Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Fair And Balanced

Fox News Crawl: "Could 9/11 have been avoided if Moussaoui was tortured?"

Submitted without comment.

New at YDN

I get at something that's been bothering me for a while:
Krywanczyk and Johnston, quite clearly, have very few political or even aesthetic sensibilities in common -- at least on the surface. Below the skin, they are far closer ideologically than either would be happy to realize. What unites them is the lazy approach to political writing that is everywhere -- left, right and center. To wit: A writer sits down at her desk, hoping to make a political argument. She has a general sense of what she would like to say, but has not yet thought through her argument with precision. She has two choices: 1) Do the slow, hard work of thinking before committing any words to paper, and the even slower, harder work of precise writing; 2) Skip thinking about her argument, and use her energy instead to cover up foolish and half-baked ideas with a mass of jargon and nonsense phrases, illogic and hand-waving. Across all ideological divisions, the overwhelming majority of political writers choose the second option, because it is easier.

Unfortunately, such laziness is not benign. The language that bad political writing debases is a communal resource, and not every instance of slovenly language is innocent. Orwell had his favorite examples: "Marshal Petain was a true patriot"; "The Soviet Press is the freest in the world"; "The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution"; and we might add another, courtesy of our president, "We do not torture." Sentences such as these have long ceased to express anything resembling their ordinary language meanings, and instead are almost exclusively used to make vague and general declarations of political allegiance.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sunday Sermonette

Once the menu of well-worked out theories is before us, philosophy is a matter of opinion. Is that to say that there is no truth to be had? Or that the truth is of our own making, and different ones of us can make it differently? Not at all! If you say flatly that there is no god, and I say that there are countless gods but none of them are our worldmates, then it may be that neither of us is making any mistake of method. We may each be bringing our opinions to equilibrium in the most careful possible way, taking account of all the arguments, distinctions, and counterexamples. But one of us, at least, is making a mistake of fact. Which one is wrong depends on what there is...

I am perhaps the most extreme polytheist going. If, as I suppose, a being does not have to satisfy some inconsistent description to be a god, then I take the number of the gods to be at least [beth-2]. Unlike most polytheists, however, I think of this world we live in as entirely godless.
---David Lewis, Introduction to Philosophical Papers (vol. I).

Justice

Over at Glenn Greenwald's site, very interesting stuff, as ever, on the Congress-DOJ interactions over the wiretapping insanity. From the almost always superb comments section, here's a wonderful example of a question put by Democrats to the DOJ folks, and the DoJ response:
Question: 43. Has information obtained through warrantless NSA interceptions been used in any criminal prosecutions?

Answer: The purpose of the Terrorist Surveillance Program is not to bring criminals to justice. Instead, the Program is directed at protecting the Nation from foreign attack by detecting and preventing plots by a declared enemy of the United States. Because the Program is directed at a “special need, beyond the normal need for law enforcement,” the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment does not apply. See, e.g., Vernonia School Dist. v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 653 (1995). Because collecting foreign intelligence information without a warrant does not violate the Fourth Amendment and because the Terrorist Surveillance Program is lawful, there appears to be no legal barrier against introducing this evidence in a criminal prosecution. See 50 U.S.C. § 1806(f), (g). Past experience outside the context of the Terrorist Surveillance Program indicates, however, that operational considerations, such as the potential for disclosing classified information, must be considered in using intelligence information in criminal trials.


Now, I am no lawyer, and the my understanding of the issues here is dwarfed by many people, I'm sure, but isn't there something just crazy about this answer. Most of the critique up is about how the DOJ is being non-responsive to Democrat questions. But here's an example, it seems to me, where they are coming out and giving an argument, and the argument is ridiculous: Because the purpose of the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" is not to bring criminals to justice, it doesn't violate the Fourth Amendment, and because it doesn't violate the Fourth Amendment it can be used to bring criminals to justice.

Uh . . . if this stuff normally goes on in legal arguments, I am even more uncertain about the whole mechanism we use to adjudicate conflicts in this country.

The point in the comments thread is, correctly, made that DOJ would probably never use the info in a criminal trial because that would submit the legality of the program to judicial review, exactly what the DOJ has been avoiding elsewhere (illegel detention stuff) by either charging folks with minor offenses or letting them go.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Minor Victory . . .

. . . but, the left-blogosphere just pushed back real hard and real fast. Good for them.

A Brief Note on Dubai

In response to John Cole, my good friend Finn, and the general uproar of "good sense," mainstream anti-isolation heroes of the left and right, I just want to put in my two, thoroughly under-informed, cents. I am not prone to isolationsim, and I don't think there is a problem as such with foreign national companies outsourced to handle certain infrastructure -- such is the way of an inter-dependent world, and in the long run, ties of mutual business interest may have an ameliorative effect on violent jingoism. However, what the critics of many of the critics of the Ports deal -- though certainly not all -- miss, is that the deal was infuriating to certain quarters because of the ideologiacl dissonance it evinced. The Bush regime has risen to power by welding together a range of phobias, ignorances, and parnoias, in the name of Americanism, and with the aim of occluding what is, in general, an old-fashion pro-concentrated-and-unequal wealth agenda. With the Dubai Ports deal, the regimists suddenly said, no, no, no, we are most certainly NOT racist, chauvinistic, and ignorant operators -- we are modern men with a pro-business and pro-globalization agenda, who are willing to accept minor ideological deviance on the part of our business partners.

The truth is, I think, that they are both pro-business and ignorant chauvinists, a mix that has historically proved quite palatable. The bottom line was, however, that on the one hand, they had drawn lots of their support based on their rhetoric of chauvinism, and those supporters were betrayed. And on the other hand, their liberal internationalist talk of eliminating tyranny from the world, no matter what the circumstance, was once again given the lie -- what critics of the critics haven't dealt with is that quite simply the UAE is not a pure partner by any means in the "war against whatever." The real-politik answer is, of course, that there are no pure partners, or very few. Fine. But that is NOT the nuanced rhetoric that Bush has used to push his agenda of intervention and civil-rights violation.

So the Ports deal got nailed, NOT because most Americans, on the left and right, are ignorant little peasants who don't understand the fabulous complexities of the global market, but rather because the governing rhetorical paradigm was unmasked as wholly incoherent, and a scene of resistance was openend. Those on the left and the right who smugly state with assurance that this was one more ignorant non-cosmopolitan American mis-step miss the point. Whether or not the deal was safe re: national security, so be it. If you have problems with our current rulers in this country, then you don't always get to pick your battles. I for one don't particularly care about the Ports deal. I think if you take seriously the idea of locating and eliminating all those governments that abet terrorism then you have to take a look at the UAE. But whatever.

The point is I think it is a little ridiculous for people, especially for those who are passionately anti-tyranny as it is being manifested in this country currently, to pride themselves on maintaing a cool analysis of the "facts" when what is being fought is a battle for rhetoric as much as a battle for logic.

Idiocy Convergence

John Cole doesn't disappoint:
At this rate, by next week I fully expect Duncan Black, Jane Hamsher, and Howard Dean to join hands with Tom Tancredo demanding that a 50 foot wall with laser beams, concertina, and landmines be built on our border with Mexico.
In other news, if the assertion expressed by this headline turns out to hold up, then the government of the United States is, in fact, elective monarchy. So, I'd suggest that the good folks at the Washington Post and New York Times, whose business it presumably is to report facts, prepare tomorrow's front-pager as "Government of United States is Elective Monarchy."

For real though, no worries, the Democrats are here.

Rock Star Cheney

The Smoking Gun has the list of demands the Vice President's staff gives to hotels where ol' Dick'll be staying. Nothing outrageous, although asking for "Diet Caffeine Free Sprite" shows how much he knows: Sprite was developed as a caffeine free drink. And then there's this:
All Televisions tuned to FOX News (please let the advance office know if it is satellite or cable television)
I can sympathize with not wanting to have to deal with folks on TV giving an exegesis of what a fucking monster you are. One solution is to change the channel; the other....

Blog Props

Three blogs getting added to the roll:

John Cole, the last principled Tory on earth (my admiration and sympathy).

Gregory Djerjian, right-of-center foreign policy that is conscientious and not insane.

The author of Sago Boulevard, who commented here a while ago and blogrolled FW; he's a philo grad from Brandeis now studying at Yeshiva University, which could either mean Thomism-of-the-Stetl or something really interesting (i.e., he's not going to be just okay), and it looks like the latter.

Kritik der Politik

Perhaps it's obvious that I'm holding out hope for South Park to be a salutary influence on political culture; the potential is there, but so is the potential for co-optation into this nonsense. Matt and Trey are not prophets, and the bulk of South Park's fan base in all likelihood doesn't comprehend its indictment of their parentalism. It's up to activists --- this is to stave off getting accused of hating activism (or politics in general) again --- to abolish the regnant autocracy of spirit in New York, Washington, London, Berlin, the Hague, Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Harvard, Princeton and everywhere else.

Yeah, I know, get our troops out of Iraq stat. And then what do we do when it turns out that we've learned zero lessons? Here's hoping that the upshot of the Bush-years isn't the establishment of semi-constitutional monarchy by minority acclaim, a prospect that looks likelier every day.

Kulturkritik

[This post is dedicated to that girl--ed.]

Very little of what falls under the designation "cultural criticism" these days strikes me as either cultural or critical (that's why I invited Jeremy to contribute to this blog, incidentally) --- which is all the more reason to give a shout out to a couple of items I came upon recently.

First, Nick Lemann, writing in the New Yorker, gives the definitive account of Bill O'Reilly as both particular and universal, demonstrating how it is possible for an epiphenomenon (in this case, of right-wing ressentiment) to have tremendous causal power. Money quote:
If what you know about "The O’Reilly Factor" comes mainly from its opponents on the left—from movies like "Outfoxed" and Web sites like Media Matters—and you watch it regularly for a while, you’ll be surprised by how little of the content these days is political. "The O’Reilly Factor" is, increasingly, not a conservative show but a cop show—"O’Reilly: Special Victims Unit," perhaps—devoted particularly to sex offenders; the host, in effect, is Shannon Michaels playing Tommy O'Malley [the split O'Reilly alter-egos of his gruesome novel]. Once, when Howard Stern was asked to explain his success, he said that he owed it to lesbians. O’Reilly owes his to child molesters.[...]

The connection between the scourge of child sex abuse and liberals whom O’Reilly doesn’t like—a long list that includes George Clooney, Hillary Clinton, Paul Krugman, and Alec Baldwin—may not be obvious, but, to O’Reilly’s way of thinking, both are part of a national climate of permissiveness and relativism. This is manifested in the unprovable, but no doubt painful, loss of the norms that O’Reilly and his audience remember growing up with. The implied connection, anyway, gives O’Reilly a good pretext for the odd but compelling mixture of subjects on “The O’Reilly Factor,” with foreign policy one minute, a lurid (one might even say titillating) sex crime the next, and the Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof’s latest unfair attack on O’Reilly the next. (O’Reilly is feuding with Kristof, who has assembled from readers’ pledges a notional fund to send O’Reilly on a reporting trip to Darfur. O’Reilly recently parried by saying that the Times “continues to ignore the child predator situation here in the U.S.A.”) It would be useless to accuse O’Reilly of trafficking in cultural symbols and not substance, because to him cultural symbols are substance. Like every artist, he has created a territory that is distinctively his, and under anyone else’s supervision would not cohere.
O'Reilly is the id of George Bush's America, and something like the type-defining token of many of the pathologies of our political culture. Whether the right analysis is Nietzschean or Freudian (or something else) --- i.e., whether the motive force is sex or power or both or neither --- I leave as an open question.

Next, and on a brighter note, FW-pal Alex Remington has a post up that deserves to be in Time or the NYT magazine about just what makes South Park such a revolutionary show:
The thing is, the show doesn't do things to push the envelope--it just does them because they're funny, from a talking taco that craps ice cream to Satanist woodland critters trying to incarnate the Antichrist. This lack of forcedness is what makes the show so twisted: they can do literally anything, and it would be hard to be surprised. That what makes "Scott Tenorman Must Die" the greatest South Park episode of all time, for Cartman exacts a revenge so shocking that it changes his character forever, from sociopath to psychopath: the show manages to redefine its own boundaries at the same time that it violates every expectation the audience could ever have had.
My only complaint is that I wish Alex had gone on at a bit more length. I'd agree that "Scott Tenorman Must Die" is the most important episode in the show's history, the definitive break between its funny-but-still- gimmicky early seasons and what Matt and Trey have done since (to be sure, the later elements were present to some degree at least from the second season, with "Underpants Gnomes" a particular highlight of the early period). As for the greatest episode, both my qualitative and quantitative intuitions pull a lot of different ways. Viscerally, "Cartmanland" is somewhere near my favorite simply in virtue of being an absurdist retelling of Job (and one of the best ever). The funniest premise for an episode (I think) belongs to "The Red Badge of Gayness" which I won't try to summarize except to say that it's not what you think. The episode that made me laugh the most was "Woodland Critter Christmas."

Alex is particularly good on South Park's place among the "adult animation" (if we must) genre, and I'd like to make explicit his implicit point that the best adult animation is approximately as good as performance art gets at our present stage of civilization, with a tiny minority of cinema and live-action tv really in the same league --- e.g., the George-centered storylines of Seinfeld, season two and after of Curb Your Enthusiasm, almost all of Arrested Development, and the hit (versus miss) sketches on Mr. Show with Bob and David. (Sometime in the hopefully near future, I'll elaborate on this a bit more, but suffice it to say for now that dislike of animated comedy is mostly reducible to stupid philistine dogmatism of either a hipster or a crotchety jerk form.) If you'll permit me the conceit of drawing parallels between animated comedy and the other great original American art form, jazz, here's how I get an explanatory handle on the evolution of animated comedy: The Flinstones are something like the New Orleans period; Rocky and Bullwinkle (the one important element of the genre Alex failed to mention) is the Louis Armstrong; The Simpsons was Bird and (having outlived him) is now Miles Davis, more focused on reinvention than innovation; and South Park, plainly, is Coltrane. The one show I'm aware of that might prove to be the next revolution in the genre --- though South Park, further like Coltrane, could be the end of originality in the genre --- is Drawn Together, which extracts the elusive but inherent humor in topics like "abortion, rape, incest, spousal abuse, racism, anti-Semitism, and terrorism" (quoting the Wikipedia summary here); I think the show's ethos is nicely summed up by Princess Clara's sobriquet for her vagina, "my whites-only drinking fountain." Those, as far as I can tell, are the generational strata of animated comedy. There are certainly other very good shows --- most of them part of Adult Swim, e.g. Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Harvey Birdman --- but they would correspond, to continue my metaphor, to impressive but largely insidery figures like Lester Young, Cannonball Adderley, Charles Mingus (actually, hundreds more) whose impact on larger musical culture, while significant, is indirect.

Then there is Family Guy. Alex only refers to it in passing, and I'd be interested in his thoughts. I was a big fan during the show's first incarnation, and then two things happened: 1) The DVDs came out and everybody became a fan; 2) Scott McFarlane & co. lost their edge. Family Guy is still funny enough to be worth watching if you've got nothing else to do at 9 on Sundays, but its synthesis of Monty Python and The Simpsons, once promising, is a pretty spectacular disappointment. (The spinoff, American Dad, is generally excruciating to watch after any of the shows it competes with, though the Paul Lynde-esque gay alien is terrific.) The career of Family Guy is one of a movement from subversiveness to gimmickry and conformity. (Questions for commenters: What are the general features of that trend, and what are the most notable examples?)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bush

It's 10:15 AM. I have to run to class, and thus cannot live blog such an event. But Bush is giving a presser write now and he looks and is acting/speaking like an absolute wreck. Jumpy. He keeps sliding his shoulders/upper torso back and forth across an invisible reptilian plane and doing very bizarre things with his face.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Repeated as Farce

An article in the WSJ details a slew of new books by various Army officers and military experts on the paradigm of fighting in Vietnam. Essentially, these histories are revisions of the old, and obviously erroneous, theory that Vietnam was lost because of civilian command and media reluctance to commit more troops and an even larger, devestating footprint. Our footprint was grand. The books are also written now, and increasingly popular among today's commanders, because they argue that in order to effectively succeed in Iraq, we must learn the lessons of a failed Vietnam strategy. What I find so darkly humorous about all this is essentially the military folks are saying: "Iraq is another Vietnam, and we have been repeating some of our mistakes there, and we must learn what we did wrong in Vietnam." So yes, what rabid communist and terrorist-loving critics of the war have been saying since before it began, that Iraq risks being another Vietnam, is, in fact, the going conclusion amongst the war-intellects. So when citizens said "You're making the same mistake you did in Vietnam" and were considered risible, they were, in fact, correct. And now that is totally accepted by the war-establishment. Maybe just not the traitorous lunatics who push the Bush mirage.

History

And in other news . . .

I look forward to the fresh series of conservative "sociologies" that divine a bankrupt poor-black-male "culture," or better yet some AndrewSullivan/S.Pinker/Larry Summers genetic explanation. It is the oldest, oldest, most banal leftist critique but . . . nearly every country on the planet pays for its history of abuse. I don't even mean this in the sense of moral retribution. We are just going to pay for a long history of injustice which, outside of the academy, is rather unfashionable to discuss. It is always very exciting to me when the classic attackers of leftist academia take academics to task for their relativism or their lack of respect for fact, and then when someone starts talking about slavery, or the absolute betrayal of reconstruction, those same opponents shout him or her down for being "simplistic." Or hateful of the fatherland. Clearly the more logical and enlightened explanation is a special ontological category exception; coincidentally, one of the two groups of people that our society most mobilized to oppress and vitiate happens to have certain ontic flaws that render them unable to succeed. The other group, the pre-Columbian natives, also have not done too well. This is also attributable to psychological and moral failings.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Which Fundamentalism?

The question ASull is dealing with in this post is, I think, a fascinating one. I disagree with his conclusion, however. As much as the religious fundamentalism and anti-empiricism of the current Bushite movement is clear, Sullivan's proposed structure where a few bribes to big business are glued on to the central Christianist fundamentalism is inexact. And the inexactitude has everything to do with what most "mainstream" bi-coastal intellects don't want to admit: Hyper-growth, monopolistic capitalism is fundamentalist, is irrational, and is anti-empiricist. Fealty to big business and fealty to an incomprehensible, vengeful and bigoted God dovetail quite nicely in most instances.

The mega-church, evangelical phenomenon is not just "using the techniques" of specular hyper-capitalism -- its is a reciprocal offshoot. "Free-market" libertarians, unapologetic "liberals," etc. are going, I think, to find the next couple of decades very compromising. The fundamentalist ethic of unequal and opaque distribution of power will continue to grow with the manufactured marketplace.

A Golden Goose In Every Pot, A Hovercraft In Every Garage

Glenn Reynolds :
1. Did you support the invasion of Iraq?

Yes.

2. Have you changed your position?

No. Sanctions were failing and Saddam was a threat, making any other action in the region impossible.

3. What should the U.S. do in Iraq now?

Win.
And here's where Reynolds takes his cues:
Alan: Well, last week we showed you how to become a gynaecologist. And this week on 'How to do it' we're going to show you how to play the flute, how to split an atom, how to construct a box girder bridge, how to irrigate the Sahara Desert and make vast new areas of land cultivatable, but first, here's Jackie to tell you all how to rid the world of all known diseases.

Jackie: Hello, Alan.

Alan: Hello, Jackie.

Jackie: Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvellous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there'll never be any diseases ever again.

Sunday Brunch

Galactus, Eater of Planets.

Gerald Ford was delicious.

George Bush ate the Constitution.

Every Neil Young song ever.

When you wish upon a star.

Protests

In this NYT article about the third-anniversary protests against the war in Iraq these lines stood out:


In New York, protesters gathered on three lanes of Broadway south of 42nd Street, after the city denied the organizers permission to set up near an armed services recruitment office. Mounted police patrolled the avenue, while dozens of police officers attempted to keep traffic moving on the street and sidewalk.

The demonstrators, bundled against the cold and confined by police fences to a two-block stretch, came from as close as Chelsea and as far away as South Korea.
I know that in the midst of all the civic and geopolitical calamities we face today this can be seen as a quibble. But, along with every other erosion, is there any doubt that any concept of "free assembly" -- not in comparison to other countries over against which we might be MORE free, but in comparison to the historical ideals we all are always trumpeting -- can there be any doubt that the concept of "free assembly," that the possibility of a civic practice, has been utterly subverted by control, regulation, and manufactured spectacle?

Why should a group of people who want to meet in the public street about anything have to be licensed and panopticized by the state?

Mic Check

So...here's what's been up:
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
We’re doing some maintenance on one of our
Blog*Spot servers. Some blogs will be inaccessible while this is going on.
Everyone is able to publish, however, regardless of whether or not the blog is
down for maintenance.We apologize to those blog owners who are affected by this.
This partial outage is necessary to fix some of the transient Blog*Spot problems
that have popped up recently.Update: The maintenance is complete.
Posted by
Pete at 12:32
PST

Thursday,
March 16, 2006
The filer that we have been having trouble with in the last
few days failed again. Those blogs that are stored on the bad filer are
temporarily not available for publishing and viewing. We are working on
replacing the filer and restoring access to the blogs affected.Update (10:40 am,
March 17): The filer has been restored. All affected blogs are available for
publishing and reading.
Posted by Pal at 21:14
PST


Saturday,
March 18, 2006
A clarification about the filer we restored yesterday: This
machine is indeed up and functioning again, so the affected blogs are no longer
entirely inaccessible. However, it is still not in great shape and we are in the
process of moving all the data off of it and on to better machines. So over the
next few days there may still be lingering and intermittent problems for some
blogs. This includes the "forbidden" errors we're all getting tired of, as well
as occasional publishing errors, or incompletely published pages. If you get an
error viewing a blog, refreshing the page once or twice should clear it. For
publishing problems, simply wait a few minutes and republish, and that should
take care of it. Thanks for your patience while we work on clearing all this up.
Posted by Graham at 08:22
PST
Pete, Pal, and Graham: what assholes.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Paranoid Style

Dog bites man: As Democratic senators respond to Russell Feingold's censure motion by soiling their expensive-but-not-too-expensive-looking trousers and pastel pantsuits, it turns out that a plurality of the public is with Feingold. The evidence that Bush committed multiple felonies is overwhelming; the public support is there; and the crimes are ongoing today; what does Bush still have left to do in order to get impeached? A gay affair with an intern?

Man bites dog: Hillary Clinton does something right.

UPDATE: Jack Balkin wonders how the world turned upside down. My answer? Irony killed shame, then itself.

A Bush Bumper Sticker To Get Behind

Word.

Francoism And Man At Yale (Pt. II)

No, we're not nearly done yet. When we left off with Yale's resident Catholic football player struggling to tread water in a sea of liberalism, the old sport was upset with me for not observing Catholic dictates on acceptable terms of address for Josef Ratzinger. Let's say I were in principle prepared to engage in idolatrous worship of a creepy septuagenarian ex-Hitler youth. How to resolve the incompatability of Ratzinger-cultism with the classical liberal conception of inalienable personal and democratic rights?

Ol' Catholicfootballplayeraquadog has a segmented proposal (all emphases in original):

(1) Deny that Ratzinger's designated spokesapparatchiks speak on his behalf:
This principle [that "the right to freedom of thought and expression...cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers"]
applies obviously for any religion. This is an unsigned diplomatic release from “the Vatican.” The Vatican is not an entity that can speak for itself. The Catholic Church is not an entity that can speak for itself. Only people can speak, thus some unknown person made this statement. It is most likely from a papal diplomat...

This is not a moral statement. It is not His Holiness the Pope, Benedict XVI speaking ex cathedra and infallibly on faith and morals. It is a potentially errant diplomatic statement regarding responsible practices of free speech in the current international climate.
(2) Deny that words mean what they mean:
In no way is the statement claiming that the Catholic Church is “opposed to individual and civil rights”.
(3) Affirm the contents of the statement:
[I]n civilized society, there exists the need for peaceful coexistence and thus ideas of moderate freedoms of religion and speech exist.
(4) Identify which fundamental freedoms you oppose in addition to those Ratzinger has anathematized:
Nor is the Catholic Church going soft on Islam. It is still positively maintained that Islam is a heretical religion based on the false revelation of a fake prophet. Theological freedom of religion is never condoned.
A stunning feat of meta-theoretical agility! Get that boy a research grant so that we can finally settle the matter of how many angels fit on the head of a pin and prove that damnliar Copernicus wrong.

Incidentally, I don't expect anyone of the opinion that "There is but one Truth" to notice this until it's too late, but ya know, Falangist Catholics aren't the only ones to refuse to condone freedom of religion. For example, those angry bearded fellows who are putting bounties on the heads of Danish cartoonists; yeah, those guys think it's blasphemy to graphically depict any of their prophets; and Jesus was one of their prophets; so every man-in-loincloth adorned instrument-of-death necklace, according to fundamentalist Muslims, blasphemes Islam. So, I'll just go over here while you folks finish your mutual business; Yahweh knows you deserve each other; just try to slaughter slightly fewer Jews for no reason this time around.

What's that? "Catholicism does not rely on 'conversion by the sword' like Islam. Nor does it seek to create a unified state and religion- a true theocracy." Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Eternal innerant truth and all that. Vamp it on out:
[T]he US and many countries are imperfect. Thus the need to demand the end to abortion, marriage reform, banning "gay marriage", contraception, pornography, etc.
Nope, nothing totalitarian about that.
Keep in mind that ALL THAT IS BUILT ON UNREALITY CANNOT LAST FOREVER.
Yeah, that's the ticket.

[Ed note: There are days' if not weeks' worth of entertainment to be found on Schmalhofer's front page at any given moment. Recent post titles include "Is there a Bible in the Bat-cave?", "Oath Against Modernism, Feminism, and New Age", "Bavarian Pope Benedict XVI Gear!" (wherein our hero recounts the tale of his opa bringing 120lbs. of Ratzinger-kitsch from God's homeland, Bavaria to God's other homeland, 'Merica), "Get Ready For The Da Vinci Blasphemy" (oh boy!), and my personal favorite, "Bring Back the Holy Roman Empire!", a yarn even more charming than its title suggests, of the apparently bonkers founder of Domino's pizza attempting to establish Catholic theocracy in a Florida municipality named "Ave Maria" (natch). Why do I give a shit about this stuff? Schmalhofer is a token of a type; namely, the movement in the anti-democratic wing of the religious right to adopt the poses and discursive tactics of stultified PC leftism. What's the agenda? Ban consensual private behavior among adults. What is the term for anyone who opposes the agenda? "Catholic-hater." This is the way that bratty four-year-olds try to get what they want; among ostensibly grown-ass men, it's just revolting, and dangerous to whatever extent it might succeed.]

Bonus: Bill Donohue goes super crazy batshit fascist:
What does it take to get the New York-Hollywood gang to stop with their Catholic bashing? Threats of beheadings? Threats of lawsuits? Seems that way. What ever happened to common decency?
Try what works, says I.

Francoism And Man At Yale (Pt. I)

You know what they say: J'ai toujours fait une prière à Dieu, qui est fort courte. La voici: Mon Dieu, rendez nos ennemis bien ridicules! Dieu m'a exaucé.

I knew I was doing something right when the peasant in charge of agitprops for the Catholic League manifested her bilious quiddity in an angry attack on me published as a letter in the YDN.

Now, it may be true that God has unfortunately allowed it to pass that intellectual peasants are admitted to Yale for He-knows-what reasons, but He has been good enough to make my feelings towards them at least somewhat known (to them). Case in point, the incomparably named Stephen Alois Schmalhofer, whom you might remember from such exercises in ring-kissing, abnegating prostration before the ghoulish hierarchs of the Roman Catholic church as this one. Meine Damen und Herren, starren sie bitte nach den Grundsatz des Blogs des Herrn Obersturmpanzerführerkatholischerfußballspielern Schmalhofers:
A Catholic Yale football player attempts to stay afloat amidst a sea of liberalism.
So you know it's going to be good stuff.

Last night, my roommate brought it to my attention that Herr Ospfkfs. S.A.S. once again pointed that piercing analytical gaze of his my way a few weeks ago. He took exception, you see, to a half a paragraph in my most recent YDN column but one:
The most disgraceful reaction [to the Intoonfada] of all came -- try to act surprised -- from the Vatican, which claimed that "the right to freedom of expression does not imply the right to offend religious beliefs." Thus does Cardinal Ratzinger's church put us on notice, yet again, that it is positively opposed to individual and civil rights.
Now, had I been writing about Cardinal Ratzinger's fascism and its various implications (inasmuch as he's an object of delusional mass-veneration) for non-Catholics, lay Catholics, and Catholic clergy, I would have given a more systematic account of said fascism. Instead, I was writing about craven Western responses to the Intoonfada, the limiting case of such cravenness of course being endorsement of the Islamo-fascists' programmatic goals: you're not a cowardly defender of freedom of conscience if you're against freedom of conscience. (Or as Ratzinger apparently believes, "Das Gewissen der Menschheit bin Ich." [You're not supposed to capitalize the 'i' in 'ich', but you're also supposed to have learnt the lessons of the Second World War--ed.]) So space constraints did not permit me to do a proper conceptual analysis of Ratzinger, though I did lay the groundwork previously. In any case, a book project accurately codenamed Awful Things You Should Know About Josef Ratzinger faces a similar problem to expressing a googolplex in decimal notation, namely that the number of character spaces in an unabridged edition would exceed the number of fundamental particles in the universe; hence it is nomically impossible to complete such a project. Nevertheless, even incomplete accounts of, e.g., Ratzinger's love of war criminals and hatred of people with healthier sex lives than himself, are sure to be illuminating.

Fortunately, there are no nomic barriers to getting a comprehensive handle on the ideology of Ratzinger's sycophantic flock. Ratzinger is to outright Christo-fascism (in its broadest connotation of a cluster of distinct, related concepts), roughly, as sheep like Ospfkfs. S.A.S. are to Falangism (in its narrow connotation of an autocratic personality cult stripped of all but the last vestiges of substantive content, too banal to be radically evil but frightfully zealous nonetheless). Don't take my word for it; take Schmalhofer's:
First of all his name is Pope Benedict XVI. I understand that you might have had a midterm or something but there were a few things in the news about Joseph Ratzinger being elected the new Pope. But since you’re a little out of touch with the news (and reality), let me fill you in. You have a variety of titles to choose from, so pick one or more:

His Holiness The Pope
Bishop of Rome
Vicar of Jesus Christ
Successor of the Prince of the Apostles
Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church (Pontifex Maximus)
Patriarch of the West
Primate of Italy
Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province
Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City
Servant of the Servants of God

I know you don’t call Presidents Bush or Clinton, “Governors”. So try to afford the Pope his due respect.
If you stare hard enough, you can just about watch the dicksucking as it unfolds. (By the way, I do sort of make an effort to keep up with these things.) In any case, multiple-time readers of this site are probably aware of how much bad semantics annoys me on its own, let alone in the service of foul politics; his name is not 'Pope Benedict XVI'; his name is 'Josef Ratzinger'. 'Pope Benedict XVI' is the unearned honorofic that Ratzinger demanded the world use to denote him, to which bullying pomposity the world outside his ossified curia shamefully acquiesced. It is quite correct that I don't refer to Presidents Bush or Clinton as "Governor"; but S.A.S. helpfully provides a necessary condition on such a referential convention, namely that a certain quantity of respect is due the individuals falling under that convention. As for the catechism of fellatial homages, what is significant about the list is that all its members are definite descriptions. And as Schmalhofer doesn't know, definite descriptions are non-rigid designators; hence they pick out the unique individual at any given world who satisfies them; hence, if zero or two or more individuals satisfy them, the descriptions pick out no one.

No one satisfies the description 'His Holiness the Pope', since the occupant of the papal office is not holy on any precisification of 'holiness'; no one satisfies the description 'Vicar of Jesus Christ' because Jesus of Nazareth was a nutty Jewish cult leader and not a messiah; no one satisfies the description 'Successor of the Prince of the Apostles' because there are no apostles such that there is any principate coextensive with them; no one satisfies the description 'Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church' because there is no universal church; no one satisfies the description 'Patriarch of the West' because the West is a collection of constitutional states at least nominally governed by elected public servants; no one satisfies the description 'Primate of Italy' because Italy is a republic and their last experiment in a polity of primacy ended with the primate being hung upside down; no one satisfies the description 'Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province' because the only legitimate government in the Latium region of which Rome is a constituent province is the government headed by regional president Piero Marrazzo; no one satisfies the description 'Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City' because sovereignty resides in the consent of the governed and not the hallucinated divine right of a geriatric celibate wierdo; and no one satisfies the description 'Servant of the Servants of God' because it's (a) indefinite and therefore ill-formed as a singular referring term and (b) serving God is quite different from serving the demiurge; hence for commonsensical folks like me who want our idiolects to include a maximal set of meaningful expressions without countenancing any logical incoherence or literally meaningless expressions, S.A.S.'s litany of terms is useless if not semantically harmful.

So why do I choose to call Ratzinger 'Ratzinger'? Isn't it obvious? It's not, I promise, because I dislike him; I dislike Mother Teresa about as much and will celebrate his acquaintance with the fact that there is no Maker for him to meet with similar enthusiasm as I did for hers, yet I generally don't refer to the old witch as 'Agnes Bojaxhiu'. My first rule for choosing a referring term is that the term's successful nomination of its intended referent is possible, not the case for 'PBXVI', and certainly not the case for all but one of S.A.S.'s oaths of serfdom. As far as I can tell, my only choices are 'Ratzinger' and variants thereof, versus 'the Bishop of Rome.' And here the consideration is simply pragmatic; everybody knows whom 'Ratzinger' refers to, not so for 'BoR'. Etc. etc., here endeth the lesson.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Feingold Gets It

For a rare example of what should be the content of the Sunday morning chat shows, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Russell Feingold puts his modus where his ponens is:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But as you know, the President says he was acting on his inherent authority under the Constitution, and even your resolution acknowledges that no federal court has ruled that a president does not have that authority as commander in chief, so aren’t you jumping the gun?

FEINGOLD: Not at all. You know, we’ve had a chance here for three months to look at whether there’s any legal basis for this, and they’re using shifting legal justifications. First they try to argue that somehow under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act they can do this. It’s pretty clear that they can’t. Then there’s the argument that somehow the military authorization for Afghanistan allowed this. This has basically been laughed out of the room in the Congress. So the last resort is to somehow say that the president has inherent authority to ignore the law of the United States of America, and that has the consequence that the president could even order the assassination of American citizens if that’s the law. So there is no sort of independent inherent authority that allows the president to override the laws passed by the Congress of the United States.
See that? Simple, simple, simple. No need to conjure up a Hegelian synthesis; just ascertain the facts, and see what beliefs are occasioned by the lights of the going theory (in this case, the corpus of American law).

Best Newspaper Column Ever

No fooling. There's no point trying to excerpt, but here's the lede:
Now that the political row in Washington over the Dubai Ports deal is settled, it is time to face the real consequences of this shameful spasm of demagoguery and Arabophobia masquerading as a concern for national security.
Incidentally, I saw Martin Walker on the McLaughlin Group today, making Tony Blankley look even more Jabba-the-Huttish than usual.

For more on the latest spat of bipartisan self-defeating idiocy, see Thomas Knapp.

Bottled Reflexivity

I'm a bit late getting to this Kieran Healy post, but then again it's sort of timeless:
On the other hand, although often ignored in English-speaking countries, it is nevertheless an important fact that an elite French education can entail learning quite a lot of math in addition to ploughing through the great philosophers. So your typical Next Big French Intellectual often has the wherewithal to bug the shite out of technoids and comp-litters, although only one of these constituencies is typically targeted.
Who manages to pull off the rare-double header? Click here to find out.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Office Memo

Attn: everyone on earth:
Please don't confuse the UAE with the UAW.
Thanks, mgmt.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Stab In The Back

As Drum notes. Does Glenn Reynolds have any idea what he's saying:
The press had better hope we win this war, because if we don't, a lot of people will blame the media.
That's right, the US-lib-ruhl media, dastardly dogs, built a time machine and provoked the succession controversy in early Islam because they suffer from Bush Derangement Syndrome. Why do they hate America?

Bipartisanship

When Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Cheney's Pocket) runs out of parliamentary manouvers to block an investigation into administration's felony wire-tapping, the only sensible thing to do is change the rules of the committee. This is how 5-year olds behave.

Stephen Bainbridge, who's the closest thing to a principled Republican you're going to find these days, notes a study that (again) confirms what we already knew: Guantanamo is a torture-gulag for innocents. Enough's enough; it's as if the apologists are determined to have future generations of their own families remember them with deep and abiding shame.

Though Bainbridge is on the right side on this, he leaves a slightly problematic coda:
I'm prepared to accept that the GWOT requires indefinite detention of people who pose a real existential threat to the United States, but I'm yet to be convinced that the executive branch should have unreviewable fiat in deciding who is to be indefinitely incarcerated.
Well, I mean, a real existential threat has to be stopped, period, GWOT or no GWOT. But come on. Can we get real about this GWOT thing? There is almost nothing the US can't outlast or survive, except time. Until and unless Islamic culture changes to the point at which their fundamentalism entails hating gay people peacefully, there will always be Islamic terrorists. We defeat them by giving in to none of their demands; they don't matter. There is no GWOT.

Sullivan, and Religion, etc.

Andrew Sullivan: "I remember distinctly deciding not to study theology in college, despite my intense interest, because I was frightened that the more I understood, the less I would believe."

From this we might infer a lot about Sullivan's world, or at least about his mindset @ Oxford.
He seems to have changed his views since then.


Am I the only one who has a hard time figuring out Sullivan's real comportment toward religion, and Catholicism in particular?

I totally agree that you can have your absolutely inidividual interpretation of faith, but isnt' that say, sort of Protestant? And I'd sort of like to ask, purely out of theological curiosity, what the content of Sullivan's Catholicism is.

One of the problems I have with people's arguments when battling funadmentalism, a battle I whole-heartedly support, is that they will say something like: I'm a Christian -- I stand for helping the poor, not fighting in unnecessary wars, being just to others, etc.

Well that's just historically, and critically, and theologially unrigorous. Okay -- that's the shit you're into, and me too. But the words we use like "Christian" or "Muslim" or "Jewish" or whatever, have a lot more cultural and historical and insitutional weight attached to them than that. I'm tired of folks running around, defining their totally unseen, never-before experienced brand of pure religious virtue, professing their status as faith-based personage, and then going after the extremists.

Go after the extremists, absolutely. But we have develop a more moraly, historicaly, and philosophicaly serious critique of belief than it seems we are operating with.

Question of Abortion

Not to steer the blog away from its current analytic maelstrom, but here's something I thought interesting to consider. I'm working on little sleep, so maybe I'm wrong and it's not. Digby has a series of posts about a woman who got pregnant, already has two kids, and can't afford a third. Had an abortion. He then posts a response from a pro-life, anti-left blogger, and disagrees with its conclusion, that sex is a choice, and like other choices, cigarette smoking, fast-food scarfing, you suffer the consequences (I'm oversimplifying -- read the response). If you can't afford to get pregnant, the logic goes, "don't fuck." Digby responds with an argument along the lines that sex is elemental, you can't expect the poor, etc., to not fuck. And that such an expectation deprives people of their humanity.

Well, now let me say that I am one-hundred percent for legal abortions. I think they should be legal under almost any conceivable circumstance, and you just can't have a judge, senator, etc., providing oversight on anything like this. However, I find Digby's argument weak, and it actually makes me a little queasy. A lot of it is based on the idea that we humans have a sex-drive, and that it is just basic, and while we are not just humping animals, as Digby's interlocutor implies Digby implies, "sex is elemental." Well, yes, I guess it is, on an evolutionary sort of level at least.

But the idea that the ability to have sex when we want it, knowing that we will be able to have abortions if necessary, is an ability which if interdicted leads to the death of our "humanity," I think is overblown. People abstain from sex. Some folks are celibate. Some folks only have sex once in a long while. (And lots of folks are gay and don't face the same sex/pregnacy question). I'm not trying to be a prude. And I certainly sleep/fuck better at night, knowing that abortions are legal. As they should be. But to me the abortion argument should begin and end in an individual rights framework. Arguments that start arguing for the moral necessity of abortions based on human sex-drive, or some other quasi-biological factor, put the Left in the position that the technocratic right (see Steve Pinker, Larry Summers, and much worse) is embracing these days. Don't start arguing morality on the basis of naturalistic descriptions of drives, impulses, etc.

On a basis of individual liberty, I disagree with Digby's respondent. And in no way am I going condemn anyone for getting an abortion, least of all a mother of two, who can't afford to raise another. I do not have the moral authority, nor do I think anyone else does. More power to her. But I'm not really going to get into it with someone like Digby's respondent on a moral framework. Individual responsibility in a case like this seems to be a moral issue that I can differentiate from the basic point that the woman should do what is best for her, and I'm not going to get up in her business. But I am unwilling, and especially in the context of an ineluctable "sex-drive" argument, to boldly attack the respondent's moral framework. Notice he/she doesn't say the woman should not be allowed to have an abortion -- only that he/she doesn't think it's a moral thing.

I don't think we should get in the business of telling folks like that they are wrong or immoral. Just gently point out to them a few things in the New Test. about casting first stones, etc. And let the moral issues work themselves out in the margins.

Of course, if this kind of moral rhetoric is used to pursue abortion restrictions, then blast the hell out of it, and call the whole lot of 'em fascists. That's what I do.

UPDATE 1: Amanda at Pandagon takes Digby's view, and even more elaborately. I'm not insensitive to the point at all. I am just not comfortable, on a theoretical and on a practical level, in taking as axiom #1 in the abortion debate that everyone needs/wants to have sex all the time.

UPDATE 2: I want to clarify something in my "argument" above. My attempt to create a dichotomy between an "individual rights framework" and a "moral framework" is specious. My belief in the supremacy of individual liberty must itself be acknowledged as a moral position. I don't have any strong confidence in the type of juridical hand-waving that, via pathetic fallecy, identifies a non-moral basis of belief in written law. So I am asserting the supremacy of a morality of individual rights over any specific moral position in the debate about the morality of abortion qua abortion. I just don't think that the morality to which I would refer can be articulated in the language of a subordinate morality that deals with abortion in particular.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Education Policy Proposal

After the stage at which children outgrow being taught the meanings of 'good', 'bad', 'right', 'wrong', etc. by ostension, there should no longer be any moral component to education. Instead, upon entering school, children should be taught the means to answer the question, "What are the epistemic obligations entailed by my beliefs?" Methodologically, it isn't difficult: take an inventory of your beliefs, and then simply determine what propositions bear a logical consequence relation to the conjunction of all the propositions contained in your beliefs; then simply stand in the propositional attitude of belief to whatever new propositions you discovered. As for practicality, one of the amazing discoveries of cognitive sciences is that everyone knows the rules of first order logic, it's just that people have to be taught the proper way to apply those rules. And that's so easy even a child could do it. The only hard part is the inventory taking; there should be a period or two every school week devoted to that ("Jimmy, what did I tell you about doing homework when you're supposed to be pondering!").

That way lies the path to a just society. Or the discovery that the natural orientation of humanity is towards cruelty and malice. But either way.

On Orthodoxy

My thoughts about ceratin linguistic conventions have a tendency to create breakdowns in communication, so it might behoove me to leave this note for anyone yet to scroll down the page:

'Orthodoxy' is not a normative term. It is a non-rigid designator for a particular kind of subgroup within a larger group that satisfies a certain cluster of definite descriptions. The paradigm instances of the larger groups are religions and political movements, though there are certainly other kinds. An orthodoxy in an ideology (or whatever else) is composed of a subset of adherents of the ideology in such a way that the subset has the following emergent feature: the various ideological beliefs of the subset's members come to define, in some broad and robust sense, the rational expectation of what the beliefs of any adherent of the ideology will be, so that it is a borderline analyticity that anyone who subscribes to the ideology assents to its orthodoxy, partially or categorically. What is phenomenologically interesting about orthodoxy is that there needn't be any alternative faction within the ideology for there to be an orthodoxy within it, merely the epistemic possibility of tension between the minimal definition of the ideology in general and the minimal definition of the orthodox interpretation of it --- and that's because borderline analyticities are also borderline syntheticities.

Everyone who has a passing familiarity with the practice of politics knows that orthodoxy is a real phenomenon. The unfortunate thing is that even intelligent people use 'orthodox' as a normative modifier (almost always pejoratively). The fact that a belief is orthodox has nothing to do with whether or not it is true or false. Nothing follows from the fact that a belief is orthodox, except that it is orthodox. The normative 'uses' of orthodox are genetic fallacy. All of us, but especially those of us who are optimists about the ability of the knowledge of the truths of logic to cure a substantial proportion of contemporary philosophical and ideological pathologies have a responsibility to prevent the adherents of bad logic from defining linguistic convention.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Death Of Irony Watch

Andrew Sullivan picked a doozy for his quote of the day:
"And then you have a blithering idiot like Lou Dobbs, in my view, who's using the platform of CNN in ... the frame of a news show. This is not news. And so we have a political class not making sense of the world for people and that's why the public ... is so agitated," - Tom Friedman, at Yale [Law School]
Now, to be sure, only someone in denial would deny that Lou Dobbs is a fat xenophobic oilslick whose metaphysical thisness has the essential property of being a hazard on the road of meaningful cultural and intellectual progress. All the same, did Tom Friedman say something about "a political class not making sense of the world." You mean, like this?

A Puzzle About (Feminist And Other) Belief

Jamie's piece cited one spot down-blog mostly isn't argumentation, but this is a very important point:
Don't expect a word of protest [about a Taliban propaganda official's admission to Yale] from our feminist and gay groups, who now have in their midst a live remnant of one of the most misogynistic and homophobic regimes ever. They're busy hunting bogeymen like frat parties and single-sex bathrooms.
I don't think I've ever read an adherent of, e.g., current left-feminist orthodoxy directly engage with the problem that Taliban-like phenomena pose for their beliefs. (There's no shortage of indirect engagements by means of subject changing.)

For all the good reasons to dislike the administration, and lord knows there are a lot of them, some of which are intuitive even to non-movement leftists, nothing the administration has done is comparable to the predations of the Taliban; well, the torture policy actually is comparable though (I'm guessing) the Taliban still comes out worse. But at least as far as treatment of women goes, the West and Sharia totalitarianisms can't really be discussed in the same theoretical language. (Look at what happens when people try to do so; you get arguments that, well, women are oppressed here and there, so how can we say that one's better or worse. By saying so. Similarity (i.e. imperfect similarity) and identity are not the same property; in fact, they're incompatible. Everything is identical to itself, not similar to itself, not identical to anything else, and similar to a degree to everything else. When two instances of oppression are not, in fact, identical, they are not in fact identical. And that means that it is possible to compare one to the other.)

But the puzzle Jamie's getting at goes a lot deeper than equivocation over equivalence terms. It's a glaring, potentially fatal inconsistency in the kinds of leftist orthodoxies he's describing. That is --- let's just take orthodox left-feminism as a paradigm, and assume it's accurately characterized by those self described leftist feminists at say, Yale University, who are more radical about this stuff than an anarcho-libertarian like me who thinks that rights attach equally to all bearers of a personhood predicate and no one else, nor ever inequitably, and not quite as far in their radicalism as some usual suspects --- there are two propositions contained in their theory that appear to be incompatible. The first is that governmental assignment by fiat and enforcement of unequal rights based on sex is always wrong. The other is that --- through a long dialectial chain I've never really understood, and I hope you'll believe I've tried --- something to do with patriarchal society makes it the case that it is wrong under circumstances subject to very elusive conditionals to take intervening action in cultures with value-systems different than yours, even in order to prevent governmental enforcement of sex-based inequality of rights. (Note that the second proposition, by using the word "prevent," is designed to cover only on-going oppressions. No need to worry about retributive actions for past oppression; I want to cull these arguments at the intuitive peaks.) Okay, it's obvious where this is going. If women's rights concerns are central to your politics, and just in case you're not an absolute pacifist, there are conditions under which you'd assent to military action to prevent the violation of women's rights. Very well, and what was going on under the Taliban wasn't enough? How about a hypothetical regime that oppressed women as severely as it is possible to do without inflicting direct physical violence on them. Would it have to take something like a genocide --- which will always do the trick, regardless of the identity of the victims --- to justify humanitarian intervention? But then, how can it be the case that in your own subjective conceptual framework, women's rights have a special place at all? In other words, if there aren't conditions justifying intervention in their defense that are distinct from the conditions for all other cases, aren't you really just laboring under a self-delusion about being, in the robust sense of having the courage of your convictions, a feminist?

I don't see how to resolve this problem without abandoning one of the two beliefs, i.e., either cease being a feminist or change positions on intervention for women's rights. If both are analytic constituents of feminism --- that is, if a theory that did not include both could not be a feminist theory --- then feminism is just doomed. But no need to panic yet, I'm not even slightly moved to that conclusion; nothing about feminism itself plausibly warrants the second belief. What I dismissed as a dialectical tangle above, really, is a kind of handwaving. I know there's loads of seductive jargon going around, I get it. And I know it's no fun, it can even be traumatic, to be an apostate --- better for peace of mind, though perhaps not long-term wisdom, never to have joined up than to question a party line --- but there's a simple answer for how to be a feminist without believing in these hundredth-hand plagiarized assertion-like incoherences. The answer is: just be one. If a group of bearded patriarchal nutcases takes over a country and claims its women as private property, speak the hell up and don't qualify your speech for one moment if the misogynist bullies happen to be anti-American or anti-capitalist. That doesn't commit you to advocating military action; pragmatic concerns, to cite just one timely example, can rule that out. But it does commit you to rejecting intervention a posteriori if you're in fact going to do it.

It does commit you to preferring, were you a being who could set truth values at worlds, to inhabit a world in which the regime is overthrown over one in which it's not. And it also probably commits you to orienting your concern to those geographic regions in which violations of women's rights are most severe: to choosing, say, to help women in Iran live as freely as possible without facing reprisal for their sins against God instead of, say, debating against yourself, not to do intellectual house-cleaning but to make a public spectacle of your own self-righteousness, over whether you can do more to destroy Yale though external activism against it or by gaining an internal position providing you with Yale's own resources, so that the more ironical it will be when you discharge your moral duties by poisoining from the inside out the institution that wrongs the world so severely by its existing and occasionally extending individuals like, say, you, profound generosity. None of these commitments sound to me like they involve prohibitive theoretical prices, but I don't presume any privileged knowledge about how the metatheory market works in other minds than my own.

All the same, I just can't figure out how the notion of feminism's necessary entailment of the second belief has any intuitive pull for anyone, let alone in the numbers it does. I mean, the only causal explanation I can come up with is that huge numbers of even the subpopulation at the highest regions of intelligence curves just don't have any reflective moments for years at a time. That is, how could anyone possibly suppress the intuition that any regime under which the status of women fits a description matching the description of women's status under the Taliban is a regime whose overthrow by possibly restricted, possibly unrestricted means, it is a feminist's duty to support, and where possible without incurring an unacceptable burden, actively aid such overthrow. No, all I've got is that that thought just never occurs to a large number of ostensibly intellectually engaged people.

Here's another way of putting the puzzle: is it possible to truly have the first belief if one has the second; in other words, might it not be the case that anyone who in fact holds the second belief gives a mistaken belief report anytime she claims to also hold the first? That passes the plausibility test, I think.

All of the foregoing, even if it seems at times dismissive or a mere rhetorical exercise, is not. (Where such appearances are present, it's because I really have devoted energy to thinking about this, and have tried to the best of my ability and failed to construe certain positions in a way that has any intuitive hook on me at least; and I'm my only test subject.) It's all offered in the spirit of inquiry and discourse; I really want to know what people think, because, for one thing, I want to be a feminist but can't if the second belief is essential to it, and more fundamentally, because I don't think any set of beliefs has any sort of privilege of any kind that exempts it from the most strenuous possible scrutiny. That includes my own; if someone disagrees with me, I want to be told; there's a good chance hearing about it will clarify why I hold a particular belief, and possibly get me to change my mind. If some large scale theory I uphold seems to someone to involve an irresolveable tension like what I'm suggesting here, then I really need to hear about it. The point is, there are helpful answers and unhelpful ones. Claiming that I've caused offense or am bad or am a reactionary achieves...what? All that could be true and this puzzle is either a real problem for an orthodoxy or not. So a helpful answer would be one about whether there's some feature of the beliefs I'm missing that resolves the apparent tension, whether my construal is correct but the apparent tension doesn't exist anyway, which of the beliefs or both or neither is essential to a theory being feminist...etc.

I'm not in a perfect position since I have no statistics---though I doubt there are relevant stastics---but the fact that the beliefs I'm laying out for inspection do track a certain kind of orthodoxy in leftist feminism is one I'm pretty confident in. Likewise that responses to iterations of the puzzle---I didn't invent it, Jamie's got one, so do lots of other people---strongly tend towards evasion rather than engagement. In Jamie's case, indeed, I've personally seen recourse to a kind of artificial reasoning shortcut along the lines of, well his views are so repugnant that I'm going to talk about how repugnant they are rather than listen to and respond to him. Who's better off for such a tactic? Certainly not his interlocutor; if the puzzle poses a serious challenge to his or her beliefs, avoiding recognition of that fact impoverishes him or her intellectually.

And just to clarify one more point. This phenomenon of argumentative evasion isn't a function of left-feminism or left-feminists having something uniquely wrong/intellectually dishonest about them. Quite the contrary. One way to demarcate West and East is to draw a line between those societies whose members are most deeply invested emotionally in political beliefs, and those whose members are invested most deeply in religious beliefs. When it seems in the West that big movements like political Evangelicalism are primarily about religious beliefs, what's actually going on is that they have political beliefs whose subject matter is partly religious (partly, often largely not---there's nothing remotely religious about positive or negative attitudes towards gay people). To borrow Quine's web of belief metaphor---it's really enormously useful---most members of Western society place political beliefs closer than any others to the center of the web. Religion can be nearby, but loyalty to major sports teams is surely more central than religion in significantly many cases, and self-interest is very near but not dead center. Practical ethical beliefs, aesthetic beliefs, long-term intentions and desires are farther still, and then only at the periphery are you likely to find beliefs about the sorts of things I'm most interested in, like, e.g., the difference between a dispositional property and a categorical property. And since most people the world over are both dumb and uneducated, it's not a surprise that they react viscerally when you tug at beliefs in the center of the web.

Central beliefs also are vitally important for giving the web its structure; they're weight-bearing beliefs. Take them away and the whole goddamn thing is liable to fall apart; nobody wants to rebuild a web of belief; ideally, the one you start out with is perfectly suited to accomodate your total life experience, but for most people, it's enough to keep knocking down superfluous walls, buying up adjacent property, and rearranging and replacing the furniture of one and the same web. The likeliest candidates for cases of true demolition and rebuilding are a certain kind of political conversion, but not all such conversions. David Horowitz, for example, was a Stalinist on the left and is still a Stalinist on the right. And paranoid and boring and inarticulate and really rather strange, etc. etc. Somebody like Whittaker Chambers, on the other hand---he's certainly a very ambivalent figure, but the conclusion that best fits the evidence about him is that he really did genuinely change his mind, and in doing so, fundamentally reoriented himself. Whereas Horowitz just replaced the value of a lonely variable somewhere in there, and then trimmed around the edges as necessary, Chambers seems to have actually pulled up the foundation stone, gathered the raw materials he had left, and started to build again. The rebuilt web still had plenty objectionable to it---less than the original though---but it's the rebuilding that's fascinating. I've certainly never done it, although I've gone through significant and (you'll have to take my word on this) sincere political change over say, the past 6 years or so. But I never had to junk my belief-web and start over, because I'm the wierdo whose political beliefs, though not along the perimeter, just aren't weight-bearing. I don't know why, and I don't deserve credit for it. Now, if you could show me that non-reductive physicalism is false, I'd been a world of pain.

So what's going on phenomenogically with avoidance of this puzzle and others like it in orthodox left currents (there are essentially one-to-one analogues of the puzzle for any left ideology centered on the kinds of property identities that have been historically important, i.e. gays and racial minorities, not bald men, even though modal realists like myself are sure there are possible worlds in which bald men have historically been subject to greater persecution than any other group---i.e., no need to consider a wider scope of convention than the actual)? The same thing is happening among evasive leftists that's going on when Bush apologists choose to deny objective reality rather than just concede truths that are not difficult to grasp and maximally publicly accessible. Internally, they're acting on a calculation that too much depends on not weakening the beliefs targeted by such challenges. Does that get Bush apologists or self-contradicting leftists off the hook? No, because they're failing in their epistemic duties regarding self-scrutiny and criticism. The difficulty or risk in meeting those duties for a central belief can't be excused by its centrality, since anyone else could have the same belief at the edge of his web, and therefore would have an obligation to resolve a conflict between it and another belief. All beliefs are subject to a categorical imperative for epistemology. (Are there limiting cases? The maximum loss that fulfilling all obligations could entail is something like what Chambers went through. That doesn't sound on first blush like a limiting case.) So it's not the case that, although it seemed like Bush apologists should be reprimanded for their ostrich-poses, it turns out that they're acting out of understandable, indeed excusable, concern for themselves; rather, the magnitude of their normative error is just what it seems to be, but counterintutively, its location is further back in metatheory than prima facie appearances indicate.

What could be the subject of a very interesting discussion is the possibility that people can get those calculations wrong. Troy Cross, for example, said at an informal talk a few years ago that one of the things that kept him holding onto religious beliefs after his direct faith in them had faltered was the fear that his moral intuitions would fall away too. But he did let go of religion, and none of his other beliefs were the worse for it. So it's possible, and here's anecdotal testimony that it's happened before, that people mistake which beliefs are weight-bearing and which not. The inexactness of the metaphor bites back here; there are ways of shifting beliefs around, moving some closer to the center and others farther away, like what must have been the case in my experience, on the assumption that it's not the case that my central beliefs in kindergarten included beliefs about the metaphysics of modality, only I didn't know it. Such movements of belief do jeopardize the overall structure. What enabled Troy to give up religion was that it drifted or was pushed away from the center, so that the beliefs with which it was incompatible came to occupy a more central position.

That incidentally, is what intellectual house-cleaning means: recognition that two or more of one's beliefs are incompatible, and rectifying the problem by repudiating one of them, or both; but the epistemic obligation is only to lose one. What will determine which one survives is their location relative to the center. And although it would be nice to think that the weighing of empirical evidence is an indepedent determining factor, the potential for it to have causal interactions with beliefs depends on the presence of various metabeliefs about, e.g., recourse to empiricism. (That's nothing but Hume's Treatise, by the way.) The balance ends up awfully complicated, with some function of the centrality of one contesting belief along with metabeliefs and others related to it by some subjunctive conditionals, weighing against a parallel function of the other contesting belief. But even on this complicated picture, the sources of any vectors on either side of the balance are at least supervenient on the position relative to center of the opposed beliefs.

The Bush apologists are a useful example again. How can the cream of the National Review crowd, at this advanced date, still deny that officials in the highest strata of the administration deliberately constructed a prisoner detainment policy that involved torture and general violations of human rights? Willful wickedness is a tempting, but unilluminating answer. A more contentful answer is that, given even infinitely many assertions to the contrary, belief in realism about the external world is just not centrally located enough to outstrip the exertions of a cluster of beliefs about the president, his political opposition, and loyalty to country. How do we know that resultant offended protests are false that claim that so-and-so is certainly a realist about the external world and has never said a word against the theory? Because if it were true that so and so is an external world realist (in the robust sense of having conviction in it), so-and-so could not deny facts about the external worlds that enjoy serious publicity and which have specifically been presented to so-and-so on multiple occasions. There could be some buffering mechanism that allows so-and-so to uphold an anti-realism entailing loyalty and a belief in realism, but it is one that only allows so-and-so to uphold both for as long as so-and-so is mistaken about the content of his beliefs. That's the best situation for a torture apologist to be in epistemically, since it would mean that he speaks truly when he claims to believe in external world-realism, and that upon having the buffer removed---a true friend is one who deprives us of such devices---he would recognize what's amiss in his beliefs. Alternatively, so-and-so could just be mistaken about believing in world-realism; he believes he has that belief, but he doesn't. So his reports of having the belief involve honest mistakes, not lies, and also some paradoxical truths. E.g., if p is external world realism, and q is the proposition that s believes p, r is the proposition that s believes q, r can be true when q is false: [s believes (s believes q)] is true even though ~(s believes q); introduce self-referential pronouns and there's something going on similar to Moore's paradox. (Such paradoxes are not exculpatory to be sure. See a few paragraphs up on why an honest mistake isn't an excuse, and merely pushes normative error from theory into metatheory.) Or, a final alternative, so-and-so could just be lying, having privately made peace with anti-realism but continuing for pragmatic reasons to say otherwise publicly (Straussianism!).

I suspect that what happened in the interesting relevant cases, those of middle-rank officials in communist bloc states paradigmatically, is a synthesis of deliberate dishonesty and honest mistaken belief report; that, I suppose, is what the phenomenon of doublethink was fundamentally, a bifurcation of the mind that allows the following propositions to all be true: that I believe I believe in realism about the external world, that I know I believe I believe in realism about the external world, that I don't believe I believe in realism about the external world, and that I know I don't believe I believe in realism about the external world. The cognitive science going on is pretty fascinating; you have essentially a mind partially and asymetrically divided to enable the cohabitation of beliefs that would be intolerable in an undivided mind with the same level of self-knowledge of its beliefs. This divided mind is not subject to a schizophrenic pathology however; it is only divided at certain points, and the division allows it to maintain cognitive function roughly equivalent for most purposes to that of an undivided mind. The division is one strongly shaped by the intentional states of the mind in question; division occurs at the points where the inconsistent beliefs would converge, and nowhere else (there are failures of course, and loads of cases of doublethinkers going bonkers after decades of such self-willed and subtly structured psychopathology).

But I think I've drifted far enough in speculative epistemology for the time being.

YDN Ekphrasis

I usually only comment on topics about which I've formed an opinion after at least some reflection, so I was going to wait until my reflection-precluding bafflement subsided before I devoted a word to the news that a former member of the Taliban is now a Yale freshman. Jamie Kirchick's got a fairly comprehensive piece on it in today's YDN, however, that raises some tangential points that would be worth getting into right now. First, he refers to this letter from yesterday's paper:
To the Editor:

In his article on Rahmatullah Hashemi and the media attention he has recently attracted, Josh Duboff says that Harold Koh, the dean of the Yale Law School, believes "a greater investigation into the specifics of Hashemi's background will be necessary before the University allows him to enroll for a full degree" ("Ex-Taliban gets media attention," 2/27). Koh says, "It would be good to know more about how [Hashemi] came to work for the Taliban … and whether he's fully repudiated their views, which are, of course, notorious for their human rights-abusing practices."

I hope Koh does not mean to imply that Hashemi's views regarding the Taliban and its practices are relevant to the University's decision whether or not to admit him. I was not aware that ideology could disqualify a Yale applicant. If it can, the University should publish a list of guidelines. Which views make admission impossible? Which are merely undesirable? Will any opinions result in expulsion?

Yale should not be in the business of policing the political orthodoxy of its students. The hypocrisy of the suggestion is especially galling, given our recent military intervention in the Middle East and all of our country's foolish rhetoric about spreading democratic values and free speech.

Eric Knibbs GRD '10
Jamie, on the specific question of whether ideology should be a factor in admissions decisions, responds: "I believe it should not. But an applicant's employment as an agent for a declared enemy of the United States that abetted a terrorist attack that took the lives of some 3,000 civilians is another matter." Well, right. Assuming all the reports are accurate, there's a bonafide Taliban in old blue's class of '09---and he wasn't responsible for water distribution in the greater Kandahar region; he ran PR and flak, or to be more accurate but less neutral, he was a propaganda minister. Seems like perfectly sufficient warrant not to recruit the lovely fellow.

But I don't know how to reduce ideology out of this. Establishing a rule of denying admissions to applicants who've held positions in regimes that violate some defined set of human rights protocols might sound promising, but there'd be problem cases. E.g., what about somebody who's employed by the regime to drive a delivery truck? So there needs to be an exception for trivial positions. And what about the guy who actually does organize water distribution in Kandahar? No matter how bad the Taliban is, it's better for people to have water than not, and since we're committed to ruling out ideology as a factor, it won't do to say we can admit the water minister who's not on board with regime's ideology but deny the one who is on board even though it's not an intrinsic part of his job. So should we modify the rule to screen out only applicants whose CV includes a position that presumes its holder's agreement with the regime's governing practices? That doesn't really get anywhere, since you don't necessarily eliminate ideological factors by paraphrasing the term "ideology" out of the rule.

So you've got ex-minister X who had a middle-rank job in the vile government of Blankistan that involved say, enforcing laws that oppress males (the first line of Blankistan's constitution defines men as 7th class citizens without defining classes 2-6; Blankistan's treatment of men makes the Taliban's politics look like Loren Krywanczyk's). Whatever conditions you come up with for determining when a position is intrisically tied to the regime's governing principles, X meets them. But X wasn't a policy maker; she got caught up in a movement and wound up way over her head; she didn't like her job and did her best to resist it. If, on every other metric, X was an astoundingly qualified applicant, should she still be denied admission? And more to the point, does just formulating the rule by recourse to the nature of a position held really get at what the rule is supposed to be screening out? In addition to X, Blankistan's water minister, Y, also applies to Yale. (What now, Harvard.) Y's only activity as an official in the Blankistan regime was to distribute water to the female residents of Blankazille equitably. But Y was not the least bit conflicted about working for the regime; she supported it in every single one of its actions; if she'd been permitted to do more, she would have; if that more included throwing acid in the faces of unveiled men, she would have been only too happy to answer the call.

Well Mr. Dean of Admissions, you've got one spot left for two applicants. X and Y's credentials are both first-rate; in fact they're identical. The only difference publicly available difference between them is in the roles in the Blankistan government and their feelings about the experience. Do you admit X or Y? Probably X. So ideology is a factor. So maybe you admit neither.

What I guess I could have started off with and maybe finished with too is that, if we get an application from some neo-Nazi with a 4.0 gpa and a 1600 SAT score, no criminal record, and no disposition to start conflicts---he never talks about his politics unless asked, but displays Nazi insignia on himself all the time, and if he is asked, just lays out his views about the subhumanity of all races but the Aryan calmly and sciency sounding---Yale is absolutely within its rights not to admit him. Freedom of conscience doesn't entail freedom from criticism---is there any paraphrase that makes such an entailment sound remotely plausible?---and the boundaries of an individual's freedoms are those of others. A private institution can't be compelled to associate with views it finds objectionable; the Yale admissions committee having a rule that they'll deny admission to adherents of Taliban ideology is perfectly legitimate: no one's rights are violated, because the Talibanista's freedoms of speech and thought are respected, and he (yeah, it's a he) has no right to a Yale education; at the same time Yale simply exercises its own freedoms of conscience and association.

What worries arise from this view? For one, what's to stop someone with an unpopular ideology from getting denied admission everywhere he applies? Answer: nothing. That's not likely to happen in a society with an academic system anything like ours, but I'd be the last one to deny that it's possible. And then what? Well, it's rotten luck for the person involved. But for it to be true that anyone has a right to admission to university simpliciter, it has to be true that that there exists a university such that that person has a right to admission there. And the antecedent conditional is false; there is nothing such that anyone has a right to be admitted there, both before and after we plug in values for the variable. So there's no general right to be admitted to a university.

Worry #2: What if Yale, to pick a random example, just starts denying admission to people who have perfectly legitimate ideologies? Answer: Those people don't go to Yale. If Yale decides to exclude all and only political moderates from admission on ideological grounds, because it finds all non-extreme positions repugnant and offensive, that's Yale's right too. If it was just Yale that behaved that way, there'd be a marginal gain for every other university. And if every university behaved that way, well, moderates are just S-O-L.

New At YDN

Since I didn't get around to blogging about the free speech atrocities in late February, my latest column deals with the three biggies---the imam in Peshawar who put out a $1M bounty for killing the Danish cartoonists, David Irving's three-year prison sentence for the crime of Holocaust denial, and London mayor Ken Livingstone getting suspended from office for a month for making a tactless, though not really at all anti-Semitic remark to a Jewish journalist. [Oh the Hegelian ironies: that line they push in 8th grade social studies about how Britain is really a democracy after all turns out to be bullshit, but surprising bullshit; the de facto sovereign isn't a monarch, but a committee; how progressive--ed. Well name something from 8th grade social studies that wasn't bullshit--F.]

Anyway, a couple highlights:
For pre-emptive purposes: I believe Irving's views are wrong, repugnant, et cetera, et cetera. That is irrelevant. Freedom of conscience entails the freedom of everyone to be a Nazi, or not, according to the whims of one's heart; free speech rights are literally contentless if Nazis and Stalinists and Wahabbists and Mel Gibson are not entitled to them without exception. By imprecating the freedoms of fascists, Germany and Austria inform the world that they have so little confidence in liberal democracy that they fear the mere enunciation of Nazi ideology will kindle its resurgency.

Meanwhile, in the nation that invented classical liberalism, "Red" Ken Livingstone, the socialist mayor of London, will be suspended from office for four weeks beginning today. Livingstone's misdeed? He compared (Jewish) journalist Oliver Finegold to "a concentration camp guard." The baffling factor here is that British law establishes an adjudication panel that has the power to remove democratically elected officials from their posts for a fixed term, just in case the panel determines that the official "acted in an unnecessarily insensitive manner." There you have it. Livingstone's right to free speech and the London electorate's right to choose its own representatives are both superseded by a political-incorrectness-snuffing bureaucracy.

[...]

All the same, the distinction between legal constraints on free expression and using terrorism to avenge it is determinate and not terribly fine-grained. Yet we in the West are beset by a political class that doesn't even need to be intimidated by the fanatics' extortionist demands, having already given in to them. My modest proposal is that we citizens -- "citizen" was once an honorific title, after all -- show our leaders that our rights and values still count, by dissolving our governments and electing new ones.

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