Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Spirit of Billmon?

Glenn Greenwald:
Rockefeller, Hiatt and their friends plainly see themselves -- along with the telecom executives and lobbyists who flatter and feast them and are their peers and colleagues and friends -- as our elite vanguard. They know best, and when they break the law, it is for our own good. "Laws" are for the masses, to keep social order, to ensure that the Rockefellers and Hiatts can rule in peace and telecom executives can develop their extremely profitable relationships with government agencies without being bothered by "unfair" disruptions, such as court proceedings when they break the law.
"Punishment" for lawbreaking is not for them. Rockefeller -- with his wise and genetically implanted noblesse oblige -- has looked at everything in Secret and knows that there was nothing wrong here. And that's all we need to know. We should place faith in his Judgment that there need be no further examination of what his telecom contributors did.
I've noticed that Billmon has dropped a couple comments at Greenwald's blog. Now, of course, Greenwald is generally much more strident than Billmon--who had that wonderful ironic streak--but to read Greenwald writing that laws are for the masses, it warms my heart. Greenwald has a strong libertarian bent--as do many gay men--but the more he rails against the Beltway elites, the more like a class warrior he sounds. I love it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Soldiers Ain't Saints

Go read this. And this.


There's a lot more out there on these topics right now. Including this, which is always worth remembering:
The military’s job is to destroy the enemy, protect its forces, expand its budget, and befuddle its critics—in that order. Telling the truth isn’t even on the list.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Trying My Hand at That Witty Sadly, No-esque Blogging

John Derbyshire over at National Review Online decides to put conservative thinking in its best light:

Startling Discoveries [John Derbyshire]

More from America's Newspaper of Record this morning. Headline: Stress Mess in U.S.

We're stressed out, we can't sleep, we're drinking too much—and it's getting worse.

Well, as a chronic somniac (i.e. opposite of an insomniac), I can sleep anywhere, anytime: ball games, movies, NR editorial conferences... no problem there. Drinking's a slight worry, though, I'll admit.

When did the NY Post become America's newspaper of record?
Forty-eight percent of Americans say they're more stressed now than they were five years ago, and the same percent report regularly lying awake at night because of stress, according to a new study by the American Psychological Association.

Oh, these "studies." That forty-eight percent could just be telling us that you feel more stress as you get older. Give us some good quantitative data. Did you measure stress? Did you measure it five years ago? With controls so the test groups are sufficiently similar? It's amazing what shoddy "research" these soft-science people get away with. Gimme numbers, gimme data. "Oh yeah, I definitely feel more stressed out than I did five years ago..." Uh-huh. Who can remember five years ago in that much detail? I'm pretty sure I was married to the same lady five years ago, and living in the same house. Beyond that it's all fog.

Derbyshire is now a real man a science? He seems to have made an elementary mistake: he took the NY Post story about the study to be the study itself. A simple error really.
"Stress continues to escalate, and it's affecting every area of people's lives," said Russ Newman, a psychologist and executive director of the APA.

Get a real job, pal.

???????????? Someone who writes professionally for the National Review is telling people to get real jobs? Derbyshire rolled out of bed, still hung-over from cocktails the night before, turns on his computer, has a brain fart over a NY Post article, and calls it a real day's work.

So what is it we're worrying about while we stare at the ceiling all night? Primarily two things: money and work, the main woes for nearly 75 percent of Americans.

In related news, dog bites man, sun rises in the east, courts strike down restrictions on illegal immigration, etc., etc.

That's way up from 59 percent of us stressed out over those two things a year ago.

Economies wax, economies wane, whatcha gonna do?

First he wanted comparative numbers, then he gets comparative numbers, then he poo-poos the comparison. Is he admitting that the economy was significantly better two years ago? Can we hold him to that?

We're also worrying about making the rent. More than half of people polled say paying the landlord or making the monthly mortgage causes great stress.

So maybe you shouldn't have bought that 8,000 square foot McMansion with a $1,200 a month heating bill on a 95 percent mortgage when you got promoted to Assistant to the Deputy Assistant's Assistant? Bad life planning.

If you're worried about paying the landlord, you obviously didn't buy a McMansion--or even a crappy shotgun shack. Does he really think 95% of Americans live in 8000 sq. ft. homes? That 95% of Americans work in management positions? That 95% of Americans are guilty of "bad life planning"?

The APA study was conducted online and involved interviews with 1,848 Americans nationwide.

An on-line study? So the subject group here is people on-line, with the time & inclination to participate in your study? Oh, that's well normed.

According to the report, all that stress and worry is taking a big toll on our lives, leading us to fight with family members, drink, smoke and give up on working out.

All things unknown in the U.S.A. five years ago. For heaven's sake: I've given up on working out at least 20 times, the first circa 1965.

If 20% of people experience x at time t, and 80% experience x at time t+1, that's called an INCREASE. To claim there has been an INCREASE in x is NOT to claim that x suddenly popped int existence.

"The high stress levels that many Americans report experiencing can have long-term health consequences, ranging from fatigue to obesity and heart disease," Newman said.

Goverment must act! Someone call Hillary!

If society makes us sick, maybe society should be altered in some way, y'know. But in Derbyshire's world, it's always peachy.

The study found that as a result of stress, 54 percent of people have fought with loved ones, and 8 percent say stress has led to separation or divorce.

...Which up to now have arisen from stress-free circumstances.

More than three-quarters of respondents say stress is making them sick, from headaches (44 percent) to upset stomach (34 percent) and grinding their teeth (17 percent). And then there's the not-so-healthy ways people try to handle all that stress, from eating junk food to tipping the bottle. Forty-three percent claim they eat—or overeat—unhealthy food to deal with stress, while a third say they lose their appetite and start skipping meals.

Plainly we need a federal Department of Stress Reduction. Or perhaps we could put Prozac in the water supply?

I'd settle for overthrowing capitalism, myself.

Drinkers and smokers report downing more booze and lighting up more often when feeling the effects of stress.

If these researchers aren't short-listed for a Nobel Prize, I'll want to know the reason why.

"Some people feel overwhelmed and out of control," said Beverly Thorn, a University of Alabama psychologist who was one of the researchers involved in the study. Thorn explains that people turn to bad habits when under stress—and that often makes them feel even worse. "It's a vicious cycle," she said.

Maybe they have the wrong bad habits.

If Derbyshire isn't short listed for the Pulitzer, we'll know why, too. Still, I have to agree with him that we need better bad habits--I would propose hacking the NRO site, or egging Derb's car, or the like. I imagine it would do wonders as stress relief.

But it's not all bad news.

So what's it doing in my newspaper?

More than half of Americans listen to music, read, or exercise as a way to alleviate stress. Others spend time with family and friends. More than a third say they pray when stressed out.

Hmm. I think I'll stick with the bad habits.

Advise to the Derb: stick to the drunk curmudgeon routine. It's much more charming than the social commentary.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Inland Northwest Philosophy CFP

Call For Papers: Inland Northwest Philosophy Conference
Carving Nature at Its Joints

The Inland Northwest Philosophy Conference is a topic-focused, interdisciplinary conference co-sponsored by the Philosophy Departments at the University of Idaho and Washington State University.

15–17 March 2008 (the conference ends shortly before the 2008 Pacific APA)
Moscow, Idaho & Pullman, Washington

Peter Godfrey-Smith (Harvard), Keynote Speaker
Alexander Bird (Bristol)
Michael Devitt (CUNY)
Ned Hall (Harvard)
Marc Lange (UNC Chapel Hill)
Karen Neander (Duke)
L.A. Paul (Arizona)
Roy Sorensen (Dartmouth)
Achille Varzi (Columbia)
Kadri Vihvelin (USC)
Neil Williams (Buffalo)

Essays of 5–6,000 words (30–40 minutes reading time) will be accepted until January 2nd, 2008. Papers from any area that address philosophical issues related to the metaphysics and/or epistemology of classification are requested. Graduate students and individuals in other disciplines are welcome to submit essays.

Send your essay in PDF format and prepared for blind review as an email attachment to . Please mention the title of your essay in the body of the email.

Individuals will be notified of decisions regarding submissions in early February. Accepted papers will be eligible for publication in volume eight of Topics in Contemporary Philosophy, an edited volume to be published by MIT Press, pending editorial review.

If you would like to act as a session chair or a commentator, please contact with your areas of competence.

Joseph Keim Campbell, Washington State University
Matthew H. Slater, University of Idaho

Additional information can be found at:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Famous and Lucky Family

My step-dad knows how to play cards.

Hegel Call for Papers


For the Twentieth Biennial Meeting of the Hegel Society of America
Columbia, South Carolina
October 2008
More definite information regarding the date of the conference will soon be available on this web site.
Deadline for Submission of Papers: February 15, 2008

The Hegel Society solicits papers on a variety of topics connected with the theme of Hegel’s Philosophy of Subjective Spirit. Papers interpreting, or engaging in dialogue with, Hegel’s work on topics treated in Hegel’s lectures and writings on subjective spirit will be welcomed for consideration by the Program Committee. Especially welcome are papers that explore the 1827-28 lectures on the philosophy of spirit (ed. F. Hespe & B. Tuschling [Felix Meiner, 1994]), forthcoming in an English translation by Robert R. Williams (Hegel: Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit 1827-8, Oxford University Press, summer 2007).

Submitted papers are limited to 6,000 words (i.e., about 23 double-spaced pages at 260 words per page). All papers will be blind reviewed by the Program Committee, under the direction of the Program Chair, and the format should be appropriate for such a review process. An abstract of 100 words, accompanied by a short list of principal texts used, must be submitted with the paper. Papers submitted must be complete essays; proposals are not acceptable. Papers accepted for the program must require no more than 40 minutes for presentation.

Fordham University offers the Quentin Lauer Travel Stipend, a $300 grant, for a young scholar whose paper is selected in this process. To qualify as a “young scholar,” the author must be a full-time or part-time M.A. or Ph.D. student at the time of the submission deadline. If more than one young scholar qualifies, the stipend will be awarded to the author of the paper judged best by the Program Committee.

Please send four hard copies and one disk copy (Word or RTF) of the materials to:

David S. Stern, Program Chair
Hamline University
1536 Hewitt Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104-1284

Although papers presented at meetings of the Hegel Society of America are usually published as a collection of essays, publication cannot be guaranteed. By submitting a paper, however, the author agrees to reserve publication for the HSA Proceedings if the paper is accepted for the program, and if the program is accepted for publication.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Calling a Spade a Spade

John Judis in The American Prospect:
Bush's foreign policy has been variously described as unilateralist, militarist, and hyper-nationalist. But the term that fits it best is imperialist. That's not because it is the most incendiary term, but because it is the most historically accurate.
I haven't read the whole thing yet, but doesn't it feel good to have that out in the open?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Addicted to Pain

Right wing opposition to SCHIP seems to hinge on the notion that good, responsible parents put up with jobs they hate in order to be good, responsible parents. I just ran across this comment over at Sadly, No!, which is, just, well, true. Citing one of the attackers, owlbear1 writes:

Now, pause for a second. Are you reading this at your computer at work, in a job that you don’t particularly care for or even downright detest because you have a spouse and child that depend on you? You wouldn’t be the first or last person to make that choice.

Unintentionally, the dipshit hits on the base reason why his masters are SO SO SO afraid of National Health care.

If we didn’t NEED health insurance through employers we wouldn’t put up with ALL the bullshit.
People who are in jobs they hate need to be able to justify their lives. When there is someone else who is actually doing what they want to be doing--for less money, with fewer benefits--it causes cognitive dissonance. If you can tell yourself that other person is being irresponsible, then you can feel better about the choices you've made. Protestantism and its attendant asceticism are still alive and well.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Word About Justice

I did the reading Jacob Levy assigned. The comments thread contains two discussion really:

1. An argument about the relative merits of utilitarianism and deontology (to which I added my two cents about the futility of utilitarianism and the obvious superiority of Aristotle).

2. A back-and-forth about libertarianism and utilitarianism as they apply to questions of inequality and injustice.

I'd like to say something slightly tangential to 2. I have no doubt that libertarianism owns justice. Utilitarianism simply has nothing to say about justice. There are critiques of utilitarianism that avoid libertarianism and yet hold onto a concept of justice (Rawls, Sen, Hegel), but that doesn't affect the point I really want to make:

I have no doubt that capitalism is just. It is rigorously respectful of human freedom in exactly the way that Richard Pozner argues. And yet, I also have no doubt that capitalism, left to run its course, will lead human beings to be the first species to go extinct by its own hand. And the road to this self-destruction will be built by justice.

Kant famously endorsed the maxim: Let justice be done, though the heavens fall. This is capitalism's motto. I am extremely averse to utilitarianism--it is incoherent, as far as I can tell--but we need to get over our justice fetishism, before it kills us.

The Sniveling, Whining Pettiness of Ayn Rand

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of Atlas Shrugged, I ran into quite a bit of chatter about Ayn Rand. Then, over the last few days--for some reason or another--I've been commenting a bunch over at "The Van Der Galien Gazette"--poking the libertarians through the bars of their digital cage, as it were.

The combination has brought to a modicum of clarity my gut-level pity and horror in the face of Randians (and other subspecies of libertarians who fetishize "business"). Take this example of Rand-speak from the NYT article linked above:
Rand said she “set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them.”
You have this festering sore of self-pity and resentment at how terribly unfair the world is--to the rich. And this self-pity masks itself behind a triumphant--and patently ridiculous--claim that business owners are the "prime movers" of the world.

The ne plus ultra of this silliness was a comment appended to one of the 50th anniversary commemorations arguing that Ayn Rand's ideas were alive and well in movies like The Incredibles. It turns out this is a common conceit among objectivists, and even showed up in the NYT review of the movie. In the movie, superheroes are compelled to hide their powers from a hostile public. In the Randian fever dream, this is JUST LIKE HOW CAPITALIST HAVE TO HIDE THEIR SUPERPOWERS FROM ALL THE LIBERALS AND SOCIALISTS OMG!!!111!! Seriously, the conflation of capitalism with entrepreneurship, and then of entrepreneurship--I've invented a new and better toaster caddy!--with being able to fly or turn invisible--it's just daft. Talk about finding heroism in the mundane.

Making money under capitalism is not heroic, and it requires the opposite of courageous individualism. I just finished teaching Hegel's Philosophy of Right, and his analysis, in this case, seems spot-on. In civil society, according to Hegel, we have to precisely conform our needs and our labor to the social norm. The invisible hand only works insofar as my activity produces things that you need, and my needs are such as to be satisfied by your activity. Any truly intransigent individuality--singularity that refuses to mesh with the social fabric--is obnoxious and futile. Capitalism is a conformity machine, not a playground for our singular superpowers.

Plus, any superhero who sold her power to the highest bidder, or tried to charge money for using her power, would be, by that very deed, non-heroic--small, petty, and corrupt. The pettiness and corruption of Randian heroism is well expressed by the departed diva herself:
In a 1964 Playboy interview, she famously said that a man who places friends and family above "productive work" is immoral, an "emotional parasite."
Obviously, "productive work" means for her, "money-making activity." What a chump!

Randianism: the perfect ideology for the powerless and stunted petty bourgeois wannabe.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Inconvenient Truths About Orwell

Christopher Hitchens, writing in Vanity Fair about one young American who took Hitch so seriously he went and got himself killed in Iraq, wraps himself in Orwell:
To borrow some words of George Orwell's when he first saw revolutionary Barcelona, "I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for."

I mention Orwell for a reason, because Mark Daily wasn't yet finished with sending me messages from beyond the grave. He took a pile of books with him to Iraq, which included Thomas Paine's The Crisis; War and Peace; Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (well, nobody's perfect); Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time; John McCain's Why Courage Matters; and George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984. And a family friend of the Dailys', noticing my own book on Orwell on their shelf, had told them that his own father, Harry David Milton, was "the American" mentioned in Homage to Catalonia, who had rushed to Orwell's side after he had been shot in the throat by a Fascist sniper. This seemed to verge on the eerie. Orwell thought that the Spanish Civil War was a just war, but he also came to understand that it was a dirty war, where a decent cause was hijacked by goons and thugs, and where betrayal and squalor negated the courage and sacrifice of those who fought on principle. As one who used to advocate strongly for the liberation of Iraq (perhaps more strongly than I knew), I have grown coarsened and sickened by the degeneration of the struggle: by the sordid news of corruption and brutality (Mark Daily told his father how dismayed he was by the failure of leadership at Abu Ghraib) and by the paltry politicians in Washington and Baghdad who squabble for precedence while lifeblood is spent and spilled by young people whose boots they are not fit to clean. It upsets and angers me more than I can safely say, when I reread Mark's letters and poems and see that—as of course he would—he was magically able to find the noble element in all this, and take more comfort and inspiration from a few plain sentences uttered by a Kurdish man than from all the vapid speeches ever given. Orwell had the same experience when encountering a young volunteer in Barcelona, and realizing with a mixture of sadness and shock that for this kid all the tired old slogans about liberty and justice were actually real.

I'm less interested in the particular content of Hitch's woe-is-me whining than on the odd tic shared by many liberal hawks and neocons of latching on to Orwell as some sort of iconic predecessor, who trod well before them down the path of resolute, clear-eyed idealism. I just want to note a few inconvenient aspects of Orwell (especially the Orwell of Homage to Catalonia--a marvelous book):

1. Orwell was a revolutionary socialist. His moment of truth in Spain came when he realized that the Communist Party supported by the USSR was actually counter-revolutionary and opposed to the Troskyite, autonomist, and anarchist factions that were carrying out a revolutionary transformation of Spanish society. In Iraq, the US is playing the same role that the USSR played in Spain--wrecking any possible autonomous movement in the service of creating a bourgeois ally. What has Hitch, for example, done to alert us to the truly revolutionary and autonomous movements of Iraq? Well?

2. This brings us to a second difficulty: Orwell went to Spain, joined the militia, took up a rifle, and went to the line. If those who believed that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was as just a struggle as the fight against Franco had packed up their duffel bags and gone over there, rather than writing loudly about what they have not experienced, the discourse about this war would have a radically different shape.

3. Finally, and this gets to the heart of things, Orwell cared more about telling the truth about Spain than about his own skin. He went to Spain a naive idealist, thinking there was just a black and white struggle between Fascism and Freedom, but he discovered that the Communists were allied with the business class, and were more willing to lose to Franco than they were to let the workers and peasants actually revolutionize Spain. The Fascists were bad--crypto-feudalists mixed in with big industrialists and reactionary military types--but that didn't make everyone on the other side good. The bourgeoisie and the Soviet-backed Communists were deeply conservative and very interested in preventing Spain from getting "out of hand." And, it turned out, they were the best friends Franco ever had, since they purged the Left of all revolutionary momentum, split the opposition, demoralized the sources of resistance, and turned the country over to the Fascists.

Does any intellectual honesty exist among the pro-war camp? Did anyone really think that George W. Bush leading an invasion and occupation of Iraq was going to turn out well for the people of Iraq--as opposed to the opportunists and mafia-class entrepreneurs? Really? There was never a revolutionary case for supporting Bush's little adventure on the Tigris. Never. Anyone who thought there was should have at least had the decency to go fight for such a revolution. And anyone who didn't really have revolutionary hopes for Iraq had better leave the mantle of Orwell bloody well alone.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Semantic vs. Real Distinctions

In defense of liberal hawks like himself, Roger Cohen writes:
The neocon taste for American empire is not the liberal hawk’s belief in the bond between American power and freedom’s progress.
In words, he's right. "Taste for American empire" is very different from "belief in the bond between American power and freedom's progress." The latter has more letters, and different letters. Many more 'B's for instance.

And they connote different things. A belief is cognitive, principled. A taste, on the other hand, is irrational, appetitive. But if the liberal hawks are principled and rational, then they should have the courage of their rational beliefs. If they believe that American power is bound to the freedom's progress, then they believe that more American power will further freedom's progress. And if they believe that, and believe freedom to be a good thing (and who doesn't?), then they must desire an expansion of American power. And what is a desire for an expansion of American power if it is not a taste for American empire? Or perhaps Cohen is thinking of something other than American military power? But every example in his article is
an example of American military intervention.

In truth, there is no real difference on foreign policy between liberal hawks and neocons. As Glenn Greenwald has said many times, they are both positions within the "respectable" foreign policy community, which means that they both support US military intervention around the globe, whether America is threatened or not. That is, they both support an imperial American foreign policy.

The neocons are just less afraid of saying what they want than are the liberal hawks. It's not polite to say you have a taste for American empire, so Cohen won't say it. Tastes and desires are unseemly, not appropriate for these sorts of discussions. Liberal hawks are the discrete imperialists, embarrassed by the outbursts of the neocons, but in no substantive disagreement with them.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein gets it juuuuuuussssst right:
Yet years after their sustained dance of personal regard and self involvement helped blind the liberal hawks to the reality of George W. Bush's war, one of them, Roger Cohen, is retreading the same ground, wondering why his continued advocacy for war, (or at least continual attacks on its opponents) is folded into the critiques of the neocons. Here's why: Because Roger Cohen not president, George W. Bush is. And until Roger Cohen's foreign policy vision integrates itself with an understanding of American power, and how ideas interact with the current administration, he is, effectively, a neoconservative, or, worse, an enabler of the neoconservatives who's able to advocate for their policy agenda without needing to answer for its failures.

Cohen may not, personally, think like Bill Kristol. But he certainly writes like him. "Neocon, for many, has become shorthand for neocon-Zionist conspiracy," he says, naming no names, and instead offering a simple, generalized accusation of anti-semitism against all those who question the neoconservatives. "Baghdad is closer to Sarajevo than the left has allowed," he writes, obliterating the difference between a bombing campaign undertaken to end an ongoing genocide and a ground invasion undertaken to unearth weapons that didn't exist, overturn a regime we couldn't replace, and forcibly impose a system of governance that lacked foundations. " is the Petraeus-insulting face of never-set-foot-in-a-war-zone liberalism," he scoffs, having never, himself, fought in a war, but nevertheless adopting the authority of those who have.

The most important point here is that liberal hawks carry water for neocons in foreign policy, just as the DLC did for the neocons on domestic affairs. They advocate the same policy as the neocons, but claim it is for different reasons. Then the neocons get their way, using the "liberals" as cover. Then the world gets seriously fucked up in some new way. Rinse. Repeat. Liberal hawks are tools, and tools serve those who know how to use them.