Wednesday, November 30, 2022

update: two
Good one
FT: "EU and US turn up the heat on Elon Musk over Twitter"
Elon Musk is under renewed pressure from the US and EU over his ownership of Twitter, as regulators clamp down on the billionaire’s push to transform the social network into a freewheeling haven of free speech.

The European Commission on Wednesday threatened Musk with a ban unless Twitter abides by strict content moderation rules, as US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen indicated that Washington was reviewing his purchase of the social network.
CNBC: Apple limited a crucial AirDrop function in China just weeks before protests

A Nov. 9 software update included an additional AirDrop feature applying only to iPhones sold in mainland China.

AirDrop, which allows users to share content between Apple devices, has become an important tool in demonstrators’ efforts to circumvent authoritarian censorship.

The feature relies on wireless connections between phones, rather than internet connectivity, placing it beyond the scope of internet content moderators.

The EC: The Digital Services Act package

...The accelerating digitalisation of society and the economy has created a situation where a few large platforms control important ecosystems in the digital economy. They have emerged as gatekeepers in digital markets, with the power to act as private rule-makers. These rules sometimes result in unfair conditions for businesses using these platforms and less choice for consumers.

With these developments in mind, Europe requires a modern legal framework that ensures the safety of users online, establishes governance with the protection of fundamental rights at its forefront, and maintains fair and open online platform environment. 

Why are such "gatekeepers" allowed to exist in a democracy? 

tag: Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom

Sunday, November 27, 2022

The spirit of the staircase

A short email exchange about computational literary studies, since Leiter realized who I was and blocked my response—I didn't try very hard to hide—and I still blew the chance to make what's now the best one. 

I dealt with Moretti years ago (use google for Moretti and Cosma Shalizi) but things have changed. Now it's enough to say that if Moretti thinks that we should "stop reading books", then maybe the "counting, graphing, and mapping" he prefers should be directed towards the works of Moretti, Pogge, Ludlow and McGinn, to help us to understand the correlation of pedantry and sexual harassment

I've said it all before but not about Moretti's technophilia. He makes it easy, but I'd missed it.

The university belongs, like the church and the military, to the social institutions that are situated at a considerable distance from democracy and adhere to premodern power structures.”

Moretti and his brother need to sort this one out.

And this ties to Leiter again. 

"Should one not teach philosophers guilty (or possibly guilty) of sexual harassment?" 

Is it still teaching philosophy if it includes subtext?

I should add my side of the email exchange. I will, later.

Dean C. Rowan responding to me at Leiter's
Collini does not mention one avenue of literary research that is inviting increasing traffic: computational literary studies (CLS). I wonder whether Guillory treats it. CLS does at least purport to say what one species of "research" should look like, and its proponents argue that it is necessary as a corrective to traditional literary criticism, which ultimately relies on subjective judgment. For a good starting point, see Nan Z. Da, "The Computational Case Against Computational Literary Studies" in Critical Inquiry, v.45, no.3, spring 2019. Da's article is useful, because it surveys a number of computational techniques deployed by CLS researchers, and also because it spawned an interesting debate about the accuracy of Da's criticisms. CLS springs from increases in computing power and efficiencies, but also from reaction to New Critical prescriptions of "close reading." Franco Moretti's Distant Reading is perhaps the leading text in this respect. So here we have a fork off of the tradition of Anglo-American literary studies whose object is no longer "the" literary text and whose purpose is no longer the achievement of a balance of interpretive factors--intention, history, biography, form, and so forth--to render a meaningful reading of the text. Rather, the object of CLS is expansive bodies of literary texts unreadable as such by any individual scholar. The outcome of a successful CLS study should be to tell us about formerly unacknowledged objective literary characteristics of the aggregate texts. Da has plenty to say about how reliably this model is executed. The relevance of all of this to the OP is that CLS, having the trappings of "objective" study, imports to literary studies a quality of professional discipline evidently wanting in traditional literary criticism.

I can't imagine philosophy deploying anything like a CLS. To do so would turn the study of philosophy into the study of the literature (or aggregate texts) of philosophy. But I've been blabbing here for a couple days. Thanks to Hello Again for chiming in. Anybody else?
From my email, with small changes, repeating old arguments
The end to subjectivity is a fantasy of fundamentalists—Scalia, "the constitution as I interpret it is a dead constitution"—leaving only the elite the luxury to indulge. "My subjectivity is truth"

Gombrich, Art and Illusion, [a longer quote here]

For the Egyptian, the newly  discovered eternity of art may well have held out a promise that its power to arrest and to preserve in lucid images might be used to conquer this evanescence. Perhaps it was not only as the maker of “substitute heads” and other dwellings for the “ka” that the Egyptian sculptor could lay claim to the famous appellation of “one who keeps alive.” His images weave a spell to enforce eternity. Not our idea of eternity, to be sure, which stretches backward and forward in an infinite extension, but rather the ancient conception of recurrent time that a later tradition embodied in the famous “hieroglyph” of the serpent biting its own tail. Clearly an “impressionist” art could never have served this outlook. Only the complete embodiment of the typical in its most lasting and changeless form could assure the magic Validity of these pictographs for the “watcher” who could here see both his past and his eternal future removed from the flux of time. 

There could be no more poignant contrast to this confidence in the spells of art than a passage from Plato's older contemporary Euripides that also deals with tomb sculpture. When Alcestis is going to die, her grieving husband Admetus speaks of the work he will commission for his solace:

And represented by the skillfull hands
Of craftsmen, on the bed thy body shall
Be laid; whereon I shall fall in embrace
And clasp my hands around it, call thy name,
And fancy in my arms my darling wife
To hold, holding her not; perhaps, I grant,
Illusory delight, yet my soul's burden
Thus shall I lighten...

What Admetus seeks is not a spell, not even assurance, only a dream for those who are awake; in other words, precisely that state of mind to which Plato, the stern seeker after truth, objected.
Plato, we know, looked back with nostalgia at the immobile schemata of Egyptian art."
I posted that on Leiter's page over a decade ago, when he rejected only most of my comments. He rejected it.

CLS would undermine philosophy as much as literary studies, and the humanist academy itself. If sentences are to be examined like "so much rock and foliage"—repeating things I wrote in 2006—then that applies to all writing, and all that's left is science. But taking that to its logical conclusion undermines science itself as a practice. Alex Rosenberg can't see that the neuroscience he champions undermines cognition, rendering his "ideas" epiphenomenal.

Determinism is a ubiquitous trope these days but popular culture faces it more directly than academia. DEVS and Westworld are just two examples. I included two youtube links in the reply Leiter rejected, once he realized who I was. [I didn't put them in the email]
But if we're left to accept on faith that consciousness is causal, then we need to accept subjectivity, and politics with all the mess. The humanist academy is democratic in form [It isn't. I was sloppy]; science—as mechanism—is authoritative and as authoritarian. It's a lousy model for politics, or at least an "inhuman" one.

Literature is the discussion of values as manifest in actions. That the actions are fictional is irrelevant. It's observational, which is why fantasy is deprecated by readers of "literary" fiction. Speculative and fantasy fiction is read by philosophers and engineers—defenders of truth—who deprecate literary fiction as pretentious untruth. The only pulp fiction accepted by readers of literary fiction are crime novels, which by definition are observational and descriptive. My father is remembered for one essay on Hammett.

Descriptive literature is a form of second-order curiosity, the sort of curiosity opposed by people for whom first order enthusiasm is paramount. It describes subjectivity. 
Library science is a technics. Second order curiosity is asking yourself why you chose to be a librarian. Someone could write a biography of a librarian, or a novel about a man who became one. Maybe the author has known librarians and observed their behavior, their relation to people and books, and the world, and has tried to imagine what goes on in their heads. It's speculative but grounded in empiricism and the interpretation of actions and events. My grandfather died when my father was an infant. My father had no memories of him. His father was a PI with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. He was a killer for factory owners, in the US and Canada. When my parents were in grad school at Berkeley they marched with Harry Bridges' longshoremen. The contents of my father's mind were available to others only through the facts of his behavior. Facts are open to interpretation.

What's the point of being curious about other people without recognizing it as being curious about ourselves? There's no way to pretend we're not the object of our own study. The collecting of facts is a value worthy of study. The link's to Macdonald and Kazin.

"For the aesthetic in general as an expression of the supreme ultimate value of a system can influence the result of ethical action only secondarily, just as “wealth” is not the main goal but the side effect of individual commercial activity. And “wealth” itself is an irrational concept. It is an almost mystical process, the setting of ethical values: Arising from the irrational, transforming the irrational to the rational, yet nonetheless it is the irrational that radiates from within the resulting form."
Hermann Broch

William Heckscher on Panofsky. From his memorial essay at the end of Panofsky's Three Essays on Style.

Everything in humanistic scholarship, even the (to him somewhat comical) New Criticism, which he characterized with Pierrot's words, "Je sais bien écrire, mais je ne sais pas lire," he considered acceptable, so long as it was not "institutionalized."

"I know how to write but I don't know how to read" 


The Middle Ages accepted and developed rather than studied and restored the heritage of the past. They copied classical works of art and used Aristotle and Ovid much as they copied and used the works of contemporaries. They made no attempt to interpret them from an archaeological, philological or "critical" in short, from an historical, point of view. For, if human existence could be thought of as a means rather than an end, how much less could the records of human activity be considered as values in themselves. 

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Scorsese on Godard
When you’re watching an actor in a fiction, to what degree are you watching a character and to what degree are you watching a human being in action? What exactly is a story on film—is a shot or a sequence of shots equivalent to paragraphs in a novel, is it instants of ongoing reality recorded by the camera, or is it both at once? Only someone who loved the cinema as much as Godard and who knew it as well as he did could have asked these questions and approached them with such a mixture of rigor and freedom. 

All art is documentary: the record of an event. And all documentary is fiction.

This made me laugh. 

My favorite of Godard’s films is Contempt. It’s a genuinely tragic experience, a film about real betrayal: the betrayal of a wife by her husband, the betrayal of cinema (personified by Fritz Lang as himself—his spirit also haunts Jacques Rivette’s Paris Belongs to Us) by Jack Palance’s producer, the betrayal of Homer, of myth, of antiquity. The final moment, when the camera pans away from the film being made to the calm ocean in the distance over calls for silence, never fails to move me deeply. It’s an elegy for cinema, for love, for honor, for western civilization itself.

The top bit was quoted elsewhere by someone who wouldn't pay attention to the second.  Art is conservative or its reactionary. Bourgeois vulgarianism and aristocratic sadness. Get the joke now?

Friday, November 25, 2022

The politics of insecurity is snobbery.

Makdisi is writing for and lecturing a white audience, and ignoring the protests of the workers themselves.

Dr. Ussama Makdisi is Professor of History and Chancellor’s Chair at the University of California Berkeley. He was previously Professor of History and the first holder of the Arab-American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies at Rice University in Houston.  During AY 2019-2020, Professor Makdisi was a Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley in the Department of History. In 2012-2013, Makdisi was an invited Resident Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin (Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin).  In April 2009, the Carnegie Corporation named Makdisi a 2009 Carnegie Scholar as part of its effort to promote original scholarship regarding Muslim societies and communities, both in the United States and abroad.  Makdisi was awarded the Berlin Prize and spent the Spring 2018 semester as a Fellow at the American Academy of Berlin.
"Exaggerated Ambitions"
The history Guillory sketches – and, for all its fecundity, it is a sketch, remaining at quite a high level of generalisation – throws several currently contentious issues into sharper relief. Noting the anxiety and defensiveness that criticism’s never wholly successful claim to professional status has generated, he links this to the grossly exaggerated justifications that tend to be offered for academic literary studies. He notes that the tendency to overstate the significance of the discipline has in our time taken the form of exaggerating the political effects of teaching English literature. As academic scholars in the humanities feel increasingly vulnerable in societies governed by the imperatives of global capital, so they seek to ratchet up their ‘relevance’. The main form such claims currently take, particularly among professors of English in the US, is to argue that their pedagogic and scholarly work is, at bottom, a kind of radical political activism. This does not mean teaching Marlowe and Austen in the day job and then also having a role in radical politics: it means treating one’s teaching and writing about Marlowe and Austen as a form of radical politics in itself. Guillory is severe on this particular form of professional self-delusion.

These various forms of exaggeration are, fundamentally, expressions of a lack of confidence rather than its opposite. Guillory wants quietly to remind English scholars – his characteristic tone is quiet, even though the effect of his writing is both conclusive and devastating – of the value of their basic activity: that of extending knowledge and understanding of English literature. ‘The study of literature is a rational procedure for what can be known about an object’ (the literary work). This is a cognitive enterprise, and it centres on the study of writing that is ‘sufficiently wrought’ for the writing itself to be of interest. Put in that simple way, this may seem to beg all the important questions, yet it also points to an intellectual achievement that should not be disregarded. This doesn’t settle anything, for, as we know, justification is a never-ending game – ‘Yes, but why is that important?’ – but exaggerating the political consequences of what we do does not terminate that endless chain of questions and answers any better than any other claim.

One of the main determinants of the vulnerability of literary studies, and hence of the compensating over-ambitiousness of the justification offered for it, is the mismatch between literature’s suitability as a subject for teaching and as a subject for research. It is not hard to provide a persuasive account of the value of the pedagogy, something indirectly attested to by the subject’s popularity with students (until recently, anyway). But it is much harder to say what ‘research’ in English should look like and why it is necessary (a similar tension dogs philosophy). There may be thousands of teachers of English literature who can successfully help students navigate their encounter with, say, King Lear, but hardly any of those teachers will be able to produce an extended critical analysis of the play that could come close to matching some of the magnificent readings offered by a handful of major critics in the past. Nonetheless, the current form of professionalism requires publication as an indicator of academic worth, and so teachers of English are driven down lesser paths: they provide ever more detailed contextual material relating to major works, or they undertake elaborate scholarly studies of minor works, or they write introductory guides for students. None of these is an ignoble activity, but the result can be a mismatch between the high-toned justifications, which almost invariably focus on the supposedly transformative effect of encountering major works of literature, and the actual daily practice of academics, which revolves around more limited enterprises, the majority of them like the empirical work done in adjacent disciplines such as history. 

"(a similar tension dogs philosophy)" and the academy itself. 

Academic café revolutionaries and academic institutionalists: the same blindness

"Political scientists seek to understand politics, not engage in politics." 

The Monty Hall problem, Wikipedia, and Blackburn's Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy 

A decision problem associated with the American television game show host Monty Hall. Contestants are shown three closed curtains. Behind one is a prize, behind the other two are lemons. They pick a curtain. Monty Hall (who knows where the prize is) then pulls one of the other curtains, revealing a lemon, and contestants are asked if they would like to switch to the remaining curtain, or stay with their original choice. There seems to be no particular reason to switch, yet in fact switching doubles the chances of winning: your chance if you stay with your original curtain is what it always was, namely 1/3; the remaining curtain has a probability of containing the prize of 2/3. The problem was the subject of a minor scandal when several distinguished statisticians failed to see how this could be true. In fact it is true because there is now a significant difference between the curtain originally chosen, and the other one on offer, namely that Monty Hall avoided the second. 


humanprovince is good on Makdisi, less so elsewhere, retweeting a HRW rep while ignoring their history on Palestine.

She's always hated Joseph Massad.

I remember the fights over Desiring Arabs, and I just found this by Sultan Alamer: "The Arab and Muslim Evolution of ‘Deviance’ in Homosexuality"

In the Middle East, today’s understanding of gay relationships as abnormal or unnatural relies on concepts invented less than a century ago.

Massad was accused of arguing that homosexuality was a colonialist import to the Middle East, but the better way to describe his argument is that heteronormativity is a western concept, so the self-conscious rebellion against it, as queerness, is western. It connects to arguments that the "Jewish nose" is an anti-Semitic myth, when the concern itself comes from the fear that looking like an Arab, not being white, meant you were ugly, resulting in anti-Semitic self-hatred: the origins of Zionism. 

And this is HRW again This Alien Legacy: The Origins of "Sodomy" Laws in British Colonialism

This 66-page report describes how laws in over three dozen countries, from India to Uganda and from Nigeria to Papua New Guinea, derive from a single law on homosexual conduct that British colonial rulers imposed on India in 1860. This year, the High Court in Delhi ended hearings in a years-long case seeking to decriminalize homosexual conduct there. A ruling in the landmark case is expected soon. 

I'd forgotten about some of this: Khaled El-Rouayheb, Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Kristen Prata Browde, a co-chair of the National Trans Bar Association, said that a suspect’s gender identity should have no bearing on whether they can be prosecuted for a hate crime in the Club Q shooting.

“The motive for a crime isn’t dependent on whether you are or are not a member of a protected class,” Ms. Prata Browde said. “It legally has no significance, as far as whether the actions of this individual fit within the law regarding hate crimes.”

"I was a Gay Jewish Teenage Nazi". Of course he was.
I'm so fucking bored.

I'm getting more readers, but they should at least click the links. If we're talking about "hate crimes" , then “[t]he motive for a crime"  committed by "a member of a protected class” is kind of important, if not legally, then in every other possible fucking way.

An old roommate of mine and one of his high school friends dressed up in full SS regalia and goose stepped through a deli in Skokie Illinois owned by a Holocaust survivor.  Both of them were born and raised in Skokie and were the children of Holocaust survivors.  US and Them become become problematic as descriptors when us is them. Moralism is not valid a critique of moralism. That's why I'm so fucking bored.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022


9 years ago Euromaidan triggered the last cycle of the post-Soviet crisis process that culminated in the invasion of Ukraine. The dynamics and outcomes of this revolution, violence, the role of right and left were the main topic of my studies these years. Most important below

It's amazing how many worrying signs were evident even before the violent radicalization of Euromaidan protests, although I did not anticipate HOW disastrously they may develop. Not so many people did, especially among the intellectuals.

The scale of violence was unprecedented in Ukraine since the 1950s, but, of course, it pales in comparison to what followed next. Many celebrated the diverse peaceful protest. The irony is that it radicalized precisely because it was not diverse enough

The far right's role in Euromaidan used to be a highly debated topic. In fact, we had a systematic estimation of their activities. Their intensity and impact on radicalization by far exceeded the proportion of radical nationalists among the protesters

The crucial test for the role of the radical vanguards was provided by the Belarusian uprising six years ago. No significant radicalization happened despite the even more brutal repression

Ironically, some want to believe that the marginally present left played an even greater role than the far right. In fact, most of the left in Ukraine supported the opposite side (and suffered disastrous consequences)

Of course, the activities of the small and poorly organized new left groups had more impact on their shift to the right than on any significant developments in Euromaidan

Post-Euromaidan reshuffling of the civil society - marginalization of the left, empowerment of the nationalist-liberal segment - together with weakening of the state pushed forward the agenda, often irrelevant and sometimes unpopular for the majority

Related to this, both civic and ethnic nationalisms were on the rise post-Euromaidan, both unifying and polarizing trends. They were not opposed to each other, as many wanted to believe. They were intertwined and mutually reinforcing each other.

Euromaidan was one of the many deficient revolutions combining revolutionary repertoire and aspirations with vaguely articulated claims, loose organization, and weak leadership. Predisposed to be hijacked by agents not representing the protesting masses. 

These maidan revolutions are a reaction to the deepening crisis of political representation (or hegemony crisis), but they reproduce and even intensify the very crisis they were a response to in the first place.

The invasion of Ukraine is the escalation of the crisis on a higher level of violence. "The conflict now being resolved in Ukraine by tanks, artillery, and rockets is the same conflict that police batons have suppressed in Belarus and Russia itself."

One way or another, the war started the end of the post-Soviet crisis. Either there won't be post-Soviet space anymore, or we'll see the hegemonic transformation creating political conditions for very different, social revolutions.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Twitter, the good old days

The people screaming about Trump were once screaming about Haniyeh.
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Washington, November 4, 2019 

"'Hamas, to my great regret, is Israel's creation,' says Mr. Cohen, a Tunisian-born Jew who worked in Gaza for more than two decades. Responsible for religious affairs in the region until 1994, Mr. Cohen watched the Islamist movement take shape,... " 

new games

Saturday, November 19, 2022

The ancient Greeks believed that the political realm was “the space of appearance,” wrote Hannah Arendt. Through political action, men acquired a public identity that was visible to other men; in the polis, they saw and were seen by others. Smith’s innovation was to locate that space of appearance in the economy. Why do we seek wealth, he wondered, losing ourselves in “all the toil and bustle of this world?” It is not to supply us with necessities, for “the wages of the meanest labourer can supply them.” What we want from wealth is “to be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sympathy.” The reason the rich man “glories in his riches” is that “he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of the world.” He is “fonder of his wealth, upon this account, than for all the other advantages it procures him.” The poor person, by contrast, lives “out of the sight of mankind.”

The political realm in ancient Greece, according to Arendt, was the space for those who could afford it. In Smith's time they would be aristocrats, but Smith wrote about and for the bourgeoisie. 

The "cottages" in Newport were built for the nouveau riche, Carnagies and Rockefellers, to upstage old money living a few miles away, where a friend's uncle lives in an old house on land given to the family by the King. He parks his station wagon in the neighbors' driveway because it has more space. He's not interested in drawing your attention; he's interested in power, and he has it. 

For Giir Joseph Henry, a 21-year-old medical student in South Sudan, Z-library was a crucial resource for accessing medical textbooks including Gray’s Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice, which is widely regarded as the bible of human anatomy. Not everyone is able to afford textbooks like Gray’s Anatomy, says Henry, “because they are really expensive.” The book easily costs up to $200, plus shipping costs.

Henry says he doesn’t have any real access to public libraries from which to borrow books. In fact, the first public library in South Sudan was established in 2019. Even if he were able find the textbook in a library, the number of copies typically pales in comparison with the number of students who need to use it, he points out. There can be “a ratio of 135 students to one book,” he says. With Z-library, Henry says all he needed to download the book was 100 MB of free space on his device.

Even if a student has library access, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can get the books they need. Chaithanya, a Z-library user who requested we refer to her by her first name, is doing her Ph.D. at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in India, whose parent organization is a world-class university. But even in her relatively well-funded university library, not all books are available, she says. A single book can cost her half of her monthly salary—a price that seems particularly unreasonable when she needs to read only one chapter. “We are just on our stipends,” she says. “I was heartbroken when I heard they are shutting down Z-library.”

Balkinization has a symposium on Koppelman's new book

I emailed Koppelman: "Social darwinism is idealist. Let the weak suffer and die off."
He replied, agreeing, in a sentence I'd love to quote in public.

If Z-Library were still up I'd download a copy and look through the index.

Twitter has been a useful tool for a lot of the people for whom Z-Library has been useful, or even necessary.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

T.J. Clark on Mike Davis

Marxism, whatever else it may be, is not a view of life. It seems to do best when it is grafted, often improbably, onto a deeper metaphysics – Messianic half-hopes, Hegelian negativity, existentialism, even a dazzled vestigial faith in poetry or music.

The best argument against Marxism I've ever read.

What the graft was in Davis’s case will be clear from a sentence near the beginning of Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx’s Lost Theory (the closest he ever came, as he acknowledged, to a straight piece of Marxology). Marx, he says there, ‘never wrote a single word about cities, and his passionate interests in ethnography, geology and mathematics were never matched by a comparable concern with geography’. But cities, for Davis, were life itself. As he saw it, cities are the human. Marx’s proposals may be essential to understanding them, but what they truly are – what kinds of place and non-place, what forms of co-existence and avoidance, obeying what symbolic imperatives, opening or closing on what visions of the future – is the enigma Davis returned to through the decades. The wonderful muckraking of City of Quartz and the crushing arithmetic of Planet of Slums remain our best maps – our best no-nonsense phenomenologies – of progress and its price.

My only comment on Davis.  
Apocalyptic radicalism tries to have its cake and eat it, to be both Madame de Pompadour and Robespierre, because after all Robespierre spoke for decadence before anything. Materialism may describe or predict a taste for nihilism but it's not a justification. If the art of nihilism is more than its subject, because art takes work, that marks the difference only between fatalism and the need to show the record of it. The art of honest reaction is not radical.
Materialism is anti-romantic. The romance is the hope for things ending and beginning: prophesy.

I began the post above after a long dusty day at work, and I was still wearing the headphones from my ride  home, listening to a mix of hard deep house by a dj I knew years ago. My head was full of memories of clubs. At four AM on a rooftop looking out at the skyline of Las Vegas, music humming, beats and sub-beats dividing time,  as I wrote to a friend who'd spent years studying the local pathology, I felt calm. For the first time since I'd arrived, I felt no pity.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Dilla is often said to have reintroduced error into the sound of hip-hop. But that isn’t really the case. His technique wasn’t aleatory, it was precise. He used the MPC’s swing and shift functions to pull some of the drum tracks slightly out of position, into swung time, while leaving other elements of the track in straight time. Snare drums in rap are expected to arrive sharp on the second and fourth beats of the bar. Dilla moved them fractionally forward, so they sounded rushed; he let bass kicks lag and pulled basslines far behind the beat. He kept other parts of the track in strict time, setting up sustained, swirling conflicts between elements. It may not sound like much, but it was revolutionary. What Charnas calls ‘Dilla Time’ is ‘the deliberate juxtaposition of multiple expressions of straight and swing time simultaneously, a conscious cultivation of rhythmic friction for maximum musicality and maximum surprise’. This is nothing like a human, live instrument sound. Drummers don’t do it (not unless they’ve been studying Dilla), and it can’t be achieved by accident.

Dilla rarely gave interviews and so, like King Tubby, another tight-lipped pioneer of music made via machines, he left no account of exactly why or how he came to his innovations. The most we have is a simple assertion: ‘This is my natural rhythm. It’s how I bob my head.’ Detroiters like Dilla, Charnas suggests, ‘had a natural affinity for unnatural sounds’, something that reached back at least as far as Berry Gordy writing the first Motown hits to the industrial rhythms of the Ford production line. And as the age of electronic music dawned the city’s Black club scene had also produced techno, one of the hardest of dance music styles – futuristic, thumping, edged with silver. In some ways it makes perfect sense that Dilla would have used new digital technologies to produce music that didn’t sound like anything a human drummer would make. 

Fred Saunders’s​ wheelwright shop in the village of Sherborne, Gloucestershire, stood not far from the forge and next to the paint shop, where his finished waggons were painted in colours declaring their high Cotswold origins. Fred kept the oak spokes of his wheels narrow and light because the waggons were destined for use in the elevated fields, unlike those made in the Severn Valley, which needed to be fat to resist the riverside mud. Fred turned the hubs out of great lumps of elm, one of the few woods tough enough to withstand the stress of use in the fields. A circle of interconnected ash felloes capped the spokes, forming the circumference of the wheel. The final component was the tyre, made of a loop of iron, half an inch thick. It was placed in the fire until sufficiently expanded, then lifted out with great tongs called tyre-dogs and dropped over the outside of the wheel. Wheel and tyre would then be doused with cold water so that the metal shrank back to its original size, squeezed tightly about the wheel, never to be rattled free by stone or pothole. Fred made haywains, muck-carts and drays, as well as the everyday wooden items required by his neighbours – and their coffins when they died.

Fred lived from 1907 to 1984. He learned his trade as an apprentice and passed it on to his son, Graham, by the same method, continuing a tradition that had existed before the industrial revolution, before mass-production, when objects were closely aligned with the people and processes by which they were made. He possessed the kind of embodied knowledge common to crafters down the centuries, described by Pamela H. Smith in From Lived Experience to the Written Word as acquired through ‘observation and repetitive bodily experience’.  Smith’s study encompasses the period from 1400 to 1800, when practitioners increasingly sought to put their trades into words, composing and publishing craft manuals, guides, treatises, recipe books, tip sheets and diagrams. They were articulating something implicit in their objects: as Smith puts it, ‘the residue of an enormous number of exchanges among individuals, as well as their belief systems, organised practices, networks and accumulated knowledge’. These texts, she argues, enrich our understanding of the theoretical world of European makers, the development of technical writing and, by extension, the birth of modern science.

Two articles on art in LRB. It was a nice touch to put them in the same issue, and in a row. The result is a story that loops back on itself. It's also the story of the relation of composing and performing.   

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Democrats won on economic populism, not on defenses of looting, the abolition of small businesses, of the family, or childhood, or the castration of 12 year-olds.  The overlap between technocrats and anarchists is almost fascinating. 

As with abortion, Republicans overplayed their hand, and the stories of hormones and preadolescent surgery went over the heads of most people. "Myside bias" and "implicit bias" If you can't conceive of the facts, then having them right in from of you means nothing. The straightforward and neutral description of medical crimes against children—yes, giving estrogen to 10-year-old boys sterilizes them—puts reactionaries and radical feminists in the position of Palestinians describing Israeli terror, or American blacks in the past and even now describing racism, though "transracialism" isn't accepted, any more than "transablism".  And the majority of people on both sides of  "GLBT" issues haven't come to terms with the fact that partisans of the "T" call for the elimination of the first three letters of the acronym, because homosexuality is transphobic.

Race (Adolph Reed shit again)

Lee Fang

Stacey Abrams spent the election emphasizing race, gender, calling opponents racist and making up a lie about voter suppression. Raphael Warnock ran on jobs & getting things done. Extraordinarily easy to see how he wildly surpassed her in the same state.

And note Abrams had a massive SuperPAC, her "Fair Fight" dark money group with tens of millions of dollars, and Abrams outraised Brian Kemp with tons of national money and nonstop positive coverage from the national media.

Abrams defended Bloomberg in 2020. She sat next to him when parishioners turned their backs to him in church. She's a corporate liberal, and a woman. But Warnock is in a runoff against a parody of negro servitude. To win he'll have to show no anger in the face of insult and absurdity. Angry black men can't win an election beyond a city council seat, unless they represent white anger.

Fang defends post-racial politics without understanding of why Obama played the game. Like Warnock, he had no choice. Fang is against identity politics unless it's Jewish identity politics, and he'd a fan of Chatterton Williams.

Reformist prosecutors are popular.

NYC: the disconnect between crime rate and press coverage.

Monday, November 07, 2022

"New York was full of stimulation: it was a more anarchic city then.... 
I had to get away from Indiana, and the only way I could do that was to go to school in New York.” 

Darryl Pinckney

He is appalled by the rise of sensitivity readers and trigger warnings; identity politics, he believes, is forcing people into culs-de-sac from which it may be extremely difficult ever to back out. “I find myself in lots of books,” he says. “They don’t have to be by a gay, black man of a certain age for that to happen. What makes James Baldwin riveting is not that he’s black and gay; it’s that he’s a genius. I’m not for censorship of any kind. If a book offends you, don’t buy it.”

Publishers have, he believes, been infected by something that began on university campuses; in the grip of theory, both have been weakened as places for experimentation. “It’s a sort of suppression. I don’t want to be the guy who’s saying: when I was young, things were better. But I do find this real sharp repudiation [of ideas and of people] in the name of progress to be a form of cowardice.

“There’s no way a student should be in charge of the classroom. I don’t believe in safe environments. I don’t believe in triggers – and anyway, you’re supposed to be triggered. I do believe in respect, and calling people what they want to be called. But I don’t believe in a freedom that comes at the price of someone else’s; in saying ‘it’s my turn to be master now’. I don’t like to reach for analogies like the Cultural Revolution. But we live in a time where there is such hostility towards expertise. It’s a form of policing thought… this atmosphere of correction.”

 Pinckney reviews Thomas Chatterton Williams

Race transcendence is still a crank’s racket, but it is usually offered in the spirit of a gift to humanity. Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race, this cheerful manifesto of the light-skinned and well placed, carries an atmosphere of gratitude for the acceptance France has promised Williams’s children. He has assured himself that in these times of tattoos, manipulations of the body, gender subversion, transition, transformations of the self, class fantasies, and cultural smugness, not much essentialism remains in definitions of blackness. We are saved already if we but knew it; we are already well, sound, and clear; we have only to recognize it. 

The pitch, from the NYRB 

The link in the Pinckney quote is to an earlier post, that includes a link to Pinckney's review and to another earlier post, on the politics of minority communities. Self-hatred is ubiquitous.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

The Atlantic, April 2022  "Shadowbanning Is Big Tech’s Big Problem" 

Social-media companies deny quietly suppressing content, but many users still believe it happens. The result is a lack of trust in the internet.

Zuckerberg, 2018, "Last edited May 5, 2021" A Blueprint for Content Governance and Enforcement

Discouraging Borderline Content 

One of the biggest issues social networks face is that, when left unchecked, people will engage disproportionately with more sensationalist and provocative content. This is not a new phenomenon. It is widespread on cable news today and has been a staple of tabloids for more than a century. At scale it can undermine the quality of public discourse and lead to polarization. In our case, it can also degrade the quality of our services.

Our research suggests that no matter where we draw the lines for what is allowed, as a piece of content gets close to that line, people will engage with it more on average  -- even when they tell us afterwards they don't like the content. 

This is a basic incentive problem that we can address by penalizing borderline content so it gets less distribution and engagement. By making the distribution curve look like the graph below where distribution declines as content gets more sensational, people are disincentivized from creating provocative content that is as close to the line as possible.

This process for adjusting this curve is similar to what I described above for proactively identifying harmful content, but is now focused on identifying borderline content instead. We train AI systems to detect borderline content so we can distribute that content less. 

The Intercept, Fang and Klppenstein,

The Department of Homeland Security is quietly broadening its efforts to curb speech it considers dangerous, an investigation by The Intercept has found. Years of internal DHS memos, emails, and documents — obtained via leaks and an ongoing lawsuit, as well as public documents — illustrate an expansive effort by the agency to influence tech platforms.

The work, much of which remains unknown to the American public, came into clearer view earlier this year when DHS announced a new “Disinformation Governance Board”: a panel designed to police misinformation (false information spread unintentionally), disinformation (false information spread intentionally), and malinformation (factual information shared, typically out of context, with harmful intent) that allegedly threatens U.S. interests. While the board was widely ridiculed, immediately scaled back, and then shut down within a few months, other initiatives are underway as DHS pivots to monitoring social media now that its original mandate — the war on terror — has been wound down.

repeats of repeats: the law banning US government propaganda within the US was repealed in 2013.

Masnick makes an appearance here

Friday, November 04, 2022

Flavors of authoritarianism

A month ago, Alex Hochuli—previously here—pointed to the change in Brazil and Brazilian politics, from Catholic collectivism to evangelical Protestant individualism. He was writing at UnHerd, because the snide intellectual left is more annoyed by corrupt popular democracy than by the sincere right.

I thought of it again reading one of the new batch of earnest liberal technocrats: "Is Rawls' Theory of Justice Biased by Methodological Nationalism?"

Repeats of [recent] repeats:  "Parental licensing","Legitimate Parental Partiality", "the abolition of the family" etc.

Some web-servers and an app owned by a private company were once like what a public park could have been if any city had ever built one.  

The academic hatred of politics. The myopia of the library rat who's never been in a schoolyard. Better or worse than Borges and Nietzsche, who worshipped soulful barbarians, the ballers in the playground, from the window? Better than Musk? The same shit: moralizing authoritarianism.

Musk, Oct. 27th

I wanted to reach out personally to share my motivation in acquiring Twitter. There has been much speculation about why I bought Twitter and what I think about advertising. Most of it has been wrong. 

The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence. There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society. 

Nov. 4th
Vincent Bevins, Feb. 24th, 2021. "I'm sorry but,What?"