Thursday, October 28, 2004


... to the Red Sox, from this wobbly Yankees fan. Who am I to argue with the evident will of the gods? And there was something inspiring about how perserverance and team spirit turned these talented goofballs into champions. Enjoy yourselves, New England!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Forget your daddy. Who's your shrink?

Some interesting rationalizations by the always-quotable Pedro Martínez:

While Martínez was in the game, thousands of Yankee Stadium fans serenaded him with a singsong "Who's your daddy?" It was a reference to his bizarre statement after a September game in Boston that the Yankees were his daddy.

"It actually made me feel really, really good," Martínez said. "I actually realize that I was somebody important because I caught the attention of 60,000 people.

"Today I was the center of attention of all of New York," he added. "I don't like to brag about myself, but they did make me feel important."

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Preach it, Tim Burke

The most sensible commentary I've read on Derrida so far. My favorite part:
In some ways, this is yet another way we can see how much of postmodernism is less “post” and more the fall of a religion from its faith, the bitterness and lingering of a frustrated modernism. Derrida was oddly empiricist, in his way. Frequently, he would enter an ongoing discussion about a text, a turn of speech, a political regime, a sociological construct not by polymorphously opening up meanings and possibilities but by insisting that the one meaning that should be completely and utterly denied to us is that meaning which we are most commonly accustomed to seeing. Counter-intuitively, Derridean deconstruction was not a permissive practice, but an inhibitory one: it’s favorite word was, “No!”: no, this saying does not mean what we think it means; no, this book does not mean what it is said to mean; no, this government does not act as it says it acts; no, there is never male and female alone, always there is much more. You may have any meanings save those you are familiar with, trust in, assume: those are denied to you, because they are untrue.

This back-door empiricism, this authoritative negation, was one component of the interior absolutism of Derrida’s critical method. The other was the cry of all or nothing at all, that if communication could not be perfected, then there was no communication, if texts could not have a correct meaning, they meant everything, anything, nothing in particular. ... If meaning cannot be guaranteed with finality, then there is no use to talking about it at all. If interpretation cannot be absolute, it cannot be done save as a negation of all positive acts of interpretation. The massively excluded middle: that texts are more likely to mean some things than others, that some interpretation is more right than other interpretation, that communication is subject to some but not infinite slippage, that other subjectivities are not perfectly knowable but neither are they perfectly mysterious: all this was not so much denied as evaded by Derrida.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Adventures in moral hazard

From an insurance newsfeed:
China’s Ping An Insurance has launched a wedding protection policy in association with the Shanghai Association of Wedding and Ceremony Industry. The insurance covers cancellation and mishaps during the wedding, such as food poisoning.
The devil's in the details with those "mishaps." Can one get cover against the bride and groom shoving cake into each other's face? Against bad bridesmaid dresses? Or really bad choices of music at the reception?

Stickin' it to the man (corporate sarcasm edition)

The first phrase in the Hoover's profile of a certain insurance company:
"Like an enormous corporation, State Farm is

Herzen! thou should'st be living at this hour!

Via Brad DeLong, I find Chris Bertram quoting Alasdair Macintyre*:
For those who intend to write about Lenin there are at least two prerequisites. The first is a sense of scale. One dare not approach greatness of a certain dimension without a sense of one’s own limitations. A Liliputian who sets out to write Gulliver’s biography had best take care. Above all he dare not be patronizing…..The second prerequisite is a sense of tragedy which will enable the historian to feel both the greatness and the tragedy of the October Revolution. Those for whom the whole project of the revolutionary liberation of mankind from exploitation and alienation is an absurb fantasy disqualify themselves from writing about Communism in the same way that those who find the notion of the supernatural redemption of the world from sin disqualify themselves from writing ecclesiastical history.
More than almost anyone else on the Web, Chris Bertram lives up to the aim on his old blog: "with luck and judgement, no bullshit." But I think he's missed it with this Macintyre quote. Macintyre seems to be arguing, "Well, fine, you may argue with various practical consequences of Lenin's actions, or with subsidiary premisses B, C, D; but if you don't accept the basic premiss A (re the inherent nobility of the Communist project), you're disqualified from the argument altogether."

Now let's leave aside for a moment the inherent seductiveness of "the argument from inherent nobility."** Since when is it a good argumentative move to say that people who don't agree with your major premiss aren't allowed into the conversation? Sure, there were/are some really dumb critics of Communism. But there were/are some subtle and interesting ones as well. I would cite Arthur Koestler, and his revelations in the Spanish jail in The God That Failed; but I realize that some might dismiss him for his (admittedly weird) misadventures in later life. So instead, I'll cite one of my heroes, Alexander Herzen. Yes, he was a critic avant la lettre; and no, tragically, the book I want to quote, From the Other Shore, isn't on the Web anywhere that I can find. Nonetheless, Herzen, who managed to combine an ardent loathing of Tsarism with a deep skepticism of projects based on a Rousseau-like optimism regarding human nature, is remarkably illuminating on the revolutions of his time and of ours. (Oh, and he's nicely scathing as well. I believe he says that Rousseau's claim that "men are born free and everywhere they are in chains" is like saying "fish are born to fly and everywhere they swim." His cynicism is subverted by his real-life actions - devoting his inheritance to publishing The Bell, an anti-Tsarist newspaper, overseas).

* Disclaimer: I have not read Alasdair Macintyre in the original. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

** Which would be a good subject for another post, particularly if I were to write more than 3 a month. Teaser for the next time: my favorite statement of this argument is from an old George Steiner book review in the New Yorker:
Those who were wrong, hideously wrong, like the Bolsheviks, the Communards in France in 1871, the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, the millions who died proclaiming their fidelity to Stalin, were, in a paradoxical, profoundly tragic way, less wrong than the clairvoyant, than the ironists and yuppies, than the Madison Avenue hype peddlers and the jobbers "bellowing" on the floor of the bourse.... It is better to have been hallucinated by justice than to have been awakened to junk food.