“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Dope

LI heard from an old friend the other day, Tom S. Tom, it appears, is coming to Austin and wants to see his old drinking buddy. We immediately became soggy from nostalgia.

It was, what, twelve years ago? Fifteen? Yes, LI was as thin as a malnourished radish, an outlier in the U.T. Philosophy department. We had already decided that the academic life wasn�t for us. Or the academic life had made that decision � kicked out or quit, life�s eternal question, no? Our friend Janet Flesch, who was also in the department, was teaching an advanced philo class, and Tom was one of her students, which is how we met.

There�s that wonderful phrase of Goethe�s: elective affinities. Friendship is about alchemistry, the obscure movement of sensibilities, and the metallic symbols thereof. Right. The transmutations of base metals. Nietzsche and alcohol.

There is a certain personality that receives Nietzsche like evolution received that comet 65 million years ago � he gets rid of everything clumsy that has been crawling around, fearsome and stupid, on the planet of one�s life. LI admits, without shame, to that impact. We think Tom was undergoing something similar. Now, back then, LI was quite a sharp talker when it came to the Gotterdammerung. On the other hand, as much as we liked to drink, we were saddled with the above mentioned malnourished radish frame. We were 29, 30, and weighed 130 � and we�ve put on, on a good day, when we are soaking wet, at least ten pounds since then. So we would sit with Tom and his friends in a bar that, at the time, the University of Texas was kind enough to offer its over 21 year old students. A bar that is gone with the wind, assisted by the Puritanism of the Texas legislature, nowadays. We would drink until we were swimming on dry land. Then, in a haze in which we could actually see light make that transition from particle to wave and back � light was doing this all around us, it was actually getting to be a drag -- we would say goodbye to Tom�s table and try to make it out of the building. Usually at this point the architectural peculiarity of the building intervened � it was designed to become a maze for visionaries and drunk people, leading them to the nearest convenient bathroom. There we would stay, evacuating, at intervals, unnecessary nourishment in some beautiful stall, with informative graffiti about ethnic groups, available women, and the sexual derring do of various fraternities, all that oral ministration to random penises, illustrated with magic marker, until a university cop would knock on the door of the stall, gallantry offering assistance.

A golden age. Ah yes, I remember it welllll�
Remora

Time and Western Man, or Amis and his buddies

When LI sees a fly, we never grab a flyswatter; we grab an Uzi...

Or so it might seem to the always patient readers of this post. Our last post, you'll remember, started out as a scolding of Martin Amis' latest book, and then detoured, radically, through Russell's paradox of George IV and the author of Waverly.

It occured to us, after we posted our mini-treatise, that the effect of the paradox might be blunted for the contemporary reader who does not know that Walter Scott published Waverly anonymously. The resulting publicity was much like that gained by Primary Colors, which was published anonymously, and generated enough controversy that the author of it became a public issue. So one can update Russell's paradox cleverly enough this way: Bill Clinton wished to know if Joe Klein is the author of Primary Colors.

In any case, we've seen Russell's solution to his puzzle involves reforming the logical structure of description in conformity with the requirements of the truth function.

LI had an un-Russellian reason for going through Russell's paradox. The context that fills in the variable of signification, from Russell's example, has a before and after structure. It is, in other words, historical.

Now, like many English philosophers, Russell wasn't comfortable with time. He preferred to eliminate time as a determinant in the work of logical analysis. A good essay from the same era as Russell's "On Denoting" is available on the web: McTaggart's The Unreality of Time, which was published in Mind in 1908. LI can't resist alluding to McTaggart's argument -- one by which he proves the objective non-existence of time (and incidentally, announces a view of events that will later be developed by Donald Davidson). The argument is that there are two series that can be extracted from the prima facie view of time:


"Positions in time, as time appears to us prima facie, are distinguished in two ways. Each position is Earlier than some, and Later than some, of the other positions. And each position is either Past, Present, or Future. The distinctions of the former class are permanent, while those of the latter are not. If M is ever earlier than N, it is always earlier. But an event, which is now present, was future and will be past."

McTaggart calls the series of earlier and later the B series, and the Past Present Future series the A series. In the B series, given an event (for McTaggart, the fundamental elements of the two series), it's description, with relation to another event, will always be described as earlier or later. But in the A series, oddly enough, all three descriptions will apply. At one point an event will be present, at another point it will be future, and at one point it will be past.

McTaggart throws in another characteristic of time -- he connects it to change. A world in which nothing , including thought, changed, would, McTaggart claims, be timeless. What this means is that time is being treated two ways in McTaggarts essay -- both as a metric and as a content. His contention, really, is that time, insofar as it is a metric, is a formal device, not an objective property of reality:


Take any event -- the death of Queen Anne, for example -- and consider what change can take place in its characteristics. That it is a death, that it is the death of Anne Stuart, that it has such causes, that it has such effects -- every characteristic of this sort never changes. "Before the stars saw one another plain" the event in question was a death of an English Queen. At the last moment of time -- if time has a last moment -- the event in question will still be a death of an English Queen. And in every respect but one it is equally devoid of change. But in one respect it does change. It began by being a future event. It became every moment an event in the nearer future. At last it was present. Then it became past, and will always remain so, though every moment it becomes further and further past. Thus we seen forced to the conclusion that all change is only a change of the characteristics imparted to events by their presence in the A series, whether those characteristics are qualities or relations.

LI is realizing, as we write this, that McTaggart is much more interesting than the mere political point we wanted to make about Amis...

Okay, the point here (sans McTaggart) is this. Given a commie sympathizer in the US in 1933, we can make the sentence, X sympathizes with Stalin. However, can we then substitute the phrase, X sympathizes with the leader who ordered the starvation of 2 million people in the Ukraine? I think not. On the other hand, given a Nazi sympathizer in 1933, could we substitute the phrase, X sympathizes with the leader who ordered the elimination of the European Jews? I think so. Of course, this is a statement that would have to be modified according to cases. Did Charles Lindbergh sympathize with Auschwitz? I'd guess no. Did he sympathize with shipping Jews to 'special work areas"? I'd guess yes. The expulsion of the Jews from Germany was in full swing by 1938. The consequences of supporting Hitler were, in other words, vividly in the Western consciousness by then. So, too, the reader might say, were Stalin's show trials. And yes, there is no excuse by that time to sympathize with Stalin. This is precisely the point made by numerous Trotskyist dissidents in the thirties -- and even the twenties. Boris Souveraine and Victor Serge are the names that come immediately to mind. Emma Goldman made her dissatisfaction known much before then. Remember, though, these folks were treated the way Naderites are treated by the flaks of the Democrat Party -- as annoying excrescenses impeding the flow of history.

Now, this isn't to exculpate the Stalinist sympathizer. It is simply to restore the historical circumstances surrounding that sympathy, which is that sometimes, to will the end isn't to will the means, and sometimes it is. To will the end, for a commie symp in the US, circa 1933, was to will the end of racial discrimination, the end of killing wealth disparities, the end of the depression, the end of a number of injustices. And guess what? These were good goals. In the same way, the commie party member in France in 1959 was willing the end of the Algerian war -- another good goal.

So, simply put: the distance between the real end of Naziism and goal one willed as a sympathizer of Naziism is much closer than the distance between the real end of Stalinism and the goal one willed as a Stalinist.

Now, real ends are mixed. As we have often emphasized on this weblog, the history of atrocities committed in the name of Western imperialism by no means ends with the elimination of the Indians and the slave trade. If you look at the history of British domination of India, pace Naipaul, you'll notice that nothing like the Bengal famine of 43 -- 44 has occured since India was taken over by Indians. The very good reason for this is that the British rulers were criminally negligent or worse when it came to the lives of Indians. But even throwing in the Bengal famine, one can sympathize even now with Churchill as against the Axis without sympathizing with the contrivances that lead to the Bengal famine.

The moral of this is that the goals willed by the commies of 1930 aren't infected by the means used to affect those goals: for the simple reason that those means didn't achieve those goals, and for the more complicated reason that those means, in their immorality, overshadowed the immoralities they were supposed to overthrow.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Remora

"All thinking has to start from acquaintance; but it succeeds in thinking about many things with which we have no acquaintance." -- Bertrand Russell.

Limited Inc had determined to be fastidious. Limited Inc had determined not to write about Martin Amis' new book, Koba the Dread, which makes essentially this point:
1. Nazism and Communism are morally equivalent -- or better, immorally equivalent.
2. Followers, then, of Nazism and Communism are immorally equivalent.

However, Hitchens reviewed the book in the Atlantic with such unaccustomed gentleness, like a waiter in a ritzy restaurant leading a drunk to his favorite table, that LI felt that a few obvious points needed to be made.

However, to make these points we are going to take a detour through Bertrand Russell's essay, "On denoting."

LI's readers no doubt fondly remember that essay from school days. It was in that essay that Russell attempted to squelch Meinong once and for all, and made a devastating analysis of Frege's distinction between denotation and meaning. In the essay Russell, who always had a dose of Lewis Carroll in his soul, makes his points by way of a number of puzzles, as he calls them. They are puzzles, as Deleuze has remarked, with a geneological similarity to the puzzles of the Stoics, who were also concerned with the shortcomings of Aristotelian logic. One of Russell's puzzles concerns the author of Waverly. Here is how he introduces the topic:

"A logical theory may be tested by its capacity for dealing with puzzles, and it is a wholesome plan, in thinking about logic, to stock the mind with as many puzzles as possible, since these serve much the same purpose as is served by experiments in physical science. I shall therefore state three puzzles which a theory as to denoting ought to be able to solve; and I shall show later that my theory solves them.

(1) If a is identical with b, whatever is true of the one is true of the other, and either may be substituted for the other in any proposition without altering the truth or falsehood of that proposition. Now George IV wished to know whether Scott was the author of Waverley; and in fact Scott was the author of Waverley. Hence we may substitute Scott for the author of `Waverley', and thereby prove that George IV wished to know whether Scott was Scott. Yet an interest in the law of identity can hardly be attributed to the first gentleman of Europe."

This is an excellent puzzle, made more excellent by the substitution, for George IV's name, of the title, "the first gentleman of Europe," as a sort of tease at the end of it. The more you peer into one of Russell's puzzles, the more you see civilization peering back at you. This puzzle, LI'd like to claim, has immense bearing on both art and morality. Since we are in pursuit of the failure of Amis' sullen and thuggish moral imagination, we will leave the art out of it for this post.

After sifting through Frege's distinction between meaning and denotation with technical brio, Russell concludes the critical part of his essay:

"The proposition `Scott was the author of Waverley' has a property not possessed by `Scott was Scott', namely the property that George Iv wished to know whether it was true. Thus the two are not identical propositions; hence the meaning of `the author of Waverley' must be relevant as well as the denotation, if we adhere to the point of view to which this distinction belongs. Yet, as we have just seen, so long as we adhere to this point of view, we are compelled to hold that only the denotation is relevant. Thus the point of view in question must be abandoned."

Russell begins the constructive part of his essay with the following thesis:

"According to the view which I advocate, a denoting phrase is essentially part of a sentence, and does not, like most single words, have any significance on its own account."

What does that mean? It means that a denoting phrase gives us a variable, x, which acquires significance as x is embedded in a context. Russell goes on to give contexts for the puzzle of the author of Waverly, making a distinction between primary and secondary occurences of denoting phrases:

"When we say: `George IV wished to know whether so-and-so', or when we say `So-and-so is surprising' or `So-and-so is true', etc., the `so-and-so' must be a proposition. Suppose now that `so-and-so' contains a denoting phrase. We may either eliminate this denoting phrase from the subordinate proposition `so-and-so', or from the whole proposition in which `so-and-so' is a mere constituent. Different propositions result according to which we do. I have heard of a touchy owner of a yacht to whom a guest, on first seeing it, remarked, `I thought your yacht was larger than it is'; and the owner replied, `No, my yacht is not larger than it is'. What the guest meant was, `The size that I thought your yacht was is greater than the size your yacht is'; the meaning attributed to him is, `I thought the size of your yacht was greater than the size of your yacht'. To return to George IV and Waverley, when we say `George IV wished to know whether Scott was the author of Waverley' we normally mean `George IV wished to know whether one and only one man wrote Waverley and Scott was that man'; but we may also mean: `One and only one man wrote Waverley, and George IV wished to know whether Scott was that man'. In the latter, `the author of Waverley' has a primary occurrence; in the former, a secondary. The latter might be expressed by `George IV wished to know, concerning the man who in fact wrote Waverley, whether he was Scott'. This would be true,. for example, if George IV had seen scott at a distance, and had asked `Is that Scott?'. A secondary occurrence of a denoting phrase may be defined as one in which the phrase occurs in a proposition p which is a mere constituent of the proposition we are considering, and the substitution for the denoting phrase is to be effected in p, and not in the whole proposition concerned. The ambiguity as between primary and secondary occurrences is hard to avoid in language; but it does no harm if we are on our guard against it. In symbolic logic it is of course easily avoided."

We hope our readers see where we are going with this. Amis' condemnation of the Western left relies upon a fallacy of substitution, and uses that fallacy to make points that are recognizably aligned with the kind of points made, by the fascist leaning literati, in the thirties, and their heirs, the McCarthyites of the fifties. We will return to this in our next post.



Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Remora

Three Blind Mice

No. Many more blind mice than that. Herds of 'em. The WP has a funny article today about the loosening of support, among the Republicocracy, for diverting Social Security into private accounts to be run by all of us, individually, usin' our God given ingenuity. Apparently as 401(k)s come back filled with pocket lint, and retirement accounts are wiped out, the pilfering of Social Security is not the call to colors it was in the past:


"In some cases, GOP lawmakers such as Reps. George W. Gekas (Pa.) and Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. (Miss.) are opposing Bush's proposal after praising it in the past. At least three Republican congressional challengers -- Rick Clayburgh (N.D.), William J. Janklow (S.D.) and Jon Porter (Nev.) -- have disavowed the idea of private accounts. Many other Republicans are playing down previous endorsements of privatizing all or part of Social Security as a way to bolster the system before it goes broke."

Tergiversation, on this issue, is spine-snapping. Witness the sullen Mark Kennedy. Kennedy, along with some 117 other legislators, signed a letter expressing max support for privatizing Social Security. It turns out he wasn't quite in his right mind that day -- like Hamlet, he was wandering distracted about D.C., construing the shapes of clouds. Wouldn't you know it? Some nefarious villain, probably a Democratic operative, obviously thrust the letter into his hands and told him it was about supporting motherhood and pledging to honor the Golden Rule.

"In Minnesota's 6th District, Rep. Mark Kennedy, a GOP freshman locked in a tough reelection fight, has tempered his support for creating private accounts. Although he signed the same letter as Pickering, he is campaigning feverishly to convince voters he has not switched his position.After initially denying to local reporters that he signed the letter, Kennedy now will only say: "I support exploring ways of strengthening Social Security. I don't know what those ways are."

Mr. Kennedy might want to explore the Argentina crisis. There was a, boldly heretical article about Argentina in the Times Sunday paper. Larry Rohter slipped through the neo-liberal police somehow. In his intro grafs, he highlights the fact that the IMF, backed by the US, has approved loans for Brasil and Uruguay, but not Argentina. Why? Well, the brunt of the article is that Argentina is in the doghouse as a deterrent. But Rohter's more subversive point is that the investing class that is punishing Argentina brought on Argentina's woes, in large part, by suggesting the "golden straightjacket" policies Argentina adopted, to such acclaim, in the nineties:

"... a growing number of independent analysts now maintain that many of Argentina's troubles stem from having followed Washington's advice in the first place and that the formula being insisted upon is only making matters worse."

The formula is, as LI readers know: cut back on social spending, achieve budget surpluses, maximize the private sector and cut the public sector to the bone. Etc. The libertarian dream. Otherwise known as the nightmare of reason.

To get back to Mr. Kennedy's voyage of exploration, one of the interesting tidbits in Rohter's article concerns the effects of privatizing social security. Argentina took the Chile route in the nineties and did just that:

"In reality, most of Argentina's deficit is simply the result of arbitrary accounting procedures and not a reflection of wastefulness. By privatizing the social security system in 1994, much in the fashion the Bush administration is now proposing in the United States, the Argentine government could no longer count social security payments as revenues and had to move them outside the budget.Had Argentina not privatized social security at the urging of the I.M.F., it would actually have shown a budget surplus in recent years. Indeed, according to another study published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research early this year, government spending in Argentina has remained remarkably steady, at about 19 percent of G.D.P. throughout the 1990's."

This is all the more interesting insofar as the G.O.P., outside of its consensus advice to pee wee countries in the Southern Hemisphere, has become remarkably careless about budget deficits. LI sees nothing wrong with a budget deficit per se, but Bush's seems to have the same structure as R. Reagan's --there's no self-limiting mechanism built into it. It seems to be the start of something that is going to get worse, a lot worse, in fact, if the stock market flatlines. We do wonder what the deficit would be minus the Social security surpluses that they pop like candy up in D.C.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Remora

James Ridgeway, Village Voice's reliably left (if sometimes monotonous) political columnist, suggests something pretty cool in his column today. Ridgeway raps on the practical impunity surrounding the major looters of corporations. This means, rather predictably, wheeling out the very specimen and macrocosm of power used corruptly to avert justice: Ken Lay. Ridgeway hammers on this old theme. But then Ridgeway departs from merely adding his scolding to the unanimous condemnation of mankind and throws out an idea that should be embraced by some Dem, somewhere. This is the kind of idea that could really work:

"Beyond the political will to hold people like Lay accountable, we need a mechanism for going after the companies themselves, paving the way for placing them in receivership so they could be managed under public supervision until their acts were cleaned up. There is nothing unusual in this notion. Crooked unions go through it all the time. Corporations should get the same treatment. At the very least, firms with shoddy accounting and other dubious practices should be denied government business. For Enron, federal subsidies and contracts were the lifeblood that let the corrupt operation flourish. "

Ridgeway could easily have developed his idea a bit with regard to Enron. There was an interesting article last week in the Houston Chronicle about the way in which, in the last month of Enron's run, workers from the old pipeline division -- which was despised by the minions of Skilling, all of whom were New Economy rip-off artists who wanted to run an "asset-less' company, but battened like leaches on the money flow of the pipes (the only real money flow at Enron, except the continuous rain of currency into the pockets of the undeserving exec strata) --- anyway, how in a last burst of kick em in the teeth, these old reliable asset guys were cheated out of their deferred compensations in favor of the energy trader division. This division, by the way, was losing money. Anyway, according to the Chronicle article, Lawrence "Greg" Whalley, "then the chief operating officer of the company," made decisions that systematically skewed distribution of the money that was left in the deferred compensation accounts to those who, in Whalley's lawyer's rich phase, were "continuing to add value" to the company.

Now who were those people who were adding value to the company? Why, they were part of the trading group that was eventually sold to UBSWarburg -- which, coincidence of coincidences, is where Whalley ended up himself. So here we have a company, the heart of which is a money losing deal machine that is still sexy enough to be packaged and sold to another company. [note: the energy trading outfit did look enough like a moneymaker at the time, given the smoke and mirrors of Enron's accounting, to be perceived as a valuable asset -- hence its acquisition. And with the correct management, it might actually be an asset. But the real assets, what Enron sold to raise real cash, were the natural gas pipe lines. Period] Here we have people who were dispersed over the multiple trading divisions (such as the loony broadband division) who have bootstrapped their entire careers and credibility on the cash flow coming from the real assets of the company, the pipes. And we have those same usurping locusts, as the Psalmist might put it, who were systematically infiltrated into top managerial positions, reluctantly deciding that the retiring pipemen -- the guys who made real money -- are going to have to bite it, because Whalley's clique are skipping ship and want to carry home a few mill in Christmas money.

This is exactly parallel to corrupt Teamster union locals that have been taken over by the feds. The same principle of pirates at the top looting people at the bottom.

If Ridgeway's plan were put into execution, it would put a stop to self aggrandizing deals for the scum of the universe... ooops, I mean the up and coming entrepeneur types, like Greg Whalley. As for the Whalley's, one's mind drifts to ... uh, pornographic fantasies of punishment. How about having these hardballing execs prove their ability to 'add value' to their future employers by being stripped of all their assets, including their wardrobes, appropriately draped in street couture (say, urinous old trousers found abandoned under some park bench), their ATM cards and platinum credit cards sheered through, their cars long ago seized and sold, and set loose then on some mean Houston alley at three in the foggy morning. Then let these top dogs ply their ingenuity as they will.