Saturday, December 06, 2003


From a review by Hazhir Teimourian of John Simpson's The Wars Against Saddam, in the Literary Review (December 2003-January 2004, pp. 34-5 - no online version):
I cannot understand why I... can take pride in Britain's heroic readiness to help to remove the Ba'thist malignancy from the world, on whatever legalistically flimsy pretext, while Simpson and the BBC as a whole are so negative about it.
Teimourian describes himself as a 'long-term observer of Iraq and a man of Kurdish birth'.

posted by norm at 9:48 pm | link


Here is a report by Peter Oborne on how state control of grain in Zimbabwe is being used against the regime's political opponents:
There is indeed a drought. But Mugabe, in an act of pure evil, has taken advantage of this for his own loathsome purposes. Elderly and unpopular, he has one weapon left in his battle to hang on to power: the ability to use the power of the state to starve and terrorise.
Oborne's report contains this detail from the place where I was born and spent the first 19 years of my life:
Upon reaching Bulawayo, the second largest town in Zimbabwe and an MDC [opposition] stronghold, we sought to maintain our cover as golfers... We had some difficulty getting on to the course [at the Bulawayo golf club] because of a tournament. But what we learnt when we finally got to play showed what makes Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe so special. Two weeks before there had been a blockage in the sewage system by the 17th hole. It was clogged up with dead bodies: they showed signs of torture and had been decapitated. The police arrived to collect the dead bodies, but otherwise showed no interest in how they came to be on the course. The incident was not reported in the press. The bodies were found at about the same time as the Insiza by-election, when there were a number of unaccountable abductions.
(Via timmyhawk.)

posted by norm at 9:46 pm | link


Duncan Campbell reports from LA:
Henry Kissinger gave his approval to the "dirty war" in Argentina in the 1970s in which up to 30,000 people were killed, according to newly declassified US state department documents.

Mr Kissinger, who was America's secretary of state, is shown to have urged the Argentinian military regime to act before the US Congress resumed session, and told it that Washington would not cause it "unnecessary difficulties".

The revelations are likely to further damage Mr Kissinger's reputation. He has already been implicated in war crimes committed during his term in office, notably in connection with the 1973 Chilean coup.
The report prompted two different kinds of thought in my mind. One - and not for the first time - is what a sick joke it is that this man was a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. The disclosures here give further support to the case made by Christopher Hitchens. Duncan Campbell finishes his piece by telling us that Kissinger 'reportedly does not travel abroad without consulting his lawyers about the possibility of his arrest'. Good is what I say to that.

The second kind of thought was prompted by this:
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) Saddam Hussein and hundreds of his aides could go on trial for crimes against humanity and genocide in an Iraqi-led tribunal that will be established in the coming days, Iraqi and American officials told The Associated Press on Friday.
Suppose the US administration, instead of going ahead with the invasion of Iraq, had given the nod and wink to Saddam and his gang to proceed with their murderous activities, as Kissinger is reported to have done in the case of Argentina. What do you think the critics of US policy towards Iraq would now be saying? Why, a lot of them would be saying pretty much the same thing as they are saying. It's all about evidence, you see.

posted by norm at 2:50 pm | link


From yesterday's Telegraph (registration required):
George Galloway was advised by a Commons committee yesterday to pursue his libel action against The Daily Telegraph "with all due urgency".

The standards and privileges committee said it would suspend its own investigation into the MP's conduct until his case went to court. But it suggested that if Mr Galloway delayed his action, it would reopen its own disciplinary inquiry.
(Hat tip to EG.)

posted by norm at 2:18 pm | link

Why terrorists get confused

Following the link from Harry's Place to some letters on the Socialist Worker website, I found myself pondering this passage from one of them:
[K]nee-jerk cries of anti-Semitism from Israeli politicians are wide of the mark. Since the creation of Israel in 1948 it has committed war crimes against the Palestinian people.

Successive Israeli leaders have claimed to speak in the name of all Jews as they carried out these barbarous policies.

Tragically, the majority of Israelis and world Jewry have failed to dissociate themselves from these crimes, even if a number of individual Jews have.

It is not surprising that pro-Palestinian militants take the Israeli leaders at their word and accept that "Jew" and "Zionist" are the same.
Notice anything odd there? I didn't at first, just seeing it as a not atypical set of moves in the particular 'yes, but...' game at hand. (The subject is the bombing of the Istanbul synagogues; and if that doesn't count as an episode of practical anti-Semitism, my name's Dorothea and I grow radishes for a living.) But then it reminded me of another letter from a little while back which I discussed here ('Jews Against Zionism', November 20), and which overlaps with the above letter in this respect:
[W]hen the state of Israel claims to act in the name of all Jews... some Islamist militants will draw the same mistaken conclusion.
Now think about that. Pro-Palestinian and/or Islamist 'militants', how likely are they to give authoritative weight to what is said by 'successive Israeli leaders' or by spokespeople of 'the state of Israel'? I don't believe it would be preposterous to venture: not very much weight. But on just this point the 'militants' take those Israeli leaders and spokespeople at their word, and so they conflate things, and go trying to blow up Jews. I don't know if the argumentative move which excuses them here is due to thoughtlessness, mental confusion or something else, but as the man (Harry) said, it's an apologia for terror.

posted by norm at 12:31 pm | link

Julie follow-up

This morning Julie Burchill follows up her Graun piece of last Saturday on anti-Semitism. Today's article contains a characteristic Burchill excess which will be seized on by those with an interest in dismissing the concerns she's discussing. But this pair of articles is only one of the reasons I'm sorry she's leaving the Guardian.

posted by norm at 12:20 pm | link

Friday, December 05, 2003

Emperor Josh, that's me

I am Joshua Abraham Norton, first and only Emperor of the United States of America!
Born in England sometime in the second decade of the nineteenth century, [I] carved a notable business career, in South Africa and later San Francisco, until an entry into the rice market wiped out [my] fortune in 1854. After this, [I] became quite different. The first sign of this came on September 17, 1859, when [I] expressed [my] dissatisfaction with the political situation in America by declaring [myself] Norton I, Emperor of the USA. [I] remained as such, unchallenged, for twenty-one years.

Within a month [I] had decreed the dissolution of Congress. When this was largely ignored, [I] summoned all interested parties to discuss the matter in a music hall, and then summoned the army to quell the rebellious leaders in Washington. This did not work. Magnanimously, [I] decreed (eventually) that Congress could remain for the time being. However, [I] disbanded both major political parties in 1869, as well as instituting a fine of $25 for using the abominable nickname "Frisco" for [my] home city.
Find out which historical lunatic you are here. (Via Volokh and the Stoa.)

posted by norm at 11:04 pm | link

More world-Jewish-Zionist-cabal, dominate-the-entire-planet, plot

According to this Bleeb report, relayed to me by the ever-mysterious SdeW:
The Israeli army has inducted into its ranks one of the most unusual recruits in its history - an Eskimo girl from Alaska.
The original language of this girl is Yupik:
After nearly a decade in Israel, Eva has forgotten the smattering of Yupik she spoke as a child, but with her long black hair and almond-shaped eyes, she has retained her ethnic looks.
Yupik, eh? Does that sound to you like it has a... er, Jewish ring to it? Here's an article about Yupik by Lawrence Kaplan. Kaplan, eh?

posted by norm at 3:22 pm | link

Nine minutes

Nine fact-packed minutes. Here's a description of Steve Waugh's innings at the Gabba today:
This brought Waugh to the crease for the first of his farewell innings in his last series. The crowd responded with the first of many standing ovations Waugh will no doubt receive this summer, but this valedictory innings was all over in just nine minutes. Indeed, it could be argued Waugh's contribution was in the negative, owing to his involvement in Martyn's run-out.

Just four balls after Waugh's arrival, Martyn, having moved impressively to 42, cut Zaheer towards the point boundary, where Harbhajan Singh fielded. While there looked to be three runs available, Martyn took a couple of steps, but then sent Waugh back from the attempted third. With the throw arriving with wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel on the third bounce, there was ample opportunity for Waugh to abort the run. Instead, the captain continued charging, and ultimately Martyn had to go at the non-striker's end. Making the dismissal all the more unnecessary, umpire Steve Bucknor had signalled a no-ball, one of 12 from Zaheer that slightly diminished an otherwise superb performance.

Waugh has now been in 27 run-outs while batting, second among Test players to Allan Border's 29. Of those 27, Waugh has been the victim only four times, his partner leaving in 85 per cent of cases. Of batsmen involved in 10 or more run-outs, this is the third highest such percentage, behind West Indian Shivnarine Chanderpaul, with 92 per cent, and Waugh's single-minded rival captain in this series, Sourav Ganguly.

Australia had been wobbling at 4-275, and all eyes looked to Waugh to repair the damage done. Perversely, however, he was out just two balls later in the first hit-wicket dismissal of his 254 Test innings. Perhaps with his mind still on Martyn's dismissal, Waugh played back to Zaheer and allowed his left leg to brush his off stump, thus becoming the first Australian to be dismissed hit wicket since another captain, Kim Hughes, against England at the Oval in 1981. [Paragraphing altered.]
Can you beat it? Naah - what a game.

posted by norm at 3:20 pm | link


Up the road at Gauche, Stephen Marks has a review of two books, one of them Christopher Hitchens's Regime Change. The review is predictably unsympathetic and, equally predictably, I don't much care for it, having a better opinion of Hitchens's volume. But it isn't my intention to rehearse all of the issues over which Stephen Marks and I would differ here and that lead to these opposing assessments. I want to focus on just one argument of his, an argument I've criticized briefly once before ('To Monbiot or...', November 25), but want to analyse in a little more depth on this occasion. Stephen invokes 'the effect of the war on Muslim and Arab opinion, and thus on the possibility of winning support for the real "war on terrorism"', and he then continues:
There can be few things more irresponsible than Hitchens's philistine dismissal of the key distinction between the terrorists themselves and the wider layers without whose passive acquiescence the terrorists could not operate. That a naked and cynical display of American power, on a patently confected excuse, might enrage a sufficient proportion of Arab and Muslim opinion actually to enlarge the layer of potential sympathisers appears either not to have occurred to him, or to have been ignored for the easier consolations of a quick debating point.
The enraged opinion argument is a question-begging one. Stephen is deploying it on behalf of the conclusion that the war wasn't justified, but it is itself based on the premise that the war wasn't justified. That premise is contained in 'naked and cynical display... patently confected excuse' etc. But there are other ways of characterizing the Iraq war. One such could be constructed from Stephen's own reference to...
the undeniable fact that Saddam's tyranny was one of the most odious on the face of the earth [and] whose disappearance must be reckoned a blessing...
and his reference to the 'relief [of the great majority of Iraqi political and civil organizations] at the fall of Saddam'.

Now, here's the thing to look at. Without more ado Stephen simply validates enraged Arab and Muslim opinion, but he can only do that because he already thinks the war was wrong. If it wasn't wrong, because of its aspect as a liberation of the Iraqi people from an odious tyranny, or even if it was (overall) wrong for other reasons than this liberation but its overall wrongness was substantially mitigated by the fact that the majority of Iraqis welcomed the liberation that came from it, then one has no reason to validate the enragement of others not themselves subject to that odious tyranny. Anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-Blair, people repeatedly resort to this argument from the reaction of the Muslim world - how it will be perceived by these people or those people - as if it just goes through without further thought. But try this: 'Easing the restrictions on asylum seekers and treating them humanely will enrage members and supporters of the BNP and others within the broad constituency of the far right.' OK with that? Probably not. Nor should anyone be, unless you're in the business of endorsing racist responses.

If the liberation of the Iraqi people by military intervention was overall wrong, that needs to be argued independently of the circumstance that there were many in Egypt or Jordan or Syria who were likely to be enraged by it.

posted by norm at 12:50 pm | link

A strange reluctance

This woman was evidently not desperate to end her days in this world yet:
A Palestinian woman arrived at the Tarkomiya checkpoint and complained to soldiers that she had been beaten by 4 Hamas terrorists for refusing to serve as a suicide bomber.
(Thanks to SdeW.)

posted by norm at 12:37 pm | link

European anti-Semitism

Dominic Hilton has a discussion of the issue on Open Democracy, in which he gives some background about the shelved EUMC report. But the piece also contains this inaccuracy:
[T]he journalist Julie Burchill resigned from Britain's Guardian newspaper this week, saying she refuses to accept the paper's distinction between anti-Zionism (which it supports) and anti-Semitism (which it does not support).
Julie Burchill is leaving the Guardian and she has criticized its stance on Israel and anti-Semitism, but this isn't the reason for her leaving, as most people reading Hilton's statement would form the impression it was. (Thanks to SdeW.)

posted by norm at 12:36 pm | link

The normblog profile 11: Francois Brutsch

Francois Brutsch was born in Cameroon in 1955 where his parents worked for the Protestant Church Mission. The family soon returned to Geneva and there Francois later graduated in law and political science, going on to train as a lawyer. He has been involved in politics since the age of 15: both in the Socialist Party (carrying various responsibilities at the local, regional and federal level, and as a member of the regional Parliament for six years before becoming, in 1986, an adviser to members of the regional Government), and in grassroots movements concerned with green, development, human rights and gay issues. For the last two years, he has been living in London with his British partner. With a friend he started what might be the first political blog in the French-speaking part of Switzerland: Un swissroll.

Why do you blog? > Well, I started as a child with a print shop and went all the way with all kinds of typewriters and computers, to write on paper, leaflets, newspapers, online... The blog is just the latest addi(c)tion. It's very liberating not to have to ponder if something's worth publishing, and to be able to edit it endlessly.

What has been your best blogging experience? > Discovering a web of fellow left-wing/liberal bloggers in favour of military intervention in Iraq.

What has been your worst blogging experience? > The loss of a lengthy post because of a computer glitch. Now I copy systematically in the buffer before hitting the 'publish' key.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Acknowledge sources, make links.

What are your favourite blogs? > Andrew Sullivan, Oliver Kamm, and is it forbidden to say normblog (though I skip the cricket)?

Who are your intellectual heroes? > Voltaire, Ivan Illich, Jean-Francois Revel (French philosopher).

What are you reading at the moment? > The Mitford Girls, by Mary S. Lovell; and My Name is Red, by Orhan Pamuk.

Who is your favourite composer? > Schubert.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > I once wrote an article approving a sentence for the spreading of the HIV virus through unprotected sex. I now believe that (except in extreme circumstances of deceit) it is an individual responsibility to protect oneself, as opposed to blaming the other.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Is the market economy and democracy a philosophical thesis? I think it has to start with them.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Moral relativism.

Who are your political heroes? > Pierre Mendes France (the left-wing French Premier who ended the Indochina war in 1954, started decolonisation in Africa and understood the economy), F.W. de Klerk, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vaclav Havel.

If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Joining the EU.

What would you do with the UN? > Reform it. I'm interested in what the IBSA (India, Brasil, South Africa) coalition of market economy democracies from the South are trying to achieve.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Enjoy it; carpe diem.

What do you consider the most important personal quality? > A sense of humour.

What personal fault do you most dislike? > Dishonesty.

What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Shaving.

What would your ideal holiday be? > It's walking (with the luggage posted from one hotel to the other).

What do you like doing in your spare time? > Surfing the web and reading the newspaper. Sick, I know.

What animal would you most like to be? > A bear, of course.

[Previous profiles: Ophelia Benson (Nov 7); Chris Bertram (Sep 26); Alan Brain (Oct 10); Jackie D (Oct 17); Harry Hatchet (Oct 24); Saddam Hussein (Nov 14); Oliver Kamm (Nov 21); Natalie Solent (Nov 28); Roger L. Simon (Oct 31); Michael J. Totten (Oct 3). The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature.]

posted by norm at 10:47 am | link

Some late night links

Welcome to the new blog Socialism in an Age of Waiting, which after introducing itself kicks off with a post on Victor Serge. Serge wrote:
Defence of man. Respect for man. Man must be given his rights, his security, his value. Without these, there is no Socialism. Without these all is false, bankrupt and spoiled... It must never be forgotten that a human being is a human being.
Socialism in an Age of Waiting is the blog arm of an already existing website Marxist.org, well worth a visit.

Harry Hatchet has an article discussing British political blogs on the Guardian's website.

posted by norm at 12:00 am | link

Thursday, December 04, 2003

What's left?

The discussion on moving rightwards begun by Marc Mulholland and Harry Hatchet and which I took up here a couple of days ago (see 'Left divided', which has the links to Marc and Harry), has elicited further comment at Butterflies and Wheels and the new blog Building the Socialist Republic of Heaven. The view I expressed on the subject gets an endorsement from Ophelia Benson at the former and a severe raspberry from Shevek at the latter. As is often the way with these things, I preferred the endorsement.

Still, I wish Building the Socialist Republic of Heaven well and try here to respond to what Shevek says that relates directly to the argument I made. Shevek taxes me with 'a woolly well-meaningness that accepts as "leftist" such people as those who want the Islamofascist "resistance" in Iraq to defeat the armies of the liberal democracies' (links ineffective - see the post '... and a Bit of What They Pay For'). Three points in reply.

First, I think it's quite evident from what I wrote that the thing at the forefront of my mind in talking about the lack of an authoritative definition of the left-right spectrum was not whether those whom Shevek calls 'such people' could still be counted as part of the left, but rather whether us pro-war people could still be counted as part of the left - as I think we can, but some others on the left think we can't.

Second, in Socialist Republic of Heaven's inaugural post (December 2), Shevek refers to 'the anti-war left, who have betrayed the cause for the sake of kneejerk anti-Americanism and loving up to dictators'. Shouldn't this be 'the anti-war former left', or 'the anti-war non-left', then? Or has the usage at Socialist Republic of Heaven changed since Tuesday? In any case, it's a different one.

Third, and most importantly, I think 'the anti-war left' is the better usage, and I think it is the better usage not only as applied to those who opposed the war without any ambiguities (or worse) vis-a-vis their attitudes to Saddam, the Islamist so-called 'resistance' and so forth, but also as applied to those who didn't avoid these ambiguities (or worse). It's one thing to argue - as I myself have been doing on this blog almost daily, and some will think more than is apt, desirable or indeed bearable, for four months now - that socialists and others who think of themselves as being of the left have betrayed some of their most cherished values by their ambiguous (or worse) stance over the Iraq war and associated issues. It is another thing to seek, in effect, to excommunicate them, in the way that some of them would excommunicate us. Definitions, of course, matter, but there is no authoritative definition of exactly what the boundaries of the left are or should be, and while those boundaries aren't infinitely elastic, they also aren't constituted by any one view on some given political question.

It is a misfortune of the left that so much of it acted in a way that might have saved the Saddam regime - as much of the left once spoke in apologia and excuse for the Stalinist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe - but to want to banish the anti-war left from the country of the left would be, frankly, ridiculous: the banished banishing the banishers. It remains to be seen where the apologists for dictators and Islamist terrorists might be headed, but that is a matter of political contestation and debate and further real political developments. You can, if you want, purify the left definitionally by reading out of its history those you don't approve of or who go astray. So, then, were those who supported the Nazi-Soviet pact not communists and socialists, as they gave every appearance of being, misguided though they were? Never mind that. The worldwide support across the labour movement for the Soviet Union, including the show trials and despite the mass purges, the gulag, and all the rest of it; and not only across the labour movement left but amongst fellow-travelling liberals as well, and despite the fact that there were, even then, socialists and others making the facts of what was happening known - does it all just cease to be part of the real history of the left and of left-leaning liberalism, in a new 'purified' history of the left as validated by the Socialist Republic of Heaven? I know what I am about to say here isn't itself an argument, but dream on, friends.

We need to keep on arguing for the soul of the left, rather than waste time definitionally excommunicating people. You can, if you want, locate some of these people on what I referred to a while back as the pro-tyrant left. Unhappily, there has been such a left historically, and there still is one. It is part of our mixed legacy. (And those within other political traditions who think they have no burdens of their own to bear are deluding themselves.)

posted by norm at 3:26 pm | link

Simply breathtaking

Noam Chomsky in today's Independent, in answer to the question 'Is anti-Semitism on the increase?'
In the West, fortunately, it scarcely exists now, though it did in the past. There is, of course, what the Anti-Defamation League calls "the real anti-Semitism", more dangerous than the old-fashioned kind: criticism of policies of the state of Israel and US support for them, opposition to a vast US military budget, etc. In contrast, anti-Arab racism is rampant. The manifestations are shocking, in elite intellectual circles as well, but arouse little concern because they are considered legitimate: the most extreme form of racism.
It 'scarcely exists now' - that's what the man said. (Thanks to Martin Morgan for the link.)

posted by norm at 2:37 pm | link

Marx, dead or alive?

Via Chris at Crooked Timber I was directed to the interesting discussion by Brian Leiter on 'What is Living and What is Dead in Marx?' I'd like to engage with one part of Brian's argument, embodied in the following passage:
In recent years, there has been what I call a "moralizing" tendency in Marx scholarship - a tendency to abandon the manifest causal-explanatory ambitions of Marx's actual philosophical practice (Marx was a good naturalist!), in favor of developing the implicit normative theory in Marx's writings. Marx never engaged explicitly in normative theory, and for a simple reason: he concluded, correctly I think, that it would have no impact on practice... My view is that Marx stands or falls on the success or failure of his causal/explanatory project, and so the question what is living and what is dead in Marx is equivalent to the question what is living and what is dead in the causal/explanatory project (and the predictive claims flowing from it) that was Marx's central work?
I have an interest to declare here, so let me start by declaring it. Though I have never been, and would not now be, in favour of abandoning the explanatory ambitions of the Marxian project, much of my own work on Marx has been concerned with the normative dimension - implicit and explicit - in his writings. Even so, I more than half agree with what Brian writes in the above passage. I agree, pretty much, that Marx stands or falls on what remains valuable or viable in the explanatory aspects of his work. One might put it like this: if all there was of him was a moral critique and vision, it is hard to believe that Marx would have acquired the intellectual stature that he did. It was the fusion of that moral critique and vision with his empirical research and theory which gave the former the power and the appeal it came to hold. Second, given Marx's own overt contempt for normative theorizing and his consequent neglect of it - of even engaging in it to any significant extent or with any great care - it would be hard to argue that his contribution to moral philosophy puts him in the front rank of moral philosophers as such.

So far, therefore, I agree with what Brian writes; an agreement that could also be registered by saying that what he writes goes through if we're thinking of Marx primarily as social theorist and scientist. But he wasn't only this - not by his own lights at any rate. He was theorist and scientist in order to contribute to the project of creating a better world, and this is a project which most of those who still think Marx is important subscribe to. The point - even now - is to change it (scroll down to XI). Not as against interpreting it, trying to understand it; but on the basis precisely of the best understandings we can achieve. In that light, the normative dimension of the combined scientific-emancipatory (or, if you prefer, meliorative) project is crucial; and its previous underdevelopment amongst those who have been influenced by Marxism has been deleterious at best, and calamitous at worst. I think it continues to haunt, and sometimes disfigure, the left even now.

So, while I wouldn't dispute much of what Brian says vis-à-vis the continuing importance of the explanatory aspect of the Marxian legacy, I think he puts things one-sidedly when he says that normative theorizing has 'no impact on practice'. That's an old story within the Marxist tradition and, I believe, a false one.

posted by norm at 11:22 am | link

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Democratic militaries

Read about these soldiers and these air force pilots.

posted by norm at 5:57 pm | link

A post about post

My relationship to most of the (paper) mail I receive, both at home and in my Department, is a tearing up and throwing away one. Unsolicited, unwanted, form mail, junk. I wonder how many people this is true of. What a waste of everyone's effort, both the senders and the receivers.

posted by norm at 5:55 pm | link


Jimmy Carter on the Middle East:
"Had I been elected to a second term, with the prestige and authority and influence and reputation I had in the region, we could have moved to a final solution," he said.
He's not George Bush, so (unless I missed something) this has not been splashed in - you know - some of the usual places. (Via Randal Robinson.)

posted by norm at 12:59 pm | link

Anti-Semitism in France / A call to the left (updated)

According to this article French Jews now 'live in constant fear'.

See also the excellent statement at Workers' Liberty attempting to 'rally the left to combat anti-semitism'.

(Thanks to SdeW and Clive Bradley, respectively.)

Updated at 2.15 PM: Also well worth a look is the post 'Left-Wing Anti-Semitism' on Laban Tall's Blog (scroll down - it's the first one for today).

posted by norm at 12:23 pm | link

'I have no words to describe the agony'

Yosi Mendelevich talks to Linda Grant about the loss of his son through a suicide murder.

posted by norm at 12:20 pm | link

A brave and remarkable man

That man is Pius Ncube, the Catholic archbishop of Bulawayo. Last night there was a programme about him on Radio 4, Michael Buerk speaking to him in Rome:
Pius Ncube... watched [the] descent into dictatorship with concern that turned into horror. His church told him to keep quiet but he reached the point where he had to choose whether to take a public stand - maybe a life or death decision.
You can listen to the programme here. I strongly urge you to.

posted by norm at 12:18 pm | link

2003 warblogger awards

'And the best blog overall is...' Well, you may be able to guess, but see how 49 right-of-centre bloggers responded to John Hawkins on this - and in the various other categories as well.

posted by norm at 12:16 pm | link

A better class of audience

Polly Toynbee writes regarding the 'political' scene in Love Actually:
In front of the press and the president, prime minister Grant makes a fine speech about standing up to the over-mighty, a small country still holding on to pride and principle. A roar went up from the audience and apparently every audience cheers as loudly at our PM telling the Americans to bog off.
I'm happy to be able to report that no such thing happened when I saw the movie at a cinema in south Manchester, and I know that it didn't happen either last Saturday night in a cinema in Bradford. My source for this, a resident of Kentish Town, does say however: 'Bet it would have happened if I'd seen it in North London'. Too bad, hey?

posted by norm at 12:13 pm | link


I'm with Jackie and Natalie (oh, and Donald Rumsfeld) on this one.

posted by norm at 12:11 pm | link

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Left divided

Marc Mulholland of Daily Moiders and Harry of Harry's Place have been discussing the possible rightward movement - or not - of the pro-war left. Call me sentimental, but even though I'm not quite a 'thirty-something', the generational constituency Marc fastens on, I feel implicated here willy-nilly. Much of what I would have said has already been said by other contributors to the discussion, so I'll concentrate on just two points.

First, I find it odd, especially given that Marc himself was a supporter of the Iraq war, that he should feel it appropriate to frame the discussion as one about moving rightward - as if it's already pre-defined where, in this division of opinion, the authentic values of the left lie, and we can gauge from that who's moving which way. Why couldn't it be, rather, that the left, like pretty well the rest of the world, was internally divided over a major political and moral issue of our time, and that's it? To think of it in terms of rightward movement and 'renegacy' (even if this last is in scare-quotes) concedes too much to a way of thinking for which the left has already paid a heavy price: a way of thinking, that is, according to which there can only be one legitimate viewpoint on the left. Of course, some of those who opposed the war do anathematize those of us who supported it but I can't see any reason for validating this mode of political argument unless one is given to it oneself (as I take Marc not to be).

Second, and speaking personally now, what I care about are the values that I've always thought of the left as standing for, and not my spatial positioning in relation to anybody else. Suppose there were an authoritative definition of the left-right spectrum which placed to the left of me all those who repeatedly march to protest against the ousting or overthrow, as the case may be, of the likes of Galtieri, Saddam, Milosevic, the Taliban (playing host to al-Qaida), and Saddam again... well, I would in this event happily embrace the fact of being to the right of all these marchers and protesters, though even then I might have a word or two to say about my proper placement when reckoned in the light of other political issues. Fortunately there is not - yet? any longer? - such an authoritative definition of left-right and I would treat a claim that my not marching to save Saddam* puts me outside of the left, or to the right of those who did march to save him, with scepticism.

* Note of clarification: 'marching to save Saddam' here abbreviates, roughly, 'marching in such a way that had the protest succeeded in its objective Saddam would have remained in power for some good while longer'.

posted by norm at 8:28 pm | link

Leaked report on anti-Semitism

The previously unpublished EUMC report on anti-Semitism in Europe has been leaked to the Jerusalem Post. It's long and I've not yet had time to read it. (Hat tip to SdeW.)

posted by norm at 5:10 pm | link

Something peculiar

The writer Michael Rosen has a letter in yesterday's Guardian from which I pick out this for discussion:
There is... something peculiar about the idea that millions of Jewish Zionists would rather not live in the nation that they keep telling us was founded for them.

The serious side of this is that the Zionist project demands of non-Israeli Jews to support the existence and policies of a state other than the one they live in.
First of all, 'existence and policies' here is simply pulling a fast one. As anyone knows, you can support the existence of a state without supporting (all) its policies. That is indeed the normal case, I would say. Secondly, if you therefore remove 'and policies' from Rosen's statement, it can be seen for the piece of exceptionalism it is. Is there anything more odd about non-Israeli Jews supporting the existence of a state other than the one they live in than there is about Italian Americans, or Irish Americans, or British Asians, supporting the existence of a state other than the one they live in?

Much the same goes for Rosen's 'something peculiar' about Jews who 'would rather not live in the nation that they keep telling us was founded for them'. This is so close to the suspect/divided-loyalties trope as to make no difference. As Rosen is himself Jewish, and I do not for my part do the 'Jewish self-hatred' argument since I think it rarely applies, I don't see his letter as being motivated by anti-Semitism. This is, nevertheless, objectionable stuff.

posted by norm at 1:56 pm | link

Iraqi opinion

Last night's Newsnight covered an Oxford survey on Iraqi opinion, based on interviews with 3,244 Iraqis nationwide. It can still be seen and heard here (click on the 'latest programme' video and go to 5 minutes in). As you might expect, the report bears mixed news for the Coalition authorities, but one of the more encouraging elements of it is that 'those killing Coalition troops are out of kilter with majority opinion'. The 'satisfaction index' in Iraq is 5.7 out of 10 - as compared with 6.3 in Turkey and 4 in the Ukraine.

You can also read about this same report here. And this article by Amir Taheri, on what the Coalition needs to do to deal with the continuing violence in Iraq, is in the same neck of the woods. (Via Harry's Place.)

Those who go to the Newsnight page for the Oxford Iraq survey may also be interested to look at the report, later in the same programme, about anti-Semitism in Europe. It begins 37 minutes in.

posted by norm at 1:48 pm | link


Mike Aaronson, director-general of Save the Children UK, has a Guardian piece today under the headline 'We will never be "silenced"'. That's as may be. But he maintains a coy silence about the fact that Save the Children opposed the Iraq war.

He complains that the 'highly charged political context has made it difficult to assert humanitarian principles and still be perceived as impartial', without any effort of thought about whether a perception of impartiality might have been assisted if the organization had declined - as, for example, the Medical Foundation, amongst other charities, did - to take any position, either pro- or anti-war, but remained focused on saving children in all circumstances.

Aronson writes:
Today, although much has been achieved for the people of Iraq, the inability of the occupying powers to provide and maintain security means that the situation for many children and their families remains desperate.
I'm sure that's true. Yet, one of the main things that has been achieved for the people of Iraq was getting rid of Saddam Hussein's regime, and Save the Children was opposed to the war that achieved it. Mike Aaronson is, unsurprisingly, 'silenced' over certain grim aspects of 'the situation for many children and their families' before the war that achieved it and which his organization opposed.

posted by norm at 1:40 pm | link

Monday, December 01, 2003

Tax demand

This has been around for a couple of months already, but I hadn't come across it, so others may not have either. It's a letter from an official at the Inland Revenue and is very, very funny:
Dear Mr Addison, I am writing to you to express our thanks for your more-than-prompt reply to our latest communication, and also to answer some of the points you raise.

I will address them, as ever, in order.

Firstly, I must take issue with your description of our last as a "begging letter". It might perhaps more properly be referred to as a "tax demand". This is how we, at the Inland Revenue, have always, for reasons of accuracy, traditionally referred to such documents.

Secondly, your frustration at our adding to the "endless stream of crapulent whining and panhandling vomited daily through the letterbox on to the doormat" has been noted. However, whilst I have naturally not seen the other letters to which you refer, I would cautiously suggest that their being from "pauper councils, Lombardy pirate banking houses and pissant gas-mongerers" might indicate that your decision to "file them next to the toilet in case of emergencies" is at best a little ill-advised.
Read on. (Hat tip to Mike Emmerich, via Weekly Bulletin #237 of the Department of Government, University of Manchester.)

posted by norm at 8:53 pm | link

Those to whom evil is done...

A grim report about attacks on farmers in South Africa and the epidemic of violence there more generally - though it contains one statistic that I can scarcely credit:
Nasty things are happening in the South African farmlands... South African farmers and their families are being slaughtered. The murders are accompanied by torture and rape. The sadism of the attacks suggests either dark perversion or systematic terror...

The numbers are these: in the entire Mau-Mau emergency in Kenya in the 1950s, fewer than a dozen white farmers were killed (32 white civilians in total, fewer than those who died in road accidents in Nairobi in the same period). In the entire 14-year civil war in Rhodesia, which ended in 1979, the number of white farmers killed was 269. In the three years of Mugabe's terror since 2000, it was 11. In South Africa, in the nine years following the end of apartheid and the 'miracle' of South Africa's democratic election in 1994, more than 1,000 farmers have been killed.
Old men are forced to watch their wives being raped before the couple are painfully killed. Farmers and farmworkers are tortured over many hours.
Thanks to Alan Brain for the link.

posted by norm at 5:51 pm | link

Non-paradoxes of democracy 1

I owe readers, particularly those who emailed me about this, a follow-up on Wollheim's paradox (November 15). To remind you of the terms of it, the paradox supposedly arises for the committed democrat who, voting for a policy - A - that she favours for moral reasons, finds the democratic result to be a policy - B - that is incompatible with A. As I wrote in the previous post:
Karen obviously favours the implementation of A otherwise she wouldn't have voted for it; but as a committed democrat she also favours the implementation of B, because this is the democratic will. But the two policies are mutually exclusive. It's important to the terms of the problem, as Richard Wollheim posed it, that A and B are not to be thought of as merely wants on Karen's part. There's nothing logically odd about having incompatible wants... Karen's commitments to A and B in the would-be paradox are both moral evaluations. She thinks A should be implemented, for whatever combination of moral reasons prompted her to vote for A, and she thinks B should be implemented because it's the democratic choice.
Wollheim's paradox generated a journal literature of some size, in which different strategies of resolution were adopted. Some philosophers tried to resolve it by, in effect, changing the terms of the problem: either denying that the Wollheimian voter's commitment to democracy was truly a moral commitment (on the losing side she just accepts the outcome on instrumental or prudential grounds, but remains morally attached to her choice of A); or treating the commitment to the policy for which she voted as merely hypothetical or provisional until the result of the vote is in.

But these strategies aren't true to the real world problem Wollheim described. A democrat is not generally committed to the implementation of the result for merely prudential reasons. It's part of the meaning of being a genuine democrat that you'd want the democratic outcome implemented even if you could, by trickery, block it. And a voter voting for A is not (generally) thinking 'I'm for A if the majority is', since people frequently vote the way they do knowing for a certainty that they're voting for a losing option.

In my view, the genuine resolution of this non-paradox comes via recognizing that Wollheim was right in defining the terms of the problem. If you vote for A (for abortion being legal, say; or for capital punishment) on moral grounds and the result goes against you, and you are indeed a real democrat, then prima facie you're morally committed to A and morally committed to B. But this is no more paradoxical than a situation in which you have given your solemn word to a friend to be at a certain place at a certain time, and on your way there you happen upon a drowning person whom you have the ability to rescue, but only in a time-consuming way. (The example is due, if my memory's not at fault, to Ross Harrison.) If you believe both in keeping your word and in saving people's lives, you'll have a moral conflict to resolve. That can arise from any two moral principles you subscribe to yielding contradictory results in some given circumstance. Provided the two principles are not both held by you to be absolute ones, you must resolve your moral dilemma by allowing one of the principles to take priority. Or to put the same thing differently: we're attached to a large number of moral principles or precepts; but we see most of them as defeasible in certain circumstances, where other (overriding) moral considerations come into play.

As applied to the Wollheim case: a democrat is someone who gives priority to the democratic decision on most issues, though not on all of them. There are certain things over which even democratic majorities have to be opposed. Though different people will draw the relevant line here in different ways and places, two considerations that arguably ought to weigh with everyone are these: democratic decisions should not violate fundamental human rights; and (which can come to the same thing) they shouldn't undermine the premises of democracy itself.

There's no more a paradox of democracy, therefore, than there's a paradox of keeping your word, or of not deliberately hurting a person's feelings.

posted by norm at 2:46 pm | link

'Carol has been doing this since she was 11'

On AIDS in Zambia:
Across sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS has cut a swathe through an entire generation. It happened slowly, without anyone noticing for a while. By the time anyone realised the scale of the problem, it was already out of control. Whole families have gone, young parents contracting the disease and passing it on to their children. There are grandparents, those too old to be caught, trying to care for grandchildren whose parents are long dead.
Before long, she will be gone, they will all be gone, a lost generation destined to be wiped out by a disease they did not realise was among them until it was too late.
And see also this about Nigeria; and Mandela's call:
NELSON MANDELA will mark International Aids Day today by asking the world to help Africa fight the epidemic with the same commitment that it once gave to fighting apartheid.
Finally, the Beeb reports on a campaign being launched as part of World Aids Day.

posted by norm at 11:50 am | link

Soldier blogger in Baghdad

About Private First Class Trueman Muhrer-Irwin, who's been blogging from Baghdad:
He usually posts new material in his online journal, or blog, every day: pictures of kittens on tanks for his best friend, Emmy Ohlin, reflections on raids, conversations with translators about life in Iraq before Saddam. But he hasn't posted for a few days. People are starting to worry - people he's never met, at least not in the real world.
From the same piece, this opinion:
"Whatever flaws the mainstream media has, it's more reliable and trustworthy (than) the vast amount of material that's available on the internet."
It's the view of Matthew Ricketson, a senior lecturer in journalism at RMIT (Melbourne).

posted by norm at 11:46 am | link

Gift idea

According to the Jerusalem Post:
Israeli customs agents seized 400 Osama bin Laden dolls and 50 more Saddam Hussein dolls Wednesday, saying they were inciteful material, the customs authority said in a release. An Arab Israeli had ordered the singing and dancing dolls that carry toy guns as a "gimmick" for sale to Arabs and Jews in Israel, he told the agents when he was questioned.
Just the ideal thing for Hanukah.

posted by norm at 11:44 am | link

Your chocolate years 2

From Dr Katherine Stott, via Anne Stott, I have the following explanation of my previous post of this title (November 28):
If n = chocolate days, then...
(((n x 2) + 5) x 50) + 1753 (say) - year born
= ((2n + 5) x 50) + 1753 - year born
= 100n + 250 + 1753 - year born
= 100n + 2003 - year born
= 100n + your age...
which will give a number where the first digit is n and the second two are your age.
Thanks Katherine!

posted by norm at 11:41 am | link

Sunday, November 30, 2003

American culture

Richard Eyre this weekend lets out a sour belch of anti-Americanism which I wouldn't consider worth linking to but for one feature of it which obliquely reminded me of something I read some years ago and found extremely odd. Eyre explains that - and why - he feels 'uneasy at [his] current resistance to American culture', and his reason is that he was once an enthusiast for it.

This got me to thinking about 'American culture', and the odd thing which came back to me was an article I read in the Guardian a good while back; I have no real idea how long ago it was. I believe the piece was by Bryan Magee, though I couldn't now swear to it, and the thing I remember is this. He was trying to sell America to sceptical Europeans as being a good thing, better than its reputation with them. This is an enterprise I regard as close to being ludicrous, because of the premise it begins from that there's something here to prove; as if someone were to set out earnestly to make a case for there being good points in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Anyway, one of the sales points for Magee (if it was indeed him) was, following various other recommended features of America, its music. So, what does the author say? He says that many US cities can boast... fine symphony orchestras. I forget which cities were mentioned, and I'm sure they did, and probably still do, all have excellent orchestras. But my mouth dropped open at the breakfast table. America doing OK on music because of its symphony orchestras!

Never mind the entire wealth of twentieth century music that came out of that country and reached across the globe entire: from Armstrong and Ellington, through Parker, Monk, Mingus, Davis, Coltrane, and even unto Wynton Marsalis and Brad Mehldau; or from Hank Williams to George Jones to Emmylou Harris and Lyle Lovett; from Sinatra to Elvis to Dylan - and the Beach Boys; and Bessie Smith, and Leadbelly, and Woody Guthrie; and George Gershwin, and Cole Porter. No. Symphony orchestras.

Richard Eyre for his part waxes superior over American popular cinema among many other things. I guess it's arguable which national cinema would take first place in an attempt to adjudicate rankings, though I know which way I'd be arguing and voting if I were on the panel of judges. But the idea that, overall, the tradition of American cinema has something to prove before it can gain proper ratification from high-brow Europeans, I must say I do find laughable. (I won't even start on American literature, also presumably part of American culture.)

posted by norm at 10:54 pm | link

Death of a monster

Read here (registration required) about Ayatollah Sadeq Khalkhali, the hanging judge of the Iranian revolution who died last week. Known as 'the butcher', Khalkhali 'developed a new judicial concept called "obvious guilt" - whereby the accused is presumed guilty if his or her "crimes" were "very clear" prior to the trial. Stories of his cruelty were legion.'

posted by norm at 10:42 pm | link

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