DAY 101: In Proportion

September 22nd, 2014 § 1 comment

OK, I have another apology for a prolonged absence – and I expect that my loyal readers will have by now given up in despair and started reading lacan.comjadaliyya, or ‘the music salon’ or following Naomi Klein‘s twitter feed in disgust; imagining that I’d given up, been kidnapped by fanatical Pentecostals, or fallen sick of flu or anxiety neurosis or chikugunyachikugunya

 Chikugunya virus

and might never be heard from again. No; the facts, as usual, are simpler – a combination of laziness, a brief break in the neighbourhood of Orvieto;

photoVia del Duomo

and then I became unaccountably preoccupied with the Scottish secession movement, which led me on to a rant about Lincoln, Gettysburg and ‘Gone with the Wind’. And then the whole thing was over, and my planned blast against the new Confederacy was dead before it was off the ground. (I did find a recipe for a delicious dish of potato gnocchi with taleggio and pears, which I’d had in Italy; the recipe is a bit overwritten, mercifully the writer has burnt the walnuts and so decided to leave them out.)

Still, something can/may yet be salvaged. I was, by a lucky chance, sent one of those calls for papers from mags who power the American research publication/academic jobs industry, as follows (I quote):

‘This special issue takes a fresh look at relationships between nature, numbers, and narrative in counting (on) the future. It explores the intersections and tensions between sensory or emotive experiences of nature, on the one hand, and the bureaucratic, political, and scientific quantification of the environment, on the other hand. We explore trans-disciplinary questions about how states, citizens, and other entities quantify and standardize the world around them, as well as their own bodies, perceptions, values, and ethics.

Such questions include the following:
How have attempts to quantify and standardize the human senses alienated individuals

kdlangfrom their experiences, facilitated communication and cooperation, or otherwise altered power relations?
What aspects are rendered more or less visible?
How, where and when does quantification lead to consensus, conflict, co-optation, or competition?
How does quantification mobilize implicit and explicit narratives of what the future will (or should) be like?
What is lost and/or gained through such efforts?’

And so on – you can see the kind of thing. 250 word abstract by the end of October, 7000 word paper by the end of December. Any of you who have read my classic text ‘Write an Abstract in Ten Minutes and a Harvard-Referenced Paper in Ten Hours on 200 Cigarettes and Two Pounds of Coffee’ will know that a project like this is both easy and a fun way of passing the weary hours between demonstrations. It was quickly obvious that the recent Gaza aggression had generated a huge amount of quantification in terms of numbers killed as against supposed strategic gain. Now, as we all know, the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention says that an attacker has committed a war crime if he/she has not observed ‘proportionality’. Amnesty is always claiming – as recently in Gaza – that the Israeli operations P-fce49772-0b1a-45f6-a4b0-38dae6d134f1were not proportional. Hence – in short – a mathematical criterion can define a war crime.

(At this point readers will certainly point out that the Protocol doesn’t actually contain the word ‘proportionality’, though it’s constantly used by lawyers; that no one has defined the criteria although everyone agrees that there should be some; and so on. One could say, we have a crime which is not only mathematical but formally undecidable. Pretty cool, you’ll agree.) With my background in maths and law, the project seemed a pushover. All it needed to persuade a cultural studies journal to pick it up was the odd reference to Badiou – who loves mathematics and hates human rights – and to Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL to you). I tried to bring in Gödel, but he didn’t quite fit. So here, as a sample of how you do it, is my abstract:


‘The idea of ‘proportion’ is as old as mathematics itself, most famously embodied in Euclid’s difficult Book 5.Triangles within Circles, Lecture Diagram circa 1817-28 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Euclid, illustrated by J. M. W. Turner

(Euclid 2010) By drawing on it to define a principle of ‘proportionality’ (ICRC n.d.) and outlawing attacks which do not conform to it international humanitarian law appears to define a crime whose definition is mathematical, and so in principle calculable; and  it is constantly asserted, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and most recently in Gaza (Amnesty 2014).

However, the law of Law, like that of mathematics, is bounded by undecidability and uncertainty. How much is ‘too much’ (Shamash 2005)? The vast literature agrees both that a ‘calculus’ is impossible, but that something like one must be achieved. The answers have to be decided in the context of international law – rarely enforceable, constantly contested and, one might add, institutionally racist (see Baxi 2005). This paper will draw on ideas of TWAIL as well as thoughts of Badiou (Stramignoni 2008) to construct a counter-politics of proportionality where equity and equality confront the inherently disproportionate power relations which rule the world of international humanitarian law.’

I won’t give you the bibliography except for Esther Shamash, a particularly clever find from the 2005 IDF Law Review, no less. You can see that the abstract is both trendy (so appealing to the hypothetical audience) and confrontational (so salving my conscience). I look forward to hearing from the distinguished referees.

This seems an appropriate place (do you really mean that?) to insert Auden’s poem about the law:


Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.

Last night I ran into a Ladino musician who recommended some of his Youtube offerings. (We were waiting for a meeting, in fact we’d both got the time wrong, and how better to pass an hour than talking about Ladino music?) So here’s ‘Adio Querida‘, which speaks for itself…


§ One Response to DAY 101: In Proportion

  • James734 says:

    I like the Adio Querida. Ill pass it onto Mary and see if she can understand any of it. I looked up ‘Ladino music’ and it seems you have ‘Ladino people’ who are a category of Mestizo people in Guatemala, but also you have ‘Ladino’ as in referring to a rural village in Novorzhevsky District of Pskov Oblast, Russia. This has nothing to do with Central America but perhaps this is where the proportionate idea of views come in on who has the power in the East or West (Russia or America). Usually in this case we are talking about North America and it’s ability to supply weapons to Israelis to attack Palestinians. Law is variable and I assume partly based on religious grounds but also on social communities and whoever governs power and tries to invent laws based on their belief/s. I forgot to send you this video clip of Boccherini Fandango – Castanets so here it is:

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