Saturday, January 28, 2006

Two Philosophy Conferences

I was at two philosophy conferences this week. The first one I went to in New York was the Kripke Conference. I was at the first day of the conference, missing what I hear were some good talks on the second day. The speakers were pretty good. I have heard Scott Soames speak many times (He was a teacher of mine). He was good though a bit difficult to follow, as he usually is. He spoke about two routes to Kripke's necessary a posteori, one that works and one that does not.

Kripke (who came late) left us in the dark as to his speaking topic till the last minute. When he got up to speak it was about Identity, and it was a pretty good talk, not ground-breaking, but not bad either. No one was sure what he has been thinking about these days. Surprisingly, the New York Sun had a columnist there who wrote this article. (If anyone has access to the whole thing and wants to send it to me, I'd appreciate it.)

The second conference was JSCOPE. That is a military acronym for Joint Services Conferences on Professional Ethics. The conference was all non-attributional, so that means that I cant really repeat what anyone said (or at least I can't tell you who said what). So I'll just give you some impressions.

The conference was comprised of about 70% military people. Mostly majors, a lot of chaplains, a few philosophers. A lot of the military personnel teach at military academies. Many even teach ethics. For the most part few of the military personnel understood professional philosophy. Some who did were not good at it. On the flip-side few of the philosophers gave useful information to the military people there. That is not a criticism, merely a fact. They each came looking for different things, and they would have all benefited from a brief lesson on the other people there. But two or three of the professional philosophers came off really well and I was really impressed with them. I was also impressed with some of the military people who made some bold indictments against military ethics in general. Things like Abu Ghraib came up a few times.

I met some real philosophers who were interesting and who I would not have gotten a chance to speak with under other circumstances. That was nice. I also got to speak to some chaplains frankly about the two chaplain scandals going on now. The first involves non-denominational prayer at military functions and the second involves missionizing in the Air Force. The chaplains I spoke with (all Christian) were mostly of the opinion that what is done in Church should be Christian, and what is done in one's capacity as a minister to all people as a chaplain, should be non-sectarian. Some went so far as to say that there are some people who are chaplains who should not be. It was a good conference overall, and I hope to go back next year, but I think I'll try to get the government to fund me next time.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Where are Brooklyn Industries' stuff made?

I recently sent this letter to Brooklyn Industries:

Dear Brooklyn Industries people,

Recently while inspired by a sense of Brooklyn pride (which I have much of) I walked in to your Atlantic Avenue store to purchase some Brooklyn products. I thought, of course I want a Brooklyn sweatshirt. I looked around and saw that your products are on the pricey side. But that's fine. After all Brooklyn Industries is imbued with a sense of communal responsibility, and giving back. So being a Brooklynite, if I give to you, I get back. But I looked at all your products, and I could not find anything that was made in Brooklyn. That was incredibly disappointing.

I found sweatshirts made in Macau, sweaters made in Hong Kong, bags made in China, T-shirts (one of which I purchased) made in Canada, etc. I did see one nice acrylic colorful cap with a big pom-pom on it made in the US, but that is about it, and I do not look good in pom-pom hats.

So I ended up with a Canadian BI T-shirt.

It strikes me that the best way to give back to a community is to employ people in it. Then you generate jobs and income. If all your manufacturing is outsourced, how much are you really giving back? I would love to see more products that are inspired by Brooklyn and made here too. There seems like no greater way of giving back.

If not the manufacture of the clothing, what part of the industry is really about Brooklyn?

--Karl Czemer, Brooklyn

UPDATE: They responded with this letter quite promptly. I thought I would share it with you.

Hi Karl,

Thanks for inquiring about our Brooklyn Industries merchandise. I’m sorry that you were disappointed in not finding anything in our store that was made in the USA. Please note that all of the t-shirts in our Retrospective exhibit are in fact made in the US.

I would like to offer you a further explanation about our products:

Some of our merchandise is not made in Brooklyn. It is true that all of our products are designed here in Brooklyn, and many of our t-shirts are also manufactured here. However, we do have the more detailed clothing and bags currently produced in Turkey, India, Canada and China. For years we tried to make additional clothing categories here in New York. Many of our customers were unsatisfied with the results and often didn't pay the higher prices that those garments needed to have.

Unlike companies with products that are made in the USA that we are compared to, such as American Apparel and Manhattan Portage, we are a design company and as such we seek the best quality and standards to make our innovative product. Bags could not be made in NYC and have the same quality and function. Our intent is not as a manufacturer but as a design based company. We have standards that must be met, and we seek to only produce our product in factories that have high standards, that also meet international law for labor etc.

People often equate overseas labor with poor working conditions, but the president of our company has been to our three factories in China to make sure that they meet high US standards. In fact, he commented that all of the factories had much nicer environments than the factory that we use locally, he stressed that they were very clean, that the workers were getting paid well and that international law was being met. Overseas, we do our best to seek good manufacturers. That being said, we are a tiny company and our voice is very small. We would love to make more product in the US but have been unable to due to closing of factories, high prices, and there being a complete shortage (and in some cases non-existence) of manufacturers able to make clothing within the price point that our customers are willing to pay.

As far as our connection to the local community, we are very dedicated to our Brooklyn/NYC area and do our best to offer support. We live and work here, we design all our products here, we build our stores here, and we also donate to local causes.

I hope the overseas assembly of our clothing does not take away from all the local Brooklyn effort that went into creating it.

In our increasingly global economy, this question isn't as simple as a lot of people think it is. We think visiting the factories to ensure decent working conditions, supporting local charities here, and staying connected to local artists is a great way to run a responsible business.

Please email me if you have any further questions.



Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Munich - the movie

I saw Spielberg's Munich last night. I was a bit worried going in to the movie, what with all the brouhaha and all. I had heard all sorts of things from one friend who thought the movie was pretty good, to another who called it "self-hating and anti-Semitic".

I assume that the plot is no surprise to anyone. A bunch of Israeli athletes are murdered in the Munich Olympics. Golda Meir sends a team of people to kill all the people involved with the attack. The three hour movie actually spends about five minutes on the attack and the victims. The rest is spent on the team of people, led by Avner, killing the perpetrators.

This is where the first problem lies, as Charles Krauthammer comments, the victims are statistics, they are practically faceless, and it is almost comical when they are all running, trying to flee the gunmen in the hotel in their underwear. The Perpetrators have lives. They are human. They are polite, they are socialites, and they are literary scholars. Except for Avner, who has a wife and daughter, the team's characters have no depth, nor do the victims. Avner and the team's depth consisted of their moral problems with the mission.

So why do some claim this can bring peace to the Middle East? Why are people so up in arms about this? I think I have it figured out. It relies on a few things that people need to understand about today's Left.

But first, why was everyone so upset about this? The reason seems to be that one only displays moral qualms about some issue if there is a genuine moral problem. Hollywood would never waste our time showing two people agonizing over a moral issue if the answer was obviously cut and dry. Right? Hollywood is a great arbiter of mortality and if it says there is a moral dilemma, then damn it, there is one. So for those who take the reprisals as a natural morality-free response to the Munich massacre, then you'd be upset seeing it portrayed as a moral dilemma.

Incidentally this movie was not the story of what happened. The massacre took place, but after that, the record is a bit hazy. People on both sides (the Mossad and planners of the massacre) have dismissed the book that the movie is based on as inaccurate.

But let me get to the heart of the matter. Here is a sign of a contemporary liberal thinker: every act of killing can easily be construed as being on a moral par. "A" blows up an airline full of children. "B" kills "A" in response. For today's left, both "A" and "B" are both murderers. The big difference is in quantity. In the case of Munich, Black September killed about 10 athletes. Israel responded by killing about 10 Palestinians involved. Ergo both Israel and the Palestinians are mass murderers.

If you are a Hollywood (or academic) leftist, you probably think you are showing a balanced picture here, especially if you follow it up with reports of how this just escalates in a "cycle of violence" after the reprisal killings, where this never seems to end. So everyone is equally wrong here. No one gets blamed in a cycle of violence because . . . well . . . that is the nature of a cycle. It just keeps on going. No beginning or end.

But the movie faces a problem here. Avner, and his team are portrayed as having these moral qualms. That is what the movie is about. It would have been way too much of a stretch to portray the Palestinians as having a moral take on this. And it is this lack of a moral Palestinian dialogue that really shows Munich and Spielberg for what he is. He is a racist, like most liberals.

A liberal, first of all, only holds white people morally culpable. (Jews are white, Arabs are not.) White people know how to think morally, and are responsible for their actions. Lesser evolved peoples, for liberals, do not have such qualms. So when there is a moral issue at hand, only white people grasp the concept of taking it seriously. So the Israelis are portrayed as doing such, Arabs are not. (All liberals really believe this. Notice the lack of liberal outcry at such injustices as Rwanda, Sudan, Communist Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia, Halabja, Hama, (death toll nearly 4 million) and any mass murder committed by a non-white, and the constant hysterical liberal outcry at the South African Apartheid, and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians (Death toll what, 4000?). Notice that the “Just wars” of this century were against Milosevic and Hitler - white people, and not The Vietnamese Communists or Saddam Hussein (Asians and Arabs).) So I think when Spielberg made the focus of the movie to be the team’s difficulties, he is continuing this racism. I’d bet anything that in reality there was an equal amount of soul-searching on the terrorist part as there was on the team’s – zero.

Spielberg's racism, prima facie looks as if it is sympathetic to the Israeli cause. It is not. It is sympathetic to Israelis, not their objectives. It says "you Israelis are moral, and are to be held to an impossibly high moral standard." He wants to hold Israelis to some imaginary moral standard that exists only in Christian fantasy - the turn the other cheek standard.

At the same time, it condescends to Palestinians saying that they are not capable of moral reflection (which is clearly worth something, otherwise the whole movie wouldn’t have been about it), but nor do they need to be. Their cause is on par with the Israelis, despite the fact that they are incapable of having a conscience about it.

And this is what bothers me most. Non-white people are NEVER portrayed as having second-thoughts about the killing they are doing. It is just how they are. This exonerates them. They are not capable of moral thought, so why hold terrorism against them. As we are told in the movie, killing them just causes others to take their place, because the next generation will not either be able to think about the righteousness of their cause. We do not hear from the terrorist mouth that there will always be Israeli athletes, so why kill these? They, as non-whites are fairly incapable of that.

The movie was not very good, as a piece of morality, psychology, or history. It was a fiction. It was racist. It excused terrorism. It portrayed Jews as turn-the-other-cheek Christians.

Fellowships for who???

Ilan Weinglass has a good piece about Anwar Ibrahim and SAIS.


Man, these people are pretty sick. Kinda makes me hope that there is enough domestic spying going on to prevent this.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

In Florida

I am now in Florida. Walking on the boardwalk between 20th and 50th street at night makes you think you are in the middle of Williamsburg - all 100-year old hassidic couples. What do people do in Miami?

New Year's resolutions

I know I'm a bit late, but it is that time of year again. I am skipping the weight loss resolution, because I am finally in pretty good shape, though I am sure a few pounds off might help.

1) My number one priority is to finish my PhD. My goal is Sept 15. Let's see if I can make it.

2) I want a better social life. I think I need to form a strategy. Until now, I have been taking things as they come, because I had no better ideas. I still don't, but I need a new approach to a social life. It's time for a plan.

3) Work on fame and Fashionistadom. I will become a fashionista, or something closer than I am now. I will definitely dress better.

4) I think I need to advance in rank. I am due for a promotion.

5) Write. Write. Write.

6) See more of New York. There is still too much I haven't seen. I learn more every time I take a walk. I'll definitely read a book or two about New York, or Brooklyn.

Review of How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less

Those who know me well lately are probably aware of my interest in fashionista and celebrity culture. It is no surprise to anyone that celebrities, models, actors, and people of that ilk are generally vapid, celf-centered, egotistical, and generally annoying in a host of other ways.

I used to think that it just came with the territory, it was just part of being a model/actor. After reading Melissa de la Cruz and Karen Robinovitz's How to Become Famous in Two Weeks or Less I know better. Becoming as narcistic as most celebs are requires work, lots of work. One does not simply become as vain and shallow just like that.

The book is roughly about an assignment the two authors had from Marie Claire to become famous in two weeks. The book talks about Branding yourself and becoming recognizable, getting publicity, how to appear famous, and how fame breeds fame. There are chapters on how to manage the press, chat people up, and how to get lots of freee stuff.

The basic goal is to get your name in bold in People Magazine. To do this you position yourself around publicists and other famous people, and the hope is that fame will rub off. With fame comes swag and more fame.

One ges the impression that these people are the most self-absorbed people in the world. (One of the authors reminds me A LOT of someone I once dated, it was awful.) Apparenlty it takes that much to become famous.

I wonder if it still possible to become famous without all the self-absorbtion.

Anyway, that being said, call my people, send me free stuff, and pretend I really care about you, and whatever you do, spell my name right - Karl Czemer.

Friday, January 06, 2006

On Starbucks

When I am with friends and we are searching for a place to sit and chat inevitably the following conversation ensues:

"Where shall we go?"
"Some Cafe?"
"What is near here?"
"I really don't know the area, but I don't see any cafes nearby."
"There is always Starbucks"
"Well. . . I hate the big corporate atmosphere . . . but if there is nowhere else. . ."

And so it goes. We end up having coffee at Starbucks and the other person thinks that he or she is selling out to some big corporation that displaced thousands of mom and pop cafes that are better, cheaper, and more personal.

I find this attitude more than a little crappy. Here is why:

I am a snob. I do snobbish things with my life. I am an academic, I see independent films, I speak more than one foreign language, I don't listen to pop music, I disdain Hollywood, I would not be caught dead in McDonalds or any fast-food chain, I make jokes and references that less than 1% of educated humans understand. . . I pretend to know about wine and Bach, I visit the"the continent" from time to time. Most significantly, I spend a lot of time in cafes talking about Kafka and crap. I am most comfortable in places where lots of snotty people congregate and have lattes and discuss things that interest us and hold political conversations, and talk about philosophy. I have always been this way. For as long as I can remember, I loved hanging out in cafes philosophizing.

My favorites were places like the now-defunct Limbo on Ave A in the east village, and a few blocks away, and pick-me-up across the street. I am a big fan of the Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam Ave, and even Esperanto and Reggio on MacDougal. I spend a lot of time in all those places. And I tell you they are great places to have coffee and talk philosophy and be an intellectual.

So I know a lot about cafes, especially the student-types in New York. Let me tell you who goes patronizes these cafes: snobs. Yes, snobs, students, artists, faux-intellectuals, posers, wannabees, people who like to read, play chess, and talk politics. The same kind of people who patronized these types of places 150 years ago, when it was basically a forum for intellectuals, and you had to be a member to get in. You know who does not go to these places: regular people. Regular people do not feel comfortable in them. They do not know what to do in a place where people are supposed to sit down, get a ceramic mug, a metal spoon, and a cloth napkin, and spend $7.50+tip just drinking coffee. People who have lunch in McDonalds do not end up in cafe's after to have coffee.

Do you know where they end up now? Starbucks. The space that Starbucks has set aside for regular people is one that they never had before. There was always a place for the snobbish to go, they have these quaint little tucked-away cafes, and they always will. But now regular people can afford and feel comfortable in a place that used to only be the luxury of the elite, the intellectuals that knew how to talk about Proust. Now people can go and be regular and share the luxury that used to be the privlidge of the few. I am willing to share my space with the regular people for this.

The anti-Starbucks attitude, mind you, comes from these big communists who are always talking about social justice and working for the little guy. The mom and pop who ran the cafes. The whole time they are of course forgetting the real average person - the consumer, the person who did not feel comfortable patronizing the hipster joint where the young avant guard hung out.

The biggest proof that these people wanted to but could not go to a place like that is the success of Starbucks. There are 3 Starbucks' in Astor Place, which is just a traffic square. So many people are willing to pay two or three times what a cup of coffee goes for in a deli, just to be in a cafe that they feel comfortable in. And the people who go are not only the students, but all sorts of regular people who want a place to hang with their friends, children who want a place to do homework after school, guys getting together after work, and girls on shopping breaks. People who never would set foot in a small intimate cafe hang out in Starbucks. And there are a lot more of them then there are of me.

Sure Starbucks is the McDonalds of cafes, but without McDonalds, millions of people would not be able to afford to eat out, and restaurants would be the privledge of the elite. But it is the same for Barnes and Noble which made it acceptable to browse through the bookshelf even if you are not part of the literati. (Many B&Ns have Starbucks in them.)

Sure there will be a a documentary called "Make Mine Venti" about the dangers of switching to an all coffee diet for 30 days.

Sure there were a few mom and pop places which had to close because academics found it more convenient to get their coffee from starbucks.

But Adam Smith's invisible hand is well at work. Starbucks is maximizing happiness. It is making it possible for all to enjoy a sphere which is neither home nor work where one can go with others to be friends. So you have to learn some foreign words to order and you have to pay $9.00 for OK coffee for two. But that is something that Starbucks discovered that the average person deserves as much as us snobs.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Breaking up is easier that you'd think

I thought I would start the New Year with a new cell phone, like I tend to do every now and then. But this time I thought I could use a whole new plan and service. But I tend to hate breaking up. It is just an annoying thing to do.

But look, things were just not working out between me and Verizon Wireless. Now matter how often we kept reevaluating our plan, it just was never satisfying. I always seemed to need more then VW was putting out. So I see T-Mobile. Big plans, lots of minutes, and really sexy phone, so I'm like "I need that".

Now I have to come up wtih a way to break up with VW and hook up with T-Mobile. But T-Mobile is so great. T-Mobile just tells VW that I am no longer with them. I didn't have to talk to them at all. No tough break-up conversation, I didn't even have to agonize over a difficult to send email, post-it note, or even a break up text message. It was the easiest breakup ever. All break-ups should be this easy.

I am sure T-mobile was saying to VW that they understand what it is like to have me as a customer and they understand how hard it must be for WV. But they both lost customers to each other before and I am sure that VW will break up and I hope that it finds new customers.

Maybe this will serve as a lesson for VW. She really has a very good overall plan, but somehow it just always wants more money for stuff. It's a bit sneaky and annyoying.

So much to talk about

Happy last day of Chanukah, and Happy New Year.

So much has happened. "L" is getting married to "S" later today. Mazal Tov.

On Thursday night, we had a bachelor party for "L". Myself, "D", "D", "N", and "Y" went with "L" to Le Marais for dinner. Then we went out and really enjoyed ourselves. No I'm not telling.

Last week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I spent three days attending the American Philosophical Association conference, which luckily for me was held in New York, so I didn't have to go anywhere. Normally it alternates between Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and I think Atlanta. It was fun to see some famous philosophers, some philosophy bloggers, and catch up with people that I only see there or when I'm on some philosophy circut. I have to learn to enjoy these things more though.

I celebrated two New Years on 12/31. The first was the Moscow New Year. As Moscow came in to New Year, I was with "L" and many of his relatives in Brighton Beach. Mostly we drank vodka in a very Russian Restaraunt on Brighton Beach called, I think, "Arbat". There was also some food, and "L" wanted to make sure I mention that I learned that in Russia one chases vodka with pickled watermellon. It was odd.

I then celebrated New York New Year with "M", one of "L"'s relatives who livesx in Vermont. One of her friends knew someone who was having a party on 10th and 40something street. "M" was not happy that the party seemed to have mostly gay people. So no men for her. The women were fun. I had a good time.

Yesterday I also attended a family Chanukah party at my parents' house in Flatbush, and then a party at the "S" family of FOM. Many nice people were in attendance. (Someone who I hope remembers to put Descartes before the horse.)

Today I prepare for "L"'s wedding. Good luck with all that, "L".