caught Miss Breen's

skirt! There! Miss Breen is about seventy,
a retired police lieutenant, six feet tall,
with beautiful bright blue eyes and a kind expression.
Her home, when she is at home, is in Glens Fall

s, New York. There. We are settled.
The customs officials will speak English, we hope,
and leave us our bourbon and cigarettes.
Ports are necessities, like postage stamps, or soap,

but they seldom seem to care what impression they make,
or, like this, only attempt, since it does not matter,
the unassertive colors of soap, or postage stamps--
wasting away like the former, slipping the way the latter

do when we mail the letters we wrote on the boat,
either because the glue here is very inferior
or because of the heat. We leave Santos at once;
we are driving to the interior.

Elizabeth Bishop
Guardian: Woman jailed over racist rant on tube.
Condemning her actions, district judge Michael Snow at Westminster magistrates court in central London said: "Anyone viewing it would feel a deep sense of shame that our citizens could be subject to such behaviour who may, as a consequence, believe that it secretly represents the views of other white people."
Treating adults as children.
Burton Joseph.
If the Skokie case were argued now it would go in the other direction, and liberals would be cheering.
in re "Habermasian diversity" or "Where are the wogs at Crooked Timber?" [see previous post].

Mary Dudziak, Sam Moyn, Jack Goldsmith and Jon Stewart. A polite discussion among friends.
Dudziak: "Sam Moyn begins a thoughtful review of War Time..." [Amazon link]

It is our fault that our era is one in which our humorists have tried to provide some of the sole nationally prominent moral checks on otherwise reigning assumptions. “Is that constraining the presidency or codifying things we did not think were possible, and that we have now accepted, and maybe shouldn’t?” Stewart mused haltingly about Obama’s policies on detention, trials, and drones, but not even reaching whether it is wrong to see ourselves in endless war in the first place. “I don’t know who the ‘we’ is that thinks we shouldn’t do this,” Goldsmith responded.

Who indeed?
I can think of millions.

Rick Francona
In early 1988, the Defense Intelligence Agency prepared an assessment that concluded Iran would likely emerge victorious if the conflict continued another year. Present Reagan declared that an Iranian victory was unacceptable to American interests - he directed the Department of Defense to take steps to ensure that victory did not happen. The result was a Defense Intelligence Agency effort to provide intelligence information to the Iraqi Directorate of Military Intelligence. I was one of two officers assigned to execute this effort.

The effort was successful. With American intelligence information, along with the Iraqi use of modified Scud (al-Husayn) missiles and chemical weapons, Iraq was able to force the Iranians to accept a cease-fire in August 1988.
Richard Silverstein
Today, Israel moved one step closer to Nazi Germany circa 1938. In Berlin, Nazis walked the streets terrorizing Jews, smashing windows, burning books and synagogues. Today, in Tel Aviv’s poor Hatikva neighborhood, the cream of Israel’s political Übermenschen, Kahanists Michael Ben Ari, Itamar Ben Gvir and Baruch Marzel terrorized foreign workers who live there with mass violence and nothing less than a pogrom
CS Monitor: "US resumes arms sales to Bahrain. Activists feel abandoned.
In major setbacks for Bahrain's opposition, the US has decided to resume arms sales to the kingdom and Gulf Arab leaders are meeting to discuss greater regional integration."

Ted Koppel/WSJ: "Israeli officials want a public commitment from Washington to protect the Saudi regime should it come under threat.."

And again, since I'm writing in response to white people, I'm only linking or referring to white people.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Thinking about Ayrton Senna.
Reading Elizabeth Bishop.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My comments at CT are gone; I'm surprised they even made it.

Henry's favored literary critic is George Scialabba, who prefers Shaw to Shakespeare. He's a petty moralist. ["Geo's" response is still up and the original discussion is here] What are Intellectuals Good For? is a defense of intellectuals, not novelists or literature. Both Farrell and Bertram have made arguments against full free speech rights. Eric Rauchway defended academic freedom as more important than free speech because historically it preceded it. Henry is still uncomfortable with adversarialism; the word doesn't appear in the piece. Habermasian blablabla is no more than an attempt to extend polite technocratic discussion to the larger sphere, but drag queens and hustlers marched for gay rights long before earnest liberals or responsible leftists did, and no one at CT, even now, has had anything interesting to say about Israel and Palestine. [As always when making a point about the ME to earnest Habermasians, I link only to Jewish critics, or Christian pacifists. Angry Arabs give liberals an easy out.]

Duncan Black
The basic lefty-liberal critique is that, for whatever reason, Dems are always playing in the Right's rhetorical playground, aiming their argument at David Brooks and Joe Scarborough. Sometimes you just do the right thing, and people might get on board with it.
Black's post is titled "Leadership". The embedded link is to Michelangelo Signorile.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that in the wake of President Obama's support for marriage equality, opposition to it is at an all-time low, at 39 percent. For the first time, strong support exceeds strong opposition. Moreover, there is now greater support for marriage equality among African Americans -- a whopping 59 percent -- than in the general population, breaking long-held stereotypes.

Look at that: Leadership happens.

And there's a lesson here for all progressives -- and for the Obama campaign. We were told by the Democratic strategists and the campaign pollsters, the Democratic establishment, that coming out for marriage equality would be harmful to the president. The establishment pundits, gay and straight, were defending the White House, giving the president a pass, as were the establishment gay groups. The DNC's openly gay treasurer, Andy Tobias, continually defended the president's record and continually predicted disaster if he were to go further on LGBT rights.

But the opposite has happened.
Henry Farrell titles a post: Cognitive Democracy
Over the last couple of years, Cosma Shalizi and I have been working together on various things, including, inter alia, the relationship between complex systems, democracy and the Internet. These are big unwieldy topics, and trying to think about them systematically is hard. Even so, we’ve gotten to the point where we at least feel ready to start throwing stuff at a wider audience, to get feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Here’s a paper we’re working on, which argues that we should (for some purposes at least), think of markets, hierarchy and democracy in terms of their capacity to solve complex collective problems, makes the case that democracy will on average do the job a lot better than the other two ways, and then looks at different forms of collective information processing on the Internet as experiments that democracies can learn from.
The market is one form of adversarialism, the courtroom is another, with the system of the latter not only regulated but as formal as a tennis match. The refusal to see adversarialism as central to democracy weakens democracy.

Philosophers descend from theologians and in their public form, as technocrats, from the European model of Investigating Magistrates. Philosophers of democracy, the descendants of philosophers of monarchy, fantasize a populace of enlightened beings or of flawed beings serving an enlightened or an enlightening machine. [See the tags below for reference.] The model for democracy is not theology but theater and the theatrics of a courtroom. Prosecutor and defense attorney are collaborators only in conflict. Blacks, women and sexual minorities did not gain their rights by friendly collaboration with the larger public or with power.

The issue isn't leadership as such but the willingness to follow principle and push. In fact Obama could have lead but didn't. He was pushed by accident, when Biden stumbled.

I'll read Farrell and Shalizi this afternoon, but I doubt their previous simple, self-serving, professorial and technocratic preference for collaboration has changed at all.

It's changed, but not enough. And like Duncan Black, Henry forgets his own history.

Philosophy Bites From 2007.  G.A. Cohen on Inequality of Wealth.
Dave Edmonds: There's an anachronistic opulence at All Souls College, Oxford, a college with many eminent scholars, but not a single student. College retainers serve dinner; there's port on offer, and posh cutlery on display. So perhaps an odd place to find the titular professor of Social and Political Theory, G.A. Cohen, who was born into a poor working-class family in Montreal. Both his parents were communists, both factory workers in the rag trade. Jerry Cohen is renowned as a leading Marxist philosopher, and a critic of both the liberalism of John Rawls and the libertarianism of Robert Nozick. Now he's comparatively well off, one question nags away: can one be a rich egalitarian?

Nigel Warburton: Gerry Cohen, welcome to Philosophy Bites.

Cohen: Hi, it's good to be here.

Warbuton: Now the topic I want to focus on today, is equality, specifically equality of wealth. Do you believe in egalitarianism?

Cohen: Yup.

Warburton: Egalitarianism of wealth?

Cohen: No, not egalitarianism of wealth. You can't be very precise about the equality that a sensible egalitarian believes in, believes in. Because there are many good things in life, and they're not commensurable with each other. You can't trade them off against one another and so, they're gonna to be lots of cases where one person has a lot of wealth, but not a very nice job, and not a very sustaining family life, somebody else does much better in the dimensions in which that first person does poorly and poorly in wealth. And if you're asked who's better off you don't know what to say. You're an egalitarian, in my few, if, for the cases where you do know what to say, about who's better off, you think there's an injustice that demands redress, unless, what may well be the case, the person who's less well off is so because of the things they've done themselves, and can reasonable be blamed for having done themselves, which is certainly not the case for the vast range of inequality that obtains in our society.

Warburton: So, inequalities which are the result of human responsible actions are to be tolerated.

Cohen: Nothing is ever merely the result of human responsible action. All action requires external conditions which helps to contribute to its result. So when egalitarians like me say that they are allowed to say that inequality is acceptable where one person simply was lazy and self-indulgent and the other person used self-discipline to become more industrious and so forth, where you have examples like that you can tolerate measures of inequality they seem appropriate to the ways that different people oriented themselves. But that doesn't mean that we can say "well he invested the money here, he could have chosen to do otherwise, so he deserves the full fruit of that investment" because thousands of other circumstances were necessary for him to act at all, and you can't tell exactly about who's responsible for what but you can make educated guesses in certain contexts which could lead to policy consequences. The person may have used the levers well but that those particular levers were available will ultimately depend on accidents of nature and nurture, how you were when you were born, how you were brought up and so forth, which nobody can claim responsibility for. And it need not justify anything like one person making 200 times the income of another person.

Warburton: So do you think that individuals have any responsibility to redistribute their own wealth when they are benefactors of genetics and good behavior that's resulted in them being richer than other people?

Cohen: Yes I do think that but I also think a person's not a hypocrite if he votes for a government that is going to take away say 30 percent of his income but doesn't volunteer that 30 percent. It's human and natural that it's easier to give away your 30 percent when everybody else is having to give away their 30 percent by law. It's difficult to expect a person who lives in a particular social niche to depress the circumstances of himself and his family below a certain level even for the sake of principles that he sincerely affirms.

Nigel Warburton: We're sitting in All Souls College in Oxford; it's a very plush room. You have servants effectively coming to look after you; you have meals laid on. Now that for many people is an incredible luxury. Some people would say, if you're a real egalitarian you shouldn't wait to be taxed.

Cohen: The basic question is, if you have a salary -I don't want to say exactly what my salary is but obviously it's maybe two, three times the average wage in the society- and you don't believe that you ought to get all that, which I don't. Then you believe that you ought to sacrifice quite a lot of it which I don't -I give away some but not very much- and the explanation is that I'm a less good person than I would be if I were as good as I could be. You know I just think that I'm not a morally exemplary person, that's all. That's the reconciliation.

Warburton: If you're an egalitarian, are there any good reasons for hanging onto your wealth?

Cohen: I wrote a book called "If you're an Egalitarian How Come You're so Rich?" And the final chapter discusses fourteen reasons people give for not giving away their money when they're rich but they profess belief in equality, twelve of which are, well, rubbish. I think there are two reasonable answers that a person who doesn't give too much of it away can give and one of them has to do with the burden of depressing yourself below the level of your peer group with whom you're shared a certain way of life; and in particular, depriving your children of things that the children around them favor. And also, and slightly separately, the transition from being wealthy to being not wealthy at all can be extremely burdensome and the person who has tasted wealth will suffer more typically from lack of it than someone who's had quote unquote the good fortune never to be wealthy and therefore has built up the character and the orientation that can cope well with it.

Warburton: Some of the bad arguments that rich people might use. I mean they might say that if I gave my money away, it would only be a drop in the ocean, it's not going to make much difference. What do you think about that argument?

Cohen: You shouldn't expect it to be more than a drop int the ocean. You're only one person. But if you can affect materially the lives of four or five people who'd otherwise die the face that it's an insignificant proportion of the total suffering in the world doesn't mean it's not effect on the world for one person. Precisely because you're a drop in the ocean, you shouldn't expect to produce more than a drop in the ocean. But that drop can mean an enormous amount to quite a few people.

Warburton: What about the argument that it's the duty of the state not the individual to redistribute wealth, to help the poor?

Cohen: If it's the lifeguard's duty to save the drowning person, and the lifeguard isn't doing it, and I can swim to save that person, it's no answer to the question "why didn't you try to save him?", that it was somebody else's duty.

Warburton: And the idea that it's too costly for me to do it/ that I'm just one person trying to find the targets for this redistribution/ the state would be much more efficient than me.

Cohen: I'm not trying to give an argument which says that you might be better at it than the state. Of course it's better if the state does it, from many points of view, including from the point of view of the dignity of the recipients, who don't have to think of themselves as depending on charity in quite the same sense. So of course it's preferable if the state does it. But unless you think that the inefficiency at the individual level is so great as to make it impossible to achieve anything -which is preposterous-. Suppose 40% of what you give gets eroded for organizational reasons or difficulties in identifying people, you still have the result.

Warburton: From an autobiographical point of view, is there something that drives you, in writing about this area, in the title, "If you're an Egalitarian How Come You're so Rich?" That's quite a provocative way into this question.

Cohen: Well, I was brought up in a working class communist home, in Canada, born in 1941. Believed very strongly in egalitarianism. We're weren't rich, by the standards of the society. We were quite poor but not very poor. And a lot of life, social life, and political life was conducted within the context of the Canadian Communist Party. And there were quite a few people in it who were pretty rich, and that used to baffle me when I was small. So the question, how can you be a communist if you're so rich, is not identical to the question how can you be an egalitarian if you're so rich, because some communists affect the posture that nothing that an individual does is relevant anyway; all that matters is what you contribute to the process of history; and so forth. I mean, among those fourteen excuses for not giving that I canvassed, some are specific to Marxists. But that's what cause me to start thinking about the question in the first place. But then, as I because well off, let's say, by having good academic jobs and so forth, of course I began to think of it in relation to my own convictions.

Warburton: It strikes me that this question, and the way you've treated it is a kind of classic rebuttal of the idea that philosophy leaves everything as it is. That it doesn't touch human life: it's a matter of conceptual engineering.

Cohen: Well, nobody can say that about political philosophy. I mean, you could take very abstract exercises in political philosophy like John Stuart Mill's Liberty Principle, very roughly speaking, that you should be able to do whatever you like unless what you do harms somebody else. That was rolled out in 1859 and people might have said 6, 7, years later "see it's made no difference"- the way they say now about what political philosophers do. It's absurd ["abzurd"] short time scale for assessment of the matter. A hundred years later, a hundred years, literally after Mill, the major Western countries began enacting liberating laws, such as on homosexuality and other things, which implemented the Mill program. Now, of course Mill was part of a largge historical process, but an enormously important part of that. There's absolutely no doubt that political philosophy, the resurgence of right wing ideas, in the 70's, with the work of Robert Nozick in particular, and the Rawlsian edifice, these things I think have enormous social effect.

Warburton: On that partly positive note, thank you very much.

Cohen: Great. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Felix Salmon quotes Jerry Saltz
In many ways the most honest and important part of Saltz’s Frieze review comes in the comments section, where Saltz admits that “IF I DID have to pay $40.00 to go to an art fair I would NEVER EVER EVER go”. Saltz’s job is to look at this kind of art, but even he admits that the value of seeing all this work in the same place at the same time is significantly less than $40 — at least if you’re not going to buy anything.

And while Frieze co-founder Matthew Slotover tells the NYT that he is “very much pro-democratization and a larger engagement” with the general public, the fair’s location on a desolate island, and its sky-high entry fee, and even its galleries all mitigate against that. It’s the galleries who asked for — and received — fewer visitors, remember, and on Friday night I met one gallerist who was complaining that while she met some very high-end collectors on Thursday, the Friday crowd had altogether far too many “lookie-loos”.
AiA on Prince v Cariou
The case also deals with whether Cariou's market was harmed by Prince's paintings. The judges seemed unsympathetic to Brooks's claims of a damaged market.

"Bringing up the market is a clear loser for you," Judge Parker said to Brooks, who confirmed that Cariou's prints sold for a few thousand Euro, while Prince's paintings sold for millions. "You sold to a totally different audience, you've admitted that not many of the books were sold, you sold them out of a warehouse in Dumbo, and that the book was out of print. Prince was selling to a wealthier crowd, and on this side of the river." The allusion to a more elevated marketplace in Manhattan brought laughs from the courtroom.
Prince designed handbags for Louis Vuitton. If he stole my designs would it matter that I sold my designs "out of a warehouse in Dumbo"? Snobbery now written in law.
..."I think the key moment today was when Judge Parker said that the injunction to destroy the works was something akin to a decision by the Huns or the Taliban," Amy Adler, a professor of art law at NYU, told A.i.A. (Adler has consulted with Boies, Schiller, Flexner but was speaking on her own behalf.) "The judges could see that the injunction is draconian. And they plainly understood the importance and the artistic significance of this case."
Downloading, Fair Use, IP, Plagiarism.

The art world as social system is taken to be ancillary to an impersonal idea of art, as the academic and technocratic worlds as social systems are taken to be ancillary to an impersonal idea of knowledge.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Art Market Maneker: Freeports Concentrate Art Creating Massive $10bn Risk
(from FT)
The problem lies in the fact that many collectors mainly purchase art for investment purposes, using free ports in order not to declare where works are kept, as well as a way of avoiding taxes and duties.

The majority of the world’s art that is not on display, either in museums or private residences, is stored in a small number of tax-free ports across the globe, mainly in Switzerland.

Until recently, this was a world shrouded in secrecy, and insurers had no idea of the true value of the art treasures they were insuring, according to Adam Prideaux, a leading broker with Blackwall Green, a specialist art insurer.

Clients used to receive worldwide cover that allowed them to keep works in their house or in storage without the need to specify details.

Recent changes to Swiss customs laws mean that art stored at the country’s free ports must now be declared and descriptions, values and country of origin provided. Specific declarations are also now required by insurers. It is these changes that made insurers pay attention: in trying to collate all this information, they started to realise the level of risk involved, and have been prompted to scrutinise cover more closely.

Each of the main ports is thought to house an average of $10bn of art, a staggering figure. “It’s a huge value of art; it goes into hundreds of billions of dollars [worldwide],” Prideaux says. “But they really don’t know. The pressure they’re under – they’ve got to find out what’s there.”

Despite high-security warehousing, there is just too much value and too few insurers. They simply would not have enough funds to pay out in the event of a catastrophe. This has led insurers to think the unthinkable – and to start preparing to protect themselves against the worst possible scenario. What if an aircraft crashed into one of the free port warehouses adjacent to an airport? Insurers could not cover the loss if a single warehouse containing, say, a Rembrandt, a Titian and a couple of Picassos were destroyed. Picasso’s “Child with a Dove”, for example, is on the market and it is thought it will fetch about £50m.
FP: Is The Dictator Racist? Yes.
It's becoming acceptable to say the obvious, but Joshua Keating can't spell.
AA on lies.
The recent clashes in Tripoli started with the arrest of Shadi Al-Mawlawi, a man with Al-Qa`idah connection. The arrest was widely condemned by the "pro-Western"--according to Western media--coalition of March 14. The other side revealed that the arrest was at the behest of the CIA. That embarrassed the sponsors of the March 14, so pro-Saudi/US media in Lebanon, LBC TV and An-Nahar, quoted US officials as denying that they were behind the arrest. Now, Sulayman Franjiyyah, revealed on New TV that the CIA was behind the arrest of the Jordanian suspect, and that led to the arrest of Al-Mawlawi. So the US government was being too cute in its propaganda through March 14 media in Lebanon.
"If we don't stop their entry, the problem that currently stands at 60,000 could grow to 600,000, and that threatens our existence as a Jewish and democratic state," Binyamin Netanyahu said at Sunday's cabinet meeting. "This phenomenon is very grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity."
Blut und Boden.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Arguing with Marion Maneker
Arguing with Mohan Matthen
I did a lousy job with Matthen, and with James Wood. I was lazy.
But as the kings, queens, princes, one emperor, a grand duke and an emir posed for a historic photograph inside the castle's Waterloo Chamber, elsewhere human rights activists condemned it as a platform for "blood-stained despots and tyrants".
Perhaps, the Queen's advisers may have reflected, this glittering anniversary bash was not such a good idea after all.
Taking his seat amid the heraldic splendour of St George's Hall, was King Hamad al-Khalifa of Bahrain, whose regime is accused of the brutal suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Swaziland's controversial King Mswati III, who has amassed 13 wives and an estimated £60m personal fortune, according to Forbes magazine – while many of his 1.2 million subjects live in poverty – was seated nearby.
Saudi and Kuwaiti royals, criticised for their human rights records, also feasted from a menu which included English asparagus, Windsor lamb, wild mushrooms and Kent strawberries, paid for by the taxpayer, via the Sovereign's Grant.
The Queen had rolled out the full red-carpet treatment with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and princesses Beatrice and Eugenie among a 12-strong royal welcoming party. Prince Charles was not there, as he was hosting his own glittering dinner at Buckingham Palace on Friday night for the foreign rulers, excluding King Hamad, who was not attending.
The Queen welcomed the Bahraini ruler with a handshake and a laugh as the two shared a joke.

Who is running the show in Syria?
I received a detailed report from a Syrian with contact inside the regime. It has been confirmed to me that the Russian government (through its intelligence service) is running the show. Qadri Jamil is playing an increasingly important role (the Russians want him as prime minister). I am told that Bashshar's orders are no more followed or implemented: that, yes, the regime is still resilient and that there are no defections to speak of despite generous offers of Saudi and Qatari cash but that there is intense in-fighting within the regime. I know of one assassination by regime mukhbarat agents against a Syrian who had too much information about the contacts of Hafidh Makhluf. It is, in short, a mess and the poor Syrian people are caught between vicious warriors, local, regional, and international.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 15 is Nakba Day

Via Leiter:
Michael Lynch: I remember sitting in a philosophy course in college at 8:30 in the morning, listening to a lecture on Descartes, and thinking I had stumbled onto the secret language of the world. And while I admit that I sometimes weary of the whirligig of academic life, I still have that first sense of finding my creative home. Here’s a simpler way of putting it: I couldn’t stop thinking about this stuff if I tried.

3:AM: It might seem obvious to some people, but to others the question of ‘what is truth?’ doesn’t seem quite as important as it once did. Why do you think this is such an important question, not just for philosophy but for the rest of us?

ML: During the Bush administration, Ron Susskind famously reported that one of Bush’s top advisors (probably Karl Rove) sneered that the administration’s critics were continuing to live in the “reality-based community”. That was a mistake, he said, because “we are an empire now, we create our own reality”. This is a telling remark. It illustrates not only what was wrong with that administration but why truth is so important a concept – and not just for philosophers. When we ignore the difference between what those in power say is true and what is true, we risk not only losing our rights, but the ability to even give ourselves any critical voice. So that is why thinking about truth matters - because the truth matters.
From Nir Rosen:
Joseph Massad on the Nakba
While the Nakba has been translated into English as “catastrophe,” “disaster,” or “calamity,” these translations do not fully grasp the active ramifications of its Arabic meanings. The Nakba as an act committed by Zionism and its adherents against Palestine and the Palestinians has rendered the Palestinians mankubin. English does not help much in translating mankubin, unless we can stretch the language a bit and call Palestinians a catastrophe-d or disaster-ed people. Unlike the Greek catastrophe, which means overturning, or the Latin disaster, which means a calamitous event occurring when the stars are not in the right alignment, the Nakba is an act of deliberate destruction, of visiting calamities upon a people, of a well-planned ruining of a country and its inhabitants. The word was coined by the eminent Arab intellectual Constantine Zureik in his August 1948 short book on the meaning of the Nakba that was ongoing as he wrote it, just like it is as I write these lines.
"The quote from Susskind's article: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

I doubt Lynch shares Massad's opinions regarding Zionism, but whatever they are I'm sure he'd claim they were the product of reason.

I'm amazed always at Leiter's refusal to face the meaning and importance of "due process", why it's central to our legal system, and to representative government. The Palestinians have been denied due process, not only in law but in public life. Until recently in our culture they've had few advocates nor have they been in a position to be their own, and that skewed the common understandings to which Leiter and Lynch subscribe.

Antonin Scalia in dissent: in re Troy Anthony Davis
“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.”
As a matter of law, Scalia is right: "due process" is not "due result"; the ends do not justify the means. There were other ways to argue Troy Davis' defense. Scalia chose those that served the prosecution. If he were consistent in his pedantry he'd defend Miranda rights and Al Gore would have been a one term president. Scalia's strategic passivity, and activism by turns, serves state power where others would argue the Constitution constrains it.

"And is, then, all which is just pious? or, is that which is pious all just, but that which is just, only in part and not all, pious?

“History is like foreign travel. It broadens the mind but does not deepen it”

Plato, and Descartes.
I don't know what's worse, the arrogant hypocrisy of Scalia's pompous authoritarianism or Leiter's willed naiveté.
I think Leiter ignores the philosophical foundations of due process because those foundations function as a denial or refusal of the need for "truth". Philosophers, as theologians, are horrified by the relativism democracy requires.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Zionist bigot Josh Marshall, in defense of the unique values of American democracy, argues against dual citizenship.
An object lesson in moral conflict and cognitive dissonance.

-A Jewish state for a Jewish People, iff [if and only if] a German state for a German people.

-Beinart: "I'm not asking Israel to be Utopian... I'm not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I'm actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel's security and for its status as a Jewish state."

I'm tempted sometimes to argue that the US should restrict dual citizenship to citizens of countries that fit internationally recognized definitions of participatory democracy, but I'm not sure that the US would fit them.
A discussion at Crooked Timber, that covers both Holbo and Singapore but not the fact that he lives there, engaging as always political liberalism as idea but not practice. Nothing new, but it goaded me in the end to look up the best thing I've ever read on the site.

Commenter "Marfrks", on Greenwald vs Kerr
What an extraordinarily interesting debate. Thanks to everyone. It seems clear to this reader—who has nothing at stake—that Henry is refusing to see things, while Kerr is smoothly awful (the last line about natural law theory and legal positivism is so absurd that I thought at first it was a joke). I feel a cliched impulse to find something balancing to say about Greenwald, but no impression of him is as strong as those two impressions of the others. My own view of the divide may only reflect that it hits a fault line in my life: the difference between an academic and a non-academic approach to things. I have been a lawyer for many years, and then got a chance to teach at a non-lawyerly academic institution. I loved it; I loved playing in the garden of the mind. Eventually, however, it became clear to me that academics and non-academics have very different approaches to ideas. Academics, though it sounds odd to say it, don’t take ideas seriously. For academics, ideas are games, as Kerr illustrates when he speaks so proudly about how he follows reason wherever it takes him. He seems to find that admirable, whereas I—having now sat through many faculty meetings where the propriety of rules about faculty parking are argued from Platonic first principles—find it both tiresome and puerile. Ideas about the Constitution should not be treated as intellectual exercises only. It is a practical document, with clear principles relating to freedom and the protection of the powerless from the abuses of authority that every government in the history of the world has been tempted to engage in. If someone’s version of reason leads him or her to contemplate the weakening or contravention of those principles, that is not admirable or disciplined or honorable. It is misguided games-playing. It reminds me of all those right wingers who used to talk about the “courageous” decisions to bomb various countries that were made by “serious” people. Academics were playing war games and recommending intellectualized experiments with other people’s lives. That was allowed to happen in part because those people seemed so nice and smooth and academically intriguing. “Don’t be shrill,” we were told, when we pointed out that the war in Iraq was morally wrong. That was lousy advice for the country and for the world. I don’t enjoy being shrill myself, but I’m inclined to think that someone needs to be shrill when intellectuals play games with surveillance, imprisonment, torture and death.
I could say he makes some things seem simpler than they are -language is a grey area by definition, which is what panicked Gödel- but you have to be willing to argue at some point that a line's been crossed. It's Farrell's passivity that's so grotesque: the refusal to have an opinion because opinions are subjective. If you argue only from shades of grey then you'll be the last to admit that white's become black.

The next comment on the thread reads: "@Marfrks. Let me second seth and move that this thread might as well be closed because imho Marfrks has driven a stake through Henry and Kerr (sorry I can’t — although I deny that I did — mangle a metaphor for you)."
My comments of course were removed.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

note taking. posted elsewhere

He let my comment stand.
When was it ever not the case? And you have your own history of knee-jerk response.

In moments of general crisis the number of people who speak out publicly on any issue increases, but otherwise the normative assumptions of the majority of which the elite is a subset rule almost unchecked. 
Find me one political, cultural, intellectual fight where reason on its own was seen to win out. Fights for racial and gender equality and gay rights were led by members of those groups, whose knowledge came from shared experience. Popular assumptions changed as a result of outsiders forcing their stories on an indifferent majority (let's ignore for a minute that women make up half the population). That we now have male professors of women's studies or white experts in African American history helps to elide the fact that experts are only experts within the formal systems they're a part of. Mathematics is universal because it's formal. Its application is neither.

I'm not a Deconstructionist; I'm not even a college professor, but I'm still trying to figure out how you reconcile your prescription of cardboard tomatoes for the urban lower middle class and those below either with liberalism or science, even in the broadest sense.

I'll leave it to historians to explain to our great grandchildren just what we stood for and why. Historians will look back at this age with all the contempt this age has had for history.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"Son, when I appoint a nigger to the court, I want everyone to know he's a nigger."

Lyndon Johnson knew how to lead and in choosing Thurgood Marshall choose someone like himself in that sense at least. But Marshall was chosen for all the reasons that would have limited him as a politician. Obama is less of a leader than either of them; and Joe Biden is LBJ as farce.

Adam Kirsch is the thinking man's Jonah Goldberg.
Follow the links, to NYM, then Language Log.

It's a nice picture of Eliot, in his late years when he was happy.

A repeat, from 2009
Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft. I highly recommend the essay on him by the French reactionary writer (and one of my favorites, to be honest – I don't care about his views on Islam) Michel Houellebecq.
The comment made me smile (I don't care about Lovecraft).  It makes a nice counter-example to the American liberal political class and their arguments from predetermined ideas and assumption.

It's good to take the opinions of the opinionated with a grain of salt, but it's better when they find ways to help you do it.  That's El Amrani's understanding of Houellebecq.  It's also there in the self-counsciously haute bourgeois leftism of AbuKhalil. It comes down to an awareness of your own contradictions, even if you'd never admit that awareness in public.

It's impossible for a self-aware adult and anti-Zionist not to know the reality of Jewish suffering, even if he can't defend the choices of the survivors and their descendants. The knowledge that victimizers were once victims can only reinforce the moral opposition to their actions. So it makes sense that AbuKhalil's bluster would never be as shallow as Duncan Black's contempt, nor his contradictions a match to Josh Marshall's hypocrisy.
I wrote that before I found the quote from Milosz.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Forgot (better late then never)

The Guardian "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: former military prosecutor denounces trial"

NPR Interview with former prosecutor Morris Davis.

in re discussion of the Saudi "double agent"
Repeats (and in the photographs)
Saudi Arabia's rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.

Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.

Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE.
Additionally, the source advised Burton that the Saudis “are playing both sides of the fence – with the jihadists and the Israelis – for fear that the US does not have a handle on either.

“'donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.'”

"American diplomats were surprised and angered in turn soon afterward when Saudi Arabia sent troops to help put down unrest in neighboring Bahrain."
AA comments: "How was that anger manifested? Help me. I need a clue here, please. The US was so angry that they elevated their relationship with the House of Saud and House of Khalifah. So angry."

NY Post
An army of models, carousers and beautiful creatures of the night is being lined up for a lavish private masquerade ball for a Saudi prince at the Top of the Standard tonight. Sources tell us, “There will be a big birthday party for the Saudi prince, and they are closing out the entire Boom Boom Room for him. Casting calls went out to modeling agencies, particularly asking for the most beautiful Russian girls.” Among the 400 guests expected at the Meatpacking District bash — listed as a costume party “hosted by Saud” with a “black-tie dress code recommended but not mandatory” — are Justin Timberlake, Swizz Beatz and Usher. Along with the fancy invite, guests are also given a helpful history of masquerade balls (which is sure to be avidly digested by the models). It reads, “Masquerade balls were costumed public festivities that were particularly popular in Venice. They were generally elaborate dances held for members of the upper classes . . . Masquerade balls became common throughout mainland Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. A Swiss count is credited with having introduced the Venetian fashion of a semipublic masquerade ball to London in the 18th century, with the first being held at Haymarket Opera House. Throughout the century the dances became popular, both in England, then colonial America.” Meanwhile, we’re told a large young Saudi contingent has gathered at the Plaza Hotel in preparation for tonight’s big bash.
12,000 years ago, in the early days of this blog, I think a lot more liberal people were opposed to equality. Many cloaked it in politics, as in them Palestinians are going to lose elections for "us" if they keep pushing this stuff, but many just echoed what I hope are, to most of us, increasingly gross and creepy arguments. Such as "I believe in equality but I'm just not comfortable around them" or similar.

Deny basic rights to people because it makes you feel a bit icky. Dumbasses. It's not fucking about you.

... some Very Serious Connected People on the twitter seem to think that Obama's evolution might be completed today.
[Beinart: "I'm not asking Israel to be Utopian... I'm not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I'm actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel's security and for its status as a Jewish state. "]

Find it yourself. 
Years later The Atlantic shortened the Beinart interview and the passage was stripped. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Since I posted my note to Bertram I might as well post the deleted, "disemvoweled", comment. The discussion at CT has gotten worse and worse. The focus on freedom is just absurd. They're arguing morality in the shadow of Pereto efficiency, in the shadow because they don't really want to admit it.
See also the previous post.
Utopia by definition can not exist. Our obligations to others are real.

In an earlier post liberalism was defined as the ability to have obligations only of your choosing; but you can’t choose not to pay taxes and you can’t choose not to have parents. You can choose not to care for them, but is that considered acceptable under normal practice?

Democracy begins in obligation; citizens should be expected even required to understand issues related to governance. Most of the people I've known who've made the choice to be servants extend the logic of servant and master to their political morality. People who like to serve want to be cared for. The worst snobs are not the masters but the direct servants of the powerful. George Will and David Brooks have the arrogance not of rulers but of their attendants. Their anger is directed mostly at this who refuse to serve. Is democracy served by celebrating the freedom to vote as your master or your priest tells you? It is "a good" to understand the details of food preparation. If you eat meat you should visit a slaughterhouse. Dwellings need to be cleaned at least now and again so it is a good to experience the work of cleaning. It's not a good to want someone else to wipe your ass.  Is it a good if someone wants to?  Not if it’s an aspect of the pleasure in servility. In dreams begin responsibilities. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Democracy is in ideology. [Servility is not a good]
G.A. Cohen on his money
I give away some but not very much and the explanation is that I’m a less good person than I would be if I were as good as I could be. You know I just think that I’m not a morally exemplary person that’s all. That’s the reconciliation.
Which should take precedence, the struggle for exemplary ideas or to be a better person? I think most of the people here would side with Cohen. Curiosity about the world demands curiosity about others; curiosity about others demands curiosity about their interest in things that may not interest you. Gratifying your own desires is not the some as understanding them. The latter takes much more work; the former has little moral value. Democracy [Democratic responsibility] and individualism are opposed.

Adding the tag The Discovery of Experience, because soon after this some of them did.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Continuing the answer to John Holbo's questions. Repeating myself in some new ways.

Modern liberalism begins in universalism, treating various people's interests as equal or equivalent. But the global view of individuals as actors has given us an asocial model of morality:

"If her interests have the same value as his, then my interests must have the same value as yours."

The objective logic of self-other symmetry means that for the first time in history self-interest has officially been given moral weight: "officially" because in daily life it's still assumed that generosity outweighs selfishness. The experts however now have been divided from the folk; and they're left with the trolley problem.

Here is the divide between the arts and humanities, and the sciences, (and the modern social sciences); between "Continental" and "Analytic" philosophy; between the practical (humanist) liberalism of the Renaissance and ideological (idealist) liberalism of the Enlightenment.

The old theological morality placed us under a higher authority to whom all owed obeisance. This had the force of law and grounded our obligations to each other. The latter were often informal: self-interest was seen in general terms as a given not a value. Those who rose above it could be called exemplary but those who didn't were far from alone.

Contemporary academic philosophy - metaphysics analogizing science- says self and other objectively are equal, so all we need are rules and laws to constrain us and our desires. But rule-breaking has consequences that obligation-breaking doesn't, and by focusing only on rules our understanding of and comfort with more flexible obligations begins to fade. The moral imbalance favoring selflessness is lost, and people, unwilling or unable to face difficult moral decisions, are forced towards an illusory simplicity and certainty.  The result is a rise in arguments from fantasy and wish-fulfillment. We end up with masters of exemplary ideas who by their own admission live mediocre lives.  As I've said before: "Marking to the mean puts downward pressure on the mean," while liberal idealism idealizes the result.  We have "neo" liberalism and "liberal" ethnic nationalists, as many Zionists define themselves; liberals who call for the return of the whipping post; and loudly self-designating liberal political philosophers who live by choice under authoritarian governments about whom they choose to stay silent.

We tend towards self-interest in our beliefs as in other things. When self-designation carries more weight than our appearance in the eyes of others, others are discounted. Self-designation is now the rule of the day.

"If her interests have the same value as his, then my interests must have the same value as yours."
That and the paragraph below it are good.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

At a bar a few days ago I was grateful not to be introduced to the author of this:
For most of the past two centuries, at least in so-called civilized societies, the ideal of punishment has been replaced by the hope of rehabilitation. The American penitentiary system was invented to replace punishment with "cure." Prisons were built around the noble ideas of rehabilitation. In society, at least in liberal society, we're supposed to be above punishment, as if punishment were somehow beneath us. The fact that prisons proved both inhumane and miserably ineffective did little to deter the utopian enthusiasm of those reformers who wished to abolish punishment.

Incarceration, for adults as well as children, does little but make people more criminal. Alas, so successful were the "progressive" reformers of the past two centuries that today we don't have a system designed for punishment. Certainly released prisoners need help with life—jobs, housing, health care—but what they don't need is a failed concept of "rehabilitation." Prisons today have all but abandoned rehabilitative ideals—which isn't such a bad thing if one sees the notion as nothing more than paternalistic hogwash. All that is left is punishment, and we certainly could punish in a way that is much cheaper, honest, and even more humane. We could flog.
The author's wife writes about food and dinner parties for 20. She extols the virtues of the neighborhood we live in, with its cultural and culinary diversity. She exemplifies the modern "cosmopolitan" gentrifier: enthusiastic and unreflective. Her husband, the Ivy graduate with (white) working class pretensions, espouses torture. The immigrants, of all groups, are both less pretentious and simply more interesting.

As a teacher Moskos should understand what teaching means, in terms of content, as process, as form. All education in the end is self-education, the opportunity to "cure" oneself. Institutional liberalism succeeded only in instituting pity, but good teachers have always shown concern. It's a form of respect; pity and paternalism are forms of contempt. He spent a year as a Baltimore cop; maybe he should spend a year teaching in prison.

But Moskos can't get beyond his own sense of superiority. He's a sociologist, and science is not self-reflective. It's concerned with content, not form. So his suburban arrogance is irrelevant, as irrelevant as the unrecognized distinction between concern and pity. Concern is expensive. His science ignores that too.

On his romance with lower middle class morality, we've been here before.

"Stop Snitchin'" for white folks
comment removed. [5/8-comment reposted above]

A letter to Chris Bertram. I assume he's the one who did it since as in the past, my counter shows a hit at about the same time from ""
As always, I hope you read it first.

I don't care that Holbo lives in Singapore [repeats], or that you write this [ditto]:

"I'm sympathetic, I really am, to the idea that people should work and consume less and that we should attend more to real life quality. But this doesn’t seem very realistic in my own life..."

Can't you hear how weasely that sounds?

Do you remember Henry's defense of Holbo after I brought up the contradictions between his ideas and his life? He said that political philosophy has no necessary relation to politics.

G.A. Cohen on his money:
I give away some but not very much and the explanation is that I’m a less good person than I would be if I were as good as I could be. You know I just think that I’m not a morally exemplary person that’s all. That’s the reconciliation.
And he lectures us on socialism. It's the lectures that annoy me, not the life. His life was run of the mill.

But he dreamt of "mechanisms" [should have said technology] that would make him a better human being. Anything to avoid the work on his own of trying to be one. The attempt itself is what's important.

Zizek has shown more bravery in his life, intellectual and otherwise, than any of you have, first in Tito's Yugoslavia and now discussing Palestine.
In his actions he's stood for liberalism. What have your actions stood for?
Modern liberalism as you subscribe to it begins in self love. Zizek has the guts to be scared, but if you want to see him picked apart you can witness it here

Curiosity about the world demands curiosity about others. Curiosity about others demands curiosity about their interest[s even or especially] in things that may not interest you. Gratifying your own desires is not the same as understanding them, or understanding the desires of others. The latter takes much more work. The former has little moral value.
Disinterested reason is the scholar's ideal. That's a choice in opposition to self-interest.

SE: "Arguments for the nobility of greed are a recent development."
CB: If, by “recent” you mean 1705, you may be right.

As I said at the time, that's what I meant.
I was raised by scholars who took their moral responsibilities seriously.

Democratic responsibility and individualism are opposed. How is this not clear to you?
You're all wholly in love with yourselves.

Sorry if the grammar and spelling is off in this one. I'm livid.
You really are a shallow, self-absorbed and lazy bunch.
I try to read Erasmus and Montaigne to calm me down, but it doesn't work. I grew up in the university. It breaks my heart to see what it's become.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Tushnet again
B. Magnitude of Harms and United States v. Stevens

1. Description
United States v. Stevens held unconstitutional a federal statute making the production of “animal snuff films” illegal.40 Defending the statute, the government argued that such films were not covered by the First Amendment based on the description of uncovered categories of speech in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire.41 According to the unanimous Court in Chaplinsky, “There are certain well defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or ‘fighting’ words....”42 The Chaplinsky Court continued with an explanation of why speech in these classes was not covered: because the words “are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”43

[if the video's gone: Sarah Silverman, The Aristocrats]
Sarah Silverman gives a better defense of free speech than Mark Tushnet.
I'll end where I began

Fucking idiots.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The American has got to destroy. It is his destiny.

"You must look through the surface of American art, and see the inner diabolism of the symbolic meaning. Otherwise it is all mere childishness....

Always the same. The deliberate consciousness of Americans so fair and smooth-spoken, and the under-consciousness so devilish. Destroy! destroy! destroy! hums the under-consciousness. Love and produce! Love and produce! cackles the upper consciousness. And the world hears only the Love-and-produce cackle. Refuses to hear the hum of destruction underneath. Until such time as it will have to hear.

The American has got to destroy. It is his destiny."