Friday, January 31, 2014

Bhaskar Sunkara, editor and publisher of Hamas, author of Jeremy Lin Is Not Greedy, You're Just Stupid, [repeats], and now of , In defense of Pete Seeger, American Communist.
It’s not that Seeger did a lot of good despite his longtime ties to the Communist Party; he did a lot of good because he was a Communist.
Seeger was in the party for about 10 years, quitting in 1949.

"I read their [communists'] newspaper and there's occasionally some good stories there. And I read the Wall Street Journal and occasionally they have some good stories there. I wish I could get them both in the same room talking together."

Seeger documentary for PBS


The second film expands on the darker subtexts of the first and becomes tragic.

I've always hated Seeger with a passion, hated his singing and his smile. He crafted his voice to demonstrate his sincerity, and sincerity is affect. Commitment is gauged by action. But the fact remains that he was committed, using singing as a form of illustration. As a test, try stripping all political intention from him and his work and see what you end up with. There's something similar in Louis Armstrong's public persona later in life.  'Satchmo' became a facade, but he knew it as much as others did. That's what Billie Holiday meant when she said, "He Toms from the heart". Someone else described Armstrong as the saddest man in the world.

I've always thought of Seeger as shallow, but he took a stand. Others rely only on sincerity and hot air while committing to no action at all. To follow this you need to see the relation of Seeger and other post-war Modernists, whose formal rhetorics were just as hollow, but who were apolitical.
"...someday it will have to be told how 'anti-Stalinism' which started out more or less as 'Trotskyism' turned into art for art’s sake, and thereby cleared the way, heroically, for what was to come."
"James’s critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an escape which are perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it…. In England, ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the public, the political, the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought…. Mr. Chesterton’s brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks. James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation."

O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
It’s so elegant
So intelligent
“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”
“I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
“With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
“What shall we ever do?”

"This is a historic week because segregation on buses has now been declared unconstitutional. Within a few days the Supreme Court Mandate will reach Montgomery and you will be reboarding integrated buses. This places upon us all a tremendous responsibility of maintaining, in face of what could be some unpleasantness, a calm and loving dignity befitting good citizens and members of our Race. If there is violence in word or deed it must not be our people who commit it.
For your help and convenience the following suggestions are made. Will you read, study and memorize them so that our non-violent determination may not be endangered."

Politics is complex business. Clement Greenberg, T.S. Eliot, Pete Seeger and Tom Lehrer were Modernists. Martin Luther King was not. Louis Armstrong was not a Modernist and in a related sense neither were Eliot or Lehrer. Eliot and Lehrer are ironists, Greenberg, Seeger and King are not, though King would have understood and appreciated ironies in Armstrong that no one else above would catch, and the Letter from Birmingham Jail is dripping with irony, directed at the self-conscious, self-regarding sincerity of the men it was addressed to.

Eliot, Greenberg, and popular culture, here.
or take the slow route.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

Jack Balkin
I have posted my latest essay, Why are Americans Originalist?, on SSRN. It is an attempt to explain to non-Americans why originalism has such influence in American federal constitutional argument but lacks a similar degree of influence in the interpretation of the constitutions of other democracies, or even in the interpretation of the fifty American state constitutions. The answer is that originalism is a feature of American national culture, deeply connected to narratives of American national identity. Here is the abstract:
American originalism is primarily a nationalist idea. It arises from distinctive features of American cultural memory -- namely, that in popular imagination the American nation was created by Americans themselves through a self-conscious act of political revolution, and that the American nation, people, and constitution came into being more or less simultaneously through this initial act of self-creation. A similar story is not told in most other political cultures. This story has helped encourage Americans’ special veneration of the founding generation and particular figures within that generation (like George Washington and James Madison) as culture heroes.

...Americans use originalism as a political practice for critiquing the status quo (whether in a liberal or conservative direction) and arguing for change, sometimes quite radical. Appeals to origins serve as a precedent-breaking device -- they help justify a break from current practices by appealing to an even older tradition. This explains a little-understood fact about American originalism. The originators of originalism as a self-conscious approach to interpretation were not movement conservatives -- they were New Deal liberals. The increase in citations to originalist materials in Supreme Court opinions begins with Justice Hugo Black and the Warren Court. New Deal liberals committed to judicial restraint needed a way to justify exercising judicial review to protect individual rights. They turned to history to do so. Movement conservatives, who sought to break from liberal precedents, then flipped the political valence of originalism; they were so successful that originalism's origins as a liberal justificatory device have largely been forgotten.
Exceptionalism. As I've said before, conservatives assume original intent out of the past and liberals assume original intent going forward. Universalism means that others, in the present or the future, will or should see our ideas and actions as we see them. Our children will see us as we see ourselves.

We all become history, and historicized.  Americans prefer to live for the moment, and then generalize about it.
a repeat from 2009. seems apropos. those who don't know history, etc.
This smooth and easy assimilation of fact, this air of all-over sophistication, is what Americans have learned more and more to admire in business, in conversation, and on television quiz shows --whether the man in the dock is Charles Van Doren or the President of the United States being questioned mercilessly (and pointlessly) about everything from Laos to Tammany. The quiz show did not die out with the exposure that the contestants had been briefed; the candidates in the 1960 campaign were also briefed, as is the President of the United States today and the show goes on. If the reporters sometimes act as if they wanted to trip the President up, the President knows that he can impress the country by way of the reporters. This overall style, so much like the division of even the arts and sciences into departments of Time magazine became a "research" style among the military during the war, and it has now invaded the big universities and "scientific research and development:' It is our national style, intellect-wise. We now admire it --when it comes unaccompanied by personal stress. A recent article in a liberal weekly on "The Mind of John F. Kennedy" turns out to be an entirely admiring study of Kennedy's range as an administrator. This vocational or psychological use of the word "mind" is so typical of our time and place that it probably never even occurred to the author to extend the word to cover "beliefs." Instead we are told that Kennedy's "marshaling of related considerations" defines Kennedy's mind "as political in the most aflencompassing sense. The whole of politics. in other words is co such a mind a seamless fabric, in which a handshaking session with a delegation of women is in exercise directly related to hearing a report from a task force on Laos." And this ability to assimilate on the jump necessary quantities of fact, to get statements of a problem that carry "action consequences"--this is what we have come to value as the quality of intellectual all-roundedness or savvy.
Alfred Kazin, The President and Other Intellectuals. Most of the above appears in a note in Dwight Macdonald's essay The Triumph of the Fact.

Facts are not a value, but if you assume that the liberalism and liberal values of the American model are based on facts then American values are merely the natural result. "In fact", the relation of the individual to the collective in American liberal theory is a belief -no more, no less- and not one that bears much resemblance to actual social relations. The Scandinavian model is also a model of belief and Swedes acknowledge it as such. The American model, in the imagination of American intellectual technocrats, is not a model of belief but truth: of non-contradictory logic. This being the case intellectuals are able to think of themselves as mechanics.

The 'living tree' of constitutionalism or Catholic doctrine is a fact, not an opinion. It's a fact that the Catholic Church of AD 2009, 1955, 1823, 1664 and 1235 are not the same. An actual tree -coniferous, deciduous- is a non-contradictory thing but the 'living tree' of language is contradictory in essence. The naturalized epistemology predicated as continuous with the hard or formal sciences is founded on analogy rather than logic, and that analogy is quite obviously false.
American liberal technocratic 'instrumental' reason is founded on exceptionalism, defended as rationalism.
I forgot I'd linked to it recently

Friday, January 17, 2014

Clyde Haberman, interviewed in Haaretz
After a while it became clear to me, he adds drily, “that if I didn’t want to be accused of hating Israel, I should start every story with: ‘50 years after 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, Israel yesterday did one thing or the other.’”

“Jews still don’t believe that the world won’t turn on them. It’s hardwired into their systems. They can’t accept that the Holocaust is a distant memory for most of the world’s population and they get upset when they are not perceived as perennial victims, even though they hardly look like victims anymore. But historical memory today is almost an oxymoron. People hardly remember the Vietnam War, and even 9/11 is a starting to be a fading memory for younger Americans.”

Haberman recounts how impressed he was by Yitzhak Rabin’s inaugural speech after his second election as prime minister in 1992, when he told the Knesset that Israelis “have to stop thinking that the whole world is against us." These words, Haberman notes, “were like a large gong for me”, and the phrase even made the front page of the New York Times. “It was such a dose of reality and such a refreshing change from Yitzhak Shamir, who kept insisting that the whole world was against us – all 5 billion of them.”

But that was a brief hiatus, I remind him, and it is Shamir’s view that has prevailed. “I know,” he sighs. “All there is today is ‘we're under siege, we’re under siege.’ Israel has built fences and barriers and walls all around it. It has basically built its own ghetto, its own Warsaw Ghetto, to keep everybody out.” To which he adds, almost instinctively: “I know I’m going to get into trouble over that.”
I have more sympathy for Jewish paranoia than Haberman does, but I'm less sympathetic than he is to the conquest of Palestine by Jews who after the Holocaust now call themselves proudly European and white.  Fascism begins in self-hatred. Right-wing Zionists are self-hating Jews, but Meir Kahane had advantages Louis Farrakhan didn't and could never have.

"But historical memory today is almost an oxymoron. People hardly remember the Vietnam War, and even 9/11 is a starting to be a fading memory for younger Americans."


Duncan Black
I'm not sure why people are surprised and even upset that some teenagers don't know who the hell bin Laden is.
...The kids are fine. It's our elite overlords that are all screwed up.
As'ad AbuKhalil:
More students could name the three Kardashian sisters than name the Vice-president of the US in my American Government class (125 students).


"Right-wing Zionists are self-hating Jews" Rereading, years later: Zionism has always been predicated on self-hatred.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Eric Alterman interviewed,  making standard conservative arguments.
What if the critique were that the magazine was not publishing enough black people writing about civil rights? Or enough women writing about abortion? Both, it seems, would be rather uncontroversial critiques in liberal circles. Would not Alterman himself critique a think tank hosting an all-white panel talking about the problems facing “urban America”?

“If the Brookings Institution were having a forum on urban America, would I insist that a black person be in there? No,” said Alterman. “I would insist that people there know what they’re talking about and have good evidence to support their arguments.”

Fox News could always find someone to provide an African-American stamp on a right-wing agenda, no doubt. But is there not something to be said for diversity? Even the hypothetical “best” white person with the most correct of political views has blind spots — and no amount of empathy can replace the experience of, say, growing up wealthy in the suburbs with growing up poor in the city.

The focus should be on views, not backgrounds, according to Alterman, as identities are not “useful signifiers when it comes to intellectual discourse.” Indeed, “I think they are reductive and a means of avoiding the issue. And there’s no better example than Israel-Palestine because of all the Jews who hate Israel and would like to see it disappear.”
Also this: “By essentializing Jewishness rather than a viewpoint, they are calling attention to a person’s identity…”

Zionism is a viewpoint relating to Jewish identity and those who disagree with Zionism should focus on the viewpoint not Jewish identity itself.  Zionists can call themselves Jews but anyone else who calls them Jews is an anti-Semite.

"I'm a Jew" - Kosher
"You're a Jew" - anti-Semitic
"I'm black."- Right on
"You're black." - Cracker motherfucker

Alterman contradicts himself. He opposes diversity but he's made the argument for it: people and groups can not only be spoken about or for, they need to speak and be heard. "Black" and "Jew"mean different things depending on the speaker. The perception of the audience is key.

And, as alway, the politics of the analytic philosophy of language sucks.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Nima Shirazi on Twitter
Biden's eulogy for Sharon never mentions Palestinians. Not even once. Nothing. All Israelis are assumed to be Jews.
Jason Stanley, and Vesla Weaver, a philosopher and a political scientist, a Jew, maybe two judging from photographs, both married to African Americans, in Stanley's care, first generation.  Weaver is co-author of  “Creating a New Racial Order: How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America”.  Stanley is from a family of refugees from Nazi Germany

The parallels and relevance to too obvious to ignore, but they did.

Is the United States a ‘Racial Democracy’?
Plato’s “Republic” is the wellspring from which all subsequent Western philosophy flows, and political philosophy is no exception. According to Plato, liberty is democracy’s greatest good; it is that which “in a democratic city you will hear … is the most precious of all possessions.” Subsequently, two notions of liberty emerged in the writings of democratic political philosophers. The dispute about which of these two notions of liberty is most central to human dignity is at the heart of Western philosophy. Both are central to American democracy. Indeed, it is best to think of these as two different aspects of the conception of liberty at the heart of American democracy, rather than distinct concepts.

The standard source of the distinction between two senses of “liberty” is a speech in 1819 by the great political theorist Benjamin Constant. The first, “the liberty of the ancients,” consists in having a voice into the policies and representatives that govern us. The second, “the liberty of the moderns,” is the right to pursue our private interests free from state oversight or control. Though the liberty of moderns is more familiar to Americans, it is in fact the liberty of the ancients that provides the fundamental justification for the central political ideals of the American Democratic tradition. For example, we have the freedom of speech so that we can express our interests and political views in deliberations about policies and choice of representatives.

Given the centrality of liberty to democracy, one way to assess the democratic health of a state is by the fairness of the laws governing its removal. The fairness of a system of justice is measured by the degree to which its laws are fairly and consistently applied across all citizens. In a fair system, a group is singled out for punishment only insofar as its propensity for unjustified violations of the laws demands. What we call a racial democracy is one that unfairly applies the laws governing the removal of liberty primarily to citizens of one race, thereby singling out its members as especially unworthy of liberty, the coin of human dignity. 
"Plato’s “Republic” is the wellspring from which all subsequent Western philosophy flows, and political philosophy is no exception. According to Plato, liberty is democracy’s greatest good"

Never trust a fascist for an honest description of democracy, but Stanley's a philosopher and Weaver's a political scientist, so they begin with what they know, with ideas not the facts, even the facts of democracy. There's no real discussion of the contradictions between the liberty of the "ancients" and "moderns" other than to acknowledge they exist.  I'd written there was no discussion "at all", and it's right there in the quote, but I was so shocked by the authors' blindness of the larger view of events I skipped right over it. The piece itself reads as if it were written in a bubble; what kind of imagination can be simultaneously so rigorous and so oblivious? That's a question Freud would ask, and Stanley's father. But Stanley has always been a proud expert, arguing from the modern definition of liberty; his universalism begins in individualism, the conscience of the individual imagination. The rest is lip service.

See also my argument with Eric Schliesser on the need for Israeli racial democracy, with a link to Jason Stanley's post on living in Germany as the heir of German Jews who fled the Nazis.

Stanley own expected happy homecoming into German society wasn't necessarily working out as planned. One of the teachers at the Gymnasium told me that Heinrich Heine wasn't really a "German" poet, but rather was a "European" poet. My absurdly well-meaning and wonderful hostfather regularly repeated that "Deutschland ist kein Einwanderungsland" (which is, as Schneider points out, a common theme among Germans of a certain generation). Whenever I told people I was of German descent, they would argue with me -- then upon discovering that I was Jewish, would say "Oh, so you're not German, you're Jewish" (strangely, I never heard anyone say to someone, upon discovering that they were Christian, "Oh, so you're not German, you're Christian"). Among my German friends, there was a pervasive sense of the strangeness of other cultures, which alternately manifested itself as either irrational disdain or irrational admiration.
Schliesser a German Jew living in the Netherlands and working in Belgium, I really do not need your lectures on these matters.
Stanley again, in The Boston Review 8/14. His ignorance of the history of Jewish self-definition as a people is strange.

See also Republicanism and Liberalism from 10/14

see also 1/15

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ariel Sharon was the son of Shmuel Scheinerman; Amiri Baraka was born LeRoi Jones. Uri Avnery was born Helmut Ostermann; Benjamin Netanyahu's father was born Benzion Mileikowsky. Louis Farrakhan was Louis Eugene Wolcott; Malcolm X was Malcolm Little; Muhammad Ali was Cassius Clay.  Martin David (Meir) Kahane passed, as "Michael King". The differences come after.
An update I forgot to make.
We are living in a time of exploding nationalisms. The blacks in America are the first to abjure the idea of assimilation, to realize the inherent lie in the concept of melting pot. Through black nationalism has developed a new black pride and hence the ticket to liberation

Today’s young American Jew is a good bit slower. He desperately wants assimilation: Jewishness embarrasses him. He finds the idea of Jewish nationalism, Israel not­ withstanding, laughable. The leftist Jewish student is today’s Uncle Tom.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

My father's note: “To be read with the Devil’s Eye, especially those within The Movement, however tangentially. Consider the potentials for barbarism… ‘The movement as Primitive Culture.’ PRIMITIVE CULTURE TOWARDS RATIONAL CULTURE, which has never been tried, never been tried. TOO LATE.”

There is no "rational culture". Culture is rationalized, one way or another. My parents even as self-described and committed humanists were never able to see the anti-humanism at the heart of their own dreams.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

On the night of the burglary my father left the car parked on the street in front of the house, with the keys in the mailbox. Later my parents stored some boxes in the basement. They didn't ask any questions. I didn't know about it till years later. They didn't tell me who did it, only that it should have been obvious: "Who do you think did it? It was the Christians!" Christians, and the odd secular Jew.

They were not kids acting on impulse; they were adults acting on principle. They weren't students; they were teachers. They were from an earlier generation.
"I happened to read recently a remark by the American nuclear physicist W. Davidson, who noted that the explosion of one hydrogen bomb releases a greater amount of energy than all the explosions set off by all countries in all wars known in the entire history of mankind. And he, apparently, is right," Khrushchev said. 
Reporters for the New York Times traced the quote to Dr. Davidon, and his family enjoyed the mention, even with the misspelled name, for years.
Seeking Justice: The Journey of John C. Raines A festschrift.

I think the last time I saw Bill Davidon was at my father's memorial service. My memories of all of them begin in nursery school. My parents' activities began in Berkeley in the late 50s.

The book that needs to written is on the generation between the old and new left, the generation that never joined the party, or the party.

Monday, January 06, 2014

"Everything that constrains a man, strengthens him." de Maistre

Saturday, January 04, 2014

see previous. Gursky and Kubrick

I posted the video before. I'd forgotten it was in reference to Koons.

Varieties of mannerism and anti-humanism; a dark parodic and therefore "critical" but in the end reactionary reversal of the fantasies of the Enlightenment, fantasies which using historians' definition of humanism, were not themselves "humanist". Descartes was not the author of In Praise of Folly. etc., etc. The works themselves brilliant but brittle.
Andreas Gursky, Düsseldorf, Flughafen, 1984
Early works: Kubrick and Gursky; a clear parallel between where they started and what they became; from the observation of people to the observation of systems. One of the few photographs by Gursky where the people in the photograph share our space as observers. Before nihilism.
Is there another scene in Kubrick where we view an audience with such sympathy?
The singing at the end of Strangelove.
New tag: Gursky

Now one of two

Friday, January 03, 2014

I was putting together my crew and they brought me a man named Rolf, who was the guy who pulled the f—ing lever on the gas chamber. And I said the only way I ever allow him near me, no less interview him, would be if he understood that I am concerned about the accuracy of the film and it would be because I need some information. But I said to my production manager, “I’m not sure I can handle it.” After about six weeks of pretty good meditation, I talked to the guy. The question nobody could answer, that the victims couldn’t answer, was: Where were they [when they] were waiting for the ones ahead of them in the gas chambers? How long were they waiting? Where were they standing? Was there an adjacent room? Did they sit? What kind of time was involved? The torture here was waiting! And they couldn’t dull the sound effects, the screaming. Could I get that information from this man? I wanted to wear a mask so he wouldn’t know it was me. When he came into the office and sat down, I thought, This poor human being. I’m sitting there and it was five after nine at night by the time we were done talking and I was…undone. But he gave me the bottom of his f—ing soul! He wanted penance. I kept looking at his right hand. I was going to ask him which hand did you do it with? I couldn’t do it.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Whadaya know?

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
"Lessons from Libya: How Not to Intervene"
• The Conventional Wisdom Is Wrong. Libya's 2011 uprising was never peaceful, but instead was armed and violent from the start. Muammar al-Qaddafi did not target civilians or resort to indiscriminate force. Although inspired by humanitarian impulse, NATO's intervention did not aim mainly to protect civilians, but rather to overthrow Qaddafi's regime, even at the expense of increasing the harm to Libyans.
• The Intervention Backfired. NATO's action magnified the conflict's duration about sixfold and its death toll at least sevenfold, while also exacerbating human rights abuses, humanitarian suffering, Islamic radicalism, and weapons proliferation in Libya and its neighbors. If Libya was a "model intervention," then it was a model of failure.
• Three Lessons. First, beware rebel propaganda that seeks intervention by falsely crying genocide. Second, avoid intervening on humanitarian grounds in ways that reward rebels and thus endanger civilians, unless the state is already targeting noncombatants. Third, resist the tendency of humanitarian intervention to morph into regime change, which amplifies the risk to civilians.
It's been awhile. unfinished

and again, because they have a lot in common, not all of it good.

The Republican rejection of libertarianism. And why it probably won’t work. 
Libertarianism isn't all that conservative.
That's the argument former Bush Administration officials Mike Gerson and Pete Wehner offer in a new -- and important -- essay in National Affairs that posted today. Here's the key paragraph from that piece
Responsible, self-governing citizens do not grow wild like blackberries, which is why a conservative political philosophy cannot be reduced to untrammeled libertarianism. Citizens are cultivated by institutions: families, religious communities, neighborhoods, and nations. Parents and spouses, churches and synagogues, teachers and coaches, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are among the foremost shapers of citizens in our republic. But government has a necessary (if limited) role in reinforcing the social norms and expectations that make the work of these civil institutions both possible and easier. That role can involve everything from enforcing civil-rights laws, to saving the elderly from indigence, to restricting the availability of addictive substances.
Change a few of the secondary terms and it becomes the socialist argument against anarchism. Democracy is self-government of a free people. Individual rights serve the needs of self-goverment not of individuals as such. Freedom of inquiry does not imply freedom of acquisition and possession of material goods. etc. etc.