Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fat Oxen Principle

Courtesy of Cliche Guevara blog, here's some wisdom from Bernard Williams:

“But still, it will be said, subjectivism leaves everything where it was, so far as morality is concerned, though not perhaps so far as muddled feelings about morality are concerned. Even granted the contrast of solidity we cannot draw any practical conclusions. We cannot, in particular, conclude (as some today are obviously inclined to conclude) that since science is objective and morality is not, we are objectively justified in devoting ourselves to science, while only subjectively justified in protesting against injustice. For devoting oneself to science is as much a practical activity as any other, and there is no more reason why that one should be objectively justified rather than any other. Justifications for doing objective subjects are not objective justifications for doing those subjects, any more than the fact that there are deductive justifications of the theorems of Principia Mathematica means that there are deductive justifications of the projects of reading, rehearsing or discovering the theorems of Principia Mathematica. All these are instances of that strangely tempting fallacy, the ‘fat oxen’ principle; who drives fat oxen must himself be fat.” (Bernard Williams, Morality).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Utopian Temper

Wislawa Szymborska's "Nothing Twice". Do readers know if this is a response to Qoholeth?:

Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.

Even if there is no one dumber,
if you're the planet's biggest dunce,
you can't repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once.

No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with exactly the same kisses.

One day, perhaps, some idle tongue
mentions your name by :
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.

The next day, though you're here with me,
I can't help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?

Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It's in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow.

With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we're different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Waiting for the Barbarians

Steve Bergstein on the Civilization that created "the rule of law":

"In addition to this blog, I also maintain a legal blog covering the civil rights decisions of the United States Court of Appeals in Manhattan. Last week, my eyes lit up when I checked the daily decisions and saw that one case involved a guy who claimed he was forced to confess to a crime that he did not commit. This scenario surfaces from time to time for and other crimes, but this case was different because it involved the crime of the century: the 9/11 hijackings which launched this country into a new era.

The long and the short of it was that an Egpytian national, Abdallah Higazy, was staying in a hotel in New York City on September 11 and the hotel emptied out when the planes hit the towers. The hotel later found in the closet of his room a device that allows you to communicate with airline pilots. Investigators thought this guy had something to do with 9/11 so they questioned him. According to Higazi, the investigators coerced him into confessing to a role in 9/11. Higazi first adamantly denied any involvement with 9/11 and could not believe what was happening to him. Then, he says, the investigator said his family would go through hell in Egypt, where they people like Saddam Hussein. Higazy then realized he had a choice: he could continue denying the radio was his and his family suffers ungodly in Egypt or he confesses and his family is spared. Of course, by confessing, Higazy's life is worth garbage at that point, but ... well, that's why coerced confessions are outlawed in the United States.

So Higazy "confesses" and he's processed by the criminal justice system. His future is quite bleak. Meanwhile, an airline pilot later shows up at the hotel and asks for his radio back. This is like something out of the movies. The radio belonged to the pilot, not Higazy, and Higazy was free to go, the victim of horrible timing. Higazi was ! He next sued the hotel and the FBI agent for coercing his confession. The bottom line in the Court of Appeals: Higazy has a case and may recover damages for this injustice.

As I read the opinion I realized it was a 44 page epic, too long for me to print out. I blogged about the opinion while I read it online and then posted the blog as I ate lunch. Then something strange happened: a few minutes after I posted the blog, the opinion vanished from the Court of Appeals website! I had never seen this before, and what made all the more strange was that it involved a coerced confession over 9/11. What the hell was going on?

I let some other legal bloggers know about this, particulary the How Appealing blog and Appellate Law and Practice. They both ran a commentary on the missing opinion. Then someone sent How Appealing a PDF of the decision (probably very few of them were floating around since the opinion was posted for a brief period of time) and How Appealing posted the decison.

Then things got even stranger. The Court of Appeals actually phoned How Appealing to request that he remove the opinion from his website since it contained classified information. The Court said that a revised opinion would come out the next day without the classified information. How Appealing actually refused to remove the opinion. Through it all, hundreds of people came to my legal blog to see my summary of the opinion. It was either my blog or printing out and reading a 44 page epic.

The next day, the Court of Appeals reissued the Higazy opinion. With a redaction. The court simply omitted from the revised decision facts about how the FBI agent extracted the false confession from Higazy. For some reason, this information is classified. Just as the opinion gets interesting, when we are about to learn how an FBI agent named Templeton squeezed the "truth" out of Higazy, the opinion reads at page 7: "This opinion has been redacted because portions of the record are under seal. For the purposes of the summary judgment motion, Templeton did not contest that Higazy's statements were coerced."

So the opinion, while interesting, is much less interesting because now we don't know how the FBI extracts false confessions from people. Looking at things from another angle, we don't know how the FBI gets suspected ists to tell the truth. Except that we do know this, because the opinion is still available from the How Appealing website. The horse is out of the barn, and the classified portion of the opinion is embedded in the Internet for all eternity. Not only is this decision not to remove the premature opinion now a subject of debate (people tend to think that How Appealing did the right thing in keeping the opinion available), but now we can see the part of the ruling that the Court redacted:

Higazy alleges that during the polygraph, Templeton told him that he should cooperate, and explained that if Higazy did not cooperate, the FBI would make his brother “live in scrutiny” and would “make sure that Egyptian security gives [his] family hell.” Templeton later admitted that he knew how the Egyptian security forces operated: “that they had a security service, that their laws are different than ours, that they are probably allowed to do things in that country where they don’t advise people of their rights, they don’t – yeah, probably about , sure.”

Higazy later said, "I knew that I couldn't prove my innocence, and I knew that my family was in danger." He explained that "[t]he only thing that went through my head was oh, my God, I am screwed and my family's in danger. If I say this device is mine, I'm screwed and my family is going to be safe. If I say this device is not mine, I’m screwed and my family’s in danger. And Agent Templeton made it quite clear that cooperate had to mean saying something else other than this device is not mine.”

Higazy explained why he feared for his family:

The Egyptian government has very little tolerance for anybody who is —they’re suspicious of being a ist. To give you an idea, Saddam’s security force—as they later on were called his henchmen—a lot of them learned their methods and techniques in Egypt; , , some stuff would be even too sick to . . . . My father is 67. My mother is 61. I have a brother who developed arthritis at 19. He still has it today. When the word ‘torture’ comes at least for my brother, I mean, all they have to do is really just press on one of these knuckles. I couldn’t imagine them doing anything to my sister.

And Higazy added:

[L]et’s just say a lot of people in Egypt would stay away from a family that they know or they believe or even rumored to have anything to do with ists and by the same token, some people who actually could be —might try to get to them and somebody might actually make a connection. I wasn’t going to risk that. I wasn’t going to risk that, so I thought to myself what could I say that he would believe. What could I say that’s convincing? And I said okay."

(Steve Bergstein, "A Tale of Two Decisions," Psychsound, Oct. 21, 2007).

Waiting for the Barbarians

William Dalrymple:

"About 100 miles south of Delhi, where I live, lie the ruins of the Mughal capital, Fateh-pur Sikri. This was built by the Emperor Akbar at the end of the 16th century. Here Akbar would listen carefully as philosophers, mystics and holy men of different faiths debated the merits of their different beliefs in what is the earliest known experiment in formal inter-religious dialogue.

Representatives of Muslims (Sunni and Shi’ite as well as Sufi), Hindus (followers of Shiva and Vishnu as well as Hindu atheists), Christians, Jains, Jews, Buddhists and Zoroastrians came together to discuss where they differed and how they could live together.

Muslim rulers are not usually thought of in the West as standard-bearers of freedom of thought; but Akbar was obsessed with exploring the issues of religious truth, and with as open a mind as possible, declaring: “No man should be interfered with on account of religion, and anyone is to be allowed to go over to any religion that pleases him.” He also argued for what he called “the pursuit of reason” rather than “reliance on the marshy land of tradition”.

All this took place when in London, Jesuits were being hung, drawn and quartered outside Tyburn, in Spain and Portu-gal the Inquisition was torturing anyone who defied the dogmas of the Catholic church, and in Rome Giordano Bruno was being burnt at the stake in Campo de’Fiori.

It is worth emphasising Akbar, for he – the greatest ruler of the most populous of all Muslim states – represented in one man so many of the values that we in the West are often apt to claim for ourselves. I am thinking here especially of Douglas Murray, a young neocon pup, who wrote in The Spectator last week that he “was not afraid to say the West’s values are better”, and in which he accused anyone who said to the contrary of moral confusion: “Decades of intense cultural rela-tivism and designer tribalism have made us terrified of passing judgment,” he wrote.

The article was a curtain-opener for an Intelligence Squared debate in which he and I faced each other, along with David Aaronovitch, Charlie Glass, Ibn Warraq and Tariq Ramadan, over the motion: “We should not be reluctant to assert the superiority of western values”. (The motion was eventually carried, I regret to say.)

Murray named western values as follows: the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, equality, and freedom of expression and conscience. He also argued that the Judeo-Christian tradition is the ethical source of these values.

Yet where do these ideas actually come from? Both Judaism and Christianity were not born in Washington or London, however much the Victorians liked to think of God as an Englishman. Instead they were born in Pales-tine, while Christianity received its intellectual superstructure in cities such as Antioch, Constanti-nople and Alexandria. At the Council of Nicea, where the words of the Creed were thrashed out in 325, there were more bishops from Persia and India than from western Europe.

Judaism and Christianity are every bit as much eastern religions as Islam or Buddhism. So much that we today value – universities, paper, the book, printing – were transmitted from East to West via the Islamic world, in most cases entering western Europe in the Middle Ages via Islamic Spain.

And where was the first law code drawn up? In Athens or London? Actually, no – it was the invention of Hammurabi, in ancient Iraq. Who was the first ruler to emphasise the importance of the equality of his subjects? The Buddhist Indian Emperor Ashoka in the third century BC, set down in stone basic freedoms for all his people, and did not exclude women and slaves, as Aristotle had done.

In the real world, East and West do not have separate and compartmentalised sets of values. Does a Midwestern Baptist have the same values as an urbane Richard Dawkins-read-ing atheist? Do Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama belong to the same ethical tradition as Osama Bin Laden?

In the East as in the West there is a huge variety of ethical systems, but surprisingly similar ideals, and ideas of good and evil. To cherry-pick your favourite universal humanistic ideals, and call them western, then to imply that their opposites are somehow eastern values is simply bigoted and silly, as well as unhistorical.

The great historian of the Crusades, Sir Steven Runciman, knew better. As he wrote at the end of his three-volume history: “Our civilisation has grown . . . out of the long sequence of interaction and fusion between Orient and Occident.” He is right. The best in both eastern and western civilisation come not from asserting your own superiority, but instead from having the humility to learn from what is good in others, as well as to recognise your own past mistakes. Ramming your ideas down the throats of others is rarely a productive tactic.

There are lessons here from our own past. European history is full of monarchies, dictatorships and tyrannies, some of which – such as those of Salazar, Tito and Franco – survived into the 1970s and 1980s. The relatively recent triumph of democracy across Europe has less to do with some biologically inherent western love of freedom, than with an ability to learn humbly from the mistakes of the past – notably the millions of s that took place due to western ideologies such as Marxism, - m and sm.

These movements were not freak departures from form, so much as terrible expressions of the darker side of western civilisation, including our long traditions of antisemitism at home.

Alongside this we also have history of exporting genocide abroad in the worst excesses of western colonialism – which, like the Holocaust, comes from treating the nonwestern other as untermenschen, as savage and somehow subhuman.

For though we like to ignore it, and like to think of ourselves as paragons of peace and freedom, the West has a strong militaristic tradition of attacking and invading the countries of those we think of as savages, and of wiping out the less-developed peoples of four continents as part of our civilising mission. The list of western genocides that preceded and set the scene for the Holocaust is a terrible one.

The Tasmanian Aborigines were wiped out by British hunting parties who were given licences to exterminate this “inferior race” whom the colonial authorities said should be “hunted down like wild beasts and destroyed”. Many were caught in traps, before being d or burnt alive.

The same fate saw us exterminate the Caribs of the Caribbean, the Guanches of the Canary Islands, as well as tribe after tribe of Native Americans. The European slave trade forcibly abducted 15m Africans and killed as many more.

It was this tradition of colonial genocide that prepared the ground for the greatest western crime of all – the industrial extermination of 6m Jews whom the s looked upon as an inferior, nonwestern and semitic intrusion in the West.

For all our achievements in and emancipating women and slaves, in giving social freedoms and human rights to the individual; for allthat is remarkable and beautiful in ourart, literature and science, our continuing tradition of arrogantly asserting this perceived superiority has led to all that is most shameful and self-de-feating in western history.

The complaints change – a hundred years ago our Victorian ancestors accused the Islamic world of being sensuous and decadent, with an overdeveloped penchant for ; now Martin Amis attacks it for what he believes is its mass ual frustration and homophobia. Only the sense of superiority remains the same. If the East does not share our particular sensibility at any given moment of history it is invariably told that it is wrong and we are right.

Tragically, this western tradition of failing to respect other cultures and treating the other as untermenschen has not completely died. We might now recognise that genocide is wrong, yet 30 years after the debacle of Vietnam and Cambodia and My Lai, the cadaver of western colonialism has yet again emerged shuddering from its shallow grave. One only has to think of the massacres of Iraqi civilians in in Falluja or the disgusting treatment meted out to the prisoners of Abu Ghraib to see how the cultural assertiveness of the neocons has brought these traditions of treating Arabs as subhuman back from the ." (William Dalrymple, "A Lesson in Humility for the Smug West," The Sunday Times, Oct. 14, 2007).

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Longue Duree

Wislawa Szymborska, "Reality Demands":

Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.
It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Polje and Guernica.

There's a gas station
on a little square in Jericho,
and wet paint
on park benches in Bila Hora.
Letters fly back and forth
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a moving van passes
beneath the eye of the lion at Cheronea,
and the blooming orchards near Verdun
cannot escape
the approaching atmosphere front.

There is so much Everything
that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
Music pours
from the yachts moored at Actium
and couples dance on their sunlit decks.

So much is always going on,
that it must be going on all over.
Where not a stone still stands
you see the Ice Cream Man
besieged by children.
Where Hiroshima had been
Hiroshima is again,
producing many products
for everyday use.

This terrifying world is not devoid of charms,
of the mornings
that make waking up worthwhile.
The grass is green
on Maciejowice's fields,
and it is studded with dew,
as is normal with grass.

Perhaps all fields are battlefields,
all grounds are battlegrounds,
those we remember
and those that are forgotten:
the birch, cedar, and fir forests, the white snow,
the yellow sands, gray gravel, the iridescent swamps,
the canyons of black defeat,
where, in times of crisis,
you can cower under a bush.

What moral flows from this? Probably none.
Only the blood flows, drying quickly,
and, as always, a few rivers, a few clouds.

On tragic mountain passes
the wind rips hats from unwitting heads
and we can't help
laughing at that.

History, Memory, Silence... And Solidarity

Sean O'Brien's "Fantasia on a Theme of James Wright":

There are miners still
In the underground rivers
Of West Moor and Palmersville.

There are guttering cap-lamps bound up in the roots
Where the coal is beginning again.
They are sinking slowly further

In between the shiftless seams,
To black pools in the bed of the world.
In their long home the miners are labouring still -

Gargling dust, going down in good order,
Their black-braided banners aloft,
Into flooding and firedamp, there to inherit

Once more the tiny corridors of the immense estate
They line with prints of Hedley's Coming Home.
We hardly hear of them.

There are the faint reports of spent economies,
Explosions in the ocean floor,
The thud of iron doors sealed once for all

On prayers and lamentation,
On pragmatism and the long noyade
Of a class which dreamed itself

Immortalized by want if nothing else.
The singing of the dead inside the earth
Is like the friction of great stones, or like the rush

Of water into newly opened darkness. Oh my brothers,
The living will never persuade them
That matters are otherwise, history done.

· First published in Poetry Review

Friday, October 12, 2007

White Men Saving Brown Women from Brown Men (With Apologies to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak)

Communication Professor James Arnt Aune indulges his inner misogyny purportedly in response to Ann Coulter's anti-Semitism:

"What is it about Ann Coulter that makes me want to use every unpleasant sexual epithet ever applied to women? Am I a bad person for wanting to do that?"

A day later, Aune links to an article by No word, of course, from ChomskyWorld on defending [Ayaan Hirsi Ali 's] rights and, literally, her life."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Rhetoric of Zionism

But... but...but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler!!! But...but... but Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East!!! But... but... but Arabs are anti-Semitic!!! But...but..but...:

"Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's deputy prime minister is no shrinking violet. In fact, his past as a club bouncer with reputed ties to the Israeli Russian mob have led to long-standing police investigations of his financial links to it.

He has the mouth to prove his gangster connections. Here are a few of his bon mots:

* "At 8am we'll bomb all the [Palestinian] commercial centers…at noon we'll bomb their gas stations…at two we'll bomb their banks."

* Ha'aretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses to take them there.

* "They [Israeli Arabs] have no place here. They can pack their bags and go to hell."

* "World War II ended with the Nuremberg trials. The heads of the Nazi regime, along with their collaborators, were executed. I hope this will be the fate of the collaborators in [the Knesset]."

To most Israeli Jews these wouldn't be so bad since after all he only slurred Arabs. Now, however he's smeared Gush Shalom, an Israeli peace activist group led by long-time iconoclast Uri Avnery, by calling its members "Nazi capos" in a Channel 1 TV interview.

The group stirred Lieberman's wrath because it urged a boycott of Israeli musicians who performed at a 40th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the Gush Etzion settlement in the West Bank. One of the performances happened in Lieberman's hometown of Nokdim and he apparently took personal offense at the call to shun the performers.

Since Israeli peace activists are held in only slightly higher repute than Arabs in Israel, it's doubtful how much fallout there will be among the general populace..." (Richard Silverstein, "Lieberman Calls Gush Shalom 'Nazi Capos,'" Tikun-Olam, Oct. 6, 2007)

Zionist McCarthyism

Richard Silverstein on the Zionist thought police:

"Last year, the successful London show My Name is Rachel Corrie was to transfer to the US in a New York Theater Workshop production. Then inexplicably, theatre management told the producers they needed a delay. They felt the New York audience needed "preparation" and "context" in order to appreciate the issues involved in the drama. Without further educational work, they didn't feel the community was prepared to give the play the reception it deserved. The English producers saw this as a cop-out and withdrew the rights from NYTW and transferred them to others who mounted a New York run. When asked why he chose not to put on the play according to his contract, the NYTW director said he'd approached a Jewish board member and "colleagues of colleagues" who had expressed reservations about the play; but that he hadn't contacted anyone in the organised Jewish community or anyone with any expertise on the issues. Another example of pre-emptive censorship.

In San Diego, the local al-Awda chapter planned to host a Marcel Khalife concert this month at the Joan Kroc Theater. The theatre was established by a $27-million gift to the Salvation Army from Joan Kroc, the widow of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc. Theatre personnel assured the al-Awda representatives for months that their rental of the hall was guaranteed but then two days before the contract signing the Salvation Army cancelled the concert without any explanation.

During subsequent discussions, the Salvation Army said it cancelled because it viewed al-Awda, a pro-Palestinian group which advocates full implementation of the right of return for Palestinian refugees within Israel, as "divisive" and "unbalanced". Captain John Van Cleef also volunteered, according to the Al Awda representatives I spoke with (though denied by Van Cleef himself), that he might approve the concert if Khalife were to perform with an Israeli musician. The captain also told the group that he feared a hostile reaction by the local Jewish community.

This reminds me of the Pavlovian response - when you ring a bell and feed an animal long enough if you ring the bell but do not feed it, it will salivate despite the absence of food. Similary, the Israel lobby has so conditioned American organisations to its wrath that the latter won't even touch certain speakers for fear of stirring it once again.

The University of St Thomas in Minneapolis invited Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu to speak on campus. Campus administrators for some reason decided they needed to vet the speaker with the local Jewish Community Relations Council (the public affairs arm of the Jewish community). The JCRC told the university that Tutu was anti-Israel and that he had made comments "hurtful" to Jews.


Earlier this year, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs scheduled Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer to speak about their then upcoming new book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. Mearsheimer, who teaches at the University of Chicago, had spoken previously many times for the council. But this time, after the event had been scheduled, director Marshall Bouton called him last July and told him that he was cancelling it because it was too controversial. They could only speak if joined by their most virulent critic, Abe Foxman (who was unavailable on the date of the scheduled event).

Mearsheimer told me he isn't aware of any other previous talk that has ever been cancelled by the council for this reason. I asked him, when we spoke, whether he thought the local Jewish community exerted any influence on the decision. He did not know the answer, but noted that the council's board includes powerful members of the local Chicago Jewish community - among them Lester Crown, its chair, Michael Moscow, a Federal Reserve Bank governor, and Leah Zell Wagner, daughter of Sam Zell, owner of one of the largest real estate empires in the US. A Chicago Tribune story paraphrases Bouton as claiming "neither council board members who are Jewish nor pro-Israeli groups influenced his decision or pressured him.".

Here is how Mearsheimer characterised the incident:
A council scheduler told him that the council was "feeling heat" over the authors' anticipated appearance before Bouton called to cancel. Bouton confirmed that the council was facing criticism, Mearsheimer said. "The bottom line is that preventing us from speaking before the council is not the way we are supposed to be conducting public debate on important issues in the United States," Mearsheimer said.Even if Lester Crown or the other Jewish board members didn't say a word to Marshall Bouton, the latter isn't stupid and knows how controversial the Walt-Mearsheimer book has been among wealthy pro-Israel donors to groups like Aipac and the Anti-Defamation League. Either Bouton pre-emptively cancelled the speech because he knew his patrons would be angry, or his patrons made their views known and Bouton acted on them. Either way, the decision is a noxious violation of the norms of open discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The council has said it still wishes to do a programme with Walt and Mearsheimer - though they have declined to appear with Foxman because he has called them "anti-semites". They note that many previous controversial council speakers have not been forced to share a programme with their most vehement critic.

Another scheduled Walt/Mearsheimer programme in New York was also cancelled when Jewish Forward editor, JJ Goldberg declined an invitation to moderate a programme with them saying he disagreed too much with the book to do so.Meanwhile, The Israel Lobby has ranked as high as 12 on the New York Times bestseller list and 10 in the Amazon list, and the authors plan a European tour to promote the book.


Liberal Jewish bloggers who report on these outrages understand that the Israel lobby retains enormous reach in its ability to pre-empt speech and manipulate the public debate. But our conviction is that the more these incidents see the light of day, the more the power of the lobby to stifle debate will wane. So far Goliath is still king of walk. But someday he will be felled by the giant's own hubris." (Richard Silverstein, "Land of the Free?" The Guardian, Oct. 9, 2007).