Ben A. Ben H. Doug Later
     
 
Back from a wonderful time at the chateau, but I'll be heading back out in fairly short order. My next stop offers a slightly different version of the aesthetic of aristocracy. The Burj Al Arab hotel stands as a towering monument to the difference between money and class. The river of oil wealth that has flowed through the coffers of the Gulf sheiks (bonus Tom Friedman version: "the mountain of black gold that has oozed through the pocketbooks of the Giant Camel that is the Gulf sheikdoms") has managed to elevate these camel-humping bandits to the heights of taste possessed by, say, an unusually prosperous American pimp. If it does not catch on as a destination hotel, perhaps Jumeirah can turn it into a retirement home for bling-bling-obsessed rappers. [9/2/03 07:49]
 
 
Bandarlog Closed
I'll see you all at the chateau (how I've longed to write that sentence...
[8/28/03 14:37]
   
 
The Wildebeast of Progress

Hilarious over-the-top
assault on Tom Friedman and his metaphors.

Great gonzo lead paragraph as well:

Two years ago, when I had a serious drug problem, one of the worst symptoms was a monomaniacal obsession with Friedman. I called his office regularly from overseas, sent him rambling two-page letters, harassed him in 100 different ways. Once, I even called the office of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and, pretending to be Friedman himself, screamed at Sulzberger’s secretary. I told her that I was pissed, that "Arthur better get his car out of my fucking parking space" and that "golf this weekend [was] out of the fucking question."
[8/28/03 14:30]
   
 

The intersection of {Pro-gun}, {Pro-choice}, and {Pro-tax} is not the null set. It is, as far as I know, {Howard Dean}.
[8/27/03 13:14]
 
   
Ben -- you make very well a point that needs to be made, stressed, and re-stressed. We overeducated knowledge workers almost always overestimate the importance of logically thought-out positions and principles. I think everyone should have logically thought-out positions and principles, but to expect it is folly. Tribal instinct is the rule even in America. I remember growing up in Michigan we had two uncorrelated tribal distinctions -- Republican/Democrat and University of Michigan/Michigan State University. Obviously the latter distinction was purely tribal since all universities stand for the same thing more or less: education. The weird thing was that the Republican/Democrat split also seemed tribal, in practice. You had bumper stickers extolling your party/team and denigrating their opponents. You retained burning memories of victories and defeats on the gridiron or at the polls. You railed against the other team/party for its steamroller tactics (U of M's brute-force running game or the Democrat's buying off every special interest group). You caricatured their supporters. You harangued them while knowing deep down they could never be induced to switch sides.

One cavil: you use the "union" symbol where you mean "intersect". Not that I know how to make an intersect-symbol. Maybe boost the font size of a lower-case sans-serif n? { a, b, c } n { d, e, f } = { }

Also, on an unrelated note, you know what game is totally fun? Concentration. Played it for the first time in ages with Dao's niece. Of course Dao demolished everyone without the smallest trace of pity, but it was still fun.
[8/27/03 06:20]
 
     
 
On Being a ‘Hater’

Sometime around 1998, it became fashionable to talk about people in politics who were 'haters.' Clinton, obviously, provides the background here. I say Clinton, not impeachment, because deep visceral dislike of Clinton on the right predated the major scandals. Liberals – and I’m generalizing – tended to depict Clinton-hatred as a pathology derived from fundamental sexual, racial, and political manias. Conservatives offered a more direct explanation: Clinton, being exceptionally loathsome, inspired exceptional loathing. Both sides tended to treat the magnitude of Clinton-hatred as something new under the sun: a shocking aberration in American politics.

I don’t think you can be more wrong than this. I have no numbers here, but I would be amazed if less than a third Americans with party affiliation don’t actively detest the opposition. Some anecdotage. I grew up in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I can attest that Reagan was hated. My Lord, was he hated. In college, the liberal monthly ran a charming reminiscence detailing the author’s excitement at the news of Reagan’s shooting -- this when the author was perhaps nine years of age. Long before the debacle in Florida, both Bush and Gore were deeply despised by partisans. And Nixon? Say no more.

But aren’t these examples – Clinton, Nixon, Reagan, and one could add, Gingrich, Kennedy – the most polarizing figures? Maybe. But what makes them polarizing? Can ideological differences explain the level of dislike? Bush vs. Gore may be the best example here. With a war on, it’s hard to remember how incidental the policy difference were on which the campaign focused: tax cuts, drilling ANWR, social security, national building, uh… Dingell- Norwood…. These are important, sure, but not read-meat, rile-worthy issues.

So whence the hatred? I think the real distinctions are cultural. The political positions are shadows on the wall – markers of social identity. More anecdotage: I’ve been at parties where “that Bush, what a total buffoon” would serve as a conversation starter – like “how ‘bout those sox.” The point isn’t politics, it’s an affirmation of cultural kinship.

Where this situation obtains, policy discussions will be by nature intractable. If you’re ‘culturally’ for gun control, you’re opponent isn’t a version of you with different ideas, he's a man from another universe: a crude, sexist, mouth-breathing hick. Your differences can’t be resolved by discussions of moral or empirical principles – for you to agree one of you would need to become a different person.

Some further thoughts.

1. If correct, this would explain why issues with no common empirical or even moral elements cluster so reliably along ideological lines. No obvious empirical conclusions or moral claims predict that the intersection of {pro-choice}, {pro-gun}, {pro-tax} should yield a null set, but it does. (p.s. Thanks Doug!)

2. Of course, these prejudices work both ways. Many cultural conservatives view their political opponents as effete, un-patriotic, godless perverts.

3. Arsing out of that last adjective: isn’t religion obviously among the most powerful of these cultural markers? In many demographics, religious people are the anti-hip. It’s like being pro-gun, cubed. But you knew that. A more worrisome thought is that religion might be *adopted* as a cultural marker – as a kind of ‘kiss-off’ gesture to the left. Where would we see this? Among campus conservatives at elite liberal colleges. Hum.

4. Yes this is a repost from ages past. But
this made me think of it again. [8/26/03 18:02]
   
 
Terry Eagleton, Enemy of Humanity

I know we have pledged ourselves to positive feelings here (Ben H -- did you miss that memo?), but I cannot resist linking
this scathing review of Terry Eagleton’s autobiography. Note particularly that in order to better caricature his Cambridge tutor as a breezy, incompetent toff, Eagleton misrepresents the man’s finances (he was not rich, but rather lectured in Japan to make extra money), his household (he kept no servants, rather than a maid, butler, and gardener) and his degree (English, not philosophy). And to think there was a time when Marxist criticism aspired to science.
[8/25/03 18:48]
   
 
Caught this in the NYT this weekend. And the French have the nerve to talk about "savage Anglo-Saxon capitalism?" Charity begins at home...

On the other hand, perhaps given the difficulty of reforming the pension system, letting a few thousands viellards roast to death could help restore actuarial balance to the system. [8/25/03 09:52]
 
 
I don't accept #2. Doubtless it is true of certain, or even many, individuals. But can you show me an Arab polity of which #2 holds? The same cultural deficiencies that produce #1 render Arab communities of any significant scale incapable of keeping the peace, securing freedom, or promoting justice. [8/22/03 15:02]
 
 
Decline and Fall [8/22/03 14:29]
   
 
Faith: The ability to hold in mind two contradictory views

That's how you glossed Kierkegaard, Ben H, and I think it's appropriate here. There are two "facts" relevant to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (and the Arab-Jewish conflict generally)

1. Arab popular culture is saturated with deep, visceral anti-semitism.
2. Arab peoples are just as capable of decency, justice and kindness as we are, and as Israelis are

Doves often seem captivated withe the second point, or willfully naive about the first. On the right, intimate acquaintance with the first point can drive the second out, leading to arab-bashing of an ugly kind. Let's try to have faith in the possibility of progress, even it it requires keeping a bit of cognitive dissonance at bay.


[8/22/03 13:54]
   
     
   
That Egypt story is incredible ... and of course completely credible. To set foot on Arab soil is to enter a realm of pure hatred, a hatred that annihilates everything, not just poliitcs and economics and religion but logic itself ...
[8/22/03 09:43]
 
     
 
Finally, an explanation of that ankh-shaped zester in my basement! [8/22/03 08:50]
   
 
Islam's Flourishing Legal Tradition

Egyptians may sue Jews over the Exodus
2003-08-21 14:37 (New York)


CAIRO, Aug. 21 (UPI) -- A dean at Egypt's University of Al-Zaqaziq is
preparing a lawsuit against "all the Jews of the world," accusing them of
stealing gold during the exodus.
The university's dean of law, Nabil Hilmi, told the Egyptian weekly newspaper
Al-Ahram Al-Arabi the Jews during the exodus "stole from the Pharaonic
Egyptians gold, jewelry, cooking utensils, silver ornaments, clothing and more
.."
Asked why cooking utensils might have been taken, Hilmi said "... this had been
the Jews' twisted way throughout history; they seek to cause a minor problem
connected with the needs of everyday life so as to occupy people with these
matters and prevent them from pursuing them to get back the stolen gold ..."
Hilmi said the "debt" could be rescheduled over 1,000 years, with the addition
of the cumulative interest during that period.

Hey, wait a second! Islam doesn't allow the charging of interest!
[8/21/03 17:41]
 
 
The Murderer at the Door, Terrorism, and Being a Sucker

In his essay "On a Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Purposes" Immanuel Kant argues (or is taken by many to argue) that one should not lie even to mislead a murderer about his victim's location. This "murderer at the door," case (sometimes provocatively reformulated as a Nazi at the door asking if you have Gypsies in the basement) has been a lightning rod for Kant criticism.

One can see why. Most of us would rest easy having answered the Nazi at the door with a shotgun blast -- we don't feel we owe him anything, much less the truth. And there's a more subtle intuition here. The murderer *relies* on our honesty. It’s our commitment to plain dealing that makes us useful for his villainous purpose.

I have some ideal what this is like. You know the scam; some guy -- presentable, but a bit off -- claims he has lost his wallet and thus needs a lift or a buck for carfare. For a time, really, for a long time, I would ‘help’ despite 95% confidence that I was being had. "It's not much to me," I would think, "and how terrible if my mistrustful nature causes me to blow off some fellow in a real bind." Well, it's no murderer at the door, not by a long sight, but eventually I just became too engulfed by rage to ever do it again. I resolved never again to experience the realization that, as I suspected, as I knew all along, I had been taken again. (they would always, scrupulously, take my information in order to "pay me back.") Of course, the money I lost was a pittance, the time I spent driving some lying son-of-a-bitch from Westwood to Downtown not more than 45 minutes. So why am I still so angry? Why does the memory make me want to smash someone with a tire iron? Because someone used my better nature to play me for a sucker.

It will deeply offend many if I suggest that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has a similar dynamic, but I believe it’s the truth. Palestinian terror groups intermingle with in civilian populations because they know the Israeli Defense Force won’t respond with indiscriminate slaughter. In fact, they rely on it. And behind the shield of Palestinian innocents, Hamas and co. plot the murder of equally blameless Israelis. It’s a despicable practice. Were Israel to accord Palestinian civilians the respect Hamas shows to Israelis, the result would be horrific massacre. And obviously, the IDF should never, never do this. I desperately hope the current restraint holds: it’s hard not to respond to the abuse of one’s better nature by exhibiting one’s worst.

Addendum #1

A common response is that the IDF doesn’t slaughter indiscriminately because, with an advantage of material and training, they don’t “have to.” And true, as the stronger party, the IDF can attack “hard targets” with much greater success than Hamas can. But that doesn’t mean that attacking soft targets might not be quite effective. Indeed, the middle course of demolishing houses of the families of suspected suicide bombers is a step on the path towards soft targets. I suppose I think this policy defensible, but one can see it approaching the line. Unpopular regimes have often been able to quell insurgency by means of atrocity. It’s immoral, but it works. And so I think that it is a good thing, a commendable thing, that Israel has not (and let us pray will not) follow this route.

Addendum #2

Some illuminating statistics on casualties of the recent Intifada can be found
here. Of course, consider the source, etc. etc., but there is no denying that a pattern emerges. 4.6% of Palestinian deaths have been women, vs. 31.2 % for Israelis. In absolute terms, three times as many Israeli female non-combatants have been killed.

Addendum #3

Chris Korsgaard has a paper where she tries to dig Kant out of the murderer at the door problem. I haven’t read it for seven+ years, but as I recall CK argues that if the murder lies to you, you can lie right back (short version: the lying murderer doesn’t know that you know that he’s lying, thus your maxim “I will lie to liars” can be universalized – the liar thinks you think he’s honest, and so doesn’t realize that that he falls under that maxim)

This seems to me a classic case of the “proves too much” school of maxim-shaving. Sure, the liar doesn’t know which maxim he falls under, but once that becomes an “out” for universalization, we will find that many cases can be treated in the same way. The liar doesn’t know that you know he’s a liar. But then someone who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is doesn’t realize that he’s not as smart as he thinks he is (much less that you think he’s not as smart as he thinks he is). Can we lie to him too?
[8/21/03 16:53]
   
 
I'm going to pass on the latest horror. Build a wall, ship Arafat to Lichtenstein, whatever... [8/20/03 09:23]
   
     
   
Also from the NYT:

"Fireworks burst over Hebron tonight as Palestinians there celebrated the bombing."

Peace will only come when the wall is finished.
[8/20/03 03:41]
 
   
In response to Ben H's post --

I'm ashamed to admit it, and I repent now as usual, but yesterday was one of those days when it seemed perfectly clear to me that there is nothing to be done with the world's Arabs except to wipe them all out.
[8/20/03 03:32]
 
     
 
Advertising's lowest depths:

There is an official battery of Lord of the Rings.
[8/19/03 23:24]
   
 
Let me share an interesting juxtaposition of news stories. On the front page of the todays New York Times ran this Man Bites Wog story. A few short hours later, next to the earlier story ran the following web update. In the real world, the one that the average Timesman cannot seem to grasp, no matter how much field work he does, the story is, as ever, Wog Bites Man. [8/19/03 18:29]
 
   
Speaking of P.I.M.P., last time I was in the U.S. I was flipping through cable stations, an activity I can't do here in France, and there was a documentary on B.E.T. about pimping. The delicate question of maltreatment of one's "direct reports" came up. This older pimp or ex-pimp looks thoughtfully for a minute, and then with an air of great wisdom says:

"You gotta pimp with your mind, not with your fists."

Words to live by.

[8/19/03 13:37]
 
     
 
Popular Music and Vulgarity

I think there was a lot more suppressed vulgarity in old popular music than we now imagine. As anecdote, one line from the Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley Oop” refers to the heroic caveman as a “mean motor-scooter” – anyone think those lyrics changed in the live version?

Well, that kind of talk isn’t limited to the club show anymore. In 1967 Ed Sullivan made the Stones perform “Let’s Spend the Night Together” as “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.” How quaint. Either version reads like a courtly love sonnet when compared to lyrics from the current
#3 and #6 pop singles. (Respectively: 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” and his collaboration with L’il Kim, “Magic Stick”).

I don’t know exactly what happened here, but the rapid collapse of standards should surprise even doomsayers. I can’t imagine anyone in 1967 predicting the level of misogyny and obscenity now commonplace in pop music. And anyone who did would have seemed a (literal) madman -- a raving, apocalyptic kook. Yet here we are.

Note 1: I seem to recall some social conservative suggesting that today "Let's Spend the Night Together" would be renamed "Let's Spend Fifteen Hostile Minutes Degrading Each Other." Close enough.

Note 2: Kids today...

[8/19/03 13:07]
   
     
   
Not losing my mind (or hearing)

I'm told that our copy of Chubby Checker's "The Twist" must be the "Pete Rock All Souled Out" remix. I re-listened, and somebody definitely made the emendation I mentioned. Listen for it if you're at the wedding. Of course it's no less inappropriate than the other perennial-wedding-dance-song outrages that you two mentioned and that we ARE playing (to avoid incurring fines that, in the case of an absent "I Will Survive" or "YMCA", can run into the hundreds of dollars). So polish up your White Guy Shuffle.

What makes academics unpleasant?

Nietzsche's "Skirmishes of an Untimely Man", #29, in Twilight of the Idols, is not quite an answer to your question, Ben A., but it is very funny.

From a doctoral examination.
"What is the task of all higher education?" To turn men into machines.
"What are the means?" Man must learn to be bored.
"How is that accomplished?" By means of the concept of duty.
"Who serves as the model?" The philologist: he teaches grinding.
"Who is the perfect man?" The civil servant.
"Which philosophy offers the highest formula for the civil servant?" Kant's: the civil servant as a thing-in-itself raised up to be judge over the civil servant as phenomenon.
[8/19/03 05:02]
 
     
 
What Makes Academics Unpleasant?

This question came to me as I perused Brian Leiter’s weblog. Leiter, for those not clued into the academic philosophy scene, is known foremost for developing the “Philosophy Gourmet Report” The PGR, as it's known is an invaluable website directed at prospective graduate students in philosophy. Among its many riches one finds a comprehensive tracking of recent faculty moves, a listing of faculty who are part time (don’t plan on doing your dissertation with them!), and most controversial (and useful) of all, a *ranking* of departments by faculty quality. In addition to the direct benefits – which are substantial – the “Leiter report” seems to have spurred an admirable move to transparency on the topic of placement. One can now find, as one could not when I entered graduate school, the placement records of most top tier departments on the web. In all, Leiter has had a colossally beneficial effect on the profession.

How sad, then, that Leiter himself (or at least, his blog-self) seems to be something of a nasty character. In the aftermath that dreadful James Atlas article on Strauss in the New York Times magazine, Leiter sent a brief screed as part of his “Gourmet Update” service. It contended that Atlas' true failing consisted in identifying Strauss, and Straussians as philosophers at all (as opposed to the hacks and incompetents that real philosophers know them to be). Leiter’s tone was dismissive, and he provided no arguments of his own to support his hauteur, referencing instead a critique of Strauss by Myles Burnyeat in ... the New York Review of Books. Well, I bit, and paid NYRB eight bucks for access. So too, apparently, did a graduate student at Oxford named Josh Cherniss, who posted on his blog a sensible, if hard-edged, rejoinder.

Leiter responded churlishly. He has described Cherniss’ arguments as “sophomoric” and their author as “juvenile” while at the same time evincing little understanding of Cherniss’ criticisms and (most peculiar), failing to link to the original posts. It’s an ugly performance.

So let me provide here three quick points contra Leiter:

1. Burnyeat’s critique in the NY Review of Books would not be judged decisive by the open-minded
One may think Burnyeat has the better part of the argument, of course, but to sustain Leiter’s pitch of indignation, Burnyeat would need to show Strauss not merely incorrect, but ridiculous. This he simply does not do. Could this be done? I don’t know, but neither does Leiter, or by appearances, Burnyeat. I should note that in his responses to the flurry of letters that followed Burnyeat’s original article, he appears to willfully misunderstand his interlocutors, and create straw men of their arguments. Unimpressive.

2. It’s not like Strauss only studied the Greeks
Grant for the sake of argument that Burnyeat proves Strauss’ work on Plato worthless. Strauss wrote on Hobbes, Spinoza, Machiavelli, and a host of others. Is everything of poor quality? I would venture judgment only on the Hobbes book, which I found quite sharp. And people far more knowledgeable about Hobbes than I – Michael Oakeshott, for example – thought the same. Perhaps Strauss wrote a bang-up book on Hobbes and then took a wrong turn. But again, one good book on Hobbes would suffice to show a Strauss utterly unlike Leiter’s caricature.

3. One cannot judge Strauss by the products of alleged or self-identified Straussians
This should be self-evident. Who would want to judge John Rawls by the some of the hacks who have called themselves Rawlsians, or Hume by the blunderers who have called themselves Humeans? No one, right? Now I know a little bit about the perceived “Straussian” line on Hegel, and I think it deeply, almost heroically, misguided. But I don’t know what Strauss thought about Hegel, exactly, because his work is so damn elliptical and I can’t be bothered to figure it out. Leiter, however, takes “Straussian” work on Nietzsche (he refers only to Peter Berkowitz) as a way of damning other Straussians and Strauss himself. This is simply slipshod.

How is it that a trained philosopher would bungle it so badly -- be needlessly uncharitable on poor evidence, and respond to criticism with such pettiness and venom? Well, one could suspect politics at work here. On his webpage Leiter praises the trenchancy of recent policy analysis by Noam Chomsky and in his original post referred to Paul Wolfowitz as a intellectual lightweight and political hack.

No doubt that’s the way many followers of this tempest-in-a-teapot read it, but I suspect ideology is a red herring. Far more telling than the Chomsky is the throw-away description of Wolfowitz: “intellectual lightweight and political hack.”

This is just silly. Leiter can have no idea if Wolfowitz is a lightweight. And in this failure, we recognize the most seductive illusion of intellectual life: the belief that one’s enemies must be either stupid or corrupt. Wolfowitz, Jimmie Carter, James Webb, Donald Rumsfeld, Sandy Berger, and Leon Fuerth likely agree on almost no proposition about American foreign policy: but none of these men are stupid, and none of them are crooked. Entry into intellectual adulthood involves the recognition that smart, honest people can hold views one finds deeply misguided and even abhorrent. I think failing to recognize this is the root cause of much academic and intellectual unpleasantness. How I wish it would stop.

Addendum 1:

Leiter’s comments can be found
here (search for Strauss), here, and here.

Cherniss can be found here:here (Search for Leiter)here (search for Leiter), and here (search for Strauss).

Addendum 2:
As testament to my lack of bias, I confess that in terms of methodology (and education), I am all with the analytics. Intentional obscurantism -- particularly of some dimmer Straussians I’ve met -- infuriates me: you can never bring them to book because they won’t state an argument. It may be that some philosophers in the tradition write esoterically, but unless you’re Plato or Maimonides yourself, humility counsels plain speaking.

As for “dangerous truths” – we’ve heard ‘em: God is dead, morality a farce, ergo spend your time screwing and looting. Indeed, those basic points form the thesis of not a few music videos (average audience 7 million). I doubt confessing the same in a journal article in “Interpretation” will do much to undermine the republic.

(I should note that neither of these criticisms apply to the best Straussian scholars. Joseph Cropsey, for example, is as kind, erudite, inspirational, and humble a teacher as one can have the good fortune to study with)
[8/18/03 19:44]
   
     
   
Proof that passive exposure to gangsta rap corrupts one's enjoyment of even innocent 50s-era rock-and-roll

Listening to our wedding dance complitation, I did a double-take on Chubby Checker's "Twist" -- did he just say "Come on, little bitch, and do the twist"???
[8/18/03 07:42]
 
 
I drove back to NYC Friday night, after having checking with my parking garage (below where I live) that their power had been restored. Walking up to my building laden down with my bags, I was greeted by an off-duty doorman telling me that the elevators in my part of the building were not yet functional, this about 3 hours after the juice had resumed flowing. Apparently, the management decided that the elevators should be restored bank by bank, in the eminently sensible order of 33rd Street west side, 30th west side, 30th east side, and finally 33rd east side. I suppose that this is "counterclockwise" order, though I can't fathom why one would choose to proceed on that basis. Guess where I live. The doorman could give no better estimate than "a couple of hours" for how long it would take to restore my elevator service, so I tried to come up with a clever solution. Couldn't I take the east side elevator up to the roof, cross over to the west side, and then climb down a few flights of stairs? A peremptory shake of the head was both answer and explanation. I resigned myself to trudging up 17 flights yet again, this time burdened down with bags. Finally, I reached my floor, only to find a pair of fully-equiped NYC firemen conferring with my neighbor. Apparently, she smelled something burning, and the firemen has come to investigate. I joked to them that I had felt pretty annoyed to have to hike up 17 flights, but seeing that they had to do the same with their heavy coats, oxygen tanks, and other equipment made me feel ashamed to complain. "We walked down, not up," one of them said. "We went up the elevator on the other side, walked across the roof, and came down." Note to self: ignore extortionate notes about holiday tips for doormen this year. In high dudgeon, I entered my apartment, looking forward to a glass of water after my sweaty trek. Power may have been restored, but the only thing coming out of my tap: a rush of air. That meant that the toilet would have to go unflushed for a few more hours, but I almost felt bad having to get rid of a bowl full of effluvia raised to the peak of ripeness by 30 hours stewing in a sultry apartment. The odor of Grand Central circa 1985 rarely has a place in the NYC bouquet post-Giuliani.

Often I have trouble motivating myself to instigate changes to my routine. The post-blackout experience has at least proven useful in catalyzing my apartment hunt. Saturday and Sunday were given over to the real estate brokers...
[8/17/03 18:24]
 
 
MEPHISTO (courtesy of Deb) [8/16/03 19:21]
   
     
   
Imhotep's perceived as devil (8)
[8/16/03 09:55]
 
     
 
The Echo Chamber

Two luminaries of opinion journalism luminaries --
David Brooks and Anne Applebaum (go here and click 'parallel universes') -- have recently bewailed the increasing tendency of ideological and cultural cocooning. What can I say? When you're right, you're right.

It seems to me established fact that people will seek echo chambers where available. A fascinating piece of supporting data comes from this cluster analysis of amazon purchases. Once you enter the Chomsky-sphere or Coulter-verse, you do not emerge. [8/15/03 15:49]
   
 
Another example of the real reason behind inadequacies in the grid. A private energy company has been trying to get approval to build a power line from Connecticut to Long Island. They believed, perhaps too optimistically, that by burying the cable offshore they would avoid getting entagled in NIMBY opposition. Even the most trivial inconvenience whips the NIMBYs into a froth of indignation. Long Islanders who live near proposed cable landfall would prefer it come ashore somewhere else. Who know what they really find objectionable, perhaps they have an irrational fear of power-line-induced leukemia, but you can be sure their rage has little to do with the case they made to block the project, namely that the cable would disturb certain oysterbeds. [8/15/03 12:12]
 
 
I would gladly suffer periodic blackouts to maintain America's military supremacy! It's not irony -- I really would. Of course, attack subs may be a boondoggle, meant to shore up good jobs at good wages in the distrtict of some influential congressman. So let me go on record: I oppose weapons systems that aren't useful. But really, given the poor ROI on much government spending, 3.5% of GDP to deter competition and secure the Pax Americana seems a bargain. I'd go higher.

And another thing. You know that trope of lefty writing where the cost of every weapons gets denominated in the number of units of low-income housing it would have bought? (c.f., City of Quartz, anything written in the Nation) Perhaps we can start assessing the utility of social programs by their military value. Title I, for example, supports an admirably efficient network of small arms distribution.

[8/15/03 10:43]
   
 
I am in Westchester... power here is fine. It seems like the event is a pretty enormous fluke. Manhattan is the only place that is still mostly out. Now, the issue in Manhattan is one of long-standing. THe island is short generating capacity and also short small-distance transmission capacity. You may recall a couple of summers ago a big blackout in Harlem caused by an overheated transmission line from further south in Manhattan. The summer after, Con Ed proposed bringing in barges with diesel generators to areas with power demands beyond the transmission network's capacity to provide it. Of course, the people in those neighborhoods screeched about the noise and the soot and the impact on their fragile fire-escape ecosystems. Neither did they want new transmission lines, or more precisely, the tearing up of streets their installation would require.

Several generators have proposed to build combined-cycle turbine gas-fired plants at sites in the lower Hudson Valley. The locals wailed that the plants and associated transmission lines would ruin the character of their area and managed to block them by claiming that the plant would be visible from a view that showed up in several Hudson River School painting. My god! Change a vista that some second rate painter once put to canvas! The scandal! Meanwhile, the same people want to shut Indian Point.

You can't lay the blame for power troubles on government spending priorities; nor on deregulation. Yes, the government has done a mediocre job of regulation of rates and market structures and has allowed NIMBYs to dictate policy to too large an extent. Plenty of companies will build tranmission lines given a fair rate and market structure and the absence of obstruction by obstreperous neighbors.
[8/15/03 09:18]
 
   
I take it back, Ben, you're right, the answer is more deregulation. If congress would just cough up the money to bail it out of bankruptcy, I'm sure Enron would fix the problem in a twinkling of market efficiency!

P.S. Where are you now? Is most of Manhattan back up now?
[8/15/03 09:02]
 
 
Having hiked down 19 flights in pitch dark, fought my way 30 blocks amid a raging stream of ragged humanity, and trudged up another 16 flights in pitch dark, to discover that I did not even have water in my apartment, I feel I've earned the right to curse any and all parties that might have had something to do with the blackout. However, I see little connection between the military budget and the electricity grid. The grid ought to be the responsibility of utilities and their ratepayers, not the government. The government can set standards and rules, but energy infrastructure is and should be funded by tariffs, not taxes. If the government bears any responsibility for the debacle it is in denying requests for rate increases to cover infrastructure investment; and creating ridiculous regulatory hurdles to building new generation and transmission capacity. We should dub this event "the NIMBY blackout."

Furthermore, underinvestment in generation and transmission capacity is not a uniquely American problem. Every building I visited in Tokyo displayed a sign warning patrons that the building was "under power conservation measures" and a steamy indoor environment to match. The loss of nuclear generating capacity and insufficient long-distance transmission have precipitated the problem. Last year, Brazil ran into a similar problem, which required a resort to highly intrusive rationing mechanism.

As for Ken's reaction, he was out in the Hamptons, so I didn't get it until I made it to Westchester this morning (there's power here). He didn't seem particularly fazed, because his summer share house has a backup-generator. Preparedness can save an otherwise ill-fated vacation! We have a pretty serious UPS set-up, but for some reason the technology people hooked it up only to our server room (including the air conditioning in that room). I lost my station instantly. And the UPC ran out after an hour or so, enough time to shut everything down safely. Of course, I had to hang around long past that time in order to make sure that everyone in the office had a way home or, alternatively, a place to stay. By the time I left, the emergency power supply in the stairwells had run out...
[8/15/03 08:55]
 
   
Unfortunately I suspect Ben H. currently lacks the electricity to respond, so I'll respond on his behalf.

Well guys, I always look on the bright side (assuming I'm provided enough light to look at any side at all). This could finally trigger the collapse in NYC housing prices I've been wating for. Imagine:

E. 70s, 2 bdr, 2 bath, doorman, elevator, electricity every other day. $300k (initially $2.2M).

That and a small generator and I'm living like some nutty, cuckoo super-king!


Seriously I'd like to hear Ben H's boss Ken's reaction. He's the guy who fitted out his office with a self-contained AC unit because he thought the building managers didn't turn on the AC soon enough in the morning.
[8/15/03 08:54]
 
     
 
Doug, you've fallen for the cover story. That $8.7 billion funds Don Rumsfeld's EMP device, the crown jewel of the transformational military. The test firing on Ottowa yesterday showed some bugs in the system -- but it will be operational on schedule! Ben H, how's life in the blast radius? [8/15/03 08:35]
   
     
   
Let's see what's in the Washington Post today.

The North American Electric Reliability Council warned last year that "The nation is at . . . a crisis stage with respect to reliability of transmission grids." It calculated that $56 billion was needed to upgrade the nation's grids, but only $35 billion was likely to be invested.

U.S. Navy buys six attack submarines for $8.7 billion, part of a projected 30-sub $81 billion plan. (Let's see Al Qaeda's fleet of battleships and destroyers get past that!)

Now I usually defer to you guys' superior skills in discerning the story behind the story, but frankly I'm having difficulty imagining how it could be anything other than that America has gone utterly insane. [8/15/03 07:40]
 
     
 
Poetry Minute

The bearded devil
Is forced
To dwell
In the only place
Where they don't sell
Burma-Shave
[8/12/03 12:48]
   
 
I've read also that several French nuclear plants are operating at dangerously high temperatures. Contemplating the odor of Paris on a 100 degree day makes me grateful for my olfactory handicap. In fairness, though, I feel I have to save my sympathy for Londoners. They have, if anything, less prevalent A/C than the French, worse personal hygeine issues, and a cuisine uniquely unsuited to sultry weather. Wot, you don't want any buttered mayonaise today? It's too hot out? I could deep-fry it for you... [8/11/03 12:59]
 
   
The B&B-type place we stayed at was great too. Normally the whole idea of "leisure" doesn't sit well with me but what with the heat and the party preparations and the partying itself, I was happy to just flop into the pool. (Yes, the partying is tiring for me when conducted in French. My French is good enough now that I can pass for a Belgian or even someone from a far corner of northern France, but keeping it up for hours at a stretch wears me out. I'm not used to it because I work at home. In the end we ended up sitting next to some Polish people just so we could speak English with them.)

Also the food was great at the B&B (its owner cooked some stuff for the wedding too). The French don't really mess around when it comes to dinner. The guests weren't super-cultivated or snobby or anything (except for me), and the rooms are cheaper than any room in Manhattan, and yet there was port and pistachios at 8:30, then everyone (20 people?) sat down at a long table outside and had a four course meal -- quail on eggplant puree, duck breast in white wine and coriander, local goat cheese with local honey, and a coconut-orange pie, all freshly prepared in a Martha Stewart-type kitchen.

The south of France and this B&B in particular are crucibles of European integration -- I thought about Ben A's comment about our age of right and reason a lot here. The B&B owners were a German/French couple. The bride and groom who also stayed there were Polish and Vietnamese (both naturalized French). The guests were German, French, Belgian, and us Americans. And apparently there are so many English people buying houses down there that real estate prices have tripled and some have taken to calling one part of it "Dordogne-shire".

The weirdest thing that happened at the wedding was when Dao was talking with Quoc-Cuong's parents, who apparently enjoy long stretches of French small talk even less than I do, even after 25 years. They were happy to talk in Vietnamese. So they're talking about differences between the families who escaped to America and those who went to France, and they mention this anecdote that sounds familiar to Dao. Something that happened to her cousin Phong. Yes, they say, that's the name! Turns out Dao's grandmother is Quoc-Cuong's mother's aunt. They know or know of most of the maternal side of Dao's family. It was one of those wedding revelations that seem so improbable in movies and plays.
[8/11/03 10:50]
 
   
Just got back from a pleasant though tiring 5-day weekend in the south of France. No hotter than Paris, plus there was a swimming pool.

The occasion was the wedding of our friends Danusia and Quoc-Cuong. Having had the misfortune to be in school during the internet boom, and thus not having stocked away a little money to blow on catering (like we will in three weeks' time), they had a kind of participatory wedding -- we did a lot of decorating and errand-running etc. Feel a little guilty about not doing much to help clean up afterwards, but oh well.

One of the errands we ran was to a foie-gras farm. I've heard so many people say that foie-gras birds are mistreated that I've nixed it for our wedding, even though it's a French wedding staple. Being at the farm, I thought I'd sneak a peak for myself. The geese were housed in small quonset-hut-looking coops, but could get out to a little yard to walk around. They weren't packed in together in the manner of the American factory-farm. So it didn't look too bad.

But then the lady used a word I'd never heard before. She said that with the heat wave here, the birds can't take the "gavage" and die from heart attacks. What does that word mean, I asked. Well it's the force feeding they do to make the liver get huge. I guess I never really thought too much about how that works -- maybe threaten to withhold dessert if they don't finish their protein shakes? No, it turns out they stick a tube down their throats (only the males are big enough to let it through) maybe twice a day and shoot food through it.

It was kind of funny hearing the lady talk about how she was taking a week off. Shoving a tube down a bird's throat and shooting a huge pile of feed through it ... in hot weather? Why, that's barbaric!

[8/11/03 10:18]
 
   
Revenge served hot

Good God, what I wouldn't give to be at a ski resort right now.

If you're still seething at France and Germany for not jumping when our president said jump, then rejoice -- our vengeance against them turns out to have been preemptive too! France has been suffocating for a week in 100-degree weather under a haze of Hummer emissions from across the Atlantic. Old people are dropping like flies, forests are burning. That'll show 'em where they can shove their weapons inspectors and their Kyoto accords! USA! USA!

[8/11/03 09:55]
 
   
[Mr. Bimmler being the aide to Mr. Hilter, the National Bocialist candidate for a city council position in North Minehead. Both are trying to "fit in" undercover in England and stage a comeback]

Bimmler: How do you do there squire? I also am not of Minehead being born but I in your Peterborough Lincolnshire was given birth to. But am staying in Peterborough Lincolnshire house all time during vor, due to jolly old running sores, and vos unable to go in the streets or to go visit football matches or go to Nuremburg. Ha ha. Am retired vindow cleaner and pacifist, without doing war crimes. Oh...and am glad England vin Vorld Cup. Bobby Charlton. Martin Peters. And eating I am lots of chips and fish and hole in the toads and Dundee cakes on Piccadilly Line, don't you know old chap, vot! And I vos head of Gestapo for ten years. (Hilter elbows him in the ribs) Ah! Five years! (Hilter elbows him again, harder) Nein! No! Oh. Was NOT head of Gestapo AT ALL! I was not, I make joke! (laughs)
[8/11/03 09:40]
 
 
I have it on good authority that Derrida's bloviations will soon come to an end. Apparently, he is very ill. I guess a tenure track slot in Hell has opened up.

Sorry again for the spotty posting. I am about to get on a plane back to New York from Bariloche, the heartland of the Nazi-exile-in-Argentina. I did a little skiing and wound up with an instructor named "Heine", (short for Heinrich) a native of Bariloche but of a German family, about 50 years old. I wonder what brought his father to Bariloche? In my group were some London-based traders, and I got them to referring to this guy as "Mr. Bimmler."
[8/8/03 18:44]
 
 
Defining Dialogue Down

So via Arts & Letters Daily, I find two
‘Dialogues’ with Habermas and Derrida about September 11. It tempts many ideological/analytical responses, not to mention sheer philistinism. But I’d like to focus on something else. Namely, that for Derrida, a dialog entails a 500:1 interviewee/interviewer syllable ratio. The interviewer asks, basically “was September a big deal, or what? To me it feels like WWII.” Derrida’s response runs over two thousand words. I’d reproduce it here, because it’s hilarious, but it would take up the entirety of the site. Content aside, it seems like the sign of some neurological impairment. And of course, you can’t leave content aside, because of lines like these:

"To mark a date in history" presupposes, in any case, that "something" comes or happens for the first and last time, "something" that we do not yet really know how to identify, determine, recognize, or analyze but that should remain from here on in unforgettable: an ineffaceable event in the shared archive of a universal calendar, that is, a supposedly universal calendar, for these are—and I want to insist on this at the outset—only suppositions and presuppositions.

We do not in fact know what we are saying or naming in this way: September 11, le 11 septembre, September 11. The brevity of the appellation (September 11, 9/11) stems not only from an economic or rhetorical necessity. The telegram of this metonymy—a name, a number—points out the unqualifiable by recognizing that we do not recognize or even cognize that we do not yet know how to qualify, that we do not know what we are talking about.

Deep, dude, deep. (Whoops, there’s the philistinism!)
[8/7/03 16:08]
   
 
Randy Cohen and Me

Some years ago I send a snarky letter to Randy Cohen. It had the form:

“Dear Ethicist, I have this problem that people write me to ask for my ethical advice. And even though I don’t know anything about ethics, and am not deeply learned in any moral tradition, I find myself answering them. What do you recommend...”

He wrote back, and I (with perfect hindsight) was too snide in the letters that followed. So, no existence-validating NYT citation for me, and more to the point, no modulation of Randy Cohen’s thinking. I suppose it’s ultimately a gig for the poor guy, who no doubt is an accomplished and talented enough humor writer, and we shouldn’t be too hard on him. But I do ultimately believe that a bad ethicist --- one who takes too much or too little for granted -- is worse than no ethicist at all.
[8/4/03 18:16]
   
 
In L'Humanite's ideal world, humanity wouldn't exist. On that theme, take a look at the work of this Chinese photographer (mentioned in NYT) who documents conditions in his country's industrial sector. Behind Shanghai's gleaming towers of commerce lurk millions working in the squalor of Communist heavy industry. Marxism started out as a project to ameliorate the Dickensian working conditions of the industrial proleteriate, and ended up topping them. Practically the only place these conditions still exist is the Communist bloc; they're practically museums of archaic working conditions. At first, I wondered if this fellow might find himself re-assigned to Inner Mongolia for his troubles. But in the Communist worldview, these photos depict not oppressed drudges, but heroes of the revolution. He'll probably win an award.
[8/4/03 12:44]
 
   
Had to buy ingredients for below-mentioned drink today since a string of 95° weather has started and it's pretty rough in our upstairs apartment. I can't quite describe this as hellishly hot, since in NYC it's often this hot *and* much more humid, and it would seem boorish when you think about the troops in Iraq bearing months of even hotter weather, and wearing body armor to boot. (Plus nobody throwing grenades at us here.) [8/4/03 11:51]
 
   
The Ideal Hot-Weather Cafe Drink ...

... I have discovered only late in my career as a flaneur. It is the Perrier-Menthe, a cup of fluorescent-green mint syrup into which you pour Perrier.

A Very General Complaint about Ethicists

Their model for how to live best too often comes down to repeatedly choosing correctly between pairs of options that somehow present themselves. This butchers the truth, which is that at any moment there are infinitely many things you could do. (This is hard to deny even if you reject the correct Bergsonian view, that life is the creation of new possibilities that did not even exist abstractly beforehand.)

... That Mutates Into Yet Another Anti-NYTimes Rant

A salient example out of millions is the Randy Cohen "Ethicist" column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, which I hesitate even to name because it is just about the surest way to rile up Ben H. But you know the sort of questions he gets from the Magazine's self-satisfied upper-middle-class readership: "During a cocktail party I was throwing for my law-firm's partners, my domestic assistant Juanita spilled a glass of Pauillac on my hand-woven Burmese yak rug. Should I ask her to pay for a replacement?" And it takes Cohen only a few breezy, ostentatiously unsanctimonious sentences to get to "No, pay for it yourself." But does it ever occur to him to go behind this yes/no and ask whether there is something deeply amiss in a life dedicated to pocketing percentages of the money being snatched back and forth between corporation A and corporation B, and that would spend more of this money on a bottle of wine than on a servant's weekly wage, while warding off guilt with a talismanic piece of "indigenous" floor-covering?

Maybe it does occur to him, but I don't read the magazine anymore. It's too deeply imbued with the aura of those sorts of lives.

Grafitti

The French Communist Party newspaper l'Humanité, like the party itself, is moribund. Ben H. joined me in crashing one of their events here last year and can attest that the party is down to a graying rump -- and if that's an ugly choice of words, well, it's an ugly thing. Young anti-mondialistes go for the newer chic-er parties -- the "Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire" or the "Workers' Struggle" Party. In one last-ditch effort, however, the old PCF has blown (perhaps the rest of) its money on subway advertisements for its newspaper. To wit:



"In an ideal world, Humanity wouldn't exist." I spent a lot of time trying to think up the ideal rejoinder to scrawl on these ads. "Tant mieux" -- "So much the better" -- was the best I came up with, but like a lot of the others I devised, it's pre-emptively parried by the ad's (and the paper's, and the party's) breathtakingly arrogant assumption that it speaks of behalf of humanity. For the ad's double-entendre could make it seem that I'm against mankind generally, rather than against their party.

At Bercy station the other day I discovered that someone found and scrawled the perfect rejoinder. "Ni les goulags" -- "Neither would the gulag". My new mission is to reproduce this all over Paris.
[8/4/03 05:30]
 
   
My Own Last Stab At Fear And Trembling

In the end I remain impressed with Kierkegaard as a writer even if the main questions of this book don't really grab my interest. The main questions are how to understand biblical faith, and whether universalist ethics provides a satisfactory worldview. No doubt these were the relevant questions to ask in 19th-century Denmark. But they're not the most relevant ones now, at least not for me. I don't understand the idea of God, or even the reasons why people think they ought to have an idea of God, so the first question is out of my league. The second question is interesting to me, but Kierkegaard apparently assumes that there is a universalist ethics that everyone agrees on. I don't think many people today can make that assumption. I for one need to stand back and ask the more general question of what it means for an action to be "right" or "wrong", before debating whether we should accept modifications or exceptions in some given ethics. Now a lot can be gleaned or extrapolated from this book about Kierkegaard's attitude toward this more general question. But it would've been more interesting to me, and easier for me to churn out Bandarlog copy, if he had confronted the general (meta-ethical) question head-on.

For lack of anything better, some random thoughts on the book.

At the beginning of the Exordium, an interesting trick to build interest in a book's subject: invent a character who is obsessed with the subject (rather than seem obsessed yourself, which can put off your readers.) This character is obsessed with the Abraham/Isaac story, of course, and his four different imaginings of the story are beautiful and powerful. I didn't understand the cryptic "weaning" comments at the end of each, though. Maybe you can enlighten me.

This translation by the Hongs is kind of stodgy but K's power still comes through, like a Mack truck punching through a wall of bran flakes. (Maybe I need to work on that image.)

Did you notice that K. mentions Italian bookkeeping as some kind of model of accounting punctiliousness?? I would have guessed Swiss ...

Enough. Time for some Harry Potter.
[8/4/03 02:53]
 
     
 
It is a good stanza. And looking back now, I realized I falsified its goodness: replace 'customer' with 'consumer' -- better, no? And the goodness is no accident -- the rest of the album contains fine, fine, Indie lyricism. As a true ironic addendum, I discovered the album after tracking down a snip of "Strange Powers" from a Southern Comfort advert. The consumer is king indeed!





[8/2/03 18:47]
   
     
   
The Hedgehog Knows One Big Thing ...

Unfortunately, it's not the danger posed by automobiles. Two gory casualties on our street this week. I think hedgehogs are better off out of the city and in the, well, hedges.

Are you being sarcastic, dude? --I don't even know anymore

On the indie-rock disaffection issue, you've got to make a (kierkegaardesque) distinction between two classes of people. First there are those who are unhappy with the state of the world because of Mumia and Halliburton etc. These people have no perspective and should be sent to Cuba or Liberia to get some. But then there are those who are unhappy precisely because they see that modern America is outwardly the best society that ever was, and are disgusted that there seems nothing to do except lie around like contented dogs, as Francis Fukuyama put it (perhaps quoting Kojeve) in "The End Of History And The Last Man". Your particular rocker may be in the latter category, in which case I have some sympathy for him. (Not to mention admiration -- it's a pretty good stanza.)

In fact these two classes of people correspond to what Fukuyama called the critiques of his thesis "from the left" and "from the right". I think he was correct to say that the critique from the left is easily dispensed with, while that from the right is more profound. In essence, it's the same thing we were talking about back in June with John Stuart Mill's
crisis. Maybe it's the same disgust K. thought about bourgeois Copenhagen, too.

In any case I'll be sending you part of a 150-page draft on this topic in a matter of days.

[8/2/03 17:07]
 
     
 
Twice Reflected Doubly Satisfies

I've been listening to a slew of alt-rock of late, and one stanza from the Magnetic Fields’ “Strange Powers” caught my notice:

What a golden age
What a time of right and reason
The customer’s king
And unhappiness is treason


This is sarcasm, of course. An indie musician who express optimism about Western society confesses naiveté at best, Babittry at worst. What of Mumia, Halliburton, and East Timor? That’s the sentiment here, I fear. And for those not up to speed on the latest capitalist enormity, previous verses of the song helpfully refer to Las Vegas and the Thai sex industry.

When I first heard this lyric, however, I nodded assent. For I do regard the present as a time of right and reason. The last hundred years have seen horrific prejudices overthrown, and hundreds of millions freed from want, violence and despotism. Only the willfully blind can fail to recognize this. And is it not a kind of treason – a betrayal of the lives of those who suffered in fear and misery throughout the ages – to mope through this golden age? There should be a term the inversion one experiences when affirming a view stated ironically, sarcastically, or as a straw man. It’s a peculiar feeling, and oddly satisfying.
[8/1/03 17:47]
   
 
Sorry for my piddling contributions of late. I spent last week in Tokyo, working out of our office there. For a little scheme I'm attemptin to hatch, I needed to meet witha quasi-government agency there. One of the quirks of Japanese business is that they really insist on seeing their interlocutor in person and exchanging business cards in that daintily formal way of theirs. Another is that there is no such thing as a single meeting. The head of our Tokyo office, who graciously worked his connections to set it up, laughed when I suggested I'd come out for a day or two, since I only had one meeting to attend. He predicted correctly that they would ask us to come back the next day and the day after. My officemates gave me a week-long culinary tour of the city, but unfortunately somewhere along the way I suffered infiltration (or maybe non-filtration?) of a squad of kamikaze enteral bacteria. If you have not tried taking a 14-hour flight in an advanced state of excretory incontinence, you haven't really lived. [7/31/03 06:07]
 
 
One More Stab at Kierkegaard

Why does Kierkegaard reject the ethical as the final end of man? The answer to this turns on what meaning we ascribe to Kierkegaard’s term “universal.” Alistair Hanney suggests that we should understand it in terms of Hegelian ethical life – the universal is the community, or society, in which ethical duties are grounded. This reading takes us towards the isolation of faith, the way in which the act of faith cuts one off from one’s fellows and the conversation (dare I say: the community of discourse) in which citizens talk to each other about their duties.

Here’s another way to read it. The universal just mean that: what is shared by all and particular to none. Morality represents the universal in two ways. First, the moral law binds all equally. Second, certain description of man, considered morally can appear stripped of individuating features. As an actor, the moral man appears as ‘pure rational will’; as an object of action, his particular qualities are irrelevant to the obligations owed him. This is, of course, caricature, and Aristotelians, Hegelians, and even Kantians can rush in to demonstrate the many ways in which it bowdlerizes the subtleties of their positions. Incomplete it may be, but there’s something obviously right about it. I do try to submerge elements of my particularity when I act ethically. Likewise it’s not crazy to wonder: how one would I distinguish between two perfectly ethical men – would they not act in just the same way? If I were perfectly ethical, in what sense would I remain me?

I think it is this homogenization that repels Kierkegaard. He does not want our access to the final end (our telos or the ‘absolute’) granted only at the cost of relinquishing our individuality. The only way out is some immediate connection between the individual and the absolute – faith.

Where K Errs
Kierkegaard is wrong, I think, to oppose the immediacy of faith to the universality of ethics. We of course deeply wish our individuality to hold absolute significance – but assuming this can be no part of our practical reasoning. Consider – why did Abraham decide to sacrifice Isaac? Kierkegaard suggests Isaac was the thing most precious to Abraham, as if that provides explanation. It does not. There are other painful sacrifices Abraham did not attempt; why not? Surely, some evidence convinced him that the absolute required precisely this sacrifice, not some other. And then we are entitled to ask: How did he come to make this judgment? This leads us back to moral evaluation. The only way to understand Abraham’s decision is through the scheme of practical choice; that is, of ethics. It may be – as I have suggested – that Abraham may be exculpated: the absolute, after all gave powerful evidence in his live, and spoke to him as it has to few others. But any excuse of Abraham must be an ethical one.


Where K Succeeds

Kierkegaard’s accomplishment is to give a sense of what faith could mean for a human life. We do not require faith to know the moral law, to recognize it as binding, or to be motivated by it, on this Hegel and Kierkegaard (and Kant, and Aristotle) are united. Faith thus seems practically impotent – it does not change the actions of the faithful man. So what does faith do? I think Kierkegaard argues that faith is precisely faith in the importance of our individuality, faith that in some way not easily discoverable by reason, our small lives, even the life of some 4th century Scythian clown is of absolute importance. Ethics debars us from treating the others (and, I suppose, ourselves) as means, but it does not teach us what kind of ends we are, or why our uniqueness is in any way important. That’s why a commitment to ethics is completely compatible with existential angst – you know what you’re required to do, you do it, but the whole damn thing feels like a burden, like a shadow, like a joke. If you had faith, you’d live like a burgher, not like a stoic – because you wouldn’t be trying to make ethics do a job it wasn’t up to.

[7/30/03 18:04]
   
     
   
Bandarlog's kinda quiet ... estival torpor ... hey Ben H. I heard you went to Japan. What, as they say, is up with that? [7/30/03 17:10]
 
   
Baffling, that Slate would now feature Doonesbury cartoons. Slate is the freshest of new media; Doonesbury is the stalest of old media. My elders always tell me how great the strip was in its heyday, but hey, that day was 30 years ago! Ever since I can remember it has been wack, and in fact the best thing I can say for Trudeau's current work is that he spells "wack" correctly, unlike so many white people who add an "h". [7/30/03 08:48]
 
     
 
The Koopa Troopa of Infinite Resignation

"School House Rock" produced a generation incapable of reciting the constitution's preamble without singing. So too, in my case, a youth of Nintendo playing rendered me incapable of hearing the word "princess" without supplying the context "save the..." What I'm saying is, Kierkegaard reminds me of Super Mario Brothers.
[7/26/03 11:49]
   
 
What would A French Q*Bert be like?

And I've been thinking about this ever since reading the article...


[7/26/03 11:40]
   
     
   
Good News And Bad at NY Times

Bad News: They seemed to have introduced a column called
"Cultural Studies". The story linked there is "The Pool in Film: Deep and Lovely and Full of Sharks", By Steve Garbarino (no relation to Marjorie Garbarino).

Good News: It's in the "Fashion & Style" section. Let the (newspaper of) record show where this stuff belongs. [7/26/03 02:37]
 
   
Read the bit about the French video games

Just as, each night on the basketball court, Michael Jordan was playing a completely different game from the mortals around him, so James Lileks daily plays a different game from the rest of us bloggers. I know I repeat my praise of him too often, but really,
this man defines blog virtuosity. [7/25/03 02:20]
 
   
Fear And Trembling

Why does the author of Fear And Trembling not simply repudiate Abraham-style faith as an abomination?

Here is my attempt at an answer, which is pretty much in accord with Ben A's.

A main worry that drives Johannes/Kierkegaard to all these reflections is that life might be bland and petty.

He is concerned to preserve greatness and passion against creeping bourgeois philistinism. He uses all those terms a lot. In the epilogue he says (twice) "Faith is the highest passion in a person." Even when talking of earthly passion, he is always registering his approval of big sweeping epic love, theatrical love -- the example of love for a "princess" comes up, and I'm not sure he's kidding.

"A young lad falls in love with a princess, and this love is the entire substance of his life, and yet the relation is such that it cannot possibly be realized, cannot possibly be translated from ideality into reality. Of course, the slaves of the finite, the frogs in the swap of life, scream: that kind of love is foolishness; the rich brewer's widow is just as good and solid a match. Let them go on croaking in the swamp." [P. 41 of the "Preliminary Expectoration" of the Princeton volume translated by these Hong characters, from whom I get a bad vibe. We can talk about them later ... but really, "expectoration"???]

Johannes/Kierkegaard seems to scorn anyone who does not love so much that his entire happiness depends on the beloved. This struck me as disagreeably Werther-ish, but there it is: he's big on passion.

Now with that background, what does he think about ethics? First, Ben A., you're right to stress that K. makes ethics first and foremost into something universal. In fact it sounds something like a mathematical formula. Problema II begins:

"The ethical is the universal ... The whole existence of the human race rounds itself off as a perfect, self-contained sphere, and then the ethical is that which limits and fills at one and the same time."

In Problema III he makes the remarkable statement "Ethics does not lend itself to debate".

All in all, he makes it seem that the ethically correct behavior at any point is something that can be unambiguously calculated. And whether your calculator is supplied by Bentham or Kant, or by Hegel (as K suspects it is), that makes for a bland and petty life.

Nietzsche, an even greater foe of blandness and pettiness, put it this way: "What? Do we really want to permit existence to be degraded for us like this - reduced to a mere exercise for a calculator and an indoor diversion for mathematicians?" (From 'The Gay Science', section 373, for my money the best three paragraphs of philosophy ever written.)

Ethics for Kierkegaard is clearly consistent with some level of human greatness -- the greatness of the tragic hero.

But this seems not to be enough. He seems to want something beyond ethics to motivate action (right action). Why he picked up Abraham's faith in particular as an example of this, is something I have to leave open for now (gotta take off ..)
[7/24/03 13:29]
 
 
Ann Coulter waxes so vitriolic that I come to sympathize with her targets. Interestingly, she talks about liberals who in pratice were tolerant of Communism or insufficiently anti-communist as committing, "the functional equivalent of treason." To accuse people of treason who, however misguided or naive their views, had no treasonous intent distorts the very meaning of treason. In fact, it smacks of Stalinist tactics, which is pretty ironic in light of Ann Coulter's avowed aim of discrediting sympathizers with Soviet communism. Her work has met with some strongly expressed disapproval on the Right, as it turns out. David Frum, in particular, has written some fairly scathing criticism. I am still waiting for, say, Mother Jones or the New York Review of Books, to do the same to that Fat Bastard Moore. Let me share a brief Michael Moore recollection. A couple of years ago, he briefly had a TV program, called "The Awful Truth"; appropriately, in my view, because in truth, it was awful. Through a friend of a friend, my boss got an email asking for the participation of young Wall Street types in a segment for the show. Moore wanted to film a "Compassionate Conservatism Chickenfight," with teams consisting of a Wall Street type riding on the back of a blue-collar worker. One wonder if he had an audience of sufficient sophistication to get the subtle symbolism. Ken and I considered going and "Michael-Mooring" the master. We'd show up and when he would explain to us on camera what he wanted us to do, we would put on very sincere looks of shock and tell him in a deadpan manner that we found the idea inappropriate and demeaning to the people who he wanted us to ride on. Meanwhile, Ken was going to get one of his friends to show up and tape Michael Moore's reaction. We didn't have the time to go through with it, though.

[7/24/03 04:57]
 
   
I'll pick up the Kierkegaard thread today -- promise. (Sorry for the delay; I've actually been working.)

In the meantime, a
decent piece on Michael Moore with plenty of evidence of his fundamental dishonesty. He's made a career out of the sort of indignant rant I recently used myself against that Morgan Stanley ad -- i.e. a justifiable kernel of anger, hot-air-popped into an overblown insubstantial misshapen thing slathered in oily, artificial rhetoric. (Or something like that.) (Incidentally, I can't believe I put Blodget at Morgan Stanley. I should at least read the articles I link to!)

Speaking of things I haven't read, I hear this Ann Coulter person is doing as much to debase politics back there as Moore, but from the other side. Equating liberalism with treason is vicious lie -- and, more worrisome to her, she now seems to have shot her clip. Where, John Holbo asks, does she go from here? (Apologies for stolen image.)



One more thing -- this struck me as elegant, and starts with "s".

Pig has had tail (6)

[7/24/03 03:41]
 
     
 
I am looking forward to a bloodthirsty NY Post cover tomorrow! [7/22/03 18:41]
   
 
"Why does the author of Fear And Trembling not simply repudiate Abraham-style faith as an abomination?"

That's the question, right enough.

A very preliminary answer -- and let me return to this having soaked in the book a bit longer -- is that it seems Johannes/Kierkegaard doesn't think moral justification can be the final/only justification of human action.

Why? I am not sure I understand right now, and am sure any interpretation I offer will be crude. But if forced to it, I'd say that Kierkegaard fears the 'universality' of ethics erodes human individuality, and that to become ethical above all else amounts to a kind of suicide. Two points for next time: is this a correct reading of F&T, if so, whyever would one think this?

[[One can, of course, mount defenses of Ambraham from *within* an ethical world view (Abraham was an upright man, Isaac was a miracle child, G-d has a track record with Abraham, Isaac was actually quite old at the time of the sacrifice, could have overpowered the aged Abraham, and thus gave implicit consent, etc., etc.) but this would be playing a game Kierkegaard wants to reject.]]
[7/18/03 14:32]
   
 

What I wrote below touches on one possible difference between Abraham and the Mormon kook. For Abraham, faith demands that he follow God's instructions, but it makes the command no less terrible to him. Like I said, he has two very contradictory ideas in mind and faith is their reconciliation. I must perform this command because it is God's and necessarily right, but at the same time it is frightening and terrible; my faith allows me to go forward in spite of the contradiction. The Mormon seemed pretty untroubled by the command. God said I need to debone you, well, sorry about that, but heck, God asked me, so how bad could it be?
[7/18/03 14:05]
 
   
Jon Krakauer's Latest -- ripped from the pages of Kierkegaard!

Well, you guys don't seem to be falling over youselves to answer my Kierkegaard question (what do you have, jobs?) so maybe I'll descend to the bored-undergraduate-discussion-section ploy of finding "current relevance" for our book.

Jon Krakauer's new book, "Under the Banner of Heaven" is reviewed in the NY Times article linked to there. The review begins:

This is sure to be the most often repeated brutal detail from Jon Krakauer's new book: that a Mormon Fundamentalist named Dan Lafferty spoke briefly to his 15-month-old niece on July 24, 1984, just before he killed her with a 10-inch boning knife. Mr. Lafferty explains to the author from his permanent home in a Utah state prison, "I told her: `I'm not sure what this is all about, but apparently it's God's will that you leave this world. Perhaps we can talk about it later.' "

It seems to me that no real Jew or Christian can dismiss a priori the possibility that Mr. Lafferty really was asked by God to kill his child. After all, Abraham was asked the same thing. Not that I want to make an Elaine Scarry move and say "see, there's no difference between the two cases!", the way she equated Iraq's weapons of mass destruction with America's. No, there are many very obvious differences, most relevantly: Abraham is well-known as an upright man whereas Lafferty is known as a kook. But good Jews/Christians can't automatically discount a claim like Lafferty's, that God wanted him to do it. To say "God no longer talks to people" is to draw a line between biblical times and ours, and to declare the former irrelevant to the latter. To say that God can ask you to murder but will necessarily retract his request at the last minute, so that Lafferty's going all the way through belies his God claim, is essentially to make Abraham an odious murderer. For then he should have seen that God would retract his request, and not taken it seriously. But he did take it seriously!

In short, the moral difference between Abraham and Lafferty cannot be the result of their attempted murder.

Relevant passages snipped from a web translation:

Moreover, the result (inasmuch as it is the answer of finiteness to the infinite query) is in its dialectic entirely heterogeneous with the existence of the hero. Or is it possible to prove that Abraham was justified in assuming the position of the individual with relation to the universal ? for the fact that he got Isaac by miracle? If Abraham had actually sacrificed Isaac, would he then have been less justified?

But people are curious about the result, as they are about the result in a book?they want to know nothing about dread, distress, the paradox. They flirt aesthetically with the result, it comes just as unexpectedly but also just as easily as a prize in the lottery; and when they have heard the result they are edified. And yet no robber of temples condemned to hard labor behind iron bars, is so base a criminal as the man who pillages the holy, and even Judas who sold his Master for thirty pieces of silver is not more despicable than the man who sells greatness.

It is abhorrent to my soul to talk inhumanly about greatness, to let it loom darkly at a distance in an indefinite form, to make out that it is great without making the human character of it evident?wherewith it ceases to be great. For it is not what happens to me that makes me great, but it is what I do, and there is surely no one who thinks that a man became great because he won the great prize in the lottery. [7/18/03 12:11]
 
 
A Cadillac Through the Eye of the Needle: Towards a Hermeneutics of Parsimony
By Neon Deion Sanders

Guys, do you remember the academic paper title screensaver? I still have it sitting on my old Mac SE30, and when I am feeling a little blue, I run it for laughs.
[7/17/03 10:32]
 
 
Best story of the decade? I know it's early... [7/16/03 18:46]
   
 
I tried to read Fear and Trembling a couple of years ago, and I am not ashamed to admit that I couldn't really make head or tail of it. K. again and again leads the reader down a tortuous path, and just as the reader thinks he has glimpsed where it is leading, K., as if by some sort of devilish intuition, declares that this is exactly what he is NOT saying. But based on what little I could glean, he seems to say that truth faith is like being able to keep two totally contradictory thoughts in mind at the same time. That Abraham believes Sarah is going to bear him a son is totally absurd on the facts, and he knows and accepts it's totally absurd, but still has complete faith that it will happen. Contrast that with a more facile faith that believes in a untroubled way that God will do this or that unlikely thing.

***

I spend a good deal of my day denouncing the low cunning of investment banks, so defending Morgan Stanley is an unusual position for me. However, Doug's charges are a little unfair, if not to Morgan Stanley the institution, then at least to their investment strategist. A big investment bank is not unlike a government. Within it dwell various factions, each with its own set of views, some of which contradict those of other factions. Barton Biggs was MS's chief investment strategist through much of the boom, and he never wavered from his line that the internet bubble was a load of crap. I remember a roundtable that included Biggs and Henry Blodgett (who worked for CIBC and then Merrill Lynch, NOT Morgan Stanley, by the way), during which Biggs said quite bluntly that Henry Blodgett would not be around in 3 years, the whole idea of "chief internet analyst" having turned into a big joke. Biggs became something of a joke, a superannuated Jeremiah killing everyone's buzz with his pitiful wailing about valuations. But he was right and stayed right. Now Biggs isn't the chief strategist anymore, but the whole team (Biggs, Roach, etc.) pretty much hewed to the same line on the bubble. I don't disagree, though, that it is cynical of Morgan Stanley to use him in an advertisement like the one you've described, which suggests that Morgan Stanley as an INSTITUTION shared his views through the boom years. Mary Meeker worked, and indeed still works, at Morgan Stanley. But that's probably only because firing her would open up a whole can of worms, since she, alone among the internet hucksters, never seems to have had a moment of doubt about her foolish ideas, or she was so clever that she ruthlessly suppressed it.

As for "no consequences", that may be true in entertainment, sports, politics (though I dispute the idea that the CIA's and the administrations poor judgement, which they've copped to, on the British Niger/yellowcake story is a good example of this), and even the BUY side of the financial world (John Merriwether still runs a hedge fund for god's sake!), that's not true for the Internet analysts. These guys broke no laws; I think that they were, like most people, of two minds about the internet phenomenon, at times giddy with its potential and swept away in irrational optimism, at times wracked by doubts and possessed of pessimistic clarity of mind. Elliot Spitzer trolled through their emails looking for evidence of the latter and used it to suggest that their enthusiasm was entirely dishonest. You say they've suffered no consequences? Jack Grubman: barred for life from the securities industry; fined $25mio; when CNCB wants a visual for "analyst conflict", they roll tape of an ambush interview of Grubman outside his apartment 18 months ago (Grubman looked liked a fleeing child pornographer). Henry Blodgett: gone from ML; under investigation by SEC, almost certainly banned for life from the securities industry, likely to have to pay a hefty fine. Frank Quattrone: gone from CSFB, under criminal investigation for obstruction of justice (on very dubious grounds), very likely to be banned for life from the securities industry, will have to pay a momentous fine and probably will do jail time. I think the sell side illustrates the opposite of the culture of irresponsibility. The search for scapegoats has been swift and unhindered by legal niceties. Failure is quite enough to end a career, whereas in other areas outright criminality is not sufficient.
[7/16/03 06:37]
 
 
Towards a Neo-Kantian Analysis of Kierkegaard

I’ve always enjoyed scholarly books whose titles incorporate the “towards a __________” locution. I don’t mean that I’ve read them, but I like the way in which a simple locution can encapsulate every vice besetting the humanities.

Bloated Prose ‘Towards’ can usually be omitted with no harm to sense, that’s strike one. Worse, the “towards” locution often enables the colon-packed title. At what point did the structure “Stupid pun/slogan: Definition of What I’m Actually Talking About” become de rigeour for academic titles? One sample horror is Rocking the Ship of State: Towards a Feminist Peace Politics

Pretension The ‘towards’ locution carefully implies a grandeur of subject. No one book could be the definitive treatment. Indeed the topic itself is so daring, so transgressive.We have only begun to understand, how can this four hundred page tomedo more than gesture towards pieces of the whole? This pretension often supports academic fraudulence –- consider, Discourse, Power, and Justice: Towards a New Sociology of Imprisonment -- but I like it best when deployed to absurdly elevate a niche subject, as in Towards a View of Canadian Letters. We have mapped the human genome. Is it too much to ask for a definitive statement on Canadian letters?

Careerism ‘Towards’ implies an open-ended endeavor, a research program. Of course, otherwise, what to publish on next? Heaven forbid that we pause the glass bead game long enough to actually bring some matter to a close.

Cowardice Open-endedness also lets the author be a wuss. You can almost hear the defensive whine: “I never promised a new sociology, I was just moving towards one.” How unfair then, to expect a summary of the positions the author holds, or a list of the arguments (as opposed to “suggestive observations”) that support them.

Social Uplift Terry Eagleton has this hilarious essay where he suggests that by being a Marxist critic, he’s somehow helping the proles. Or at least that the criticism of T.S. Eliott (author, I should note, of “Notes Towards a Definition of Culture -- see below under 'prig') screwed workhouse orphans out of ladlefuls of gruel. In any event, scholars in the humanities frequently confuse their profession with social work. In this context ‘Towards” functions as an anemic “excelsior!” for the Mother Jones crowd.

This may explain the frequency of the locution in the ghetto of gender studies (Beyond Feminism: Toward a Dialog on Difference; Gender and Genius: Towards a Feminist Aesthetics; Love, Power and Knowledge: Towards a Feminist Transformation of the Sciences;Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion), although one cannot discount the founder effect of Catherine McKinnon.

Priggishness Harold Bloom: Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisoinism. Although priggishness starts to look good, doesn’t it?
[7/15/03 16:48]
   
     
   
Sorry to intersperse Kierkegaard posts with comments on other topics, but I just remembered why Ben A's remark, that no behavior can now ruin one's career, resonated with me. There's a breathtakingly shameless advertisement in a recent New Yorker, a mini-essay by Morgan Stanley's Chief Investment Officer. He strikes this very no-nonsense tone, analyzing the current market situation, and deriding the recent "market frenzy" with its "valuations as nutty as a fruitcake", back when certain unnamed people thought "margining one's portfolio up to the gills with Webvan was a prudent use of retirement dough."

Hello, fuckwit, your own fucking company was a leading pusher of these tulip bulbs and made millions off of them -- do the names "Henry Blodget" and "Mary Meeker" ring any bells? They're the Morgan superstars being
sued for misleading investors.

Incredible.

Just as incredible is George W. Bush's latest justification of his war. This Washington Post story recounts: Defending the broader decision to go to war with Iraq, the president said the decision was made after he gave Saddam Hussein "a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in." Hussein did let inspectors in; Bush is stating another outright lie.

At times I think that, given the manifest lack of negative consequences to shameless lying, the only rational behavior for an intelligent American is to become a swindler. [7/15/03 08:44]
 
   
What I read this summer, by Doug

Okay, I'll start. With the obvious -- which I have no shame in saying, and which might help readers (if we have any), especially those who don't have Fear And Trembling in front of them.

I read half of Søren Kierkegaard's Fear And Trembling. Kierkegaard was an edgy Danish writer of the 1800s. Not edgy in the sense of being one of the first people 2 spell his nam3 w1th numerals, but edgy in the sense of being anxious. Anxious about whether he was living his life the right way; anxious about whether there is any right way to live. In other words he was one of those people who think too much about stuff: a philosopher.

I've only read half of the book so far, because it rails against dilettantes who rush to get "past" things they would claim to have understood. I don't want to embarrass myself by committing exactly the error criticized by the book I'm reporting on. So I'll just talk about the first half, up to where I become lost, somewhere in "Problema I". Maybe you guys can get me unstuck.

Fear And Trembling is about faith. Its pseudonymous author praises faith in God as the greatest possible thing on earth or beyond; the problem, he says, is that shallow modern people have debased it. They turn faith into mere hope or optimism or, to use an even more banal term of our own age, "positivity." Your positivity is a load of insipid crap, the author basically says; the faith of Abraham and Jesus is something infinitely more strange and wonderful. The central illustation of this strangeness and wonderfulness is the
Old Testament story of how God told Abraham to murder his son Isaac, how Abraham agreed, how God at the last second told Abraham to sacrifice a nearby animal instead. Abraham, in agreeing to murder his son, is not displaying "positivity"; what he is displaying is the huge question which Kierkegaard's book ponders.

First question: why does Kierkegaard care, and why should we care, about this forgotten, glossed-over terror of biblical faith?

One possible answer is that the Bible itself is a terrible thing, an anti-human thing, core parts of which must be repudiated if positivity is to prevail on earth. If the Grand Inquisitor had written the book -- or, to be frank, if I had written the book -- this might have been the message.

Or Kierkegaard might be simply cheerleading for Abraham's style of blind faith; he might be a fundamentalist nut, yelling at us to obey only heavenly voices that we hear (or that he hears), and to cease all normal ethical reasoning.

Kierkegaard -- or his narrator, anyway -- takes neither of these extreme positions. His position is awe: he repeatedly says that Abraham's faith is a grandiose thing infinitely beyond our everyday thoughts and feelings ... yet also hard to distinguish from madness. He seems less "for" or "against" Abraham's behavior than bent on upbraiding "bourgeois philistines" for trivializing it.

Now as you guys know, I have no patience for -- no stomach for, I should say, since it actually nauseates me at times -- textual-analysis-for-textual-analysis's-sake. I am only interested in analysis that helps answer some important question. So let me ask this question, before even bringing up such central ideas of this book as "infinite resignation" --

Why does the author of Fear And Trembling not simply repudiate Abraham-style faith as an abomination?

For every book that puts some concept in a problematic light, you will find some critic who claims that the author's hidden purpose is to show the absurdity of that concept. (I seem to recall this claim being made of Rousseau with respect to the "social contract", and of Kant with respect to "perpetual peace".) I can't make that claim here, though; I don't think Kierkegaard just wants us to write off faith as loony and become utilitarians [added: or Kantians, or Hegelians, or at rate adherents of some philosophy with a universal standard of right action that knows no exceptions]. He seems to have provided all the premises needed to draw that conclusion, and in a powerful, vivid way -- so why doesn't he make the final step? [7/15/03 07:21]
 
   
If only wedding-planning were as simple as finding a fifty-story Scrotum of Evil! You were right, Ben A., the job is a formidable one. Today we have appointments with both our fontographer (for customizing the typeface of menus, place-cards, programs) and our aromatherapist; we're trying to fill the strategically-placed banquet-hall atomizers with scents that convey just the right blend of festivity and moral seriousness.

Also, in response to Ben A.'s question: no, there really is nothing one can do to destroy one?s career anymore. There is an America-wide trend behind this, and also a trend (or maybe persistent mindset) specific to American blacks. Thanks mostly to their deeper-than-average Christianity and their history of shared persecution, blacks on the whole seem ready to forgive fellow blacks anything. Marion Barry, Jesse Jackson, and O.J. Simpson are only the most obvious cases. But behind this is the America-wide trend of asking only "What have you done for (or against) me lately?" The Bush administration goaded America into war using outright lies. But we won, there were great triumphal photo-ops, and what's past is past. Will the exposure of their lies get any "traction"? I doubt it. It's funny how smug Bush's men are in their belief that don't really need to address the subject of their past lies. "The president has moved on," Ari Fleischer
said the other day. "And I think, frankly, much of the country has moved on as well." Translation: maybe we lied, maybe we didn't, but all that those slack-jawed troglodytes known as the "electorate" care about is sports scores and stock quotes and celebrity gossip. Their contemptuous arrogance is ... what's the word ... clintonesque.

Speaking of which, we may very well witness an exact reenactment of Bush père's fate next year. If the stock market is now "peaking too early", and we have a couple quarters of recession, the electorate may forget W's "Top Gun" antics and vote their pocketbooks. American history always repeats itself: the first time as farce, the subsequent times as incrementally more farcical farce. [7/15/03 06:19]
 
     
     
 

 

 

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