Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Short Follow Up On Trump’s Responsibility, If Any, For US Violence


.... While in any case we don’t know what confluence of forces are at work ( eg is it just mental illness), Trump gave license to bigots so he has to be partially responsible . To me, it’s like the thin skull plaintiff, and we all have to be accountable for the choices we make and actions we take...

 Me in response:

.... What licence though?

Is it like Trudeau’s social licence?

Both the fake bomb guy and Bowers seem like nut jobs: the first guy is a juice head with a long rap sheet whose family said he was getting nuttier and nuttier; the second guy, from the little I know about him and what he did, just has to be a wack job. 

So let’s say they both are off their nuts for the sake of argument. 

It’s seems to me soft to say Trump figures in to, bears *some* responsibility for, what they did. I heard the same argument when that guy in Montreal killed all those women. We all, the argument went, bore responsibility for creating a toxic time, a culture, filled with the hatred and exploitation and suppression of women. I didn’t buy that then, and I don’t buy the argument now. It’s now like saying Sanders has some responsibility for the guy who shot Scalise and others: he was a Bernie Bro. The Ds were and are volatile too, lighting fuses: the Rs were attacking women, going to kill them even, by being anti abortion; they were going to kill countable numbers of people by rolling back the ACA; they were going to mire people in more harsh and killing poverty by their roll back of entitlement programs. I didn’t buy that either. So, for me, the softness to me is that it’s easy to say that Trump has some responsibility but it’s impossible to give that accusation any hard substance...

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Question Of Trump’s Responsibility, If Any, For Recent US Violence

Ok, Trump didn’t pull the trigger.

But as president, i.e. by virtue of the office, he or any president is the flashpoint, the apotheosis, the apogee, if you like, of partisan estrangement.

Therefore, it’s incumbent on any president to calm waters, not go out of his way to roil things, not to cheer on violence, to set a calm tone since he does set a tone.

Therefore, of course while Trump isn’t to blame for what Bowers did, he is to blame precisely for stirring things up, for exacerbating division coupled with cheering on violence, and thus creating the environment in which these acts happen.

I don’t like this argument. 

It’s so that it would be better if Trump, when he has, doesn’t cheer on violence as in saying he likes Gianforte’s body slamming the reporter. And there were instances of him saying unfortunate things of that kind during the campaign. But, really, how many instances of that kind of talk have there been since November 8, 2016? What are they?

And as to what he says, it’s in his nature to fight back and to come on strong doing so. So given the unprecedented attack on him manifest in the militarily phrased  “resistance,” in the claim of his illegitimacy, in the felt need among many to bring Trump down by virtually any means, in those excusing Antifa, in the left’s practice and politics of vilification, in the  mainstream’s steady drumbeat opposition to Trump, in its incessant and obsessive harping and criticizing of him whatever he does, in the media’s twisting of facts and stories in trying to get him at every turn, I think it utterly pious not to give him his head in counter attack. 

This especially so when those opposed to him play their over the top part in the outrageous ginning up of partisan bitterness. Take for recent example, the D and others’ near to mass insanity in the attempt to beat back th confirmation of Kavanaugh including so easily going and going along with the story journalistically and politically that he’d spiked drinks and then ran trains on girls who drank thereof and got stupefied therefrom. 

And how does anyone isolate the things Trump has said that contribute to the toxicity within which these spates of violence occur from other things he’s said that don’t and what others in opposition to him are saying that apparently don’t?  

And how does anyone make out the concrete nexus between what he says and the  actions of those who are crazy so that a case can be made for Trump’s culpability?

And how does anyone distinguish among our moment’s toxicity and and the tone, strife and bitterness of previous times in which even worse acts and mass acts of violence took place?

So in sum, as I think about it now, I reject this argument. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Roots Of The Social Justice Demand For Substantive Equality

L.C. said:

Yes, I think the sort of positions these "social justice" types arrive at could and should be seen as a form of reductio ad absurdam that in themselves disprove the moral premise or claim or position that lead to them. The question then is, what was that fallacious premise/claim/position? The answer, obviously, is the premise that substantive equality of all is a valid, even compelling, moral goal. That answer in turn may stem, in part at least, from mistaken extrapolation from a couple of moral goals or ideals that are valid. First is the simple and old notion that sharing, helping, etc. is a positive good, though compulsory sharing is not, and may be a definite bad. Second is the more recent notion that institutionalized or systemic inequality, in the common forms of institutionalized class or caste, is bad, and should be abolished in the name of equality of status, or equality before the law, something quite different from institutionalized, legally compelled equality of substance. It still doesn't seem to me quite sufficient that these sorts of valid goals might have lead to the kinds of absurd conclusions we see so often from even prominent social justice figures like Rawls --  they seem to require something, if not more sinister, at least more significant, more commensurate, to explain them, and I'd suggest hubris, but on a large, even cosmic scale: they imagine that they can make nature herself bow to their conception of justice, and set right the universe. 

Social Justice v Common Law Justice


Me, quoting from linked piece:

.... ....One unfortunate side effect of the focus on equality is that the scope of justice expanded greatly to encompass ever more areas of social life, pushing the boundaries of justice to the frontiers. After all, the realm of things that might be considered unfair because unequal is potentially unlimited. For instance, political philosophers like Philippe Van Parijs have worried about such trivial matters as whether surfers ought to be subsidized for what Ronald Dworkin calls expensive tastes, which they have blamelessly developed, yet unfairly bear the burden of financing. Or there is the issue raised by G. A. Cohen of whether one can support egalitarian policies while remaining wealthy oneself (e.g. as a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford). And, most egregiously, Adam Swift asks: Can we be partial to our own children and remain faithful to the cause of social justice? Whatever its intellectual value, all of this talk renders justice bloated and abstract, too far removed from the moral concerns of ordinary people, and conceptually stretched beyond recognition. Sometime over the last few decades, justice, which Rawls describes as “the first virtue of social institutions,” became the only virtue of institutions....


.... It's not that "all of this talk renders justice bloated and abstract", etc., it's that all of that talk is almost literally insane, as in nuttier than any fruitcake, and as a side effect, positively evil, the exact inverse of any notion of justice. See Harrison Bergeron, again. What it does do, all that talk, is reveal the absurdity of the whole idea of substantive equality as any kind of policy goal. Which is something at least...


.... The argument that the equality premise and desideratum of social justice demands that we don’t prefer our children over other children—what can that even mean in practice?—shows the absurd logical conclusions to which bloodless abstraction detached from ordinary lived experience can lead. That’s a big part of why Rogers stresses the role of emotion in our moral outlook and choices. 

I saw the guy, a philosophy prof natch, who wrote a book taking this line with respect to “equal treatment” of kids, interviewed and trying to make this case. What struck me, among other things, was that as a matter of sheer logic and starting from a certain premise, who could argue against him as a matter of abstracted reasoning? One would have to assert something like, “Well, they’re my kids. My kids! Of course I’m going to prefer them. Virtually by definition I am.” Hence, Rogers’s related focus—related to the role of emotion—on the vital importance of earthly groundedness in moral reasoning.

Parallel to that bloodlessness is what Rogers notes follows from Rawls’s view that achievement, what goes into achievement, is “morally neutral,” by which I take Rawls to mean achievement is essentially the product of life’s lottery. Rawls, therefore, says—I take it, assuming the cardinal value and necessity of equality in relation to living decently—equality must be given its due, which then leads him to want to ensure that the least among us have what we all have in living a decent life, which thus must mean, I again take it, massive redistribution, with personal achievement being morally incidental to that.

So, not for nothing does Rogers say that A Theory Of Justice helped spawn our latest iteration of social justice. 

Finally, at least for me finally for now, Rogers does a good job of giving meaning to social justice, noting its essential focus on wanting different institutions and overarching social and economic arrangements and deemphasizing the individual, and contrasting it with what I’d call common law justice with its premiums on existing fair processes and procedures, improving itself incrementally from within and resolving private disputes between citizens or between citizens and the state. 

(I don’t prefer his term “natural justice” for two reasons: it’s a common law term of art encapsulating the fundamentals of procedural fairness—right to a hearing, right to notice, right to confront your accusers, right of cross examination, right of disinterested adjudication, others; and it might get mashed up with notions of natural law.)...

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Note To Three Friends On Reading After Reading Joseph Epstein On His Reading


I’m the reading slug in this group. And I still see myself as a slouch when measured by what Epstein describes as to his own reading. It would bother me weren’t I at peace with what, how, how much (or better, how little) I read and the time wasting I do, time wasting if reading is the ideal activity that not reading is measured against.

Pleasure is interesting for me. Easier books like crime fiction and certain fiction are entirely pleasurable and a constant temptation. Harder books don’t come easily to me. There’s a certain amount of self coercion involved in getting myself to read them, which, once begun, then usually yield deep pleasure of a sort of hard fought kind. I have to say that some of what I read is partly fueled by the sense of “should be read.” I’ve now eased up some on that felt sense of obligation. I’m not sure it’s such a bad sense. 

Mind you, while there’s certainly pleasure in the physicality of reading actual books, and while that has its own advantages, there are definite advantages to ebooks and audio books. Epstein makes too much of this point, of dismissing all but actual books as the true way to read and in qualifying for bookishness. But if he’s not being prescriptive but only describing his own idiosyncrasy, then that’s just that.

The thing I’ve come to a lot, a lot, over the past couple of years is audio books. I often/regularly drive and listen to them, fiction and non fiction in roughly equal measure, easier and harder books in roughly equal measure. I understand there’s no loss of comprehension in listening to books. I find a skilled reader brings out both the drama and nuances of character in fiction and makes the books come vividly alive. And for parts I want to linger over, I simply replay them. 

As for memory, I find that a real problem. I’ve always had a problem remembering much of anything I’ve casually read. Same with movies. People who with the lapse of time can remember details impress me as doing something I can’t. As an answer to that I began putting in my blog synopses of what I’d read with a view to saying what I thought the theme of the book is, the idea that makes it all make sense, even ambiguous sense. I liked doing it and what I wrote triggers my memory. But of late I tired of it and now find that a Wikipedia plot summary does much of that without the analysis.

Finally, I can’t fathom how Epstein can read so slowly, 25-35 pages a day, together with his lingering and pondering and relishing, and yet read as much as he sets out. 

P.S. My analogue to the pleasure of used books stores is browsing through used record/CD stores. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Half Note On The Estimable Thomas Chatterton Williams


Terrific book by a guy, Thomas Chatterton Williams, who along with Coleman Hughes, gives us a great answer to the absurd Ta Nehisi Coates.

Williams traces his movement from growing up inside BET and Hip Hop culture to the influence of going to Georgetown University majoring in philosophy and then doing an MA at NYU to inhabiting physical and intellectual worlds beyond the ghetto and ghetto culture.

One thing I like that he does is a few times to take a short passage or thought from Hegel or Heidegger and explicate them by the concrete instance of his own life struggles.

He’s a nice prose writer too. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Note On Originalism And Changing Condtions AKA New Facts

....nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws... 1/6

Brown Headnote: 

........The question presented in these cases must be determined not on the basis of conditions existing when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but in the light of the full development of public education and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Pp. 492-493.(c)...2/6

On it, this extract from the head note of Brown may not be wrong. 

And here may lie a fundamental problem with originalism. Its argument would be that contemporaneous communicative content of the language of the 14th Am is different from the “conditions existing” at the time of its adoption. 3/6

But if the “conditions existing” exhaust the applications of that language, then don’t we have the conclusive range of the meaning of it, save for new conditions that are in principle necessarily “on-all-fours” comparable? 4/6

So then if separate but equal is more consistent with existing conditions than integrated equality, doesn’t originalism hit a road block—namely changing facts or in the language of Brown changing conditions? 5/6

The point is: how can then communicative comment of legal language be understood save by its contemporaneous application to fact situations, i.e. then “existing conditions?” 6/6

Monday, October 8, 2018

Thoughts On 2018’s A Star Is Born

2018’s A Star Is Born:


Spoiler alerts, if that’s possible with this well trodden story.

Why only 5.6? Well: 

The first part of the movie drags. Cooper’s drunkenness isn’t convincing. We’re just presented with it. But he’s so good looking, in such great physical shape, tanned not sunburnt, with beautiful white teeth, with such bright clear eyes; he’s so nice and sunny and sweet and sincere; so, with all that, the image of him as a wasting drunk falls flat. He doesn’t bring it off “organically.” The movie imposes his drunkenness on us with scenes of his drinking that don’t add up. This points to a problem in the movie: it’s cliche ridden and for too much of the time doesn’t earn the emotions and responses it’s trying to evoke.

Gaga is a wooden actress—at least in this film she is. She has no natural on screen sizzle, grace or charisma. She looks dull, doughy and awkward. Her acting is forced. My impression of her and Cooper at the beginning of the movie and for about its first 2/3ds is that they’re more than anything actors trying to play their parts, him a terribly damaged, on-the-skids music star, her an undiscovered ingenue. The very opening scene when she’s walking down the alley singing and then takes a turn as if to an audience seems so unnatural as to be artificial. And the first song she sings in the drag queen cabaret suggests as well the same problem: as she belts out in a booming way La Vie En Rose, we see the talent of Lady Gaga pretending it’s something else, the undiscovered, untested local talent of a performing neophyte. She’s playing at her role: she doesn’t become it.

The scene when she and Cooper meet each other and then the scenes that pass after between them are stilted, near to dead, in their lack of genuine chemistry. Given that their story, their love story, is at the heart of this movie, albeit most often in cardiac arrest, the woodenness  between them deadens much of the whole thing, makes it move too slowly and frustrated me as I kept looking at my watch, wondering if the patient could be revived.

The descent into predictable contrived cliche, betokening a failure of directorial nerve and some laziness too, is evident in two scenes among others.

In the shower scene after the catastrophe of the Grammies, where Gaga’s father, Andrew Dice Clay, giving a stolid performance throughout, lets the shower run on a supine, drunk-wrecked Cooper at a time in the movie when it’s actually picking up emotional steam as Gaga’s and Cooper’s acting tends to come alive, we see Gaga getting soaked, strewn over her man, desperate  to help him,  immiserated by his utter falling apart. There is real pathos here. It’s affecting. And so we’re given a few seconds of it. Then rather than prolonging the scene a little longer to let that pathos penetrate us, to allow us fully to experience their then misery and hopelessness, the scene abruptly ends and we’re shifted on to something new.

The second is near the movie’s end, after Cooper is out of weeks of rehab—another cliche btw, the rehab so superficially shown—and seems to be doing better, so inside his art as Gaga tells her manager, when he, Gaga’s unpleasant, authoritarian manager, has a “this is the way it is” one on one with Cooper. The manager lights the fuse that will explode in Cooper’s suicide. He tells Cooper to give up Gaga, that he’s making a fool of her, that he’s going to self destruct again inevitably and that in all that, what’s he’s done and what he inevitably will do, he’s wrecking her ascending career. He’s telling Cooper this because, he says, Gaga loves him too much ever to.  (Btw, Gaga more submissively than I’d expect or believe accepts her manager’s dictum that Cooper touring with her in Europe is out of the question.) So with what her manager tells him, and with Gaga lying to Cooper about why she isn’t going to Europe, the die, so to speak, is cast. 

Problem is, this sequence is so contrived and unrealistic, it bespeaks lazy directing. Not one conversation about this between these people so much in love? A manager will tell this to his client’s husband with no word to her? Is there no chance that, as would likely happen in life, Cooper might bring up that talk with his wife, who then presumably would fire or at least castigate her brazenly meddling manager? 

Listen, authors can tell any story they wish and it’s a principle of a certain kind of exegetical criticism that we simply accept the story as told. But an evaluative criticism wants to assess all the parts for artistic authenticity and truth. And when a story line runs so afoul of realistic probability so as to strain believability, we can rightly cry, “Foul!” 

The lazy contrivance saps the effect of Cooper hanging himself. Due to the unbelievability of this sequence, the movie hasn’t earned the drama of that suicide, somewhat like in Three Billboards, in which that movie doesn’t earn the drama of Woody Harrelson’s out of context killing himself, let alone its heedless means.

This unsatisfying contrivance in A Star Is Born unhappily complements thematic incoherence in the film. Sketched in but unrealized and undeveloped is an intriguing thematic paradox. For all his being fatally damaged goods, we’re shown true art in Cooper. There are hints for the thematic proposition that without something approaching personal darkness, authentic art can’t grow. Gaga goes in another direction. As her fame grows under the dictatorial hand of her manger—she early on tells him she doesn’t want to be separated from her own artistic truth—she loses herself in glitz and pop meaninglessness. There’s a scene when that so disgusts Cooper he walks out of one of her performances and starts drinking again. He warns her in an extended speech not to lose herself in all that pop fakery, that she doesn’t need it, the glitz, the backing dancers, the self sexualization, all of which is the antithesis, he says, of artistic truth. After that, this paradoxical theme simply fades away. There is no resolution of it that I noted. If it’s there, then I missed it. If it’s there, then what is it? To me this thematic failure suggests a director who does not fully know what he’s about in this movie. 

It can be argued her final song, slow, full of deep feeling,  in memory of Cooper is that resolution. But we have no way of knowing about that. Did she fight with her manager to sing it? Was there any kind of confrontation over her singing? Has she turned her back on what has throughout disgusted Cooper but what has birthed her stardom? Is her manager her manager still? We have no idea as to any of this. And so we have the moving song dedicated to Cooper lovely and moving, but thematically fallow in the unresolved relation between authenticity and true art.

I could go on with instances of what doesn’t work and what’s lacking. But enough of that.

What gives this movie a pass and a bit of change, to my mind, is that in its about last third, as I noted, it picks up emotional resonance. Cooper in the process of his final downfall, his acting chops finally coming to the fore, becomes a rounded, fully realized character with depth. He even manages to pull Gaga at times into a better acting orbit. The scene, for example, where she lies about why she’s not going to Europe works as she conveys genuine but unadmitted regret and Cooper knowing that she’s lying but doesn’t let her in on it that he knows, that scene is effective and complex. Sam Elliott’s acting too helps save the movie from failure (though the scene where Cooper clobbers him and then the brothers have it out, all recriminatory anger, is overwrought and drowns in all we’re being told and not shown.) And also on the saving side, the music is pretty good and is nicely integrated into the film. 

So as I say, 5.6 out of 10