Wednesday, December 10, 2003

New site

Apologies that this comes so late in the day, but I was unable to get in here till now to post anything.

I have a new site. Please visit.

posted by norm at 10:31 pm | link

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

A few statistics

John Carvel in today's Guardian:
Support for raising taxes to spend more on health, education and social benefits has nearly doubled over the last 20 years.
Its [the National Centre for Social Research's] first report 20 years ago found that 32% thought taxes and spending on the welfare state should be higher. By 1991 - after Margaret Thatcher's second and third terms in office, when curbs on public spending were tightest - this rose to 65%. The figure dropped to 50% in 2000, but climbed back to 63% this year.
David Aaronovitch in the same place:
Now, with higher taxes and vast extra sums going into public services, the first polls are beginning to show that people want to pay less to the Revenue. Some 57% of respondents in a recent YouGov poll said they would oppose paying any more taxes for public services, and 79% said they thought any extra raised would be wasted. Other recent polls broadly support these findings, with an ICM poll showing 82% of people believing that the extra spent on public services so far had had little or no effect.
Am I being slow here or... what?

John Carvel:
Poverty in Britain has fallen to levels last seen in the late 1980s...
Altogether 22% [are] living below the [poverty] line...
Nearly a quarter, then.

posted by norm at 1:59 pm | link

Two blog posts and an article

> Check out Marc Mulholland, responding to Ken MacLeod's post which I discussed here yesterday. Marc has some reflections on America which should be read.

> Check out Alan Brain on why war isn't always wrong.

> Check out Anne Bayefsky on the UN and anti-Semitism.

posted by norm at 1:35 pm | link


For some reason it's not in the online version of this Guardian report but it is in my actual dnoc:
His credentials [Thabo Mbeki's] as a leader of African opinion have been badly dented, not to mention his reputation as a defender of democracy.
Credentials? AIDS. Zimbabwe. Hmm.

posted by norm at 1:29 pm | link


From Carr's Dictionary of Extra-ordinary English Cricketers, compiled by J.L. Carr:
Ranjitsinhji, Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, Sussex, b. 1872, whose elegant yet aggressive cutting, leg glides, race and title, captured the nation's imagination. Why, even my father had heard of him.
From Thirty Obituaries from Wisden, compiled by Matthew Engel, alumnus of the University of Manchester:
MANNING, CARDINAL,... It may seem a little strange to include Cardinal Manning's name in a cricket obituary, but inasmuch as he played for Harrow against Winchester at Lord's in 1825, in the first match that ever took place between the two schools, his claim cannot be disputed. (Wisden 1893)
HEMINGWAY, GEORGE EDWARD... He was a free batsman and in the field generally stood mid-off or cover-point, but business and weak sight handicapped his play considerably. On one occasion when playing a single-wicket match against his two brothers he hit the ball into a bed of nettles; the fieldsmen quarrelled as to who should recover it, and during the argument the batsman ran about 250. (Wisden 1908)
WEBBER, LIEUT. HENRY (South Lancashire Regiment)... He made his first hundred in 1863 and as recently as August 6, 1904, when 56 years of age, made 209 not out for Horley v. Lowfield Heath, at Horley, in three hours after a full round of golf in the morning... (Wisden 1917)
Overlooking, if one can, the specifically cricket content and just focusing on the feel of it, can any reader tell me if there's a non-English equivalent or close parallel? Or suggest how precisely to characterize it?

posted by norm at 12:53 pm | link

Estimates hovered around 750,000

No, not that again, but this:
Horns were beeped in celebration and taxi drivers got out of their black cabs and waved and smiled like men who knew that the only things still running were their meters.
Thousands out on the streets of London for the England rugby team.

posted by norm at 12:48 pm | link

Double Standards (Eve Garrard)

We care about double standards. We think people shouldn't have them. It's a strike against a view if it displays them. So criticisms are levelled at George Bush for attacking Iraq while leaving other, maybe worse, tyrannical regimes untouched; at Noam Chomsky for attacking America's sins while saying little or nothing about those of other states; at the EU for publishing several reports about European Islamophobia but suppressing one about European anti-semitism; at the UN for passing resolutions calling for the protection of Palestinian children from attack, but not one for the protection of Israeli children.

We're surely right to complain about double standards. If we judge an action to be wrong, then we ought to judge other actions of the same kind in the same circumstances to be wrong. That's a bedrock feature of morality, so much so that when we find people using double standards, the explanation we offer is usually pretty discreditable to the person deploying them. So people say that Bush isn't really hostile to tyranny, he's just in Iraq for the oil; or that Chomsky isn't motivated by a love of justice but rather by an animus against America.

However, the charge of double standards can sometimes be rebutted, normally by showing that the two allegedly similar things being differently judged really are different, in some morally relevant way. Thus Chomsky can say (and does say, as quoted by Johann Hari over at Harry's Place) that the reason he slags off America and not the rest of the world is that we all have a duty to criticise our own countries, where we have some responsibility and can have some influence, rather than other countries which won't be affected by our complaints. And Bush and his supporters can say that he attacked Iraq rather than, say, North Korea because of at least two major differences: North Korea is known to have nuclear weapons, so the price of attack might be very great, and in any case, the USA doesn't have such unlimited resources as to be able to take on all the world's tyrannies. Even the one is proving pretty demanding in blood and resources.

Personally, I think the first of these responses is unconvincing - Chomsky has no problem criticizing Israeli policies and I'd be surprised if he has a problem with non-Americans who criticise America. But whatever we may think of either or both of them, they're clearly the right kind of response to a charge of double standards. They cite differences between the cases under consideration, differences of a sort which might justify making different moral judgements. And if the facts are as alleged, and are of sufficient moral importance, then the rebuttals may work.

What are we to make, then, of the UN, supporting resolutions about the need to protect Palestinian children from attack, but not about the need to protect Israeli ones? The point about such resolutions is that whatever may be wrong about the adults' stance in a conflict, the children are innocent, and their innocence and vulnerability make a strong moral claim on us, to help and protect them. Judging Palestinian children to be legitimate objects of a resolution to protect them, but not Israeli children, looks like deploying double standards. Can some relevant difference be pointed out, to justify this difference in judgement?

Some might say that the difference is that Israel is the political offender, or the worse offender, here. But even if that were true, it's surely irrelevant, since the point of such resolutions is that the children are innocent, whatever their parents are like. What else might explain the UN's double standards? Can it or its defenders say, analogously to George Bush as we have imagined him above, that they have expended so much of their resources of compassion on Palestinian children that they don't have enough left over for Israeli children? Surely not - it's hard to see why compassion is in such short supply at the UN that it runs out just when Israeli children are reached. Can the UN say, in the Chomsky manner, that it can have more influence when criticising Israeli soldiers for killing Palestinian children than when criticising Palestinian suicide bombers for killing Israeli ones? But why should it believe this? And if it's true, that's surely something the UN should try to redress, rather than collude in. So what is the difference which the UN perceives between Palestinian children, the objects of care and compassion (at least, enough compassion to produce a resolution), and Israeli children, who don't seem to warrant even this?

posted by norm at 12:42 pm | link

Monday, December 08, 2003


Here's John Patterson discussing the movie The Last Samurai:
The contemporary resonances of The Last Samurai are unmissable, though most American critics seem to have missed them easily enough. With Tom Cruise facing down a US regiment on a foreign field, it's possible to see him as a John Walker Lindh figure - except he's the hero. No doubt they would string him up in pretty short order nowadays.
I didn't follow the later stages of the John Walker Lindh story closely enough to form any clear view about what may have led him down his chosen path. Maybe there were important mitigating factors. But Lindh was fighting for the Taliban; and it is of course the Taliban who, amongst other of their quaint practices, used to string people up in Afghanistan. Lindh, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't been strung up. But, hey, it's the liberal zeitgeist. A dubious quip is fine if it lets you get a kick in at the main enemy.

posted by norm at 11:13 pm | link

Iraqi workers

David Bacon, a labour journalist, writes in The Progressive about the problems facing workers in Iraq today. It's not a rosy picture, and the failure of the occupation authorities to get rid of anti-union laws is indefensible, as well as being short-sighted from their own point of view. At the same time the information Bacon himself provides shows that a certain thesis of his here is one-sided:
Most Iraqi workers hoped the fall of Saddam Hussein would liberate them, enabling them to recover their lost rights. Chief among them was the right to an independent union. In 1987, the regime of Saddam Hussein reclassified most Iraqi workers - those who labored in the huge state enterprises that are the heart of the country's economy - as civil servants. As such, they were prohibited from forming unions and bargaining.

The occupation, however, didn't lift this decree. It is still in force, as privatization looms like a sword of Damocles over those workers and the factories on which they depend for survival. And while keeping in place the ban on unions, the occupation authorities have kept wages low and unemployment high.

For Iraqi workers, the signal could not be clearer: The overthrow of Saddam did not bring liberation.
On the other hand, this is what emerges in the interstices of Bacon's article:
Despite the hostility of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the fall of the Saddam regime has led to an explosion of workplace organizing activity.
[A workers' leader:] "We must change this law that says we don't have [the] right to a union. If the law doesn't change, we'll change it anyway, like it or not."
Even without legal status... unions are finding ways to operate and win some demands.
If the armed conflict intensifies, the political space may close.

Keeping open the space for unions to organize and for workers to gain some control over the economic decisions that will affect their lives is not a concern of Iraqis alone. Union leaders from Britain, France, and the International Labor Organization have visited Iraq to press for workers' rights.
A delegation from U.S. Labor Against the War visited Iraq in October to investigate conditions.
So the war didn't bring liberation, but it opened a 'space for unions to organize and for workers to gain some control' over decisions affecting their lives. Labour organizations from elsewhere, and that opposed the war which opened this space, are now trying to help Iraqis keep the space open and widen it - and a good thing too. But here you have the strangeness of the political world we now inhabit. (Hat tip to Clive Bradley for the link.)

posted by norm at 10:10 pm | link

From Zimbabwe - for Iraq

I've posted today on both Zimbabwe and Iraq. Now, thanks to Douglas Rogers who drew my attention to it, I direct you to this intersect between the two countries: an article at New Zimbabwe by Charles Frizell which states the case for military intervention in Iraq in terms of a simple analogy. At the same time, Frizell in effect links back to a long tradition in the literature of international law - that of the right of humnitarian intervention - to highlight what's wrong with present arguments from 'legality' against such intervention:
Let's look now at a family and not a nation. Let's say that one's next-door neighbour is abusing his family and children. He's burning them with lighted cigarettes, raping his daughters and has even killed a few of the family members for daring to oppose him. In this situation, what is the correct action?

Please recall that he's not actually posed any direct threat to you or your family at this time. Do you turn a blind eye, saying it's of no concern to you? That is the present convention in international relations, the doctrine of non-interference.
Using this analogy, let us imagine that after accusing your neighbour of having bombs under his bed you break into his house and chase him away.

When searching the house, you find no bombs but rather a number of children buried in the garden. You always suspected this may have been the case, but you are condemned by all and sundry because the justification you used (bombs under the bed) remains unproven even though you find hard evidence of all sorts of atrocities, possibly even more than you had imagined. Is that logical?
[W]here the abuses are clear and blatant; oppression, murder, violence and excessive corruption then one's moral responsibility is very clear.
Douglas Rogers who kindly sent me the link for Frizell's article offered his own reflection on certain 'connections' here, in an email he sent a few days ago:
It is extraordinary that only those who suffer from severe oppression seem to understand the moral case for intervention. Most Zimbabweans I meet when I go back home do.

My own awakening to the moral abdication of much of the left came from being in Zimbabwe and South Africa during the elections early last year, when I was horrified to hear liberal white friends of mine in South Africa stroke their chins and shake their heads and say things like "how complicated" the situation in Zimbabwe is, and even the priceless: "Mugabe is an interesting man." You will not find many black Zimbabweans saying these things but some white liberals seem so consumed with guilt or self loathing they will excuse any brutality if it is committed by someone who is not white.
Good to know of these Zimbabwean voices for the liberation of the Iraqi people as well as their own.

posted by norm at 6:17 pm | link

No skin off Ewen's nose

This article at the Guardian website details the process of finding mass graves in Iraq and the preparation for a tribunal to try crimes against humanity there:
The mass grave at Mahaweel, with more than 3,100 sets of remains, is the largest of some 270 such sites across Iraq. They hold upward of 300,000 bodies; some Iraqi political parties estimate there are more than 1 million.

"It's as easy to find mass graves in Iraq as it once was to find oil,'' said Adnan Jabbar al-Saadi, a lawyer with Iraq's new Human Rights Ministry.
On the same website is an article today by Ewen MacAskill in which the theme is that Osama bin Laden is winning. There are other things in MacAskill's piece that I would have a quarrel with, but in the light of the mass graves and everything connected with that, I was struck by the following sentence of his:
Perhaps the war on Afghanistan was necessary - but the war on Iraq was not.
Just like that. Unnecessary. He means because 'There was no link between Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden.' And nothing else swims into view.

There is a loose connection between this and the subject matter of an email I've just received from a reader, regarding my post about Ken MacLeod immediately below. The email reads:
Ken MacLeod's argument is flawed for the reason you say. But there's also another point. I think there's a problem with saying you opposed the war because you were worried about strengthening the imperialist world order, when in fact you live within the imperialist world order and your life is pretty damn good. Not that this applies to everyone living in the US and Britain, but I'll bet it applies to the majority of the war's critics, and it applies to just about everyone in these countries if you're comparing them with the victims of Saddam's regime. So, making the argument is a bit bloody cheeky frankly.
The point here, I would say, is that one should give significant weight to the suffering of those who have to bear the cost. This is why I've felt from the very beginning of all this, given the scale of such suffering in Iraq, that those on the left who couldn't bring themselves to support the war shouldn't have opposed it either. And whatever they did, they ought to give some weight, now, to the fact that most Iraqis were pleased to see the regime's demise.

posted by norm at 5:16 pm | link

Before the flood?

There's a long, very interesting and eloquent post by Ken MacLeod at The Early Days of a Better Nation. It sets out the pro-war left position as fair-mindedly as I've seen this done by any opponent of the position, before going on to say why he is an opponent of it. His core reason, I think, is contained in this passage:
The strengthening of imperialism, of the New World Order, is no small thing. It is to enhance the moral authority and material power of a force that has been, and will be, used against far more hopeful and progressive uprisings, movement[s] and states than those it is now deployed to crush. In even the opposition to it in Europe and Russia, we can see the heat lightning of worse storms to come; of, in the words of Gabriel Kolko, another century of war.
This is an argument I've encountered several times in debating with anti-war friends, and the problem with it, as far as I'm concerned, is the way in which it loses the specific in the general. Because of the general character of US power as projected by opponents of the Iraq war, we must oppose a course of action which leads to the demise of the Saddam regime. Why can't we not oppose that, and - yes - oppose the same power if and when it is used against 'more hopeful and progressive uprisings, movement[s] and states'? Because by then it will have been strengthened? But that's strengthened by having rid the world of one of its most ghastly regimes. So we must put the present and proximate future of the Iraqi people in the balance against a long-range (and doom-laden) projection of the global future, and put the specificity of how American power is used here or there, and now, against the generality of what it is fixed as being in its very essence. Some of us felt unable to make that call.

In the same way that the generality of American power swallows up the specificity of its use, Ken MacLeod has (I don't know, I guess) the benign intentionality, or assumed teleology, of the left diminishing the significance of its mistakes. He speaks of 'silly slogans and daft stunts', and says 'so bloody what?' - as if the left hasn't had to pay a rather heavy price in the past for some of the very conceptions at work in this supposed silliness and daftness.

(Hat tip to David Bennett for the link.)

posted by norm at 12:13 pm | link

Zimbabwe: call for 'a coalition of the willing'

Here's a piece by Mduduzi Mathuthu about the latest development:
THE decision by President Robert Mugabe to drag Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth is a perilous, self-serving adventure for which he should be held to account.
What emerges from this sordid saga is the frightening reality that Robert Mugabe now thinks he can make any decision without consulting the nation, let alone consulting his cheering numbskulls that gathered in Masvingo for the party conference at the weekend.
[He] makes the decision to pull the country out of the Commonwealth over breakfast with his wife.
There can only be one conclusion - Mugabe now thinks Zimbabwe is his personal fiefdom.
Progressive nations should now form a coalition of the willing and carry the same unity displayed at this summit to the United Nations. A clear signal should be sent to Mugabe in the form of a resolution that the world has had enough of his misrule.

As in the case of Iraq, if Mugabe then decides to stick his head in the sand like an ostrich, he should be suspended, or other severe alternatives should be pursued as long as they will secure Zimbabwe and return it to the people.
Mathuthu's article is on the website The Zimbabwe Situation. I recommend it, as also New Zimbabwe, which I've linked to here before, and Zvakwana.

posted by norm at 11:58 am | link

Mass rape as a legitimate instrument of war?

See John Bayley on Anthony Beevor's The Fall of Berlin:
After what the Germans had done in Russia the Russians were more than entitled to get a bit of their own back and they did.
(Thanks to David Bennett for the tip-off.)

posted by norm at 11:54 am | link

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