watcha readin, little crispy? reading (and teaching) paul butler's book let's get free: a hip hop theory of justice. butler is a relatively young black former federal prosecutor who's now a law prof at george washington. it's quite a remarkable book - or at least butler is a remarkable figure - in many ways. one would think of him as a liberal, among other things for his attack on high incarceration rates, his advocacy of drug decriminalization, his attack on racial profiling, etc: these are in fact the central themes of the the book.
if we really thought of the left-right political spectrum as coherent, however, there are massive surprising infusions of conservatism. for example, his "theory of justice" is purely unabashedly retributivist. he thinks that punishing criminals is a matter fundamentally of vengeance; that's justice. well i've often argued for that position, which gets rid of so much easy self-deceived blahblah. he purports to get this - as well as a heartfelt phenomenology and critique of a society that locks up so many of its people - from hip hop music. (he writes: "I fell in love with hip hop music on a crowded dance floor at Yale." well, that's our america, I suppose; yale is of course also where easy-e earned the notches on his ak.)
the position butler is most noted for is "jury nullification"; he thinks that american juries have a right to decide not only on the guilt of defendants, but on the rightness of the law they allegedly violated. his view cutting to the chase is that juries should refuse to convict young black men of non-violent drug offenses, even when they did commit the offense as defined in a criminal code. (jurors for justice)
the idea of jury nullification is straight-up don'ttreadonme teaparty hyperamerican reactionary excellence. in 1852, the great anarchist/legal scholar/abolitionist/argumentative prodigy lysander spooner published a gigantic book tracing the practice from magna charta to the fugitive slave act (when juries refused to convict those who harbored escaped slaves, though that was clearly against the law): an essay on trial by jury. (i'm gonna write butler to make sure he knows this work; well, i assume he does).
let's get free is a really passionate attack on our carceral society and a plea for reform. now it has some limitations. butler argues that lower rates of incarceration would make us safer. he takes himself to have "demonstrated" this, but really the wielding of statistics and so on, while suggestive, is impressionistic or even kind of careless; butler does not really go for the throat with an attempt at systematic knockdown argument. one reason for that is that the book is intended as a kind of light popularization of legal theory. that's what really accounts for book's other great weakness as well: there is very little depth of scholarship of any sort; there isn't even an index. this is particularly glaring on something like jury nullification, a serious defense of which would require much more care and erudition than butler displays.but i have to say that the basic idea of american liberties as a way to address racism and the prison-industrial complex is extremely compelling. butler surprises over and over; it's just a very creative way through the territory: fundamentally original. how many law school deans/federal prosecutors are going to come out in support of the baltimore stop snitchin movement? butler's discussion is remarkably nuanced but also excellent common sense.look one thing you have to admire and never see is someone with no particular affiliation; someone who thinks beyond or before the left/right split.
i also think the light touch and quick polemics are basically why my students are actually enjoying reading the book, and actually do seem to be reading it. if i were teaching trial by jury, i'd have two freaks out of 37 students reading along.quoted by butler: i'd free all my sons. still living for today, in these last days of time.
i guess i do this every week, but frank rich sucks, and he sucks in a way that reveals the state of our political discourse. an emblematic sentence: "In just that week, the Party of No’s intransigent campaign of obstruction and obfuscation went belly up." this is just a series of catch-phrases made up by other people; rich is collaging rather than composing. it's like he's writing a strategy memo summarizing other people's strategy memos. he has nothing to do with the language that appears under his name; he might as well be software.
there's nothing distinguished, rhythmical, amusing, or, of course, persuasive. really the first qualification for being a new york times columnist should be excellent or distinctive writing.
in today's washpost: Bill Gates and Chad Holliday| In the realm of energy, we need a vigorous strategy to invent our future.
i've heard more interesting ideas from my deck furniture. also my deck furniture has a less debased prose style.
this is a pretty funny story: the guy's wife was killing his rivals on amazon; all are eminent british academics. now on the other hand robert service among others approaches the whole thing with extreme incomprehension.
Service...alerted more than 30 leading historians in Britain and abroad in a furious email.
In it, Service condemned the online reviews as "unpleasant personal attacks in the old Soviet fashion", adding: "Gorbachev banned anonimki from being used in the USSR as a way of tearing up someone's reputation. Now the grubby practice has sprouted up here."
Though, having been alerted to the problem, Amazon had by now removed the offending reviews, Service continued: "How to expunge the practice and expose the practitioners of malign electronic denunication in countries of free expression is, I think, a matter for debate."
dude. it's an amazon reader's review. of course the reviewer might be your rival's wife, or your mother-in-law, or whatever. you have to learn to read in the genre/medium you're in. amazon isn't the government, much less the soviet government. it isn't the times literary supplement. it's a website where more or less anyone can say more or less anything and try to disguise themselves, which has its own charm. ok then you try to ascertain the identity and you post that. it's a different mode of filtering. like the other, it's radically imperfect. but what the hell. i don't even think amazon should have taken the stuff down; i'd like to read it. like i say, just post more.
now on the other hand you'd have to say that this is a bush-league move by stephanie palmer (the wife) and - one would have to suspect - by orlando figes (the russian historian).
i spent long years as a critic, mostly of music, and though i of course delighted in hearing music that i loved, i delighted in writing about music that i hated. other things being equal, negative reviews are far more fun to read than positive ones, which more often than not are woolly formulaic blurbs. by and large, slams are sharper, better-written, and more various. so if you stop thinking for a moment of criticism as a mere reflection of or in relation to something else, and think of it as itself a form of writing and something to read, you will accompany me to the dark side.
positive reviews always impose a slight obligation, are always a little guilt trip. you'd better buy this/read this/etc now, or be left behind, or parade your ignorance: each positive review is another hole in your soul, albeit a tiny one. a negative review is an itsy-bitsy relief, an infinitesimal liberation.
and the very best kind of negative review is a beautiful slam of an "important" work that everyone else will dutifully adore.
now a lot of people actually think it's wrong to hate things, particularly works of art. somebody worked hard on that. no doubt. but still i disagree. be big in your loves and hence big in your hatreds: form definite, real opinions. really react with your whole self.
and i say to you artistes that if you can't take somebody's dislike, then don't even start. you're putting it out there. now it's theirs, and it's time to go on to the next one. show some goddamn guts. there is no reason to be loved by everyone. you don't need that; it can't actually do you any good: it won't cure you. and if that's what you need, then you'll make something insipid, unreal. write or whatever it may be from your power, not your need.
if you're ian mcewan there has been a stampede of fawning adoration for years. so take this and grin, maybe. or do better next time. at least you did something that someone found worth hating. that is, you did something. i just want to say, i've survived bad reviews, sometimes enjoyed them immensely. and someday i'd love to get killed by walter kirn in the nytimes. that would be victory. i want to be hated at least as much as i want to be...blown.
and of course there are, like literally, a million novelists who have envied ian mcewan for their whole failed careers. now they feel better.
more extreme violence, at least rhetorically: tonight chris matthews characterized "these people's rhetoric" as "dangerous," then put up in illustration a sarah palin soundbite, in which she said of the obama administration that "it's all alinsky all the time." so that's past your limit? it's wacky or just wack to think that's dangerous or hint that it's going beyond what's protected by the first amendment because it's an incitement to violence or something. (what does "dangerous" mean here?) "it's like she's saying 'trotsky,' like she's saying obama is not an american." really? because it doesn't seem like that to me. or even if it was "like" that, it's not what she actually said. was it racist? so how come you keep saying it is? how come these people can't take a free-wheeling debate or endure a rhetorical flourish? it's frigging pathetic.
nothing is more fun than pounding on a dude when he's down, so more on tony judt.
Social democrats, on the other hand, are something of a hybrid. They share with liberals a commitment to cultural and religious tolerance. But in public policy social democrats believe in the possibility and virtue of collective action for the collective good. Like most liberals, social democrats favor progressive taxation in order to pay for public services and other social goods that individuals cannot provide themselves; but whereas many liberals might see such taxation or public provision as a necessary evil, a social democratic vision of the good society entails from the outset a greater role for the state and the public sector.
if you read me, even occasionally, you've got a notion of what i'm going to say. if the state is the agent of collective action - all of us, together, shaping our collective future - then put down the fucking guns. these folks are still social contract theorists. i don't know, go read hume's of the original contract, etc.
also i must say that judt's picture of a lost generation - at sea, basically because of the loss of marxism (sadly discredited by right-wing propaganda that quibbled with the tens of millions of corpses) - doesn't corrspond with the knots of preppies and excellent golfers that i, personally, teach. there doesn't seem to be any angst at all.
sorry for slow blogging. life is kind of overfull sometimes! i know y'all want to hear all my peeves; nothing is so edifying and interesting or closer to the basic use of a blog. anyway, the use of the term "individual" to mean any person is just epidemic. i first got it from police-speak, where i guess the idea is to distinguish official from informal communications in some entirely useless and meaningless way. but now i notice it, for example, in anyone's media quotes about anything, and it's suddenly non-stop in student papers, incomprehensibly. i can only speculate that its use is to signal that the suspect or citizen referred to is not a pair of conjoined twins, or is not harboring within her body an entire intact person as a humunculus, which obviously might be an important fact, particularly if you're contemplating random wide-scale vivisections, which we obviously are.
perhaps, on the other hand, the use of the term is a pointedly ironic commentary on our amazing era of social constructionism and ecstatic collectivism. after all, the last human individual died in 1927.
no one is sillier, more useless, or more fundamentally misguided, more self-righteous, more...mentally ill, than the pc police.
The ad in question features the mascot King running maniac . . . er, psychot . . . er, quickly through an office building. He breaks a window pane, gives a befuddled-looking woman a Whopper, then is tackled by two white-uniformed medical types. The King is "crazy" and "insane," the medical types explain, because he wants to give away his meat for the low, low price of $3.99!
"I was stunned. Absolutely stunned and appalled," says Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director for the Arlington-based National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of the nation's largest mental health advocacy organizations. He called the ad "blatantly offensive" and hopelessly retro in its depiction of mental illness, adding that the commercial could lead to further stigmatization, the primary barrier for individuals to seek out treatment. "We understand edgy," Fitzpatrick says. "But this is beyond edgy. Way beyond."
The Apostles of Anger in their echo chamber of fallacies have branded [Obama] the enemy. This has now become an article of faith. Obama isn’t just the enemy of small government and national solvency. He’s the enemy of liberty.
This underscores the current fight for the soul of this country. It’s not just a tug of war between left and right. It’s a struggle between the mind and the heart, between evidence and emotions, between reason and anger, between what we know and what we believe.
this is a fine crytallization of where today's left is at. there is no argument at all, just continual, insufferable self-congratulation. the fact that you assert every day that you are smarter than your opponents doesn't make you smarter than your opponents. insults are not arguments, which is something you should learn from limbaugh, if you get me: your rhetorical level and his are identical. the accusation of rage etc - that you run on emotion while we run on reason - is just ridiculous. first off, nothing wrong with anger in politics, for god's sake. second: what you say and how you say it enacts precisely anger: a breathtaking performative contradiction. there is nothing in this piece but...propaganda, agitation, insult. then to represent yourself as the apostle of reason is...mind-numbing.
one central idea is that the views of blow's opponents are manipulated: the "echo chamber" effect. this is part of the presentation in which left=reason and right=emotion. well then i suggest you listen to obama throwing down the anecdotes about bankrupt unemployed people trying to get healthcare for their kids etc. and if the left's opinions were less manipulated or echochambery than the right's, i think they'd be less incredibly unanimous than they are. they wouldn't all be saying the same words in same order.