Saturday, October 04, 2003

He's had enough

This guy's another disaffected Guardian reader.

posted by norm at 12:33 p.m. | link

Two poems by Sophie Hannah

Trainers All Turn Grey
(after Robert Frost's 'Nothing Gold Can Stay')

You buy your trainers new.
They cost a bob or two.
At first they're clean and white,
The laces thick and tight.
Then they must touch the ground –
(You have to walk around).
You learn to your dismay
Trainers all turn grey.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Henry

Ann was the love of Colin's life
Until the day he went to meet her.
Later she became his wife
But absence makes the heart grow Peter.

Jack was obsessed with Debby's writing.
Then one day he caught the train
And found the woman less exciting.
Absence makes the heart grow Jane.

I love you when you're not around.
If we come face to face again we
Stand to lose by being found,
For absence makes the heart grow Henry.

Sophie Hannah is my daughter. The two poems are from her collection The Hero and the Girl Next Next Door, published by Carcanet.

Get the cryptic... cultural reference in the second poem? Claim the credit for doing so first by letting me know.

posted by norm at 12:28 p.m. | link

You may never read this again

You may never read it again on this site. So listen well: Come on Liverpool! The scousers meet Arsenal today, and OK, if I'm honest, I'd be happy for both teams to lose. I'd also be well pleased with a draw. But what my gut is saying is Come on Liverpool! Stuff those bastards.

(Hey there Ste, Amanda, Sara, Rorden, Alistair, Helen, Shahnaz, Lemmy the Bleat, Alan, Debbie, Simon, Karen, Vicky, Dave, Chris and Keith; and apologies to anyone I've left out. Sheesh, they're everywhere.)

posted by norm at 12:17 p.m. | link

Freedom ride

Find out about the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride here:
Just as the Freedom Rides of the early 1960's exposed the brutality of legal segregation in the South, the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride will expose the injustice of current policies toward immigrants.

Immigrant workers work hard, pay taxes, and sacrifice for their families. They work as construction workers, doctors, nurses, janitors, meat packers, chefs, busboys, engineers, farm workers, and soldiers. They care for our children, tend to our elderly, pick and serve our food, build and clean our houses, and want what we all want: a fair shot at the American Dream.

But our broken immigration system keeps millions of hardworking immigrants from becoming full members and enjoying equal rights in this nation of immigrants. As a result, many are subjected to exploitation, separated from loved ones, and unprotected by our laws. The road to citizenship needs a new map. The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride intends to help draw that map.
Thanks to Stuart Elliott for the link.

posted by norm at 12:10 p.m. | link

The Guardian taking more flak

This time it's from the Royal Society and 'for putting its own commercial interests ahead of the public good by publishing a speculative article about the contents of scientific papers due to appear in one of the Society's journals':
This attempt by 'The Guardian' to summarise in a soundbite the entire contents of the eight scientific papers has not been checked for accuracy by either the authors of the papers, who carried out the farm scale evaluations, or the journal. In fact, it does little more than repeat much of the content of a similarly speculative article that appeared in 'The Independent' newspaper on 2 August.
Here is the supporting view - emailed to the Guardian - of Philip Stott, Professor Emeritus at the University of London:
I feel that I must add my voice, small as it is, to that of the Royal Society and to its scathing denunciation of your front-page story of today, GM crops fail key trials.... This must be one of the most unacceptable pieces of scientific journalism presented in a serious broadsheet for some time. I endorse every criticism of the report made by the Royal Society in their Media Release of this morning (2 October).

It is precisely such spin and partial reporting that is undermining the role of science in society. This is truly 'Black Thursday' for science reporting in the UK, and it is unworthy of so fine a newspaper as 'The Guardian' [er… steady on - Ed.] It is very, very sad.
Thanks to Philip Stott for the Royal Society link.

posted by norm at 12:07 p.m. | link

Friday, October 03, 2003

The duty to continue

Anthony T. Kronman, Dean of Yale Law School, puts an argument from the common law that I'd not previously seen:
The decision to go to war was perhaps mistaken. But we are now in Iraq, and, whatever one thinks about the wisdom of the decision to go to war, the question of whether we should remain is a different one.

In the common law, there is no duty to rescue a drowning man. But once one has undertaken a rescue, and gone beyond a certain point, the law imposes a duty to continue. America had no duty to come to the rescue of the Iraqi people. Others, perhaps, had as high a claim on our attention. The Iraqis are not the only suffering and oppressed people in the world. But we made our decision, and our rescue effort is now well beyond the point where a duty to continue arises.

In part, this is for practical reasons. To break off before the Iraqis have acquired the habits of self-government - and not just a new constitution on paper - would create greater risks of instability in the region and an even larger threat to our national security. But in part it is for moral reasons, too. We have assumed a responsibility for the fate of the Iraqis which we are no longer free to ignore, or to treat as something less serious than it is. We have assumed a historic responsibility and must meet it with the steadiness and patience it requires.

Let us not follow the counsel of the French, who urge a quick transfer of power and a speedy exit
Thanks to Martin Dickinson of Tullius for the link.

posted by norm at 4:54 p.m. | link

Slimewatch UK No 6: The Slimepool

No sooner are Michael Birchenough's observations (two posts down), and my observations on his observations, out of my mouth than the Guardian decides to favour its readers - on its front page - thus (and this time I'm genuinely unable to find a link):
'Iraq, the story so far…', followed by three captions above three pictures.

The first caption, '200,000 troops' above a photo of American soldiers.

The next caption, '10,000 killed' above a picture of an Iraqi crying over the body of a loved one.

The third, '1 vial of botulinum' above a picture of a hand holding out a vial.
And that's it. That's the story of Iraq so far. I'll quickly pass over the fact that, even confining the focus to WMD, the Guardian's own leader allows:
The ISG [Iraq Survey Group] report does relate persuasive evidence that Iraq was trying clandestinely to retain the ability to produce proscribed weapons, particularly biological weapons. On the basis of interviews with Iraqi scientists and military and other sources, it seems clear that the regime was only partially cooperating with Hans Blix's UN inspectors in the months before the war, as Dr Blix indeed suspected. It speaks of a systematic effort to hide incriminating activities that continued, amid the general security breakdown, even after the war officially ended. Taken at face value, this bolsters claims that Saddam was in material breach of UN resolution 1441 [my emphasis]. The ISG's sources lead it to conclude that Saddam would certainly have resuscitated his moribund WMD programmes if sanctions had been lifted at a later date. There is also limited confirmation that after 2000, Saddam had begun trying, without much success, to develop longer-range missiles.
But never mind, hey. Never mind all of this.

I pass over it quickly because it's the narrowness of focus itself I'm interested in. Top of the paper's front page, the 'story of Iraq so far' is that 200,000 troops went to war, and 10,000 people were killed, and all there is to show for it is a vial of botulinum. How much further has this once liberal newspaper to fall? I would say its front page today was a total disgrace did this not risk sounding overheated. My more considered view is that the Guardian and much of its readership is now locked into an obtuseness of judgement bordering on moral cretinism.

Thanks, therefore, to June Purvis for this letter in the same organ:
Ann Clwyd must be thanked for her moving and impassioned speech at the Labour party conference when she defended Tony Blair's decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq… Her support for regime change in Iraq, always based on the human rights welfare of the Iraqi people, has been a voice of sanity on the left… It is now time for all on the left to give their support to the Iraqi people in their struggle for democracy, peace and a decent standard of living.
And thanks, somebody (if only Ann Clwyd), for Ann Clwyd.

Update as at 5.00 PM: For much on the ISG report and WMD in Iraq, see also Andrew Sullivan. Start here and read to the end of the thread, following up his links. And see this by Austin Bay (via Donald Sensing and Winds of Change).

posted by norm at 2:16 p.m. | link

The normblog profile 2: Michael J. Totten

Michael J. Totten was born in Salem, Oregon in 1970. He studied English literature at the University of Oregon, and his interests have since expanded to include writing, history, politics, and travel. In the mid 1990s he wrote an opinion column for The Daily Iowan, then moved to Portland, Oregon to strike it rich in the high tech sector. With the implosion of the tech economy and a nostalgia for his old job, a reverse career change is in the cards. In addition to starting up a weblog - Michael J. Totten - which he views as his own pirate newspaper, he has written freelance articles for the Wall Street Journal and Tech Central Station.

Why do you blog? > It gives me the opportunity to get my writing noticed, and it also forces me to sit down and write something, even if it's only a few sentences, every day.

What has been your best blogging experience? > I spent two hours writing a blog essay and was surprised to get a letter from the editor of the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal asking me for permission to publish it.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Focus on writing, not linking.

What are your favourite blogs? > Roger L. Simon, Winds of Change, and James Lileks.

Who are your intellectual heroes? > George Orwell, Salman Rushdie, and Christopher Hitchens.

What are you reading at the moment? > Baghdad Sketches by Freya Stark.

What is the best novel you've ever read? > The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien.

What is your favourite movie? > A tie between Kenneth Branagh's Henry V and the Director's Cut of Blade Runner.

Who is your favourite composer? > Lisa Gerrard.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Secular humanist liberal democracy.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Fundamentalist Islamic Fascism.

Who are your political heroes? > Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Stop building smarmy, sprawling suburbs strewn with strip malls and parking lots. Go back to pre-World War II urban design, or forward with New Urbanism.

If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be President, who would you choose? > Vaclav Havel.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Do what I did. Go to college, buy a house, and get married at 30.

What do you consider the most important quality in a person? > Genuine concern for the well-being of others.

What personal fault do you most dislike in people? > Bigotry and hatred.

In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > To protect myself or others from harm.

What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Shopping and watching TV.

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > New York City.

What would your ideal holiday be? > A trip to the planet Mars.

What do you like doing in your spare time? > Going on dates with my wife, reading, writing, socializing, arguing over coffee and cigarettes, fixing up the house, vanishing into the wilderness, and exploring foreign cities.

What is your most treasured possession? > The 110-year old Victorian house my wife and I bought two years ago.

What talent would you most like to have? > I’d like to be able to draw, or even paint.

What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > Travel Writer.

[The next normblog profile will appear here next Friday, with others to follow on a weekly basis, barring unforeseen events.]

posted by norm at 10:41 a.m. | link

Thursday, October 02, 2003

An unusual voice

In a certain well-known national newspaper today Michael Birchenough writes as follows (no link, seemingly - I'll update with it if one becomes available):
I was a firm opponent of the war in Iraq, as two earlier columns in these pages attest. In the first of them I argued that Tony Blair should not be getting as close as he was to the policies of President Bush, and in the second I spelled out why I thought Britain shouldn't be risking embroilment in a war in the circumstances prevailing at the time. I argued the same points - endlessly - with friends who didn't share my view, and I was on the great march in London in mid-February.

Yet, since the war, which went ahead in the face of world-wide opposition to it, and despite the many misgivings that continue to beset me, misgivings kept alive by the present state of things in Iraq, I have to admit to having felt also a great sense of relief and sometimes even joy. Why? Simply at the thought that the long agony of the Iraqi people which was the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein is over. Their subjection to its many horrors has at last been brought to an end.

I was not a great fan of Tony Blair before the Iraq war, and I haven't become one now. I believe the question of whether he exaggerated the available intelligence, or perhaps merely misconstrued it, is well-put, although some of the more extreme statements about his having lied appear to me to go beyond the evidence. Questions about the existing framework of international law, and the strains it has now been put under, are also very much to the point. I haven't, in other words, become an uncritical "pro-warrior".

None the less, these various considerations do need to be balanced against another one. This is that one of the very worst of the tyrannies of the last half centuury [sic] has been overturned. That must surely form part of a thoughtful all-round evaluation.
Not having any link to an online version, I can't say here 'read the rest'. But I wish you could read the rest. Coming upon Birchenough's piece today, I asked myself why we don't hear more voices - in the media, in leftish/liberal parts of the blogosphere or of other spheres - articulating this sort of sentiment.

Let me reveal at this point, for anyone who's not already figured it, that the indented passage above doesn't in fact come from anywhere other than my own head. I made it up. I had better say that, in doing so, I wasn't stating my own view of things - though Michael Birchenough's view does overlap with mine. But in any case what his fictional voice sets against the various now standard questions dear to the anti-war party, sets against them as a crucial counter-consideration, is no trifle: the ending of a hateful and life-devouring dictatorship. By their own lights - this goes at least for most of the people who make up that vocal anti-war party - it is no trifle. So why have there been so few of them willing to speak like Michael Birchenough, speak openly, forthrightly, rather than tucked-away mumblingly, about having derived some pleasure from this great historical release? I mean, there are enough amongst them now taking much delight at the real or possible discomfitures of Tony Blair and/or George Bush and who haven't evinced the slightest public satisfaction over the demise of Saddam. Some proportionality, no? Exaggeration over WMD, and even (were it true) deliberate misleading - as against a regime of systematic torture and murder and the ending of it. Well, by their pleasures and delights, and the relativities within these, you may know their degree of moral seriousness.

Why, then, so few voices like the voice I have confected? One answer I could give is, I don't know. But here is a second, and more adventurous, answer. It is only a hypothesis and I propose it the more tentatively in that I am, myself, generally cautious towards psychological generalizations such as the one I'm about to offer, evidence for these not being easy to come by or assess. Here goes anyway. Stated in a nutshell, the hypothesis is this. Most of those who opposed the war are rightly confident that they were not supporters of Saddam Hussein. But they also know they have no answer to the argument that, had their views prevailed, he would still be in power and his power would still be yielding - daily - victims, a ghastly human cost. Although, therefore, they are guilty of nothing, which is their good fortune, they came close to a kind of complicity with something terrible. And that thought is quite literally unbearable. So shut up about it. Draw attention to everything, anything, else. To express any joy at the demise of Saddam is to focus too clearly on the fact that it happened despite them and against them.

That, for what it's worth, is the hypothesis. Notice, finally, the following asymmetry. Challenged about their alignment, left and liberal opponents of the war will often throw back at left and liberal interlocutors who supported it: 'And you [as I've heard this charmingly put more than once] are in bed with George Bush'. The thing is supposed to unsettle us; right-wing Republican president and all the rest of it. But even leaving aside that the moral equivalence implied here - Bush equals Saddam - reveals a lamentable failure of moral and political judgement, in my own experience left and liberal supporters of the war as a general rule are not at all discomfited by the suggestion of their having been aligned with Bush and Blair in this matter (and having the freedom to criticize Bush and Blair's policies, even so, when and where they saw fit). They see no need to deny anything of it. A greater transparency of positioning you might call it, and a morally interesting one I would think.

posted by norm at 5:31 p.m. | link

English lesson

Andrew Murray, Chair of the Stop the War Coalition:
As a matter of fact, I do not and have never celebrated Stalin's birthday.
He has never and does not known how to construct a sentence.

posted by norm at 1:07 p.m. | link

Security wall

A Foreign Office spokesman:
Breaking up the West Bank with the fence, and settlements like Ariel are an obstacle to the two state solution and harm Israel's long term security.
I'll go along with that.

posted by norm at 1:06 p.m. | link

Miners' Strike Conference

Announcement from the London Socialist Historians Group:
Twenty Years On! The Great Miners' Strike in Historical and International Perspective. A conference to be held on Saturday 1st November 2003, at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet St, London, WC1. Keynote speaker: Professor Vic Allen, author of The Militancy of British Miners.
Further details from them.

posted by norm at 1:05 p.m. | link

More than one Norman Geras

No, not the admission of a dark secret about the fractured state of my psyche, but a probabilistic inference derived from information I got following up this. At the site you will reach via Blacktriangle, you'll see that they do indeed think, as Anthony claims, that there's only one Norman Geras. I put a few familiar blogger names into their search facility, however, and learned that as well as 606 Anthony Coxes, there are only 17 Henry Farrells, and I don't believe that. I'm also doubtful about there being only 145 Andrew Sullivans; it must be more. But the clincher was this: Brad DeLong '0 - That name doesn't exist. Are you secret service? Don't hurt me, I've seen Enemy of the State'; Ophelia Benson, ditto; Natalie Solent, yup, again. These people don't exist. And because I hold it to be true that they do exist, it throws me into doubt about my alleged uniqueness, even though the site may sometimes get things right.

I tried out a few politicians as well: Blair, Brown and Shrunken Stiff (who also doesn't exist). And George Galloway: '61 - More people probably die poking spoons into the back of their PCs than there are of you.'

posted by norm at 1:03 p.m. | link

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Singing horses

You don't believe me? Well, go take a look for yourself.

Make sure your sound is on. Wait for the screen to load up with all four horses. Then click on each horse. Re-click on any horse to make it turn off or turn it back on again. Try clicking on the horses from left to right, then right to left, and then just one or two at a time. (Thanks to Sue Leaf for the link.)

posted by norm at 2:23 p.m. | link

Music talk

> My appeal for entries for the normblog 15 greatest jazz albums poll hasn't fallen on deaf ears, nor even on stony ground. It has produced an encouraging crop of responses. But that's no reason for complacency, much less for laziness. I'm still wanting more entries. Do get them in. Don't be left out. Essential details: email your nominations, any number up to, but no more than, 15. Closing date Sunday 5 October, 11.59 PM local time.

> Meanwhile check this out over at Terra Taco. Taco has set up a site to host people's lists of top jazz albums and he's inviting you to submit yours. Write to jazz@terrataco.com.

> Cliff Duckworth sent in an entry for the aforementioned poll from Nashville, Tennessee. In response to my query whether, writing from there, he was also a country music man, he sent back two stories:
1. It is Nashville's proudest boast that we have both kinds of music here. We have Country and we have Western.

2. Allegedly, when Buddy Rich was being admitted to hospital with heart problems and was asked if he was allergic to anything he replied, "Country and western."
>Chris Young writes that I shouldn't be discouraged by the slow response to my jazz poll, and suggests as one possible reason for it the following:
The other thing is a result of the demographic of jazz listeners. I spent a fantastic weekend recently at the Scarborough Jazz Festival, and I might have been a bit depressed by the scarcity of people under 40 there, except that the middle aged cohort goes on renewing itself. People, like me, grow up listening to rock or whatever, and after a bit they realise that they've exhausted that seam, look around for something a bit more interesting, and discover jazz. Now as a result of this, and I'll bet a lot of other people are in the same boat, I've got a largish record collection, but most of them have titles like "John Doe, the Blue Note Years" or "Richard Roe, the Complete Verve Recordings". These are not eligible for your list, really, even when John Doe's real name is Lester Young. So all the late converts like me are partly disbarred from playing because although we know all the great tracks, they're not on the original albums.
I know exactly what Chris is talking about here, being of a certain age myself and recognizing many others of a similar, or proximate, age whenever I'm at live jazz. But I wonder how universal this is. Are there national variations? At the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague (the couple of times I've been) the age composition of the audience has seemed to me to be very different, with many… er… less mature, and indeed young, people there. A much different gender composition as well, with significant numbers of jazzers of the female persuasion. An impression, that's all.

posted by norm at 2:19 p.m. | link

The normblog profile

While I'm on trailers let me remind you that the second normblog profile comes up here the day after tomorrow. If you missed the first one (Chris Bertram), you can still put this right. Who's next? is now the question. Frenzied speculation across the blogosphere. Find out Friday.

posted by norm at 2:11 p.m. | link

Trailer: The Rights and Wrongs of Amnesty

Following the series of posts on the concept of crimes against humanity, next week I'll be putting up a shorter series in which I'll be looking critically at the policy of granting amnesty to those who've committed grave crimes on behalf of a now defunct regime; a policy aimed at securing other objectives, like bringing the truth about those crimes out into the open, and working towards national reconciliation. Like the CAH series this one is based, in a sense, on work in progress. But it might be more accurate to call it work stalled. It comes from a seminar presentation I've done two or three times, and which I keep meaning to work up into something more thorough, but keep not getting round to. Maybe blogging it, and the possible feedback, will help. I'll start the series on Monday.

posted by norm at 2:02 p.m. | link

Baghdad window

David Ignatius reports from Baghdad in the Daily Star (Lebanon):
The cascade of bad news from Iraq leaves a returning visitor unprepared for a small surprise here: Compared to six months ago when the war ended, the Iraqi capital is cleaner and more orderly. The new Iraq is still a distant dream, but the work of rebuilding has at least begun.
Electricity in the city remains spotty, but it is now on more than off. There are still lines at gas stations, but they are shorter. Stores are stocked with goods, and restaurants that used to close at dusk for fear of bandits now stay open until 9pm. Nobody travels in the spooky darkness after the 11pm curfew, except gangsters or soldiers.

The US military is less visible than six months ago. There are occasional Army patrols, and there is a huge military presence out of sight at the airport and in other encampments. But this looks less like a city under occupation.
If you gave Iraqis truth serum and asked them if they want US forces to pull out immediately, I suspect most would answer no. They detest the US occupation, but they fear civil war more.
Baghdad is a neater place than it was, and Iraqis and Americans are united in wanting real security. But the window for cooperation won't stay open much longer.
And that's it. For the rest of today, no Iraq, no dnoc. Not that I'm one of these, but anyway - it's a break.

posted by norm at 1:57 p.m. | link

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Cole Porter completes the verse

Yup, a message from old Cole, who wasn't happy with my Butterflies and Wheels fragment of a verse, so completed it after making a couple of small emendations. This is the result:
You're the top, you're Astaire in motion,
You're the top, you're the great, wide ocean,
You're the wondrous content of Butterflies and Wheels,
When an April shower delights the hour,
You're how it feels.
While I'm back on the subject, I'm happy to report that there were others than myself who hadn't yet come across B&W and who seem to have got some interest out of making their acquaintance: Alan Brain, George Junior and Cara over at Who Knew?.

posted by norm at 11:18 p.m. | link

A film-maker of real glory

Elia Kazan update. The best of the obituaries I've seen so far is this one by David Thomson:
Elia Kazan was a scoundrel, maybe; he was not always reliable company or a nice man. But he was a monumental figure, the greatest magician with actors of his time, a superlative stage director, a film-maker of real glory, a novelist, and finally, a brave, candid, egotistical, self-lacerating and defiant autobiographer - a great, dangerous man, someone his enemies were lucky to have.
And see this post, and the comments on it, round at Roger Simon's. About On the Waterfront Roger says:
I loved the movie and I still do... but now I cannot see it without thinking of the bloody wars, often between close friends, that are hidden not so far beneath the emulsion.
For my part, when I first saw the movie I knew nothing of Elia Kazan or his personal history. It must be possible to judge it independently of that history.

posted by norm at 11:16 p.m. | link

Stop the denial 3

Tony Blair at the Labour Party conference:
Whatever the disagreement Iraq is a better country without Saddam.
When will proper, sober, intelligent moral weight be given, from within the coalition of peaceniks, moral ostriches and grumbling snipers, to the role played by Tony Blair in that act of removal?

I don't mean like this (Martin Kettle predicting today's speech):
He will say that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is a great liberation for Iraq and the world... It looks as though it will pass muster.
[T]he mark of Iraq will stay on him always.
Anyway, take a trip over to Oliver's to get some good, against-the-current sense about Blair (as well as an enjoyable story about Frank Dobson - with a sharp self-positioning phrase vis-à-vis the Lib Dems thrown in for good measure). And see also the piece on Blair by David Aaronovitch in today's dnoc.

posted by norm at 5:02 p.m. | link

Stop the denial 2

William Safire:
Nothing that helps justify our overthrow of this generation's bloodiest tyrant - not human rights, not even a major victory in the war on terror - will they find acceptable.

Evidence of that deep-seated denial is the reaction to the most significant and extensive poll conducted this year by the Gallup organization.

The startling finding: despite all the hardships - the early looting, the explosions and killings afterward, the publicized lack of power and worry about water, fear of the bands of criminals that Saddam released and of terrorists that Syria and Iran exported - despite it all, two out of three residents of Baghdad believe that they are better off today under occupation than they were in the "orderly" times when Saddam was butchering his opposition.

That is the opposite of the impression created by pictures of explosions and angry shouters. The Gallup results that get the news lead are those showing a slip in President Bush's approval rating.
(Via Andrew Sullivan.)

posted by norm at 4:58 p.m. | link

S... laughter the best medicine

Has Panorama been reporting that US soldiers are murdering and torturing thousands of patients in Iraqi hospitals? Well, I didn't see the programme myself, but this comes from a discussion on the British Medical Journal's website:
One could only welcome the fall of Saddam Hussein if the US and UK had brought something better to the Iraqis. The BBC's Panorama of 28/9/03 showed unequivocally that the new... regime is a tyrannical and brutal one whose excesses outstrip even those of the atheist Ba'athists. The lack of discipline and savagery of the American soldiers was clear to see in the hospitals where patients with acute injuries were threatened and interrogated. The situation is now so bad that medical staff have gone into hiding.
Thanks to Anthony of Blacktriangle for the link.

posted by norm at 2:33 p.m. | link

The Cardiff team's feeling for Snow

In July of this year rather a lot was made of a study (thanks to Chris Brooke of The Virtual Stoa for the link) carried out by a research team at the School of Journalism at Cardiff University, and purporting to show that, so far from being 'biased against the war', the BBC 'actually tilted the other way in its coverage'. Writing in the Guardian, Professor Justin Lewis, one of the Cardiff team, concluded: 'our findings tend to give credence to those who criticised the BBC for being too sympathetic to the government in its war coverage'. At the time I first read this, I had my doubts about Lewis's conclusion, partly because of what I'd seen and heard with my own eyes and ears, and partly for a reason I'll get to.

Then, last week, David Steven and Mark Weston released a report, 'Whose Agenda?' – remarked on by Biased BBC amongst others – a report 'which asks whether it [the BBC's Reporter's Log] supports accusations from some commentators that the BBC's war reporting was biased and unreliable', and concludes in the affirmative.

Analysis of the media isn't (as the expression has it) my field, and all I'm going on are summaries of these opposed sets of findings. Still, one can ask whether there's anything in the summaries that gives a clue to the discrepancy, and it seems to me there is. Which brings me to the other reason for my initial scepticism about the Cardiff study. For, if Lewis's summary gives an accurate indication of the content and methods of this study, the emphasis seems largely to have been on assessing the BBC's coverage relative to the coverage of other UK channels. Lewis says, for example: that, like those of the other channels with the exception of Channel 4, the BBC's reports were three times more likely to show Iraqis as pro-invasion than to show them as anti-invasion; that the BBC carried fewer reports of Iraqi casualties than Channel 4, Sky and ITN did; and that it was, with Sky and ITN, 'more trusting of US and British military sources' than Channel 4 was.

The reason for my scepticism may be concentrated in a single point: the fact that one of the comparative reference points is Channel 4. Allow me a guffaw or three. (And see, in this connection, Snow job: 'Definition – [n] a long and elaborate misrepresentation'.) How's about if I showed by comparative study that the BBC was biased against the war, taking as my primary reference point for comparison Fox News? Anybody? No, I thought not.

If the question is, as it is, whether the BBC fulfilled its public duty of impartiality with respect to the Iraq war, then what we need to know is not, or not only, how it performed relative to other news providers, but also what sort of position it occupied within the pro-war/anti-war debate - just so. No one should accept the red herring that the BBC's journalists were 'simply doing their duty in reflecting public opinion'. Their duty was to report that opinion, not reflect it in the sense Richard Eyre – for it is he – evidently means; because opinion was deeply divided. Except if reflecting public opinion had meant reporting the division and posing tough questions from both sides of it. What is needed, consequently, is an analysis of the content of the BBC's coverage, not a demonstration that it performed better than Jon Snow did (or, for that matter, than Sky or ITN – though, on the basis of what I myself saw, I have to say I have my doubts in relation to them).

This, in any case, is where David Steven and Mark Weston seem to me to have looked at the right sorts of thing, focusing more centrally on content. A few of their findings:
76% of all posts [on the BBC's Reporter's Log] that were sceptical of claims made about progress by either side raised doubts about Coalition progress.

58% of reports on Coalition progress focused on setbacks, which were also reported in greater details than the 42% of posts that dealt with Coalition successes.

60% of posts that analysed Iraqi strategy were positive and 40% negative, 69% of all posts that focused on Coalition strategy were critical and 31% positive.

BBC reporters seemed much more sceptical about Coalition claims, than they were about what the Iraqis were telling them.

What really stands out is how many of the more provocative reports are made by the BBC's most high profile journalists, especially by those based in Baghdad.

During the war, a persistent theme was that Coalition strategy had failed to meet expectations, with military planners surprised by the nature or strength of Iraqi resistance: [examples follow].
The veracity of the Coalition is frequently called into question, while the Iraqi Information Minister (remember him) gets an easy ride: [examples follow].
Some correspondents also seem to have a near-magical ability to judge the mood of the Iraqi people.
My own initial reaction to reading all this was the same as InstaPundit's: 'You don't say'. But obviously my reaction is not an authoritative test in such matters. (No, please, you're too kind.) Anyway, this issue probably has some way yet to run. But I end by reformulating a question I've posed here once before (on July 31): if the BBC is so confident of the fairness of its coverage of the Iraq war, what does it have to lose by submitting it to a truly rigorous and independent enquiry?

posted by norm at 1:29 p.m. | link

Monday, September 29, 2003

Elia Kazan 1909-2003

Elia Kazan has died at the age of 94. There are obituaries of him here, here, here and here. From the last of these:
Karl Malden, who starred in some of the director's biggest films, said he would often take long walks with actors he considered hiring to understand the actor and know how to trigger their emotions on screen and on stage. "If he hired you he knew more about you than you did yourself," Malden said.

To some, however, Kazan diminished his stature when he went before the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the McCarthy era and named people he said had been members of the Communist party with him in the mid-1930s.
A filmography is here.

posted by norm at 7:50 p.m. | link

Bloody images

From the New York Times on the web: images 'glorifying suicide bombings and other violent attacks cover many Gaza City walls'. Take a look at them. Thanks to Anthony Cox of Blacktriangle for the link.

posted by norm at 12:00 p.m. | link

Daily Mail

Read Wilf Mbanga on how the Mugabe government closed down the Daily News:
Human rights are under siege in Zimbabwe. Freedom of expression is next on the list. In the words of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC: "Repression is sure to increase if the Daily News is silenced. Nearly every edition of the Daily News had reports of the state abusing our citizens and inflicting violence on innocent people. Without that regular exposure, the state may step up its brutal campaign because all the other dailies are owned by the government and they do not criticise the regime or expose its violence. Without the Daily News the future is bleak indeed."
Effectively the paper I founded is over. Killed by the regime. It is like losing a son. I loved that paper. It makes you weep.
The other soul of the Guardian.

posted by norm at 11:58 a.m. | link


> A letter from Colin Bower to my dnoc: 'Your leader claims that "this newspaper has supported Mr Blair as Labour leader since ... 1994. We still do." You could have fooled me.' Yeah, and me.

> Description of a local Stop the War Coalition group:
Robin Beste characterises the group he runs in Muswell Hill, north London - he has an email newsletter that goes out to 1,300 people - as broadly progressive. People who don't like privatisation, foundation hospitals, the way their children's schools are going; well meaning, without being ideological.
Doubtless well meaning also, to the last man, woman and even young person, about the eradication of torture.

> Steven Poole on Mapping Human History, by Steve Olson:
Surprising dinner-party facts spice up the demonstration of our fundamental interconnectedness: everyone alive today, for example, is probably directly descended from Nefertiti, Confucius and Julius Caesar, though that may seem hard to credit in the case of George W Bush.
George W Bush, without whose recent decisions Saddam Hussein's butchers would still be at work - but Steven Poole's life not markedly affected, I'll surmise, one way or another.

(Update at 2.20 PM: Comment from a reader: 'What, George Bush descended from Caesar? Unbelievable! Because Caesar was of course well-known for being a non-aggressive anti-imperialist who would undoubtedly have joined the Stop the War Coalition had he been alive today.')

posted by norm at 11:54 a.m. | link

Jazz albums poll reminder

Dear readers, I am not an impatient man. I am not a restlessly dissatisfied or demanding one. But I am bound to say that a worry has begun to take shape, in what I please to call my mind, over the slow trickle of entries for the normblog top 15 jazz albums poll.

Let me explain something about the arithmetic of this. There are far more creditable jazz albums than there are sensibly choosable country music singers. Therefore there are far more jazz albums for people's choices to be distributed across. We don't want to end with a result like this: such-and-such an album 3 votes; everything else 1. Do we? Of course we don't.

Therefore, please send me your nominations, any number up to, but no more than, 15. Closing date Sunday 5 October, 11.59 PM local time. Do not be put off by the thought 'Well, I'm not too knowlegeable about this'. It's not about knowledge. It's about: is there any jazz that you like and do you have some favourite albums? Now don't let me down.

posted by norm at 11:51 a.m. | link

Donald O'Connor 1925-2003

From the obituary by Ronald Bergan:
If one had to find a single starring example to illustrate the term show-stopper from the Hollywood musical, one would look no further than the number Make 'Em Laugh, performed with devastating virtuosity in Singin' In The Rain by Donald O'Connor, who has died aged 78. It was the high spot in the career of this small, explosively talented song-and-dance comedian... Apart from Make 'Em Laugh, in which he does a succession of backward somersaults and runs up walls - while singing all the time - O'Connor also danced two dynamic duets with Kelly, Fit As A Fiddle and the tongue-twisting tapper Moses Supposes.
Imperishable scenes.

posted by norm at 10:12 a.m. | link

Lost son?

Does the young Shimon Peres resemble Kramer from Seinfeld? Or is it just the hair they have in common? You be the judge.

posted by norm at 10:04 a.m. | link

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Butterflies and Wheels

It may seem a bit soft to enthuse about something which other people will evidently have known about for a good while already, but that's exactly what I'm going to do. If you can't enthuse about things on your blog, then where can you? A couple of days ago I discovered – or, rather, had drawn to my attention – the website Butterflies and Wheels which, following a five-minute visit just to reconnoitre, I decided to link to on my sidebar. I have since returned more than once and - what can I say? - the place is an online cornucopia; it's a palace full of treasure. If Cole Porter were still around he'd incorporate it: 'You're the splendid content of Butterflies and Wheels/ When an April shower/ Delights the hour/ You're how it feels.' Or something.

In any case, after this glowing intro, here follows a review of the site.

Shall I begin by saying I like it? (No, enough already – ed.) Butterflies and Wheels is co-edited by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom. In their About section they include amongst the things they oppose:
Epistemic relativism in the humanities (for example, the idea that statements are only true or false relative to particular cultures, discourses or language-games).
And they include amongst their motivations:
the common one having to do with the thought that truth is important, and that to tell the truth about the world it is necessary to put aside whatever preconceptions (ideological, political, moral, etc.) one brings to the endeavour.
You may say this is just like being in favour of virtue and against sin. No, not necessarily for everybody, unless with a lot of yes-buts. Anyway, by me it's a good start.

The site is clearly laid out and easy to find your way around. Under news there are 'news stories relevant to the project of fighting fashionable nonsense', and at the moment these include links to Terry Eagleton on cultural theory, a Christopher Hitchens obituary of Edward Said, a review by Clancy W. Martin of Bernard Williams' book Truth and Truthfulness, and an interview with Donald Davidson. There is then, also, a section of articles, some of them written specially for Butterflies and Wheels, others which have appeared first elsewhere: the critique of Edward Said's work by Ibn Warraq; a pair of essays by Kenan Malik and Jeremy Stangroom debating humanism; the piece by Daniel Dennett on postmodernism and truth which I linked to here some weeks ago (though at a different site); and many others.

From In Focus (a section 'where we get specific, examining particular examples of truth claims rooted in ideology rather than evidence, frivolously casual dismissals of science, truth and reason, and other forms of fashionable nonsense'), there is a piece on cultural relativism, which argues:
In fact it's quite strange the way a line of thought that's intended to side with the oppressed often sides with oppressors in the name of multiculturalism. A great many practices could be put in the box 'their culture'. Dowry murders, female infanticide, female genital mutilation, slavery, child labour, drafting children into armies, the caste system, beating and sexually abusing and withholding wages from domestic servants especially immigrants, Shariah, fatwas, suttee. These are all part of someone's 'culture', as murder is a murderer's culture and rape is a rapist's. But why validate only the perpetrators? Have the women, servants, slaves, child soldiers, Dalits, ten-year-old carpet weavers in these cultures ever even had the opportunity to decide what their culture might be?

And this is where the hard choice comes in, where the competing goods have to be sorted out. One can decide that tolerance and cultural pluralism trump all other values, and so turn a blind eye to suffering and oppression that have tradition as their underpinning, or one can decide that murder, torture, mutilation, systematic sexual or caste or racial discrimination, slavery, child exploitation, are wrong, wrong everywhere, universally wrong, and not to be tolerated.
Under In the library ('brief introductions to highly recommended books'), you will find a thumbnail portrait of someone much appreciated and often linked to on this blog. There is also a blog-like section, Notes and Comment, carrying 'observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels'.

A series by Julian Baggini on the ways in which arguments or points 'are made badly' has dealt, just for one example, with Ancient means wise:
The next time you suffer from an inflammation, why not try a little blood letting? This "tried and tested" method dates back to the fifth century BCE and probably owes its origins to Hippocrates. The principle behind blood-letting is simple: the human body needs to maintain a balance between its four "humours": blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Inflammation is caused by excess of blood, so losing a bit of it should help restore the natural balance of your body and make you feel a whole lot better.

Why not indeed? How about because it is ineffective, potentially dangerous and based on a false understanding of human physiology?
And then there is the Fashionable Dictionary. I can't restrain myself from offering a sample of its entries; and I report in passing that, when I showed this to Wife of the Norm, the house soon began to shake with the sound of her laughter:
Argument: Unpleasant, testosterone-driven method of supporting one's assertions.

Demonising: Sharply criticising something that I approve of.

Horst Wessel song: Rumoured to be the song that some sociobiologists most like to sing.

Inclusion: The best attitude to everything, including ideas. Accept, welcome, embrace, be kind.

Logic: Pestiferous male invention. Probably something to do with imperialism, too.

Reason: Bad, toxic entity, that foolish people use when they ought to use their inner voice, or angels, or intuition, or a gut feeling, or their hearts, or the I Ching.

Science: 1. An inconvenient discipline that tends to undermine our most cherished beliefs.
2. A tiny cabal of powerful people who ignore what the majority of humanity believe.
3. A civil religion.
4. Part of the ideological state apparatus. Science "like the Church before it, is a supremely social institution, reflecting and reinforcing the dominant values and views of society at each historical epoch." [Richard Lewontin, Biology as Ideology]

Socrates: A famous African philosopher.

Truth: A quaint, old-fashioned word, like bustle or barouche-landau or button-hook. No longer needed.

Voice: Something women have a different one of.
I love it; but most especially I love this:
Human nature: Fantasy. Fictitious entity, like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy or the free lunch. Humans have no nature, only culture; we can learn to fly, or live in the ocean, or echolocate, or pick things up with our trunks, if we will only concentrate.
Well, this is getting to be a bit long and some will think also a bit OTT, so I'll just refer you finally to Use 'Obscure' as a First Name from The Woolly-Thinker's Guide to Rhetoric; to the pair of quotes 'with a twist' by Judith Butler; and to the quote 'straight up' by Simon Blackburn:
The West, it is sadly said, has lost confidence in the Enlightenment. It is quite common to see intellectuals state as a fact that the Enlightenment project has been tried and failed. This is a lie. There never was one single Enlightenment project, and of the Enlightenment projects that there were, many have succeeded beyond the wildest hopes of their proponents.
Do I have any criticisms? Yes. It's like what Alfred Doolittle says in My Fair Lady, in explaining why work's not worth it: 'It takes up yer whole day.' Believe me, so can Butterflies and Wheels.

In case some ungenerous soul should notice that not only have I linked to them, but they've also linked to me, and hence this encomium, let me simply say that that would be an example of the 'post hoc, propter hoc' fallacy. I have linked to, and been linked to by, other sites, other great sites, but I haven't till now written such a review. (Hey, it's an idea for a new feature!)

posted by norm at 2:48 p.m. | link

Fashionable, nous?

David Aaronovitch comments on the suggestion of 'a fashionable lurch to the Right by some former leftists':
The 'fashionable lurch to the Right' is, in terms of the war in Iraq (which is what we are really talking about), the least fashionable thing that some of us have ever done. The entire bien-pensant world, every political actress, every talking painter, every modish singer, every T-shirt designer, every clever cartoonist, every radio quiz-show panelist, every TV critic, every professionally young person who can string three words together, has been against us... We have not just been wrong on balance, but wrong beyond discussion, wrong beyond the possibility of being the slightest bit right. Fashionable? We might just as well have ventured into Tate Modern wearing mullet hair and tartan hot-pants.
Aaronovitch also has observations on 'the tendency of the apolitical professional classes to lionise a militancy whose chin-jutting certainties they enjoy, but whose trajectory they do not understand.'

posted by norm at 2:19 p.m. | link

Simon Hoggart

There are still some pleasures to be had from reading the Guardian, and one of them is Simon Hoggart. From his account of Charles Kennedy's speech to the Lib Dem conference:
"We are sensible, not supine!" he [Kennedy] announced.

All politicians love new cliches, and that was a belter. You could use it, or a variant, at almost any time. "We are practical, not prone. We will be careful, but never cowardly. We shall be bold but not bladdered!"
At times, even when he was offering the audience the hope of real power, he sounded as if he was working his way through the coal-mining regions of Belgium and would be testing us on them later.
And have a look, also, at this, Hoggart's take on the clash between BBC chairman Gavyn Davies and Jonathan Sumption QC at the Hutton inquiry.

posted by norm at 2:09 p.m. | link

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