Saturday, August 02, 2003

The Dude abides

No, not Chris Hitchens again, but The Big Lebowski and a convention staged in its honour.
...which prompts a question. Why? After all, the Coens' movie, in which Jeff Bridges' bowling-centric, white Russian-guzzling stoner Jeff "the Dude" Lebowski becomes enmeshed in a Chandlerian kidnap plot after some goons urinate on his beloved rug, was considered by critics something of a disappointment on its release, certainly compared to its far more successful predecessor Fargo. Some people, however, have come to regard the film not as a lesser Coens' work, but as their masterpiece.
I’m with them. Read about this bizarre gathering here.

posted by norm at 11:22 pm | link

Man of Waugh

By making unbeaten centuries in both Tests of the recent series between Australia and Bangladesh, Steve Waugh edged his Test batting average back above 50 - to 51.07. In the whole history of Test cricket there are, as of today, just 34 batsmen in this exalted class. With 32 centuries under his belt, Waugh is two short of Sunil Gavaskar's record, though wherever he ends up he will almost certainly be overtaken by Sachin Tendulkar, who is just one behind him with 31 hundreds, and much younger. Waugh also became the most successful captain in Test history. He now has 38 victories to his credit, two more than Clive Lloyd achieved captaining the West Indies. The man's determination is legendary.

Anyway, shamelessly once more I segue into the advertisement of my wares. For I have, you see, another book on cricket, relevant to our present theme. It is Men of Waugh: Ashes 2001. A reviewer in Wisden Cricketers' Almanack Australia 2002-03 wrote 'his [i.e. my] prose style is so flat and his observations are so banal that his book might as well have been written by a former Test cricketer'. I have a bone to pick with this guy. I prefer 'The observations are acute, the comment wry', and that failure to buy the book would be a 'sorry misjudgement', from a reviewer in The Independent (no link – ha). As it says in the previous post, watch this space.

posted by norm at 10:46 pm | link

Cricket remembered

I don’t recall where but I once read something to the effect that watching cricket is remembering cricket, and… I am remembering Lord’s. Not Lord’s in general but Lord’s and me. First time is 1966, the Monday of the Test, when a West Indian friend, Dick Fletcher, and I are sitting at the Nursery End amongst other West Indian supporters - he threatens once or twice to disclose my identity as a white Rhodesian despite my passionate support for the West Indies side - and what we see is Gary Sobers and his cousin David Holford in an unbroken partnership of nearly 200, moving from a perilous 95 for 5 in the West Indian second innings, a mere 9 runs ahead of England who have still to bat again, to 288 and safety. (The following day they were to add a further 80-odd before Sobers declared.) Gary Sobers in that year of 1966: one of the immortals at the top of his game, batting, bowling and fielding like a dream. Will there ever be another all-round cricketer as great? Probably there will if cricket continues long enough, but he would not be like Sobers and that is the glory of it.

Then, after a long interlude, 1984, year once more of the West Indians and of their 5-0 ‘blackwash’ of England. I go with Piwi who has loved cricket with me since the two of us were 12 years old, growing up together in Bulawayo. We step out on to the upper tier of the Edrich stand and - after so long, I’d forgotten - the scene at Lord’s, it takes your breath away. The day, if I remember rightly, was even somewhat overcast, but Lord’s nevertheless is resplendent, the jewel of English Test match grounds. Play has already begun. Barely have we taken in the scene and before we can reach our seats, Gatting pads up to a ball from Malcolm Marshall and is lbw. Another thing I remember from that same day: Eldine Baptiste runs out Geoff Miller with a phenomenal throw from the very furthest corner of the ground, breaking the wicket directly as poor Miller, innocent of any danger, casually strolls what he thinks is an easy run. And from the same match, though unfortunately after I am already back in Manchester, Greenidge on the final day lays the England bowling to waste, scoring an imperious 214 to turn a seemingly formidable last day winning target into an easy achievement.
Pride of place for me amongst the occasions I have been at Lord’s, however, belongs to the Ashes Tests of 1985, 1989 and 1993… Three England-Australia Tests at Lord’s, three consecutive Australian victories. Each one a thing to cherish. 1985, when Allan Border made a towering 196. When his score was 87, Gatting, fielding close to the bat, appeared to catch the ball, but threw it up too quickly and then failed to hold on to it, so allowing Border a second life. 1989, when Steve Waugh made 152 not out and Geoff Lawson, with 74, helped him add 130 for the ninth wicket, turning Australia’s first innings lead from a modest into a substantial one. First over of the England second innings: Gooch lbw bowled Alderman 0. 1993, the best of the bunch: Australia 632 for 4 declared, with hundreds to Taylor and Slater and Boon, 99 to Mark Waugh, and Border failing miserably with 77.

[The above is excerpted, very slightly abridged, from a book I’m rather fond of, Ashes ’97: Two Views from the Boundary, by… umm… Norman Geras and Ian Holliday. Should you want to know where you can get your sweaty paws on a copy of this fine volume, watch this space.]

posted by norm at 3:49 pm | link

Graeme Smith

Here is Tanya Aldred, a favourite of mine amongst the younger generation of cricket writers:
Graeme Smith - such a sensible name. One belonging to the sort of travel agent who might specialise in trainspotting holidays, not a moniker to intimidate. Until now. In less than seven days this Graeme Smith has become Englands personal man mountain. Unscalable, immovable, a sizable blot on their suddenly everlasting summer.
Go read the rest.

posted by norm at 3:21 pm | link

The Lord’s Test

It’s Saturday afternoon, people, and time for some lighter fare.

England are certainly being put to the test by somebody. By Graeme Smith and his team-mates, actually. As I write, South Africa are 572 for 3, in response to England’s 173 all out. I can’t tell you how much pleasure that scoreline would have given me as a boy growing up in Bulawayo, when Rhodesia (as it then was) counted as part of South Africa for cricketing purposes. And now that I’m all grown up? Well, the way I feel now is - it’s just terrific.

Not for the poms, however. On day one at Lord’s it was ‘Vaughan’s England stink from the start’. After day two: ‘Smith’s second successive double century breaks England’s spirit’. Still, I can’t help feeling that an England cricketing renaissance is just around the corner. Or at least the early signs of one are. It will come just ahead of the next Team England calamity.

posted by norm at 2:41 pm | link


Interesting piece on this by Robert Wistrich. Read it all. Thanks to Eve Garrard for the link.

posted by norm at 2:28 pm | link


James Hider on a notorious jail now being put to another use:
The sprawling complex of Abu Ghraib prison was at the heart of Saddam Hussein's murderous regime, a scene of mass executions and torture for political prisoners and common criminals. Now its watchtowers are manned by American troops and the inmates sweating in tent compounds inside its walls are Saddam's own die-hard loyalists, The Times discovered on a rare visit yesterday.
Another part of the complex is also being renovated: the execution block, where untold thousands of Iraqis were shot, hanged or electrocuted, often after years of brutal incarceration. Now it is being cleaned up to serve as a memorial to those who perished there, although the army has no idea when its doors might open to visitors. The grim room where prisoners were hanged - sometimes in front of their families - is still intact...
Saddam's youngest son, Qusay, was said to have turned up to inspect the camp one day and found it overcrowded, with up to 20,000 prisoners crammed into cells designed to hold 4,000. He solved the problem swiftly and mercilessly by ordering 2,000 people to be executed.
And a lot of people said why? Why Iraq, they said - and not North Korea, Zimbabwe, other places. One might equally ask, why not?

posted by norm at 11:47 am | link

G’day, George

Uday, George. The story of Saddam’s boy’s body double. Don’t read unless you have the strength for it.
In the presidential compound there was also a special unit of official rapists. "Their whole role was to just rape. There were six or seven of them and they didn't do anything else – just rape, men or women. They raped both sexes without any problem whatsoever. This was their job."
Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link.

posted by norm at 10:26 am | link

Friday, August 01, 2003

The Dude Down Under

Christopher Hitchens talking to ABC Radio National Late Night Live about the deaths of Uday and Qusay, WMD, his recent trip to Iraq and a few other things. Go listen. Money quote:
If people could see the enormous improvement in the lives of the people of Iraq that's taken place - the gigantic, irreversible improvement that's occurred there - they ought to be ashamed of the amount of energy they've spent in... trying to postpone this excellent day.
I rather liked the aside, 'I've spent most of my adult life - if I've had such a thing as an adult life - in the United States'. (Both quotes taken down by hand, but as close as makes no difference.) Thanks to Jim Nolan for the link.

Updated at 4.00 PM

posted by norm at 3:03 pm | link

From our correspondent (Eve) in North Manchester

Seen Martin Woollacott's headline in today's Graun, 'America helped ruin Liberia. Now it must help repair it'? Interestingly different line of reasoning from 'We once supported Saddam so it's gross hypocrisy to say boo to him!'

posted by norm at 2:18 pm | link

Sapphire in the mud

Hey, but look what's also on the letters page of my dnoc. This:
I have recently returned from Basra, where I found the situation to be slowly improving, with the help of the British occupation authority and the local people... Clare Short's suggestion that the UN should take over (Blair's lack of courage, July 30) would be catastrophic in my view. The UN is a "big elephant" that moves slowly and uses hundreds of highly-paid staff. The salary of one UN employee could be used to pay the salaries of 10 locals, who would not only be more highly qualified but would know the priorities of their own people better... The British and Iraqis are doing a good job.

posted by norm at 1:58 pm | link

Damned, whatever

One of the main things now sustaining the opponents of the war in Iraq is the failure to turn up those elusive WMD. But there is a sector of this constituency already protected against the possibility that WMD and/or WMD programmes might show up. Here is a short letter from Dr Dorothy Rowe to my daily newspaper of choice.
Why do I keep thinking that WMD will be found when the CIA has finished building them...?
Hmmm... And why does the notion of mechanisms of psychological denial come so readily to mind here? Meanwhile, according to this:
The United States has found evidence of an active programme to make weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, including "truly amazing" testimony from Iraqis ordered to dupe United Nations inspectors before the war, the man leading the hunt said yesterday.
Read the whole thing.

posted by norm at 11:53 am | link

Everyblogy's doing it?

Well, 41 of them at any rate. Just three days after I post my Top 20 Movies, John Hawkins puts up the results of a survey of bloggers' opinions on this very topic, 'Bloggers Select The 15 Greatest Movies Of All time'. You can go see the list for yourself, but I'll tell you that there's only one item in common between them and me, and it's North By Northwest. Great movie. Still, if there's only going to be one Hitchcock, how can it not be either Psycho or Vertigo? I mean come on, people. And, OK, Casablanca; on another day, I'd have had it in. But Raiders of the Lost Ark or Braveheart? In the greatest 15 of all time? 'Yes, a joke; we'll laugh in the car'.

posted by norm at 10:42 am | link

Thursday, July 31, 2003

The Bleeb

A recent letter in my daily newspaper of choice goes in to bat for...
the long-held right of the media to remain independent of government and to be rigorous in its search for truth. The BBC must be supported in its pursuit of issues of national importance. The day when political bias can take the place of objective investigative journalism will be a sorry day for British democracy.
I focus on this letter simply because of the way it typifies what supporters of the BBC's recent record tend to say in its defence. It's as if between dependence on government, or being subject to pressure from it or biased in its favour, on the one hand, and rigour in the search for truth and 'objective investigative journalism', on the other, the terrain of possibilities is exhausted. But there are obviously other political biases than pro-government ones and other powerful interests at work than those of governments. In the case in point, the BBC itself is such a powerful interest - one of the most powerful of all so far as media organizations go. And the idea that the only things that animate it are the virtues of rigour in the search for truth, objectivity, and so forth - this is, in the light of its coverage of the Iraq war and its aftermath, laughable. The organization was caught up in a huge wave of anti-war opinion throughout Europe and many of its news and opinion programmes reflected that, as did some - not all - of its reportage. Watching its TV coverage was often not that different an experience from reading The Guardian; and this is out of order given the BBC's public status and role. Proper as it was for it to pose tough and challenging questions to spokesfolk of the British Government, it had, equally, a public duty to pose demanding questions to representatives of anti-war opinion, rather than being just swept along by this, and to look carefully at its own biases and control them. I watched all the news channels available to me, watched them relentlessly, from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, to Sky, CNN and Fox; and it will take a lot to persuade me that the BBC record is publicly defensible as having been, even remotely, impartial. Relative to Channel 4 News, maybe. But then I'm a really talented cricketer in comparison with my Mom. Anyway, I could, of course, be wrong about this, given where I myself stood. But here's a challenge to the BBC. The issue could be put to an independent and fair-minded body of people (not just a group of academic specialist media-watchers who all marched against the war they 'could not stop'). What could the BBC have to lose from this? Would it not serve the rigorous search for truth?

I feel it right to record here, as may be atypical on a blog, that my thinking on this issue has been formed in discussions with my friend Eve Garrard.

posted by norm at 3:23 pm | link

On the Waterfront

A friend and fellow Loopster wrote to me dissenting from my inclusion of On the Waterfront in my Top 20 Movies of all time. I won't try to defend my choice; I'll simply say that first time I saw the movie, in Oxford in either 1963 or 1964, I went back the next night to 'show' it to my friend Martin, and then we both went back again the night after that, wanting to see it a third and second time; since when I must have watched it on another dozen occasions. It's not something I can think rationally about. It's part of my being. When Steiger tells Brando 'It's an UNHEALTHY relationship', I'm just locked on to the screen. Another favourite moment is Brando in response to the guys from the Crime Commission telling him they'll be seeing him again: 'Never's gonna be too much soon for me, shorty!' On which matter (favourite movie quotes), more in due course.

posted by norm at 11:44 am | link

The ergo ogre of blogging

I seem now to inhabit two more or less disconnected worlds. With most of the people I know, my impression is that they're only dimly aware of the blogosphere, if they're aware of it at all. 'What's a blog?' has been a common reaction when I've mentioned the subject. But for those already in it - or maybe it's only for relative newcomers like myself - it's a passion. If I don't get to do my daily tour for any reason, I start to get jumpy. It's like a day without music. This is not a matter, or not quite a matter, of blogito ergo sum - which would be a sorry state to have come to, indeed. But cogito ergo blog just about gets it.

posted by norm at 10:53 am | link

Laugh? I mean it was, like, out loud

This goes back nearly a week already, but if you haven't seen the Lileks piece on French computer games, treat yourself (scroll down to 'The most interesting news of the day').

posted by norm at 10:36 am | link

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Norms of reply

I guess this goes with the territory, but my inbox is bulging. If you've sent me an email please bear with me. I'll reply as soon as I can. As of this post, but not retroactively, I assume that messages to me at normblog may be published, part-published, quoted or referred to here unless you request otherwise.

posted by norm at 12:11 pm | link


I could not have asked for a better welcome to the blogosphere than the one I got. Over at Harry's Place and at Crooked Timber, on The Daily Dish and BuzzMachine, from Roger Simon, A.E.Brain, Michael Totten, American Digest and InstaPundit (and sorry if there are others I haven't seen) - well, I'm bowled over by the generosity of it. To all concerned, many thanks indeed.

Updated at 9.15 PM: p.s. Thanks also to au currant and Kesher Talk.

posted by norm at 11:54 am | link

Two or three things I know about Louis Armstrong

With some of my friends who love jazz it seems that, for practical - that is, listening - purposes, jazz begins with Charlie Parker or later than that. Maybe this is just a generational thing, the friends I mean being all younger than me (damn it). But still, I don't get it. To speak only for now of Louis Armstrong, and to start elsewhere than you might expect, with his singing, you only have to hear his versions of I Can't Give You Anything But Love and When You're Smiling (March 5 and September 11 1929 respectively) and the beauty of it, threaded with pain, is stuck with you for good. Another thing. Somewhere along when I first started playing this stuff, circa 1960, I picked up that there were those for whom early Louis, of the Hot Fives and Sevens, was the business, more contemporary Louis inferior. With the first part of this judgement I have no quarrel, but otherwise - nope. Listen today to Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Dave Douglas. Fine musicians all, and I don't knock them; I have some of their albums. But when Louis picks up that horn on Back o' Town Blues from the Town Hall Concert of May 1947, or on Blue Turning Grey Over You from Satch Plays Fats (1955), the spirit just soars. He was a titan of the music, then and forever.

posted by norm at 10:59 am | link

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The War in Iraq

[This is an amended and slightly enlarged version of part of a talk given to the Workers' Liberty summer school in London on 21 June under the title 'After the Holocaust: Mutual Indifference and Moral Solidarity'. To be fair to those who invited me, I should point out that, although the views I expressed in this part of the talk met with a perfectly civil reception, they plainly weren't shared by most of the audience.]

I want to say something about support for democratic values and basic human rights. We on the left just have it in our bloodstream, do we not?, that we are committed to democratic values. And while, for reasons I can't go into here, there are some on the left a bit more reserved about using the language of basic human rights, nonetheless for many of us it was this moral reality, and more especially its negation, that played a part in drawing us in: to protest and work against a world in which people could just be used for the purposes of others, be exploited and super-exploited, worked maybe to an early death, in any case across a life of hardship; or be brutalized for organizing to fight to change their situation, be 'disappeared', or tortured, or massacred, by regimes upholding an order of inequality - sometimes desperate inequality - and privilege. In our bloodstream.

However, there is also a certain historical past of the left referred to loosely under the name 'Stalinism', and which forms a massive blot on this commitment and these values, on the great tradition we belong to. I am of the generation - roughly 1960s-vintage, post-Stalinist left - educated in the Trotskyist critique of that whole experience, and in the new expansion and flourishing of an open, multi-faceted and pluralist Marxism; educated in the movement against the war in Vietnam, the protests against Pinochet's murderous coup in Chile and against the role of the US in both episodes and in more of the same kind. Of a generation that believed that, even though the Western left still bore some signs of continuity with the Stalinist past, this was a dying, an increasingly marginal strand, and that we had put its errors largely behind us. But I fear now it is not so. The same kinds of error - excuses and evasions and out-and-out apologia for political structures, practices or movements no socialist should have a word to say for - are still with us. They afflict many even without any trace of a Stalinist past or a Stalinist political formation.

I obviously don't have the time or space here to rehearse all of the relevant arguments. I will confine myself to sketching some important features of the broad picture as I see it.

September 11. On September 11 2001 there was, in New York, a massacre of innocents. There's no other acceptable way of putting this: some 3000 people (and, as anyone can figure, it could have been many more) struck down by an act of mass murder without any possible justification, an act of gross moral criminality. What was the left's response? In fact, this goes well beyond the left if what is meant by that is people and organizations of socialist persuasion. It included a wide sector of liberal opinion as well. Still, I shall just speak here, for short, of the left. The response on the part of much of it was excuse and apologia.

At best you might get some lip service paid to the events of September 11 having been, well, you know, unfortunate - the preliminary 'yes' before the soon-to-follow 'but' (or, as Christopher Hitchens has called it, 'throat-clearing'). And then you'd get all the stuff about root causes, deep grievances, the role of US foreign policy in creating these; and a subtext, or indeed text, whose meaning was America's comeuppance. This was not a discourse worthy of a democratically-committed or principled left, and the would-be defence of it by its proponents, that they were merely trying to explain and not to excuse what happened, was itself a pathetic excuse. If any of the root-cause and grievance themes truly had been able to account for what happened on September 11, you'd have a hard time understanding why, say, the Chileans after that earlier September 11 (I mean of 1973), or other movements fighting against oppression and injustice, have not resorted to the random mass murder of civilians.

Why this miserable response? In a nutshell, it was a displacement of the left's most fundamental values by a misguided strategic choice, namely, opposition to the US, come what may. This dictated the apologetic mumbling about the mass murder of US citizens, and it dictated that the US must be opposed in what it was about to do in hitting back at al-Qaida and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan. (A more extended statement of my views on this subject is to be found here - scroll down to my answer to the question about Michael Walzer.)

The liberation of Iraq. Something similar has now been repeated over the war in Iraq. I could just about have 'got inside' the view - though it wasn't my view - that the war to remove Saddam Hussein's regime should not be supported. Neither Washington nor Baghdad - maybe. But opposition to the war - the marching, the petition-signing, the oh-so-knowing derision of George Bush and so forth - meant one thing very clearly. Had this campaign succeeded in its goal and actually prevented the war it was opposed to, the life of the Baathist regime would have been prolonged, with all that that entailed: years more (how many years more?) of the rape rooms, the torture chambers, the children's jails, and the mass graves recently uncovered.

This was the result which hundreds of thousands of people marched to secure. Well, speaking for myself, comrades, there I draw the line. Not one step.

Let me now just focus on a couple of dimensions of this issue.

Humanitarian intervention. First, there is a long tradition in the literature of international law that, although national sovereignty is an important consideration in world affairs, it is not sacrosanct. If a government treats its own people with terrible brutality, massacring them and such like, there is a right of humanitarian intervention by outside powers. The introduction of the offence of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg Trial after the Second World War implied a similar constraint on the sovereign authority of states. There are limits upon them. They cannot just brutalize their own nationals with impunity, violate their fundamental human rights.

Is there then, today, a right of humanitarian intervention under international law? The question is disputed. Some authorities argue that the UN Charter rules it out absolutely. War is only permissible in self-defence. However, others see a contradiction between this reading of the Charter and the Charter's underwriting of binding human rights norms. Partly because the matter is disputed, I will not here base myself on a legal right of humanitarian intervention. I will simply say that, irrespective of the state of international law, in extreme enough circumstances there is a moral right of humanitarian intervention. This is why what the Vietnamese did in Cambodia to remove Pol Pot should have been supported at the time, the state of international law notwithstanding, and ditto for the removal of Idi Amin by the Tanzanians. Likewise, with regard to Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq: it was a case crying out for support for an intervention to bring the regime finally to an end.

Just think for a moment about the argument that this recent war was illegal. That something is illegal does not itself carry moral weight unless legality as such carries moral weight, and legality carries moral weight only conditionally. It depends on the particular law in question, on the system of law of which it is a part, and on the kind of social and ethical order it upholds. An international law - and an international system - according to which a government is free to go on raping, murdering and torturing its own nationals to the tune of tens upon tens, upon more tens, of thousands of deaths without anything being done to stop it, so much the worse for this as law. It is law that needs to be criticized, opposed, and changed. It needs to be moved forward - which happens in this domain by precedent and custom as well as by transnational treaty and convention. I am fully aware in saying this that the present US administration has made itself an obstacle in various ways to the development of a more robust and comprehensive framework of international law. But the thing cuts both ways. The war to depose Saddam Hussein and his criminal regime was not of a piece with that. It didn't have to be opposed by all the forces that did in fact oppose it. It could, on the contrary, have been supported - by France and Germany and Russia and the UN; and by a mass democratic movement of global civil society. Just think about that. Just think about the kind of precedent it would have set for other genocidal, or even just lavishly murderous, dictatorships - instead of all those processions of shame across the world's cities, and whose success would have meant the continued abandonment of the Iraqi people.

It is, in any event, such realities - the brutalizing and murder by the Baathist regime of its own nationals to the tune of tens upon tens, upon more tens, of thousands of deaths - that the recent war has brought to an end. It should have been supported for this reason, irrespective of the reasons (concerning WMD) that George Bush and Tony Blair put up front themselves; though it is disingenuous of the war's critics to speak now as if the humanitarian case for war formed no part of the public rationale of the Coalition, since it was clearly articulated by both Bush and Blair more than once.

Here is one approximate measure of the barbarities of the Baathist regime I have just referred to. It comes not from the Pentagon, or anyone in the Bush administration, or from Tony Blair or those around him. It comes from Human Rights Watch. According to Human Rights Watch, during 23 years of Saddam's rule some 290,000 Iraqis disappeared into the regime's deadly maw, the majority of these reckoned to be now dead. Rounding this number down by as much as 60,000 to compensate for the 'thought to be', that is 230,000. It is 10,000 a year. It is 200 people every week. And I'll refrain from embellishing with details, which you should all know, as to exactly how a lot of these people died.

Had the opposition to the war succeeded this is what it would have postponed - and postponed indefinitely - bringing to an end. This is how almost the whole international left expressed its moral solidarity with the Iraqi people. Worse still, some sections of the left seemed none too bothered about making common cause with, marching alongside, fundamentalist religious bigots and known racists; and there were also those who dismissed Iraqi voices in support of the war as coming from American stooges - a disgraceful lie.

Good and bad consequences. Second, let's now model this abstractly. You have a course of action with mixed consequences, both good consequences and bad consequences. To decide sensibly you obviously have to weigh the good against the bad. Imagine someone advising, with respect to some decision you have to make, 'Let's only think about the good consequences'; or 'Let's merely concentrate on the bad consequences'. You what?! It's a no-brainer, as the expression now is. But from beginning to end something pretty much like this has been the approach of the war's opponents. I offer a few examples.

(a) The crassest are the statements by supposedly mature people - one of these Clare Short, another the novelist Julian Barnes - that this war was not worth the loss of a single life. Not one, hey? So much for the victims of the rape rooms and the industrial shredders, for the children tortured and murdered in front of their parents, and for those parents. So much for those Human Rights Watch estimates and for the future flow of the regime's victims had it been left in place.

(b) More generally, since the fall of Baghdad critics of the war have been pointing (many of them, with relish) at everything that has gone, or remains, wrong in Iraq: the looting, the lack of civil order, the continuing violence and shootings, the patchy electricity supply, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. Is this fair enough? Yes and no. Yes, because it has to be part of any balanced assessment. But also no if it isn't set against the fact, the massive fact, of the end of a regime of torture, oppression and murder, of everything that has stopped happening since the regime fell. And typically it isn't set against this massive fact. This fact is passed over or tucked away, because to acknowledge it fully and make a balanced assessment won't come out right for the war's critics. It just won't stack up - this, this and, yes, also this, but against the end of all that - in the way they'd like it to.

(c) Or else your anti-war interlocutor will freely concede that of course, we all agree it is a good that that monster and his henchmen no longer govern Iraq; but it is too stupid a point to dwell upon, for it doesn't touch on the issue dividing us, support or not for the war (on grounds of WMD, international law, US foreign policy, the kitchen sink). Er, yes it does. No one is entitled simply to help themselves to the 'of course, we all agree' neutralization of what was and remains an absolutely crucial consideration in favour of the war. They have properly to integrate it into an overall, and conscientiously-weighted, balance sheet of both good and bad consequences.

(d) The same ploy from a different angle. Since the fall of Baghdad there have been voices - both Iraqi voices and those of Western critics of the war - calling for the immediate departure from Iraq of American and British forces. One can certainly discuss this as a proposition. Would it be better for Iraq and its people or worse, such an immediate or early withdrawal? Personally, I doubt that it would be better. Indeed, it would likely spell disaster of one kind or another. From more than one survey of Iraqi opinion I've seen, it is the view also of many Iraqis that there should be no withdrawal for the time being, until the consolidation of an Iraqi administration. But note, anyway, that the call for a prompt withdrawal is not a call to restore the Baathist regime to power. No, it just starts from where things are now, with the regime gone. That is to say, it starts from a better starting point than would otherwise have been in place. And this is a good (but not properly acknowledged) achieved by American and British arms.

(e) If you can't eliminate the inconvenient side of the balance, denature it. The liberation of Iraq from Saddam's tyranny can't have been a good, because of those who effected it and of their obviously bad foreign policy record: Vietnam, Chile, Nicaragua and the rest. It can't therefore have been a liberation. Even allowing the premise to go unchallenged - which in point of fact I don't, since recent US and British foreign policy also has achievements to its credit: evicting the Iraqis from Kuwait, intervening in Kosovo, intervening in Sierra Leone, getting rid of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan - it is a plain fallacy. A person with a bad record is capable of doing good. There were some anti-Semitic rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. This argumentative move just fixes the nature of the act via a presumption about those who are responsible for it, sparing one the necessity of examining the act for what it actually brings about and of assessing this in its own right. It's a bit like saying that because the guy who returned me the expensive book he'd borrowed has previously stolen things from others... you can fill in the rest yourself, and yes, it's silly.

(f) Last and worst here. If the balance doesn't come out how you want it to, you hope for things to change so that the balance will adjust in your favour. In the case under consideration, this is a perilous moral and political impulse. When the war began a division of opinion was soon evident amongst its opponents, between those who wanted a speedy outcome - in other words, a victory for the coalition forces, for that is all a speedy outcome could realistically have meant - and those who did not. These latter preferred that the Coalition forces should suffer reverses, get bogged down, and you know the story: stalemate, quagmire, Stalingrad scenario in Baghdad, and so forth, leading to a US and British withdrawal. But what these critics of the war thereby wished for was a spectacular triumph for the regime in Baghdad, since that is what a withdrawal would have been. So much for solidarity with the victims of oppression, for commitment to democratic values and basic human rights.

Similarly today, with all those who seem so to relish every new difficulty, every set-back for US forces: what they align themselves with is a future of prolonged hardship and suffering for the Iraqi people, whether via an actual rather than imagined quagmire, a ruinous civil war, or the return (out of either) of some new and ghastly political tyranny; rather than a rapid stabilization and democratization of the country, promising its inhabitants an early prospect of national normalization. That is caring more to have been right than for a decent outcome for the people of this long unfortunate country.

Conclusion. Such impulses have displayed themselves very widely across left and liberal opinion in recent months. Why? For some, because what the US government and its allies do, whatever they do, has to be opposed - and opposed however thuggish and benighted the forces which this threatens to put your anti-war critic into close company with. For some, because of an uncontrollable animus towards George Bush and his administration. For some, because of a one-eyed perspective on international legality and its relation to issues of international justice and morality. Whatever the case or the combination, it has produced a calamitous compromise of the core values of socialism, or liberalism or both, on the part of thousands of people who claim attachment to them. You have to go back to the apologias for, and fellow-travelling with, the crimes of Stalinism to find as shameful a moral failure of liberal and left opinion as in the wrong-headed - and too often, in the circumstances, sickeningly smug - opposition to the freeing of the Iraqi people from one of the foulest regimes on the planet.

posted by norm at 1:52 pm | link

Nice one, George!

My daily newspaper of choice carries today, as it does periodically, a piece by George Monbiot. His beef: America, not the nation, but the religion, the divine mission, bent on liberating others from darkness. Monbiot warms to his theme:
So American soldiers are no longer merely terrestrial combatants; they have become missionaries. They are no longer simply killing enemies; they are casting out demons. The people who reconstructed the faces of Uday and Qusay Hussein carelessly forgot to restore the pair of little horns on each brow, but the understanding that these were opponents from a different realm was transmitted nonetheless. Like all those who send missionaries abroad, the high priests of America cannot conceive that the infidels might resist through their own free will; if they refuse to convert, it is the work of the devil, in his current guise as the former dictator of Iraq.
After a certain amount more along these lines, Monbiot winds it up so:
The dangers of national divinity scarcely require explanation. Japan went to war in the 1930s convinced, like George Bush, that it possessed a heaven-sent mission to "liberate" Asia and extend the realm of its divine imperium. It would, the fascist theoretician Kita Ikki predicted: "light the darkness of the entire world". Those who seek to drag heaven down to earth are destined only to engineer a hell.
OK, got that? Not to demonize one's enemies. This is bad. But by a neat literary closing turn, perfectly fair to speak of the US as, why, engineers of hell. The setting up of a loose equivalence here with fascism has, of course, become familiar in the discourse. But never mind, let that go. It's the closing turn which is of interest. For if turn it is, then turn it does. What precisely is George's problem about our understanding of poor Uday and Qusay and poor Daddy Saddam? They did seem on reasonably close terms with engineering hell. (See 'Evil in the Blood', Sunday Times 27 July.)

posted by norm at 12:03 pm | link

One thing I know about Townes Van Zandt

Get up. Take out A Far Cry From Dead. Slip CD from its case and into the machine. Start the first track going - Dollar Bill Blues. This is what it means, 'drink my fill/Early in the morning'. The late, great Townes Van Zandt.

posted by norm at 10:25 am | link

No longer at the same address

Michael Totten, one of my regular reads, has moved here.

posted by norm at 10:03 am | link

Monday, July 28, 2003

Brothers grim

Despite the $30 million reward there was a decent profit on Saddam's baby boys.
It did not take long for the neighbors to finger Nawaf for selling out Uday and Qusay, a hunch confirmed by U.S. military and intelligence sources. Nawaf will probably receive the entire $30 million reward ($15 million for each son). The raid actually more than paid for itself: Qusay and Uday had with them roughly $100 million in Iraqi dinars and U.S. dollars.
(Via OxBlog)

posted by norm at 11:18 pm | link


In my opening spiel below I said curiosities, so here are some. They all go back a way, and anyone already immersed in the blogosphere may well have come across them. Still: here is a pretty impressive ad; here are some bizarrely decked-out rabbits (just click on any of the component links); and here is The Prime Number Shitting Bear. The first of them I found via Andrew Sullivan; and the other two some time back and I no longer remember via whom - for which, apologies.

posted by norm at 2:04 pm | link

Top 20 Movies

As movies are a topic I’ll be talking about on this blog, let me start by sharing with you the list of my Top 20 Movies of all time. Some preliminaries. First, these are not the movies I think most excellent or worthy according to one film aesthetic or another: you won’t find Citizen Kane; you won’t find Eisenstein or Renoir. Nor are they necessarily the most pioneering, technically brilliant or politically sound. These are just the movies I love best. Second, the making of a Top 20 or a Top Any Number is, as you’ll know if you go in for this kind of thing, fraught with difficulty. It depends on what you’ve watched or re-watched recently, how well you can remember films you’ve seen only once, the mood of the moment, and how to call it at the margin when you’re down to one or two spots left and you’ve three or four titles still to go in. As soon as the list is made, something comes back to you which you’d forgotten and can’t possibly leave out. So how to make room for it? You look at the list a week later, and again it needs adjusting. Third, there’s a problem of assessment with movies from the last few years. Some of these may be great, but they’re not yet settled in in your estimation. And so forth. Anyway, here they are, my Top 20 Movies of all time. Apart from the first two which I rank joint first, the others aren’t ranked. I put all these in alphabetical order. No prizes for guessing my top director.

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) *
The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) *
The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)
Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967)
Cross of Iron (Sam Peckinpah, 1977)
ET (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982)
Guys and Dolls (Joseph Manckiewicz, 1955)
The Hustler (Robert Rossen, 1961)
Jules et Jim (François Truffaut, 1962)
My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946)
My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964)
North By Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)
Radio Days (Woody Allen, 1987)
Shane (George Stevens, 1953)
The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, 1961)

posted by norm at 1:45 pm | link

The Bleat

One of the great pleasures I’ve found in discovering the blogosphere is James Lileks, who’s on form today.
In the Sunday book pages of the Strib was an article about the women of Afghanistan. It was discussing the new-found freedoms of women in the post-Taliban society, about girls queuing for school after years of oppression. Quote: “No matter what one’s political misgivings about the war might be, the sight of those girls was a thrilling shock.”

That sentence stuck in my head, and made me think back to October 01, to all the discontent over the Afghan campaign. We’ve forgotten what that was like - the marches in Europe, the predictions of mass casualties, the accusations of empire-building, how it was all about (cue Twilight Zone theme) an oil pipeline, how it would become a quagmire, how it was a quagmire, how we should have used international law to bring OBL to justice. It was the dress rehearsal for Iraq. The same blind sputtering fury; the same protests with Bush = Hitler posters and giant mocking puppets; the same inability to accept that a byproduct of the campaign would be a freer society for the very people the protesters supposedly cared about.

Any mass executions at the Kabul soccer stadium recently? No?

Wonder why.
There’s more there; see for yourself.

posted by norm at 1:35 pm | link

The Dude

Christopher Hitchens, just back from Iraq, has a different impression from Younge’s.
Well, I had been there earlier this year in late March, in fact, on the southern border, briefly. And I remember then that the whole mind set of the press, you may remember it, was that it was a quagmire. It is a better story. Remember that week when Donald Rumsfeld seemed to have lost the plot? Most of my colleagues thought, “Well, that reads better.” And I remember that mentality when I was there recently. I was in north and south and central Iraq. The press is still investing itself, it seems to me, in a sort of cynicism. It comes out better for them if they can predict hard times, bogging down, sniping, attrition. And so if no one is willing to take the gamble, as they see it, of saying actually that it's going a lot better than it is, but it is. It's quite extraordinary to see the way that American soldiers are welcomed. To see the work that they're doing and not just rolling up these filthy networks of Baathists and Jihaddists, but building schools, opening soccer stadiums, helping people connect to the Internet, there is a really intelligent political program as well as a very tough military one.
Read the interview.

posted by norm at 12:37 pm | link

Upcoming: Iraq

Tomorrow I’ll be posting, and posting long, on the predominant left and liberal response to the war in Iraq.

Meanwhile here is an example of the genre by Gary Younge. Money quote: ‘Neither [Bush nor Blair] has a clue how to rebuild the country they have just destroyed’.

That’s the country, note, not the regime.

posted by norm at 12:03 pm | link


One of the things that took me a while to sort out in preparing to launch this blog was fixing permalinks to my own posts. Contrary to some of the advice I had, they didn’t just kick in automatically. I finally managed to figure something out, but at a cost seemingly unrelated to the matter of the permalinks themselves. If there’s a blogger out there able and willing to help me with these problems, please give me a shout; I’d be most grateful. I already know, incidentally, that I’ll be told by some to move normblog elsewhere. But having started here, I think I’ll stick around at least for a bit. I’m not the easily movable type.

posted by norm at 11:58 am | link


To my fellow Loopsters. To Chris Bertram for early advice. To Jenny Geras, Oliver Kamm, Harry Hatchet, Natalie Solent and British Spin for offering help with technical points in getting started.

posted by norm at 11:53 am | link


I only really got wise to the blogosphere earlier this year during the lead-up to the war in Iraq. I had come across Chris Bertram's blog Junius, just by the accident of knowing Chris, and I revisited it a few times without fully taking in that it was part of a larger universe. Then, with the lead-up to the war, I began to acquaint myself with other blogs, following the links from one to another in pursuit of the debate that was taking place on this subject. My desire to do so was strengthened by the fact that, since September 11 2001, I'd come to find much of what was appearing on the opinion and letters pages of my daily newspaper of choice repellent. And as a supporter of the war for regime-change reasons I was also less than comfortable with the balance of views I was encountering in the circles, professional and social, in which I move.

The breadth and the freedoms of the blogosphere opened up. It was a development that went hand in hand with the emergence of a small group, mainly but not exclusively Manchester-based, which became known to its members as 'The Loop'. All liberals and/or leftists dismayed at the tenor of supposedly progressive opinion on this issue, we began to circulate to one another, with or without accompanying comment, stuff we were finding on the internet, including in or via the blogosphere. It was a kind of micro-blogging.

I'm now hooked. There's this global conversation going on out there: argument and counter-argument; thinking aloud; the sharing of information or just stray musings; the sharing of links, of things you want to draw to the attention of others, or merely incidents from your day, likes and dislikes, pictures, jokes, curiosities, you name it. There is, too, the letting off of steam at some damned thing you've been afflicted by in one medium or another. You could, of course, always write a letter to a newspaper - who could, of course, ignore it. Or you can blog.

I’m joining the conversation.

posted by norm at 11:45 am | link

In the immortal words of Sam Peckinpah

Let's go.

posted by norm at 11:29 am | link

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