Sunday, September 30, 2007

Lunch with Commentary Magazine

Today, I had a delicious octopus and pork belly courtesy of my friends at the Modern, the restaurant at the MoMa. Sitting to my left was a writer for Commentary magazine,who shall remain nameless, because I am scared of him. But I will tell you he was a graduate of Yale, and a well-connected member of Skull and Bones. The debate ensued before our dishes arrived, but not before I had already downed two glasses of Austrian White Wine and a Rogue.

With a slight slur in my speech, I roughly asked the delicate intellectual, "So what do you think of Norman Podoheretz?" A typical conversation starter in my opinion. He smiled and corrected my pronunciation: "Podhoretz. Why do you ask me that?", "Because the rumor is you work for him." He became intrigued, "Well, what do you think about him?"

I told him I didn't know much about Norman and knew only about the origins of the political movement he supports, often labeled neoconservatism. "Tell me what you know." I talked about the McGovern crossroads that turned the liberal hawks into full fledged neocons and the eventual coalescing around Scoop Jackson, who he told me was asked to be Kennedy's running mate initially before Lyndon Johnson was forced upon Kennedy(he also told me Kennedy hated Johnson more than anything and of the famed photograph of Johnson wringing a senator's neck). Nixon also tapped 'Scoop' to be Secretary of Defense, but Scoop declined. Told him about Leo Strauss, etc.

I asked, "What post did Norman have in the government?", "Well, Norman never had a post in the federal government, he remained in academia, but he has a lot of friends there." He then went on to describe Norman's familial ties to the neoconservative movement. He said Podhoretz's daugher is married to Elliot Abrams, former #3 in the Pentagon(responsible for the postwar planning of Iraq) and currently Bush's Deputy National Security Advisor. He then told me most of the neoconservatives are all closely related.

The fireworks began when he said Ahjamajhad should have been arrested at Columbia. "Why?" I got the usual line about threatening Israel. I said who cares about Israel. He said, "Don't you have the biological imperative?" I didn't know what it was. "It's when you support people who are like you and try to kill others that aren't like you."

Me:"Maybe I'm not meant to reproduce"
Him:"You feel no kinship with your brethern in Israel?"
Me:"None, and I do not make my strategic decisions on irrational kinships, I would care about the destruction of Israel only in geopolitical and historical terms."
Him: "The biological imperative is not rational, its in all human beings"
Me: "And I don't think the biological imperative is a guiding principle to international relations, I believe in notions of international justice."
Him:"There is no international justice, there can not be justice in international relations." He gave a long-winded explanation about why not but I was so drunk by then I didn't listen.
Me: "Israel is a religious state"
Him:"What makes it a religious state?"
Me:"It has secular political mechanics but I went there on Birthright and they told me there would never be an Arab who could be elected to any real office in the...."
Him: "Kinneset."
Him: "There are actually 10 members of the Kinneset who are Arab."
Me: "But it was founded for Jewish people, it was founded for people who subscribe to a religion, the state was founded on a religion."
Him:"I think your confusing Jewish culture and Jewish religion, it is a safe haven for all Jews, cultural or religious, and you will find that a large portion of Israel does not practice Judiasm, it was founded for the culture, not the religion, a culture that was in peril at the time."

We started eating. I drank another beer and someone from Lehman Brothers told the waitress to fill only half my glass which pissed me off and I looked at him and her, asked her if she was Irish, which somehow got her attracted to me, and we sent each other kisses with our eyes all afternoon.

It didn't matter, because next was the question that shut the whole table up:

"Under what conditions would you not support Israel?"

No response for minutes.

"I would not support Israel if it became a military dictatorship."

There's more. We started desert around this time and I was becaming uninhibited. I blurted out, "Anyone who is Republican right now is psychotic." "You are psychotic."

Him: "Why?"
Me: "You believe in an ideology of self-interest as the guiding principle of human behavior. How can you believe that? How can you want that, to live in that world?"
Him: "What? You want to waste your time trying to figure out how to help someone else? Meanwhile someone eats your lunch."
Him: "That is liberal guilt, to feel guilty for not helping others."
Guy Across Table: "Hey what do you think about the fact that the left is constantly supporting the Palestinians and not giving any leeway to Israel
Him:"It's the antisemitic disease that runs through the American left, which again can be traced back to reorientation after the McGovern campaign."
Me: "How can you feel OK with just living in a selfish, dog eat dog, hobbesian world, I personally do not feel it is necessary or a goal we should strive for. There should be a balance"

Him: "How do I feel OK? Regan rode in on his shinning glowing horse and proclaimed it OK."
Me: "He actually said that? To act selfish?"
Him: "No, he didn't actually verbalize. But that is what he did. He rode in on his shining white horse and proclaimed it OK in America. He made it so Americans don't feel guilty anymore for exercising our selfishness, and changed the course."

I gave him my card and said if he ever wanted to "talk shop" more to call me. I hope he does.

Friday, September 28, 2007

In good company

Because I signed a petition expressing my disappointment at the Hoover Institute for bringing on Donald Rumsfeld as a visiting fellow, I see that I am a "left-wing fascist" according to Martin Peretz and "out of my mind" according to Victor Davis Hanson. To which I can only ask: What else can I do to incur such judgments??

Look, the Hoover Institute can obviously do whatever the hell it wants as long as Boeing and Exxon and whoever else are funding it, but it should know that Rumsfeld isn't welcome. And even though I have expressed my disappointment at Columbia for hosting Ahmadinejad, there's obviously nothing incompatible with allowing his single exercise of "free speech" at Columbia and expressing outrage at Rumsfeld's prolonged fellowship.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Heads are Rolling at CNN

One day after Ted Turner expressed some regret about just how silly CNN has become, we are already starting to see big changes.

From their frong page today we hear of the latest news: What Alan Alda did after he almost died (in 2003).

It all comes down to Yoo

I saw this speech by John Yoo linked to on the Balkinization site and, of course, I was reminded of some of the key arguments in the current debate on presidential powers vis-a-vis the "war on terror."

Yoo's comments -- e.g. "every subordinate should agree with [the President's] views so there is a unified approach to the law," one should "not to be too open about what you think because it renders you un-confirmable for attorney general," "the framers wanted a presidency that’s unified and can operate with speed and secrecy so they left [the office] with ambiguous limits on its power," "a large part of the population is not sure if we’re living in a state of war or if, like our European allies, we should view terrorism as a law enforcement issue...that’s the issue that’s triggered the debate over presidential powers" -- tend to confirm my beliefs that he's a toady and lickspittle for the administration and a partisan hack, a judgment that is only strengthened by the fact that he was a strong critic of Clinton's "unitary executive actions" in the wake of the blowjob episode. (I also very much enjoyed this audience member's response: "The president could violate Congress every day to save my life." A case study for Erich Fromm's "escape from freedom" thesis if there ever was one. As Rousseau said: "Tranquility is found also in dungeons; but is that enough to make them desirable places to live?")

However, rather than simply pronounce ex cathedra here (sorry if I tend to do that), I'd like to open the floor to questions about presidential powers and states of emergency. These are especially relevant given that I'm taking a class this term on theories of law and the state (sample authors: Sophocles, Locke, Rousseau, Bentham, Habermas, Arendt, and, yes, Judith Butler). Seeing that the first class saw several incidents of grad students clutching their copies of Agamben (not that I didn't bring my own copy to class...), executive prerogative and the general Schmittian idea of "states of exception" seem to be hot topics. So, I'd like to throw it out there:

Suppose for a second that Yoo is honest (big leap, I know) when he says, more or less, that questions of "unforseen events and emergencies" are the President's jurisdiction, or rather, are valid (I hesitate to say "legitimate") opportunities for the suspension of ius altogether. What sort of an argument is this? What powers does the President constitutionally possess for dealing with these apparent emergencies? And what constitutes an emergency?

I've never really been satisfied with the argument that Article II of the Constitution says that the President shall "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," and therefore that the office of the executive has expansive, extra-congressional wartime powers. However, the newly minted law students in our ranks might be better able to answer this question than I.

Attendant upon this issue is the idea that the Unitary Executive (in wartime) can, just to name a few examples, spy on Americans without a warrant and indefinitely detain American citizens. Leave out for a moment the trickier issue of "overseas enemy combatants." Are the above actions at all constitutional?

Even more interesting to me is the declaration of a state of emergency itself. This is what Yoo alludes to when he says that "people don't agree if we are in a state of war." Thus, the executive gains the prerogative to decide upon this issue. Not only that, but, presumably, the executive also decides when said state has come to an end. This brings to bear the ambiguity between "war" and "state of emergency." When the twin towers were destroyed on Sept 11, this was clearly a terrorist act, but was it a declaration or act of war? If so, who are the actors? They are certainly not state actors. The President soon declared a "war on terror." Despite the fact that this is labeled a "war," is it really a "war" according to traditional definitions? Or is it a misleading name for something else (a prolonged state of emergency)? Is there a difference between a "state of emergency" and a "war," and if so, are the President's powers different under each heading? And, most interestingly, does a terrorist attack constitute a "state of emergency," where that term is defined roughly as "an incident in which the existential security of the nation is in doubt"? Is there another, better definition of state of emergency? Even if we think the current situation does not fulfill the requirements of a "true" state of emergency, is it up to us to say? Or, as Yoo says, must the President decide the reality?

Thinking through such issues puts into sharp relief the importance of the sorts of questions raised by the political theorist Carl Schmitt, apart from any ephemeral interest in him raised by liberal academics. Just to fill people in, Schmitt was a German legal scholar who, after writing several important works in the Weimar period, came to be a chief theorist under the Nazis in the 30s. He was eventually pardoned after the victory of the Allied powers and lived out the rest of his life in relative ignominy (and rightfully so). However, despite the stigma attached to his personal life, his works have some lasting importance. Chiefly, his short book Political Theology (1922) opens with the ominous sounding pronouncement, "Sovereign is he who decides on the exception (Souverän ist, wer über den Ausnahmezustand entscheidet)." More simply put, Schmitt's point was that, although contemporary scholars wished to do away with the irritating question of exceptional circumstances, seeing them as outside the law, deciding about such questions was actually the foundation of the political order itself. When such circumstances arose, a sovereign power would, necessarily, assert itself. The question is whether constitutions allow for such realities, or obscure the importance of them, in which case the national security could potentially be unnecessarily threatened while confusion reigns over who can decide about the exceptional circumstance. Schmitt thought that national security was important enough that presidents (and especially the Weimar president) needed to be clearly invested with exceptional powers. Legislative bodies such as parliaments could not be trusted to do so, first because parliaments act too slowly, and secondly because some chief executive element was likely to assert itself before a sluggish parliament could anyway (his argument is thus based on existential circumstances, not just normative). For Schmitt, politics came down to a personal decision, and not an impersonal norm (i.e. a logical, systematic procedure for dealing with crises). Furthermore, if we're willing to grant that some sovereign power ultimately decides upon the exception, then it seems logical to say that he/she/it also has the power to decide when such a state ceases to be. If the legislation can't itself deal with declaring the exception, how can it claim to be able to end the exception? That, again, seems to be up to the sovereign power.

It seems to me that three arguments could be raised in opposition to Schmitt's position. The first is a natural rights/social contract argument, namely that because the various citizens of the U.S. have delegated their individual powers to a representative government, decisions cannot be made unilaterally by the President without expressed consent by the citizens, exemplified by actions taken by their elected, representative officials. Under this argument, we end up with the extreme but perhaps justified conclusion that the President's actions over the past several years have constituted a negation of the Constitution of the United States. The President has no right to act as he has.

Under a second, related objection, we might say that the price of granting the President these powers is not worth the abrogation of the liberty and/or integrity we wish to display as a purportedly democratic nation. We will take our dangers, thank you, but always as a constitutional republic, reflective of our dignity.

Finally, according to a third, more pragmatic argument, whatever the President's constitutional powers, it may not be worth it for him to act as he has because the costs of potential suffering inflicted on individuals under the executive's actions can never be worth the incremental amount of safety possibly guaranteed by those actions. It's unclear to me how this argument doesn't ultimately devolve into one about natural rights, though, because on a purely utilitarian calculus, it may well be worth it for some people to suffer attacks on their so-called "natural rights" when weighed against the safety of so many other people.

So, this is more or less how I frame the issue. As Robot might say, "there's a lot here," but I'd appreciate any thoughts you might have. Even if you're not a law student or a constitutional scholar (and I certainly am neither), please feel free to register your intuitions here, because everything will be helpful for my seminar, as I said, and maybe it'd be swell for us to discuss anyway.

Monday, September 24, 2007

I agree

An email from Lee Bollinger discussing today's circus:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I would like to share a few thoughts about today’s appearance of
President Ahmadinejad at our World Leaders Forum. I know this is a
matter of deep concern for many in our University community and
beyond. I want to say first and foremost how proud I am of
Columbia, especially our students, as we discuss, debate and plan
for this highly visible event.

I ask that each of us make special efforts to respect the different
views people have about the event and to recognize the different
ways it affects members of our community. For many reasons, this
will demand the best of each of us to live up to the best of
Columbia's traditions.

For the School of International and Public Affairs, which developed
the idea for this forum as the commencement to a year-long
examination of 30 years of the Islamic Republic in Iran, this is an
important educational experience for training future leaders to
confront the world as it is -- a world that includes far too many
brutal, anti-democratic and repressive regimes. For the rest of us,
this occasion is not only about the speaker but quite centrally
about us -- about who we are as a nation and what universities can
be in our society.

I would like just to repeat what I have said earlier: It is vitally
important for a university to protect the right of our schools, our
deans and our faculty to create programming for academic purposes.
Necessarily, on occasion this will bring us into contact with
beliefs many, most, or even all of us will find offensive and even

But it should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we
deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the
weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas, or our naiveté about
the very real dangers inherent in such ideas. It is a critical
premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable
when we open the public forum to their voices.

The great majority of student leaders with whom I met last week
affirmed their belief that this event, however controversial, is
consistent with the values of academic freedom we share at the
center of university life. I fully support, indeed I celebrate, the
right to peacefully demonstrate and engage in a dialogue about this
event and this speaker, as I understand a wide coalition of our
student groups are planning for today. That such a forum and such
public criticism of President Ahmadinejad’s statements and policies
could not safely take place on a university campus in Iran today
sharpens the point of what we do here. The kind of freedom that
will be on display at Columbia has always been and remains today
our nation’s most potent weapon against repressive regimes
everywhere in the world. This is the power and example of America
at its best.


Lee C. Bollinger

I think Bollinger is spot-on here, and I'm ecstatic about Ahmadinejad's visit. Today's event (as long as nothing goes wrong) will demonstrate the freedom of American democracy, the incoherence of Ahmadinejad's ideas, and the stupidity of those who would censor bad or evil speech. Or so I hope. What do you all think?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Purity Ball, a Great American Custom

An interesting little Jesus Camp-style news report from Al Jazeera. I really don't mind it when Islam-friendly sources point out the backwards state of American religion. Keep it coming, guys!

Via the always-reprehensible Autoadmit.

... In Which Robot Notices Someone Making Nice References

In a New York Times Magazine profile of one of the Huffy Crew's favorite sadistic directors, Michael Haneke, writer John Wray delivers a truly glorious line:
The experience of watching “Funny Games” is not unlike watching snuff-porn clips late at night in your bedroom, only to have your mother or Jacques Lacan switch the light on periodically without the slightest warning.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Weird witnessings

Yesterday I was riding my bike in the park, when a cab passed me to my right. Another biker rode past and said, "What a jerk. He almost hit you". I hadn't thought the cab had come too close, and was unsure how to respond.
I said to him, "Yeah, they're always doing that." Pause. "See you later!".
He kept riding without saying a word. I noticed he was wearing headphones.

As I walked down the street from my apartment building, I noticed a small matchbox car sitting on the ledge of a building. Wanting to be entranced by this object from my childhood, I began to play with it. This continued for about a minute as I got what I wanted.
Two people walked by; I realized that they were looking at me. I told them, "It was just laying here, I swear!". I'm still not sure what I meant by this or how they interpreted it.

I passed an ostensibly married couple walking down the street. They were silent until I was a few feet ahead of them, when the wife said, "Remember that dog from the beach in Puerto Rico?".
"Yeah," the man said in reply.

Wes Clark's new book photo freaks me out

Thursday, September 20, 2007

All-Star Lineup

Holy moly, there is really something for everyone in this year's lineup for the Political Theory Workshop at Stanford. Don't get too jealous now.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wow. I never knew what an utter taint James Pinkerton is.

Pinkerton -- White House strategist, Newsday columnist, Fox News panelist -- has the current issue's cover story for the American Conservative: "The Once and Future Christendom." This anti-Muslim, chauvinist white Christian screed has all the usual hand-wringing, nervous nelly fears of "dar al-Islam" present on the right these days. Some examples:
"What if Muslims take over Europe? What if “Eurabia” indeed comes to pass? Would Islamic invaders demolish the Vatican, as the Taliban dynamited Afghanistan’s Buddhas of Bamyan in 2001? Or would they settle merely for stripping the great cathedrals of Europe of all their Christian adornment, rendering them into mosques? And what if the surviving non-Muslim population of Europe is reduced to subservient “dhimmitude”?


If demography is the author of destiny, then the danger of Europe falling within dar al-Islam is real. And in addition to the teeming Muslim lumpen already within the gates, plenty more are coming. According to United Nations data, the population of the Arab world will increase from 321 million in 2004 to 598 million in 2050. Are those swarming masses really going to hang back in Egypt and Yemen when Europe beckons?


Nor can we ignore the painful reality of a genuine fifth column in the West. This summer, Gordon Brown’s government concluded that 1 in 11 British Muslims—almost 150,000 people living in the United Kingdom—“proactively” supports terrorism, with still more rated as passive supporters. And this spring, a Pew Center survey found that 13 percent of American Muslims, as well as 26 percent aged 18-29, were bold enough to tell a pollster that suicide bombing was “sometimes” justified. These Muslim infiltrators, of course, have potential access to weapons of mass destruction.


Meanwhile, as European birthrates plummet, the continent faces the prospect of demographic desiccation. Yet surely a civilization-saving alternative to imported Muslimization must be found.


A better vision is needed. The Council of the West must do its duty, to Christians, to Jews, and to the need of the world for peace. Having agreed that Israel must survive, within the protective ambit of Christendom, the council could engage Muslims—who are, themselves, in the process of restoring the Caliphate—in a grand summit."
And so on and so forth. (Here's a thought experiment: substitute "international Jewry" for any of the above references to Muslims and see what kind of message it gets you.)

Pinkerton's proposals are asinine bordering on ridiculous, including as they do an appeal to the "underlying political, even strategic, perspective" of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (really, just an excuse for Pinkerton to get himself riled up thinking about the hulking knights of his Middle Earth fantasies, the "heroic Men of the West and of Christendom"). Furthermore, we can "bring the poorer children of Europe—from countries such as Argentina—home to Europe, allowing the New World to help rescue the Old World"; as for Africa, "[its] Christian countries... are part of the Shire Strategy [sic] and need to be embraced with tough love...the immediate mission is to delineate a Christian Zone and a Muslim Zone, dividing countries if need be"; and even we good Christian men of the West might find alliances with the friendlier dark and yellow people of the world -- "if Westerners, Russians, Africans, Hindus, and Chinese all feel threatened by Islam—and they all do—there’s plenty of opportunity for a larger encircling alliance, with an eye toward feasible strategies of containment, even quarantine [nice disease metaphor]."

I realize it's not really worthwhile for me to waste my time with these idiots (I've spilled virtual ink on similar nuts like Victor Davis Hanson in the past), but it points up a bizarre but perhaps ultimately understandable trend in our time. These people -- employed in think tanks, advisors to Presidents, on our evening news, in our mainstream magazines -- honestly think that there is a chance -- a good chance -- that "our" "Western" civilization will be over-run by Muslims. They honestly think that there is such a thing as an "international war against Islamism," or, in Rudy Giuliani's phrase, "the terrorists' war on us." (Even Andrew Sullivan, who has slowly learned to perceive reality much more clearly than some of his fellow conservatives, spoke twice just last week about "winning this war" and the "war against Islamism." Honestly, just shut up.) They honestly think that an undermilitarized, backwards (hey, I'm sorry, I wish it weren't, but what can I say*) region of the world, most of which is tightly held in check by the United States (see Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt), is on the verge of invading us -- with what army and with what weapons? -- all because some stupid fucking imam on a hand-held camera somewhere is talking about spreading jihad to Europe. They are paid to think and write about these things. If they weren't so influential, I would say that they deserved to waste their dim, impressionable lives absorbed in this nonsense.

But they are influential. If you look at Amazon's top sellers in the "Islam" category, the top 10 is populated by frankly racist propaganda pamphlets like those of Robert Spencer (latest work: Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't). What a sad, irrational world we inhabit.

*Actually, what I can say to clarify is that "backwards" here just means measured on Western standards of political and economic liberalization. I'm talking about institutions, not people.

"Religious enlightenment"

I have no idea what kind of effect this is having, but is anyone else a little weirded out that the U.S. military has a re-education camp in Iraq for boys as young as 11 called the "House of Wisdom"?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Huge: TimesSelect, RIP

You heard it here first: From this day forth, the New York Times will be free in its entirety online. This is a big deal not only for consumers of news, but for bloggers and readers of blogs, because the opinion articles written for the Times can now become part of the blogosphere. So often you see bloggers mention something they wanted to talk about but are unable to because of the TimesSelect wall. Now those ideas will be able to bounce about the Internets and copulate with the minds of all who would bear them children, bastard or otherwise. Hooray!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Unprecidented: Chambers v. God

From the fantastic guys over at at the Foreign Policy blog, we learn of a Nebraska State Senator doing the unthinkable: suing God. While the blog post seems to suggest that the Senator is, well, crazy (he was a "barber" before being a senator they tell us), the truth is actually more reasonable. To the varying dismay of neo-Platonists and atheists, this is no modern-day Job, pissed off once again at that proverbial punching bag, the Old Testament God. It turns out, instead, he's just a normal old American lawmaker who's had enough with this litigious society. Here finally is a man unafraid to speak truth to divine power.

Stir crazy

So, there I was, sitting on my couch in the wee hours of the morning, probably drinking my second cup of tea -- this is the routine now --, probably listening to some jazz cd or another, and reading.

(My days have become relatively homogeneous: Sleep til noon, check news and eat, read, run, read, eat dinner, [if I feel like relaxing, "treating" myself to a disgusting "Gordon's" brand vodka and water on ice] read, check news, read, get in bed, read, fall asleep. I've read probably 4 books in the past 7 days. With my resources dwindling and my school stipend check weeks away, my diet for the past few days has consisted of frozen burritos, Coke Zero, a daily vitamin, and pasta. My relationship status has been unhelpful, to put it bureaucratically, and my budgetary deficiencies have seriously cramped my social life. Life has been...economical.)

So I'm reading this article by Robert Brenner about "the social basis of economic development" and I'm stuck on footnote 13, which is very long and boring, when I get to this:
So, one could not, I think, conceivably argue that individual pre-capitalist economic actors would seek to separate the pre-capitalist producers from their means of subsistence and break up the lords' institutionalized relationships with the producers which allowed them to extract a surplus by extraeconomic compulsion in order to install a system where the individual actors had, as their rule for reproduction, the maximization of profits (saw accumulate, accumulate as the moses and the prophets)...especially when such a system had never previously existed.
I did the classic double-take here, literally rubbing my eyes to see if I had actually read that parenthetical remark. I wondered for a moment if I was going insane (not altogether implausible). But there it was, and there it is today as I copy it off the page for your viewing pleasure. What does it mean? Let me rephrase that: What the hell are "the" "m"oses and the prophets doing in an article about peasant agriculture? Did the publisher insert it as a sick joke, counting on there being just such a case as mine, that of a bored, compulsively literate grad student sitting awake reading stupid Robert Brenner articles at 3 am? Who would then proceed to question his own sanity for five minutes? Who are these sick people?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Eerie likenesses! Mindblowing doppelganger! Twins!

Lately, Hannah Arendt has returned to wrack our blog-o-brain, mixing local and not-local with fearsome fury. Slowly, ever so creepingly, it has dawned on me: as a young, groundbreaking academic - although certainly not as an old, ground-broken academic - Arendt looked exactly, unmistakably and jaw-droppingly like Judith Butler.

Many eons ago, the Sheriff posted a slew of (mostly male) philosophico-theoretical lookalikes. Let this post continue his work, as a foray into lookalikes of the 'fairer sex.' Gaze onward, and let doubts be dispelled...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Kushavov Exclusively Visual Post #1 regarding Ursulas

Inaugurating a new scheme of "exclusively visual posts, " I present to your rapt attention images, both old and new, of the diverse Ursulas of our culture's long, picture-ridden history.

I should mention that, although my professional training would seem to qualify me for this manner of posting, let it be noted that all of my academic intuitions were ignored in the by all accounts hasty, random and uncomplicated Ursula complication. Let the thoughtless nature of my activity not deter you from what aesthetic delights may follow.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sunstein on SCOTUS

This is an excellent analysis by Cass Sunstein in the American Prospect showing how the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court, and public perception of that makeup, have shifted dramatically in the past several decades (read: the rise of the right wing in America). Here are a few paragraphs to give you an indication of the gist of the piece:
The upshot of all these shifts is that what was once on the extreme right is now merely conservative. What was once conservative is now centrist. What was centrist is now left wing. What was once on the left no longer exists.

The political right has had a strong interest in downplaying these changes. One way to move the center of gravity is to make the (preposterous) claim that moderate Republican appointees such as Stevens, Souter, and Sandra Day O'Connor are "liberals" who have "betrayed" the presidents who have nominated them. Remarkably, the conservative effort to redescribe the center has succeeded.

I originally had thought that Ronald Dworkin's piece in the NYRB describing the Roberts court as an "unbreakable phalanx" was a tad extreme, but now I see that if you've been watching these SCOTUS developments for the past thirty or so years, the discrepancy between the actual state of things and the way we perceive it becomes glaringly, frighteningly (for most people on this blog) pronounced.

Obama, Brzezinski, and the Israel/Palestine question

I see from the Politico that various elements within the Israel lobby are concerned about Barack Obama's endorsement by Zbigniew Brzezenski, who has come under fire for his support for Mearsheimer and Walt. However, Brzezenski's influence with respect to the Israel/Palestine issue on an Obama presidency, should it actually happen, is quite negligible. An Obama campaign statement has said that “The idea that supporters of Israel have somehow distorted U.S. foreign policy, or that they are responsible for the debacle in Iraq, is just wrong. And Obama’s positions on Middle East affairs are, like his main rivals’, within the American political mainstream and firmly in favor of Israeli’s aggressive security policy." Wonderful. Our "liberal" Democrats in action. Furthermore: "Barack Obama has been a consistent supporter of Israel and this is an unfortunate case of a fabricated controversy for political reasons. I speak with him often on Israel policy, and I can tell you firsthand that Barack Obama is opposed to the arguments presented in this book [Mearsheimer and Walt, The Israel Lobby]."

Brzezinski is fresh on my mind, as I've recently read his Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower (2007). Like Mearsheimer and Walt, two relatively conservative foreign policy realists, Brzezinski is a refreshing example of those in our foreign policy establishment who actually, you know, question our ridiculously strong ties to Israel. Here is his description of Bush II's policy towards Israeli/Palestinian relations:

"It soon became clear to the region that the Bush-Sharon duet jointly defining U.S. policy was playing for time. With Bush having proclaimed Sharon 'a man of peace,' the next several years were dominated by halfhearted U.S. peace initiatives, periodic terrorist killings by frustrated Palestinians, lethal retaliation by outraged Israelis, continuing radicalization of the Palestinians, and expansion of the Israeli settlements. A year after the war in Iraq was launched, the plan to create a Palestinian state by 2005 had been scaled down to U.S. endorsement of Prime Minister Sharon's April 2004 proposal for unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza. President Bush enthusiastically endorsed it as offering 'the Palestinians a chance to create a reformed, just and free government,' no longer mentioning any deadline for a Palestinian state." (Second Chance, p. 162)

Needless to say, the appearance and strategic use of "halfhearted," "frustrated," "lethal retaliation," and "scaled down" in this text automatically disqualify Brzezinski from being considered an "impartial" voice in the eyes of the Israel lobby. Surely a man such as this can only represent a "tremendous mistake" for Obama's campaign, in the words of Alan Dershowitz, since he "has chosen to support such a bigoted book [again, Mearsheimer and Walt]."

Brzezinski is a slippery character, and there's no reason to think that the grand geopolitical strategy he has constantly outlined since his earliest writings is anything other than the most "realistic" means to achieving a "benign" American empire on a worldwide scale. Brzezinski talks a lot about international norms and "impartial" interventionism, but his ultimate goal is American global domination (with the upshot of his aguments being that American hegemony could plausibly be "accepted" under a patina of legitimacy if it's pursued the right way). However, he is at least sane when it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Still, even if (and this is a big if) Obama secures the Presidential nomination and wins the election, and subsequently keeps Brzezinski on board as a foreign policy advisor, and if Brzezinski possesses the will to carry out an Israel/Palestine peace negotiation, is there a way? Current events suggest otherwise. The seizure of Gaza by Hamas (brought on, let's not deny it, by the actions of the U.S., Israel, and Europe against the Palestinian Authority following the election of Hamas), and the corresponding impossibility of a united Palestinian front against the occupation, present Israel with an unprecedented historic oppurtunity to act aggressively towards Gaza and stall on the peace process, on the basis of a "threat" from Hamas in Gaza and the inability of the PA to control the territories. Even the election of a Labor government could not guarantee a reversal in this tendency. The well documented sheepishness of Abbas only confirms the likelihood of this. The result could be a series of assaults on Gaza, mass exodus (albeit factoring in the relative strength or weakness of Hamas in preventing Palestinians from leaving the territory), the expansion of settlements, and a gesture on the part of Israel towards a "sad but true" fait accompli of the liquidation of Gaza. The "road map," always a joke under the Bush administration, would effectively be out the window.

The primary uncertain factors in this equation are the outcome of the conflict in Iraq, Bush's decision about military involvement vis-a-vis Iran, and Israel's actions towards Syria and vice versa in light of the recent altercation between the two. Any and all of these could dramatically shift focus away from the "Palestinian question" for the forseeable future.

For realists like Mearsheimer, Walt, and Brzezinski, America's blatant favoritism towards Israel hurts both American interests and Israeli security in the long-term. Stalling and provocation on the part of right-wing American and Israeli governments have obscured the benefits that could come from a settled peace. However, how true is this? My guess is that, to the contrary, American and Israeli governments see the downsides as negligible and the benefits as greatly outweighing the costs. Despite popular opposition to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, governments like those of Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia have proven that they will toe the line and march in step with America and Israel. (The greater European community of the EU has never acted otherwise.) The main oppositional forces, such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, Syria, and Iran, are precisely those which are increasingly looking like targets in the near future. If they can be subdued, Israel will have its "greater Israel" and the United States will have established true hegemony in the region. Isn't this something worth fighting for? So the real question is both whether the United States can sustain its presence in Iraq and expand the theater of war to other fronts, and whether it thinks it can do so. If it can accomplish the first, then the scenario outlined above is fulfilled. If it can't, but thinks it can, who knows what will result? If it doesn't actually think it can "win" in Iraq, we are back to square one, with a Democrat likely taking over the Middle East peace process.

(Also, as in any assessment of current events, we shouldn't disregard the effects of a possible U.S. or worldwide economic recession resulting from the subprime crisis.)

Anyway, as I said earlier, it's a big "if" whether Brzezinski will actually exhibit any influence on an Obama presidency. In any case, Dershowitz endorses Clinton, the likely winner, so we can all guess where that will go.

The prospect of justice and statehood for the Palestinian people looks very, very bleak.

UPDATE: As I write, Reuters reports that Hamas is on alert for a "vast" Israeli offensive into the Gaza Strip. Others are saying that the Syria confrontation and the Rosh Hashanah holiday will delay major retaliation for a Gaza-based missile attack against Israeli troops. Let's see where this goes.

Europe in his crosshairs

The prospect of a Perry Anderson article beginning with a quotation from Tony Judt cannot fail to attract the attention of the various Sheriffs and Robots of our community; however, I encourage everyone to read this. Probably the most informed, all-encompassing, devastating assessment of Europe, and what the EU has become in the age of neoliberalism, to be found in the world of print journalism. Anderson, currently my favorite writer on contemporary issues, contemptuously dismisses Habermas, reluctantly embraces the Robert Kagan thesis, and highlights the ways that the radically capitalistic thought of Hayek is shaping the European world today. It really needs to be asked: in what respect are we not, finally, "pillars of society, pimping for torture"?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fewer children are dying

Good news. Here's to children outliving parents!

The Most Powerful Man in the World's news station on strategy and tactics

Ah, I see how this works. We are to understand that it's not the President who's stalling on drawing down troops from Iraq, but the Democrats: "Dems Rip Bush Plan to Cut Troops." Apparently these stubborn Dems can't be satisfied with Petraeus's "massive" troop reductions. Bear in mind that these are the "surge" troops, the ones who were sent to Iraq as the result of a "massively" unpopular plan. Kindly remember my "spit in the eye" metaphor from the other day. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised at these distortions by now, but this struck me as especially duplicitous. Also, I really liked this bit from Tony Snow: "I mean, it's pretty clear that it's not a war without end. And as a matter of fact, it is a war that actually has victory as its aim."

Someday, someone might be able to show me what exactly is incongruous about those two sentences, but for now they look pretty darn compatible. Actually, there's a hidden middle term that connects them quite nicely: "We have victory as our aim. But victory is impossible. Therefore, we have impossibility as our aim, i.e. we are involved in an endless war." Tony, the crypto-logician!

Also, via Curry's ever-helpful site, I see that John "There's Not a Lie I Won't Say to Get My Fear-Mongering Hand In Your Collective Pants" McCain made September 11 a special day on his "No Surrender" tour. This comment made me especially happy that McCain's failed-campaign ass is flying coach these days:

The important thing about Sept. 11 is that it not be repeated. And if we leave Iraq, then it will be repeated."

More logical propositions! How about this one: If John McCain becomes President of the United States, then there actually is a God and He hates you and me and all of His children.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The State of the Union.

There's a group of people sitting near me in the lounge here. They're talking about how much they love Tom Friedman and Jeffery Sachs.

They miss the relative proximity of the Wal-Marts from their hometowns compared to how far it is in Austin.

Do these people have KKK pepper shakers from that time they went to France with their respective Greek Organizaitons?

With full cognizance of the gravity that has historically accompanied this question: What is to be done?

Monday, September 10, 2007

This Happy Meal (Still) Kills Fascists

If you want an oversimplification of people in the Middle East, they are entrepreneurs. They’re commercial people. They’re people we can get along with. And when they can develop their own reasons for modifying some of the ancient interpretations to make themselves part of the modern world, it really works. So I’m very open to doing more business with them, having more interchange with them, getting Americans to understand who they are and what they are.
- Rudolph Giuliani talking in the latest New York Times Magazine.

This is a man not afraid to ask the hard-hitting questions of this islamofascistic -- as his trusted adviser Norman Podhoretz calls (all of) them -- people. Not only the essential though somewhat elementary who are they (they're Islamofascist Arabs from the Middle East who also happen to be entrepreneurs, as he clearly explains in the opening sentence), but the far more important what are they. We know they're humans, because we've seen them talk and stuff. We know they have at least the capacity for goodness because they like to buy things and become rich, filthy rich, like bin Laden rich, or George Bush or Carlos Slim Helú rich. But the question of what persists. How do we know what they are, I mean, really. How do I know they're not just figments of my imagination, put there by one of those deceiving Middle Eastern god to trick me? Giuliani! Help us make sense of this crazy world, where radical doubt undermines the very commercial nature that ties us together! Please remind us once again that Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Constant, and Thomas Friedman, and all those other dudes were right when they said that the bad men would stop killing us when they became persuaded of the beauty of the market, and especially McDonalds.

McDonalds rules!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

From local politics to nationwide...

While we're on the subject of citizen engagement, call your Senators and Congresspeople Monday and tell them to let General Petraeus know where he can stick his report. I'm serious. I assume you can all navigate the interwebs to find your Senators and Representatives. Get on the phone and call some motherfuckers.

Now, in all probability, sadly, the Democrats will hem and haw and bow obsequiously to the good General and say that we desperately need a change of strategy after the President's failed policy but complain that the Republicans won't give the votes to them and talk up the importance of "bi-partisanship." These are all stalling techniques that will give them ammo for the '08 election all the while allowing them to inherit the problem and keep forces in Iraq to protect our "vital interests," which is basically what every "sensible" person who knows anything about long-term US global strategy wants to do. (We aren't building an enormous embassy with forced labor for nothing.) Thus you can see the realist in me has thoroughly defeated the democratic optimist. However, the cure for a failing democracy is...more democracy, as someone once said, and I'm at least experimenting right now with putting this hypothesis to the test.

In any case, here are some links for people who aren't already knee deep in the anti-war funk:

United for Peace and Justice

The Occupation Project

A Declaration of Peace

Troops Out Now

That's all the proselytizing, I promise. But I'm also very serious! I think one of the best things that could come out of Huffy Crew, out of all the good discussions we've produced, would be the ability to trade stories at some future date of what we did around this crucial time to try to affect war policy, however miniscule our efforts might be individually.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Who Knew?

There's a lot of fascinating ans surprising stuff in the recent Durex Global Sex Survey, which included 317,000 participants and 41 countries. Here's what struck me:
- Obviously, the two statistical outliers vis-a-vis promiscuity: Turkey, with its average of 14 sexual partners (!), and Norway, with its 70% (!) of people claiming to have add unprotected sex without knowing the sexual history of their fellow diseased blond Viking.
- The fact that it seems a more or less common assumption (except if you're from Iceland, German, or the Low Countries) that being a virgin at 15 is, like, totally normal, but at 16 begins to look totally fucking uncool.
The U.S. shares infinitely more in common with Thailand than it does with New Zealand, Spain, and Hong Kong.
- The birthplace of the Kama Sutra is by far the worst place to go if you want to a) have Sex, b) get a sexually transmitted disease, c) desire to do both a and b via the "raw dawg" route.

Your own thoughts? If Thomas Friedman decides to read the Huffy Crew today, what implications does this survey have on our ever flattening world?


I admit that I have no critical ability to distinguish Pavarotti from anyone else, but hearing this made me cream my pants. Deal with it.

Gasp! Hyperbole on the campaign trail

John Edwards' campaign manager David Bonior says "'no presidential candidate in the history of the country' has worked harder than Edwards has for unions and striking workers."


Um, I'm gonna take a shot in the dark and say Eugene V. freakin' Debs, but who knows? Maybe Debs didn't actually work that hard.

"Eugene, how's the class struggle?"

"Remarkably easy! But I fear that all the hard work will be left to my successors, whose Left credentials will be massively and unforseeably attenuated to the point of near unrecognizability!"

"All right then; get out of jail soon!"

UPDATE: I also noticed this, from Fred Thompson's campaign announcement speech: "Our country has shed more blood for the freedom of other people than all the other countries in the world combined."

Didn't Russia lose, like, 10 million people during World War II? What's the catch? Were they not actually fighting for the "freedom of other people"?

Also: "In this broader war with this different kind of enemy [sc. "The War on Terror"], our success cannot always be measured by battlefield victories. Success will depend upon the determination of the American people and that’s why we’ll win."

This is like the political equivalent of Rhonda Byrne's flatly bullshit, Oprah-promoted The Secret. "I'm poor as fuck, but I feel like I'm going to be rich soon!" "I'm grossly obese, but my positive thoughts will deliver me from cardiac arrest!"

Experience the magic(ical thinking)!

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

And on another note...

... Sometimes you read about something which you at once had never thought about, and yet appears rather obvious.

Continuing Thoughts on Arendt's On Revolution

Perhaps the most engrossing discussion on the Huffy Crew's history occurred close to a year ago. It began as an exploration into the thought of Hannah Arendt in her book On Revolution and ended with provocative comments on the nature of federalism, localism, and politics as such. This exchange comes back to me every now and then. One, because I think it came closest to laying bear what lies at the base of each one's political philosophy, and their vision of a just future; and two, because this issue of the role of politics as such in the good life seems to be everywhere.

I recently read On Revolution myself, and encourage anyone who hasn't to do so. Not a thinker without flaws, Arendt nonetheless had the power to hit the right the buttons. She possessed the ability to persuasively talk about the big ideas while grounding them in history -- for me, the ultimate accomplishment of an intellectual.

Arendt touched on many themes in the book but the one I'd like to focus on is her insistence on, to use a rather hackneyed phrase, the primacy of politics. In many ways a thinker steeped in Aristotelian thought, she too saw human life composed of the essentials of politics and speech. For her as for Aristotle, these inevitably intersect. Politics, after all, is an inherently communicative action. Once it becomes violent (contrary to Clausewitz), it reaches its limit as politics; for violence is by nature non-communicative, and so, in her words, "antipolitical." All revolutions, she went on to say, firstly seek liberation through violence: the freedom-from interference and oppression. Secondly, and more importantly, however, is what they strive for after liberation, which she calls freedom -- an unfortunate term given the current vocabulary of neoconservatism.

This freedom, more or less, seems to be born out of the desire for greater participation, or in other words, for a political space that was previously absent. In the case of the American and French Revolution, freedom represented the belief in the inalienable political rights of all men by virtue of birth. For the American, this was Jefferson's idea of "happiness," but here (as Scantron pointed out) Arendt wanted to emphasize happiness as "public," or as she quotes Jefferson as saying, to be a "partcipator in the government of affairs," the citizen's right to access the public space, and share public power. Jefferson becomes the hero of the first part (as he will of the second part, but for different reasons) because of his understanding that in politics one experiences "eternal bliss."

With this framework it takes her just a few short steps to dispense with the French and champion the American Revolution. While both were political, the American sought to enlarge the political space while the French sought to temporarily at least make all relationships political. The French, to use a word that doesn't appear in the book (capitalism being another, in this case appearing only once), lacked liberalism. Whereas the Founding Fathers reworked, and gave steroids to, the classical notion of balanced or mixed government to encourage the interplay of competing factions and ideas of the good life in the public sphere, the French embraced the Rousseauian conception of the General Will -- that in politicizing all relationships in the short run in order to strengthen the unanimity of the people, politics will be extirpated in the long run. The lines she would ultimately draw between the French and Russian Revolutions are already apparent.

Yet, the American Revolution was not without its own problems, she concludes. Where it went wrong was that in making an honest and difficult decision between representative government and Jefferson's ward-based, localized, town hall democracy -- she acknowledges this choice appears only in retrospect -- it chose the former, and with it, threw away the grassroots origins of the revolution. She ends the book, surprisingly, with a discussion of how Jefferson's late vision of a localized, participatory ward-based system would reappear with that odd Benjaminian lightning force throughout history in the form of the councils or soviets. She views the spontaneous creations of these councils in revolutionary times (1871, 1918, 1936, 1956...) as more or less self-evident signs of their virtue vis-a-vis the human condition. Her discussion of them is worth reading, as I think it may interest those on all sides of the austin-5000 and Kushakov spectrum: local in practice, they are nonetheless based on Madison's federalist principle of both uniting different bodies into one -- in the form of laws -- while diffusing the power of each by the other. The "wacko" problem discussed last year becomes a bit clearer, I think, if we use our own system's federalized conception while eliminating the hierarchical representive as well as constricting partisan parts.

Arendt's love of politics and distaste for political parties makes sense given her timeline. To continue the story, briefly, into the 19th century reveals a bit of her shortsightedness. As Sean Wilentz reminds us in his latest book, The Rise of American Democracy, while the Founding Fathers were to varying degrees comfortable with the existence of factions and competing interests, there were a whole lot of them -- namely, the Federalists -- who were uncomfortable with political parties. Perhaps arising out of Arendt's desire for a more participatory politics without the straight-jacket of partisanship, men like Washington and Adams railed against political parties. Washington was most explicit in his farewell address:
It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.... Thus the policy and the will of one ... are subjected to the policy and will of another. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it.
Contrary to Arendt, it seems, the American Revolution appears to have had its French elements as well. Washington's idea of the "will of one" and Adams' Federalist belief in a one-party elite consensus sounded a different bell than the one that had rang for Arendt so unanimously during the Revolutionary period. Fortunately, for Wilentz as for Arendt, there are heroes to this story as well. Jefferson, and to a lesser extent Madison, saved the day by fearlessly challenging the Federalist paradigm with the introduction of a new party -- a product, like the Revolution itself, of grassroots so-called Democratic-Republican societies which had arisen amongst members of the working and literary classes in the northeast. For Wilentz, then, it was exactly this willingness to be partisan -- in the sense of creating a second party -- that prevented the fragile republic from slowly edging back to a deeply conservative, non-democratic society.

Despite their differences concerning the role of the party in political society, both Wilentz and Arendt would agree on the fundamental question that a robust and non-totalizing idea of politics as such should be encouraged rather than discouraged in society, and that the degree of participation in the political, public, sphere determines the health of a society.

To me, being a political liberal entails a commitment to these values. Not only do I consider it a good thing that different conceptions of the good life are available in society, but I also consider it joyful to debate these conceptions. Don't we all? But to get to a society where this becomes the norm requires both a backward glance to the past and a forward march. The American Revolution, and the commendable public space it produced, was able to succeed only because of quite material circumstances: a highly literate, wealthy, and relatively equal body politic.
Meaningful political participation whether at Congress, town hall, or the dining room table, quite often entails, at the very least, the benefits that people who write and read blogs (or at least this one) tend to have. That is, the means to a perfectly "bourgeois" existence: the economic means to a dignified, healthy life, and a liberal education. A just society's goals should be extending these benefits to those who don't have it -- to give to everyone the means to participate, and to determine (whether through councils, or directly, or through representatives) the method of redistribution. Only by starting with redistribution can we rebuild a country that despite its immense wealth tolerates a level of poverty and sickness that need not exist.

I recognize that a great deal of exegesis has contributed only to a conclusion echoing the right wing socialists of old and the left wing liberals of today. But just as these types of political parties have greatly enriched society when in power in the past, so I believe the left wing party of today has been given a unique opportunity. In the next couple decades or so, I suspect, the political party system will be put to the test as to whether it can begin to shoulder meaningful tasks. In the United States, the Democratic Party remains the only party I view capable of doing so, and its best chance for succeeding remains in the grassroots' ability to pressure it to do so. I myself am quite looking forward to politics, especially if my side is winning.

Vanity Fair: Murdoch Most Powerful Man in World

For two years in a row, Rupert has been voted the most powerful man in the world

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

this is worth a thousand words.


The culture war continues: according to Fox, flip-flops are out.
At least one manly man even took a philosophical stance against the humble sandal.

"I think the cheap ones are non-manly — they are [lacking in] power," said Mark Wright, a business-school student in Cambridge, Mass. "They are physically weak (unlike, say, a boot); they're cheap, suggesting the wearer is poor (unlike, say, a nice Italian shoe); in addition they make no statement and have no character."

Monday, September 03, 2007

One Existential Crisis for the 21st Century: Part I

A surprising number of people in the financial world are well-versed in Philosophy, some of them more knowledgeable than I am, without having any coursework in the discipline. For example, a manager at Merrill Lynch recently tried to engage me in a discussion of Hegel while simultaneously selling me an options contract. He really didn't want to talk about the deal at all, just Hegel. A snippet of that conversation:

Ben: "No, I'm over at eXis now"
Manager: "Not everyone can work here, what did you major in at school?"
Ben: "Philosophy"
Manager:"Really? Whose your favorite philosopher?"
Ben: "We need to talk about what you can price us on Oct puts"
Ben: "Marx, but I'm no communist"
Manager: "If you had to take one idea from Marx that was particularly appealing to you, what would it be?"
Ben[trying to be very politically sensitive I picked a mundane issue]: "I think his conception of history was the most appealing. Of course, his ideas about the rising of the prols were supported by Hegel's conception of history."
Manager: "What is Hegel's conception of History?"
Ben: "Synthesis, Antithesis."
Manager: "Do you know what it leads up to?"
Ben: "Thesis"
Manger: "Good"
Ben: "We are looking to grab BPOP at 80 cents a share"
Manager:"I really like Hegel too"
Ben:"Of course there's this really smart guy, I don't know if you've heard of him, who erronously declared history over after the fall of the Berlin wall, his name was Francis Fukayama and the book was"
Manager: "The End of History"
Ben: "Oh, you know."
Manager: "How did Hegel come up with his theory"
Ben:"I have no idea Mr. [blank]"
Manager: "It was from the Battle of Jenna, I could be wrong, but I think it was from an analysis of Napoleon's movements during the Battle of Jenna."
Ben: "Didn't know that"
Manager: "80,000 shares at 80 cents is no problem, we'll call [blank]"

So I was DOMed. Many of the traders I know are well versed in Philosophy, indeed the best ones often tout Philosophy as their love....Robert Rubin, George Soros, Taleb.

Being on the trading floor is an incredible, cathartic experience and I have met more than just interesting people from all walks of life, as the recruiting pamphlets proudly offer as one of the reasons to work at their respective organizations. These guys are straight up warriors, always on the brink, always exercising their creativity, their wits, and constantly battling themselves. Many of them take 2-3 year breaks from the business in order not to lose their heads. Some of them actually do lose their heads[one guy from Soros' fund lost his money and his family after he started wearing a bike helmet everywhere, even in the car with his kids, who he made wear helmets] A couple of the guys are the Chinese calculating type who never seem to sweat. But most of them, at least at my fund,...most of the people on the trading floor and on the exchange floor are constantly facing an existential crisis. The don't call themselves traders, rather they describe what they do as a movement, an existential movement, a cathartic "thing." "This thing, Ben", they say. "We are pricing everything here; energy, goods, raw materials, companies themselves." They are always waxing their jobs on philosophical terms. The crisis is getting through the day, using these largely philosophical issues as a guide. "This Thing called Life" is now "This thing called Trading."

On my first day of work, my boss came over to me and said, "You've never been exposed to this envoirnment , but this is very serious, people will be swearing and telling jokes but its only to relieve the pressure we're under and that you will oneday face. Your an emotional guy, and so am I...but you need to stay FLAT. It's all worth it because of the money and because this is the enviornment in which we thrive. You need to stay flat." He then spread his arms out and brought them together as if he was running his hands along a flat surface. The same guy told me once that there was "no hiding here", as in personality.

At first I thought that this was ridiculous and felt like saying "0o0o00o" to him in his fucking face when he started waxing philosophical, because I felt he was over compensating for his lack of importance . But then I realized that everything he was saying was true. I was blown away. The stress, the expression of self, and millions of dollars on the line, adds up to unbridled cathartic passion, the kind you used to dream about in college. It is truley do or die. And it is up to you and only you. Enlightenment ideals are fulfilled in this enviorment.

The existential crisis in trading is getting through the day: it requires focus, precision, a bottom-line personality, emotional discipline, and to know where you are going before you actually get there. You are constantly reworking where you are going, who you are, who you must be, adjusting to the factors around you. As a result, the skill set I am learning is greatly applicable to life, in the largest and most severe of senses.....a skill set that will help me face whatever challenges life may throw in my face as it does at my desk.

Who can deny that the 21st Century will usher in a New World Order, both internationally, domestically, culturally, and interpersonally? Who can deny that what is formenting these changes are the markets? This will be the focus in part 2.