Saturday, September 20, 2003

One-eyed, one-horned, flyin'

Sheb Wooley has died at the age of 82. There is an obituary here. People of a certain age will remember his song Purple People Eater.

posted by norm at 10:26 pm | link

Sun Ra

A while ago I posed this question:
Can any jazz person out there explain to me the thing, if there is one, about Sun Ra? I don't get him. I confess to having only one of his albums: Space Is The Place. But although I remain and listen where Wife of the Norm runs out of the room when it's playing, it perplexes me.
I'm not sure why it's taken him as long as it has, but Chris Smith out in Shetland writes as follows:
Did anyone ever respond to your request for an explanation of Sun Ra? I ask, not because I'm about to give one - no time! - but to suggest that 'Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth'/'Interstellar Low Ways' (Evidence ECD 22039-2) might be helpful. It's early material from within the Ra cosmology, and it always strikes my ears as a link between 'the proper jazz' and 'the crazy stuff' (irony on/off both times). As such it sort of functions to me as an explanation of what he was about - but mainly, it's really enjoyable listening. My wife doesn't - quite - leave the room when I play Sun Ra; but when I acquired the double CD of Saturn singles, cries of 'Can't we have something else?' were loud in the land.
Hmmm. Well, I'll give it a go then.

posted by norm at 10:25 pm | link

Sussex win county cricket championship

Test match cricket being my thing, I don't pay too much attention to county cricket, to be honest, but I shouldn't let this go unremarked. Paul Weaver:
The world, or at the very least Hove BN3 3AN, stopped yesterday when Sussex County Cricket Club won the championship for the first time in their long and exotic history.

Play was suspended for seven minutes at 1.44pm in the fourth over after lunch when Murray Goodwin, on his way to a more personal epiphany, pulled a short delivery from Phil DeFreitas through midwicket for four.

The boundary hoisted Sussex's sixth bonus point of the match and confirmed the first title for the oldest county club, formed in 1839. Some members, clutching sticks and walking frames with fingers as translucent as sausage skins, looked as though they had been there all the time.
So, though I'm a day late, I've done my duty.

posted by norm at 9:25 pm | link

Cultural theory

Good piece by Terry Eagleton here:
Cultural theory as we have it promises to grapple with some fundamental problems, but on the whole fails to deliver. It has been shamefaced about morality and metaphysics, embarrassed about love, biology, religion and revolution, largely silent about evil, reticent about death and suffering, dogmatic about essences, universals and foundations, and superficial about truth, objectivity and disinterestedness. This, on any estimate, is rather a large slice of human existence to fall down on. It is also rather an awkward moment in history to find oneself with little or nothing to say about such fundamental questions.
Postmodernism is obsessed by the body and terrified of biology. The body is a wildly popular topic in US cultural studies - but this is the plastic, remouldable, socially constructed body, not the piece of matter that sickens and dies. The creature who emerges from postmodern thought is centreless, hedonistic, self-inventing, ceaselessly adaptive. He sounds more like a Los Angeles media executive than an Indonesian fisherman. Postmodernists oppose universality, and well they might: nothing is more parochial than the kind of human being they admire.
Terry has a swipe at 'the so-called war on terror', but that's all it is, a passing swipe without argument. The rest is interesting.

posted by norm at 9:22 pm | link

Terror's European converts

An interesting piece in the LA Times about Pierre Richard Robert:
A Moroccan court sentenced him to life in prison Thursday after convicting him of recruiting and training Moroccan extremists for a terrorist campaign.

He joins an unlikely group of men with non-Muslim backgrounds that includes Richard Reid, the British "shoe bomber" convicted of trying to blow up an airliner; American Jose Padilla, an alleged Al Qaeda operative being held as an enemy combatant; and Christian Ganczarski, a German convert arrested in June by French police.

Robert and Ganczarski were not just foot soldiers, investigators say. They represent a dangerous trend as police chop away at Islamic networks two years after the Sept. 11 attacks: converts who assume front-line roles as recruiters and plotters.

The number of converts has grown as Islamic militants have struck a chord with young Europeans from non-Muslim backgrounds.
Root causes, people? Tea and sympathy? Chocolate biscuits?

posted by norm at 11:35 am | link

They just don't get it

The Bleeb's apologists don't, is who. In the usual place today there's a piece by Alan Rusbridger favourably comparing the BBC's standards of impartiality and such with those of… the Sun, and the Times, and even the old slimey dnoc itself ('slimey' here is mine, obviously, not Rusbridger's). He only fails to mention that we don't have to pay a licence fee towards supporting any of these other organs.

Well, no, let me be fair; Rusbridger does kind of mention it:
The usual argument offered at this point is that a public service broadcaster has an obligation to act according to higher standards than those of a mere newspaper.
He then ducks the point, though:
But it is hard to imagine the Times or Telegraph advancing such a case. They would scarcely offer the BBC such stern ethical lessons unless they believed themselves to be at least its equal.
It's not a matter of what case Alan Rusbridger imagines the Times or Telegraph might advance. It's a matter of why the many citizens of this country who had stumped up their licence fee but didn't belong to the would-be progressive anti-war consensus should have had, night after night, watching news broadcasts on the BBC, to endure the likes of Fiona Bruce feeding to her interlocutor - in Iraq or in the studio - and often enough getting back from them, the 'nyeeh, nyeeh, bad for the Coalition… nyeeh, nyeeh, nyeeeh, opinion in the Arab world… nyeeh, nyeeh, nyeehtie-nyeeh, difficulties for Tony Blair'; with not too many 'nyeehs' at all concerning, you know, 'brutal dictatorship', or 'rather one-eyed anti-war protestors', and so forth.

There are many who scoff at Fox News, but with Fox it was upfront. They were on the side of America and the Coalition. You knew where you were. The BBC, which has a duty of impartiality, tilted - and that's putting it softly - against the war and therefore against those leading it and prosecuting it.

Nyeeh, nyeeh, nyeeh. Probably Fiona Bruce is a nice person. I have no clear evidence against the proposition. But I can no longer stand the sight or the sound of her, representing, as she has come to in my eyes and ears, the moral betrayal the BBC perpetrated on the citizens of this democracy and the people of Iraq.

posted by norm at 11:31 am | link

Thought for the day

Julie Burchill:
[T]hey always tell you at school how many people communism and fascism killed, but never ever how many people capitalism killed.
Yup. And it's not only in school.

posted by norm at 11:25 am | link

Friday, September 19, 2003

Blogger independence

Blogger, how separate are you from your blog? Find out here (via Blairista!). Rather to my surprise, I came out not quite 50% owned by my blog. I thought it was much worse than that.

posted by norm at 5:36 pm | link

Blog's dreckfest

In this post I respond to a certain strand of leftist anti-war opinion - a strand about those of us on the left who supported the war in Iraq - and I return to one of the points I made earlier in my essay on that subject. The post contains a fair bit of quotation, starting with some opinions of Stephen Marks. These were expressed a while back in the comments box at Harry's Place. Stephen referred there to 'Dubbya's useful idiots in the so-called "pro-war left"' - 'so-called', if I read him right, because according to him there is no such left:
The reason why most opponents of the war give little time to the so-called 'prowar left' is that we see very little sign apart from a few high-profile media columnists and a narcissistic mutual reinforcement mechanism in the blogosphere, that it actually exists.
Just mark that for the moment, and now mark this, Stephen's view (at the same two locations) about what ought to happen next in Iraq:
The only way forward to a stable democracy in Iraq is for power to be handed over now to a representative provisional government of Iraqis, and for them and them alone to decide what foreign troops should be in Iraq, what their remit should be, who should get the rich contracts for rebuilding etc.

[And again:] I hope France Russia and Germany let him [Bush] twist in the wind a bit longer before giving him what he wants. In doing so they will also be doing a favour to the people of Iraq. For only an interim government which beyond all doubt is not an American puppet, will be able to mobilise the popular support needed to defeat the Saddamite and fundamentalist saboteurs.
With these opinions noted, let's take a look at a few other things. This is from a report from Baghdad by the BBC's Caroline Hawley early last week:
[I]n the five months since the Americans captured Baghdad, little on the surface seems to have changed in Sadr City. If anything, it's got worse.

"They've not really done anything for us," says Muhammad. "There've been no improvements. But at least we can now sleep at night without worrying that there's be [sic] a knock on the door and we'll be carted off to the army. At least we can speak freely."

And speak Iraqis do.
Zainab Hussein lost her husband, a former army officer, to Saddam Hussein's gallows in 1998.

He had lost faith in the regime, she says, when he witnessed Saddam Hussein's cousin, Chemical Ali, setting light to a child with a petrol hose in 1991, when Shia were mowed down, en masse, in southern Iraq.

He had been trying to escape the country with his family when he was arrested in 1996 - and hung two years later.

"You can't imagine how excited I was when Saddam fell," says Zainab, a secular Iraqi who works in a hotel coffee shop to support her five children.

"I thought the future would change completely. I'd seen the Americans on the TV and watched how they treat even their pets. We thought the streets would be cleared up, that there would be new fashions from America, but so far nothing. Nothing."

She shakes her head and adds: "It was all a dream."

But the 36-year-old widow, on balance, believes the Americans are liberators more than occupiers.

"It's good that they got rid of Saddam Hussein, but the problem is that they haven't changed anything," she says. "I just want them to fulfil their promises to us."
"In the days of Saddam, I used to treat three people with gunshot injuries every day," says Dr Muhammad Zaid, as he walks down a bare, grimy corridor. "Now it's about 50."

But Dr Zaid believes the country is better off than under Saddam Hussein, whose opponents so often disappeared without trace.

"It's a difficult thing for us Muslims to be ruled by Americans," he says. "But we could never have got rid of Saddam without them. He was a criminal that we thought we'd have to live with forever."

Despite suspicions about America's motives for toppling Saddam Hussein, only the tiniest minority of Iraqis would want him back.

But nor do Iraqis want the Americans around for long. "We're a proud people who won't bow to anyone," says Zainab.
And this is Salam Pax, answering questions during a 'webchat':
Question: When do you expect / hope the coalition will pull out of Baghdad and give you back your city?

Answer: As soon as we're back on our own feet. If they pull out of Baghdad too soon, we'll have chaos. If they stay after we have a government, and when it looks like we are able to run things, it would be unacceptable. For the moment I think we need their help. It's less the military force, more people helping us in governance issues, administration, showing people the way.

Question: ... do you support the coalition's attempts to oust the regime?

Answer: Yes, I support the ousting of the regime. Most Iraqis don't have any problem with the coalition coming in. We needed their help. It was never going to happen any other way...

Question: ... Tony Blair said that if he asked the average Iraqi if they would prefer Saddam back they would look at him as if he was insane. What would you do if Tony Blair asked you if you would rather have Saddam back? Do you think Tony Blair's once fabled feel for public opinion now applies to Iraqis? What do you think of UK and us politicians telling us what the average Iraqi thinks?

Answer: There is no comparison in the problems we have with services and the issue of the fallen regime. These things are separate. Everyone is really glad that Sadam has gone. There is no one in Iraq that... wants him back, unless it's someone who benefitted from the old regime. So no, never. It's over. With all the problems we have with services and utlilities, this is a problem that can be dealt with in time. People had unrealistic expectations. I had unrealistic expectations that everything will be up and running in two weeks. The coalition is not in tune with our culture. Tony Blair will never get a feel for public opinion in Iraq. Maybe they rely too much on the opinion of advisors.

The general sentiment is that we needed help to get rid of Saddam. But how it was done and planned could have been better. Wars are never OK, but the actual war did much less harm than everybody was expecting. The Iraqi troops decided not to fight and the way the Coalition forces decided to move into the country and the precise bombing meant that things could have been much much worse. Things are going wrong now post-war. It's the lack of planning and the wrong advisors. They are Iraqi exiles who are out of touch with present-day needs.
Now, I think it would be fair to say that all the Iraqis quoted here display a critical attitude towards the US and the Coalition presence in Iraq. Yet they are united in the view that the freeing of their country from Saddam Hussein's rule by the Coalition was a good, and one which they supported and even now support. In a nutshell, 'the country is better off' despite the many problems. Other sources confirm the prevalence of this view amongst Iraqis, or suggest it more strongly still. For example the results of a poll, reported here (via Martin Dickinson at Tullius):
[Y]ou can write off the possibility of a Baath revival. We asked "Should Baath Party leaders who committed crimes in the past be punished, or should past actions be put behind us?" A thoroughly unforgiving Iraqi public stated by 74% to 18% that Saddam's henchmen should be punished.

This new evidence on Iraqi opinion suggests the country is manageable. If the small number of militants conducting sabotage and murder inside the country can gradually be eliminated by American troops... then the mass of citizens living along the Tigris-Euphrates Valley are likely to make reasonably sensible use of their new freedom. "We will not forget it was the U.S. soldiers who liberated us from Saddam," said Abid Ali, an auto repair shop owner in Sadr City last month - and our research shows that he's not unrepresentative.
Or look at this item, linked to by many blogs over the last couple of days, the opinions of Judge Don Walters, a federal judge from Shreveport, LA, who served as part of a 12 man team in Iraq to evaluate their justice system:
I want to make it clear that, initially, I vehemently opposed the war.
What changed my mind?
I have seen the machines and places of torture. I will tell you one story told to me by the Chief of Pediatrics at the Medical College in Basra. It was one of the most shocking to me, but I heard worse. [The Judge goes on to tell this terrible story.]
The steady drip, drip, drip of bad news may destroy our will to fulfill the obligations we have assumed. WE ARE NOT GETTING THE WHOLE TRUTH FROM THE NEWS MEDIA. The news you watch, listen to and read is highly selective. Good news doesn't sell.
Finally, have a look at the article by Johann Hari excerpted in my previous post, immediately below this one.

Back now to the views of Stephen Marks with which I began. I can't say precisely where Stephen stands on the spectrum, mildly-averagely-severely-critical of the Coalition in Iraq. I'd reckon he's over somewhere in the 'severely' segment of it. But, wherever he stands, I infer from his view about what should happen next in Iraq that, like most Iraqis, he too thinks the freeing of Iraq from Saddam Hussein's rule was a good and leaves the country better off than it was before. I'm inferring this because, in his judgement about what should happen next, Stephen just avails himself, so to put it, of the post-Saddam state of affairs as his starting point. He doesn't call for a restoration of the Baathist regime. To forestall needless sidetracking here, let me say that I'm well aware that my inference doesn't have to be a sound one. Stephen could say that taking the current state of affairs as his starting point is merely a matter of realism. It doesn't have to mean he thinks that the Coalition's ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein was a good and that the country is now better off than it was. It could just mean he thinks one has to start from where things are, and this is where they are; and in fact he doesn't think Saddam's demise was a good or that the country is now, all things considered, better off than it was, or its people are better off than they were. I made the inference I did, though, out of intellectual and moral charity, assuming that this could surely not be Stephen Marks's view.

But in any case he, and others of like mind, can tell us. They can say, loud, clear and upfront, what they do think. Let them say, if they have the courage, stupidity or whatever else it takes to say it, that they think it would have been better for the Iraqi people to still be enduring the torments they suffered under Saddam Hussein than to be in the position they are now in, for all its many difficulties. Just say it: 'It would be better if the torture chambers and all the other paraphernalia of murder and oppression in Iraq were still in place'. And unless you can say that, then you should back off the 'idiots' and 'so-called left' stuff. Because those of us who do very much think it's better that all of that is over, we not only think it now that it is over; we thought it before the war, when it's being over was in the offing. It was possible even then, with a certain amount of foresight, to think Iraq would be better off after the military intervention of the Coalition than it was before it. So to those like Stephen who speak thus contemptuously of the pro-war left, I would say - meaning no impoliteness, naturally - put up or shut up. That is, answer the question, would it have been better for the people of Iraq to continue under Saddam? If you can't say yes, then you should be willing to allow that the pro-war (or, as someone I know calls it, 'anti-torture') left had some weighty grounds for thinking as they did.

Stephen Marks comes close to the edge of saying what some other leftists say openly: namely, that if you supported the war you can't actually be on the left. Shortly after this blog was launched that was the opinion expressed by one or two people in the comments boxes round at Crooked Timber and Harry's Place, reacting to the welcomes issued there by Chris Bertram and Harry Hatchett:
'He may be an intelligent and engaging fellow, but so far on his blog he's just another InstaHitchens.'

'... you cannot be leftist and support this war against Iraq, because it means signing up for neo-imperialism.'

'Geras is "still" a Marxist? Didn't look like it to me, unless Marxists now side with the guys with the biggest bombs.'

'Can't see much difference between his blog and that of any other seriously right-wing bloggers.'
There was also the wonderful email I received and have developed a certain affection for:
'You are an imperialist skunk.'
I have two observations to make about such stuff, one personal, the other general. In turn:

1. I haven't spent 40-plus years of my life thinking about what values I subscribe to and what theses and beliefs - theoretical, political, ethical or whatever - to end by consenting to have my intellectual and political identity defined by someone else.

2. Most of the left feels confident it has learned the lessons of Stalinism, but there are still such people on the left as this, entirely confident there could be only one acceptable left view about the war.

As for 'InstaHitchens', well, while I'm honoured in a way to be so linked through a single word with both The Blogfather and The Dude, I'm bound to say: thanks but also no thanks. I remain a socialist, as Chris Hitchens (so I believe) no longer claims to be, and Glenn Reynolds surely never was.

posted by norm at 4:37 pm | link

Three Iraqis go home

Johann Hari hears what they have to say:
Opinion polls conducted in Iraq since the war - by reputable polling agencies that have predicted election results across the world - … [show] that a large majority of Iraqis wanted the invasion. And there was therefore reason to hope that this visit to Iraq would be a happy one. None the less, I have spent the summer fearing for Sama, Yasser and Abtehale. Partly I was anxious for their physical safety… But mostly I worried about their emotional health. All three had spent their lives pining for home. What if home disappointed them? What if the Iraqi people saw them as strangers? What if Iraqis did not want to hear them evangelise for democracy?

They returned to London earlier this month. The minute they arrived at my flat, beaming and speaking at a hundred words a minute, my fears evaporated. Abtehale began: "We were so scared that we might have been wrong. We kept thinking, 'What if we get there and everybody hates us for supporting the war?' But it was amazing: almost everyone we met was more hawkish than us. All over the country, even people who really hated the Americans agreed it would have been a disaster if the war had been called off." Yasser said: "One of the first things my uncle said to me was that his greatest fear in the run-up to the war was that the Americans would do what they did in 1991 and leave us to Saddam."
Tens of thousands of Iraqis are making a weekly pilgrimage to Kadhimiya, where a human rights centre has been set up to log on computer the names of all the hundreds of thousands of people executed by the regime. They have six million files to work through, seized when the regime fell. They have processed two hundred thousand so far. Abtehale went there searching for her grandfather and uncle. So far, they seem to have vanished without record into Saddam's vast torture machine.
[Sama:] "I find it absolutely incredible that the anti-war people are now calling for the coalition to leave straight away. Nobody in Iraq wants that. The opinion polls show it's just 13 per cent. Don't they care about the Iraqi people and what they want at all? This isn't a game. This isn't about poking a stick at George Bush. This is our lives."
Read the whole thing, down to the appeal at the end. Thanks to Franco Aleman for the link (via Watch/Winds of Change).

posted by norm at 10:50 am | link

Thursday, September 18, 2003

A matter of life and death 2

I've had these comments on the trolley post of yesterday.

From Dena Wardah:
Some thoughts on your trolley problems from a feminist, atheist, Talmudic standpoint. The Talmud is an excellent source of interesting ethical discussions of unlikely problems, because the point is usually to establish the essence of the question and the principles you should work from. My first principles are: 1) Human life is a supreme value (Talmudic). 2) While self defence is allowed, you can never otherwise take the position that your own life is of more value than someone else's (Talmudic: there is an express point made somewhere that Person A can kill attacker B to save their own life, but not person C who is an innocent bystander even if that would also save their life - since that would be placing more value on A's life than C's). 3) Problems in life are always situated (feminist).

I conclude that the trolley problems are entirely different. In the basic problem, the decision-maker cannot be seen as someone outside the system. S/he knows about the switch, what it does, how to work it, who is working where on the lines (a situated reading). I can only conclude that s/he is a trusted employee with responsibilities that must involve acting to prevent accidents. S/he could not in any sense be held responsible for the death of one of the line workers: all of them were in a potentially dangerous situation. (Suppose the points weren't working anyway? Suppose you had it wrong about the way the switch was set?) I'd say the person at the switch should divert the trolley as they are surely under an obligation to try and minimise the risk to life - but note I'm arguing that all the line workers are in a risky situation already. The bystanders on the cliff are not.

The person on the cliff has no obligation to act, least of all by killing an innocent bystander who is not already in a potentially dangerous situation. Your discussion about weights leads to the question, if "fat" is not of overwhelming importance why doesn't the person simply jump? The life of the person standing next to them can't be seen as less valuable than their own. It's permissible to throw oneself on the track to save life. It's not permissible to dispose of someone else's life to achieve your ends. The other person could also decide to jump, but that preserves their human dignity as agents, not objects.

The last question on the Sobibor atrocity is the hardest to dwell on but the easiest to resolve. The Talmud's usually good at distinguishing actions and intentions. Here you're discussing murder, not accident, and murder involves intent. The victim in this situation is not a murderer whatever s/he decides, having no murderous intention. There is therefore no right/wrong about what the victim "decides" since the victim isn't one iota responsible for the murders. No-one could possibly sit in judgement on such "decisions" whatever they were. Victims are victims, and perpetrators are perpetrators, no matter what perpetrators try to do to deflect blame (surely the whole point of this evil manoeuvre).
From Jenny Geras:
I think the reason why there's a problem with pulling the switch, pushing the fat person, choosing someone to die in the Sobibor example, is not only the degree of uncertainty thing that you mention, but also to do with a feeling of responsibility. Somehow, the fact that the train is already heading for the five people to kill them, or the Nazis are going to kill the ten people, means the death of those people is someone/something else's fault. But if you actually select a person to die - even if it is to save some number of other people - that person's death is your responsibility, no matter what greater good you did it for. That person's family would definitely blame you for their death.

In the Sobibor situation, it seems clearer - the person you might pick is pretty much bound to die sooner or later anyway. But in the train example, you'd be picking some totally innocent person who might otherwise have a long and happy life ahead of them. I think there's definitely something wrong with that.
And Gary Jones points to the relevance of this quote from Michael Walzer's recent Imprints interview:
I want political leaders to accept the rule [against torture], to understand its reasons, even to internalise it. I also want them to be smart enough to know when to break it. And finally, because they believe in the rule, I want them to feel guilty about breaking it - which is the only guarantee they can offer us that they won't break it too often.
Thanks for all three contributions.

posted by norm at 4:47 pm | link

Lileks today

Read it. Scroll down to 'Okay. Now comes the gnarly stuff', and read it. All of it.

posted by norm at 4:10 pm | link

Rafael Felix Scharf

Two passages from his obituary in today's Guardian:
"The greatest difficulty as I see it," he wrote, "is how to present the boundless horror of those events [the Shoah] which have no analogy in history and at the same time not to undermine the belief in the sense of creation, in human values, in justice."
"He [Benzion Rappaport, Scharf's Cracow Hebrew schoolteacher] took me aside and what he told me I have never forgotten: 'The most important thing is the question man has to put to himself when he raises his eyes to heaven. Ma chovato b'olamo - what is my duty in this world? Every morning, before you begin your day, ask yourself this question. Do not try to answer it - there is no short answer to it, it will not come to you quickly, maybe it will never come to you - it matters not. The thing is to realise that the question is important, that you have a duty to perform and have to search for it."
Amen to both of those.

posted by norm at 3:32 pm | link

France, the enemy of America

That's according to Thomas Friedman in the New York Times:
It would be as if America said it did not care what happened in Mexico because it was mad at Spain.
Read the whole thing. Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link.

posted by norm at 3:27 pm | link

Chain of Being

There are two posts up over at Crumb Trail about traits we may or may not share with other species – including a sense of fairness with nonhuman primates.

posted by norm at 3:21 pm | link

Blow-me-down Broadcasting Corporation

I think I have a duty to relay this for anyone who missed it, given what else I've been posting here about the Beeb. I was watching the news on BBC 1 last night and there was a report about some of the new freedoms being enjoyed in Iraq. It was all about a flourishing market in satellite dishes and mobile phones, and it was generally rather upbeat. I'm waiting for the turn - the 'but' - when, lo and behold, the thing ends on a note something like this: 'but the greatest freedom Iraqis are celebrating...', and the rest of the voice-over blanks out in my head so struck am I by the image that comes up, an image of Saddam's ghastly mug being plastered over on the front of some building. Was I surprised? You bet I was. I can't find a link to the item, whether because there isn't one or because I don't have all the requisite skills, I couldn’t say.

posted by norm at 3:18 pm | link

Oklahoma in Hong Kong

No you didn't misread it. I have a postcard from normblog's Hong Kong correspondent, advertising a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma at the Drama Theatre, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Wanchai. The run starts October 18 and finishes October 25. Should you happen to be (going to be) down that way, you can get yourself a ticket here. And I hope you'll manage to catch sight of the HK correspondent himself. He has, he tells me, 'a small part in the chorus'.

posted by norm at 3:11 pm | link

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

10 things Kate has learned about blogging

That's Venomous Kate, and via James Joyner at Outside the Beltway, who adds some observations of his own.

posted by norm at 4:40 pm | link

A matter of life and death

A while ago, down the way at Crooked Timber, Brian Weatherson posted an item entitled 'trolley problems', about moral dilemmas of choice in life-threatening situations, and it's been on my mind since I read it. I've been hesitant about developing my thoughts on it, because I'm not familiar with the literature it comes out of and don't have the time right now to rectify this; because Brian raised the issue seemingly in light-hearted vein rather than for earnest analysis; and because my own thoughts take off from a rather non-philosophical inspiration - that of wanting to quibble about the examples, when serious people will know that these are only examples and for the purpose of highlighting a structure of choice; if they're poorly formed, they could always be adapted to fit better the purpose at hand. But the thing continues to be on my mind, so despite these various misgivings, I'll stick my neck out.

Here are two of the examples Brian presents us with:
Basic Trolley Case: There is a run away trolley car careening down some railway tracks towards two tunnels. If it stays on the track it is on, it will kill five people working in the eastern tunnel. If you pull a switch it will move onto a side track, go through the western tunnel and kill the person working in it. Assume you can't do anything to stop the car or change its path except pull this switch. You pull the switch, saving the five and leading to the one's death.

Fatman: Same runaway car, but without the switch. This time, you're standing on a cliff looking over the track the car is about to careen down. If unchecked it will kill the five people in the tunnel. Fortunately, there is a very fat man standing beside you - fat enough that if somehow he were to fall onto the track his sheer mass would stop the trolley. You give him a little shove, he falls off the cliff onto the train tracks, is killed by the trolley (if not the fall) and the five are saved.
And here are some of the questions Brian raises on the basis of these examples and other similar ones: (a) Why should a significant number of people think 'your action in the first case is permissible, perhaps even mandatory, but the action in the second case is impermissible'? (b) More generally (by implication) are any such actions permissible? (c) Is it the sign of an awful character to think and write about these puzzles?

On (a) I merely venture the following, though it's by way of empirical psychology rather than the making of an explanatory distinction in moral philosophy: this thought (of 'a significant number of people') may just have to do with proximity and distance; with having to push a person to his death, to make actual physical contact with him in doing so, rather than throwing a switch from (relatively speaking) afar. It's consistent with the comparative findings from the famous Milgram experiments, the results of which showed that the more distant in various ways the subjects were from their (role-playing) victims the more obedient they were in administering to these victims the (simulated) electric shocks.

On the other questions, let me get at my worry via the second example. If this is anything like a regular fat person and a regular cliff, the chances you can push him just so he'll land on the spot where his body will stop the trolley have to be, by contrast, slim. You're likely to end up with six, instead of five, dead people. Still, suppose that somehow you know this cliff well enough and how bodies tend to fall from it. Even so, how could you be sure that this guy is indeed fat enough to stop the trolley? OK, well, suppose you happen to have had a lot of experience with how bodies of his/its general girth behave when hit by trolleys of the kind you see careening down there, or how trolleys like that one behave when hitting bodies like this one.

So you push him. The trolley hits him and stops. However, next time you're faced with this situation, the guy beside you on the cliff – who, as it happens, isn't a guy in the strict (gendered) sense but a woman – although she is also fat, is less fat. Can you confidently push her? You estimate an 85% probability that her body will stop the trolley if it lands in the right place (and your experiences in the matter of how pushed bodies land have so far been encouraging). What counts as an acceptable probability when you're balancing one definite death, to be brought about by you, against the hope of saving the lives of five people? Well, anyway, you push her too. Her body stops the trolley. It happens to be the case, in fact, that even had she been quite a bit thinner, this would have been the outcome. You confirm as much from the third occasion it happens, when you push a well-loved colleague of yours who is even thinner than the woman (now deceased) was; push him, having convinced yourself that a 60% probability should be morally OK.

But, oh no, now a new worry assails you. Exactly how thin, or plump, was the first person down there on the track? Maybe the obstacle of their body, as the trolley hit it, would have been enough to halt the trolley's progress. In which case your action has substituted one death, that of your well-loved colleague, for another; that of someone who - it so turns out - was a completely vicious swine. But anyway it gets you to thinking. In the earlier cases, you couldn't properly study, from the top of your cliff, the degree of fatness of the person first in line for being hit by the trolley. He was in a tunnel. And even had he not been, from the top of this cliff you can't reliably tell how fat people are. Moreover, on a previous occasion when you found yourself in the Basic Trolley, rather than Fatman, situation and you hadn't yet thought of this aspect of the thing you may also have overlooked the consideration that four of the five people working in the tunnel had clocked off for lunch.

And so on.

OK, so these are only examples and they could be changed or adapted to eliminate the various uncertainties I've been playing with. But actually I'm not so sure how easy it is to change them so as to clear up every uncertainty or at least reduce it to an acceptable level. For if the examples are drawn from situations and circumstances likely to be familiar to most people they won't generally involve these kinds of choice structure. If you contrive the example, then you can of course try to do it in a way that makes the choice very clear; but because the example is now contrived it won't have the feel of certainty about it. Return to the Basic Trolley Case. It all looks pretty clear-cut. But built into this example is that you're operating under time pressure; you can't do the various things you might otherwise do to warn those in the tunnel, check out the weight of the trolley, and so forth. You have to make a snap decision – which will definitely see this particular person dead and via your intervention. Do you know all you need to know to be sure that it will definitely save more people than the one person it's going to kill?

Could it be that it is this uncertainty which holds people back - those whom it does hold back - from thinking that it is legitimate to intervene in a way which deliberately kills someone? It's the sense that the benefit, if there turns out to be one, is too speculative initially to justify violating a fundamental moral principle. (Digressing here I would suggest that one reason why many people are unhappy with the politics of amnesty-for-reconciliation, applied to self-confessed murderers and torturers, is that it all but writes off, from the point of view of retributive justice, the terrible wrongs already done to known victims for the more speculative benefit of preventing future victims.) And maybe it's the same kind of worry that's the basis of the discomfort we have in thinking about these puzzles. 'Can we push him or not?' may look to some like toying with the idea of a deliberate killing that may benefit no one.

Maybe we should only think about these issues in relation to real life examples, not invented ones. In the TV movie Escape from Sobibor, some prisoners (this is from memory) about to be executed are told they must each choose another prisoner to die with them; it's in the way of a collective punishment for a failed escape attempt. When they refuse, they're told that in that case 10 prisoners will be shot for each person refusing, and under this threat they do all then choose someone else to die with them. I believe this example is based on real experience, and I think one can reasonably say that, in the conditions they faced and given what they knew about those running the camp, their decision was a life-saving one and morally understandable. It would be hard, in these circumstances, to criticize them for having acted wrongly. Suppose, though, that one of these prisoners had decided otherwise and not chosen someone to die with him. Could he have been criticized for acting wrongly? In some real life examples the judgements of right and wrong seem to be more academic than genuinely action-guiding.

Where all this leaves things I don't know. It's more a posing of questions than anything else.

posted by norm at 4:25 pm | link

Alain Finkielkraut interview on anti-Semitism

I'm coming on this late but it's well worth a read, over at EuroPundits. Selections:
[I]t is loathsome to rub your hands together when things turn out badly, as if Islamist terrorism were not our common enemy, and it is idiotic to claim that America has the same policies now as it did during the Cold War.
[To the question: What motivates the supporters of the wall of separation?] It's not racial ideology as in the case of apartheid, it's fear of Palestinian terrorism. To interpret the Israeli-Palestinian situation through the lens of anti-racism, is to condemn yourself to understanding nothing, and moreover to dragging in the most absolute hatred: the racist is the enemy of humanity. If Israel is a race of camp guards, how can we not celebrate when an Israeli is killed? Isn't it one less Mengele? And nothing stops this hatred: the Jews of France who support a race of camp guards are complicit in the worst of crimes. This is the way they stick a swastika on the chests of those on whom they used to stick a yellow star. An animosity is displayed which becomes impossible to reason with and very hard to combat, because, in order to nazify the Jews, it makes use of the very memory of what happened to them.
When a Frenchman is found guilty of an act of anti-Semitism, no one, except the supporters of the extreme Right, would accuse his denouncers of "anti-French racism". When you remark that hatred of Jews is widespread in the Arab-Muslim world, you are accused of stigmatizing Islam.
[T]oday there are two sorts of anti-Semitism: the old French anti-Semitism which we have the duty to mobilise against and the anti-semitism which comes from the excluded or the potential victims of racism. The latter must be put in doubt, minimised and those who speak about it must be discredited by any means possible because it has no place in the great new ideological narrative of a humanity marching towards mutual recognition and equality.

posted by norm at 4:00 pm | link


Dr. Gott, of Princeton University, and Ms. Freedman, of Harvard, have calculated a way to prolong your life, or at least reduce your agony, as a black hole's gravity sucks you in and rips you to shreds. You just need to surround yourself with a gigantic electrically charged doughnut.
This is at Alan's, where else?

posted by norm at 3:56 pm | link

Favorite Editorial Columnists

The result of John Hawkins's latest poll is out: Right-Of-Center Bloggers Select Their Favorite Editorial Columnists.

Mark Steyn is the number one dude, having been placed first by fully 40% of the participants. The actual Dude comes in ninth. (It will raise some predictable comments from left-field, his inclusion and position in this poll, but I don't think he'll be too troubled.)

posted by norm at 3:54 pm | link

Electricity in Iraq

Not that I know a lot about it, but this looks to me like a sober assessment of the present state of things regarding Iraq's power provision:
"Now you need to completely rehabilitate the power system," says al-Azzawi [one of Iraq's most respected power engineers]. This means that it will not be weeks or months but several years before a consistent power supply is established.
In the end, there is no better alternative than simply to repair and strengthen the existing power grid, however long it takes (at least three years) and however much it costs (at least $10bn). "People wanted it to be better straight away," Bearpark [a British development expert who spent three years heading reconstruction efforts in Kosovo for the EU] says, "but that is simply unachieveable."
Read the whole thing.

posted by norm at 11:13 am | link

Westerners in Iraq

No, not those Westerners. Here's an item about foreigners, possibly including members of al-Qaeda, fighting coalition forces in Iraq:
THE United States is holding two prisoners in Iraq who claim to be British, the general in charge of detention centres said yesterday.
Brigadier-General Karpinski said the purported Britons and six men who claim to be Americans were considered security detainees - those who attacked or helped carry out attacks against coalition troops - and were being interrogated by military intelligence.
The piece also includes an upbeat assessment by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, formerly UK representative to the UN and now prime ministerial envoy to Iraq.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock - I'd like to say just in passing - endeared himself to me on an occasion during the last few months when he was being pressed by some TV interviewer, I forget which, who challenged one of his responses with 'That wasn't my question'. Self-possessed and unflappable as ever, Sir Jeremy replied 'But that's my answer'.

posted by norm at 11:11 am | link

The truth of religion

Andrew Anthony will doubtless be taking some flak for an outspoken dismissal of religion today. It contains this, amongst other such things:
All religions are at root as stupid as each other. That, I feel, is a sentiment we don't hear expressed nearly enough these days… Religion - Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism etc, etc - is by definition irrational and, more than that, it is an irrationality that lays claim to the complete truth.
As Christopher Hitchens once wrote: "I have been called arrogant myself in my time, and hope to earn the title again, but to claim that I am privy to the secrets of the universe and its creator - that's beyond my conceit."
I have myself been resolutely atheist ever since I started to reflect on these matters, and have always been perplexed by those who, unable to accept belief in any deity, nevertheless stop short of out-and-out atheism with some such statement as 'I have as little certainty about the non-existence of God as about the existence of God'. To me this has always seemed like saying that I have no certainties either way about a little green goblin living in my fridge and making himself invisible whenever I open the fridge door.

I was therefore surprised to find myself feeling that Anthony's piece was a bit one-sided. He begins by telling his readers that Marx not only wrote that religion is 'the opium of the people', he also wrote:
Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. [I've slightly amended the translation of this passage.]
But Anthony seems not to take a central point of these words. This is that religion (and, as Marx saw it, any powerful and popular belief-system) is likely to embody some important truth, however partially or distortedly it does this; and that is what explains the hold it has. It is not altogether false. This surely must be so with regard to religious belief. According to Marx, it was consolation for avoidable suffering – false consolation, but containing truths about a possible better human future. Thinking beyond Marx and knowing that any foreseeable future will still contain the fact of human mortality, my guess is that religious belief would persist even in the best of achievable worlds given its role in human fears about death. Please don't anyone write to say that it doesn't make it literally true in its purportedly substantive claims. I do not dissent from the opinions I've quoted from Anthony's piece.

posted by norm at 11:05 am | link

Whatever you are, you gotta be it

There's some interesting reading in my dnoc today, including this lovely reminiscence by Louisa Young of an interview with Johnny Cash. She mentions Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
"You know that book?" he says, his face lighting up.

"I love that book," I say. "And you know that book!" Why am I surprised that Johnny Cash has read Steinbeck?

"Know that book?" he says. "I was that book." He smiles at me. It's kind of like being smiled at by Monument Valley, or the Hoover Dam.
Young goes on to tell how the interview made her realize that she didn't want to be a journalist any longer. Read it. It's a gem.

posted by norm at 10:57 am | link

Who are these guys?

My sitemeter tells me that today someone's visited normblog from a server called nerdsonline.com. That's new to me.

posted by norm at 10:53 am | link

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The use of words

From a Roger Simon take-down:
[W]ithin only six pararaphs Nagourney has evoked the "V" word... or says his interviewees have. Never mind that fifty-eight thousand US soldiers died in Vietnam while the totals for the Iraq War are not even five hundred and eight or that in Vietnam we were working to prop up a fascist regime while in Iraq we removed one.
No, do mind; and read the rest. Also this comprehensive fisking by Michael Totten of someone who believes that those 'who massacre UN humanitarian workers… are "terrorists," not terrorists, meaning they really aren't terrorists. They are something else.'

posted by norm at 12:16 pm | link

The Observer and anti-Semitism

There is a commentary over at Solomonia on the Geoffrey Wheatcroft article I linked to yesterday. Have a look also at this which I came upon by way of Solomon's site.

posted by norm at 12:12 pm | link

New Statesman

My postbag this morning includes a flyer soliciting a subscription to the New Statesman. I open the envelope; smiling face staring out at me: John Pilger. A way back I learned things from Pilger's writing about East Timor. But I'll pass.

posted by norm at 12:09 pm | link

Victims of East Timor

Russell Thirgood reports in The Age:
Four years after the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia, justice remains elusive for the victims of the violence that followed.
[Ana Xavier da Conceio Lemos] was among the estimated 1300 East Timorese people murdered by the Indonesian security forces and pro-Indonesia militia in 1999. The victims included political activists, community leaders, students, priests and nuns.

The crimes committed were so widespread and systematic that they are considered to be crimes against humanity. However, four years on, most of the victims and their families are still waiting for justice.
It's a story of officers who colluded in the violence being still in post, and of the Indonesian authorities refusing to cooperate with the East Timorese. Read the rest.

posted by norm at 12:06 pm | link

Testing the idea

Kieran Healy, a block or two across at Crooked Timber, has a nice follow-up to the item that's been going the rounds on word recognition, and which I sent you over to Alan Brain's for on Saturday.

posted by norm at 12:03 pm | link

Truths untold

It may seem rather pointless to link to a piece via Andrew Sullivan, but who knows, there may be a few visitors here who haven't been there, and the more readers there are for this, about the reporting from Iraq, the better. An inkling:
For some reason or another, Mr. Bush chose to make his principal case on weapons of mass destruction, which is still an open case. This war could have been justified any time on the basis of human rights, alone.
There is corruption in our business. We need to get back to basics. This war should be studied and talked about. In the run up to this war, to my mind, there was a gross abdication of responsibility. You have to be ready to listen to whispers.
Read the whole thing.

posted by norm at 12:24 am | link

Monday, September 15, 2003

An African hero

Sousa Jamba writes:
I was recently with some friends in the bar of the Freedom Hotel in Mwanza, Tanzania's second-largest city, on the shores of Lake Victoria. The news on television was that Robert Mugabe had just been given a standing ovation by delegates at the Southern African Development Coordinating Conference in the capital, Dar es Salaam. Over their bottles of Kilimanjaro beer, my friends made clear their admiration for the Zimbabwean president. To them, he was an African hero, a black man brave enough to stand up to a confederacy of arrogant muzungus backed by America and Britain.

My friends, like the many supporters of Mugabe throughout Africa, have no time for arguments suggesting their hero has not only feet of clay but hands dripping with blood. To them, all those opposed to him, including thousands of black Zimbabweans, have been duped by the west. In Africa, Zimbabwe is becoming a highly emotive issue; and Mugabe has managed, by appealing to crude racial solidarity, to win many hearts and minds.
Mugabe has increasingly proved to be ruthless and thoroughly evil.
For many Africans, the Mugabe phenomenon can be seen only through the crude prism of race. I wish they were more aware of recent east African history. After all, there was once, across the lake by which we stood, another black hero. To the delight of many, he made white men carry him on a palanquin and threw out the Asians. His name was Idi Amin.
A case for respecting the sensibilities of the African 'street', anybody?

posted by norm at 11:51 am | link

Birds of a feather

The Guardian today has a leader worrying about the Telegraph's new Beebwatch feature and concluding thus:
Mr Moore's campaign - echoed by his Murdoch thinkalikes - is likely to have an effect. All the instincts of the governors and managers will be to play safe and tack to the right. Mission accomplished.

This constant undermining of the BBC is a dangerous game. No institution can withstand such remorselessly hostile coverage indefinitely. One day the enemies of the licence fee may even get their way. Only then will Mr Moore's readers realise what they have lost - and quite what value it was.
As I've pointed out before, the flaw in this line of advocacy is that it's not the best way of defending something of value to pass over its failures in silence – the failure in this case being the BBC's betrayal of its public duty of impartiality over the Iraq war. Writers at the Guardian aren't applying the same forgiving approach to Tony Blair. (You know, he may have been part of the intervention that rid Iraq of a political monster, but shhhhhh... where is the green parrot, who's to blame for David Kelly?) Maybe the Guardian's leader writer failed to mention the Beeb's failures because unable to see them, the Beeb having become so much like the Guardian itself on such matters.

posted by norm at 11:48 am | link

"Hasta La Vista, Binnie"

So says The Dude. This tells a different story. Me, I'm just passing both of them on.

posted by norm at 11:43 am | link

Strangers in their native lands?

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, in defending the Observer from charges of anti-Semitism and reflecting on sensitivities about anti-Semitism more generally, expresses this worry:
Other British Jews have talked of their pain and estrangement in the face of mounting hostility towards Israel. This was precisely what the Jewish critics of Zionism once foresaw. David Alexander and Claude Montefiore, respectively President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and President of the Anglo-Jewish Association, wrote in the Times in 1917, shortly before - and in the unfulfilled hope of forestalling - the Balfour Declaration which favoured 'the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people'.
To create 'a Jewish nationality in Palestine ... must have the effect throughout the world of stamping the Jews as strangers in their native lands, and of undermining their hard-won position as citizens and nationals of those lands'. Their words sometimes look very prescient.

In other words, a Jewish state might not 'answer the "Jewish question"', but rather complicate it.

Whatever else is said about Israel, it quite obviously is not a nation like all others, or these very controversies would not be taking place… they come close to confirming that old foreboding that a Jewish state would compromise the position of western Jews in their own countries.
Wheatcroft doesn't directly endorse the thought that he refers to here. But why should having a national territory create for the Jews, and the Jews alone, a problem about Jewish people living in other countries - make them 'strangers in their native lands'?

Thanks to Ilana Walsh for drawing this piece to my attention.

posted by norm at 11:40 am | link

Not much time

Avraham Burg has an unhappy paragraph here about suicide bombings. But this, and much else, is spot on:
There is time to change course, but not much. What is needed is a new vision of a just society and the political will to implement it. Diaspora Jews for whom Israel is a central pillar of their identity must pay heed and speak out.
Meanwhile, a group of Israeli and Palestinian women are trying to secure a place for women's voices in the peace talks.

posted by norm at 11:35 am | link

Stephen's new look

Mosey on over to Stephen Pollard's and take a look at the changes to his blog.

posted by norm at 11:33 am | link

Sunday, September 14, 2003

The life and soul of the Western

This fine Sunday morning I'm heading off for a day out of Manchester and am in carefree mode. This is what I wish to sound off about. Over at Brad DeLong's comment box some days ago (link is to the item - I couldn't find the comments again, but trust me, this comment was there), J.D. Cook had the following to say about my list of ten great westerns:
Any Western list that omits "The Searchers" isn't worth the electrons it's displayed with.
Now, I felt entirely relaxed about JDC's perfunctory dismissal. After all, I hadn't presented my list as being the ten greatest Westerns, nor even as being my ten favourite Westerns; no, I expressly insisted that it was just 'ten great Westerns'. Not only that. I love The Searchers. It just didn't get on my list that day, and to be honest it probably wouldn't get on it today either, though the list would be different today because I forgot The Long Riders (Walter Hill – 1980), as my friend Morris in Leeds reminded me.

Therefore, it is not because I'm wounded by JDC's words, but out of a disinterested (which doesn't here mean 'uninterested') concern for the pursuit of truth that I wish to set out reasons showing why those words cannot be taken as persuasive. First off, I'm assuming that, when JDC says 'not worth the electrons it's displayed with', he's saying – whatever else – that it's not a good list. If he isn't saying that, you can put everything that follows down to a misunderstanding. And I'm assuming that, in saying my list isn't a good list, JDC is committed to the view that there could be some good lists of Westerns, or at least one good list of them, because the 'not worth etc' statement loses its critical edge if he thinks there are no such good lists. My list would then be entirely normal. On these assumptions (and the further assumption that JDC is male, which I just somehow feel to be so - and if I’m wrong about it, great breast-beating and rending of garments in apology, guilt and shame) I endeavour to show that, whether or not my list of ten Westerns is a good list, the fact that it omits The Searchers isn't a sound reason for claiming that it isn't a good list.

I get JDC to compile his own best list of ten Westerns, ranked 1 to 10, and we assume that it includes The Searchers and that it is a good list. Then I ask JDC to nominate his eleventh best Western. Then I ask him to substitute his eleventh best Western, which wasn't initially on the list, for his tenth best Western, which was. We now have JDC's second list. Either this too is a good list or it isn't. If it isn't there's only one good list of 10 Westerns according to JDC – a possibility I note and hold to one side. If the second list is also a good list, then I get JDC to go back to his first list and now substitute his eleventh best Western for The Searchers. So we have a third list, and this now, in turn, either is a good list or it isn't. If it is, then there can be a good list of ten Westerns which doesn't include The Searchers and my defence against JDC's hasty dismissal of my own list is concluded.

But if the third list – the one with JDC's eleventh best Western substituted for The Searchers – isn't a good list, we are left having to explore two logical avenues. (Well, you don't actually have to. You could go out for the day, like I'm soon going to.) These two avenues are: that there is, according to JDC, only one good list of ten great Westerns, because if his eleventh best Western is substituted for anything on that list, the new list thereby generated is busted; and that, if JDC's eleventh best Western is substituted for The Searchers, the new list thereby generated is busted.

Now, think about how bad this means the eleventh best Western has to be. It can't just be that it's a bit less good than JDC's tenth best Western, and a lot less good than The Searchers; and more generally is an average sort of a movie. Because in either case its presence alongside nine other movies none of which, we know for certain, disqualifies the list from being a good list, its sole presence wrecks the whole list. Think about it: you have a list of ten Westerns, nine of which are, ex hypothesi, good to great, and then you have one which is less good, maybe just average. Would you want to say that the whole list was no good? No, you wouldn't. You'd say, surely, that this was an excellent list, but with one weakness. Unless you were a fanatic or something. Not that I'm suggesting JDC is a fanatic, but he may just have missed one or two steps here. No, JDC's eleventh best movie would have to be an absolute stinker, as bad as, or worse than, Life Is Beautiful, for its presence alongside nine good-to-great Westerns to render the composite list no good.

Here's an analogy. You're going to hold a gathering of ten people and you want Tracey to be there with nine other great and fascinating friends of yours, because Tracey is a wonderful person: charming, generous, funny, interesting, you name it. She is, as they say, the life and soul of the party. But Tracey's going to be in Potgietersrus that day, which isn't where you're having the party. So you invite Derek instead. Now, if Derek is merely quiet and even a bit dull, this may make the gathering less good than it would have been with Tracey. But with nine other great and fascinating friends you should still be able to have an enjoyable event. Derek would have to be a real bastard, rude, disruptive, more of that sort of thing, for your party to be spoiled altogether.

For JDC's claim to be viable, there have to be, in the history of the cinema, just his ten best Westerns that are good enough to go on a list of ten great Westerns, with no eleventh one available which is anywhere near being in the right ballpark. All potential eleventh bests have to be really rotten. And I submit that this is an unreasonable picture of the actual cinematic state of affairs, and would be agreed to by no panel of authoritative judges on the movies or even just regular Western-lovers. So my list may be no good, but if it's no good, it isn't just because it excludes The Searchers.

I think I've been doing too much blogging. I'm outa here.

posted by norm at 11:56 am | link

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?