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Ebert Kills the Bunny

Posted by Ogged
on 06.13.03
(Via The Agitator) Short background: Vincent Gallo made "The Brown Bunny," adjudged by many, Roger Ebert among them, the worst film ever shown at Cannes. Gallo, initially apparently contrite, said
If no-one wants to see it, they're right it's a disaster of a film and it was a waste of time. I apologise to the financiers of the film but I assure you it was never my intention to make a pretentious film, a self-indulgent film, a useless film, an unengaging film.
But then, apparently feeling less contrite, Gallo decided he wasn't sorry and really didn't like Roger Ebert.
Vincent Gallo has put a curse on my colon and a hex on my prostate. He called me a "fat pig" in the New York Post and told the New York Observer I have "the physique of a slave-trader."
Ebert responds,
I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than "The Brown Bunny."
And takes a page from Churchill,
It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of "The Brown Bunny."
Fandango.

 

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What About Punditocracy?

Posted by Ogged
on 06.13.03

Pundit, by the way, has an interesting etymology.



 

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Yes I'm Fourteen, the Real Fourteen

Posted by Ogged
on 06.13.03
A few days ago we had our discussion about 14 year-old pundit Kyle Williams and the strange incoherence of his writing. Maybe my political bias is getting the best of me, but here's something by another 14 year-old that is clear, entertaining, and effective. Maybe I should put it this way: whereas with Williams I can't imagine what kind of person is doing the writing, this piece doesn't seem like it could have been written by anyone other than a 14 year-old, and it's much better for that. (via Atrios)

 

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The Pretzel Strikes Again

Posted by Ogged
on 06.13.03

From Yahoo News: U.S. President George W. Bush is pictured in this combo image falling off a Segway personal transporter on the front driveway of his parents' summer home June 12, 2003 in Kennebunkport, Maine. Bush arrived from Washington to spend the weekend with his father, former President George Bush, who celebrates his 79th birthday today and his mother Barbara. Bush was not injured in the fall. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Via Charles Murtaugh


 

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Fine Company

Posted by Ogged
on 06.12.03
Philosopher Bernard Williams. UPDATE: Obituary. Journalist David Brinkley. Actor Gregory Peck. All died today.

 

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Iran

Posted by Ogged
on 06.12.03
Things seem to be heating up in Iran, but be sure to also read this excellent cautionary piece for background and analysis.

 

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A Uniter

Posted by Ogged
on 06.12.03

Something else from Gary Farber that you're not likely to see in your paper tomorrow.

Jan O. Karlsson, the Swedish Minister for Migration, has got himself into trouble after calling the American President "that fucking Texas geezer."

 

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The Congo

Posted by Ogged
on 06.12.03

There is a slaughter going on in the Congo, an inadequate international force is on the ground there, and we risk another Rwanda-like implication by indifference. Gary Farber has been begging people to do something about this. Spread the word, contact your congressperson, it's really not so difficult.


 

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Invisible Adjunct

Posted by Ogged
on 06.12.03

The Invisible Adjunct, laid low by hosting problems, has returned.



 

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Monte Enebro

Posted by Ogged
on 06.11.03
I see that Arts and Letters Daily has linked to this story about US efforts to stop the influx of dangerous "raw milk" cheeses. At last, the real reason for Europe's declining population. On a much more serious note, this unbanned yumminess is the best damn cheese I've ever had.

 

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Outrage Post

Posted by Ogged
on 06.11.03

Jim Henley says "We're from the government, and we're here to ruin your lives with our clueless, militant 'compassion.'"

Body and Soul notes that the government really is considering building execution chambers at Guantanamo.


 

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O Cannabis

Posted by Ogged
on 06.10.03
Canada, the last bastion of North American civilization, just granted marriage rights to same-sex couples and is considering decriminalizing marijuana possession. Of course, not everyone's happy.

 

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Who Runs the Show

Posted by Ogged
on 06.10.03

Where the hell is Saddam? There were two "decapitation strikes." There's been time to check the sites; nothing's been found. And do I even ask about Osama?

Someone I know just got back from a trip to Qatar and said the going theory there is that Saddam is in D.C. Because America controls all, of course, and it's inconceivable that matters would be otherwise than the way America wants them.

This post (though a bit hard on the eyes) does a good job of kicking the legs out from conspiracy theorists. Based on my admittedly limited travels in the Middle-East, the point Ben A. makes about "ultra-competence" is dead right. One of the mind-bending things about political discussions in the Mid-East is the degree to which people believe the US controls events everywhere. "If America wants it, it will happen." Not Inshallah, but Inshamerica.

I wouldn't dismiss that as pathology. While Middle-Easterners overestimate American competence and control, we make the opposite mistake. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the intellectual and religious hearts of Arab Islam, maintain their governments at the pleasure of the US. Propping them up may be the right course (though I doubt it) but for Egyptians and Saudis who want a voice in their own governance, the US is a potent force.


 

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While Unf Slept

Posted by Ogged
on 06.10.03

Unf may recall that back in our debating days (policy, for those of you to whom that means anything), sometimes the other team was so bad that we, arrogant little snots that we were, would make their arguments for them, and then refute them. (Some judges did not appreciate this tactic.) Unf will be less pleased to realize that he is about to join the ranks of the pitiable.

New Volokh conspirator Tyler Cowen raises an interesting point about satellite radio and media consolidation.

Internet radio is well known, but satellite radio is perhaps a bigger development...You get 100 stations, 70 of them music, most of them commercial-free...XM commands most of the market, but they are hardly the only source of programming. My favorite World Music station (Ngoma, #102) draws feeds from South Africa, among other places...If anyone thinks it is the FCC that ensures media diversity, take a look at XM.

This is a good point, and one that will resonate with the people debating media consolidation. But World Music isn't exactly C-Span. I made the point earlier that appetite for news and information is peculiar in that it's subject to atrophy. Let me put this in a rhetorically vulnerable way: there is a compelling social interest in making decent news available to precisely those people who don't much care about news. I don't really care if people who are motivated to get information can get it (Steven Wright joke: everywhere is walking distance, if you've got the time). Call me a commie, but I want the presentation of competing views to be commonplace. No regulatory action can guarantee that outcome, but lots of things, consolidation among them, can make it less likely.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy has just finished reading Tyler Cowen's book and has a characteristically lucid and informative post about it. It's about the diversity of market offerings in "cultural goods," rather than political views, but still much worth reading.


 

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Coherent Thought

Posted by Ogged
on 06.10.03

This Matthew Yglesias post reminded me of the existence of Mr. Kyle Williams, a 14 year-old, home-schooled, "conservative" pundit. I try not to think about Mr. Williams because he freaks me out the way artificial intelligence freaks out some people. What does it mean for a 14 year-old to have deeply held political convictions? What can his words mean? How am I supposed to read them? If a computer program could produce coherent pieces of political rhetoric, would we take them seriously?

Maybe "coherent" isn't quite the right standard. I do wonder whether I'd be able to tell this if I didn't know in advance that Williams is fourteen, but I can't find any argument in his columns, just assertions. Here's a sample.

The platforms of all the Democratic presidential candidates have a plank for universal healthcare. The trouble with government healthcare is not only the slight problem that it's unconstitutional, but also that it's nothing but redistribution of wealth. Still, if you look past those two things, you can also find fault in that all government social programs bring everything down to the lowest common denominator. It's the same principle as faulting those who have the income to buy a nice car or a good education. As a side note, Walter Mondale supported a government health-care program in his campaign against Ronald Reagan Mondale lost every state but one.

On second thought, maybe coherence is a fine standard. In fact, I think it's the "-herence" in coherence/inherence that I'm looking for. I want the thoughts to stick: together and to something behind them. Isn't it odd that with a bit of tweaking, Williams' sentences could come in any order?

Odd post. I began thinking I'd say that you can tell from the text alone that it needn't be taken seriously; then I had my doubts and wrote about my own disingenuousness in rejecting the importance of the author; than I read more of Williams', deleted the self-flagellation, and I'm now firmly convinced that the text and the text alone is worthless! Top that, Mr. Williams.


 

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Demi Moore

Posted by Ogged
on 06.10.03

The transformation is almost complete.

transform.jpg


 

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Hope

Posted by Ogged
on 06.09.03

There's an interesting interview with philosopher Michael Walzer in Haaretz in which Walzer says

You have to act as if it's not a general conflict between Islam and the Western world. The simple distinction between good, moderate, Islam, which is the larger part of the Islamic world, and the small militant groups, is not accurate because these small extremist groups have pervaded the greater Islamic world. We should, however, act as if this distinction is true. We have to act as if this struggle is something that the general Islamic world wants and can do, and we have to use every diplomatic and economic pressure on them to conduct this struggle.

That "as if" doesn't sit well with Wayne Hsieh

I find it striking that a first-rate..."liberal" intellectual would essentially argue that we should conduct ourselves not in accordance to the actual state of affairs but in accordance to how things ought to be. I've always associated recourses to "myths" with conservatives. Anyhow, in terms of statecraft, wouldn't it better to make the best possible effort to ascertain what circumstances actually are--e.g. determining to what extent the Palestinians are able and willing to come to a peaceful settlement--and act accordingly, instead of simply assuming that what we wish to be the case is in fact the case?...This idea that we should act as if desired circumstances are circumstances in fact also strikes me as dangerously hubristic in assuming the efficacy of our own agency. If we wish the Palestinians to be well-behaved and pacific, they will become so, simply because we sincerely wish it. If Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to blow up noncombatants, well, then, I guess its time to wish a little harder and to adjust our own policies to bring about the desired ends, since, of course, the other party doesn't have a vote in the matter. This may be an appropriate stance for priests and philosophers; but how can it possibly help statesmen and soldiers?

That's a good objection. Nothing in Walzer's interview answers it. But I think there is an answer and we can begin to see what it is in Walter Benjamin's much-quoted phrase, "only for the sake of the hopeless is hope given us." That opaque Benjaminian profundity is nicely explicated by Vaclal Havel, reflecting on his time spent in prison.

Many times in my life and not just when I was in prison I found myself in a situation in which everything seemed to conspire against me, when nothing I had wished for or worked for seemed likely to succeed, when I had no visible evidence that anything I was doing had any meaning whatsoever. This is a situation we all know well, a situation that appears to promise nothing good, either for ourselves or for the world. It is a situation we describe as hopeless.
Whenever I found myself immersed in such melancholy thoughts I would ask a very simple question over and over again: why don't you just give up on everything? Or, more radically: why do you endure, when your life is so clearly pointless? What use is a life in which you must look at the suffering of others as well as your own, helpless to prevent either?
Each time, I would eventually realize that hope, in the deepest sense of the word, does not come from the outside, that hope is not something to be found in external indications simply when a course of action may turn out well, nor is it something I have no reason to feel when it is obvious that nothing will turn out well. Again and again, I realized that hope is above all a state of mind, and that as such we either have it, or we don't, quite independently of the state of affairs immediately around us.

When the facts are hopeless, we call on hope. The unstated assumption that justifies Walzer's "as if" is that the "actual state of affairs" is hopeless. Following Havel, our options in a state of (external) hopelessness are defeatism or (internal) hope. We know in advance that defeatism won't help, but with hope, well, there's always hope.


 

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Iraqi Artifacts

Posted by Ogged
on 06.09.03
We've been hearing that the looting at the Iraqi National Museum wasn't nearly as bad as first feared and this is the best article I've seen for an explanation of the confusion and a final tally of the damage.

 

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Eclectic

Posted by Ogged
on 06.09.03

Several good things via Chris Bertram's Junius today.

An exam designed to match the answers philosophy students actually give.

A longer treatment of the issue of weapons of mass destruction and justification that I mentioned here.

A "moral intuitions" quiz. Here's where I came out.

moral_musings12.jpg


 

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I Am So Easily Annoyed

Posted by Ogged
on 06.09.03

Some people keep talking when they yawn. I really hate that. Of course it's rude and insolent: you wouldn't do it to your boss. But what really bothers me is feeling forced to witness someone else's bodily functions. (Is this a diagnosis that reveals more about the analyst than the analysand?) I don't think it's deliberate (which also bothers me) but whenever I'm subjected to this, it's by someone uncertain of his (and it's always a he) status and I take it to mean "I going to crap on you because there's nothing you can do about it." Luckily, no one in my office does this, but I can overhear someone from the office next door do it and I want to go break his leg. God damn, I am so easily annoyed.

WAIT!: As I hit the "Save" button, I heard someone whistling. Again, maybe I'm just revealing myself as a nutjob, but isn't whistling outside a musical performance just very aggressive?


 

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The Different of My Different is the Same

Posted by Ogged
on 06.09.03

Via the Agenda Bender, there's this documentation of the homogeneity of individualization, if you will.


 

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What Makes a Difference

Posted by Ogged
on 06.08.03

Jack Balkin asks, "am I the only one to have noticed the similarities between Leo Strauss and Jacques Derrida?" And then goes on to give this concise summary.

Both believe in the importance of close readings of classic philosophical texts, both find hidden meanings in these texts which become available only after careful study by the cognoscenti, and both are interested in how surface or ordinary readings of a text are undermined and even reversed by these close readings. (And both have a problematic relationship to the Enlightenment, and a particular love for the classics.) The most important difference (or differance) might be their views about the relationship between the text and the author's intentions. Strauss seems more determined to suggest that he is revealing what an author truly meant, while Derrida is more interested in showing how an author's text gets the better of the author.

The short answer to Jack's question is, no, he's not the only one, but he is correct. The connection between Strauss and Derrida is Martin Heidegger, with whom Strauss studied in Germany and in whose shadow Derrida, by his own admission, works.

In Being and Time, Heidegger describes a process he calls "destruction," by which he means reading the texts of the tradition in such a way that questions thought to have been settled are raised anew and meanings that have been forgotten are recovered. The aim of this "destruction" is to follow the texts back to the ancient way of experiencing that is obscured by the very tradition to which it gave rise.

What Jack identifies as the divergence in Strauss and Derrida's views of the relationship between a text and its author's intentions is a consequence of the ways in which they pursue Heidegger's project. Strauss wants to bring the articulation of ancient wisdom to bear on our own situation. For him, the meaning of the "original" must be stable enough for us to take it in hand and use it. For Derrida, that stability is the start of another edifice of texts that obscures what it purports to be about. So he (at least until he began to get old and feel the need to say something) struggles to keep as many meanings as possible in play.

Beneath issues of textual interpretation, Derrida and Strauss are playing out the question of the relationship between theory and practice. For Strauss, thought uncovers truth which guides action. Derrida's project, on the other hand, is to show that our truths are too indeterminate to serve as guides. (So, although they are responding to the same issue, one becomes known as a political thinker, the other "apolitical," a literary theorist.) But the real surprise is that two students of Heidegger should have this particular disagreement, since there's a compelling case to be made that Heidegger has already pointed the way past this dilemma.


 

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Naming Names

Posted by Ogged
on 06.08.03
The Bush administration distorted intelligence and presented conjecture as evidence to justify a U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a retired intelligence official who served during the months before the war.
"What disturbs me deeply is what I think are the disingenuous statements made from the very top about what the intelligence did say," said Greg Thielmann, who retired last September. "The area of distortion was greatest in the nuclear field."
This story is a big deal, not just because of the accusation it makes, which many people are making, but because a former administration official has gone on the record and allowed his name to be attached to it. Thielmann has been in public service for decades and doesn't show up in any searches I've done as a bomb-thrower. Read the whole thing and keep it in mind when people like Robert Kagan (via Instapundit) make an argument that tries to pull this trick.
Yesterday The [Washington] Post continued the barrage, reporting that Defense Intelligence Agency analysts claimed last September merely that Iraq "probably" possessed "chemical agent in chemical munitions" and "probably" possessed "bulk chemical stockpiles, primarily containing precursors, but that also could consist of some mustard agent and VX," a deadly nerve agent.
This kind of "discrepancy" qualifies as front-page news these days. Why? Not because the Bush administration may have -- repeat, may have -- exaggerated the extent of knowledge about what Hussein had in his WMD arsenal. No, the critics' real aim is to prove that, as a New York Times reporter recently put it, "the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq may mean that there never were any in the first place."
The old "critics real aim" trick. One critic framed the issue in a stupid way. Therefore, all critics, in their hearts, which Mr. Kagan sees, believe the same stupid thing. And nevermind that Mr. Kagan isn't quite confident that there wasn't any exaggeration going on. Exaggeration is quite enough, thanks. I'm not ready to back John Dean's "worse than Watergate" line; Dean is a spinmeister and his argument is disingenuous in several places, but if intelligence was exaggerated or distorted to goad the public into supporting the war, we damn well better have a scandal.

 

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Perspective

Posted by Ogged
on 06.08.03

I'm not a big Hillary fan, she strikes me as opportunistic even for a politician, but there's never anything informed to link to about her, just hateful ranting or blind defense. That is, until Brad DeLong's post tonight, which really doesn't hold back (keep in mind Brad was an economist with the Clinton administration).

My two cents' worth--and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994--is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly. ... Hillary Rodham Clinton has already flopped as a senior administrative official in the executive branch--the equivalent of an Undersecretary. Perhaps she will make a good senator. But there is no reason to think that she would be anything but an abysmal president.

Wow. Take it for what it's worth (to me, it counts for rather a lot). The rest of Brad's post has more specific details and reasons. What really surprised me is that we've already heard that Hillary is "difficult," but that was always difficult, smart, and savvy. Brad says forget the smart and savvy.

I do have to ask (it's hard to leave motives out of political discussions) why now Brad? For the good of the Republic, now that Hillary is getting so much attention? I'll believe that, but is there something else going on?


 

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