Whack fol me darn O, dance to your partner
Whirl the floor, your trotters shake
Wasn't it the truth I told you
Lots of fun at Finnegan's Wake?!!!
Monday, February 28, 2005
Keep your ears open next time you visit Applebee's.
What Would The Giant Queen Spider Say?
Pope John Paul II believes that gay marriage is part of an "ideology of evil." Other elements of this ideology include the Nazi and Stalinist genocides, and (of course) abortion.
Just something to bear in mind when the JPII hagiographies start coming out, oh, any day now.
GOP Congressman Calls For Nuclear Annihilation Of Syria
This is not a joke:
Syria is the problem. Syria is where those weapons of mass destruction are, in my view. You know, I can fly an F-15, put two nukes on ‘em and I’ll make one pass. We won’t have to worry about Syria anymore.---United States Representative Sam Johnson (R-Texas, 3rd district).
Congressman Johnson can be reached at his Washington office at (202)225-4201, and at his Texas office at (972)470-0892. And by "reached," I mean these are numbers you can call in order to be stonewalled by his staffers.
Bye Bye Blue
Bryan Curtis writes a retrospective on the show that brought us Dennis Franz's bare ass and a lot of memories.
See Blog Roll
The blogroll has been updated and changed to reflect new entrants to the medium. Sigh. When I started this thing, there were only about 4 million other blogs out there. Now there are like 4 million and seven.
I'm not going to say I fathered the new ones. But I am going to say that there's a broken rubber somewhere along the line.
Sunday, February 27, 2005
If You Care About This Shit...
Wonkette isn't liveblogging the Oscars, but that girl is.
UPDATE: Okay, now look at this.
UPDATE: I know less than almost anybody about the film industry, so tell me if I'm wrong in assuming that the show's producers are making an embarrassing spectacle out of the nominees for the lesser awards.
Also, fuck The Aviator.
UPDATE: Was Dustin Hoffmann drunk?
On another note, @#$%#&! I had a chance to get odds on MDB, and passed it up when I saw The Aviator winning all those early awards. Early exit polls do me in again!
Endism And Trendism
This is just about right.
One alternative view:
P: Once something stops growing (print media), it's over (Endism).
Q: Once something starts growing (LiveStrong bracelets), it's over (Trendism).
Why can't (P & Q) be true? I think it is. But then, I'm a misanthrope.
I know I promised no more Hunter S. Thompson, but Matt Welch, who's transforming his blog into HST central (not that that's a bad idea), has some words for the anti-HST mudslingers of National Review and the Weekly Standard that go to the heart of our present cultural divide:
Setting aside entirely the judgment on HST, does Schwartz [the WS's writer] seriously believe that the counter-culture produced no "culture"? That, for example, rock music produced nothing of artistic value after 1964? Scorcese, Coppola, Altman, Ritchie ... these people were chopped liver? Mailer, Wolfe, Talese, Dylan, Vaclav freakin' Havel (who always makes sure to identify himself as the product of the 1960s).... Revisionism is one thing, but this is head-in-ass-ism.Indeed. Good call by National Review, by the way, in having the "president of the New York-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute and the Washington, D.C.-based Culture of Life Foundation...[who] spent many years in the New York magazine world" write about Hunter S. Thompson. His insights are surely valuable.
On ESPN just now, Stephen A. Smith called what John Chaney did "the most egregious thing" a coach could do, but also claimed that Chaney shouldn't be fired for it. So zero accountability, in other words. Stephen A. Smith would have figured out a way to stick up for Idi Amin if he could have caught a football. (I don't know if Chaney should be fired either, but that's because I can think of even worse things coaches can do.)
And as I speak, Stephen A. is claiming that criticism of Barry Bonds is the product of white America's discomfort with the idea of a black guy surpassing Babe Ruth's homerun total. Doesn't Hank Aaron's possession of the record pose a problem for that theory?
OTOH, Skip Bayliss arguing that Randy Moss makes Terrell Owens look like Freddie Mitchell is just bullshit. TO is awesome.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
Something Wrong In This Picture
At Crooked Timber, Ted Barlow reviews the recent Supreme Court case in which the court invalidated California's habit of racially segregating its prison inmates, by way of having a look at the hypocrisy of Justices Scalia and Thomas in supporting (in dissent) the segregation policy.
Ted thinks, and this is surely plausible, that the state might be right when it claims that segregation is necessary for the physical safety of inmates and guards. The insuperable question is, isn't there something obscenely wrong with a national corrections policy in which racial segregation is a precondition of prison safety? And before you answer that quickly, consider that the other principle for maintaining order in prison is the semi-official encouragement of rape.
Laws Of Nature
Jeremy's post on abortion gives me the opportunity to keep grinding away at an old axe, namely, the contribution of Thomas Aquinas's interpretation of Aristotle to the world's net physical and psychological suffering---or perhaps re-interpretations of Aquinas's interpretation of Aristotle.
Referring to opponents of abortion rights as "anti-abortion rights" is already a step in the right direction; "pro-life" is either a tautological position of any decent person, or else a fundamentally incoherent concept. By the latter possibility, I mean that the defining axioms of the mainstream "pro-life movement," the notion of a "right to life" coupled with support of capital punishment, is inescapably contradictory. (Not that they don't try. Oh lordy, how they try.)
And of course, "pro-choice" is an equally silly expression, a truncated version of "in favor of the right of a woman to have a voluntary abortion" that cuts out meaningful connotation by virtue of its truncation.
The preceding is meant to allow me to make this point: if not for a popularized strain of Thomism buried deeply in our culture, there would be no political crisis over abortion rights. The controversy, such as it is, is a particular instance of facile, self-reassuring Thomistic epistemology crashing against the indifference of reality to human concerns and human conceptual schemata.
This is a simpler analysis than it might seem. Aristotelian and Thomistic epistemology---I'm trying to observe the principle of charity here, but it's difficult---is the direct realism of kindergartners. Reality, to little children and Thomists, is not just exactly as it appears, but normatively justified as such. The only difference between 1) a child accepting the validity of the universal parental justification, "Because I say so," as a normative feature of the universe and not a contingent relation of power and authority between parent and child, and 2) the Thomistic assumption of a plenitude of manifest normativities in nature accessible to pure reason, is that the Thomist has a bigger vocabulary, and is highly adept at twisting himself into argumentative pretzels in order to defend his view. (The child accepts normativity as a brute fact of nature; perhaps the other difference is thus that on some deep level, the Thomist really knows better.)
Why do acorns grow into trees? Because they are striving to do so. (Obviously.) What is the natural end of man? To be happy. Which means? To be a free male peripatetic philosopher. (Says the free male peripatetic philosopher.) That, plus the doctrine of metaphysical hylomorphism, plus a number of "proofs" of the existence of God that don't really work, is the entire intellectual depth of Thomistic/scholastic tradition. That it has held such sway over human imagination for as long as it has is a testament to our species' underlying savagery and bestiality. That it has been regnant in Western thought for so long is a rebuke to notion of the exceptionalism of Western civilization.
How does this directly relate to disputes over abortion? There might be some anti-abortion rights folks who think that an aggregation of non-conscious multiplying cells in a woman's uterus is in fact a human being. But the intellectually sophisticated among them prefer to call it a "potential human being" or some such. And what potentiality are they talking about? It is also potentially an early-term miscarriage (which is, as it turns out, rather common). It is potentially nothing more than it ever was, an aggregation of cells. The transformation of a zygote into a living human being is potential only in the sense that it is possible; no hidden natural imperative drives it towards that end, and it is indeed the consent of the mother (and, I hope, father) that makes it so. No one can murder something that isn't alive, and the "potentially alive" count among the not-alive. Even anti-abortionists understand this somewhat; if they really thought that the US government was permitting hundreds of thousands of murders every year, they would be in open rebellion; or maybe they are cowards.
Look at this from another direction: what exactly would it take to constitute a "potential life"? In the case of a zygote, the necessary and sufficient conditions are implantation into a woman's uterus (or maybe in the future, some device capable of abiologically fostering the growth of embryos), the desire of the persons involved to have a baby, and the luck of avoiding spontaneous abortion. Those are the same necessary and sufficient conditions every time a man comes; and not too many people, at least not yet, wish to prosecute masturbation as murder. Even the mere mutual desire of a man and a woman to conceive a child could be construed as potential life. The point is, absent the religious notion of ensoulment, there is nothing special about a fertilized egg.
Even Jeremy, whose unification of anti-abortionism and apologetics for torture as expressions of a culture of state power strikes me as on the money, seems to accept the idea of "metaphysically potential humans." Or maybe he was being ironic and I missed it.
Apropos of his conceptualization, it's worth asking exactly which culture is properly termed the "culture of death." The intellectual advocates of abolishing abortion rights have become the advocates of banning stem-cell research---or at least, all of the latter are among the former. Every moment that (potentially!) life-saving research is blocked increases the likelihood that actual human life will perish. The victims of Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, etc., have been made into blood-sacrifices to the god of American fundamentalism, the golden blastocyst.
Powerline Soils Itself
The Dialectics Of Torture
Tom Tomorrow sums it up; nod to Andrew Sullivan.
Devil Facial Tumor Disease
Friday, February 25, 2005
Weekend Fun Link
This is amazing beyond description.
If I had to bet on what the title of Jeremy's first post would be....
Here's my effort at addressing the government's dabbling in one of his auxiliary subjects. What fascinates me about the administration is that every abhorrent policy comes packaged with a justification that looks like the work of philosophers who are also the greatest cynics in the world. I can't get past the sense that there is an anti-philosophy at its heart:
Sadly, the reality is that internal administration memoranda, most notably the infamous Aug. 1, 2002, memo from the Office of Legal Counsel, provided the entire executive branch with a definition of torture constrained beyond any comprehensible usage in natural language. For a physical act to amount to torture, claimed the OLC, it had to produce pain "equivalent in intensity to [that] accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Heinous practices like the removal of fingernails or genital electrocution could fail to be considered torture if they did not entail permanent physical disability. And there was a further catch: For torture to have taken place, the "severe pain and suffering" in alleged instances of torture "must be inflicted with specific intent … expressly intend[ed] to achieve the forbidden act." And in case any doubt arises over whether such intent was present in a particular case, an alleged torturer's sincere affirmation that he did not act with specific intent is enough to settle the matter.What time is it anyway? Why am I up this early?
The government was forced to invalidate these findings due to public outcry almost as soon as the relevant documents were uncovered in 2004. As far as we know, at the time of al Jamadi's death in 2003, the so-called "torture memo" was still the executive branch's operative interpretation of the sections of U.S. Code and international treaties concerning torture. In other words, as long as al Jamadi's interrogators could claim not to have specifically intended to crucify him to death, they would not, according to our government, have been guilty of torture. Given their cynical restrictions on what the term "torture" can apply to, the administration's claims that the OLC memo was never used to enable torture or immunize interrogators against prosecution for it are hardly reassuring.
Another set of memoranda is now in place delineating what intelligence officials are permitted to do in interrogations. The administration refuses to release them. As citizens of a republic, we have a right to know whether acts of such extreme malice and evil as Palestinian hangings continue to be committed in our name, and whether they bear the approbation of the highest levels of our government. Overcoming the administration's obvious contempt for any notion of public accountability will require defending the ordinary uses of words. We must insist that our media do not act as an echo chamber for official neologisms, do not use "coercive interrogation" to refer to torture and do not use "stress position" to refer to an ersatz crucifixion. The stakes could not be higher: If we allow the government to wage an internal war against natural language, our nation's external war of moral principles is already lost.
Many thanks to Finnegan for providing me with the opportunity to post now and again.
It seems that Phil Kline, the AG of Kansas (the attorney general, not the actual god -- there is no actual god of Kansas, only a number of virtual gods) has been leading a "secret investigation" to obtain the private medical records of almost 90 females who have had late-term abortions in the state. The putative reason for the search is to "identify" crimes -- sex with a girl under the age of 16 is disallowed by Kansas law, as is the act of a doctor administering an abortion after 22 weeks. A District Judge has already decided that Kline should get the records, and the case is on appeal. Phil Kline is a devout anti-abortion Republican and is up for re-election in 2006. He is also a fascist.
In recent years, a certain interpretation has been promulgated by anti-abortion activists that sees in pro-choice groups such as Planned Parenthood, and pro-choice policies in general, an inherent similarity with the eugenics movements in America, Germany and elsewhere in the first half of the twentieth century. Critics of abortion point to such activists as Margaret Sanger, a woman who both supported abortion (and founded Planned Parenthood) and had a disturbing zeal for race science. They also raise the specter of Nazi Germany and its life-regulating policies.
The problem with such analogies or comparisons, beyond their rabid, revisionist insanity, is that they disregard the obvious distinction which opposes modern pro-choice thinkers to the eugenical paradigm; at the same time, that distinction links anti-abortion groups with that paradigm. The distinction is one of force.
For pro-choice theory rests on the idea of voluntarism. The mother who is biologically attached to a fetus may or may not make a certain decision. There is no law for abortion, only a judicial determination that a woman may choose to have one. No one is forced to have an abortion. The womb is within the woman's body, and within the scope of her individual rights. The state cannot touch the womb or determine its operations.
Anti-abortionists, like Phil Kline, on the other hand, want their hands on the womb, want the state in the womb. Kline's demand for the medical records is an attempt to gain knowledge about women's bodies, and is thus an attempt to exert government force on those bodies. Phil Kline's action finds its basis in a methodology of compulsive force.
This way of talking about the attorney general's violence helps elucidate the much-discussed binary of the "culture of life" and the "culture of death." The fact that the anti-abortion movement values force explains its silence about and sometimes its direct support of government-sanctioned policies such as torture and the death penalty. What anti-abortion theory, torture theory, and death penalty theory all have in common is that they valorize the application of state control on human bodies. The question of whether the state is telling you to abort a fetus or carry it to term is secondary. That the state is determining what will happen to your body is the crux of the culture of life's program. State determination of the functioning of the human body is also crucial to applied eugenics. It is eugenics' necessary mechanism.
That anti-abortion groups are now describing their desire to prevent abortion as a desire to protect innocent life is indicative of the culture of state power. Faced with their paradoxical support of judicial homicide and a foreign policy of the cruel, these organizations must inscribe a distinction within life itself. The act of distinguishing between fetus-life and mature-life is an act of judgment -- the act determines that some organic material is innocent, while other material is guilty. The assent of state power is required for the act of judgment to be executed, as its execution must supersede an individual's own determination of the value of his or her own body, and in its place put the state's determination. The intent of the judgment is therefore eugenical. It strives for the perpetuation of a biological form that is valued. The judgment of innocence passed on fetuses is the foundation for judicial control of the human body. The fact that the culture of life supports the unimpeded production of new infants is an alibi. It obscures the fact that the culture of life demands state control over the human body, whether to punish it or to breed it.
The culture of death, on the other hand, is a culture which denies the state access to the human body. That this anti-statist vision results in the curtailment of metaphysically potential humans is not a result of state force, but of individual choice. The culture of death is a culture of individual autonomy and biological self-determination.
The culture of state power and the culture of individual freedom are now vying for control of this country. The womb has become the scene of their contest. This political womb is only that -- a scene, a stage, a virtual rhetoric machine. Babies are not at stake. Phil Kline has violently attacked a group of human beings. That the anti-abortion movement is surging in the same moment that our government is extraordinarily rendering citizens is no accident. That the anti-abortion movement is surging in the same moment that our government has contributed to the deaths of 100,000 Iraqi civilians is no accident. What is at issue is not life, but the government's ability to control the human body -- to forcibly produce it, to forcibly take it, and to forcibly violate it.
All that to say I love the word "fascists" (it's better in the plural).
Thursday, February 24, 2005
Pinpoint The Moment When My Head Exploded
Tonight on the O'Reilly Factor: David Duke, now apparently a political science professor in Kiev, spoke about Ward Churchill.
And O'Reilly wound up on Duke's right on free speech issues.
I've got a piece coming out in the YDN tomorrow on the government's use of torture and its abuses of language in defending it. If you're interested, here's the original "torture memo," which defines torture out of existence and advises the president that he has unchecked fiat power on all questions regarding military policy.
Poweline gets what's coming to it.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Thought For The Day
"When the going get's weird, the weird go pro."---You know who
No more about Hunter S. Thompson after this. But Matt Welch has a hub of links to HST remembrances.
Goodbye To The Doctor Pt. II
Christopher Hitchens also has a really nice appreciation of the old rebel:
[Hunter S. Thompson] was, above all, a highly polished hater, and could fuel himself as well as ignite others with his sheer contempt for Richard Nixon and all that he stood for. This involved, for some years, a life where there was almost no distance between belief and action. And it is why his 1972 book on the campaign trail holds up so well. But even then he knew, as he was to keep repeating, that "the wave" of the insurgent '60s— "a fantastic, universal sense that whatever we were doing was right: that we were winning"—was a wave that had not only "broken" but had "rolled back."
The Transcendental Dialectic Of Malkin
Since last June, I've been writing this blog completely on my own. Starting today, Jeremy Kessler, he of the Continental perfect storms, will have access to post as well. Sort of like the Paul Glastris to my Kevin Drum.
Making It Pt. II
All the paperwork is done and it's official: I've got an essay coming out in the Spring 2005 issue of Dissent, "On the New Student Politics," about my take on the failures of the institutionalized academic left and right, and what is emerging to take their place. And at $.15 per word over about 3000 words, this will be my first piece of professional writing.
Goodbye To The Doctor
Matt Welch has a beautiful piece on Hunter S. Thompson in Reason. Money graf:
He was that rare journalist who took the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments as seriously as the First, regardless of who currently occupied the White House. Unlike the Boomers and journalists who indulged him as a guilty, don't-go-there pleasure, late-in-life financial success did nothing to dull his outrage at overzealous prosecutors, lying cops, opportunistic legislators, and the enablers of the obscene Drug War. He was a patriotic, don't-tread-on-me lefty who shot firearms, despised nanny-state restrictions on speech, and only occasionally voted Democratic for president. He spoke, wrote, lived, and died, with a freedom few of us can contemplate.
I'm A Traitor, You're A Traitor
By "the left" I'm including almost the entire Democratic Party, you can count the exceptions on your fingers, you can name them, Zell Miller, Joe Lieberman...The whole mainstream of the party is engaged in an effort that is a betrayal of America, what they care about is not winning the war on terror...I don't think they care about the danger to us as Americans or the danger to people in other countries. They care about power [emphasis mine]."Betrayal of America"? Well treason is a high crime, and should be punished as such.
Alternatively, John Hinderaker can be reached by phone at (612)220-1060.
Is it really that surprising that Paris Hilton is an al-Qaeda agent (but not really)?
Well there's a lot aimed my way this morning.
1) My reason for not watching 24 is not political at all. The show's trailers give every indication of the show sucking hard, and I find prejudgements about TV shows to be generally accurate. If it's true that the show's producers are making a deep point about the inefficacy of torture, I still think that Fox's audience is more likely to take away from that the face-value point that competent and cool people like Kiefer Sutherland use torture. I suggested this as a possibility before. This is then not a statement about the show, and certainly not about the freedom of people to create, produce, and watch it, but about how far our political culture has fallen.
2) By "Derridean," I'm referring to the idea that the audience to a work plays some role in determining its meaning. If this framework is ever operative, surely mass entertainments would be the paradigm case.
The Ongoing Medical Use Of Leeches
Hume Must Resign...But Won't
I see that Oliver Willis is hosting a petition to demand Brit Hume's ouster as anchor of the Fox News Channel. I'd say that's only fair---his offense and Dan Rather's have something in common, namely that they both involve advancing untruths about a president. But Hume's is surely the ranker; while Rather's oversights and journalistic sloppiness were certainly caused in part by partisan bias, what Hume did was to tell a very meticulously crafted lie, and it's impossible that he didn't know what he was doing.
So I signed up (and you might want to also). But I expect no results (nor should you). The shameless can't be shamed.
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
The Upside Of 24 (?)
Kevin Drum has an interesting post on Fox's 24 that makes me rethink some of my hostility to the show. When Kiefer Sutherland's character started engaging in torture as if it were a routine component of interrogation (this was early in the current season), the Cornerite crowd started going cuckoo for Kiefer. [Just imagine what John "kick one for me too" Derbyshire thought--ed.] However, if Kevin's summary is correct (I haven't seen the show, couldn't be convinced to, and will take his word for it), it turns out that all the uses of torture have failed to produce their hoped-for results.
Kevin concludes, first hesitantly and then with conviction, that the deep message here is that torture doesn't work.
He might be right. But (forgive me if I sound Derridean about this) the way the viewers of the show react to it has something to do with what the message of the show is; I wouldn't suggest that if we were talking about literature, but pulp entertainment for the proles is another sort of thing altogether.
So there are other possible configurations to consider:
1) The show's writers are trying to make the point that torture doesn't work. The viewing public interprets the show as an endorsement of torture.
2) The show's writers actually are endorsing torture and are too dumb to see that they have made the case against it. The public, also not the brightest bulbs on the Hannukah bush, take the same position as the writers. Everyone misses the point.
3) Despite the fact that the writers defend torture, the public takes away the opposite message: that torture doesn't work.
Just based on my hunches about the show itself and the Fox Network, I have to say that the scenario Kevin hopes will play out---the show is intended to be anti-torture and will be received as such---is too much to ask for. Scenario 1) is frighteningly likely (if the writers' motives are as Kevin says they are). But my guess is that it's either 2) or 3), and 2) is the likeliest of all.
The AARP opposes privatization of Social Security. The GOP's response: the AARP is a front group for destroying the military and mandating gay marriage. Look at your own peril. Despite the title of this post, I think there is still room for it to get worse.
Monday, February 21, 2005
I Love This Game
I caught tonight's episode of WWE (nee WWF) Monday Night Raw.
It turns out there's a new villian---a "heel" in industry talk---by the name of Mohammed Hassan. His shtick is that he's an aggrieved Arab-American beset by anti-Arab discrimination. The catch: he and his associate Daivari often switch into their native tongue to give their performance that authentic feel; except that their native tongue is Farsi, not Arabic. (E.g., After Hassan sucker-punched Chris Benoit, Daivari started screaming "Hich nisti, hich nisti," which means, in Persian "you are nothing, you are nothing.")
Best thing ever: Hassan got roundly booed by the crowd at Penn State for appealing for racial equality. I know he's a bad-guy, and thus elicits a negative response by definition, but you'd think people might have had more reservations about hissing at the idea that "all men are created equal."
No Cure For Dumb
I've avoided saying anything about the ongoing blog-mess between Eric Alterman, Andrew Sullivan, Cathy Young, and the Boston Globe.
Whetstone provides a nice summary of what's transpired. And he's right: a domino principle of stupidity is in effect.
As you may have heard, former Stalinist David Horowitz, champion of free speech and expression, has put together a database detailing the membership and organizational tentacles of the global left.
It was news to me that Roger Ebert, portly film critic, and Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, brains behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, were ideological comrades. So, as it turns out, are Harold Ickes (longtime Clinton family confidant) and Mohammed Atta. Yes, that Mohammed Atta.
David Horowitz has an absolute right to free speech. And decent society should nevertheless shun him.
No Cure For Herpes
The same charming chaps who brought us the Swift Boat Veterans For "Truth" have found a new target: the AARP. The Bull Moose (Marshall Wittman) puts it nicely:
What's next - a Regnery book titled Unfit to Age? While the Bushies take the lofty tact of an "ownership society", expect the lowroaders to employ every slimy trick in the book to promote privatization.
After all, it's only business.
A Legend Bites It
Hunter S. Thompson, dead at 67, by his own hand. RIP.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Thought For The Weekend
The piers are pumelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.
Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.
Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.
Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extoll the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.
Caesar's double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK
On a pink official form.
Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.
Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.
---W.H. Auden, "The Fall of Rome"
Life refuses to be simple.
Friday, February 18, 2005
The Summers Transcript
It's available here. Kevin Drum (from whom I found the link) doesn't pass judgement on Summers' remarks, but also misinterprets him in a subtle way, that I think needs to be quashed before it becomes a meme. He cites this as the key passage of the speech:
So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong, because I would like nothing better than for these problems to be addressable simply by everybody understanding what they are, and working very hard to address them.And then Kevin writes:
Summers clearly says at various points that he's guessing, that he's provoking, that he's not an expert, that he hopes he's proved wrong, etc. At the same time, he also says very clearly (more than once) that of the three factors he discusses, he thinks socialization and discrimination are probably the least at fault for the low number of women in high-powered science and engineering positions.I think the first half of this (about Summers hoping to be proved wrong, etc.) is more important than the second (about Summers' ranking of factors), for no other reason than that Summers disavows expertise. In other words, his expressed moral intent---amelioration of the disparity---trumps his limited empirical claim, which is easily subject to revision.
What's missing from the foregoing is looking at the third of the three factors that Summers identified as accounting for the underrepresentation of women in sciences:
There are three broad hypotheses about the sources of the very substantial disparities that this conference's papers document and have been documented before with respect to the presence of women in high-end scientific professions. One is what I would call the-I'll explain each of these in a few moments and comment on how important I think they are-the first is what I call the high-powered job hypothesis. The second is what I would call different availability of aptitude at the high end, and the third is what I would call different socialization and patterns of discrimination in a search. And in my own view, their importance probably ranks in exactly the order that I just described.So what Summers calls the "high-powered job hypothesis" in fact ranks above the two factors Kevin Drum highlights. This is crucial. Roughly speaking, the hypothesis is that the number of labor-hours required to attain advanced degrees in science and engineering, let alone professional practice in those fields, render female participation very difficult, on the grounds that mothers in our society continue to bear the majority responsibility for the raising of children. If this is what Summers thinks is the primary reason for female underrepresentation in the sciences---and I don't see how else to understand the paragraph I cited---then he plainly believes a social, not a biological factor to be the most important one. (And for the record, the reason for classifying academic discrimination as the tertiary cause among the three is that by the time women reach the point of choosing to attain advanced education---or choosing not to---the other factors have already played out. This is not minimizing the problem of discrimination. It's taking it absolutely seriously and realistically.)
So. With the text of Summers' speech in hand, I feel even more confident in the views I originally expressed on the matter. Some people need to get a life....
Thursday, February 17, 2005
I don't know what to say about this. My stomach turned when I read it. Andrew Sullivan thinks this is equivalent to "crucifixion." I think that's too light a term.
And I can't wait until the torture-apologists make this into a partisan issue.
War Of Ideas
I just got forwarded a great Reason post from a couple of weeks ago. It's almost tautological to say that our victory in this war depends upon the right side winning in the ongoing Muslim civil war. Here's evidence that they can win:
Reporter James Brandon adds that, "Some freed militants were so transformed that they led the army to hidden weapons caches and offered the Yemeni security services advice on tackling Islamic militancy. A spectacular success came in 2002 when Abu Ali al Harithi, Al Qaeda's top commander in Yemen, was assassinated by a US air-strike following a tip-off from one of Hitar's reformed militants."Compare the long-term effectiveness of this strategy to say, killing lots of people.
An Argument Worth Having
I might have been a bit too glib in my post on Ross Douthat's complaints about American philosophy departments, but we're now getting into a subject pretty close to the heart of my interests---so let's see where it goes.
Now clearly, there are a lot of things about which the following could be said:
The reason _______ has not caught on in America is that "Americans have become poor readers, with little foreign language ability, and zero critical reading skills."When I said that Continental philosophy in particular has not caught on in America, I meant among American philosophers, who are not poor readers and who do have critical reading skills. Analytic philosophy has hardly taken hold of the popular American imagination either---in fact, and this is where there's a kernel of truth to what Douthat is saying, the average American's conception of philosophy is probably somewhat closer to the Continental tradition than the analytic.
I would dispute the notion that analytic philosophy "draws its formal qualities directly from the maths and sciences." It's certainly true that analytic philosophers speak in a language that often looks a lot like scientific language, but that simply reflects the fact that analytic philosophy assumes what science has provided as a necessary starting point in a way that other philosophical traditions have not. What science does, essentially, is to create predictive models. The model that best anticipates the resultant output from a given input is the one that wins out in scientific debates. Right? The aim of contemporary metaphysics (just to restrict the scope a bit) is very very different. Have you ever asked a physicist what mass really is? Or the spin of an electron? His answer, if there is one, will be something equivalent to an element of formulae. It can inform philosophy, but it is not identical to any branch of philosophy, even on a purely formal level.
That was a bit of an aside, but I want to pivot off of it to make a point about the relationship between analytic philosophy and the humanities, and what rests on it. In his essay, "After Metaphysics, What?"---which I confess I don't entirely understand---Hilary Putnam says something relevant to this issue which sounds about right to me:
For Rorty, as for the French thinkers that he admires, two ideas seem gripping: (1) the failure of our philosophical "foundations" is a failure of the whole culture, and accepting that we were wrong in wanting or thinking we could have a "foundation" requires us to be philosophical revisionists. By this I mean that, for Rorty or Foucault or Derrida, the failure of foundationalism makes a difference to how we are allowed to talk in ordinary life---a difference as to whether and when we are allowed to use words like "know," and "objective," and "fact," and "reason." The picture is that philosophy was not a reflection on the culture, a reflection some of whose ambitious projects failed, but a basis, a sort of pedestal, on which the culture rested, and which has been abruptly yanked out. Under the pretense that philosophy is no longer "serious" there lies hidden a giganic seriousness...(2) At the same time, Rorty's analytic past shows up in this: when he rejects a philosophical controversy, as, for example, he rejects the "realism anti-realism" controversy, or the "emotive cognitive" controversy, his rejection is expressed in a Carnapian tone of voice---he scorns the controversy.If I read this correctly, the point about the estrangement of philosophy from culture in Anglo-American circles, as opposed to the continuing role of the philosopher as public intellectual in the Continental tradition, comes out of what Putnam identifies in point (1) as the conception of philosophy as a "pedestal...on which the culture rested." It seems to me that Putnam's implicit diagnosis is exactly right---i.e., that that conception derives far too much from the failure of the Cartesian project. In my earlier post, I identified Hume versus Kant as the faultline between the two philosophical traditions, and that's true in a causal and historical sense, but it might be more accurate, given the evolution of the traditions (and the vastness of their mutual estrangement---remember that Kant was responding to Hume!), that the faultline now lies in each side's interpretation of the failure of substantive foundationalism. What ties together analytic philosophy, it seems to me, prior to unification with sciences, is the conception of philosophy as a "reflection on the culture...some of whose ambitious projects failed." And in that sense, the analytic tradition is the one that maintains a bond with the culture, for no other reason, at the very least, than that the Continental tradition presupposes the extinction of a culture with which to bond. (That presupposition seems to underlie the idea that "our culture is almost dead anyway." In what sense? We still have sociality. We still have entertainment, if not necessarily art.)
It is undeniable, however, that Continental philosophy engages in cultural (or post-cultural) projects in a way that analytic philosophy does not. I don't think it's at all obvious that the shunting of Foucault, Derrida, et al. into literature departments, at least in American universities, does discredit to the discipline of philosophy. Nevertheless, the relationships of Continental philosophy to science and to literature are roughly opposite those of analytic philosophy to science and literature. It's a mistake to label one of those developments a "retreat into technique" but not the other. And if I may be permitted one grandiose generalization, what redeems the analytic tradition is that it uses science to clarify and enlighten its investigation into the nature of reality, whereas the Continental tradition is either more concerned with investigating the nature of literature or (here's where things really break down) investigating the nature of literature under the pretense that such enquiry really is investigation of reality. The thing that bothers me the most about the various anti-realist positions is the kind of linguistic turn they take---the assumption that the failure of human conceptual schemata to accurately capture reality has any bearing on what reality is. Post-Heideggerian Continental philosophy, it seems to me, relies on a version of that faulty assumption that has been taking steroids.
Here's where we really part ways. I think it has been Continental philosophy that has "acquiesc[ed] to state power, mass ignorance, the proliferation of capital, and the devaluation of art." I don't think I need to justify that in theoretical terms. It's appreciable sociologically. Metaphysical realism is the antagonist to all those things---because it affirms that they are precisely what they are, and nothing else. The Bush administration's court philosophy---yes, it's a cynical, debased interpretation, but an interpretation nonetheless---is effectively Continental anti-realism. Whence, if not out of that tradition, does the right's outright perverted relationship with the facts of the matter concerning Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, torture and "torture," etc., etc., come? Analytic philosophy has certainly pulled itself away from cultural or political engagement, but it has also not provided the conceptual basis for the rejection of objective truth upon which contemporary reactionary politics depends so profoundly.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Baby I'm A Rich Man
Last night was my first watching the O'Reilly Factor in a long time. I wasn't disappointed.
O'Reilly's "impact segment" dealt with purported bias in the newspaper medium. Specifically, the Factor conducted a "study" and concluded that major city newspapers tend to have many more liberal than conservative columnists. Okay, great. But O'Reilly went on to claim:
The New York Times has four liberal columnists, one conservative.And then:
Well, my stats -- these stats are solid. You can take these to the bank. We analyze it. We know these stats are absolutely rock solid. So it's about 4-1 liberal against conservatives. What do you think about that, Debra?To the bank, huh? The NYT is 4 to 1?
Let's see. Safire, Brooks. One, two. Safire, Brooks. One, two. One, two. Safire, Brooks.
Will that be cash or check, Bill?
[N.B. Yes, I know Safire is retiring. And presumably, they'll replace him with a conservative--ed.]
Whither The Metaphysicians?
Ross Douthat claims that American philosophy departments are bereft of "metaphysicians and moralists." What? Troy Cross, Shelley Kagan anybody?
After Matt Yglesias called him out, Ross explained that:
I was referencing what I think is the popular understanding of metaphysics...in which it refers to a belief in the existence of immaterial beings, properties, etc. Aquinas's God, Plato's forms, Descartes's ghost-in-the-machine all fall into this category. But technically, metaphysics is a much much broader term, referring to "the branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, substance and attribute, fact and value." So one can be a staunchly materialist metaphysician, and indeed, there are many of these throughout academia. What there are not, I believe, are many philosophers in, say, the Platonist or Cartesian traditions, who entertain the possibility of souls, Gods, etc. And if I'm wrong about this -- and I am a layman, so I could be -- I'm more than happy to be corrected.Err, right. It's sort of true, I suppose, that you're not going to find a ton of Cartesians or Platonists in major philosophy departments ---though you'll find some; the head of the Yale department, Michael Della Rocca, is a follower of Leibniz and Spinoza, and an upholder of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. (If you want to find a Thomist, there are a multiplicity of good Catholic universities.)
Ross seems to consider the lack of (let's just use this shorthand) anti-scientistic speculative metaphysicians to be a serious deficiency. Which is proof enough that he's a layman (sorry, Ross). Not many philosophers continue to believe in a Platonic realm of forms, in ontological hylomorphism, in perduring souls, in either classical or renaissance dualism, in analysis in terms of teleologies, etc., for the very good reason that these theses have fared very poorly on merit alone in the philosophical debates of the last several centuries. To put the matter abruptly: once Hume proved the non-rationality of induction, Platonism, Aristotelianism, Thomism, and the scholastic tradition in general were pretty much dead as general theories of both metaphysics and ethics. Two traditions took their place, the analytic tradition of Britain and America, following in the footsteps of Hume (I count the positivists in this group), and the Continental tradition stemming from Kant, which never really took hold in this country because 1) its interaction with science and math ranged from sloppy to gobsmackingly ignorant (cf. Heidegger attempting to quantify "nothingness" in terms of "noths"); and 2) because a shockingly large number of recent Continental philosophers have turned out to be Nazis.
It's certainly still possible to study classical and medieval philosophy---ask the DSers---and students who find them compelling are free to embrace them. Moreover, even if Ross doesn't know this, the same sorts of questions that Plato posed are still asked in contemporary metaphysics, albeit in highly altered form. As one of my professors put it, the purpose of philosophy remains "to discover the language God used in creating the universe."
But universities and philosophy department are under no obligation to arrive at the same answers that Plato and Aristotle arrived at. And they won't, because Platonism and Aristotelianism are unsatisfactory explanations for mostly everything, uninformed by millenia of scientific advances, and inelegant in terms of jagged theoretical complexity. The deeper issue in play here is just what the purpose of a philosophy department is. If it's the advancement of investigations into knowledge and being, then there's nothing surprising about the dearth of Ross's restricted notion of "metaphysicians" in major programs. If the purpose is the confirmation of pre-existing biases, perhaps say, using education in philosophy instrumentally in order to bolster arguments in favor of theological views, then (and only then) does Ross have a point. I don't want to attribute this crude sort of utilitarianism to Ross per se, but it is certainly the underlying assumption of a lot of the people who complain about the non-dominance of scholasticism in modern philosophy (ahem, Jonathan Berry).
UPDATE: In Matt Yglesias's comments section, Tad Brennan, formerly of Yale, makes the same point I was trying to make, only a lot more succinctly:
Years ago, "physic" was a common word for any kind of medical remedy. If Douthat had written a long piece on the decline of the university, complaining that these days you can't even get physics in a Physics department, would you excuse this ignorance by saying he must have meant old-time remedies? That's about how lame the "moralist in the old-time sense" excuse would be in Douthat's case.
Paul Johnson Slanders Spain
I don't want to get into the massive oversimplifications in this Paul Johnson piece, in part because I actually agree with some of it, but it's really appalling that he saw fit to write this:
On the eve of elections [in Spain], terrorists detonated bombs on trains in Madrid, panicking the nation. In a spasm of fear the Spanish--not normally lacking in courage--voted in a Socialist government. The new government took the coward's way out and withdrew its troops from Iraq.Back in the real world, the Aznar government tried to blame Basque separatists for the bombing, on the basis, as it turned out, of no evidence whatsoever. Johnson knows this.
The Spanish voted for the opposition party because they didn't appreciate being lied to so spectacularly. I suspect they don't appreciate being lied about either.
Just About Right
The Conservative Political Action Committee is set to honor the ringleaders of the SBVF"T". Remember those guys? I wish I could forget too.
Looking back at what I wrote over the summer about those creeps, it seems like Glenn Reynolds deserves an award at least as much as Roy Hoffman does.
UPDATE: In case it's not clear, either the SBVF"T" are fantastic liars or else philosophical anti-realism is correct (exclusive disjunction, btw).
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Eric Muller links today to a Neo-Nazi blogger angry at Muller for his very good expositions of the neo-seccessionist and racist views of Thomas Woods. Intrigued as I am by Neo-Nazis, I surfed around the site a bit. His post categories include...well actually they're all anti-Semitic. So far I haven't visited "the Holomocaust" (that might be too much even for me), but I've certainly gotten my kicks out of the "Jews hate Christianity" section.
Lo and behold, this blogger and I have a mutual friend: Dawn Eden Goldstein, whom, you might not be surprised to learn, is the victim of a Jewish plot.
Slightly further down the page, I came across the Truth:
Ha! Tell us another one. Jesus was right. You’re of your father the devil, who was the father of lies.Y'know, sometimes I forget about that. And then I sharpen my horns.
So I've been watching Direct Effect on MTV. A couple of thoughts.
1) If 50 Cent doesn't do a song about something other than masturbatory celebration of material wealth really soon, the notion of 50 as some kind of poet will be pretty much dead. "Many Men" was great. "Stunt 101" was awful.
2) Destiny's Child says that "you better be street if you're looking at [them]." Is that true?
The Continuing Adventures Of Dawn 'N' Me
There's a profile of Dawn Eden Goldstein in the current New York Observer. Dawn Eden, one of my first blogging antagonists, happens to be the Platonic ideal of self-hating Jewishness, somehow incarnated. She does, however, hate a lot more than her own Jewish identity. Homosexuals in particular, but also people that have more fun than her in general.
Ouch I Got Served
Rumpus makes fun of me in its current issue. Specifically (sorry, no links, but here's the pdf of the issue), they take me to task for using the word "pornographic" to refer to something that didn't actually involve sexual imagery. That'll teach me to use metaphors. Rumpus made fun of me once before; I wrote an op-ed in the fall of 2003 in which I called Howard Dean "Governor Dean." Rumpus's "remedial media" writers pounced on the fact that Dean was no longer a sitting governor. Which makes me a real asshole for assuming that holders of various offices get to keep their titles as honorifics.
Thought For The Day
"And then, with the historic compassion and meekness for which Christianity is known, comes the intervention of the Christian side to say, 'Well, if the Jews were able to push all the Palestinians and bring on the Day of Judgment, then the Messiah would come. Not their messiah, excuse me, but our messiah. And though we're very, very keen on Israel and Zionism in the meantime, those Jews who, at that point, did not convert to Christianity would, very sorry to say, all be killed and go--all go to hell.'"
---Christopher Hitchens, in a lecture commemorating Thomas Paine, the forgotten founding father
The President's Anti-Libertarian Social Security Reform
New YDN column, on why the Bush Soc. Sec. proposal is a betrayal of, among other things, libertarianism:
Mr. Bush's proposed privatization of Social Security -- "privatization" is what Republicans called the idea last year, even if they employ the weasel word "personalization" today -- neither lifts a burden off the backs of workers nor increases their economic freedom. Instead, the president is suggesting abandoning a program in which current workers support current retirees by funding investment in government bonds, in favor of a program in which the government seizes a functionally equivalent portion of incomes through payroll taxes; chooses a more diverse investment pattern for such monies; and then gives them back to workers in small regular annuities upon their retirements. If there is an important moral difference between the government using your money to pay benefits to others, versus the government taking your money now in order to give it back to you much later in a manner and according to a schedule which it deems appropriate, I confess I am unable to see what that might be.
UPDATE: Is it really possible that the advocates of privatization haven't thought through some of the most obvious problems and pitfalls of their proposal? I think it might be. Matt Yglesias explains:
The rank-and-file are deferring to talk radio hosts and the like who are, in turn, deferring to more highbrow pundits...The pundits think they're deferring to a bunch of trusted experts somewhere who've run the numbers. But it turns out that no one has run the numbers. It's a systemic breakdown throughout the movement with regard to the single largest program the federal government runs.
Monday, February 14, 2005
I can't post on the worst of all possible holidays in the worst of all possible worlds. I hate it when I don't have a significant other. I hate it more when I do. I wish St. Valentine were alive today, so I could stone him to death (again) myself.
If you happen to figure out who it was that put up those atrocious Valentine's day decorations on old campus, please hit him/her and tell him/her it was from me.
UPDATE: Pining? Who's pining? I am a counter-revolutionary, in case it wasn't clear.
UPDATE: Reading Maureen Dowd has never been exactly edifying (which is why I stopped doing it), but this is really sad. Which brings me to a larger point: The NYT's columnists can and often enough do write thoroughly awful editorials.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
Like Ted Barlow, I also didn't pay particular attention when Glenn Reynolds approvingly linked to this slanderous Nelson Ascher post. Why slanderous? Ascher writes:
This newly ever-growing Western left, not only in Europe, but in Latin America and even in the US itself, has a clear goal: the destruction of the country and society that vanquished its dreams fifteen years ago. But it does not have, as in the old days of the Soviet Union, the hard power to accomplish this by itself. Thanks to this, all our leftist friends’ bets are now on radical Islam. What can they do to help it? Answer: tie down America’s superior strength with a million Liliputian ropes: legal ones, political ones, with propaganda and disinformation etc. Anything and everything will do. [emphases mine--keep the first one in mind.]Ascher is saying that the left in Europe, Latin America, and the United States is on the side of fundamentalist Islam in its war with "the West" as defined by Ascher, Reynolds et al. If you need to have it explained to you why these remarks are disgraceful, go read another blog.
Reynolds, mendacious as ever, comments: "Sigh. I wish he were wrong."
The reason Ted (and I) didn't take much notice of this when it first occurred is, as Ted says, that we (and you?) have been gradually but thoroughly desensitized to the extent to which accusations of treason have become mainstream in right-wing and Republican discourse. Sigh. I wish he were wrong.
Alerted to Ted calling him on his bullshit, Reynolds does his predictable Insta-backtracking. He writes in response:
The problem is that Barlow seems to miss the Euro angle, and proceeds to suggest that I'm calling American liberals terrorists. (To be fair, there's a brief reference to Americans in Ascher's post, which I didn't notice before, but Barlow doesn't mention it, and it's certainly not the main subject of Ascher's argument.) I'm used to having my posts mischaracterized by Crooked Timber folks, but I do think that this is a bit much. [emphasis mine]."A brief reference"? "Not the main subject of Ascher's argument"? Somebody needs Insta-remedial tutoring in reading comprehension. Let's review what Ascher said:
This newly ever-growing Western left, not only in Europe, but in Latin America and even in the US itself, has a clear goal: the destruction of the country and society that vanquished its dreams fifteen years ago. [emphasis mine.]Can we agree that the reason Ted didn't explicitly mention Ascher's inclusive denunciation of the American and European left is that any competent reader would have found it him or herself? Reynolds is either incompetent or lying. Or both.
Arthur Miller. I was never a fan, but hey.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Swing And Miss
On the Daily Show tonight, Stewart ran a clip of a "reporter" asking Bush at a press conference how he could work with Democrats "who seem to have divorced themselves from reality." The idea was to show how the press has bent over backwards to accomodate the president. But there's a difference between accomodation and overt propagandizing, and this question exemplified the latter.
Somehow the Daily Show, which is usually good on these things, forgot to mention that the "reporter" in question was Jeff Gannon. This Jeff Gannon.
This needs to get a lot more attention. What Brit Hume did was the work of a very polished liar.
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Scanning The (Yale Daily) News
Interesting cross-section of stuff in today's YDN opinion page. First, my old nemesis Mike Slater is back in print with one of the dumbest political neologisms I've ever seen ("ProCon," which stands for progressive conservative, even though it looks like "foragainst"). I became convinced that I need to stop tilting at windmills when I read "After Bush's brilliant State of the Union address...." and "I've never heard a president reach out for constructive bipartisan discussion as much as Bush did last week."
Next up, a jointly written column by Eve Fairbanks and Josh Bendor, whose main point I concur with, but which relied on bizarre usages of singular first person pronouns. (E.g., "By the time my Wednesday "Introduction to Comparative Politics" section rolled around, I'd had three days to imagine the excitement in the discussion we'd undoubtedly have about the Iraqi election.") What?
Last, Keith Urbahn has a piece on the JAG ban in the law school. While I mostly disagree with his conclusions, I have to say good for him for writing this:
If there's an issue that nearly all politically active students from across Yale's political spectrum can agree on, it's gay rights. Even we "tyrants" of the campus right believe that denying legal rights to those with differing sexual orientations is fundamentally wrong. The U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy is no exception: It is constitutionally questionable, strategically irresponsible and morally unjust. It's a policy that must be -- and inevitably will be -- changed.I think that's right morally and right factually---and it's why we should endure the wave of Dobsonism in the GOP confident in the knowledge that it will eventually crash.
I think Keith is wrong, however, in arguing that Yale Law School's freedom of association is not infringed upon by recruiters meeting with students off campus grounds. If it's true that the Solomon Amendment does constitute an infringement on YLS's freedom of association, that is surely not obviated by changing the setting for recruitment.
Why I'm Glad NR's Corner Exists
They find things like this.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Down The Rabbit Hole
How batshit crazy is David Gelernter? On the heels of his volkish glorification of Jewishness as a racial category (see the post below), Gelernter has a "think"-piece in last month's Commentary called...are you ready for this?..."Americanism and its Enemies."
Is it as bad as its title suggests? Worse:
That Americanism is a religion is widely agreed. G.K. Chesterton once called America "the nation with the soul of a church." But Americanism is not (contrary to the views of many people who use these terms loosely) a "secular" or a "civil" religion. No mere secular ideology, no mere philosophical belief, could possibly have inspired the intensities of hatred and devotion Americanism has. Americanism is in fact a Judeo-Christian religion; a millenarian religion; a biblical religion. Unlike England's "official" religion, embodied in the Anglican church, America's has been incorporated into all the Judeo-Christian religions in the nation.
Monday, February 07, 2005
Full Of Shit
I don't think there is a human being on the planet more completely fatuous than my former "Computer Science and the Modern Intellectual Agenda" professor, David Gelernter. I've certainly never met anyone so fond of hearing himself spout The Truth in such equal and astronomical proportions of pomposity and sheer ignorance. Among the rare gems I heard in the few lectures I attended, the worst (best) were these:
1) No one today believes in Cartesian dualism (except of course for the chair of the Yale philosophy department).
2) Betrand Russell was not just an atheist (he wasn't an atheist), but a "flaming" atheist (he wasn't an atheist, and I'm not sure what it means for an atheist to be flaming anyway, except perhaps to be on fire).
After the sneer about Russell, I stopped going to class. But that's a story for another time. The reason I bring this up is because all those memories recurred to me when I read Gelernter's latest contribution to the philistinizing of political discourse. I suppose neoconservatives are as entitled to a creation myth as anyone else, but the notion that Disraeli is the founder of their movement is preposterous, especially in light of the much closer resemblance of Gladstonian liberal interventionism to neoconservative foreign policy. What accounts for this anti-historical foundationalism is that Gelernter is by any intelligible reading of his piece actually accepting the anti-Semitic slur according to which "neoconservative" and "Jewish conservative" are interchangeable terms.
The piece gets progressively worse, and I'll have more to say about it later; for now, I'll leave Gelernter's slander of Isiah Berlin without extensive comment:
His [Disraeli's] over-the-top pride, set against widespread Jewish self-hatred of the sort embodied by (for example) Marx or (nowadays) Noam Chomsky, is intensely refreshing--a cool dip on a hot day. Too bad so many Jewish intellectuals are afraid of the water. Take Isaiah Berlin, who breaks out the sneer-quotes to mock Disraeli for conceiving himself "lifted above the teeming multitude by the genius of a 'great' race." No doubt Berlin would have rated America, too, not great but merely "great"--or was he afraid to exult in Jewish genius lest his gentile friends not like him any more? Berlin is long dead, but many thousands like him live on. Who needs anti-Semites when so many Jewish scholars attribute a robust interest in Jewish achievement not to pride but to "insecurity"--a disease with which they seem suspiciously familiar?Two quick points: for the sake of the children, let's hope David Gelernter never takes a cool dip on a hot day. And more substantively, in re: the remark that Berlin was "afraid to exult in Jewish genius lest his gentile friends not like him any more": As that famously self-hating Jew Woody Allen said in a very different context: What an asshole.
[N.B. I hope it's clear that the logic here is not self-referentially incoherent. No doubt I have contributed to the coarsening of political discourse. I'm sort of in favor in that. What I object to is its philistinization, and that is Gelernter's project--ed.]
Friday, February 04, 2005
Deep Throat Is?
George Herbert Walker Bush(?)!!! WTF? We've waited 32 years for this?
Thursday, February 03, 2005
Eric Muller, Murderer
But the story about the baton sounds fabricated, FWIW.
Thought For The Day
“Yes, at first I was happy to be learning how to read. It seemed exciting and magical, but then I read this: Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. I read every last word of this garbage, and because of this piece of shit, I am never reading again.” —police officer Barbrady, South Park (1998)
Gods And Quadrangles
Jamie Kirchick noticed the slightly uncomplimentary review I gave to Jon Berry's review of God on the Quad and sent me his review of said book for the New York Sun.
It seems to be stuck behind a subscriber firewall, but I'll summarize it by saying that Jamie's piece is to Jon's as virtually any publication is to townhall.com. Here's the money quote:
And while the book's journalistic aspects, exploring the lives of those who attend religious colleges, will be of interest to any college student (especially those who attend schools in Blue States), Ms. Riley's conclusions about these schools are problematic. Her belief that the effect religiously educated students will have in society is entirely positive seems to be colored more by her own political leanings. It is hardly supported by her own findings:
How, just to cite one of many examples, does the establishment by Baptist Baylor University of a center to study "intelligent design," (a trendy euphemism for Creationism) point to her contention that the students who attend these schools are not "intellectually backward?" I don't dispute Ms. Riley's portrayal of the students at the colleges she profiles being more studious and conscientious than their peers at mainstream universities. But what these students are actually learning is just as important, if not more.
Has Glenn Reynolds ever disliked a Bush speech? In addition to describing the SOTU as "good...Bush's best ever," he found Bush to be the winner of all three presidential debates, etc. etc. If Reynolds has any political aesthetics other than "Do X where X is that which maximizes the net expected utility of the Republican party," it has yet to manifest itself.
The Yale University Rugby Club website just went online with a cool-looking redesign. I remain on the roster as a "hooker" (so called because my position involves hooking a ball with my feet, not exchanging sexual favors for money), but after three straight semesters with season-ending injuries, that status is more a formalism than anything and I wouldn't blame our rookies for not knowing who I am.
The Partisan Response
I have vague memories of the opposition speeches going back to around the mid-90s, and while they were all fairly snooze-inducing, I have to say that the Reid-Pelosi duet might have been the worst public speech I have ever heard. It's not the Democrats' fault that they had to prepare the "response" before ever seeing or hearing the text of Bush's speech, but it is their fault that A) they chose as their public advocates two of the most charmless people ever to appear on television, and B) they asked them to recite two of the worst speeches ever written.
Harry Reid: "We don't want to gamble with Social Security. And I'm a senator representing Las Vegas." Who exactly thought that would be cute or otherwise a good idea? I'd be willing to place a discrete wager on Reid not surviving through his next election; the moment he was named as minority leader the Republicans were undoubtedly licking their chops at the prospect of claiming another scalp, at least after they got over their initial confusion and disbelief over the Democrats appointing another vulnerable red-state senator as their party leader.
And Pelosi? If week-old cadavers have faces that are less warm, it's not by a huge margin. Criticizing someone's appearance is almost always a bit of a low blow, but not, I think, when she made the conscious decision to botox her visage into a pagan death masque.
Pretty much par for the course with the Democrats: Bush gives a speech that was mediocre even by his own standards and the Democrats do something to make him look like fucking Cicero in contrast.
I've got nothing stunningly profound to say about the president's speech. It looked to me like he basically phoned it in, which might be a common occurrence during his second term. Extraordinarily lucky for Bush however, was the spontaneous photo-op of the dead soldier's mother hugging the Iraqi woman. For everything that was wrong and remains wrong about the administration's Iraq policy, is it possible to wish that that woman had never been able to vote freely?
What else? Bush is plainly lying through his teeth about his budgetary math, and it looks like the Newspeak idiom of "personalization" is in full effect---which makes Bush against "privatization" no matter how strongly he is for privatization, a cool trick to pull off if you ever get to be president.
Railing against "activist judges" is standard Republican discourse, but I was a bit surprised that Bush is still hawking the FMA specifically. We now know for sure that Bush was not an anti-gay bigot when he was a college student, and I find it unlikely that he has become a bigot in the intervening 30 years---and he'll never run for another office again---so the combination of cynicism and cowardice involved in his continued advocacy of a constitutional validation of gay bashing is rather staggering. On this count, the problem with Bush is definitely not his ideals; it's his courage, and this SOTU dispels for me any lingering doubt over whether or not there is a single domestic policy point on which Bush will stand up to James Dobson. I suppose that in his own mind, Bush justifies compromise with the Dobsonian faction of the right on the grounds that he needs their support in order to continue to fight the war, but even if you take that calculation as plausible, there's an obvious looming problem: In four years, Bush will not be president; and the forces he mobilized and unleashed in the past election are not going to suddenly demobilize.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Now Look Who's Blogging
Apparently, Almighty God. Of course you could have guessed this based on his whole Cataclysmic Flood thing, let alone allowing bad things to happen to good people, but apparently YHVH has a pretty fucking sick sense of humor.
For the record, the comments attributed to me are not actually mine. And the reason I haven't linked to it till now is, er, nobody told me (till now).
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) is on the floor of the US Senate explaining that the president does, in fact, have the unchecked fiat power ascribed to him in the original torture memo, but that it is to the credit of Bush and Gonzales that he hasn't yet used it. What a perfect Soviet citizen Mr. Sessions would have made.
Russ Feingold is speaking at 1:15 pm; I'll check back in then.
12:09 pm: Sessions' mendacity is almost too revolting for words. He's now defiling the upper chamber of Congress by arguing that captured prisoners aren't necessarily entitled to a full array of rights because (of course!) the soldiers who captured them would have been justified in killing them in combat.
2:31 pm: Well I fucked up on that Feingold thing. But that's because I trusted C-SPAN. To borrow a sage line of defense used on Condoleeza Rice's behalf, I was a consumer of intelligence, and really, when you think about it, a victim. When last I checked, former Ku Klux Klan recruiting officer Robert Byrd had assumed the floor of the Senate. His speeches aren't quite the same thing as recitation of the phonebook, but they tend to go on longer and to less inspirational effect.
Don't Care Anymore
It's not exactly a secret that John Derbyshire goes beyond standard conservative arguments against gay civil equality to embracing fairly outrageous bigotry and---here's a case where using this term actually makes sense---homophobia.
Have a look at this charming exchange on the Corner:
MILLER'S CROSSING [John Podhoretz]Now take a moment to reflect on the sort of mentality that would be inclined to watch a film and then abruptly decide not to because a prominent character is gay. At least the generation that thinks this way is dying. Ticktockticktockticktocktick
I once horrified Jonah by saying that the secret to understanding Miller's Crossing is that Gabriel Byrne's character is gay and he's in love with Albert Finney -- but that's only because I AM RIGHT!!!!!
Posted at 04:36 PM...[snip]...
RE: MILLER'S CROSSING [John Derbyshire]
John P.: Now I don't want to watch it.
Posted at 04:55 PM
For The Defense
New YDN column today. Here are my thoughts re: Larry Summers and the terrible things he said. I have a feeling there's going to be some hate mail over this. God knows I've worked hard enough at this---it's about time for a serious threat.
Anyway, money quote (if I'm allowed to say so):
Gender equality, which we rightfully strive for, is not the same thing as gender identity, which is impossible. Recognition of that fact is not sexism and not misogyny. Though it might not have occurred to them yet, the actual enemy of Summers' shocked accusers is reality.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Paul Krugman proves---let me say that again, proves---that the advocates of Social Security privatization are caught in an a priori fatal error. (Okay, on the off-chance that his math is wrong, I put less than 100% creedence in his argument. But not a lot less.)
The point: The argument for privatization is premised on the notion of an impending fiduciary crisis. It needn't be framed that way---the president and his pro-privatization comrades are free to make a context-independent moral argument for privatization; they just haven't. As we've discussed at some length, the "crisis" is a work of imaginative fiction. But let's assume for the sake of argument that the crisis is for real. For that scenario to obtain, the economy would have to perform so poorly that privatization would only exacerbate the material suffering of penurious retirees.
The bait-and-switch move of the pro-privatization faction is to neatly transition from worst-of-all-worlds economic forecasting as evidence against retaining the current system to best-of-all-worlds forecasting as evidence in favor of adopting a private system. But on their own terms, if the economy performs well enough to make private accounts an truly attractive option, then social security would be on as sound footing as possible.
To sum up: If the privatizers' argument against public Social Security is right, then privatization will make a bad situation worse. If their argument for private accounts is right, then there is no need for private accounts. Next subject, please.
The Value Of A Yale Education
Jonathan Berry (ES '05) has a review of God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America by Naomi Schaefer Riley at townhall.com. Though not bad relative to the standard townhall.com piece, the review is pretty miserably written. I'll look past that because I'm late for a meeting and there are several substantive points I want to make.
Conservative hatred of "the elite" can only extend so far, and hyping obviously inferior, often non-accredited "universities" is way beyond that point. Berry should be ashamed of himself for lending even a bit of cover to Bob Jones University.
But the densest point of his article is the notion that by virtue of their "spiritual unity," religious colleges are somehow able to get beyond the "arguments over first principles" that are the apparent sticking point for "secular" institutions.
Whatever. First principles are where it's at. I know from experience that Berry would prefer it if we could simply agree that truth and beauty are identical, accept the rest of Thomist metaphysics, and then constructively spend our time deducing the objective criteria of aesthetic justification (taking time out to calculate the number of angels that could fit on the tip of Pius XII's mitre), but there's a world of philosophy that he seems to take pride in missing out on, and his prescription for the rest of us---act like ostriches about the 14th century onward---is simple philistinism.