Tuesday, April 27, 2004

A suggestion

I'm here.

Please fix your bookmark:


posted by norm at 12:38 pm | link

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

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Non-paradoxes of democracy 2

In publishing the results of the Alternative Big Read here (on November 26), I pointed out that, had I asked everyone to send me only their top book, rather than their top three books, the results would have been different (with James Joyce's Ulysses, for example, coming fifth rather than tenth); and I said I might return to the issue. The issue I had in mind was the way voting systems or other decision procedures reflect the preferences which they're supposed to aggregate. So, don't be so impatient. I'm returning to it.

Imagine a newspaper - let's call it the Daily Knock - and imagine some random blogger having the opportunity to get a weekly guest post on her blog from one of three Daily Knock journalists, but only from one of them. Having already established - by who knows what process - which Daily Knock journalists are the three favourites with readers of her blog, our blogger proposes a poll to decide which is their most favourite of all. We're going to need names for these three journos, so let's suppose that they are, in no particular order: Larry Oulde; A.A. ('Christopher') Robin; and Dubs Notrechem.

The poll is announced, the blogger - let's call her Lydia - urges her readers to send in their votes, she even repeats her appeal to them once or, maybe, twice. Assume she ends up with 100 votes. This assumption is only to make the arithmetic easier: her blog has way more readers than that, but many of them are on holiday, and some others don't like going in for things. Assume that the voting system allows each voter just one vote: for his or her first choice from the three Daily Knock journos (hereafter DKjs), and that this is the result.

Robin - 40
Oulde - 35
Notrechem - 25

That seems clear enough. Robin therefore wins and gets to do the weekly guest post, and all is well. However, subsequent research reveals that all 35 readers who voted for Oulde preferred Notrechem to Robin, and all 25 readers who voted for Notrechem preferred Oulde to Robin, so that for 60 of the 100 voters Robin is their least favourite DKj of the three.

Indeed, had Lydia invited her readers to put in a ranked vote covering all three, this would have been the result (there being - just to keep things simple - a strange bunching of preference orderings):

40 voters: 1. Robin 2. Oulde 3. Notrechem
35 voters: 1. Oulde 2. Notrechem 3. Robin
25 voters: 1. Notrechem 2. Oulde 3. Robin

Well, if you do the maths, as Lydia did, assigning 3 points for a first place, 2 for a second and 1 for a third, this is what you get (trust me):

Oulde - 235 points
Notrechem - 185 points
Robin - 180 points

So, Oulde should have won and Robin, who did win with the voting system actually used, should have come last according to this voting system. Arguably, too, this is the better system since it takes account of the voters' whole preference order, not just their first choices.

Now look at something else. Suppose the breakdown is like this and we're not counting points, just looking for a rational aggregate social preference on the basis of these individual ones.

40 voters: 1. Robin 2. Oulde 3. Notrechem
36 voters: 1. Notrechem 2. Robin 3. Oulde
24 voters: 1. Oulde 2. Notrechem 3. Robin

Here 76 voters prefer Robin to Oulde; and 64 voters prefer Oulde to Notrechem. However, 60 voters prefer Notrechem to Robin. Why 'however'? Because in a rational individual we expect preferences to be transitive. If I prefer Robin to Oulde and Oulde to Notrechem - and I'm not letting on what my actual preferences are as between these three DKjs - then I'd be expected to prefer Robin to Notrechem. But the readers of Lydia's blog do, as a collectivity, prefer Robin to Oulde and Oulde to Notrechem, yet they prefer Notrechem to Robin. (This means that if you vote between any pair of the three DKjs, eliminating the loser of that pair and putting him up against the remaining DKj, you can run three different decision processes and you'll get three different results. Check it out. Or don't bother, just trust me.)

Look, finally, at this. Imagine that as well as the three DKjs we've already grown to know and love, there's another more occasional contributor to the Daily Knock, a writer of fiction - call her B.M. Nixon. And suppose that the individual preferences of the readers of Lydia's blog, when Nixon is in the frame, break down as follows:

40 voters: 1. Notrechem 2. Oulde 3. Robin 4. Nixon
30 voters: 1. Oulde 2. Robin 3. Nixon 4. Notrechem
30 voters: 1. Robin 2. Nixon 3. Notrechem 4. Oulde

Assigning points as before, but now 4 for a first place and downwards to 1 for a fourth, Lydia does the maths (correctly) and gets this:

Robin 290; Oulde 270; Notrechem 250; Nixon 190

But Nixon, finding out even before the result is announced - there's been a leak via Lydia's window-cleaner - how badly she's done, withdraws from the contest. Lydia is inclined to go with result as before and declare Robin the winner anyway. But she shouldn't do that. With Nixon not part of the contest, those preference orderings immediately above would look like this:

40 voters: 1. Notrechem 2. Oulde 3. Robin
30 voters: 1. Oulde 2. Robin 3. Notrechem
30 voters: 1. Robin 2. Notrechem 3. Oulde

Aggregating afresh with 3 for a first place (and so on), this is the result:

Notrechem 210; Oulde 200; Robin 190

Therefore Robin wins if Nixon is a candidate and comes last if Nixon isn't a candidate, when Notrechem wins. So, what's the big deal? Well, it looks a bit like someone who, offered a choice between seeing Manchester United at Old Trafford and going to an Emmylou Harris gig, chooses the football, but when told by the person providing this choice 'Oh, you could also see Brendel playing Mozart', says 'Well, in that case I'll go see Emmylou.'

These things may look paradoxical, but actually they're not. (They're no more paradoxical than the fact that two people both voting in a definite way between two options - one for A, the other for B - produce a tie overall across the pair.) There's only an air of paradox if you assume that collectivities have a single mind like individuals, which of course they don't. There's no reason why, when you aggregate the preferences of a group, the results should display the same kind of rationality that the choices of an individual actor (usually) do. In fact it has been shown by Kenneth Arrow - and take this as very approximate please, since it's not within any expertise of mine (I'll be glad of greater precision and/or necessary correction from someone who knows more about it) - that on certain reasonable assumptions about the conditions we would ideally want any decision procedure to satisfy, there is no decision procedure which isn't subject to the possibility of 'arbitrary' results, given some combinations of individual preference orderings.

Where that leaves us as between Dubs Notrechem, Larry Oulde and A.A. ('Christopher') Robin is anybody's guess. I'm glad it wasn't my blog - for more reasons than one. But I hear from Lydia that Dubs in fact squeaked home.

posted by norm at 10:38 pm | link

Alinda, the lovely lady singer

In the Guardian 'Weekend' magazine there's a lovely article about Maurice Sendak by Tony Kushner - a eulogy really, but none the worse for that. Sendak's children's books were among my favourites back when I was reading to my daughters. Looking at them again today I find whole chunks still familiar to me. From Where the Wild Things Are:
And when he came to the place where the wild things are
they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth
and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws
till Max said "BE STILL!"
and tamed them with the magic trick
of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once
and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all
and made him king of all wild things.
There's also the absolutely marvellous quartet of One Was Johnny, Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup With Rice, and Pierre. I'm telling you, if you have small children, do them and yourself the favour. If you don't, buy the books in any case for the children of a friend, and read them (the books) before handing over. My personal favourite is The Sign on Rosie's Door, which begins so:
There was a sign on Rosie's door.
It read, "If you want to know a secret, knock three times."
Kathy knocked three times and Rosie opened the door.
"Hello, Kathy."
"Hello, Rosie. What's the secret?"
"I'm not Rosie any more," said Rosie. "That's the secret."
"Then who are you?" asked Kathy.
"I'm Alinda, the lovely lady singer."
"Oh," said Kathy.
Great, great books.

posted by norm at 12:49 pm | link

Christmas books

Wife of the Norm, spelt out in full here because she's the story - or half the story - and not an incidental detail in it (now, come on, you know what I'm saying), gets a heigh-ho in the Sunday Times today:
Christmas is a good time for traditional retellings. Among the most striking of the recent crop for 5-8s is Adèle Geras's emotive and literate reworking of Sleeping Beauty (Scholastic £14.99), spectacularly illustrated with Christian Birmingham's light-filled, romantic pastels and shaded drawings, which give new energy to an old tale.
In the Dragunia's round-up of favourite books of various well-known people for 2003, Steven Pinker puts in a shout for Virginia Postrel:
Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style (HarperCollins) is a brilliant analysis of a phenomenon: that people care more about how stuff looks. Postrel invents a new kind of social criticism, one that is economically literate, brimming with psychological insight, and deeply respectful of ordinary people. After reading this book, the world will literally look different.
That is the whole thing - except for all the other well-known peeps and their faves.

posted by norm at 12:43 pm | link

How to...

Do you know about eHow? It has the answers to many different 'how to' questions. I tried 'to fish', 'to bake bread', 'to make movies' and 'to knit socks'. Not that I want to know, actually, but just by way of messing about; no, correction, by way of researching for you, my readers. Anyway, there's material on the first three but not on the fourth. More seriously, there's nothing on 'to start a blog', and ditto 'weblog'.

posted by norm at 12:40 pm | link

The undiscovered Melanie Phillips

Tipping his hat to the Friday normblog profile, Bobbie, along the way at politx, started a regular Unopened Files feature in which previously undisclosed work gets to be disclosed. This week it's a piece by Melanie Phillips. She's on top form:
The moral fibre of our once-great country depends on the nuclear family. If one thing has proven more utterly responsible for the unerring rise in crime, violence, domestic abuse, drugs, national debt, Islamic terrorism and the collapse of Leeds United FC, it is the demise of marriage in favour of co-habitation.
[W]e don't need more people telling us that co-habitation is fine. We need people to recognise it for the pure evil that it is. We need to concentrate on bringing back a time when men, women and children each knew their role and fulfilled their remit perfectly. A time when crime was low, poverty non-existent and you could buy a loaf of Hovis for tuppence.
Read the whole thing. Talking of which, what happened, Bobbie, to the promise of 'The first time Glenn Reynolds wrote "Heh"'? Is this a cover-up?

posted by norm at 12:36 pm | link


WotN and I couldn't be bothered trekking out last night, so we watched The Bourne Identity on DVD. It features two central characters utterly devoid of spark, humour, interest, character, and indeed identity. This is partly determined by the fact that the two principals can't act, but it's also helped along, rather, by a lifeless script and a few other things. You don't know who he (Jason Bourne, as... acted by Matt Damon) really is, nor does he know who he is, nor do you know why the people who are trying to get him are trying to get him, nor who they are. And it doesn't matter that you don't know all this, because from quite soon in you don't care that you don't know. When you find out finally, you still don't care. So, my advice to you is: if you haven't, don't.

posted by norm at 12:33 pm | link

One good heh deserves others

Heh about this.

And heh heh and heh about these:

Leeds United 1 - 1 Chelsea
Leicester City 1 - 1 Arsenal
Newcastle 1 - 1 Liverpool

Well?! It's Sunday. I'm resting.

posted by norm at 12:30 pm | link

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

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