Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Who Wants the Job?

According to an article in today's Post, the Bush administration is having trouble finding the replacements for Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and his staff after essentially firing them yesterday:
A top White House official disputed that, saying: "The idea we can't recruit people to serve because they don't want to be cheerleaders is absolutely wrong."
Me thinks thou dost protest too much.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist James Poterba, the top choice to replace N. Gregory Mankiw as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, has declined the post, sources inside and outside the White House said. Poterba told White House officials he did not want to move to Washington and disrupt his teenage children's lives.

Stanford University's John Cogan, a top economist for President George H.W. Bush, has declined invitations to join the administration as a point man for Social Security reform, White House officials say.
But some Republican economists say the administration's top economic jobs have been marginalized, while their inhabitants have been publicly humiliated.

"Why would you want to take a job where you have no influence?" asked Bruce Bartlett of the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis. "What's the point?"
Among those mentioned as a possible Snow successor is New York Gov. George E. Pataki, who said in Utica, N.Y., yesterday that he is not interested. When asked why his name keeps popping up for one Bush administration job or another, Pataki replied, "God only knows."
Maybe Bush can just hire his daughters. They're college graduates now.

Social Security Facts

Max Sawicky of the Economic Policy Institute has compiled a useful bibliography of sources concerning Social Security reform, both pros and cons. Perhaps the most useful is a brief article published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, authored by Dean Baker and David Rosnick. They explain why the proposal to privatize a portion of Social Security is a bad idea because it is based on two false premises: (1) that Social Security is in dire trouble, or will be in three or four decades, and (2) that the benefits of privatization will outweigh the benefits under the current structure.

Against the first premise, they write:
According to the Social Security trustees report, the standard basis for analyzing Social Security, the program can pay all benefits through the year 2042, with no changes whatsoever. Even after 2042 the program would always be able to pay retirees a higher benefit (in today's dollars) than what current retirees receive. The assessment of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is that Social Security is even stronger. It projects that Social Security can pay all benefits through the year 2052 with no changes whatsoever. By either measure, Social Security is more financially sound today than it has been throughout most of its 69-year history.
And they offer the following graph to display their point.


Notice that these are the projections of the Social Security Administration and the Congressional Budget Office. Notice also that the adjustment to be experienced between 2042 and 2052 is not all that severe and can be corrected by a few minor adjustments in benefits and taxes.

Next, they argue that the benefits of privatization are a chimera.
The proposal that President Bush is using as the basis for his plan phases in cuts over time. A worker who is 45 today can expect to see a cut in guaranteed benefits of around 15 percent. A worker who is age 35 can expect to see a cut in the guaranteed benefit of approximately 25 percent. A 15 year old who is just entering the work force can expect a benefit cut of close to 40 percent. For a 15 year old, this cut would mean a loss of close to $160,000 in Social Security benefits over the course of their retirement.

Private accounts will allow workers to earn back only a small fraction of this amount. For example, a 15 year-old can expect to make back approximately $50,000 from the $160,000 cut with the earnings on a private account. If this worker retires when the market is in a slump, then it could make their loss even bigger.
They offer the following graph to illustrate these calculations. (The blue bars denote the cut in benefit levels; the red, the offset by private savings accounts.)


So to summarize, Social Security is NOT in dire trouble, and the benefits of privatization do NOT outweigh its costs. What does it take to get the media to understand that all of this rhetoric by the Bush administration about "saving" Social Security is really about destroying it? Republicans will not be happy until they have dismantled the New Deal entirely.

"We were all wrong."

David Kay once said this about WMD in Iraq. Now it's true about the guesses made for Madeleine's nine-month height and weight. It turns out she is 28 inches (75th percentile) and 21 lbs. 9 oz. (90th percentile). She's back on the charts. Apparently, she just feels heavier than that. Furthermore, this marks a distinct decrease in her growth rate compared to her first six months. Which is probably a good thing, because at that earlier rate her size in third grade would have been roughly that of Shaquille O'Neal.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Liturgical Pharisaism

Limiting the carols and hymns at Advent Lessons and Carols to those which are liturgically appropriate only for Advent, thereby depriving the choir and congregation of the aesthetic pleasure of melodies they actually know and enjoy, reflects a Kantian understanding of law. Thus, I quote Mark 2:27, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath."

Is Academia Liberal? Why?

Juan Cole writes persuasively about the claim that academia is disproportionately liberal. He responds to the latest version of this claim, this time by George Will. Will writes:
Oh, well, if studies say so. The great secret is out: Liberals dominate campuses.
One study of 1,000 professors finds that Democrats outnumber Republicans at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences.
Another study, of voter registration records, including those of professors in engineering and the hard sciences, found nine Democrats for every Republican at Berkeley and Stanford.
As Cole points out, these studies do not mean much as they have artificially limited their sample space to certain elite universities in "blue" states and to certain fields within them. If one were to calculate the proportion of all post-secondary teachers, including business schools, economics departments, engineering and accounting departments, then the results would be much more balanced. Thus, Cole writes:
There are about 1.1 million post-secondary teachers in the United States. A lot of the ones in the Red States are conservatives, and a lot of the ones in the engineering schools everywhere are. So it simply is not true that "universities" are bastions of the political left.
Furthermore, Cole explains the hiring process at a typical university, demonstrating how any systematic attempt to stack the faculty with less qualified members because of their political stance would be virtually impossible. There are simply too many impediments for such questions of quality to be overlooked. Thus, Cole writes:
There would be no way to stack this process politically. The school executive committee is elected at large from all school departments; ours often has economists or biologists on it. The divisional committee often has political scientists. A substandard historian being hired only because he was a leftist would never get through this gauntlet. Each search committee is ad hoc, staffed according to field, and each differs in composition from the others. All the other committees are constantly rotating personnel, by election. There is no possibility of a centralized cabal that could appoint people of only one political coloration. In fact, David Horowitz wants to find a way to use state legislatures and congress to corrupt this grassroots and professional process by politicizing it and focusing on political outcome rather than academic achievement.
Still, suppose it is true that some departments in some universities tend to be lopsidedly liberal, once we've delimited the category in question to these departments and once we've defined "liberal"--a slippery term, to say the least--as George Will does, namely, the pattern of voting for Democrats. We would then be in a position to ask why this might be so. Cole's answer has to do with self-selectivity, or, as he puts it, with the "push" and "pull" factors.
Some people emigrate because of war or poor economies. Some people are perfectly well off but emigrate for even greater opportunities. The former is a push factor. The latter is a pull factor.
Thus, Cole explains that universities tend to attract and maintain liberal candidates for their positions because the alternatives in the market economy, in conservative (and wealthy) think tanks, or in the officer corps of the military are not available to them for the most part. That is to say, liberal intellectuals with the skills to succeed in corporate business, right-wing non-governmental organizations, or the upper echelons of the military are in effect pushed out of those professions by the prevailing attitude and mores adopted by them. Conversely, conservative intellectuals are pulled by the lucrative offers of those very same institutions. The part about the military seems intuitively correct to me just from impressions one gets, but I did not know how lopsided it really is.
That certain professions at certain points in time, skew politically, is demonstrable. For instance, back in the Eisenhower era, the US officer corps was about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Now, only 10 percent of US officers identify themselves as Democrats (a really worrying development).
I wonder if there ought to be a movement within the military to ensure proper proportions in the officer corps. After all, the blue states do pay more of their salaries than the red states. In any case, Cole explains the political skewing of various professions by way of the logic of self-selectivity.
The most logical explanation for any political bias in some parts of the professoriate in my view is that the sort of persons with the skills to be in a major academic liberal arts department could also be successful in business, lobbying, law, advertising and other well-paying professions. And it is the corporate world and its lobbying appendages that have the marked bias, to the Right. Someone who has academic skills but is a Republican would just have enormous opportunities and could easily become a multi-millionnaire. In contrast, academics on the Left would not be welcome in corporate boardrooms or at a think tank funded by Richard Mellon Scaife, and wouldn't be comfortable in such a position. (All think tanks hire explicitly by ideology, and 17 of the 19 most influential ones in Washington are deliberately staffed by conservatives, but that doesn't bother Will.)
Cole discusses the career of William Bennett in light of this distinction--a conservative with a Ph.D. in political philosophy from the University of Texas (and a B.A. from Williams College--ack!)--who quickly rose in the ranks of the Republican party and became quite wealthy through the largesse of its conservative foundations such as Joe Coors' and Richard Mellon Scaife's American Heritage Foundation. Cole concludes by arguing that academia does not marginalize conservative voices so much as it has been marginalized by the conservative power which resides in government, the market economy, and the military. Thus, Cole responds to George Will:
So, Mr. Will, it is the "pull" factor that explains your conundrum. Liberal academics aren't viciously excluding conservative intellectuals who apply to teach hundreds of students a week for $45,000 a year (nowaday's entry-level salary at a good liberal arts college), after they paid $100,000 for a Ph.D. in English literature from a top-rate university and spent 8 or 9 years beyond the BA toiling away as graduate students on tiny stipends. Conservative intellectuals don't have to put up with that kind of thing (that is how they think of the privilege of teaching). They have other opportunities. They can be whales [i.e., big fish in Vegas like William Bennett who can afford to lose $6 million in a single year], and can pontificate on morality to the great unwashed.

As for Will's argument that academia "has marginalized itself, partly by political shrillness and silliness that have something to do with the parochialism produced by what George Orwell called "smelly little orthodoxies." Many campuses are intellectual versions of one-party nations -- except such nations usually have the merit, such as it is, of candor about their ideological monopolies. " -- it is another instance of blaming the victim.

Academia has not marginalized itself. It has been marginalized. Perfectly reasonable beliefs such as that workers should have a right to explore unionizing without fear of being fired have been redefined by Joe Coors and Richard Mellon Scaife as "out of the mainstream." Thinking that it was a bad idea to invade Iraq (as I said repeatedly in 2002 and early in 2003, even as I admitted Saddam's atrocities) was defined as out of the mainstream and unpatriotic. Corporate media bring in a parade of so-called "experts" (often lacking credentials and saying ridiculous things) from "think tanks," in Washington and New York instead of letting academics speak. (There are some exceptions, obviously, but I am talking about over-all numbers). Wouldn't you like to hear about Ayman al-Zawahiri from someone who actually had read him in Arabic? The universities have such experts. The think tanks mostly just have smelly little orthodoxies of the Right.
For the most part, this all sounds about right to me. I would only add that it is at least possible that those who are the most educated, have the soundest judgment, and are least willing to sell out for personal gain--i.e., the "liberal" intelligentsia--might hold their political views for a very simple reason: they are right and George Will (on many issues, at least) is wrong.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

This Just In

When a baby has a rash, it's a pain in the --- for the whole family. Sleeplessly yours.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

No Take-backs

Alan Greenspan recommends that we not keep doing what every indication suggests that we will be doing for the next four years.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned the U.S. must deal with the causes of the weak dollar -- the U.S. trade deficit and the federal budget deficit -- or the country could run into economic problems down the line.

Greenspan said it is therefore important that the U.S. budget deficit be cut, a move that would reduce the current account deficit.

"Reducing the federal budget deficit (or preferably moving it to surplus) appears to be the most effective action that could be taken to augment domestic saving," he said.
This comes, as noted by Mark Kleiman, after his support for the tax cuts which have put us into this position. As Bill Maher would say, New Rule: When you're the Federal Reserve Chairman, you don't get "take-backs."

Good Lord, What Next?

It seems that there are "serious" discussions going on now about the possibility of WMD programs in Iran. Kevin Drum has called this the Groundhog Day Syndrome:
GROUNDHOG DAY WATCH....Colin Powell on Wednesday:
The United States has intelligence that Iran is working to adapt missiles to deliver a nuclear weapon, further evidence that the Islamic republic is determined to acquire a nuclear bomb, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Wednesday.

...."I have seen some information that would suggest that they have been actively working on delivery systems....You don't have a weapon until you put it in something that can deliver a weapon," Powell told reporters traveling with him to Chile for an Asia-Pacific economic summit.
The CIA on Thursday:
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell shared information with reporters Wednesday about Iran's nuclear program that was classified and based on an unvetted, single source who provided information that two U.S. officials said yesterday was highly significant if true but has not yet been verified.

....The official said the CIA remains unsure about the authenticity of the documents and how the informant came into their possession. A second official would say only that there are questions about the source of the information.
Even for the Bush administration, this is hard to believe. In a repeat of his infamous performance before the UN in 2003, Colin Powell deliberately decided to release damning information about our enemy-du-jour even though he knew the CIA was still in the process of deciding whether it was any good.

Glub, glub, glub....

UPDATE: And here's what the LA Times has to say:
[A] source described the intelligence mentioned by Powell as "weak." "They were surprised he went public on something that was weak and, because it was weak, was not supposed to be used," the source said.

...."I was surprised the administration put him out there or he put himself out there on this," said David Kay, the former head of the U.S. weapons search team in Iraq. "I thought if there was anyone in the administration that had been sufficiently burned by such sources, it would be Powell."
That's just great. It's hard to believe our credibility can get any worse on stuff like this, but obviously we're trying.
Today the LATimes has an article that says,
Although convinced that Iran is "vigorously" pursuing programs to produce nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, the U.S. intelligence community has few sources of reliable information on any illicit arms activities by the Islamic republic, current and former intelligence officials and Middle East experts say.
"Few sources of reliable information"? Nothing a little more Kool-Aid won't solve.

Social Security Reform

The NY Times reports on the Bush administration's plan (i.e., non-plan) to privatize part of Social Security, creating at least a trillion dollars of debt and paying for the transition by adding on to the national debt.
The White House and Republicans in Congress are all but certain to embrace large-scale government borrowing to help finance President Bush's plan to create personal investment accounts in Social Security, according to administration officials, members of Congress and independent analysts.

Borrowing by the government could be necessary to establish the personal accounts because of the way Social Security pays for benefits. Under the current system, the payroll tax levied on workers goes to benefits for people who are already retired. Personal accounts would be paid for out of the same pool of money; they would allow workers to divert a portion of their payroll taxes into accounts invested in mutual funds or other investments.

The money going into the accounts would therefore no longer be available to pay benefits to current retirees. The shortfall would have to be made up somehow to preserve benefits for people who are already retired during the transition from one system to the other, and by nearly all estimates there is no way to make it up without relying at least in part on government borrowing.
Peter Orszag of the Brookings Institute tries to explain the problem with this plan:
"To the extent that the transition is debt-financed, the ostensible macroeconomic benefits from individual accounts are undermined," said Peter Orszag, an economist at the Brookings Institution who has been critical of personal account plans. "In particular, you do not get an increase in national savings. It's engaging effectively in accounting gimmicks to make it look as if you're doing something when you're not."
And what about the Bush plan to reduce the deficit in half in the next five years?
The White House, which has promised to cut the deficit in half while making Mr. Bush's tax cuts permanent, has signaled that it does not intend to include the figures in its budget, since the administration has not endorsed a detailed plan.
Atrios predicts how this will all play out in the press:
Sane people will try to point out what they're doing, Ted Koppel will declare it oh so complicated, pundits will pontificate that no one really understands all these numbers...

Friday, November 26, 2004

Picture Problems

Sorry about the recent confusion with the pictures. They should be working now. I'm using Hello to upload images, but it wouldn't accept GIFs, only JPEGs. If anyone knows why or how to change that, let me know in the comments. Much obliged.

UPDATE: My genius brother informs me of an easy way to adjust the image to whatever file type is needed to please the Hello gods. Alles klar.

LATER UPDATE: The even better solution, again suggested by my brother, is to say goodbye to Hello and begin using Flickr. It is working beautifully.

Yen Tops Dollar; Euro Above $1.33

Brad DeLong notes the latest report on the dollar's slide against the euro and now the yen. The part about Asian investors, i.e., China, seems especially worrisome: "Asian nations may no longer be willing to fund the large deficits in the U.S. unless interest rates rise." Remember Brad DeLong's trilemma that we face: 1. raise taxes, 2. cut federal spending, or 3. Argentina-style meltdown. We seem to be approaching #3.
WSJ.com - Euro Rises Above $1.33 As Dollar's Slide Continues: The U.S. dollar's slide against the euro kept up its momentum Friday, with the European currency rising above $1.33 for the first time.

It was the fourth day in a row on which the dollar hit a new low against the euro, which rose to $1.3329 in early trading Friday before slipping back under $1.33. On Thursday, the euro topped $1.32 for the first time. At mid-afternoon in Europe Friday, the European currency was trading at $1.3255, up from $1.3250 late Thursday in New York.

The dollar also was weaker against the yen, slipping to ¥102.52 in Tokyo Friday from ¥102.54 late Thursday. The dollar currently is trading around its lowest levels since December 1999 against the Japanese currency.

Contributing to the pressure on the dollar Friday was a Chinese newspaper report on China's holdings of dollar-denominated assets, which encouraged traders to focus on expectations that Asian nations may no longer be willing to fund the large deficits in the U.S. unless interest rates rise.

The dollar's current slide, driven primarily by concerns over the U.S. trade and budget deficits, has taken the euro up from around $1.20 about two months ago, prompting European leaders to begin worrying openly that it might damage their export-driven economic recovery.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Children in Iraq

This is not helping in the battle for the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqis.
Acute malnutrition among young children in Iraq has nearly doubled since the United States led an invasion of the country 20 months ago, according to surveys by the United Nations, aid agencies and the interim Iraqi government.

After the rate of acute malnutrition among children younger than 5 steadily declined to 4 percent two years ago, it shot up to 7.7 percent this year, according to a study conducted by Iraq's Health Ministry in cooperation with Norway's Institute for Applied International Studies and the U.N. Development Program. The new figure translates to roughly 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from "wasting," a condition characterized by chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies of protein.

In its most recent assessment of five sectors of Iraq's reconstruction, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington research group, said health care was worsening at the quickest pace.

"Believe me, we thought a magic thing would happen" with the fall of Hussein and the start of the U.S.-led occupation, said an administrator at Baghdad's Central Teaching Hospital for Pediatrics. "So we're surprised that nothing has been done. And people talk now about how the days of Saddam were very nice," the official said.


Irony did not die after 9/11, it just became more brazen and incredible. At some point, does irony pass over into its opposite? I quote Chris Bertram of Crooked Timber to illustrate the point:
I linked last week to an op-ed by John Allen Paulos about the conclusions that might (or might not) be drawn from the recent Presidential election. Now he’s written a piece about the possibility of election fraud , which draws on work by Steve Freeman of the University of Pennsylvania. His conclusion in part:
The election has prompted extensive allegations of fraud, some of which have been debunked, but many of which have not. In several cases non-trivial errors have been established and official tallies changed. And there is one more scenario that doesn’t require many conspirators: the tabulating machines and the software they run conceivably could have been dragooned into malevolent service by relatively few operatives. Without paper trails, this would be difficult, but probably not impossible, to establish. Hard evidence? Definitely not. Nevertheless, the present system is such a creaky patchwork and angry suspicions are so prevalent that there is, despite the popular vote differential, a fear that the election was tainted and possibly stolen.
In completely unrelated news US Secretary of State Colin Powell declared of the Ukrainian elections :
We cannot accept this result as legitimate because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse. We have been following developments very closely and are deeply disturbed by the extensive and credible reports of fraud in the election. We call for a full review of the conduct of the election and the tallying of election results.

CIA Reform: Follow the Money

Two more senior intelligence officials are resigning in response to the new leadership at the CIA. In spite of the fact that human intelligence is what we need most now and that such intelligence is not to blame for recent failures in Iraq (and that, in fact, human intelligence operations have been significantly improving in recent years; and that, in fact, the CIA was never the culpable party in the run-up to the war because it was the Pentagon "rogue" intelligence agency--the DIA--that promoted the thinnest evidence the most recklessly and "stovepiped" it to the Office of the Vice President), Porter Goss has chosen to purge the sector of the CIA devoted to human intelligence. This looks like an attempt to silence the internal critics of the administration by a partisan loyalist. That may be true, but there is another explanation that generally works for any matter involving big decisions in Washington: money. John Lehman explained this on the News Hour to Margaret Warner:
JOHN LEHMAN: Well, because I think you're involved in one of the classic iron triangle challenges here that we have seen through years and years in Washington.

You've got three entrenched forces here: One, the established committee structure, where Armed Services controls 90 percent of the intelligence budget, and they don't want to share it. They don't want to give up any of that power. You've got the hardware manufacturers that manufacture the satellites that lobby and have very strong interests to keep the gross imbalance between hardware and the human and the translators, area specialists...

MARGARET WARNER: The human intelligence?

JOHN LEHMAN: Yeah, human intelligence has been so under funded, and it's not because the secretary of defense and the director of CIA haven't wanted to add more money. But when it gets up to the Hill, it gets moved out of those soft things... there aren't any lobbyists for human intelligence. There are plenty of lobbyists for the satellite makers.

So money always moves to fix those problems first, and often that is the least valuable to the commanders on the ground. We want to fix that. We want somebody in charge that can put rationality into the way we allocate resources and see that it's carried out.
That's great, isn't it? Our Congress and President are so committed to improving our intelligence and security that lobbyists can undermine the very sources which will do so.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Today's Poetry Reading

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)


I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said -- "two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert ... near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lips, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away." --


As Atrios reports, the Center for Strategic and International Studies has issued an updated report on progress in Iraq. How many more times will we be forced to listen Donald Rumsfeld explain that this invasion or bombing or capture or transition of authority or whatever is the decisive mark that indicates that we are "turning the corner"?


P means not-P

What don't these people lie about? Kevin Drum reports:
VENEZUELA....We already know that the Bush administration has trouble with clearly worded CIA briefing documents ("Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S."), but today we get further word on the poor level of reading comprehension at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:
* April 6, 2002: A widely circulated CIA briefing paper about unrest in Venezuela states, "dissident military factions, including some disgruntled senior officers and a group of radical junior officers, are stepping up efforts to organize a coup against President Chávez, possibly as early as this month."

* April 12-14, 2002: Dissident military factions in the Venezuelan army organize a coup against Chávez.

* April 17, 2002: A senior administration official tells the press, "The United States did not know that there was going to be an attempt of this kind to overthrow — or to get Chávez out of power."
The Bush adminstration also said that the United States was not actively involved in any way in the coup attempt. I wonder if they were lying about that too?


The following are excerpts from Tony Judt's "Dream of Empire" in the NY Review of Books:
The United States is different from other countries. But as an imperial power it is actually quite conventional and even familiar. True, modern America eschews territorial acquisitions. But that is irrelevant. Like the British at the height of their imperial majesty, the US prefers to get its way by example, pressure, and influence. Lord Palmerston's dictum—"trade without rule where possible, trade with rule where necessary"—has been applied by Washington with even greater success. Whereas the British were constrained (after some initial reluctance) to exercise formal—and costly—imperium over whole sub-continents, the US has hitherto perfected the art of controlling foreign countries and their resources without going to the expense of actually owning them or ruling their subjects.

Let us concede, for the sake of argument, that American intentions are more honorable than those of the perfidious Brits and hypocritical French.
OK. . .
The history of what they went on to do is what counts—and what is remembered and weighed in the balance when American behavior is assessed from abroad. The name Mohammad Mossadegh doesn't trip readily off many educated American tongues. But as the elected prime minister of Iran who was unceremoniously bundled out of office in 1953 by an Anglo-American coup his memory is invoked all across the Middle East whenever the subject of Western intervention in the region comes up. Americans may be only dimly aware of this history, but others are better informed.

One reason to be pessimistic about America is the mediocrity of its current political class. A brilliant elite is no guarantee of political wisdom, as David Halberstam reminded us many years ago. But its absence is a bad omen. Douglas Feith, the Pentagon undersecretary for policy and a prominent representative of the generation of neoconservatives now installed in Washington, was recently described by General Tommy Franks (who had to deal with him in Iraq) as "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth." Even allowing for the fighting soldier's traditional contempt for civilian interlopers, this should give us pause—it is hard to imagine Eisenhower being driven to describe Charles Bohlen or George Kennan in these terms.

And yet the election of 2004 is the most consequential since 1932, if not since 1860. Is John Kerry the man for the moment? I doubt it. Does he fully grasp the scale of America's crisis? I'm not sure. But what is absolutely certain is that George W. Bush does not. If Bush is reelected much of the world (and many millions of its own citizens) will turn away from America: perhaps for good, certainly for many years. On November 2 the whole world will be looking: not to see what America is going to do in future years, but to find out what sort of a place it will be.

With our growing income inequities and child poverty; our underperforming schools and disgracefully inadequate health services; our mendacious politicians and crude, partisan media; our suspect voting machines and our gerrymandered congressional districts; our bellicose religiosity and our cult of guns and executions; our cavalier unconcern for institutions, treaties, and laws—our own and other people's: we should not be surprised that America has ceased to be an example to the world. The real tragedy is that we are no longer an example to ourselves. America's born-again president insists that we are engaged in the war of Good against Evil, that American values "are right and true for every person in every society." Perhaps. But the time has come to set aside the Book of Revelation and recall the admonition of the Gospels: For what shall it profit a country if it gain the whole world but lose its own soul?

I'm not sure about the assessment of Empire, by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. It seems that fairly abstract forces are at work in the world at the moment, that subjects in the Enlightenment sense are less relevant, that the possibility for revolutionary democracy may be required (events in the Ukraine may bear this out presently), and that multinational organizations such as al-Qaeda are becoming more relevant than the "subjects" of traditional, realpolitik conflicts, i.e., nation states. On the whole, though, an interesting set of reviews on a topic that is surely going to become more acute given the outcome of the recent election and its attendant "loss of soul."

Lilla on Strauss

The following are some excerpts from Mark Lilla's typically clear and insightful account of a complex thinker in the New York Review of Books (Oct. 21 and Nov. 4, subscription only). In this case, he explains the different perceptions of Leo Strauss in the U.S. and in Europe, the American understanding being distorted by tendentious connections to American politics.
Strauss often remarked that although politics can address finite problems it can never resolve the fundamental contradictions of life. Those contradictions have their source in the human need to answer the existential question "How should I live?," a supra-political question giving rise to stark alternatives. In the West, those alternatives were seen in philosophy and divine revelation, the lives of Socrates and Moses. The tension between them was, in Strauss's view, the hidden wellspring of our civilization's vitality.

The principle leading to emancipation—that, to quote from the debate in the French National Assembly of 1789, "the Jews should be denied everything as a nation, but granted everything as individuals"—proved untenable; the call of revelation could not be extinguished from thought or politics. And that, for Strauss, meant that philosophy needed to reconsider the original "theological-political problem" afresh.

In Plato's Republic Socrates likened that condition to our being in a cave transfixed by shadows projected on a wall, when we should be outside, gazing upon things themselves in the sunlight. The question human beings face in this cave is how to live: Do we remain shackled by convention, satisfied with the partial view of life endorsed by political and religious authority, or do we ascend to inquire into life under our own power? The answer provided in most societies in history has been one that mixes the theological and political: we are to obey the laws because they are sacred. The Socratic alternative to this obedience in the cave was the life of Socrates himself, a life of perpetual philosophical questioning beholden to no theological or political authority. Between these antagonistic ways of life, which Strauss sometimes called those of Jerusalem and Athens, there can be, he argued, no compromise; we must choose. Yet both share the assumption that the existential question can indeed be settled.

This "historicism," as Strauss called it, is now so deeply rooted that it prevents an honest examination of those fundamental questions as if genuine answers were possible, the kind of examination Socrates taught. If the philosophical life of Socrates were to be pursued again, the very idea of it would first have to be recovered from historical oblivion. That was Strauss's most fundamental ambition: to prepare a return to Socratic philosophy by first beating a path up from the second cave through the critical study of the history of philosophy.

His interpretations try to suggest that the truly radical nature of Socratic questioning had been domesticated and routinized by modern Enlightenment philosophy, and that this was a loss, not a gain. Through the new philosophy of the Enlightenment we have learned to master nature and partially master our political destinies, but in the process we have lost the genuine freedom of philosophy as a way of life. In the process of Enlightenment, we have forgotten ourselves.

Mark Blitz, a former associate director of the United States Information Agency during the Reagan years who now teaches at Claremont McKenna College, a Straussian stronghold, tries to isolate "the elements in Strauss that prepared and allowed an affin-ity with conservatives." He finds the following:
anti-communism (and not amelioration), the virtue of individual responsibility (and not excessive social welfare), individual rights (and not affirmative action or feminism), market competition (and not excessive regulation or quasi-oligarchy), and educational and artistic excellence (and not "politicization" or self-indulgence).
While it is true that Strauss was opposed to communism, spoke of virtue, and was concerned with educational excellence, there is not a word in his works about such topics as welfare, affirmative action, feminism, and the like. Not a word, as Blitz himself admits. Why, then, do so many of his disciples act as if the political implications of his thought point them in one partisan direction? Why is it that his European readers, who study his books but have no connection with the pedagogical tradition Strauss began in America, find no such partisan drift? And who is right?

Had Strauss returned to continental Europe to teach after the war, his students already would have studied the history of philosophy, however superficially, in high school. That might have made them more difficult to reach, plunging them deeper into what he called the "second cave" of historicism and relativism. But in return they probably would have been more inclined—as are the authors of the new European studies of Strauss—to see him as a thinker exploring the philosophical tradition for his own purposes. His American followers have had difficulty seeing him in that light, as an original thinker whose example might help them down their own paths. They treat him less like Socrates than like Moses.

Strauss introduced the book with the words of the Declaration of Independence, "we hold these truths to be self evident," and then asked: Do we still? Does the contemporary West still believe in natural "inalienable Rights," or do we rather believe, as Strauss dryly puts it, that "all men are endowed by the evolutionary process or by a mysterious fate with many kinds or urges of aspirations, but certainly with no natural right"? If the latter, doesn't that mean that modern liberalism has declined into relativism, and isn't that indistinguishable from the kind of nihilism that gave rise to the political disasters of the twentieth century? "The contemporary rejection of natural right leads to nihilism," Strauss writes, "nay, it is identical with nihilism."

During the first two decades of his Chicago period, Strauss's American students were mainly interested in studying old books, in reviving la querelle des anciens et modernes, and adapting an aristocratic understanding of the philosophical life to the slightly vulgar American democratic setting. After 1968, all that changed. The universities imploded, and Straussianism took a new turn. It is difficult for those of us educated on the other side of that cultural chasm to imagine the trauma experienced by some of those teachers wedded to the pre-'68 American university, however sympathetic to their loss we might be. Their sense of betrayal is infinite; they cannot and will not be consoled. Straussians in the universities took the student revolts, and all that followed in American society, particularly hard. From Strauss they had learned to see genuine education as a necessarily elite enterprise, one difficult to maintain in a leveling, democratic society. But thanks to Natural Right and History, they were also prepared to see the threat of "nihilism" lurking in the interstices of modern life, waiting to be released, turning America into Weimar.

Unlike the new European studies of Strauss's thought, which focus on the tension between philosophy and revelation, the catechism begins and ends with politics, specifically American politics. But it does so in contrasting styles. To speak musically, it begins to strains of Götterdämmerung and ends with "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Given the state of American education it is hard to complain about a curriculum that encourages students to extend their thinking from ancient to modern thought. But so tied is the teaching to Strauss's own readings that it becomes a well-tailored straitjacket. More than anything, it kills students' intellectual curiosity and fills them with contempt for teachers and fellow students who aren't with the program.

The neoconservative impulse was originally a moderating one, arising from a sense that American liberalism needed a reality check. Great Society programs, it was said, were exacerbating problems they were meant to solve, such as poverty and urban blight; rising taxes were stifling economic prosperity; middle-class values were being vilified, driving voters to the right; the "Vietnam syndrome" was paralyzing American foreign policy. Over the past two decades these criticisms have become commonplaces in American politics; with the election of Bill Clinton it appeared that we were (nearly) all neoconservatives now. Except for the neoconservatives themselves, who in the interim abandoned the moderate liberalism they once championed, for a coarse provincial ideology giving them enormous influence in Washington.

Neoconservatives used to give two cheers for capitalism; now four or five seem hardly sufficient. They once promoted a hard realism in foreign policy, to counteract the pacifist idealism they saw among Democrats in the Seventies; now they flirt with an eschatological faith in America's mission civilisatrice, to be fulfilled by military means. They once offered a complex view of bourgeois culture in its relation to economic and political life; now they are in the grip of an apocalyptic vision of post-Sixties America that prevents them from contributing anything constructive to our culture.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Forgot the Alamo

I'm back from San Antonio after forgetting to check out the Alamo. Actually, it was raining so much that it never seemed appealing or compelling. Oh, well. At least I had a good margarita while I was there.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Deleuze and Immanence

While I am not altogether indifferent to the concerns raised in Nietzsche's criticism of the dominant Western modes of transcendence (Christianity and science) or to those of Deleuze regarding the failure of philosophy since Plato to allow the immanence of experience to come to its full attention instead allowing it to slip away in efforts of transcendence, the valorization of immanence seems likely to abandon the critical distance on the world through which reform is possible. The prophetic tradition cannot be given up at a time like this. And if transcendence has its world-denying or world-neglecting attributes, so too does it have the positional leverage by which a nurturing care for the world can occur. This is my initial response to a very good paper by J. Heath Atchley entitled "Confronting Secularity: Nietzsche and Deleuze."

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Wealthy: +3 Middle Class: -2

As Matthew Yglesias reads the Bush administration tax reform, he counts "three tax cuts for the wealthy here offset by two tax hikes on the middle class." Kevin Drum outlines the essential elements of the plan through this list of excerpts from the Post article cited earlier today:
1. ...shield interest, dividends and capitals gains from taxation.

2. ...expand tax breaks for business investment.

3. ...eliminating the deduction of state and local taxes on federal income tax returns.

4. ...scrapping the business tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance.

5. ...large savings accounts that could shelter thousands of dollars of deposits each year from taxation on investment gains.

6. ...eliminate the alternative minimum tax, a parallel income tax designed to ensure that the rich pay income taxes.
So that appears to be four tax breaks for the wealthy (1, 2, 5, and 6) and two tax hikes on the middle class (3 and 4). However, Yglesias points out that #5 is actually just an elaboration of #1, not a distinct item. So he is correct: chalk up a score of +3 for the wealthy and -2 for the middle class. Yay.

OK, now I really do have to get ready to visit the home State of Tom DeLay.

Remember the Alamo

The cool people with tweed jackets, glasses, and bad hair will be assembling in San Antonio for the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion this weekend. I'll be joining the crowd and may not be able to post again for a few days. Kristin and I will be taking the "little lady" along, so it should be an interesting trip.


It seems that Slavoj Žižek is thinking of henotheism rather than simply polytheism when he asks, “is not so-called exclusionary monotheist violence secretly polytheist?” (See his The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, p. 26.) Henotheism is the concept used to define the tribal, politico-religious worldview which treats a local deity as superior to other existing, though inferior, deities. Hence, the “fanatical hatred of believers in a different god” indicates the “struggle of [the henotheist’s] god against ‘false gods’ who exist as gods.” This point, while not insignificant as a stage in the cognitive and religious development of ancient Israel, would be rather idle were it not for two reasons. First, Žižek situates this point within a larger context concerning the political nature of (aggressive) monotheism, and the conclusion of his a priori argument (whether sound or not, I do not know) is that monotheism is “the only logical theology of the Two” because “radical difference is the difference of the One with regard to itself, the noncoincidence of the One with itself, with its own place” (p. 24). Thus, monotheism is (metaphysically) henotheism, and this leads to the second point. Because monotheism is radically henotheistic, it retains the politico-religious character of henotheism.

Let me offer a bit of background from the Hebrew Bible to get this discussion into place. In 1 Kings 18, the prophet-crusader Elijah challenges the worshipers of Baal to a duel in order to establish whose god is superior. After his opponents are unable to summon Baal to light their sacrificial fire for them, Elijah mocks them saying, “surely [Baal] is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep.” The story continues with Elijah pouring water on his kindling and then successfully invoking the name of his god--the God of Israel--to ignite the burnt offering. The nature of henotheism is inherently political. Elijah concludes this episode by seizing the prophets of Baal, taking them down to the river, and killing them. The earliest definitive statement of monotheism in the Hebrew Bible (that I know of) is from Second Isaiah, a portion of Isaiah written during the Babylonian Exile in the sixth century: “I am the first and the last; there is no god besides me” (Isaiah 44:6). Žižek’s claim is that the transition in Hebrew mentality indicated by this passage is not as decisive as it might seem. In fact, it is only a rationalization of a deeper “theology of the Two,” a theology that depends on the “imbalance between the One and its ‘primordially repressed.’”

All of this would be idle speculation were it not for the concrete politico-religious situation in which we find ourselves currently. Not long ago, Lt. General Jerry Boykin, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, revealed the henotheism lurking within monotheism when he remarked publicly that the Christian God is "bigger" than the false “idol” Allah and that the war on terrorism is a fight with Satan. According to the Telegraph, he has “repeatedly told Christian groups and prayer meetings that President George W. Bush was chosen by God to lead the global fight against Satan.” Such remarks were initially noted in the U.S. media with an appropriate recognition of their potential to have a deleterious effect on U.S. efforts to win the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqis and of the Arab world in general. Before long, however, the AD/HD of the media organizations prevailed, and the story was effectively dropped. Meanwhile, Arab newspapers and television stations have continued to follow the words and deeds of Lt. Gen. Boykin, and it is decidedly not lost on them that his position at the Pentagon remains secure and unthreatened. His comments set the tone for the events of Abu Ghraib, and thus that scandal was altogether unsurprising to the Arab world.

Is monotheism intrinsically henotheistic and necessarily political?

Enter Tax Reform (Exit Health Care)

As Atrios points out, the Bush administration is floating its proposal for tax reform, and from the vague suggestions leaked about it thus far, it appears to fulfill the expection we have learned to have regarding Bush administration policy initiatives: that it will be a dismal disaster. (By the way, do you remember any details for tax reform being part of the campaign, which were validated by the mandate of the election? Furthermore, after all the hype about an "ownership society" leading up to the last State of the Union address--the "speech to the nation, or whatever you want to call it," do you remember hearing more than a couple of vague lines about individual rights and the American spirit? I did not think so.) So this tax reform plan will "favor investment and growth" as the Post headline indicates; in other words, shift the tax burden from wealth to labor. The accountants are undoubtedly devising gimmicks to create some sort of nonexistent family or small business who will receive some modest benefit from this gerrymandered plan, all in an effort to divert attention from the massive shift that is really taking place. Alas, the media will take the bait. But the real kicker lies in this passage from the article:
Instead the administration plans to push major amendments that would shield interest, dividends and capitals gains from taxation, expand tax breaks for business investment and take other steps intended to simplify the system and encourage economic growth, according to several people who are advising the White House or are familiar with the deliberations.

The changes are meant to be revenue-neutral. To pay for them, the administration is considering eliminating the deduction of state and local taxes on federal income tax returns and scrapping the business tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance, the advisers said.
In other words, the cost of the loss of revenue from taxation on wealth (i.e., interest, dividends, and capital gains) would be recovered by eliminating the tax breaks on businesses for providing health insurance. Good-bye employer-provided health care.

Lemming Dollars

The dollar is continuing its precipitous fall. Some economists say it could drop off the cliff before long. Shortly after the election, economist Brad DeLong wrote the following:
If we were going to get concrete, and, say, take the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 and try to assess their dynamic supply-side effects within a model in which the government budget constraint is satisfied as it will be satisfied, what would we have to do? I believe that we would have to model the satisfaction of the government budget constraint as a probabilistic combination of three different possibilities:

1. Recognize that there is a chance that the tax cut will be reversed. Perhaps once again, as in the early 1990s, an unwillingness to cut spending combined with mounting debt and debt servicing costs changes the complexion of politics. I would have said that the chances of this are high given the 7% of GDP long-run fiscal deficit that America appears to have, and the unwillingness of any politician to propose cuts in the growth rates of Medicare and Social Security spending. But the chances of this have dropped since Kerry reached his peak bubble value of 80% on the Iowa Electronic Markets Tuesday afternoon.
2. Recognize that there is a chance that there will be a long period of rising debt and debt burdens accompanied by cutbacks in spending shares as various institutional mechanisms force the legislature to face and try to meet the government budget constraint. We know what George W. Bush thinks of the pay-as-you-go mechanisms that restrained Congressional action so effectively in the 1990s: he thinks they are a joke: "You know what pay-go means? It means you pay--and [Kerry] goes and spends!" I would say that the chances of this have also dropped since Tuesday afternoon.
3. Last, there is the remaining possibility: that the government budget constraint itself will take its own non-policy steps to make sure that it is met, and generate an Argentina-style meltdown. By the principle that probabilities sum to one, I conclude that the chances of this have risen since Tuesday afternoon.

Now it seems to me that the Ramsey model is likely to be far off in its assessment for any of these three scenarios, even the second.

In the absence of *effective* institutional constraints on Congressional action along the lines of the 1990s Budget Enforcement Act, and given the current complexion of American politics, it seems to me that the paper's estimates of offsets are much more likely to be high than low. Indeed, I fear that the current Congress will ignore the government budget constraint until asset prices bring it to its attention in a striking way--which means that they will ignore it until the markets conclude that option 3 has a significant probability. If true, I would think that with the current Congress the offset would be negative--that the static revenue cost of the tax cuts understates the expected value of the burden imposed by reduced government spending and other effects.
Yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, we read the following:
"It's clear the greenback has become unhinged, compared with the world's other currencies," said French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. "Now it's up to the Americans to respond."
And in the International Herald Tribune, we read the following today:
U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow on Wednesday warned Europeans not to expect help from Washington in slowing the ascent of the euro, whose rise to a record against the dollar added pressure on a wobbly Continental economic recovery.
I wonder how much longer it will be before possibility #3 (Argentina-type meltdown) above becomes the inexorable reality of the U.S. Treasury. Of course, I can think of no scenario richer in Schadenfreude than witnessing a humiliated President Bush (late on a Friday evening before a holiday weekend, no doubt) reluctantly calling for measures of "revenue enhancement" to forestall this impending doom.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Alexander Pope

Selection from "Eloisa to Abelard":

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;
Labour and rest, that equal periods keep;
"Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;"
Desires compos'd, affections ever ev'n,
Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav'n.
Grace shines around her with serenest beams,
And whisp'ring angels prompt her golden dreams.
For her th' unfading rose of Eden blooms,
And wings of seraphs shed divine perfumes,
For her the Spouse prepares the bridal ring,
For her white virgins hymeneals sing,
To sounds of heav'nly harps she dies away,
And melts in visions of eternal day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Without Colin Powell

Juan Cole writes that Colin Powell was not as powerless as some imagine him to have been in opposition to the Cheney-Rumsfeld coalition. He may have been responsible for narrowly averting some major disasters--worse ones, that is, than those we have not averted and are currently in.
But insiders in Washington have told me enough stories about Powell victories behind the scenes that I am not sure the marginalization argument is decisive. Powell had an alliance with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the two of them could sometimes derail the wilder plans of the Department of Defense. Blair, and probably Powell, convinced Bush to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan before going on to an Iraq war. Imagine how dangerous the situation would be if the US were bogged down in Iraq as it is now, but Bin Laden's 40 training camps were still going full steam!

Likewise, I have it on good authority that Powell and Blair derailed a Department of Defense plan to install Ahmad Chalabi as a soft dictator in Iraq within 6 months of the fall of Saddam. Jay Garner had been given this charge, and Powell was able to get Paul Bremer in, instead, with a charge to keep the country out of Chalabi's corrupt hands.

So at some crucial junctures, Powell has played an essential role in ensuring the implementation of a more sensible policy. Without him in the administration, hotter heads may well prevail.
Where would we be if Chalabi were running Iraq and al-Qaeda were operating with impunity (not that they are not now anyway, but they could be even more at liberty than they currently are)?

Comportment and Having a World

Heidegger argues that it would be a misinterpretation to understand this distinction between the human world and the animal “world” as “simply a question of a qualitative otherness” and “especially not a question of quantitative distinctions in range, depth, and breadth—not a question of whether or how the animal takes what is given to it in a different way.” In other words, it would not decide this question to understand “what it’s like to be a bat,” because it is a matter of “whether the animal can apprehend something as something, something as a being, at all.” Given this sort of distinction, Heidegger finds the animal to be “separated from man by an abyss.” The organism is connected to its environing world or disinhibiting ring, impoverished as it may be, by adapting to this world or ring in such a way that it cannot take a stance (Haltung) or a comportment (Verhaltung) as “something independent in its own right which then adapts itself.” While it may seem that openness would be the characteristic peculiar to human comportment, this adaptability and the resulting captivation of the organism indicate its intrinsic “openness [Offenheit] for . . . which permeates its whole behavior.” Thus, it is not the openness to beings that is lacking in the “fundamental structure of animality.” That structure is the openness of captivation, “the animal’s struggle with its disinhibiting ring.”

The question is what kind of openness this struggle entails; furthermore, what is meant by the term “world” such that the animal both “has a world” and “does not have a world.” One way of approaching this question, Heidegger notes, is to examine something “which belongs to the innermost essence of life, namely what we call death.” On this point, “it is questionable whether death and death are the same in the case of man and animal,” because “in captivation . . . certain quite determinate possibilities of death, of approaching death, are prefigured.” In Heidegger’s judgment, the animal cannot die in a human sense but “can only come to an end.” The tick finishes its struggle with its tripartite disinhibiting ring and comes to an end. The struggle of captivation exhibits the nature of the elements of an animal’s world as “beings in their respective accessibility.” The animal’s “openness for . . .” and “access to . . .” permits it to live in an “environing world” (or disinhibiting ring) and thus to “have a world,” but only in the sense of an object upon which to direct its “instinctually driven behavior.” However, this openness for, or access to, beings is “something that only we are capable of experiencing and having manifest [offenbar] as beings [als Seiendes].” Thus, the animal has a world only in the sense of having that which disinhibits, and having this captivation prefigures the “determinate possibility of death” to the extent that its “life” was never fully lived. The animal’s life is a death-in-life. Whether this is the distinguishing characteristic of animality depends not on the “presence” of death through its prefiguring in life (for that is all too human), but on the kind of “openness” to this experience that animals “have.” This “having” of openness, as we will see, vanishes into its opposite of “not-having.”

In a sense, the animal is too open to the world, so much so that it becomes completely absorbed (eingenommen) in it. “Absorbed [Im Eingenommensein] as it is into this drivenness [Umtriebe], the animal nevertheless always pursues its instinctual activity [Treiben] in being open [im Offensein] to that for which it is open.” In this way, the bee in its flight becomes so absorbed in its disinhibitors, e.g., the sun and the length of its flight, that it “is simply given over [einfach überlassen]” to them without being able to grasp them as such, “without being able to reflect upon them as something thus grasped.” Before we assume that this absorption is a mark of inferiority, we should note that Heidegger reserves high praise for this openness intrinsic to animal captivation: “[animal] life is a domain which possesses a wealth of openness [des Offenseins] with which the human world may have nothing to compare.” However, Heidegger continues to characterize animal “life” as a deprivation. Thus, its having a world is a not-having insofar as its captivation amounts to a “withholding of the possibility of the manifestness [Offenbarkeit] of beings” such that the animal “can never apprehend something as something.”

In Kantian terms, the animal apparently lacks the transcendental unity of apperception by which an “I think” accompanies all my representations, but Heidegger rejects such an idealism in favor of a primordial archē upon which any Kantian spontaneity would be grounded. In Heidegger’s terms, it is the “as” structure that is deprived from animality. By contrast, this as-structure is the basis for a negative image of the relationship of the human being and his or her world. The environing world (disinhibiting ring) of the animal is “open” (offen) but not “unconcealed” (offenbar); the animal has access to its world (Umwelt) but does not have the negative distance from it necessary to relate to it. The animal “is” its relationship with the environing world. Thus, its “having” this world fails to achieve enough “not-having” or distance from it, and so its “having” dissolves into a dispossessing unity with its disinhibitors.

As we have seen in chapter four, this phenomenon is at stake in Dennett’s claim that “you are the loop.” He attempts to critique the Cartesian notion of the “thinking thing” by identifying consciousness with its “loop” of distributed processes in the milieu intérieur. Once Descombes’s critique of this inner space of consciousness is registered and a form of “objective spirit” is recognized as constitutive of the “loop” which makes consciousness possible and “contentful,” this “outsourced self” could be called the “disinhibited self” insofar as it is “fragmented into shifting coalitions” which render the notions of “having” a self and “having” a world indistinguishable. What prevents this disinhibited self from being “poor in world”? What makes the recent emphasis on “sociality” different from an albeit very complicated disinhibiting ring? These questions require further examination of the way in which captivation to the disinhibiting ring is “awakened from” (or, in Hegelian terms as we shall see, “overcome”).

Heidegger reports a laboratory experiment in which a bee’s abdomen was severed while sucking honey, and without recognizing this the bee would carry on sucking even while the honey runs out of it from behind. In Heidegger’s analysis, the bee is “taken [hingenommen] by” its food because of its “instinctual toward . . .” (triebhaftes Hin-zu), which “excludes the possibility of any recognition of presence [des Vorhandenseins].” By being so taken by its food, the animal is prevented “from taking up a position over and against this food [sich dem Futter gegenüberzustellen].” It does not have the negative relationship with its environing world which is necessary to recognize that world as such.

Unable to deactivate its instinctual drive, the captivated bee of this experiment fills itself with food and is always rendered empty. Heidegger discusses this “being left empty” (Leergelassenheit) as a moment in Dasein’s experience of the world. In fact, he discusses it a great length in the lectures of 1929-30 as a manifestation of the phenomenon of boredom. At such moments of being-left-empty, the object of experience refuses itself by offering nothing to the subject and leaves the subject bereft of content in its absorption into its environing world. That is, instead of being completely “taken by” the object and absorbed in the experience of it, the human being experiences this emptiness as boredom and recognizes it as such. Emptiness is, or constitutes, content. That is, the human being awakens to its own captivation during these moments of deactivation of instinct. Concrete possibilities are withheld or held in suspense during such moments of human boredom.

While the honey for the bee never ceases to be a concrete possibility for fulfillment even in spite of its continual being-left-empty in a literal sense, human possibilities lose their effectiveness during these moments of being-held-in-suspense (Hingehaltenheit) and being-left-empty (Leergelassenheit). “This means, however, that those beings refusing themselves as a whole do not make a telling announcement concerning arbitrary possibilities of myself, they do not report on them, rather this telling announcement in such telling refusal is a calling [Anrufen], is that which properly makes possible the Dasein in me.” Thus, a “calling of possibilities” does not point to this or that concrete possibility but to “whatever it is that makes possible [das Ermöglichende], sustains, and guides all essential possibilities of Dasein.” In other words, by suspending my captivation to objects and experiencing them as empty and as “telling refusals” to attention, they effect a “telling announcement” which draws my attention not to another concrete possibility but to the source of all “possibilization” (die ursprüngliche Ermöglichung).

Profound boredom becomes the decisive experience that awakens Dasein to the “it is” of a being and thus effects the passage from poverty in world to world. In Giorgio Agamben’s account of the anthropology implicit in this argument, the issue at stake here is “anthropogenesis, the becoming of Dasein of living man.” Agamben then claims that Dasein’s awakening from its captivation to its captivation indicates that it is “simply an animal that has learned to become bored.” In our terms, how does the “disinhibited self” experience boredom and thereby awaken to its captivation?

The Tick

In order to explain this “knowing resolve” that characterizes spirit, Heidegger’s 1929-30 lectures, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, offer a contrast between this form of “spiritual life” and that of the animal, using the example of bees in particular. Heidegger draws on the ecological studies of Jakob von Uexküll to describe the animal in phenomenological terms. For Uexküll, the animal exists within an objective space that he calls the Umgebung, but it does not deal directly with this space. Instead, it is the “environing world” (Umwelt) in which the animal lives and acts, because the environing world is constituted by a set of “carriers of significance” (Bedeutungsträger) or “marks” (Merkmalträger) which give shape and meaning to the “world” of the animal. For the bee, these carriers of significance and marks include elements such as the hive and the sun.

Although Heidegger does not discuss it, Uexküll also describes the environing world of the Ixodes ricinus, commonly known as the tick, as containing three such carriers of significance. The tick, an eyeless and earless animal, uses its skin’s sensitivity to light to find its way to a perch suspended somewhere above the ground where it waits for the approach of a warm-blooded animal which it detects by the scent of butyric acid that all mammals emit. This odor is one Bedeutungsträger. After registering this carrier of significance, the tick drops from its perch to land on the hirsute surface of the mammal whereupon it navigates the terrain of hair and skin to locate a blood vessel. This typology of mammalian derma constitutes a second carrier of significance or mark in the tick’s environing world. Finally, the tick, an animal without sense of taste, draws out a liquid from the mammal that is approximately 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Uexküll reports laboratory experiments in which ticks would draw out and consume a number of different liquids, even poisonous ones, from artificial membranes so long as the liquid carried the appropriate significance, i.e., temperature, for it. For the tick in its proper Umwelt, this feeding represents its final act as it now falls to the ground to lay its eggs and “die.” The tick’s environing world is constituted by this sparse set of three elements (odor of butyric acid, typology of mammalian derma, and liquid of appropriate temperature) which nevertheless cultivate an intense relationship with the animal. As Agamben notes, “the tick is this relationship; she lives only in it and for it.”

In Heidegger’s terms, Uexküll’s carrier of significance becomes the “disinhibitor” (das Enthemmende), and the environing world becomes the “disinhibiting ring” (Enthemmungsring). Thus, the animal may exist within a world, but it lives and acts within a disinhibiting ring comprised of a more or less broad set of disinhibitors. While the animal exhibits purposiveness in attending to its disinhibitors and thus is not “worldless” in the sense that a stone or a mechanical process is, its experience is nevertheless “poor in world.” (In our discussion of cybernetics below, we will see whether mechanical processes can be dismissed so readily as “worldless.”)

Heidegger, then, describes the mode of being proper to the animal as “captivation” (Benommenheit), a term which indicates being stunned but also suggests being taken away. Deriving from the root nehmen meaning “to take,” Heidegger relates this term Benommenheit to the phenomenon of being taken in or absorbed (eingenommen) as well as to the behavior (Benehmen) of an animal in its disinhibiting ring. Such behavior is driven by instinct and therefore absorbed in the disinhibiting ring, whereas human activity—the activity of the spirit—entails a relation to beings that is “thoroughly governed by [a] letting be [Seinlassen] of something as a being.” Instead of the behavior of captivation that renders the animal or organism poor in world, this spiritual status of fully “having a world” entails activity that Heidegger calls “comportment” (Verhaltung). Comportment is “only possible in a certain restraint [Verhaltenheit] and comporting [Verhaltung], and a stance [Haltung] is only given where a being has the character of a self or, as we also say, of a person.” What constitutes this difference between behavior and comportment which characterizes the distinction between animality and humanity?

Consolidating His Reign

President Bush is exercising his newfound sense of authority after the "mandate" of this election by proposing three pieces of legislation that were hardly mentioned during the campaign: (1) tax code reform (whatever that means, though one can be sure that it will involve a further shift of the tax burden from wealth to labor), (2) social security privatization (siphoning off 2% of the 12.4% on income up to $87,000 yielding an $85 billion deficit each year and virtually guaranteeing a reduction of benefits), and (3) drilling in ANWR. In addition to his profligate spending and resolute refusal to reenact "pay-as-you-go" spending limits in Congress, he is now consolidating power in his Cabinet and at the CIA. The principle governing this process is decidedly not competence or even ideology; it is loyalty. With Alberto Gonzales at Justice, Goss at the CIA, and Rice at State, Bush has chosen subjects with the proper fealty to his throne. Josh Marshal notes the irony in the description of Rice in today's Post:

Condoleezza Rice, who will be named as Colin L. Powell's replacement as early as today, has forged an extraordinarily close relationship with President Bush. But, paradoxically, many experts consider her one of the weakest national security advisers in recent history in terms of managing interagency conflicts.

"Paradoxically"? There is no paradox here. Rice is precisely the sort of sicophant that President Bush wants.

It all seems vaguely reminiscent of King Solomon's consolidation of power after the threat of Adonijah had been thwarted (1 Kings 2:13ff.). General Joab is killed, and Abiathar is banished in order to have Zadok assume the role of High Priest. With his court in place, Solomon was free to undertake massive building projects in Jerusalem which increased the taxes on the citizenry, involved their forced labor, and eventually required a military draft to protect the trade routes for the cedars of Lebanon and such. Upon Solomon's death and as a direct result of his excesses as King, the Northern Kingdom seceded under Jereboam's leadership, leaving the United Kingdom divided for two centuries to come.

What will happen after four more years of President Bush?

Monday, November 15, 2004

News Hour Gets FOXy

What kind of panel is this: Raymond Tanter, who served on the National Security Council under the Reagan and first Bush administrations; Nancy Soderberg, from President Clinton's National Security Council staff; and Richard Perle, an assistant secretary of Defense under the Reagan administration? I mean, Richard Perle?

Hollinger International Inc. (NYSE:HLR) (“the Company”) today announced that the Special Committee of its Board of Directors (“the Special Committee”) has filed a Second Amended Complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (“the Court”) on behalf of the Company in its lawsuit against certain directors and former directors and officers, as well as the Company’s controlling shareholder and its affiliated companies. The total amount of damages sought in this Second Amended Complaint is approximately $542 million, which includes pre-judgment interest of $117 million.


The Second Amended Complaint adds Hollinger International Director Richard N. Perle as a Defendant. The suit claims breaches of fiduciary duty by Perle related to his service as a member of the Company’s Executive Committee.

After all of his Chalabi misinformation in addition to these nefarious exploits (see Josh Marshall for details), how much more discredited could a guy be? And what is with Raymond "Iraq couldn't be more successful" Tanter? I expect better of the News Hour.

Winning the War on Facts

This still strikes me as incredible. Emperor Bush is winning the War on Facts at home. His supporters do not even know what he stands for, let alone whether his position is justified in the theological way that he so often proclaims.


There are only two issues on which even a majority of Bush supporters know Bush's actual position. As the PIPA report (warning: Adobe file) blandly puts it, "Apparently in the absence of evidence to the contrary, Bush supporters assume Bush feels as they do."

Empire Christianity

It is time for prophetic Christianity to speak again. As Cornel West describes it in Democracy Matters, Christianity is currently in its Constantinian phase, being co-opted by the Empire of George W. Bush and his ideology (free-market fundamentalism, aggressive militarism, and escalating authoritarianism). The latter ideological element is perhaps the most insidious and potentially devastating as it involves a War on Facts. If pediatricians find that lead levels are dangerously high in paint and are causing brain damage in children, replace them with “scientists” from the Sherwin-Williams paint company. Eventually, the establishment of fact becomes the epistemological equivalent of divine decree (or, at least, the call of a square dance caller). As for the cooptation of Christianity in this Constantinian era, it has become more excessive than Kierkegaard’s worst fears of Christendom. It is time for a resurgence of prophetic Christianity to “let justice roll down like waters.” Bruce Lincoln captures the problem of the rhetoric of Bush Christendom and its attendant hypocrisy in his article “Analyzing the president’s theology: Bush’s God talk” in The Christian Century, the conclusion of which is as follows:

One is forced to conclude that Bush’s theology and his deployment of it is less systematic than pragmatic. Although he fosters the impression that his policies are grounded in deep religious conviction, the reality is often the reverse. Vague notions and attractive terms such as “compassion,” “history” and “freedom” are given rhetorical, sometimes even intellectual, coherence by his staff. Bush may resonate to some of the ideas and some of the language they prepare for him, but for the most part he uses these to justify policies that have already been decided on quite other grounds. Preemptive wars, abridgments of civil liberty, cuts in social service, subsidies to churches, and other like initiatives are not just wrapped in the flag; together with the flag, they are swathed in the holy.

Many of those responsible for shaping these policies are tough-minded neoconservatives who share with political philosopher Leo Strauss a cynical view of religion as unfit for elites, but useful in swaying the masses. To Bush falls the task of securing broad support for this team’s agenda from his fervently evangelical base. It is not an easy business, and it requires all the linguistic skill, theological ingenuity and tactical acumen his staff can muster. The apparent sincerity with which Bush displays his convictions while delivering their lines is a significant piece of his own very real genius. It is also the condition of his success. We will see if it gets him through the elections.

Alas, in the era of Empire Christianity, it does exactly what he intended to do all along: squeak by without any more support than absolutely necessary so as to minimize the quid pro quo in the aftermath. See Mark Schmitt for this point.

UPDATE: In case the reference to lead paint was not clear, I am referring generally to the Data Quality Act, which was inserted quietly into an appropriations bill by a Republican lawmaker near the end of the Clinton administration. It requires that government funded studies should be peer reviewed only by independent scientists. The problem is that "independent" means scientists who are not also funded by the government. As Kevin Drum notes (quoting Anthony Robbins' article in the Boston Globe),

To grasp the implications of this radical departure, one must recognize that in the United States there are effectively two pots of money that support science: one from government and one from industry. (A much smaller contribution comes from charitable foundations.) If one excludes scientists supported by the government, including most scientists based at universities, the remaining pool of reviewers will be largely from industry -- corporate political supporters of George W. Bush.

The net result of the DQA is to reduce the influence of academic scientists and increase the influence of industry-backed scientists under the Alice in Wonderland notion that academic scientists are somehow less trustworthy. In plain English, scientists who work for tobacco companies ought to be the ones to review cigarette research and scientists who work for chemical companies ought to be the ones to pass judgment on environmental research.

Listening to Boredom

First a couple of passages from the Bible:

Isaiah 64:6—"We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags."

Job 42:6--"I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

Next a commencement address by Joseph Brodsky entitled "In Praise of Boredom":

A substantial part of what lies ahead of you is going to be claimed by boredom. The reason I'd like to talk to you about it today, on this lofty occasion, is that I believe no liberal arts college prepares you for that eventuality. Neither the humanities nor science offers courses in boredom. At best, they may acquaint you with the sensation by incurring it. But what is a casual contact to an incurable malaise? The worst monotonous drone coming from a lectern or the most eye-splitting textbook written in turgid English is nothing in comparison to the psychological Sahara that starts right in your bedroom and spurns the horizon.

Known under several aliases--anguish, ennui, tedium, the doldrums, humdrum, the blahs, apathy, listlessness, stolidity, lethargy, languor, etc.--boredom is a complex phenomenon and by and large a product of repetition. It would seem, then, that the best remedy against it would be constant inventiveness and originality. That is what you, young and new-fangled, would hope for. Alas, life won't supply you with that option, for life's main medium is precisely repetition.

One may argue, of course, that repeated attempts at originality and inventiveness are the vehicle of progress and, in the same breath, civilization. As benefits of hindsight go, however, this one is not the most valuable. For if we divide the history of our species by scientific discoveries, not to mention new ethical concepts, the result will not be very impressive. We'll get, technically speaking, centuries of boredom. The very notion of originality or innovation spells out the monotony of standard reality, of life.

The other trouble with originality and inventiveness is that they literally pay off. Provided that you are capable of either, you will become well-off rather fast. Desirable as that may be, most of you know firsthand that nobody is as bored as the rich, for money buys time, and time is repetitive. Assuming that you are not heading for poverty, one can expect your being hit by boredom as soon as the first tools of self-gratification become available to you. Thanks to modern technology, those tools are as numerous as boredom's symptoms. In light of their function--to render you oblivious to the redundancy of time--their abundance is revealing.

As for poverty, boredom is the most brutal part of its misery, and escape from it takes more radical forms: violent rebellion or drug addiction. Both are temporary, for the misery of poverty is infinite; both, because of that infinity, are costly. In general, a man shooting heroin into his vein does so largely for the same reason you rent a video: to dodge the redundancy of time. The difference, though, is that he spends more than he's got, and that his means of escaping become as redundant as what he is escaping from faster than yours. On the whole, the difference in tactility between a syringe's needle and a stereo's push button roughly corresponds to the difference between the acuteness of time's impact upon the have-nots and the dullness of its impact on the haves. But, whether rich or poor, you will inevitably be afflicted by monotony. Potential haves, you'll be bored with your work, your friends, your spouses, your lovers, the view from your window, the furniture or wallpaper in your room, your thoughts, yourselves. Accordingly, you'll try to devise ways of escape. Apart from the self-gratifying gadgets I mentioned before, you may take up changing your job, residence, company, country, climate; you may take up promiscuity, alcohol, travel, cooking lessons, drugs, psychoanalysis.

In fact, you may lump all these together, and for a while that may work. Until the day, of course, when you wake up in your bedroom amidst a new family and a different wallpaper, in a different state and climate, with a heap of bills from your travel agent and your shrink, yet with the same stale feeling toward the light of day pouring through your window. You'll put on your loafers only to discover that they're lacking bootstraps by which to lift yourself up from what you recognize. Depending on your temperament and your age, you will either panic or resign yourself to the familiarity of the sensation, or else you'll go through the rigmarole of change once more. Neurosis and depression will enter your lexicon; pills, your medicine cabinet.

Basically, there is nothing wrong with turning life into the constant quest for alternatives, into leapfrogging jobs, spouses, and surroundings, provided that you can afford the alimony and jumbled memories. This predicament, after all, has been sufficiently glamorized onscreen and in Romantic poetry. The rub, however, is that before long this quest turns into a full-time occupation, with your need for an alternative coming to match a drug addict's daily fix.

There is yet another way out of boredom, however. Not a better one, perhaps, from your point of view, and not necessarily secure, but straight and inexpensive. When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is: The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here is to exact a full look at the worst. The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor.

Boredom is your window on the properties of time that one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one's mental equilibrium. It is your window on time's infinity. Once this window opens, don't try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open. For boredom speaks the language of time, and it teaches you the most valuable lesson of your life: the lesson of your utter insignificance. It is valuable to you, as well as to those you are to rub shoulders with. "You are finite," time tells you in the voice of boredom, "and whatever you do is, from my point of view, futile." As music to your ears, this, of course, may not count; yet the sense of futility, of the limited significance of even your best, most ardent actions, is better than the illusion of their consequences and the attendant self-aggrandizement.

For boredom is an invasion of time into your set of values. It puts your existence into its proper perspective, the net result of which is precision and humility. The former, it must be noted, breeds the latter. The more you learn about your own size, the more humble and the more compassionate you become to your likes, to the dust aswirl in a sunbeam or already immobile atop your table.

If it takes will-paralyzing boredom to bring your insignificance home, then hail the boredom. You are insignificant because you are finite. Yet infinity is not terribly lively, not terribly emotional. Your boredom, at least, tells you that much. And the more finite a thing is, the more it is charged with life, emotions, joy, fears, compassion.

What's good about boredom, about anguish and the sense of meaninglessness of your own, of everything else's existence, is that it is not a deception. Try to embrace, or let yourself be embraced by, boredom and anguish, which are larger than you anyhow. No doubt you'll find that bosom smothering, yet try to endure it as long as you can, and then some more. Above all, don't think you've goofed somewhere along the line, don't try to retrace your steps to correct the error. No, as W. H. Auden said, "Believe your pain." This awful bear hug is no mistake. Nothing that disturbs you ever is.

Pregnant Pause

I am back from a rather pregnant pause. In the meantime, my wife has given birth to Madeleine, and I suppose it is worth noting in this connection that I have given birth to a doctoral thesis. The family is feeling much better.