Saturday, November 01, 2003Michael Howard exposed
Prompted by Jackie's remark that 'Michael Howard is as clean as a whistle, and anyone who goes digging to try to discern otherwise will come away very disappointed' - she had this on the authority of a prominent Tory and close friend of Howard's - I thought I might take up the challenge. After a period of wide-ranging and fearless research, in which I left no stone unturned, I'm afraid I have to tell you, Jackie, that I have come away far from disappointed. I have discovered this about Howard, that:
His interests are catholic: he likes football (Liverpool is his team)...Well, I stopped my research right there, as any impartial scholar would. It did lead me to reflect, though. Will Howard's succession to the leadership mean that the Tories are only ten elections from power? Will it confirm that their best years are definitely behind them? Such were my thoughts during yesterday. Then, I'm watching BBC 2's Grumpy Old Men last night, and lo and behold John Peel - a Liverpool supporter he - is talking about hatred of Margaret Thatcher and hatred of Manchester United in the same breath; and he says (taken down in haste by me, so possibly not quite exact):
All you've got left in life is to hate Manchester United because Liverpool aren't going to win anything.Many a true word.
For more serious fare than mine regarding Michael Howard, see Chris Brooke's excellent post, just a stone's throw from Magdalen Bridge, at The Virtual Stoa.
posted by norm at 4:47 pm | link
Dominic Shryane writes to the Graun on a topic I thought only I had a view about:
I've never been one to pass a penny in the street but - for the first time - this year I've kept a record. With just two months of the year remaining, I have accumulated £1.99 in loose change. What does this say about the value we place on our currency?As someone who, during the last four years and a bit, has been walking twenty miles a week, most of these miles not through pine forests or on sun-kissed beaches but along the pavements of Manchester, I've been surprised by the amount of money I regularly find. Sometimes it's a 10p or a 20p, and it's even occasionally a one pound coin; but mostly it's the smallest stuff, the 1ps, 2ps and 5ps. I haven't ever, like Dominic Shryane, kept a running total, though I once contemplated doing so - by way of economic research you understand - but was restrained from the folly by persons close to me. Still, on the basis of the amounts by which I've been supplementing my income, the only possible conclusion I can come to is that many people actually throw the smaller denominations away. (See also here and here.)
(Updated at 10.55 AM Nov 2.) Lorenz Gude emails: 'Ask kids what is the smallest denomination coin they will pick up. In the US it's a dime according to my affluent 12 year old grandson. "Nickles, grandpa?" he sneered in disbelief. In Australia kids haven't been picking up 5 cent coins for some time and our one and two cent coins are long gone.'
posted by norm at 3:56 pm | link
[I asked WotN if she would write something brief about the three books she's chosen for the Alternative Big Read I'm running here at normblog, and she kindly obliged. This isn't an attempt to influence anyone else's vote, merely for your interest. Do keep the entries coming in. If you haven't voted yet, please visit the two BBC sites to check out the 100 books you're choosing from, and then send me your own top three (ranked). Now over to WotN...]
I love lists. Choosing a top three is always completely impossible, naturally, but that makes it even more fun. As soon as you've chosen, there's another trio floating up from the pool of available options to tease and tempt you.
In the end, I put Middlemarch first because it has enough in it to fill several novels. The setting - the eponymous town - allows George Eliot to interweave a good few narrative strands. She moves effortlessly up and down the social scale, giving equal weight and integrity to all her characters. Her women are more alive than almost any in fiction. We recognize every one of them. The sexual relationships Eliot describes are dissected with honesty and understanding and the love affair at the heart of the book is one of several that link the classes and create discord and conflict along the way. Most of all, this book shows what it's like to be married to the wrong person. It's about intimacy but also about how we interact in society. You'll find every sort of professional in its pages: doctor, lawyer, scholar and farmer. I can't think of another novel that's so intricately and perfectly structured, and which engages your emotions on so many levels.
I put Jane Eyre second. I fell in love with this book when I was fourteen and I still adore it. It has everything you could possibly ask for in a good read: a brave heroine who wins out in spite of being neither beautiful nor well-connected; a brooding, moody hero with a dark secret; someone disturbing in the attic; and, even before we get to the main action, a searing account of nineteenth-century boarding-school life in which Jane's best friend dies. It's set in a big house in wild country and is written in the first person throughout. When it was published in 1847 it was an immediate best seller and has remained one ever since. It's also the template for a thousand poor imitations, but that's not its fault.
Finally, The Great Gatsby. Again, I fell under its spell as a teenager, but thought I'd check it out and re-read it a few weeks ago. This time, what struck me were the elegance and economy with which Fitzgerald lays bare the characters and indeed the whole society he's describing. We hardly hear Daisy Buchanan say more than a couple of sentences, but know exactly what she's like. We can imagine ourselves at one of those parties but when you look carefully, what is there on the page is a list of names. A tragedy unfolds and we see how inevitable it is and can't stop it. It's a very short book but contains a great deal more than you think. Also, importantly, it has the best last sentence ever.
[WotN has a longer discussion of The Great Gatsby here.]
posted by norm at 2:55 pm | link
Across the road at Sitting on a Fence Josh Cherniss has posted a response to my 'coming down' reflections of Thursday (October 30). With much of what I say Josh expresses, in turn, agreement and partial agreement, but he draws the line on one point. I want to respond just on that point and, for the rest, send you over to his place to see what he has to say more generally. I'm grateful to Josh for his discussion of the various arguments I made. On the point of disagreement he writes:
As an American living in Britain, I appreciate any Brit standing up against the anti-Americanism displayed by some - not in my experience all that many, but too many - of his countrymen. And the comments Norm quotes from the Guardian really are appalling. But, I fear that when he turns his criticism to Americans in the UK who bash Bush, I go from feeling defended, to feeling attacked; for I am one such. For the record, I don't criticize Bush in order to fit in or be liked or disassociate myself from my country, which I'm quite grateful and dedicated to. When other people criticize Bush, I agree with them, because, well, I agree with them.Equally for the record, I'd like to insist that this is a misreading on Josh's part of what I wrote. I didn't take issue with Americans in the UK who criticize George Bush. Not only does the Guardian letter I quote make it plain that the context of my remarks is, precisely, 'bashing President Bush to fit in better' (my emphasis), but what I go on to say immediately after quoting it - indeed this is the only thing I say in the whole post about my attitude to bashing Bush - spells it out clearly. I say:
You can argue about Bush all you want, you can argue about Iraq, the war on terror, the whole schlabang, but to enter either side of a debate which is to determine whether there are decent Americans should be beneath the consideration of morally serious people. Consequently, the plea 'Hey, everyone, it's Bush and company, not all Americans' is, frankly, pathetic.What is 'argue about' Bush and Iraq and the war on terror 'all you want' if it isn't an acceptance of anyone's right, including an American's in Britain, to be critical of George Bush? And since, from what I've read on his blog, I would have guessed about Josh Cherniss that he'd be unlikely to be criticizing Bush simply in order to be liked, I suspect there's no real disagreement between us on this issue. There may or may not be some about the extent of 'anti-Bush... conformism', but in any case I think Josh loses sight of the fact, though himself explicitly referring to it, that the remarks of mine which bothered him were framed by a number of Guardian letters on the subject of 'decent' Americans.
Postscript: With respect to another of the concerns of the same post, as well as of an earlier one of mine - 'Police racism...' (October 27) - I link interested readers to the article 'Those Jews' by Victor Davis Hanson (via Roger Simon), and a news item about a German parliamentarian who 'has refused to apologise for remarks that appeared to compare Jews during the Bolshevik Revolution to Nazis in World War II'.
posted by norm at 2:07 pm | link
Friday, October 31, 2003Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys
Read this lovely article about them and tell me you wouldn't like to be at the Bridgewater Hall next Tuesday evening to see Ralph and the Boys. Well, you still could be, because that ticket, which I have but can't use, is still available. It very nearly wasn't. Tim Newman emailed to say he'd love to have it. All that came between him and the ticket was the matter of a flight from Kuwait. If you're anywhere nearer than Kuwait, you'll want to snap up the opportunity.
posted by norm at 4:52 pm | link
Philip Stott today posts on his blog an open letter about GM from UK scientists to the Government, with 144 signatories. It was delivered to Number 10 Downing Street yesterday.
posted by norm at 4:50 pm | link
A few comments following my Thursday morning coming down post. Lorenz Gude, an American in Australia, tells of an Australian academic saying to him:
'America must fall. When I saw the Twin Towers go down, I said yes'. Being on the sharp end of it was a critical moment in my political development... Strangely, he seemed to want me to agree with him, but I just shook my head and said 'no', knowing something important had just happened to me.Julie Cleeveley writes:
The media and the middle classes dare not assault the black and Asian people in our community... they've externalised their self-hatred and turned on the Jews.Marcus Laughton says he agrees about the moral atmosphere reflected in those Guardian letters on the Oxford affair and the search for 'Good Americans', adding:
One point I must make though - if you continue to read the Guardian this sort of 'liberal intellectual fascism' may seem more pervasive than it actually is. Try another paper! Your blood-pressure will thank you.Maybe. But it's easier said than done.
posted by norm at 4:48 pm | link
> Two articles - of differing emphasis - by Robert Reid and Curt Anderson on the extent of foreign fighter involvement in the bombings in Iraq.
> Alissa Rubin reports that many Iraqis lay the blame for the suicide bombings on... Israel. Yup.
> Richard Cohen: 'If there is anything to the latter-day domino theory the Bush administration propounded - a democratic Iraq would be emulated throughout the Middle East - then its converse must also be true: The failure to establish some sort of civic regime in Iraq would also have consequences throughout the Middle East.'
> 'Bending to President Bush's demand that U.S. aid to Iraq must be given as grants, not loans, the House of Representatives Thursday night approved of spending $87.5 billion on Iraq and Afghanistan. The package was approved 298-121, and amounted to a decisive, albeit wary, endorsement of the president's policy of occupation in Iraq. The Senate is expected to pass the package on Monday, which would make it the most ambitious post-war effort since the Marshall Plan helped rebuild Germany after World War II.' Reported here. See also here and here.
> David Triesman, Labour party general secretary, on Galloway's expulsion: it 'has nothing to do with his views on Iraq; 139 Labour MPs voted against the military action'.
posted by norm at 12:30 pm | link
Roger L. Simon was born in New York City some time in the Early Palaeolithic Age. He attended conventional Ivy League universities - Dartmouth and Yale - but rebelled because he was a Sixties Guy and that's what Sixties Guys did (politically and professionally). Instead of being a doctor, he told his shocked family that he was going to be a writer and to his own shock became one - writing novels (including the prize-winning Moses Wine detective series) and screenplays (including the Academy Award-nominated adaptation of Singer's Enemies, A Love Story). He lives in the Hollywood Hills and has a swimming pool that 'needs work'. He blogs at Roger L. Simon.
Why do you blog? > I started blogging to promote a novel I had written (Director's Cut), which was being published in June 2003. I began a little early (April) and by the time the book came out an entirely different reason for blogging had emerged - it was fun.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Keep it short and, once in a while, try to make it funny.
What are your favourite blogs? > Lileks, Instapundit and Michael J. Totten.
What are you reading at the moment? > Money, by Martin Amis.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Bonjour Tristesse. (Okay, I'm kidding.)
What is your favourite poem? > Shakespeare Sonnet #129 – 'The expense of spirit in a waste of shame/Is lust in action'.
What is your favourite movie? > Fellini's Nights of Cabiria. Runners-up: Kurosawa's Ikiru, Keaton's The General and Sturges' Palm Beach Story. Sorry to have so many choices, but I work in the film business and don't want to offend any dead directors.
What is your favourite song? > 'Easy to Love'.
Who is your favourite composer? > Verdi.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > I can't name one on which I haven't. I am forever scared of people who don't change their mind.
What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Monotheism. (I'm serious.)
Who are your political heroes? > I used to have a lot of them, now I don't have any. My Che Guevara T-shirt got lost in the laundry and I never replaced it. Maybe this is progress.
What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > 'That which you find hateful to yourself, do not do unto others. That is all of the law. The rest is merely commentary' - Rabbi Hillel. (Interesting that one who says that monotheism is the most important philosophical thesis to combat ends up quoting a rabbi.)
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > The end of the Democratic and Republican parties as they are presently constituted.
What would you do with the UN? > I would open a thorough investigation of where the Iraq 'Oil for Food' money went.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > I worry about absolutely everything. This is a racial trait that comes from generations of pogroms.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Amsterdam.
What would your ideal holiday be? > Two weeks of touring three-star restaurants in Europe, followed by two-weeks trekking in the Himalayas to take the new weight off.
What do you like doing in your spare time? > Checking out Korean bbq places in LA.
What talent would you most like to have? > To play alto sax like Charlie Parker.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Richard Pryor (runner up: Groucho Marx).
Who are your sporting heroes? > Until recently, Kobe Bryant.
Which baseball team do you support? > The Los Angeles Lakers. I am a basketball fan. Sorry. Baseball puts me to sleep.
If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > To make the movie I have just written with my wife Sheryl. It is an historical film about an early interracial romance (1890) between a Japanese shop girl and an Austro-Hungarian count.
What animal would you most like to be? > Swordfish (also makes a good password in Marx Brothers movies).
[Previous profiles: Chris Bertram (Sep 26); Alan Brain (Oct 10); Jackie D (Oct 17); Harry Hatchet (Oct 24); Michael J. Totten (Oct 3). The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature.]
posted by norm at 10:23 am | link
Thursday, October 30, 2003An act of infamy
From one report:
Most of those who died in the blast, which destroyed the front wall and sent shrapnel and debris over a wide area, were passers-by.From another report:
"The Red Cross has stood by Iraqis through war and peace," said a doctor at the local Ibn al-Nafeez hospital, where the dead and injured were taken. "Those who want to attack the Red Cross also want to attack the Iraqi people."
Of the 34 people killed in the bombings, 26 were Iraqi civilians…Thomas Friedman in the New York Times:
In al-Yarmouk hospital, where a number of injured children were being treated, Ali Hussein, a doctor, said: "This is all Saddam's work. He's behind the Ba'athists and the Islamists and the foreign fighters. Everything leads to his door. This is not resistance, this is revenge against the Iraqi people for our disloyalty."
Since 9/11, we've seen so much depraved violence we don't notice anymore when we hit a new low. Monday's attacks in Baghdad were a new low. Just stop for one second and contemplate what happened: A suicide bomber, driving an ambulance loaded with explosives, crashed into the Red Cross office and blew himself up on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This suicide bomber was not restrained by either the sanctity of the Muslim holy day or the sanctity of the Red Cross. All civilizational norms were tossed aside.This is what certain people call 'the resistance'.
posted by norm at 9:41 pm | link
1. Two of the three letters published on the topic by the Guardian this morning express sympathy for Andrew Wilkie in face of the penalty recently handed out to him by the University of Oxford. I stand to be corrected, but I can't think of a single other country on the planet in relation to which there is a campaign, or just a body of opinion, in favour of penalizing their nationals because of the policies of the government of the country in question; not one, although you would think there might have been a few other candidates at least, given the awful character of many of the regimes within the global community of states. So, why is this nation different from all other nations?
Critics of Israel will often deflect the accusation of anti-Semitism, directed at them for their criticism, with the response that being critical of Israel doesn't make someone an anti-Semite. This is true. Anti-Semitism is hatred or prejudice against Jews. A person can be entirely free of that and be critical of Israel, in small matters or in large. The charge of anti-Semitism is sometimes deployed too quickly and easily, when there's no justification for it. Therefore yes, just because you're a critic of Israel, it doesn't make you an anti-Semite. Recall, though, the saying which did the rounds a while back: just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you. It's been coming back to me lately as an oblique prompt for the thought: just because you're a critic of Israel, it doesn't mean you're not an anti-Semite. By itself that doesn't cut it.
Jews - and others - should be cautious about chucking the charge of anti-Semitism around. However, this business is more complicated than it looks. I'll comment on one relevant feature of it here. To be an anti-Semite, must someone walk around with hatred in his heart or on his lips towards Jews? Think about the following. Gerald has no bad feelings towards Asians, none at all; he moves easily amongst them, has Asian friends, has never been known to insult or abuse anyone because of their identity. But from time to time, in Gerald's speech patterns, assumptions are revealed which are prejudicial towards Asians. Now and again, he will say something showing that he has different expectations about the standards of moral conduct within the Asian community, expectations according to which members of that community are seen as generally behaving less well. To repeat the same point more briefly and brutally, Gerald doesn't have to be a rapist, or approve of rape, or spout misogynist garbage, for it to be true about him that his thought is governed, or inflected, by prejudicial sexist assumptions. It's not an area of particular expertise of mine, but I'm guessing that in the study of racism and of sexism, it would more or less go without saying that these things are not only about overt feelings but also take in various societal structures, including structures of speech and of thought.
So, care is indeed required on this matter. But why is this nation different from all other nations? We have a situation today in which Israel is virtually a pariah state - its very right to exist as a nation denied by some - and other states in the same region and elsewhere, with terrible political records, are not; and this not only amongst Islamist fanatics and right-wing thugs or cranks, but in the public discourse of a wide sector of left and liberal opinion. Those who fear the growth of a new anti-Semitism are not only talking about overt acts of hatred and violence against Jews (although there are plenty of these, heaven knows). They are also troubled by what is now embodied in common structures of assumption, argument and - in an unhappy sense of the expression - intellectual and moral discrimination.
2. Shift your eye just slightly to the left on the same Guardian page, and there are five letters about America and Americans, prompted by Eric Schlosser's piece which I discussed here yesterday (see six posts down). One of these is from a woman who's 'not sure who the ordinary decent Americans [Schlosser] speaks of are'. Two others are from Brits (to all appearances), earnestly assuring the readership that, yes, there are decent Americans - though one of the two confesses to having arrived at this conclusion only recently after travelling around Arizona and Utah. And a fourth is from an American ex-pat whose way with the various assumptions in play I found only slightly less hand-wringing than Schlosser's own. The sole good letter of the five, and I say it without any apology, is this one:
As an American living in London, the only thing I dislike more than a Brit going on a[n] anti-American tirade, is an American bashing President Bush to fit in better.You can argue about Bush all you want, you can argue about Iraq, the war on terror, the whole schlabang, but to enter either side of a debate which is to determine whether there are decent Americans should be beneath the consideration of morally serious people. Consequently, the plea 'Hey, everyone, it's Bush and company, not all Americans' is, frankly, pathetic.
3. There is a kind of miasma today across the whole left and liberal milieu - amongst academics, intellectuals, media people, writers, artists in the broad sense, other professionals, and others period - discolouring the moral atmosphere. I don't claim to understand all its causes, but something about its unpleasant feel is this. It's not just how many of such people were opposed to the war in Iraq, it's the large proportion of them who are unable to acknowledge honestly the intellectual and moral vulnerability within their own opposition, and hence the admissibility of the alternative viewpoint – the viewpoint, namely, that that war was right. The whole thing seems quite literally unthinkable for many of them, unapproachable in any way. Johann Hari in the Independent (via Harry’s Place):
I want one person to dare to write to this newspaper and say with a straight face and a clear conscience that the Iraqi people would be better off now if we had left Saddam Hussein in power. Just one.This cannot be thought, it cannot be said. But nor can it be contradicted, because that would involve an enormous concession by those who opposed the war to those who supported it. So it becomes the great silence. The silence, though, is about a liberation, however imperfect, however insecure and precarious. From a Guardian obituary today for an Iraqi journalist, Ahmad Shawkat, murdered in Mosul:
On the day Saddam's regime collapsed, we raced to Mosul. Ahmad was maniacally happy, and even the sight of the city being sacked by its own citizens did not deter the good cheer.A silence about such things from people whose values, whose most basic political commitments, should have engaged them on the side of, and not against, this liberation, is unbearable. Hence, the miasma; to cover over the unthinkable thing with a confident smugness. George Bush: idiot, monkey. Tony Blair: spinner, liar. Well, they did what you opposed, freeing the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein. An untouchable thought.
Recently he had written scathing editorials about Islamic terrorism. He was gunned down while making a telephone call from the roof of his office building, reportedly by Islamists.
4. Is this how it felt living in the Weimar Republic? I don't know. And no, I haven't taken leave of my senses. I'm not anticipating a resurgence of fascism, Britain under the iron heel. All I mean is, is this how it felt to move within a poisoned moral atmosphere? Not some new rough beast slouching towards whatever birthplace, one can only hope. But in all the time since I reached any kind of political awareness I can recall nothing comparable.
posted by norm at 4:52 pm | link
In response to my post about Oxford and Andrew Wilkie, Chris Brooke of The Virtual Stoa writes:
Undergraduate admissions are still dealt with by the Colleges, not the University, and Oxford's admissions office (OCAO) is in fact co-owned by the Colleges, and isn't a University institution at all. That office recommends various kinds of training, but, as things stand, whether staff are required to attend them depends on the point of view of the individual College.Thanks, Chris, for this comment.
I think it's common for College tutors periodically to be leant on reasonably heavily to attend sessions at which the staff from the admissions office pass out a lot of information about the current state of play over admissions, including details of recent changes in legislation, etc. And my guess is that Colleges tend to be receptive to these events, since it makes it easier for them to certify to external auditors that staff have received appropriate training.
I'm all in favour of a thoroughgoing centralisation of undergraduate admissions, putting them in the hands of the Departments, and then having a mechanism for parcelling the students out to the various Colleges (what happens with graduate admissions), but that still seems to me to be a distinctly minority position.
On appointments, there's a lot to be done, especially since there are still far too few women in important posts in Oxford.
posted by norm at 4:38 pm | link
This article from Haaretz reports criticisms from within the high command of the Israeli Defence Forces of the Israeli government's present strategy. (Thanks to Gur Hirshberg for the link.)
posted by norm at 11:20 am | link
The U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea released a report last week on forced labour camps in that country:
"The injustices and cruelty these prisoners suffer is almost unimaginable," said David Hawk, a well-known human rights researcher and author of the report. "Beyond a starvation diet, torture, beatings and inhumane living and working conditions, this regime practices a form of collective punishment where three generations of family members are given life-terms along with the family member charged with political crimes."This is a suitable topic on which to ponder such matters as national sovereignty, international law and the exigencies of simple humanity. Thanks to Stuart Elliott for the link.
Many individuals found guilty of committing political offenses are sentenced through judicial proceedings to serve in penitentiaries where they are mixed in with prisoners who have committed felonies. While most of the prisoners assigned to kyo-hwa-so receive fixed terms, thousands die before their sentences end because working conditions are so repressive and their diet (even before the recent famine) is at starvation level.
Perhaps the report's most shocking finding is that repatriated [from China] pregnant women imprisoned in the jip-kyul-so are subjected to forced abortion. In the cases of advanced pregnancy, babies were killed immediately after birth.
posted by norm at 11:15 am | link
Nice one from Natalie Solent on the downfall of Ian Duncan Smith.
It isn't any of my business really, but if Michael Howard is to become the new Tory leader, then I just don't get it. British Spin puts the question:
I have to ask my Tory correspondents to explain to me what is the benefit in all this. If your new leader is to be a right wing euro-sceptic social conservative who is unpopular amongst swing voters, why did you bother? A more competent unpopular politician is surely no great boon.There's a relishable description here of Michael Portillo from Simon Hoggart.
posted by norm at 11:09 am | link
It's a bit of a long shot this, but if there's anyone within a reasonable distance of Manchester who might have an interest in seeing Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys at the Bridgewater Hall next Tuesday evening (November 4), give me a shout. I booked myself a ticket and can't now use it.
posted by norm at 11:06 am | link
Wednesday, October 29, 2003Anti-Americanism (in two parts)
Part A: Eric Schlosser, an American who's been visiting this country for 30 years, 'can't remember another time when having an American accent provoked as much immediate hostility from Brits of every race, creed, class, and sexual orientation'. There's an element in his reflections about this which isn't really to my taste:
I think Americans are good and decent people. I hope you'll keep that in mind the next time one of them seems a little lost and asks you for directions.Personally, I don't find that robust enough in the circumstances. But I'm not an American and so perhaps I shouldn't advise those who are, about what to say in such circumstances. Still, what I can say, American or not, is that anti-Americanism is just a poison.
Part B: In this story you can read about one of its effects:
The disruption to an emergency polio vaccination programme in northern Nigeria threatens the entire region, United Nations officials have warned. Nigeria has the world's highest number of cases, but three northern states halted the drive after an Islamic leader declared the vaccines unsafe.(Via Blacktriangle and a tip-off from Eve Garrard - to whom thanks.)
[T]hree predominantly Muslim states in northern Nigeria - Kano, Kaduna and Zamfara, have delayed or refused permission following opposition from influential Islamic leaders who allege the oral vaccination is unsafe and part of a secret US plan against Africa.
The head of the WHO's polio campaign, David Heymann, told the BBC that the vaccines used in Nigeria are no different from those used to combat polio everywhere else in the world.
posted by norm at 2:20 pm | link
It's easy to be smug. It's easy to see every new attack against the US or its allies in Iraq, including yesterday's bomb in Fallujah, as a tragedy, yes, but also a cruel vindication of the warning the anti-war camp gave again and again - but which would not be heard. It's tempting, as we watch the American (and British) effort in Iraq sinking into the bog, to clamber to the rooftops and shout with a full throat: "We told you so!"Thought one. This offers a new variation on the 'yes… but' theme. A tragedy, yes... but whoopeeee! It is true Freedland later adds that those who opposed the war should do better, move on. Thus:
Heaven knows events in "postwar" Iraq have given those of us who opposed the adventure every reason to feel self-satisfied. The anti-war camp has been proved right in almost every particular.
We know all this [the ways in which they've been vindicated] and cannot be blamed for wanting to wallow in self-righteousness. As Michael Moore might bellow: "We were right and they were wrong." That is true, but we cannot leave it there. We have to do better than that. We have to move on.So indeed: whoopeeee; now, what's next to do? Wanting to have been right more than a good outcome for the people of Iraq.
Thought two. The whoopeeee reaction is easier to fathom if you first thoroughly assimilate the 'proved right in almost every particular'. For it wasn't a particular about this great global dispute, it was what I will call for short a hugeness, that those of us who supported the war wanted to know from the peace camp what it would mean for the Iraqi people if the opposition to the war should succeed. A moral sensibility in which this part of the argument can be overlooked within a feeling of complete vindication is not going to be restrained from self-satisfied glee by a few minor tragedies.
posted by norm at 2:10 pm | link
Ahead of last weekend's march in Washington DC, Bill Weinberg raises some questions from within the American anti-war movement. I don't share Weinberg's overall view, but his three critical points, flagged in the following excerpts, are pertinent:
The movement has squandered its moral credibility by accepting ANSWER's leadership. We have no authority to oppose US occupation and aggression in Iraq when we are literally rallying around leaders who actively supported occupation and aggression in Bosnia and elsewhere - even in Iraq, where Workers World has asserted that Saddam's gassing of the Kurds was just another imperialist lie. ['ANSWER is led at its core by an outfit called the International Action Center (IAC), which is itself a front group for the reactionary and Stalin-nostalgist Workers World Party.'](Thanks to Stuart Elliott for the link.) Meanwhile, there are similar voices within the anti-war movement in Britain. A friend and former student of mine, Clive Bradley, has pointed me towards this piece he wrote for Workers' Liberty and which overlaps with one of Bill Weinberg's points. Clive argues against anti-war positions based on Iraqi sovereignty being sacrosanct, and against the tendency to set up an equivalence between the situation as it was under Saddam Hussein and as it is now after the overthow of the Baathist regime; and he opposes the call for an immediate end to the occupation. He appeals for 'a sense of proportion and honest accounting':
By setting up unrealistic expectations, we assure our own demoralization and burn-out.
[A] unilateral withdrawal which allows genuinely freedom-hating jihadis to take power would not be in the interests of the Iraqi people either. "US out of Iraq" only works as a demand if we have some kind alternative to offer.
[W]hat does it mean to say the war has "replaced the brutality of Saddam with the brutality of an... invading army..."? [Terry] Jones, like others, is making a simple equivalence here: the occupation is as bad as Saddam. Indeed, since this argument is put to justify opposition to the war which deposed Saddam, the logical conclusion is that the occupation is worse - it would be better if Saddam were still in power.I have to say that, while I respect those in the anti-war movement who put these arguments, some of the arguments themselves - such as this last - leave me puzzled as to why their proponents were, and are, part of that movement. Thanks to Clive for the link. Harry has some related reflections on the same article.
posted by norm at 12:02 pm | link
Mere repetition won't improve the quality of a thought. Here again, today, we have Paul Foot and a trope in the way of becoming very familiar:
Top of the bill is George Galloway MP, whose eloquent hostility to the Iraq war is so in tune with mass opinion that he has just been expelled from the Labour party... He had dared to speak up against the Blair administration and he had to pay the price.Well, I guess a trope is a trope and must run its course, but what is also interesting is the 'top of the bill' thing. Foot is using Galloway to sell a meeting taking place tonight. Although it's only a small symptom of something larger, that he should consider this a selling point is dismaying.
posted by norm at 11:51 am | link
Karl Marx gives a new interview: Money quotes:
Hegel Schmegel.Definitely read the whole thing. (Via Arts and Letters Daily. Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link.)
Did you know that "Karl Marx" scores 367,000 Google hits?
posted by norm at 11:30 am | link
Tuesday, October 28, 2003Oxford and Andrew Wilkie
This report by Lucy Ward on Oxford's decision over Andrew Wilkie contains several points that seem to me worthy of comment. Ward writes:
An Oxford professor who rejected an Israeli student because of his country's "gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians" is to be suspended from academic duties without pay for two months. The penalty is the most serious short of dismissal that the university can impose on Andrew Wilkie, Nuffield professor of pathology. Yesterday the university said that he fully accepted the seriousness of the situation.The first point is that the opening sentence here, inverted comments notwithstanding, would have been more accurate if it had said the professor had rejected the student because he was an Israeli. Second, I won't offer a judgement specifically on whether two months' suspension without pay is an apt penalty for Professor Wilkie's action, but if it's true that Oxford has no options intermediate between this penalty and dismissal, then that is surely something that could do with rethinking. As a matter of abstract possibility there have got to be misdemeanours for which dismissal is too severe and two months' suspension too mild. Third, according to Ward's report:
Prof Wilkie will also take equal opportunities training as part of his penalty, while the university will review its programme for such training in the light of the case.If the University of Oxford doesn't already require of all its staff involved in admissions, appointments and promotions that they have equality and diversity training, it really needs to put this right without delay.
Dan Paskins, vice-president (graduates) of Oxford University Student Union, said: "If Oxford University is truly committed to equal opportunities, then it seems to us that Prof Wilkie should also be barred from taking part in the formal admissions process.
"This would send a clear message to potential applicants of all backgrounds that the university is committed to equal opportunities and access based on academic merit only."
A union spokesman added: "The student union is disappointed that the university is not taking the lead in requiring every member of university and college staff to undergo equal opportunities training so that a damaging situation like this is never repeated."
posted by norm at 9:50 pm | link
Dan Drezner is discussing the division of labour in the blogosphere. In this post and the comments to it, there's talk of portal blogs and commentary blogs, linkers and thinkers, editors and writers.
posted by norm at 9:44 pm | link
I feel we could do with this category. To get things going, I give you Shirley Williams:
[W]e surrendered the sovereignty of our foreign policy decisions to President Bush's neo-conservative cabal in Washington.Yeah right. Is it just a brainstorm, then, that I have this recollection of a debate in Parliament in which the British Prime Minister secured a substantial majority, before moving to military action in Iraq? Perhaps the decision would have been better left to a committee consisting of Clare Short, Glenda Jackson, the egregious Galloway, Andrew Murray, John Pilger and the woman and her family from Blackpool who'd never been on a demonstration before February 15.
posted by norm at 4:47 pm | link
Taking off from a prediction by Andrew Sullivan, Harry has a first-rate post up along the way at his place. Some excerpts:
It is clear that the Iraq war has shown that a certain section of the left really has nowhere to go except self-hatred and that a reactionary antipathy to the US and the western democracies has moved from beyond the ultra-left fringes into the mainstream of left-liberal oppositionalism.Read it all. Also at Harry's, this related post is well worth a look.
One need only look at the attitude to Israel of many leftists to see how the SWP's influence has spread. A couple of decades ago most socialists, even Trotskyists and communists, took a straightforward and perfectly sensible position of support for a 'two-state solution' in the Middle East. Solidarity with Palestinians was just that - it rarely turned into the hate-filled ranting against Israel and 'Zionists' that has sadly become the norm today...
It is also true that the likes of the SWP do see, in their theory, Islamic reactionaries as being part of an 'anti-imperialist' camp, which while not explicity progressive in terms of its programme, is part of the broad 'fightback' against capitalist globalisation. This crude and utterly un-Marxist analysis fits rather conveniently with the opportunism of the SWP who have organised their peace demonstrations with British supporters of Sharia law.
They [the SWP and their fellow-travellers] have rejected the understanding of Marxists as to what liberal democracy represents, why it is worth defending from its reactionary enemies and why clerical fascism, whether expressed purely politically or through terrorism, is one such enemy.
In doing so they (and I include here the retro-communists of the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain among many others) have shamefully turned their back on the genuine progressives in the Muslim world who face the very real threat from Islamic fanatics. Their current attitude to the restorationist/ Islamisist alliance against democracy in Iraq is the most clear example of where this sort of politics takes you.
posted by norm at 2:37 pm | link
Simon Waldman sees a rosy future for someone:
The first politician - of whatever political hue - who uses a blog to reveal humanity, warmth, humour and intelligence (and it is not being overly optimistic to assume that there are politicians with all of the above) will truly be seen as a leader for our times. It will never be enough to secure election, but it might do a bit to remove some of the cynicism with which most of us view politicians.A 'leader for our times' may be pushing it a bit, but let's wait and see.
posted by norm at 2:31 pm | link
I'm taken aback not only by the extent of the comment on my post about copy editors, but also by the nature of much of it. What I thought was obvious as being offered in a jocular and deliberately over-the-top spirit, as a rant just for the hell of it (although containing a habitual grouse of mine), has in one respect which matters to me misfired. So this is for the record.
1. Do I really think that copy editors 'belong in one of the very lowest categories of human intelligence and indeed morality'? No, I do not.
2. Is it only war criminals and child molesters that I think copy editors are not as bad as? No, it isn't. I could make a huge list of other bad categories of people. In fact, I don't even think copy editors are bad.
3. Do I think copy editors should 'be tied to a post and have over-ripe fruit thrown at them'? I do not - not even when 'they veer from the straight and narrow by degrading the stuff they're there to improve'. I can safely say, indeed, that I don't think anybody should 'be tied to a post and have over-ripe fruit thrown at them', except maybe with their consent and for pleasurable ends; though I do confess to having some of those less healthy impulses which might make it harder for me to sympathise with certain people to whom this was done than I would with certain other people. Copy editors, however, wouldn't be amongst the former, not by virtue of their copy-editing role at any rate.
4. Do I think copy editing is a valuable function and copy editors are doing a useful job? Yes, I do.
5. Do I have any idea why they may sometimes be more interventionist than is called for? Yes, I have.
6. Do I think my own work can benefit from the input of copy editors, and has it ever benefited? Yes, and yes.
I wouldn't have gone to the trouble of setting this out, but for one thing. I wouldn't have done, first, because the substance of 4, 5 and 6, is already stated clearly in the original post, even though stated only in passing, on account of the nature of that post as a mock-rant; second, because I couldn't imagine that anyone would really need the affirmations set out in 1 through 3; and, third, because I wouldn't want to be getting too earnest over something that started life as a joke. The thing which has brought me back to the topic is that, as a joke, it has misfired by upsetting a few people - copy editors or others close to copy editors. And for that I am genuinely sorry. I didn't foresee that I would cause offence. Had I foreseen it, I would have written something of a different sort, simply making the point in a moderate and balanced way that copy editors sometimes foul up (as don't we all). But you don't always know, and I offer my apology here to anyone whose feelings I've hurt.
If I may finish by saying that there's been one good byproduct of the episode for me: Daniel Davies's post, which was both very funny and a revelation. I must try to avoid having to have any of my stuff copy-edited in a lawyering way. I will not be sending a cheque for £541.63. I am no longer a tenured professor. I was thinking of doing a post on window cleaners soon.
posted by norm at 12:38 pm | link
John Hawkins has the result of his latest poll up today: Right-Of-Center Bloggers Select The Books That Have Had The Biggest Impact On Their Thinking. Ayn Rand takes two of the top five spots alongside the Bible (first), Orwell's 1984 and Hayek's Road to Serfdom.
posted by norm at 12:27 pm | link
He's not my favourite sports journalist by a long chalk, but this piece by Richard Williams, taking in the 'cultural cringe', the 'cultural strut' and other traditional factors in Aussie sporting antipathy towards the poms is worth a read. From one Kate Gollings: 'And do you know why we love to beat the English? It's not just because we love winning. It's because these are English games.'
posted by norm at 12:25 pm | link
Via pulpmovies, this interesting piece of research:
AMSTERDAM — According to Groningen professor Gert Holstege, an orgasm is akin to a shot of heroin and his findings could assist in the production of a so-called orgasm pill.I've actually been to Groningen. I enjoyed it there.
The volunteers had practised before engaging in the research. Male participants were also requested to ejaculate within seven minutes - something that most participants did not have any problems with, Holstege said.
posted by norm at 12:23 pm | link
Jack Elam has died. There's an obituary of him here:
With his bony, stubbled face, beetle-brows looming over a dead left eye, and gravelly voice, he was the very embodiment of a skulking, no-account, two-bit varmint, and the relish with which he played his parts made every appearance, however fleeting, a pleasure.I'll second that. My own best memory of him is from Howard Hawks's Rio Lobo. Preliminary to some action they're about to undertake, someone (maybe John Wayne) offers Elam a swig of something obviously pretty lethal, Elam takes the swig, and just the effect of it on his features is something I'd watch the whole movie for, any time.
posted by norm at 12:21 pm | link
Monday, October 27, 2003Police racism balanced against police achievements? No, not really
I invite you to consider the following story, invented by me, but loosely related to real recent events. A well-known senior police officer, at a gathering of other senior officers, makes a number of prejudicial remarks about Asians or black people or both, and these remarks, so far from upsetting or shocking the assembled gathering, are widely applauded. There are several officers ready to come to the defence of the one whose speech it was - call him Arthur Forbes - when he draws public criticism for it upon his head.
Then also, within a few days, there are some journalists keen to express themselves about the merits and achievements of this man. They write pieces pointing out that, despite his regrettable remarks, it should not be overlooked that he has a creditable record in other respects.
My interest, here, is in these journalists. Why, precisely now, should this be their focus? They could have written such a piece about Arthur Forbes two months, or a week, ago; they could do it a few weeks hence. However, now is when they feel pressed to come to his defence by giving out a positive picture of him. And my interest is in the question of whether this amounts to an effort to draw attention away from the man's racism, and whether it can reasonably be construed, therefore, as a form of excuse-making for it. Well, I would say for my own part not necessarily. If the rounded picture contains a clear and forthright criticism of the offensive remarks, and if these are placed there in some sort of appropriate balance with the more positive features being attributed by the journalist to Arthur Forbes, and if this journalist does not say anything to minimize the significance of Forbes's unpleasant remarks or make light of the apprehensions of those who are the object of them - then perhaps one could conclude it wasn't a form of excuse-making. One might still not think highly of the journalist's judgement in choosing so positive a focus for his or her article at this time, but that is something else.
Now, substitute for Arthur Forbes the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and for the former's remarks about Asians or black people, the latter's remarks about Jews. I then pose my question about excuse-making in relation to two articles that closely followed Mahathir's now notorious speech. The first is a piece by Sholto Byrne in The Spectator. I won't make a meal of this; I simply invite anyone interested to read it and see what they think. Byrne, acknowledging that Mahathir has 'serious faults', is nevertheless anxious lest he be demonized. For myself I was troubled by the balance and emphasis of Byrne's article, and by this passage from it in particular:
One may suggest that such sentiments are, unfortunately, commonplace in many Muslim countries where the pot of resentment over the Palestinian question constantly simmers. One may point out that the vast majority of his speech, hardly reported here, was a call for peaceful unity among Muslims and a condemnation of violence. One may feel sure that the real target of his ire was Israel and Zionist Jews (in another part of his speech he said 'Even among the Jews there are many who do not approve of what the Israelis are doing') rather than, say, the likes of Amos Oz or Shimon Peres.I wonder if Arthur Forbes would have got this kind of - shall we just say - consideration within an overwhelmingly positive assessment in the fictional circumstances I sketched. I doubt it. The other of the two articles has already been widely discussed in the blogosphere and is by Paul Krugman. Krugman is more definite in his condemnation of Mahathir's remarks calling them 'inexcusable' and 'hateful'. Still, he contextualizes them by reference to
the rising tide of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism among Muslims in Southeast Asia... Thanks to its war in Iraq and its unconditional support for Ariel Sharon, Washington has squandered post-9/11 sympathy and brought relations with the Muslim world to a new low.This is by contrast with how Krugman treats William Boykin's recent statement - in condemnatory mode and quite rightly, but in condemnatory mode full stop.
And bear in mind that Mr. Mahathir's remarks were written before the world learned about the views of Lt. Gen. William "My God Is Bigger Than Yours" Boykin. By making it clear that he sees nothing wrong with giving an important post in the war on terror to someone who believes, and says openly, that Allah is a false idol... Donald Rumsfeld has gone a long way toward confirming the Muslim world's worst fears.The Muslim world's 'worst fears'. But there are others with fears. As a Jew, I may not be well-placed to make a clear, calm judgement here, so I will just say that I know I'm not alone amongst left and/or liberal Western Jews in sensing that there has been a sea change - and I, personally, would place this within the last three years (max) - in what can now be said, within mainstream political discourse and polite society, of a prejudicial, unfounded or straightforwardly false kind about Jews. I have heard it stated in my presence that it is understandable if many in the Arab world believe the attacks of September 11 2001 to have been the work of Jews; and that the 'Jewish lobby' in the US carries major responsibility for the war in Iraq. I do not move in circles frequented by neo-Nazis or racist thugs.
After that particular speech and in the particular context in which it was made, and given a history which I will evoke simply by not bothering to name it yet once more, one might have thought that some sensitivity to the other fears I've mentioned should have secured them a prominence in the mind of any well-informed writer of progressive values. But things move on.
posted by norm at 2:14 pm | link
I cannot let this pass without celebration. Daniel Taylor says something nice about Manchester United:
One of the enduring pleasures of Old Trafford is that Manchester United's fans, even when engulfed in disappointment, are willing to appreciate the finesse of opponents. Just as Arsenal were clapped off after winning the title here, and Ronaldo's hat-trick for Real Madrid earned him a standing ovation, Fulham's players were applauded all the way down the tunnel.One of the enduring pleasures, no less.
It is one of Sir Alex Ferguson's better qualities, too, that on occasions such as this he is never slow to praise United's opponents, no matter how painful it may be for him to accept that his side were inferior.
posted by norm at 2:01 pm | link
George Junior has moved. His blog is now here. Go check it out.
posted by norm at 1:59 pm | link
Sunday, October 26, 2003Copy editors
I have long wanted publicly to express my view about copy editors, but the opportunity has never previously arisen. Then a few days ago, for the first time since normblog was launched, this long-held ambition crossed my mind again, and I thought: ha, I can do it, finally.
Readers, I am not a prejudiced man. I do not generally hold people in contempt because of their profession, their job or their calling. But copy editors! That is something different. Not as bad, I will grant, as war criminals or child molesters, they nevertheless belong in one of the very lowest categories of human intelligence and indeed morality. You will object that copy editors perform a most useful and necessary function, turning what is often ill-formed and error-strewn text into something more presentable. This, too, I will grant. However, it is no excuse for what copy editors also do - which is to interfere with people's painfully-crafted stuff when there is no reason whatever for doing so, other than some quirk in the particular copy-editing mind which is at work. A copy editor, typically, doesn't know how and when to leave well alone. If what he's reading needs no alteration, he feels his professional role has been impugned, traduced even, and will find something to amend or butcher. Maybe it's just to prove that she has been there; to leave her mark. It's enough, in any event, to make you yell aaaaaaaaarrrrrgh - as I often have.
In consequence of the many sufferings I have had to endure at the hands of copy editors, I now seek, and invariably obtain, before agreeing to write anything for anybody, an undertaking from both editor and publisher that there will be no alterations to my text without prior consultation. None whatsoever. It's not that I think my writing can't benefit from the intervention of others. It's just that, because it's mine and I take trouble over it - a degree of trouble such that before it goes out I've thought about every single piece of punctuation - I like to have a say in whether changes are to be made to it. So I request: no changes please, however small, without consulting me first. OK? As often as not I spell out: no changes of substance or style, syntax, grammar, spelling or punctuation or anything - without first consulting me. Fine, you got it, no worries. Then the agony kicks in. You get the proof, and there have been changes. Hey?! But you agreed. And it's: sorry, lines of communication with the copy editor, or we didn't think you meant that small, or the proof is the consultation - 'Who is this guy, what's his problem?'
Having been admonished once recently for my use, in jest, of an uncharacteristically violent phrase, I must take care how I express myself here. So let me just say that copy editors need to be tied to a post and have over-ripe fruit thrown at them the first time they veer from the straight and narrow by degrading the stuff they're there to improve; the procedure to be repeated periodically until they've thoroughly absorbed the lesson.
Ahh, that feels better.
posted by norm at 2:53 pm | link
Chris Bertram has just started a stint as head of his university department - a second stint. Poor guy. Having done the same job for four years in my own department, I can categorically say that it's not something you'd want to do twice. I think there are many who've been through the experience who would say it's not something you'd want to do once. I recall a meeting with senior colleagues in which I shared with them the sentiment that I didn't want to do the job 'for one day longer than I have to', and one of them, a former HoD, chipped in 'Or even for one day longer'.
Anyway Chris links to an article by Dennis Baron on some of the difficulties of the job. On the basis of my own experience, I can certainly relate to a proportion of what Baron recounts. He says that he 'lost a friend and a lot of sleep'. I hope I lost no close friends, but I did lose the friendly rapport of one or two colleagues which there had previously been between us. And, my, did I lose a lot of sleep. I would say also, as someone interested in questions about human nature, that it helps in thinking about this subject to have had some close experience of trying to coordinate the activities of a relatively large number of people.
Just over two years out of the job now, however, I would want to say that the positive aspects of it, which are mentioned in Dennis Baron's article but quickly passed over there (because they're not his central topic), are what stick in my mind more than the difficulties do:
About 98 percent of the faculty members in any given department do their jobs honorably and need minimal tending from administrators.That was largely my experience, I must say; though it may be relevant to add that it was in a department with a long tradition of being well-organized and well-run, a strong culture of collegiality and virtually no history of factionalism, intellectual or other.
[T]he overriding goal in addressing the interpersonal problems that arise on campus is not so much to invoke the rules and procedures - though you need to do so to protect everyone's interests, including those of the institution - but to make sure you do the right thing. And the university proves to be a space where doing the right thing is everybody's goal, at least most of the time.
posted by norm at 12:19 pm | link
I saw the new Coen brothers movie last night. It's not in the class of their best films, but I still found it a good laugh. It's in the line of the Hollywood romantic comedy, with a Coenite difference. Which means it has the usual quota of bizarre features, the senior partner in the George Clooney character's law firm being a notable and grimly funny example. It also has a marvellous sequence of three-way conversation (impossible to remember in detail at a single sitting) between Clooney, his legal sidekick and a client, in response to the latter's question as to whether the two of them have ever previously argued a case before this particular judge; a great cameo role for Billy Bob Thornton who somehow manages to look completely different every time you see him; and the recurring 'Massey pre-nup' which I won't bother to explain.
But there you are, I'm recommending it. It ain't The Big Lebowski, but it's a good evening out. There's a thumbs-up by Peter Bradshaw here, and a thumbs-down by Philip French here.
posted by norm at 12:10 pm | link
Nothing to say but that Fulham deserved to win. They played well; we didn't. Several thousand Manchester United supporters clapped the Fulham players off the park. Later I phone a friend - a Fulham supporter - to say congrats. He has no way of knowing it's me ringing, and he picks up and answers as above: 'Manchester United 1, Fulham 3'. Ah, these small joys, incomprehensible to many.
posted by norm at 12:05 pm | link