Monday, September 30, 2013

John Mikhail @ Balkinization, links to various responses to his book defending a Chomskian, innate, but also Rawlsian, logical and non-conflicted, "moral cognition" and "moral grammar". He links also to his reply,  all hosted by The Jerusalem[!] Review of Legal Studies. 

Two conversations with Mikhail, podcasts, at Philosophy Bites. The first centers on a discussion of the Trolley Problem, in this case using a choice between being asked to switch a train from one track to another or to kill one person and distribute his internal organs to five dying patients.  Mikhail says the reason the first is seen as acceptable by most people and the second not is that in the first the death is seen as a "side effect". 

The trolley problem has morphed to include many variations, and even its earlier forms included discussion of “the doctrine of double effect” and of intentionality, treating the act of killing to save lives as an unintentional consequence of a moral act. Utilitarianism doesn’t need to nit-pick about intention; it’s simple enough to say “I chose to kill 3 people to save 10”. But the focus on intention denies full moral existence to those who’ve been killed, and I know of no study asking people to imagine themselves as the fat man and asking if they’re able to intuit a moral difference between being pushed by a man’s hand or by a turnstile with someone’s finger on the switch. 
Regarding the changing intuitions of the actor, Stanley Milgram’s 1963 experiments showed that proximity, of authority to subject and of subject to “learner”, was the main factor in affecting the level of obedience to the command to cause harm. An anthropologist will know why a guillotine is not like an ax and why a governor is not called an executioner even if the man who bears that title is only following orders. Again, such data are treated as irrelevant to philosophy, because once the point of view is chosen it can’t be changed. Rather than seeing the inevitability of competing perspectives of the actor and his victim, the moral issue to be faced is defined only through the experience of one of them and not the other. Philosophy searches for truth and perspectivism just doesn’t fit the bill.
The doctrine of double effect goes back to Aquinas, and the Church is an authoritarian institution. Philosophy qua philosophy is always authoritarian. Democracy on the other hand is a means for society to negotiate problems that have no absolute solution.

related: see previous post

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fill (with Jews)
The J Street Conference, 2013
The perversity of the image is as self-evident to an outside observer as it was unimagined by its maker.

The nationalism of the vanquished becomes the barbarity of the conquerer. Israel was founded as a land without irony, but it's inescapable. Garveyism for Jews, Jewish fascism. etc.

repeats here for a discussion of "national self-determination", whatever that means (and no one knows). But it's fairly certain that as far as Joseph Raz and Avishai Margalit are concerned, the 20% of the Israeli population who are not Jewish exist in some sort of limbo, since the "nation" the two of them are concerned with is the nation of Jews, not the nation made up of citizens of Israel.
Meaning, let us remember, is not to be identified with naming. Frege's example of 'Evening Star' and 'Morning Star' and Russell's of 'Scott' and 'the author of Waverly', illustrate that terms can name the same thing but differ in meaning. The distinction between meaning and naming is no less important at the level of abstract terms. The terms '9' and 'the number of the planets' name one and the same abstract entity but presumably must be regarded as unlike in meaning; for astronomical observation was needed, and not mere reflection on meanings, to determine the sameness of the entity in question.
...A felt need for meant entities may derive from an earlier failure to appreciate that meaning and reference are distinct. Once the theory of meaning is sharply separated from the theory of reference, it is a short step to recognizing as the business of the theory of meaning simply the synonymy of linguistic forms and the analyticity of statements; meanings themselves, as obscure intermediary entities, may well be abandoned.
I've quoted that enough but never used the most obvious example: 'Evening Star' and 'Morning Star',  'Palestine' and 'Israel'.

repeats: It makes no sense to refer to formal logic as philosophy. no fucking sense at all.

Friday, September 27, 2013


Thursday, September 26, 2013

I hadn't realized. Beinart is evolving.
Like M.J. Rosenberg, faced with the choice between adaptation and open fascism he chose to change.

The Palestinian experience has not changed. Zionist, American, and European perception of the Palestinian experience has changed.
Swag Bags from Al Qaeda

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Traders may have gotten last week’s Fed news 7 milliseconds early
Somebody placed massive orders for gold futures contracts betting on exactly that outcome within a millisecond or two of 2 p.m. that day -- before the seven milliseconds had passed that would allow the transmission of the information from the Fed's "lock-up" of media organizations who get an early look at the data and the arrival of that information at Chicago's futures markets (that's the time it takes the data to travel at the speed of light. A millisecond is a thousandth of a second). CNBC's Eamon Javers, citing market analysis firm Nanex, estimates that $600 million in assets could have changed hands in that fleeting moment. 
There would seem to be three possibilities: 1) Some trader was extraordinarily lucky, placing a massive bet just before a major announcement that would make that bet highly profitable. 2) There was a leak, either by a media organization with early access to the data or even someone at the Fed. Or 3) The laws of physics have been violated as the information traveled from Washington to Chicago faster than the speed of light. 
You can see why Option 2 looks the most plausible. 
Capital markets exist to serve the real economy: Stock and bond markets exist to allow companies to raise the funds they need and savers to invest for the future. Futures and options markets exist to let companies and individuals hedge against potential losses, smoothing out the risks of fluctuations in currencies, commodity prices, or whatever.

There is a role in these markets for traders whose work is more speculative. Having opportunistic traders in the markets always watching for mispricings can be beneficial to the real companies and individuals looking to save or invest because it means they are more likely to be able to get a fair price and carry out the transaction whenever they want. (The traders ensure, to use the formal terms, liquidity and efficient price discovery). 
But when taken to its logical extremes, such as computers exploiting five millisecond advantages in the transfer of market-moving information, it's much less clear that society gains anything.
[Y]ou have to either live in the countryside or live in the city and be really rich to say that rubber tomatoes suck. For those humans who live in the city and are not really rich, rubber tomatoes provide a welcome and tasty and affordable simulacrum of the tomato-eating experience.
In his version of our present dilemmas no one is to blame. "As citizens, we may feel that inequality on this scale cannot possibly be good for a democracy.... But the super-rich are not at fault." 
...Like its nineteenth-century predecessors, this story combines a claim about improvement ("growth is good") with an assumption about inevitability: globalization—or, for Robert Reich, "supercapitalism"—is a natural process, not a product of arbitrary human decisions. 
again "The Good Banker"

The imperative of speed, the conflation of technological and moral progress, of science and morality.
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."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

-massive realignment in Syria today.
-minimal coverage of the UN in the US political web
update written up
“People who design machines and airplanes, no matter how much they believe that what they do is good, the winds of time eventually turn them into tools of industrial civilization. It's never unscathed. They’re cursed dreams. Animation, too. Today all of humanity's dreams are cursed somehow. Beautiful yet cursed dreams.”

Monday, September 23, 2013

Yet, make no mistake. The goal of Graham, the neocons, Israel and Saudi Arabia is not a negotiated solution permitting a peaceful nuclear program in Iran. The goal is a U.S. war to smash Iran.
Ted Cruz
The elite academic circles that [Ted] Cruz was now traveling in began to rub off. As a law student at Harvard, he refused to study with anyone who hadn’t been an undergrad at Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. Says Damon Watson, one of Cruz’s law-school roommates: “He said he didn’t want anybody from ‘minor Ivies’ like Penn or Brown.”
Douthat 2001[now, but linking to The Crimson
Coming to Harvard, I now have a new sense of the power and success that is at our fingertips - I know I will be one of the 25 richest writers of the future.
And again
Now I know that there was a lot of outrage about these comments on various House and organization e-mail lists, and a few of us “lazy” Harvard types even took a break from polishing the family silver to fire off letters to the Daily and Dean Inouye. This is well and good. But if we can set aside our justifiable pique for a moment, we might realize that we’re doing people like Inouye, Amira, and my ever-so-well-educated Legal Seafood waiter a grave disservice. They’re not the real enemy here, my Harvard brethren—and the sooner we recognize it, the better.

No, the real enemy is silent and deadly, a mental disorder so pervasive and persistent that it defies any quick-fix cure. Call it, if you will, the Harvard Syndrome.

This disorder’s symptoms vary widely, needless to say, based on individual constitutions—but fortunately, the symptoms are easily recognizable to the trained (i.e., Harvard-educated) eye. For one thing, the Harvard Syndrome causes otherwise sincere people to lie, with almost pathological zeal, about their motives for not attending Harvard. The lies can range from the banal (“lousy undergrad education,” as my Legal Seafood chum insisted) to the breathtaking and patently unbelievable (“I really liked Yale better”). But however involved and intricate—or charmingly clumsy—the lie may be, the truth is always the same. The Harvard Syndrome sufferer was denied admission to Harvard.
In 2005
The Truth About Harvard
It may be hard to get into Harvard, but it's easy to get out without learning much of enduring value at all. A recent graduate's report.

Privilege: Harvard and the Education of the Ruling Class
Ross Gregory Douthat arrived at Harvard University in the fall of 1998 carrying an idealized vision of Ivy League life. But the Harvard of his dreams, an institution fueled by intellectual curiosity and entrusted with the keys to liberal education, never materialized. Instead, he found himself in a school rife with elitism and moneyed excess, an incubator for the grasping and ambitious, a college seduced by the religion of success.
Ulrich Beck, A God of One's Own

Blurb: "Religion posits one characteristic as an absolute: faith. Compared to faith, all other social distinctions and sources of conflict are insignificant."

Symposium Talking Peace with Gods
Bruno Latour [PDF]

repeat: "The role of belief in religion is greatly overstated, as anthropologists have long known."

Latour, Chalmers, etc.

Lewontin:  "No one in my tradition believes that the words are very important. After all, if I misspeak someone else will say the right thing because we are both talking about the same things and ultimately the gods will speak through us. So words are not the matter."

Beck, Latour et al. are arguing over words not acts. Arguing over ideas.

note taking for myself. remember this shit.
update: jumping forward

Friday, September 20, 2013

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Russell Brand
repeats. "A pop star, not a college professor. An actor, not a philosopher."

Maria Farrell, sister of Henry and self-described "army wife" whose husband is deployed in Afghanistan, and who prays every day for the health of the Pope.
Ugh. Some days, no matter how many nice or exciting things happening in my personal and professional life, I just feel that we are all, quite simply, fucked. 
As a mini-reward for getting a small work thing into my outbox by 0900, I read Russell Brand’s take on his recent adventure award-ceremony-land, when he reminded GQ that its main sponsor, Hugo Boss, used to do a nice line in Nazi uniforms.
Bertram comments
It is indeed remarkable how all the places inhabited by the super-rich (Kensington, Mayfair, much of Geneva, the XVI arrondissement …) are really crushingly dull. At least little of real value will be lost when we burn them down.
 Bertram: "I’m sympathetic, I really am"
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 for two reasons: first, even if my employer were sympathetic (unlikely) I feel very hard pressed now to produce the level of research output necessary for me to stay competitive with other academics (not just in the UK, but elsewhere)…. Second, it is all very well Juliet Schor telling us to transition to a low hours/lower consumption economy. I’m cool with consuming less. The problem is that I, and just about everyone else, has taken out huge mortgages and bank loans to pay (in part) for the consumption we’ve already had. Hard to reduce the hours unless (or until) the debt goes away. Third, there was distressingly little discussion of the politics of this.
Hell is other people

Duncan Black continues his drift away from his own past.

20 years ago a friend loaned me Marshall Berman's All That is Solid Melts Into Air, thinking I'd enjoy it. Shortly after, we had a falling out and it sat on my bookshelf ever since.  Last week, one day before Berman died. I finally picked it up. It's a work of desperate optimism.
Callie Angell committed suicide 3 years ago.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Path dependent rationalism: Brighouse and the primacy of status-seeking
I cannot tell you how many students I have talked to who were deterred from applying to more selective private schools by the sticker price, applied only to Madison because it had low tuition, but who, I know, would be in much less debt than they are if they had applied to and attended the more selective, elite, private schools that they spurned because of the sticker price (which they would not have had to pay).
start here or here
or here
During the afternoon that Sahlberg spent at the Dwight School, a photographer from the New York Times jockeyed for position with Dan Rather's TV crew as Sahlberg participated in a roundtable chat with students. The subsequent article in the Times about the event would focus on Finland as an "intriguing school-reform model." 
Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. "Oh," he mentioned at one point, "and there are no private schools in Finland." 
This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it's true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.
 And Brighouse spends his days pondering utopia.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"What is it like to be a bug?"

ad infinitum

Any creature capable of acting on more than simple reflex is conscious.
Consciousness is definable as the conflict between the twin and equally mechanical processes of reflex/conditioned response and calculation. Absent those conflicting imperatives there is no consciousness.
Animals are indecisive machines: neurotic computers.

so fucking obvious; or it should be, for a materialist.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Leiter: Why Legal Positivism (Again)?
Linking to a paper at SSRN
From the abstract
Why is legal positivism the dominant view among legal philosophers? The address begins with a somewhat lengthy methodological preamble, offering reasons to resist the extravagant metaphysical inflation of the purported theoretical virtues of positivism in some recent jurisprudential writing by Dickson and Shapiro, among others. Artifacts do not have essential attributes, not even functional ones. (Leslie Green's partial resistance to my metaphysical deflation in his recent "The Morality in Law" is shown to depend on some confusions about the status of the claim that law is an artifact.) I then suggest that legal positivism has three theoretical virtues counting in its favor. First, if we take seriously the benchmark for theoretical adequacy that Hart gave for his theory - namely, that it capture what the ordinary educated person familiar with a modern municipal legal system understands by the concept of law - that positivism does the best job of accounting for this ordinary understanding. (Particular attention is drawn to Raz's original arguments for legal positivism of this form, as opposed to his perhaps better-known, if more controversial, argument from the nature of authority.) Second, the positivist account of law is the one deployed fruitfully in all the empirical social sciences. Third, the positivist theory does not involve incredible or controversial metaphysical assumptions. The last two theoretical considerations are acknowledged to presuppose naturalism, but I suggest that doing so is unavoidable.
Following the logic of legal positivism you'd have to think Raz has given Palestinians the out of not being obliged to accept the morality of Israeli law or even of the existence of the state. But then…
Joseph Raz and Avishai Margalit,  "National Self-Determination". find it on the web.

just stupid.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Duncan Black
Anyone who is younger than 20, that is anyone born after 1993 or so, really doesn't remember the horrible events of September 11, 2001.

It was a big deal, but it was a long time ago.
by Atrios at 17:11
What a fucking idiot.

Who the fuck needs history? 10 years or a thousand, what's the difference?

Deleuze, where analytic philosophy meets conceptual art.

Thoughts have become concepts.
Concepts are called objects.
Writers of financial contracts are called financial engineers.
Contracts are called instruments.
Banking has become an industry.
Politics and economics are called science.
Rationalism has become empiricism.
Metaphysics has become physics.

All that is solid melts into air, and all that is ephemeral becomes material.
Late capitalism as 12th century nonsense, without irony.

I shall make a poem out of [about] nothing at all:
It will not speak of me or others,
Of love or youth, or of anything else,
For it was composed while I was asleep
Riding on horseback.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Ta-Nehisi Coates on Grant's memoirs
But I am ultimately self-regarding and thus mostly concerned with my own process. I have lived as someone whose main use for history consisted of establishing a self-confirming identity and pressing collective grievance. At all events, a preening moralism and a need for validation by this longest story has guided me.

...It's all just too much. I am a black man, and God only knows what Grant would have made of me in that time, or in this one. I asked myself that question so many times while reading that I made myself ill. I don't care to ever hear it again. Grant is splendid to me, and I am sick of keeping score.
The above is what earns Coates the faint, condescending, praise of self-styled academic intellectuals. Neither are aware fully what it means that he was obliged to learn alone what earlier generations, Ellison and Baldwin, were raised with: the sad pleasures of self-awareness. Liberal academics lag behind Coates, since they can't see their own condescension for what it is.

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. 
And this

jumping forward

Monday, September 09, 2013

summer repeats. apropos

"Nine years ago today... we saw the innocence of a nation crumble to the ground."

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Who Runs The World
Two groups think they do.
Consider this debate between Ezra Klein and Mark Leibovich on “the real structure” of Washington, D.C.: is it the policy experts who understand how the country is governed, or is it the press secretaries and professional schmoozers who understand how to manipulate people inside and outside of the Beltway?
It's the basic contrast between Yes, Prime Minister and The Thick of It. The first is a world where the country is basically run by the civil servants. The second is the new modern world in which the country is run by the spinners and the manipulated press. The first is generally preferable, but neither is really the way things are supposed to be.

I'll also add that from my vantage point, the two groups aren't nearly as different as they probably think they are.
While people generally think of gentrification as the process wealthier residents displacing poorer ones, it's also about revitalizing retail/commercial corridors that have become a bit, well, hellish. When I first got to the urban hellhole there were only a few locations I would think to direct visitors to, not because the city had nothing else to offer, but because areas were a bit spotty if you didn't have a destination in mind. Now there are many more.

While I think quite often concerns about urban gentrification are a bit misplaced, an exception to that is when the poor get priced out of areas with access to decent mass transit.   
"Kicking the Poors"  
"First they came for the dive bars"
"I'll also add that from my vantage point, the two groups aren't nearly as different as they probably think they are."

What vantage point is that, asshole?
If rank self-interest is a given, does that mean shallow self-absorption is as well?
"I know and have friends and acquaintances who are African-American..."
"David Duke, president of Americans in Support of Palestinian Freedom." 
etc. etc.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Robin's post is now on three sites: Crooked Timber, linked blow, his own site, and Mondoweiss.
The comments at Mondoweiss, a few of them,  are the only ones worth reading. The authors face the issues directly, having grown up with them as experience rather than idea.  No Arabs that I see on any of the pages, and not many Jews that I can tell on pages other than Mondoweiss, though a few of the commenters there are Mizrahim. Read the comments on all three to understand how cultural, linguistic and political change takes place and where it originates: in people with an intimate, empirical awareness of actions and events.

Is our children learning?
Call it progress

Corey Robin, 2011, and as always: the links are to my own comments.
He wouldn't have written the post above -he wouldn't have been so public- even one year ago.

The Overton Window has moved.  It only makes sense that the first person at CT to admit to anti-Zionism is a blue-eyed Jew. The rest will follow; he's given them permission. And at some point Quiggin will consider putting Israel before the ICC, and of course will refer to opponents in the language of "Agnotology" [etc.] arguing that his own scientific understanding allowed him to come to the only logical conclusion.  Lets wait for the lies to start. Ain't Enlightenment grand?

Theory follows events; rationalism follows the path formed by lived experience. Robin is still the same asshole he's always been, and just as mediocre. Same for the rest of them.

Adam Shatz in the LRB

Discussion of Syria in the American media, both professional and amateur, is mostly silent on the  details of recent US history. We destroyed a country of 35 million people and continued the destruction of another, but arguments about Syria are over how best to live up to our principles.  Questions of fact are questions regarding our own economics, and Kosovo is brought up like the memory of a winning lottery ticket.  Israel is calling for attack, but that and the possible reasons aren't mentioned. Selective memory beyond the point of pathology.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The stupidest country with the stupidest rulers and the stupidest population on the fucking planet.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Jack Goldsmith: The Administration’s Proposed Syria AUMF Is Very Broad

MSNBC: Congress to amend Obama’s ‘broad’ Syria strike plan

Mondoweiss: Dubious Intelligence and Iran Blackmail: How Israel is driving the US to war in Syria

Chas Freeman:  Don't Just Sit There, Bomb Something

so fucking stupid

Kieran Healy recommends his wife,  L.A. Paul
3:AM: What made you become a philosopher?

L.A. Paul: Strangely, I don’t really know what caused it. I just realized, sometime early on in college, that I wanted to be a philosopher. I basically decided that I wanted to spend my life thinking as deeply and carefully and reflectively as I could about the nature of reality and our human engagement with it, and that taking a philosophical approach was the best way to go about doing this.

...I do think that metaphysical exploration is like scientific exploration, in the sense that philosophers and scientists are both developing models of reality, and furthermore that we all rely to a significant extent on the idea that models which provide elegant, simple and satisfying explanations are more likely to be true. The distinctive contribution that metaphysics makes to our understanding of reality is first that it considers questions about features of reality that the sciences don’t, such as the intrinsic nature of causation or the dynamic character of temporal experience.

...The idea behind the paper “What you can’t expect when you’re expecting” has two dimensions. The first dimension is that there is a paradox at the heart of the modern romantic sense in which prospective parents are supposed to decide whether or not they want to have a child by thinking about what it would be like to have a child.

The idea comes out most clearly when we consider it from a woman’s perspective. If you are female, and conditions are otherwise apt, you are supposed to decide whether you want to become a mother by thinking carefully about whether you really want to have a child of your very own, what it would be like to be a mother, whether this is something you really want and will be happy with, etc. In general, you are supposed to evaluate whether you should have a child largely on the basis of what you think it will be like for you to have a child.
The paradox arises from the fact that, until you’ve had a child, you cannot know what it will be like to have one. And moreover, the experience may change you in ways that you cannot predict or even understand before you have the child. This means that you can’t rationally choose to have a child on the basis of what you think it will be like, because there is no way for you to know what it will be like. Even worse, the same is true if you choose not to have a child: since you can’t know what it would have been like for you to have a child, you can’t know the value of what you are missing. And so there is no way to rationally choose whether or not to become a parent.
"Philosopher" Laurie Paul: You can't predict the future and the effect it will have on you.
No shit.

Is there any better illustration of why when it comes to Syria the best they could come up with is this?: "Bombing Syria Seems Like A Bad Idea" The discussion is just as mediocre. It's almost pathological

repeats. Kieran Healy, and again.

Leiter at least links to "philosophers" who know people who know something. It has to work its way down the chain of prestige, and they're all white, but it's something.

Meanwhile, Bassam Haddad is on MSNBC

Tom Harkin: “I have just attended a classified Congressional briefing on Syria that quite frankly raised more questions than it answered. I found the evidence presented by Administration officials to be circumstantial."

Though I added it later, to this post and others before it, I think this was the first post in the series that led me to create the tag for the discovery of experience.