Saturday, June 30, 2007
(10:20 PM) | Brad:
_______ Evening Jazz: Back to the ClassicsIt's about time I change the title of this series, since it so rarely appears on Friday, and sometimes not even in the evening. Any suggestions are welcomed. I've no excuse this time. Last night, I was eating Snickers ice cream bars and watching the first season of Carnivale. Good times were had by all involved.
Tonight, I'm stewing. I got another job rejection letter today, ruining an otherwise great day. What makes this all the more infuriating and frustrating is that this was one of the few jobs out here for which I felt qualified and would've really liked to have! The fact that I can't get the jobs for which I'm not at all qualified and/or do not want does not change things. Nor does the fact that I have a phone interview on Wednesday for a job back in Britain that I really want. I was really hoping I'd have some local leads prior to the interview. It was not to be.
It's a good thing I have more Snickers ice cream bars in the freezer and the Miles Davis Quintet in my ITunes. Otherwise, the night could've gotten very ugly indeed. Tonight, we have a sample from each of their 1955-56 long-players, Relaxin', Steamin', Workin', & Cookin'. It may seem a little too overt to play Miles (even more when Coltrane is playing with him!), but jazz itself is already kind of a snooty thing to be into. Let's not make matters worse by going out of our way to avoid the classics.
"If I Were A Bell" (Relaxin');
"In Your Own Sweet Way" (Working');
"Blues By Five" (Cookin').
(1:24 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Flash PhysicsOgged linked to this open-ended Flash game, and Richard and I spent some really significant time yesterday playing with it and chatting about our discoveries. Trying to discover the properties of all the elements in it is almost more fun that trying to come up with interesting patterns, etc.
Friday, June 29, 2007
(12:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: So I says to the guyI confess that my blog-silence this week stems from a visit from my family Wednesday and Thursday, which went well. I confess that they generously gave me a new desk, and that sitting at it now, I realize how laughably small my old one was. I confess that supplementing my tiny desk with a TV tray seemed "normal" to me. I confess that they also offered to replace my desk chair, and I felt a little bit guilty for turning them down -- but I can't part with my chair.
I confess that I am an extreme creature of habit when it comes to sleep, and I never feel very well-rested if there is anything out of the ordinary -- such as sleeping on the couch. I confess that I am a total homebody.
I confess that I'm tired of having to buy milk all the time -- week after week after week. Does it never end? I confess that even after a year of shopping at the same Walgreens, I still can never find anything.
I confess that I've gotten pretty good at folding fitted sheets to look like normal sheets, and I have recently begun to be tempted to iron my pillow cases.
UPDATE: I confess that I'm really scared the Supreme Court is going to endorse the administration's detainee policy now that they have agreed to hear the case.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
(9:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: Banana RepublicI hate that I've been so naive about the New Deal all these years.
I hate it when I've totally mapped out in my mind which subway exit I'm going to use, then I get to the surface and realize that I was completely wrong. I find the Lake stop on the Red Line especially difficult to navigate for some reason. I continue to hate the slowness of the Blue Line, but I love that I got to take the Blue Line to my beloved El Cid (in Logan Square) last night.
I hate it when I'm trying to finish something up before running out the door, and I get not one, but two phone calls. I often go days at a time without getting any calls at all, and suddenly when I'm pressed for time, I'm the most popular person on earth. I hate it when people don't answer their e-mail.
UPDATE: Tuesday Love.
Monday, June 25, 2007
(3:00 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Vexed Question of Pedestrian TrafficFollowing up on my post on generalizations, I think it might be helpful to clarify the question of pedestrian traffic. First, here's why I think that there are clear social norms regarding pedestrian traffic in the US: the pedestrian norms are directly modeled upon vehicular traffic norms. That is, everyone should ideally stay to the right, with faster traffic passing on the left. When people have an opinion on the matter, it is almost always that foot traffic should follow the pattern set on the highway. In official settings where foot traffic norms are specified (signs in the subway stairwells, etc.), it invariably follows the same pattern. It's true that not everyone follows this, just as it's true that not everyone perfectly follows the highway norms (you often find slower cars in the left lane, though people drive on the correct side of the road nearly all the time). But it is understood to be a norm that is binding on everyone, though unenforceable -- those who complain about people not following the norm are generally thought to be within their rights and feel that they are being reasonable in their complaints. I am 100% confident that a survey of Americans would bear this out -- it is unquestionably the hegemonic view. "Everyone knows" it is the norm.
Not being an insider to UK culture, I cannot say for sure what the rationale is behind the apparent lack of a set pattern for UK pedestrian traffic, or whether there is some hegemonic norm in place that my American eyes keep me from seeing. And so I ask all my UK readers: does such a norm exist? Or is this something that people generally don't worry about?
Sunday, June 24, 2007
(10:12 PM) | Brad:
Friday Night Jazz: Special Sunday Night EditionOn Friday night, Papa was out getting his unemployed stupor on. On Saturday night, his attention was completely overtaken by the final three episodes of The Corner (which he scandalously hadn't even heard about until a couple of months ago) and the season finale of The Office (which he'd missed weeks ago because he'd wrecked the car and was in the garage stewing and trying to come up with a plausible story to sell the insurance estimator). So we have Sunday night, a special night. A late night of jazz.
We'll maintain the theme from last week: jazz that is alive and kicking. And while we're at it, we'll revisit some of the same musicians, with one very notable exception.
First, Jessica Williams. Once again from her tremendous CD Arrival, but this time playing "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams".
Then, we're back to Brad Mehldau, this time from his coming out party, Places. It's hard to pick, but "Amsterdam" is my favorite here.
After that, the whiz on the sax from last week, James Carter. From his CD Jurassic Classics, an explosive rendition of Sollin Rollins' "Oleo".
And finally, from the recently released second volume of his Live at the Lincoln Center, Mulgrew Miller's "Farewell To Dogma". Be prepared, it's a long one (nearly thirteen minutes). But it is as fabulous as this CD is a new necessity to your jazz collection.
(10:54 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
GeneralizationWe need a better way to talk about generalizations. A recent thread at Jodi Dean's blog where she was talking about the fact that the British don't seem to have firm social norms regulating pedestrian traffic led to her being harrassed by a commenter for over-generalizing (and, bizarrely, for being racist). On a top-secret theological forum, I also claimed that American holiness traditions tend to be anti-intellectual, and I was similarly accused of over-generalization. I think that Jodi and I were both correct in our generalizations, provided that we think of them as generalizations.
The problem, of course, is what exactly a generalization is. I'm sure that some analytic philosopher has already rigorously solved this problem, but I'm going to venture out anyway. When we make a generalization about a group of people, we're not directly talking about empirical tendencies, but about that group's "big Other," the symbolic structure that binds them. We are also comparing them to our own "big Other." So, for example, Jodi was effectively saying that the American big Other places more stress on the smooth flow of pedestrian traffic than does the British big Other -- and this would be the case even if there were particular British people who made it a general rule to stay to the right. It's not enough to say that there are members of a given group who don't fit the generalization -- the way the big Other functions is precisely through the individuals' distance toward it.
Take, for example, racism. It is perfectly fair to say that "white people" in the US are racist against African-Americans. The fact that an individual white person does not consciously hold those beliefs is no counter-argument, because the very non-racist stance of that individual always refers to the hegemonic stance: "I know that white people are generally afraid of black people, but my experience with black people tells me that's an unfounded fear." And a non-racist white person will also generally assume that she's not going to be given the benefit of the doubt as a non-racist in a group of black people -- precisely because "white people" are racist. It is not unfair of black people to think that "white people" are racist, because "white people" (the white people's big Other) includes racism that is, as it were, free-floating, independent of any concrete racist individuals. (And also because black people generally have to move within the hegemonic white culture as well as their own community, so they know what they're talking about.)
This "free-floating" racism, however, is only free-floating in terms of the consciousness of individuals -- the racism of white people is embodied and enacted daily in their institutions, laws, as well as the concrete practice of neighborhoods one avoids, etc. To white people, all these institutions doubtless seem to be basically meritocratic, and unfortunately African-Americans just haven't gotten their act together -- so that the crasser racial stereotypes are now sublated into more "nuanced" positions, such as accusing blacks of using (non-existent) racism as an excuse not to work hard, etc. At its most insidious, this "nuanced" form of racism amounts to an accusation that it is really the black people who are all a bunch of racists -- they hate whites, they don't want to join the cultural institutions we've so generously opened up to them, we bend over backwards and look what gratitude we get.... These "subtle," supposedly "non-racist" points are the way white racism circulates in more respectable circles today; the figure of the openly racist hick provides a nice inoculation against feelings of guilt ("I'm not some hick racist -- but I'm just saying...").
The claim that one is not personally a racist thus completely misses the point. Despite the violence they sometimes engage in, the people who are self-consciously virulent racists are arguably the least dangerous on the grand scale -- it's actually the continual disavowal of the existence of racist structures that keeps them inscribed in the white symbolic order. That is to say, it's precisely because no individual white person directly "is" racist that "white people" are racist.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
(12:27 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Stab in the BackThis Kevin Drum post reminds me that I should probably fess up: I really do hope that the US loses in Iraq, or acknowledges the fact that it already has. Pragmatically speaking, I would prefer for Bush to take responsibility, but more generally, I want the US to be gun-shy, I want it to stop taking on these grand world-shaping schemes -- I want everyone to see that US power really isn't limitless, an illusion that it was only possible to maintain when the US hadn't attempted to fully actualize its power. I want a smaller military, so that the US won't be so tempted to go around blowing the shit out of people for no good reason. In the event that we face a major land invasion on American soil, I guess I'll feel stupid, but we all know that the US is not going to face a traditional invader on its own soil in the foreseeable future.
The problem with liberal responses to the "stab in the back" narrative is twofold. First, it neglects the fact that a lot of liberals did vote in favor of the Iraq War and propagandize in favor of it, so this retroactive attempt to paint it as a purely Republican problem is just another example of stupid opportunism. Second, it still accepts the logic that the problem is some particular faction, rather than a guiding ideology broadly shared by our governing elites as a whole. Wasn't it the liberal Madeline Albright who called the US an "indispensable nation"? Doesn't everyone accept the basic premise that we're the "sole superpower," and the only area of disagreement is implementation? Don't we have a lot of people who worry that the Iraq War will discredit US military intervention when we really need to go in and do some nation-building? No, everyone -- the whole frame is wrong. The US is not as powerful as we think. Attempting to assert this supposed omnipotence amounts to a useless, nihilist acting-out.
My problem with the "stab in the back" narrative is that war opponents don't have a way to bring the troops home or to undermine the US imperialist project more generally. That is, the problem with right-wing propaganda is that the agent it blames is actually powerless -- the problem is how to make the right-wing propaganda true.
Friday, June 22, 2007
(12:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: John LeonardI confess that the "entitling every post 'John Leonard' concept" is at a crossroads. Is it played out, or is it only starting to be truly funny? Ben Wolfson, a true pioneer in the field of non-descriptive blogpost titles, has implemented an all-"John Leonard" policy. Soon, perhaps, the entire blogosphere will be a perpetual tribute to this distinguished literary critic.
I confess that Thursday I went overboard with "maintenance" tasks: laundry, taking out the garbage, grocery shopping, and renewing my drivers license. Now my avenues for structured procrastination are severely constrained.
I confess that Helvetica was good, but dragged a little bit toward the end. I confess that I may need to participate in the upcoming David Lynch extravaganza at the Gene Siskel Film Center -- a great date option.
I confess that Ellen DeGeneres isn't funny. I confess that the show Lil' Bush is the absolute stupidest fucking idea in the history of TV, with the possible exception of Mind of Mencia. To keep with the Comedy Central theme, I confess that Jon Stewart is the worst interviewer ever.
UPDATE: Via Anthony, I find the following:
I confess that there need to be more commercial parodies like this.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
(8:16 PM) | Amish Lovelock:
John Leonard: Another PollA (not so) random question: what intellectual or artist do you detest precisely because you know (either through direct experience or through imagined experience) that they absolutely love everything you're about intellectually or artistically?
(5:54 PM) | Brad:
A PollA random question: what intellectual or artist attracts you precisely because you know (either through direct experience or through imagined experience) that they absolutely hate everything you're about intellectually or artistically?
(10:33 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
New JCRT (John Leonard)All interested parties are encouraged to read the new JCRT, a special issue on "Religion, Democracy, and the Politics of Fright."
In it, one can find our very own Anthony Paul Smith's profile [WARNING: .pdf] of Theology and the Political, which is his first academic publication.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
(3:39 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
John LeonardAnthony has recently inspired me with the ambitious idea of attempting to work up some of my political blog posts for publication, basically as little columns here and there. Aside from submitting them as op-eds, can anyone recommend venues where such things might be welcomed? Also, if anyone wants to look through the greatest hits (found in the left sidebar) and recommend particular posts that might be worthy of such treatment, that would be great.
Shouting me down as a total poseur who needs to just be content with staying in his own little sandbox is also an option.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
(8:05 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: John LeonardI hate that no matter how much I shake up the ketchup bottle, there's always that little bit of water that comes out. I hate this because I hate it when bread gets wet.
I hate it when I mistype a shortcut key and accidentally fire up some long-buried feature of Word that takes forever to start.
I hate it when good liberals do their duty of critiquing people to their left. The ritual disavowal of Michael Moore every time one of his movies comes out is great -- even though he's producing films that will be seen by millions and that have messages like "George W. Bush is an awful president and shouldn't be reelected" or "We should have universal health care." It's like they're living in a fantasy world where cold, dispassionate presentation of the facts wouldn't be shouted down by the right -- i.e., like they've never heard of Chomsky, for instance, whom they incidentally also loudly disown at every opportunity. Maybe, maybe one way to combat the rightward shift in this country would be for good moderate liberals not to constantly criticize people further to the left -- to resist the temptation to present themselves as "serious" and "honest even when it hurts."
When you've duly hated, go express your love.
Monday, June 18, 2007
(7:34 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Impeachment Event in ChicagoJonathan Schwarz has alerted me of a discussion of impeachment at DePaul's downtown campus. It sounds like a pretty interesting program.
If any Webloggians end up going, maybe we could go celebrate our righteous indignation at the Exchequer afterward.
(1:17 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Falsifiability and TheologyToday Stanley Fish has a blog post up, sadly behind the TimesSelect paywall, in which he discusses the Atheism Trend. One point he picks up on is falsifiability, a criterion often used to polemically club religion. In order to get at this point, he quotes some statements expressing confidence that even though we don't have much to show for it now, the attempt to explain morality naturalistically is bound to bear fruit:
This is a remarkable sequence. A very strong assertion is made – we will “undoubtedly discover lawful connections between our states of consciousness [and] our modes of conduct” – but no evidence is offered in support of it; and indeed the absence of evidence becomes a reason for confidence in its eventual emergence. This sounds an awfully lot like faith of the kind Harris and his colleagues deride – expectations based only on a first premise (itself asserted rather than proven), which, if true, demands them, and which, if false, makes nonsense of them.This is something like a popularized version of Derrida's late work on religion -- reason structurally requires a moment of "faith." Unless one is predisposed to think that "faith" is a bad thing tout court, this isn't any kind of "reduction" of science. Scientists do not and should not simply throw out their paradigm every three months -- it makes perfect sense to be relatively conservative about changes in the overarching framework of research.
Dawkins exhibits the same pattern of reasoning. He believes, like Harris, that ethical facts can be explained by the scientific method in general and by the thesis of natural selection in particular. If that thesis is assumed as a baseline one can then generate Darwinian reasons, reasons that are reasons within the Darwinian system, for the emergence of the behavior we call ethical. One can speculate, as Dawkins does, that members of a species are generous to one another out of a desire (not consciously held) to preserve the gene pool, or that unconditioned giving is an advertisement of dominance and superiority. These, he says, are “good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral’ towards each other.”
Exactly! They are good Darwinian reasons; remove the natural selection hypothesis from the structure of thought and they will be seen not as reasons, but as absurdities. I “believe in evolution,” Dawkins declares, “because the evidence supports it”; but the evidence is evidence only because he is seeing with Darwin-directed eyes. The evidence at once supports his faith and is evidence by virtue of it.
The problem is that the emphasis on falsifiability makes it sound like scientists are radically open to change their views at any given time, when in real life -- for very good reasons -- they are more or less "dogmatic" about such issues. (This insistence on "falsifiability" ironically gives the Intelligent Design people a rhetorical "in." Due to the scientific polemicists' misrepresentation of their own procedure, the ID crowd gets to pose as simply open-minded and thereby "more scientific than the scientists." I'm sure they'd come up with some other lie if the scientific polemicists didn't provide them with this opportunity, but still.) This "dogmatism" isn't a negative thing, but rather it is what makes science such a hugely productive force in generating knowledge -- broad agreement about the framework of research allows individual scientists to plug away at their relatively obscure little corner, confident that they are contributing usefully to a larger enterprise. If everything really was up for grabs all the time, progress would be impossible.
What I would add to Fish's account is a defense of "religion" (or at least Christianity) from the common caricatures. Christianity is "dogmatic," but in much the same sense as science is -- dogma provides a general framework within which future questions are answered. And dogma does change over time. If everything was unequivocally "set" for all time in some indisputable set of revealed propositions, then the history of Christianity, with its many controversies and many moments of genuine uncertainty as to which side would win, would literally make no sense at all. Yes, there is the continual pose that every side is "orthodox" in the sense of defending the unchanging truths handed down by the apostles, but that doesn't seem structurally different from the scientist's implicit reference to "how things really are" -- if "how things really are" were obvious, then there would be no need for scientific inquiry at all, just as theological discourse would never even arise if all the questions had been anticipated and answered by the apostles.
Theological claims are also falsifiable within any given theological community -- it's not as if people can just say any old thing and be accepted. But more generally, one could even argue that major paradigm shifts have happened, using the principles of "internal critique." The most obvious example of this would be the Protestant Reformation, but there are many others. At any given point in time in any given church community, the teachings will seem "dogmatic" and unchanging, but that doesn't mean they're frozen in time, any more than scientific frameworks are frozen in time -- but wholesale change is fairly rare in either case, for good reasons.
From the scientific perspective, of course, theologians are just arguing about nonsense, and that's fine. But all these parodies of religion as absolutely locked in stone compared with the radical sense of open inquiry in science don't just get religion wrong -- they get science wrong, too. (And then there's also the problem, noted here previously, that when we enter into "science vs. religion" debates, we're suddenly thrown back into the amazing world of Newtonian mechanics!) I think it must be possible for an atheist to present science in an accurate and up-to-date way and to give an accurate portrayal of religion, but still give a convincing argument in favor of atheism. In fact, it seems possible that an atheist writer could put together a book from which an educated (but not theologically trained) believer might end up learning more about religion, because it's hugely rhetorically effective to know one's opponents' position better than they themselves do.
Ultimately, though, this lazy rehash of the polemics from the Victorian era makes me think that today's atheists are guilty of more than not taking religion seriously -- they're not even taking the presentation of their own position seriously.
(10:35 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
John LeonardThe new image you see above, entitled Allegory in Yellow (click for larger image) comes to us from Janet Williams, creator of our previous title image, Let Nothing You Dismay. She is the wife of commenter Edward Williams, whose blog, The All-Poetry Notebook, currently features some academic-oriented poetry for your delectation.
Some of you may also notice that Edward looks remarkably similar to a certain cantankerous commenter who disappeared a while back.
(1:23 AM) | Brad:
The New Symbol of Nap Hangover
The Belgian exhausted Ireland & I with her ill-conceived travels around the Bay Area. Upon our return, instead of calling my dad or responding to IMs, we both went straight to bed. Nearly four hours later, I was still exhausted, stuck in an evening-long nap hangover that not even a wickedly cold beach stroll could cure. I was comforted that Ireland felt the same way.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
(1:33 AM) | Amish Lovelock:
John LeonardWouldn't it be really strange if one day blogs themselves turned into comment boxes?! That each post would be a comment on the previous one, or a general theme or topic?
In that light, I would like to announce that I have no idea who John Leonard, nor what his monthly "New Books" column is. Although it all sounds rather New York... Do they have manners there?
Saturday, June 16, 2007
(4:26 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
John LeonardAm I the only one who finds John Leonard's monthly "New Books" column [in Harper's] to be overly mannered?
Friday, June 15, 2007
(9:10 PM) | Brad:
Friday Night Jazz: Not Dead Yet EditionPer the request of Dame Bitch, we're focusing on but a few examples of living and breathing jazz ... jazz that you can hear at a club if you have a good one nearby ... jazz that is not smooth ... jazz that hearkens back as much as it looks ahead.
We'll lead off with two wizards on the piano, and proceed out from there.
First up, The Brad Mehldau Trio, from their Art of the Trio, Vol. 4, "Sehnsucht" (note: if anybody has a copy of his Live From Tokyo and would like to share, let me know).
Followed by the most consistently great pianist playing clubs today, Jessica Williams, from her 1993 Arrival CD, "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams". (I saw her at Yoshi's in Oakland last week, and it was worth the screwed up credit brought by going over my limit.)
After that, two whiz kids of contemporary jazz playing, James Carter (on the sax) and Cyrus Chestnut (on the piano), playing "The Stevedores's Serenade". (If you dig Carter especially, I just got a great collection of his, and am unafraid to release it to the world.)
And last, Ornette Coleman. He's been playing his sax like a devil unleashed since the late-50s and is still cranking out innovotive CDs (dig the double bass work) like Sound Grammar and songs like "Turnaround".
(12:00 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Friday Afternoon Confessional: The Other Kind of MermaidI confess that I bought a new shirt.
I confess that yesterday I went to eat at a sit-down place by myself for the first time ever. Next, I may go to the movies by myself. I confess that, for context, I previously had some kind of mental blockage when it came to doing things alone that I had marked as "social" -- I don't even rent videos to watch by myself.
I confess that it used to make me angry, but whenever my cable goes out lately, I feel a deep peace and tranquility. I confess that the only show I want to watch on TV now is Futurama, at least until the new season begins.
I confess that a lot of good things have happened to me lately.
I confess that this is the commercial than which no greater can be thought:
Thursday, June 14, 2007
(11:55 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Asymmetry of ParodyRecent events have brought Jesus' General to my attention once again. I thought that blog was funny when I first discovered it, although its schtick quickly becomes redundant: yes, yes, all conservatives are repressed homosexuals, "ha ha." But the General is hardly the only liberal who assumes the voice of a conservative in order to make fun of them -- Stephen Colbert is the most famous current practicioner, but there are many others.
My question is: Are there any conservatives out there who run similar parody sites written in the voice of a liberal? I am hardly a scholar of conservative blogs, but if there are any, they do not seem to be very popular. This seems to me to be not a mere empirical fact, but an inner necessity. Though a liberal can assume the voice of a conservative to produce comedic effects, this process cannot simply be reversed. Where the liberal parody consists of an exaggeration of what conservatives actually do say, the conservative parody of liberals consists in "exposing" what the liberals don't say.
I think immediately of Rush Limbaugh's anti-liberal gags. In one memorable case in the early 1990s, he had Clinton sing a song about how he had pulled the wool over the nation's eyes, but now that he was elected, he was free to implement his radical agenda of raising taxes through the roof. Comedy gold, to be sure -- but there is an inner necessity to this procedure. It's not simply that there are no generic features of liberals to mock: the instinctive fake "balance" between two sides, for instance. The problem is that none of this would register as funny, nor would it undermine liberalism; instead, the conservative parodist would simply end up associating liberals with qualities that the public at large values (moderation, fairness, etc.). The only possible route is to reveal the "hidden truth" of liberalism, normally by completely omitting any reference to the liberals' surface-level moderation -- indeed, their continual attempts to distance themselves from any part of the supposed "hidden truth."
The liberal parodist, by contrast, has no need to project content onto the conservative. Whatever "hidden" content there may be is "hidden" in plain sight. Only a minor twist is needed to make a statement ridiculous, and sometimes not even that. This is because within the liberal frame, the conservative is already a parody of himself -- so strictly speaking, Stephen Colbert is not "parodying" Bill O'Reilly; he is simply imitating O'Reilly's parody of himself.
What is this content, though? At the end of the day, it's a (usually hallucinated) set of "traditional" or "substantial" ties -- family, race, country. Such things appear ridiculous to the liberal. On the other side, from the perspective of the conservative, the very "cosmopolitanism" of the liberals -- their lack of substantial content -- already is an active assualt on that traditional substance.
The hyperbolic claims of liberals "hating America" and wanting to "destroy the family" thus are not, strictly speaking, conscious lies -- from the conservative standpoint, liberal moderation and open-mindedness already takes up a side in the struggle to defend "traditional values." The center is the radical left, the element introducing a conflict into a previously homogeneous social substance. Thus on the formal level, the very fact that there are "culture wars" indicates that the liberals have won -- the idea of gay marriage as a live possibility that must be fought already disrupts the fantasy of an immutable "traditional" meaning of marriage. Even if the end result is to outlaw gay marriage, the very act of treating it as a potentially open question already cedes the crucial ground.
This dynamic is what produces the asymmetrical possibilities for parody. On the one hand, the liberal is able directly to imitate the conservative and count on its comedic effect because the liberal is smug and self-assured, ultimately viewing the conservative as a pathetic fool caught up in a rearguard effort. On the other hand, the conservative parody attempts to generate humor indirectly, through the disconnect between the paranoid "hidden message" and the liberal's actual behavior, viewing the liberal as a villain who, no matter what concerete position he takes, already formally poses a danger to the social substance by virtue of his very stance of moderation.
[UPDATE: Slightly edited for clarity. I'm only talking about parody, not "making fun" in general -- obviously conservatives make fun of liberals in a variety of ways that don't fit this description.]
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
(11:29 PM) | Old - Doug Johnson:
Ocean's Thirteen: A Brief ReviewRead a mediocre review? Blow it off. Best in genre. In one memorable two minute segment the senior partners stand in awe as Oprah gives away the house and a critical security guard thought to be untouchable calls Pitt to replace him after receiving a call. "My kid bit the lunch lady again," he apologizes. Sandwiched between the two is a molotov coctail launched across a picket line at the Mexican factory making loaded dice.
And "the gilroy" ... as satisfying as any Austin Powers gag to date.
(12:23 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Knocked Up: An Extremely Brief ReviewThe funniest movie I've seen in a while -- and also thought-provoking to a certain degree, once you get past the absurd premise. If you're in the market for a movie to go to, you could do much worse.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
(9:07 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: Making Love to Schrödinger's CatI hate that I came up with the subtitle months ago and immediately knew that I'd never write a post worthy of it.
I hate that the people at New York Review of Books have stopped sending my roommate their fine magazine.
I hate the diagonal nature of the Blue Line and the fact that they've apparently decided it's best to run the thing at 10 mph.
I hate that my joke about how Comcast is so bad that "they had better cable service in the GDR" has tended to fall flat.
I hate that I just realized that I've been reading Augustine's Confessions in Latin for nearly a year, and I'm just over halfway through. In my defense -- it is in Latin.
I hate not having enough milk for a full bowl of cereal. I basically hate anything that disrupts my cereal routine, particularly because these setbacks tend to happen pre-coffee, when I am especially vulnerable to existential angst.
I hate that the following video is so incredibly Not Safe For Work:
It is the weirdest thing I've ever seen in my life (via). Here is the second-weirdest, which is arguably also Not Safe For Work, though for very different reasons:
As always, the comments are open for you to bitch, moan, carp, rail, etc.
Monday, June 11, 2007
(7:27 PM) | Amish Lovelock:
The Blind Spot of Neoliberalism CritiqueAll the recent, usually Foucault/Deleuze-inspired, critiques of contemporary neoliberalism seem to share the same, unspoken blind spot. That it that in all their fervency to describe, locate and explain the new, they understate the sticking power of the old. Perhaps this is why the only political options these critiques seem to come up with are Derridean gift-inspired moral parables and paens to the welfare state or basic income.
They say that neoliberalism is a political rationality at complete odds with the principles at the heart of constitutional democracy. That we have gone from disciplinary power to managerial control. That the neoliberal is an amoral insentive providing machine. Sure, but is it not the case, however, that neoliberalism is the naked expression of something that was at the heart of its forebear (liberalism)? Something that goes straight to the heart of constitutional democracy - the freedom of the one and singular body. The freedom of the produced individual subject. A new configuration of power, but a configuration of power nonetheless then.
(12:02 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Reasonable ViolenceOne thing that is often overlooked is the violent potential contained in reason itself. Hegel of course analyzed this, concluding that the revolutionary Terror was a necessary moment in the imposition of abstract reason. But to understand this point, we don't need to look to world-historical trends: we can look to our own blog-comment threads.
Here we have an environment where, in some interpretations at least, the Habermasian "public sphere" is finally, at least in principle, realized -- where "no one knows you're a dog," where we are cut off from the normal restraints of social convention (for instance, deference to people in a higher social position). Abstract reason rules -- again, at least in principle.
Yet we often have comment threads that we are constrained to describe as violent. And here I am going to propose something that goes against all of our pious rationalizations: the most violent people in such debates aren't finally the ones arguing in bad faith, the ones with an axe to grind, the racists, sexists, etc. Those people are, in the last analysis, pathetic -- their "violent" rhetoric is just an expression of their impotence. The most violent people are the ones who are right -- not just the people who wrongly think they're right, but especially the ones who really are right.
The person with reason on his side has the most powerful, most coercive weapon available -- no one is entitled to reject the claims of reason. Hence the bullying that we so often see, the gratuitous, endless battles against an already defeated opponent, precisely on the part of people who are objectively in the right. It's not simply a matter of putting the matter out there for an enlightened public to judge -- no, one must impose reason on one's opponent, in a process that resembles nothing so much as the vintage playground struggle to make someone say "uncle." (I've succumbed to this temptation myself, most notably in the unfortunate incident of Adam Roberts and the impossible circle.)
Having reason on one's side produces not -- as one would expect -- a calm self-assurance that thinks nothing of the petty attacks of one's detractors, but rather the licence for the greatest possible rhetorical violence, for kicking the opponent when they're down, again, and again, and again, and again. No truce is possible -- one would be betraying reason itself. The petty "violence" one's opponent hurls back in return only serves to prove all the more that reason must be imposed upon them.
Nothing is more violent than reason unleashed.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
(12:45 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
The Real Problem with BushThe real problem with the Bush presidency is that it is conceptually unclear what kind of king he thinks he is -- the absolute monarch of the Ancien Régime, or the Hegelian constitutional monarch who just "says yes and dots the i's."
In the initial campaign (2000), it's clear they were going for the latter: yes, George W. is a dumbass, but he's going to be surrounded by all these seasoned advisors. This image of Bush persists in the idea that Cheney, Rove, etc., are the ones really running the show -- or in the alternative narrative that what really matters is the conflict between the Department of State and the Vice-President's office. In both cases, George W. Bush personally is a non-factor -- just the "public face," chosen simply for name recognition (some voters are even rumored to have been convinced that they were really voting for George Sr. again), i.e. the "biological descent" that provides the element of randomness in Hegel's theory of the monarch.
On the other hand, you have the theory of the "unitary executive," the assertion of unheard-of "war powers," and a bunch of other indicators pointing toward an idea of an absolute monarch who can say, "L’État, c’est moi." What is missing is precisely such an "official" pronouncement -- all of the outlandish doctrines are "officially" disavowed, and situations are contrived in order to avoid a judgment from the courts (in the few situations in which the courts have issued a judgment, it has been to reject the "unitary executive"). In order for this absolute power to remain operative, it has to remain "unofficial" -- even though it is all "publicly known," no official judgment has come down upon Bush.
Maybe what is so frightening, however, is the way that these things go together -- the way that a series of "mere formalities" allow the quasi-absolute authority to continue uninhibited. And perhaps what keeps these "empty formalities" going is the fear that if the quasi-absolute authority entered the realm of "officiality," the formalities, rather than the authority, would dissolve.
This is just an over-formalized way of saying what I've been saying for years: what allows the Bush administration to continue is the fact that everyone else is afraid of triggering an "official" constitutional crisis, that is, of bringing out into the open the actual constitutional crisis under which we live. So: vote to authorize the war because you don't want to find out what happens when the president goes ahead and starts a war that Congress rejected. And so on, and so on. The Democrats are now the party of continuing to have a constitution -- paradoxically, they think that the only way to do this is by refusing to face down Bush's gravest violations of the constitution. Hence no impeachment, no real investigation into intelligence manipulation, just this endless dithering with marginal scandals like the US Attorney thing. No one wants to "officially" expose the fact that the executive branch has been effectively treating the constitution as suspended for all this time, even though the information pointing to this conclusion is publicly available and overwhelming.
(2:26 AM) | bitchphd:
Sunday permissionI have been lax about permission granting the last few weeks; I hope you have all struggled by, somehow. But I realize that now is the end of the academic year for many of you, and that therefore you are probably dying for permission to put off finishing papers and the like.
However, I am sorry to say: there will be NO PERMISSION GRANTED FOR PUTTING OFF WRITING PAPERS. Not even for me. We must all put our noses to the paper grindstone this weekend.
*Grading* papers, however, you are allowed to procrastinate on. Go see a movie instead.
All other requests for permission may be asked--and shall be answered--in comments. Answers, however, may be somewhat tardy, for reasons explained in the second paragraph above.
Saturday, June 09, 2007
(10:25 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
An Idea for Acceptable.tvAn animated, chapter-by-chapter rendition of Augustine's Confessions. After the first episode, the format could be to spend one minute recapping the previous episode, do thirty seconds of "plot" development, and then spend the remaining minute asking what will happen next time? "Will Augustine remain firm in his faith in God's incorruptible nature? Will he find the cause of evil? [etc.] Find out, next time!"
This would be fairly easy to do, because many of the chapters are already formatted exactly like that. Indeed, just as we can only fully understand Flaubert retrospectively from the standpoint of cinema, so also we can only fully understand Augustine's narrative art from the perspective of Acceptable.tv.
It would also be funny if all the characters in the series were anthropomorphic animals. What would Augustine be? Monica? (Well, I guess those two would have to be the same kind of animal.) Ambrose? Um... Augustine's friend who dies? Maybe they could all just be ducks.
(3:13 AM) | Brad:
Friday Night Jazz: The Hot Five & Hot Seven EditionI'm a little too tired tonight to re-invent the wheel, so I've been sticking with undisputed classics from an undisputed master of jazz, Louis Armstrong (all from Legacy's absolutely, without question essential box set, The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings.
No commentary from me tonight, just musical wizardry.
Friday, June 08, 2007
(10:34 AM) | Brad:
Friday ConfessionI confess that I called the cops on a Pentecostal church across the street because they were being too loud, at 12.30 at night. I confess that this pleased me immensely. I confess that said Pentecostal church has become my recent obsession. I've become like Jimmie Stewart in Rear Window, watching and documenting the bizarre comings and goings of parishioners and worship services conducted at seemingly random times. I confess that, despite my persistent pleas, my wife refuses to play the role of Grace Kelly.
I confess that I did not call the cops on the guy busting out a SUV's window at the nearby BART station. Partly due to fear that the blunt object in use against the window could easily be turned against my skull (and the absence of faith in my dog to protect me adequately), and partly due to the momentary lapse in judgment that made me think "Maybe he just forgot his keys," I looked the other way when his eyes caught mine.
I confess that the following online exchange is the truest such exchange ever:
Me: Is there anything more depressing than needing to apply for a job you don't want.I confess that I failed in the simple task of picking up my wife from the airport last night. Apparently, she had told me her arrival time & airline, but when she did so I was both drunk and preoccupied with reading up on a pornographic fetish I'd never of: NMCF [Nude Man, Clothed Female].
Friend: Yes. Not getting the job.
I confess that I've not shaved in over a month, and have not had a haircut in over two. I will do neither until I get a job interview.
And lastly, I confess that I was laughing too hard to reprimand my dog at the park yesterday when she flung her entire body at full speed into the back of a middle-aged lady's knees, sending the mother of two to the ground in a broken heap.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
(10:45 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
The big Other now sees meAt long last, yesterday I received in the mail a copy of my first peer-reviewed print publication, an article entitled "Objective Spirit and Continuity in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer," in the journal Philosophy and Theology. I wrote the article itself during the first semester of my MA program (Fall 2003), and thankfully, I think it still holds up.
In a strange coincidence, during the aforementioned debate on abortion yesterday, I had occasion to refer to the concept of "objective spirit." Immediately after posting that message, I checked the mail and found my article on objective spirit waiting for me. The big Other had heard my call!
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
(5:42 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
AmbitionToday I've spent a lot of time in an online debate about abortion. My participation was at first marked by anger, since I've come to view pro-life rhetoric as bullying toward women, and I respond very negatively to that kind of thing. All the classics were trotted out -- the postulate that a fetus is a "person," the idea that the womb is just one geographical place among others from the perspective of the rights of this "person," etc. After I calmed down, I feel like I started making some pretty decent arguments -- arguments that will be very helpful the next time I... waste a lot of time in a debate about abortion.
Even if I have no hope of ever convincing my interlocutors, though, I think I can reach "lurkers" who are on the fence -- thereby contributing to my life goal, which is the extinction of the white race and the annexation of the United States by Mexico.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
(9:16 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Tuesday Hatred: The Hatred EditionI hate it when people believe lies. I hate that when people are drawn into the right-wing propaganda machine, there is no credible alternative to pull them out. I hate that people who were right about the Iraq War from the beginning are still treated as crazy fringe figures. I hate how anti-worker and how indifferent to the poor the mainstream media is -- it took a natural disaster of unprecedented scale for the media to even notice that poor people exist, and within a few months they just went back to normal.
I hate how defensive people are when someone points out structural problems. Aside from outright denial, the strategies seem to be either berating the person for not immediately offering a positive alternative or accusing the person of not doing enough to help with a situation -- as though the solution to a structural injustice was just more individual charity. I hate the way the concept of "individual responsibility" is deployed.
I hate that every public service is constantly in danger of "cuts." I hate that the idea of raising taxes is so anathema. I hate that stupid Gov. Blagojevich is threatening to veto even a minor regional increase in sales taxes, which is meant to bring some stability into transit funding. It's great that he has ambitions on health care, but if he's decided in advance that raising taxes is impossible, then I really don't know what he's thinking. Someone needs to hold a little seminar for politicians. To make it easy to understand, they could use a PowerPoint. Some of the points could be:
- The government provides essential services.
- Providing services costs money.
I hate the rhetoric that one can't just "throw money at a problem." For any given problem, there is usually a group of highly motivated people who know what needs to be done -- whether in government agencies or in non-profits. They know how best to use basically an indefinite amount of money. The solution is precisely to "throw money at the problem."
In the US, there are so many great ideas out there to solve real problems. I would even go so far as to say that on the level of "reformism" at least, every problem has, in principle, been solved -- in aggregate, the class of people who worry about such things "knows" what to do. But I hate that there is absolutely no concept of how we would overcome political inertia to implement any of that stuff.
I hate that it's just accepted that businessmen will act like they do, even when the destructive effects are acknowledged. "Yes, it's bad for society, but they're businessmen -- they can't help it." This forms the background to my Hugely Controversial Opinion that people need to stop screaming about the religious right so much -- everyone's on the ball when it comes to picking on private individuals who have reactionary opinions and organize in favor of them, but the capitalist ethos is much more destructive on a much larger scale than the religious right could ever dream of being.
Go ahead, someone -- say it's "not an either/or."
Stupid liberals with their balance and measure. Historians are going to look back on our period -- assuming human society endures -- and say that the real problem was that all the smart people frittered away their power and influence through a disease called "procedural liberalism," which blinded them to the fact that the right wing was gaming the system until it was too late to do anything about it. As their lame-duck president illegally invaded Iran and the rising waters destroyed Bangladesh, these smart liberals were at the physical therapist, complaining of shoulder strain from so enthusiastically patting themselves on the back for "playing by the rules."
But seriously, if it would help, I'd agree not to complain if people started criticizing capitalism as "the ultimate religion" or something. Whatever it takes.
The Tuesday Love is available for your delectation.
Monday, June 04, 2007
(6:12 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
Commercials and RaceLately I've begun noticing a trend in commercials. Whenever there are both white and black characters in the commercial, the black character is in a subordinate position.
I first noticed this in the series of Volkswagon commercials where they showed accidents -- a white guy is driving, his black friend is making fun of him for saying "like" too much, and then they crash. Then there was another commercial with a white driver and black passenger -- the (I believe) Toyota commercials where they go around the expressway onramps multiple times pretending it's a racetrack. Just now, I saw a commercial where there's a wedding reception with nothing but Honey Nut Cheerios for refreshments. The bride throws a cereal box instead of a bouquet, and a white woman fights to grab the cereal box away from a black woman.
It's like a parable of "integration" -- every dutiful white liberal wants to be able to say they have a black friend, but they want to be in control of the situation. Blacks are present in the interest of diversity, but not in roles that allow them to challenge the overall power structure.
At the same time, it's obvious that simply reversing those situations won't work. If a black man is driving, it's as though he's serving as a chauffeur, even though the same connotation obviously isn't present with the white guy driving. Similarly, if the black woman were to fight the white woman for the cereal box/bouquet, it would be perceived as playing into stereotypes that black women are very "sassy" or else masculine.
So it's as if the only way to "include" blacks in a way that doesn't thematize their race and mobilize stereotypes is to "include" them in a subordinate position -- which then resonates with the dominant white stereotypes of docile blacks who accept their station (manifested in nostalgia for segregation, the false propaganda that slavery "wasn't that bad," etc., which liberals disavow but which is still given a hearing in the mainstream). In the very attempt to avoid the particular stereotypes, these commercials directly mobilize the very fantasy that underlies them all -- in total abstraction from any concrete personality traits or behaviors that are supposedly distinctively "black," the subordination of these characters is experienced as natural simply because of the color of their skin.
Am I making this trend up? Can people think of more examples, or of counter-examples?
(12:16 PM) | Adam Kotsko:
My Ongoing Battle With Microsoft WordI spent this weekend writing my mysterious paper for the Judith Butler seminar (thankfully now completed and even revised), and I have an observation: Word does not handle the pagination of double-spaced documents well at all, especially if footnotes are involved. Being the absolute dork I am, and always in search of new modes of structured procrastination, I of course put considerable effort into fine-tuning the formatting to avoid huge white spaces on the bottom of pages.
I will also note that composing a paper in double-space mode always feels somehow more intimidating than single-space. Probably it's the feeling that "this is for keeps," since it's in the same format that I'll be turning it in. A good strategy might be to use single-spacing for the "first draft," then "edit" it by turning on double-spacing.
One might think that such self-deception would backfire, but just as self-knowledge does not help me to solve my problems, it also does not interfere with my solutions. The first level of reflexivity is powerless -- it's that second meta-level where you really start seeing results. That's why I try to maintain as many levels of reflexivity as possible at all times. There may be a point of diminishing returns, but if so, I haven't found it.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
(8:22 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
A Mainly Consumerist Post
- Why is cereal so damn expensive lately? I used to be able to get my beloved Frosted Mini-Wheats for $2 a box on a fairly regular basis, and now I'm thrilled if I only pay $3.
- Brad and I were discussing it, and it seems that Chipotle has been pulling the wool over our eyes for all these years -- the rice in the burritos is so obviously filler that I'm embarrassed that I didn't think of it earlier. If they replaced the rice with equal amounts meat and beans, we would be dealing with a burrito of world-historical proportions. Instead we get the bizarre spectacle of a burrito that causes, of all things, constipation.
- My bank doesn't appear to have any ATM's in my neighborhood, so I'm slowly being bled dry by fees. One nice thing, though, is that there's an ATM that actually has ones, fives, and tens -- normally I'll get out $38 (to make the overall withdrawal a round number), and all of a sudden I'm the heroic guy with exact change at the restaurant.
- Yesterday I went out for my customary walk, and my mind wandered to how far I had walked. Since I always walk down Lincoln Ave., one of the handful of diagonal streets in Chicago's otherwise brutal grid, calculating the distance involves an application of the Pythagorean Theorem. Thinking through various routes I normally take, I realized that, just off the top of my head, I knew the square roots of 2 and 3 out to three decimal points (1.414 and 1.732, respectively). To my knowledge, I had not given any thought to the topic of the decimal equivalent of square roots since my senior year in high school.
- At the grocery store yesterday (an active day!), all the baggers were busy helping old people buying approximately 5,000 cans of vegetables, so the cashier herself bagged my groceries as I fiddled with the credit card thing. I have long been of the opinion that the art of grocery bagging is in serious decline, with most baggers apparently being trained to use as many bags as possible and threatened with immediate termination if they put more than two items in the same bag. This time, however, I got one of the best bagging jobs I've gotten in my life. Even back in my grocery bagging days, I rarely attained such a high level of bagging quality. I think I'm in love.
- Now that I think about it, one of the few other times I've gone through her line, the guy bagging my groceries, who was apparently mentally disabled in some way, was repeatedly calling her a "cutie." So perhaps developing bagging skills was a survival mechanism. She is pretty good-looking, and by the standards of this grocery store, which are roughly equivalent to those of the staff at your average KFC, she's virtually a supermodel -- so I can totally see where the bagger was coming from. He just wasn't picking up on the fact that she wasn't interested.
(1:45 AM) | Brad:
Friday Night JazzIs it just me, or have zombies returned to popular culture in a serious way? Sure, they've never really left. I've flipped through enough issues of Fangoria to know there's always been a niche market for the living dead. (For example, how many of these movies have you seen? It just seems to have really captured our imagination lately. In addition to the 28 Days Later movies, Robert Rodriguez's contribution to Grindhouse, Shaun of the Dead, and anything Rob Zombie puts on film, you have two major authors writing quasi-zombie novels -- Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Jim Crace's The Pesthouse. What gives?
Anyway ... on with the music. I know I keep saying that I'm going to start posting this earlier so people east of the Mississippi get it on Friday, but hopefully at least a few of you were out drinking and living it up late enough to enjoy this just before bed.
First, probably my favorite Ella Fitgerald track, 'Mack the Knife'.
Followed by Betty Carter's nutty version of 'My Favorite Things'.
And what the hell, a couple of potato bacon bombs! Because I'm currently reading her kickass biography, Etta James' 'All I Could Do Is Cry', and one of the best renditions of 'Strange Fruit' this side of Billie Holiday.
Friday, June 01, 2007
(1:26 AM) | bitchphd:
Friday ConfessionI confess that I have an article due today that isn't written yet. I confess that I am ashamed.
I confess that I am doing the confession because that bastard Kotsko is so fucking happy with himself lately, and so on top of his fucking deadlines, that he has nothing to confess. I confess that I resent him for this. I confess that that's actually a lie.
I confess that I have not been a good hostess to my mother-in-law this week.
I confess that we took PK to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3 last night and it really was too violent for a kid his age. I confess that he enjoyed it anyway. I confess that I am not as upset about this as I probably should be. I confess that a normal American childhood is unhealthy for children.
I confess that my carpets are stained. I confess that I am unsure of the origins of some of the stains, and that the others are cat barf stains. I confess that this is disgusting. I confess that I hate carpets. I confess that I hate cleaning carpets.
I confess that I spent almost $200 at Sephora tonight. I confess the grotesque nature of that expenditure. I confess that I am hung up about sun damage. I confess that I sunburned my knees the other day by taking a nap on the patio wearing a skirt and kneesocks. I confess that I should wear sunblock more regularly.
I confess that I really, really should quit smoking. I confess that PK is upset that I smoke. I confess that I feel guilty about this, but not as guilty as I should. I confess that I feel guilty about not feeling guiltier.
I confess that my confessions are petty ones.