notes on my note

so the law school has this crazy rule that you have to do a serious piece of writing in order to graduate.

i say, if i wanted to do a serious piece of writing, i would have gone to grad school instead of law school.

oh yeah, i did go to grad school.


and i failed to do a serious piece of writing either time.

but anyway, i've been nursing this idea for a note that would allow me to combine my ability to pass myself off as competent in semantics with my need to write something involving law, and also allows me to indulge in my favorite fiction, which is that international law has relevance to the conflict in the middle east.

basically, the idea goes like this: resolution 242 of the united nations security council was passed in the aftermath of the june 1967 war in which israel attacked (deal with it, zionists) egypt, syria and some other countries, and conquered the palestinian territories that it's been occupying illegally ever since (see above, zionists).

the resolution contains disputed language*. it calls for israeli withdrawal from "territories occupied in the recent conflict". the absence of a universal quantifier like "all", and a maximizer/totalizer like "the" before "territories" has engendered a debate over whether israel is required to withdraw from all of the occupied territories, or whether withdrawal from one dunam would be sufficient. it is a credit to the inventiveness of apologists for israeli hideosities, and a discredit to the notion that man is a rational animal, that many people actually take the second position seriously.

my goal would be to present a semantic analysis of the resolution. my present belief is that the text is ambiguous between a semantic universal and existential, while the anti-israel "pro-israel" position seems to be that it is unambiguously an existential. my arguments so far are from the compatibility of the sentence with an exceptive phrase like "except hilltops", and from the possible distribution of polarity-sensitive items, or whatever the pros are calling negative polarity items these days. the sentences (1) and (2), to which i added the diagnostic words in red, suggest a universal interpretation.

(peace should include)
1. withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict, except hilltops
2. withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories of any significance occupied in the recent conflict

to see that these are characteristics of sentences with universal interpretations, add "all" in front of "territories", and observe that the sentences sound right. to see that they're not compatible with existential interpretations, add "some" in front of "territories", and observe that they sound wrong. this does not show that these sentences lack an existential interpretation - only that they have a universal interpretation.

there is much more to be said on the subject, including an exploration of whether this fact has any legal significance, and a discussion of where the universal force of the sentence comes from. but i have two years to write this note, and only one day to write a memorandum in opposition to defendant's motion to dismiss, so i believe i'll go focus on that for just a bit.
* speaking of law, language, the occupation of palestine and "disputed": some ziotards try to dispute that "occupied territories" is accurate, and prefer "disputed territories", pointing to the fact that israel disputes that it legally belongs to the palestinians. this conflation of the adjectivalized participial form of the verb "dispute" with the sho nuff adjective "disputed" can be multiplied. observe: i hereby lay claim to all of england. therefore all of england is disputed territory, like palestine.

(i think i have notes somewhere on how to distinguish the participial adjective from the sho nuff adjective. one general test is compatibility with degree modifiers of adjectives like very/mad/wicked, or degree relations like -er/more/less/so/too/enough. compatibility with the adjective is sufficient but not necessary for concluding it's a sho nuff adjective.)

two from counterpunch

time for some lazy reposting.

alan maass discusses the connection between oil and imperialist warfare in oil and empire. he first describes how

[t]he cabinet of the new Iraqi government... approved a law that would undo Iraq's nationalized system and give Western oil giants unparalleled access to the country's vast reserves.

The oil companies would be guaranteed super-profits--on a scale unknown anywhere else in the Middle East--for a period of 20 to 35 years from oil pumped out of two-thirds or more of Iraq's oilfields.
even saudi arabia is furious, with king abdullah denouncing the occupation of iraq and turning down dinner invitations from his white house buddies. (we'll see how long that lasts.) maass goes on to give an overview of the geopolitical significance of oil of the kind that ought to be familiar to politically literate people. you know, that 2% or so of americans.

elsewhere on the counterpunch website, cockburn and st. clair take apart the "antiwar" senate vote.


phony paradoxes

simpson's paradox does not deserve the appellation. in fact, it would barely deserve the appalachians. and don't get me started on the raven paradox - you'll wish you hadn't.


what i'm listening to:

"the bling-bling era was cute, but it's about to be done
i'll leave you full o' clips, like the moon blocking the sun
my metaphors are dirty like herpes, but harder to catch
like an escape tunnel in prison, i started from scratch"

ideologies i'm skeptical of

legal realism. seems dumb as hell to me. does anybody know a defense of this ideology that's brief and easy to read?

wait - does anyone even read this blog?

"language is unlearnable and unusable"

the above statement was attributed to noam chomsky by a former syntax professor of mine. as i recall, he interpreted it as hyperbole, intended to convey that language is not learnable by humans using general cognitive methods*, and that there's no evidence from the structure of language that it's particularly well-suited for what most people take to be its main function, communication. both of these are themes of chomsky's work in linguistics.

i'm not interested in an assessment of this position, because that would take effort, and i am a lazy son of a bitch. i just want to present an argument in favor of the latter proposition, that the form of language is not well-suited for communication. more particularly, i'll point out that one of joseph greenberg's universals, if in fact universal**, shows that no language tailors its morphology to a communicative function that it could do very straightforwardly.

the universal i'm talking about is # 37 in greenberg's famous "some universals of human language..." paper:

A language never has more gender categories in nonsingular numbers than in the singular.
to illustrate, greenberg mentions hausa, which distinguishes masculine from feminine gender in the singular, but not in the plural***. the universal means that the reverse is never the case: you don't get languages in which there is a masculine/feminine distinction in the plural but not the singular, for example.

there's no reason in principle that this should be, other than the architecture of language. plenty of languages distinguish masculine from feminine plurals, and plenty don't distinguish them in the singular. it is therefore surprising that no language combines these two facts.

the reason this shows that linguistic form doesn't follow function is as follows: gender distinctions have a function: they disambiguate. for example, the gender morphology in "i saw john and mary and kicked him" makes it clear who i kicked. but there are more actual "real world" genders in the plural than in the singular. in the singular, you have masculine, feminine and neuter. in the plural, you have masculine, feminine, neuter, and mixed gender to refer to a plurality consisting of both men and women. if form followed function, you might expect the universal to go in the opposite direction.

but it doesn't. and i'm out.
* to which generative linguists say "duh!"
** some of his claimed universals turn out not to be so once languages are added to his sample. for example, his universal 31 - "If either the subject or object noun agrees with the verb in gender, then the adjective always agrees with the noun in gender" - does not hold of tamil, although it does hold of closely related malayalam.
*** the universal uses "nonsingular", which encompasses plurals, as well as duals, trials and whatever other nonsingular morphology might exist.

horsie joke

i've always wanted to wrote a joke, but have never been clever enough. but today i am, so here i go.

viola was showing her horse to sebastian and bragging about how smart he is. she demonstrates by asking:

"what's three plus four?"

the horse pounds its hoof against the ground seven times.

"what's two times three?"

it pounds its hoof six times.

"what's the square root of twenty-five?"

it pounds its hoof five times.

"aha!" exclaims sebastian. "your horse isn't that smart. it forgot about the negative root!"


hillel tactics at G-dub

the forward is reporting on some sketchy tactics adopted by george washington university's hillel to prevent a discussion on israeli apartheid. this took place during a talk at the university by former president jimmy carter, who was speaking on the subject. robert fishman, GW hillel's director, admitted that he and a group of jewish students made a plan to sit near the microphone and rush to it at the end of the talk, ensuring that mostly critical questions from a pre-scripted sheet were asked. this was accomplished, with four students reading questions directly from the sheet - none of which directly addressed the issue of israeli apartheid.

is there anything wrong with this? according to one way of looking at it, not much. as a hillel activist pointed out, nobody stopped anyone from asking questions. at worst, the associated press got the false impression that the audience was mostly critical, and people who had honest questions in response to the talk didn't get to ask them because they didn't act quickly enough.

i bring up this story because it illustrates an unfortunate tendency in the "pro-israel" crowd* to want to stifle and/or avoid debate of substantive issues. this is true in general, and especially true of discussions of israeli apartheid. documentation of apartheid is generally met with substanceless attacks rather than substantive response. in fact, i don't know of any attempt to seriously reckon with the arguments of uri davis, edward herman, jeff halper, the national lawyers guild, or anyone else who has analyzed israeli apartheid**.

it's especially unfortunate that a chapter of hillel was involved in this. i'm not saying that hillel is always neutral when it comes to israel***, but it generally tries to preserve the appearance, at least, of openness to a range of political views, in keeping with its mission of increasing jewish involvement on campus in a nonsectarian way. having been involved with several hillels, i've known many jews who've been interested in "doing jewish", as hillel calls it, but were put off by its reputation as a predominantly right-wing institution. the kind of theatrics that the forward article describes doesn't help hillel overcome this reputation.

* i use scare quotes around "pro-israel" because i don't believe that supporters of/apologists for israeli violence, racism and political intransigence are genuinely pro-israel. i'll blog about it sometime.

** i'm leaving out jimmy carter because i haven't read his book. i've also seen false statements
about israeli apartheid attributed to him by the mainstream U.S. media, such as the claim that there is no racial discrimination in israel proper (i.e. israel within the 1949 armistice lines). such claims, which run contrary to the unrebutted research of some of the authors i've mentioned, cast doubts on his credibility.

*** at some point, god willing, i'll tell the story of hillel's deplorable conduct at a panel featuring jewish and israeli members of the international solidarity movement, which i helped to organize.

brief thought about merit

my constitutional law professor, in class today, used the word "meritocracy" to describe a system in which admission to law schools depended on one's grades, LSAT scores and achievements.

what in hell do these things have to do with merit?!


what i'm re-reading

i'm re-reading guns, germs and steel: the fates of human societies - one of my favorite books ever. it tries to develop a serious account of why the people of europe, asia and north africa organized themselves in complex societies and came to have a virtual monopoly over the guns, germs and steel that europeans used to subjugate the people of the rest of the world.

i'll illustrate the breadth of coverage by listing some of the chapter titles and bylines:
  • up to the starting line: what happened on all the continents before 11,000 B.C.?
  • to farm or not to farm: causes of the spread of food production
  • from egalitarian to kleptocracy: the evolution of government and religion
  • how africa became black: the history of africa
the author, jared diamond, weaves these topics together in a grand historical/social/biological/botanical/linguistic narrative, which ultimately finds the answer to his question in the geographic size and shapes of the continents. the writing is lucid and convincing, and some of the facts and ideas are fascinating. highly recommended.

why you should read this blog, reason #1

this post inaugurates yet another blog. why in the world should you pay attention to this one, when there are so many other blogs out there, including ones of greater quality, relevance, and entertainment value than this one?

because this blog is, to the best of my knowledge, the only blog primarily devoted to things starting with the letter "L".*

topics i can envision covering include:

- law
- law school
- language
- logic
- logicality
- love
- left-wing politics
- the levant
- labor

topics that i cannot envision covering more than occasionally, unless i can recast them as starting with the letter "L", include:

- physics
- medical school
- psychoanalysis (unless lacanian)
- celebrity gossip (unless concerning lindsey lohan)
- personal gossip
- family
- right-wing politics
- dykes
- that TV show about the people marooned on a pacific island

* but i haven't looked around. if there's another blog devoted to these things, i'll have to find another compelling reason for you to read this one, won't i?