Saturday, August 23, 2003


It's a long tradition at this site that on Saturday we sometimes have a poem and we sometimes don't. Today we do. Its subject is the American pragmatist philosopher, Richard Rorty. Some of the allusions will be a little arcane for people unfamiliar with Rorty's ideas, but no more so than those you will find, say, in T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets.
Roaming in thought
[after reading Rorty]


Naughty, naughty Richard Rorty
Thought he'd have some fun with Truth.
He retained, though well past forty,
All the playfulness of youth.

Being so disposed, so sporty,
Bought he, Rorty, language-games.
Wittgenstein (or 'wit' for short) he
Gave amongst his heroes' names.

Witty, ironizing Rorty,
Fought he metaphysics grey.
Joshing gently with the haughty,
He commended Dewey's way;

Dewey who - he too the sort he
(Rorty) wrought a giant from -
Redescribed the true, for taught he
Pragmatism with aplomb.

Richie Rorty, Richie Rorty,
Naught he hadn't read, it seems.
Heidegger and Nietzsche brought he,
Both, to feature in his schemes,

Next to others not so warty:
Caught he Dickens, Proust and Yeats,
Kundera and Orwell. Sought he
To cavort with them as mates.

And intent on mischief, Rorty
Mortified the realists quick.
'Things just as they are?' A quart, he
Ruled, of empty rhetoric.

Such assumption made folks snorty,
Fortified assurance bad
Of foundational support. He
Found the wish for skyhooks sad.


Some said, 'Rorty, should he, ought he
to, make light of solid fact?'
Now they all know his retort: he
Claimed this notion substance lacked.

Others for their part said 'Rorty?!
He does not, in truth, exist.
He's the fiction, a new sortie,
Of one struggling novelist.'

I'll converse with Richard Rorty,
Ask him to come round to tea.
I can then say 'Have some more tea;
and we’ll joke semantically.'

He might say though, 'I abhor tea;
Don't you Derrida with me.'
No, he's not that closed or taut; he
Won't. I'll call the guy and see.


Which I did. And he was charming,
As in 'fact' you would expect.
But he had no voice. Alarming.
'Twas the novelist's effect...

In her story, he's a vapour,
Bright and comely; still he's vexed.
But it's written on the paper
– a coherent, useful text –
That he's lost his human glory.
So he's left a bit perplexed.
For her story's not his story
(He is history and not history)
And his being's been annexed.
The poet's identity is known to me and I'm willing to disclose it on an individual basis, and in confidence, for a modest consideration.

posted by norm at 4:11 pm | link

Knowing nothing of retribution

And on this day of football I'd like to share with you a passage I love from Howard Jacobson's novel Coming from Behind. The first paragraph here I like because it reminds me of the attitude of the friend I most often watch football with.
[O]nly then did he understand how great a gulf divided them from the other spectators and from the game itself. They were doom-laden. They had highly developed imaginations of disaster. They feared pride and presumption. Quite frankly, if the goal couldn't go uncelebrated they would rather it had gone unscored. Success was liability enough without the added perils of publicity. A Jewish team unfortunate enough to take an early lead would have kept it quiet and hoped that no one noticed.

But such fears were alien to football. Above all else, the game gloried in the passing, delirious moment; gave the illusory promise, to players and spectators, of irreversible triumph and permanent reward. The scorer of the goal taunted the opposition, jeered at detractors in the crowd, lifted his fists to the heavens, unable to prefigure, though it happened every week, that a moment later his team would be the object of identical mockery and he would have to show his dejection as shamelessly as he had shown his delight… [T]hey knew nothing of retribution, learnt nothing from experience, feared nothing from providence.
The second paragraph is about Newcastle United earlier today and a million other teams and occasions and groups of fans.

posted by norm at 4:03 pm | link

J. W. McKenzie

On this day of cricket I'll tell you of someone else who belongs in the same category, though he's rather less well-known. It's the bookseller J. W. McKenzie. Except by some weird accident, you're unlikely to have heard of him if you're not, as I am, a collector of books about cricket. But though there are many people who specialize in this particular line, there is no one to touch the service he provides. He is the Fred Astaire or, more appropriately, the Sir Donald Bradman, of his domain. I've been receiving J. W. McKenzie's excellent catalogues since 1977 and it won't be long now before my run of them reaches a hundred. They constitute a collector's item in themselves. My most recent acquisition from the McKenzie catalogue – a gift to me from colleagues, the occasion for which I needn't describe – was a copy of a book about the 1937 Australia-England series, signed on the frontispiece by the rival captains G. O. (Gubby) Allen and Don Bradman. Eat your hearts out, people!

posted by norm at 3:57 pm | link

The one and only, the transcendent

Something like this is how Jack Nicholson referred to him some time back in the 1980s, introducing Bob Dylan to the audience of one of those mega-charity gigs; whereupon Dylan proceeded, as he sometimes does, to wreck one of his songs. Anyway, round at Harry's Marcus has posted his best 10 Bob Dylan albums, and I feel inclined to chip in with some of my views about this.

Agreements. Blood on the Tracks at No. 1, no question – a masterpiece. I'm also happy to see the inclusion of Desire, Nashville Skyline and Infidels.

But there are some worrying omissions. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (with Don't Think Twice, It's All Right) ought to be there; likewise Bringin' It All Back Home (with It's Alright, Ma). Blonde On Blonde, Marcus? Be reasonable. Do you need to be reminded of Sad Eyed Lady? Also Planet Waves, as Mike in your comments section has already suggested, should be there - for both versions of Forever Young and for the lovely Wedding Song. Finally, if you're having Infidels, you could mention its best track, I and I. Can anyone tell me what it means? OK, I'll rephrase that. Can anyone suggest some ways of understanding the titular refrain? And then there's the line I've made shoes for everyone, even you, while I still go barefoot… What a line! I defy you to listen to this song and not recognize you're in the presence of genius.

I suppose I should now put together my own Bob Dylan Top 10. Naaah. Another day. But thinking about all this has brought it home to me that I should have had Dylan in the nonpareil category.

posted by norm at 3:50 pm | link

Jess Stacy

OK, so I've got Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall concert on. This is music I've been listening to practically forever. It was a great occasion featuring many fine musicians: Goodman himself, Harry James, Teddy Wilson, Johnny Hodges and more. There's a lot I could pick out about it, but if there's a moment here above all others it has to be Jess Stacy's piano solo on the Goodman band's rendition, that January night, of Sing Sing Sing. Just under two minutes - and immortality.

posted by norm at 3:42 pm | link

Miss Julie

You read it here first, just the day before yesterday. Now, look who's saying it:
There is something embarrassing about the thought of smart people either producing or consuming yet another comic strip about how stupid George W Bush is…
It's Julie Burchill. Given her scatter-gun approach to the world I don't always agree with Julie but, my, do I like her. When she's on target she sure knows how to smack it home. In the piece I now feature she goes on to talk of some intended humour based on...
...the possibility that Bush and Blair are gay lovers! This was a running insult from peace dupes during the Iraq war and I always felt that it revealed so much more about the people who made this "joke" than it did about Bush and Blair themselves. So being gay is really nasty and funny, is it?
Peace dupes. On that very topic I'm gratified to report that I've had one or two emails, since I featured him, concurring with my sentiments about Steve Bell.

And there for the rest of today I leave all dnoc-related stuff. I wouldn't want anyone to think I was obsessional. Actually, I am obsessional. But it's Saturday.

posted by norm at 3:39 pm | link

Friday, August 22, 2003

The split soul of progressive opinion

Reproduced in full in yesterday's Guardian was Martin Luther King's 'Let freedom ring' speech, from which I excerpt the following:
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvellous new militancy which has engulfed the negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realise that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
And when… we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
Now, depending on who you are, you may have one or another reservation about these words, but I would like to set this aside here. As I re-read King's speech yesterday, I thought to myself: does it belong in this newspaper?

Of course, it does. No question but that the sentiments expressed appeal on some level to much of the Guardian's readership, as they must appeal to just about anyone of a humane and progressive outlook; which is why both the speech and the man who made it are now known across the planet.

So what's jarring is the fact that the question – does it belong in this newspaper? – should have come so readily to mind. But it did, and it sticks there. For the opinion and the letters pages of the newspaper in question are these days full of excuse-making, apologia and evasion on behalf of people, precisely, 'guilty of wrongful deeds' and 'drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred'.

posted by norm at 1:34 pm | link

Right-wing terror apologists

I draw your attention to Joe Katzman's post of the above title. Josh Cherniss also has a pertinent comment ('For Shame', Aug 21) and some links.

posted by norm at 1:27 pm | link


[This post continues the series trailed here last Friday and begun on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.]

Two other understandings of the concept of crimes against humanity which in my view fail lie on the side of the distinction in which 'humanity' is taken as referring to humankind - the human species or global community. Geoffrey Robertson has suggested the following as an interpretation of why crimes against humanity are that. (A1) It is 'because the very fact that a fellow human being could conceive and commit them diminishes every member of the human race'; or, as he also puts it, more collectively, 'diminishes the human race'; or, somewhat differently again, 'diminish[es] whatever value there is in being human'. There is a parallel difficulty here to the one already discussed with respect to 'inhumane acts': namely, that this is an understanding of crimes against humanity which would include too much of an insufficiently serious kind. What counts as diminishing everyone in a certain category is so loose an idea that it is hard to see how diminishing them could be reckoned, merely in itself, to be a criminal act. If teachers are diminished by the saying 'Those who can, do; those who can't, teach' - as arguably they are - could it really be a crime against teachers, and punishable, to say that? Could it be a crime against the supporters of some rival football club to chant material of a more or less insulting kind about them, as is a common practice? These examples may seem too frivolous for the purpose at hand. Consider, then, that a person might well claim to be diminished when members of a collectivity which she belongs to and cares about, whether her family, compatriots, co-religionists or whatever, publicly and with genuinely malicious intent disparage certain other sorts of people, as in racial or ethnic abuse or comment of a sexually belittling nature. To classify this as a crime against that person – not, note, against the people disparaged, but against the putatively diminished co-member of the collectivity to which the disparagers belong – would extend the reach of the law to absurd and frightening lengths. If the idea is supposed to be that all human beings are in some sense victims of the acts we categorize as crimes against humanity, we need a firmer basis for it than that everyone is diminished by them, or need a narrowing specification of 'diminished' which would give the word a more tightly-defined grip.

Also problematic is the hypothesis (A2) that - assuming humanity to refer now to the comity of nations or the international community - what makes the acts we are interested in crimes against humanity is that they represent a threat to 'the peace and security of mankind' or the peace of the world. There is a twofold problem with this hypothesis. Let us take as an example of a crime against humanity the crime of genocide. Doing so, I know, presupposes that we already have a rough and ready notion about at least some of what the concept of crimes against humanity should cover. But then any definition of the concept which did not accommodate genocide would not be worth our time. (I assert this without more ado on the basis of the aim of reflective equilibrium: a reflective equilibrium between our starting intuitions on the subject and the concepts by which we seek to order these, adjusting intuitions and concepts as necessary, to achieve a mutual fit.) Now, first, it is not necessarily true that any genocide, just as such, threatens the world's peace and security. Localized within a particular national territory and left to run its course there without intervention by external forces, it might threaten no one beyond the targeted group. Second, in some circumstances it could even be that intervention by outside forces would jeopardize international peace more seriously than non-intervention would. The suggestion might be offered at this point that crimes against humanity do anyway - do willy-nilly - jeopardize the peace and security of humankind by breaching some of the established norms of international law. In a sense, this is true; just as any ordinary crime under municipal law can be said to contribute its share to undermining respect for the law in the particular community in which it occurs. But the suggestion is not admissible in the given context even so. We are looking for the feature, or the features, of certain kinds of act in virtue of which they can be argued compellingly to count as crimes against humanity, and so be treated as punishable offences under international law. It would beg the question - in the old, and not the ignorant, sense of this expression - to presume their already criminal character under international law.

[The next instalment in this series will be posted on Monday.]

posted by norm at 12:24 pm | link

Thursday, August 21, 2003

More top 20 stuff

Over at Crooked Timber today Chris Bertram has a post about John Hawkins' poll of left-wing bloggers for the greatest figures of the 20th century. Chris laments the absence of any important figure from the socialist movement (Jaures, Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Lenin, Trotsky), for which he has taken some flak in the comments section, and suggests that the participating left-wing bloggers were chicken. He laments also the absence of any major thinkers (Russell, Weber, Durkheim, Rawls). A contributor to the comments section has pointed out that Chris's chicken charge rests on a fallacy, since individual contributors might well have voted for the people whose omission he notes, but just not in sufficient numbers to get them on to the composite list. Judiciously, Chris has withdrawn the chicken charge.

Still, as one of the bloggers who took part in this poll and voted for as many as three of the people Chris names, I set the record straight in my own case by now publishing my entry. I had some misgivings about doing so before because, like Chris, I can see that this kind of exercise is 'inherently silly', at least in relation to the given topic; though it's a game I myself enjoy and indeed sponsor occasionally. Here is my list, in alphabetical order, and in all its arbitrariness:

Louis Armstrong
Winston Churchill
Francis Crick
Albert Einstein
Duke Ellington
Alexander Fleming
Sigmund Freud
Mohandas K Gandhi
Jurgen Habermas
Alfred Hitchcock
Martin Luther King
Primo Levi
Rosa Luxemburg
Nelson Mandela
John Rawls
Franklin D Roosevelt
Jonas Salk
Leon Trotsky
James Watson
W. B. Yeats

posted by norm at 8:45 pm | link

Oliver Kamm is OK

For another of his first-rate pieces - and one relevant to the two immediately previous posts below - I send you without more ado over to Oliver's place.

posted by norm at 4:50 pm | link

They brought it on themselves

Yesterday I was taking Chris McGreal to task for his 'homicide bomber, as the Israelis prefer to call them' comment. Then today, on the other hand, in spite of this verbal distancing, he has a report which refers to the Jerusalem bombing - just like that - as 'the mass murder'; praise for which was, he says, 'muted' amongst Palestinians in Hebron. But then again, on the third hand, McGreal's report continues:
But whatever the Palestinians' views on the bombing, there was common agreement that the Israelis had brought the attack on themselves.
And he concludes on the same note:
Shortly before the ceasefire was announced at the end of June, the Palestinian security minister, Mohammed Dahlan, gave an interview to the Guardian in which he warned that the Israeli army was bent on sabotaging the peace process.

In Hebron, they have no doubt about it. "Every time they reach agreement, the Israelis do something to provoke the Palestinians," said Abdul al-Nsary. "The Israelis want to see a suicide operation more than the Palestinians do."
Now, let's strive here for some fairness and balance. It is McGreal himself, or at least his in-house sub-editor, in any case it is his report, which speaks out of his, her or its own mouth of mass murder, whereas these views about the Israeli (root-causes) responsibility for the mass murder are merely recorded as coming from others, as they no doubt did.

However notice, first, the moral slide which in one thought takes in 'the Israeli army' and 'the Israelis' period, and so takes in (or is it leaves out?) the particular group of victims of this bombing, including a number of children. And notice, second, that McGreal passes over these opinions without comment. When do you think it might be that you'll see a report in the same newspaper of an Israeli attack on leading Hamas 'militants' or 'activists', an attack which has also killed Palestinian children, closing without further comment on the opinion that 'the Palestinians' brought it on themselves by some earlier action, or wanted to see this - including the killing of their children - happen more than the Israelis did?

Slimepool is right - even beyond Seumas Milne's Comment & Analysis pages.

posted by norm at 4:37 pm | link

Steve Bell, formerly known as a cartoonist

One of the minor inconveniences of being a left-of-centre supporter of the liberation of Iraq over these last months has been to be seen as a natural recipient by one's more politically correct friends and acquaintances of would-be anti-war humour, circulated electronically. Most of this has been utterly fatuous, lacking the spark of intelligence that things which are really funny generally require. I do, as it happens, have an idea of my own for some do-it-yourself counter-humour on the subject with just a little more intellectual input - and which I may in due course propose in this place. But I digress from the point of the present post. Which is that into the category of fatuous would-be humour I put the relevant recent cartoons of Steve Bell. Bell just keeps on drawing George Bush as – ptschhee hee – a stupid monkey.

Anyway, today we have one more example of the genre. For its humorous bite it is neither more nor less worthy of comment than its predecessors. However, yes-worthy of comment is that this particular cartoon concerns the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, and unless you give the thing some complicated and roundabout interpretation, its focus on the responsibility for that act is: George Bush – 1; whoever the actual bombers were – 0. That's par for the course in the slimepool which the page it appears on now too often is.

posted by norm at 4:24 pm | link

'But where is the green parrot?' - A WMD reflection

The talk is now very much of exaggeration, the exaggeration, prior to the war in Iraq, of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from the Saddam Hussein regime. There is a short video here of Walter Pincus of the Washington Post summarizing the case that the available intelligence on Iraq's nuclear weapons programme was overstated by the Bush administration. Similarly, in the Guardian last week, Roy Hattersley wrote that, whatever the Hutton inquiry goes on to establish, we already know that the Blair government 'exaggerated the threat from Iraq'.

Does it matter? I mean, does it matter if they did exaggerate. That depends on whether the exaggeration was of the kind which is just part and parcel of the dynamics of political debate - the accentuating of some things at the expense of others, the selection, inflection, rhetoric and argumentative focus all normal to trying to make a case - or whether it was something more than this. Anti-war advocacy was certainly exaggerated on every side in these (as well as other more dubious) ways, and we didn't see too many mea culpas issuing from that quarter when various of their doom-saying predictions about the war came to grief. On the other hand, exaggeration which crosses the line of straight-talking and political honesty is something else. If the US administration, or the British government, or both, deliberately misled their respective electorates, then they would be properly open to criticism and condemnation for having done so, and may be held to democratic account.

It may be worth pointing out that I don't only mean, here, criticism from those who opposed the war. I mean also from those of us who supported it. For any deliberate misleading of the public that there was (if there was), so far from strengthening what was already a good case for war, would have detracted from it. It would have detracted from it via the implication that there weren't sound enough reasons for a regime-change intervention, when there were. There were on human rights grounds, because wherever the proverbial pale might be thought to be located in this matter, the Baathist regime had long been beyond it. And there were sound reasons, as well, because of what was taken as established knowledge about that regime's record on WMD (of both possession and use of these) – a point not too well remembered by the war's critics in the last couple of months – and of what it had yet to account for to the world community. By attempting wilfully to deceive the public, if it should turn out that this is what either or both of them did, George Bush and Tony Blair would have done a disservice to the case for war by the implicit suggestion that, in their own minds, the case wasn't good enough already - which it was. Deliberate public deception by democratic politicians is in any event a vice not to be taken lightly.

Is this the end of the story, if it turns out to have been the story? Suppose that Bush and Blair did deliberately mislead the public. Even then it would be legitimate to point out that they did so to rid Iraq and the world of a monstrous tyrant and a murderous regime, or in ridding the world of them. This consideration, to be completely clear about the point, wouldn't exonerate the two leaders for the deception, but it would remain relevant to an all-round assessment of the course of action. Bush or Blair would still be rightly open to criticism if there had been a deliberate act of public dishonesty; we could make a judgement about their personal political character accordingly. But the assessment of the course pursued by the two governments over Iraq does not stand or fall with these judgements about personal political character. (And see my recent post citing Matthew D'Ancona, whose view about David Kelly is relevant to how harsh even this sort of judgement should be, given the overall circumstances. I disagree with what D'Ancona suggests in mitigation, since I think Blair and Bush could have gone ahead without any exaggeration, the 'unimaginably high' stakes notwithstanding.)

And nor is that the end of the story, either. The intensive focus by the war's opponents on the issue of WMD and the failure so far to find any may perhaps, in light of the above remarks about political honesty, be seen as understandable in the simple terms of responsible public scrutiny and criticism. Here, however, is an alternative suggestion: the obsessive focus on WMD is overdetermined, as the Althusserians were once in the habit of saying.

There is a book for very young children which I used to read to mine, called But where is the green parrot?. Here is a sample of the text:
THE TRAIN has a black engine with red wheels, an engine-driver with a blue coat and cap, a yellow coach with many windows – BUT WHERE IS THE GREEN PARROT?

THE HOUSE has a red roof with a chimney, a blue door with a latch, a yellow balcony with flowerpots – BUT WHERE IS THE GREEN PARROT?
And so on. For weeks now I've been unable to get the accents of this refrain out of my head; except, the content has been different, going something like this:
THE MASS GRAVES are being uncovered, and the children's jails opened, and the torturers are no longer at work, and there will no longer be places called rape rooms – BUT WHERE ARE THE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION?

THE SCHOOL BOOKS are being reissued without images of, and references to, Saddam Hussein, and there are now hundreds of newspapers in Iraq and people can hold public demonstrations – BUT WHERE ARE THE WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION?
In the actual green parrot book, as you may already have figured out without my help, the point of the contrastive 'but' in 'but where…?' is to direct the young reader to try and find the somewhat hidden bird. But the 'but' of the WMDers is rather different. Many of these people would, or will, lurch back in cold horror if significant WMD should come to be found (those, that is, who do not simply dismiss them as a CIA plant). For the point for many of them is to draw attention away from everything else. Not only from the torture chambers and the rape rooms no longer operating, but also from the fact that they themselves opposed the military intervention which closed these down, opposed it (many of them) with alarmist and false predictions - their own little exaggerations - marched side by side with Islamist fanatics, and wished, and still wish, the American and British liberators of the Iraqi people continuing misfortune. There are doubtless some posing the WMD question in a fair-minded democratic spirit: this would be people - such as I have come across very few of, in person or print, online or on screen - saying something like 'It's wrong that (if) they exaggerated about WMD, but isn't it great, isn't it just bloody wonderful, that that regime is finished?' Let the rest wear their WMD question as a badge of shame.

posted by norm at 1:40 pm | link

Wednesday, August 20, 2003


[This post continues the series trailed here on Friday, and begun Monday and Tuesday.]

In the sequence of instalments to come I ask in what sense acts characterized as being crimes against humanity can be reckoned to be, indeed, against humanity. The category of crimes against humanity emerged formally at the end of the Second World War in connection with the trials of Nazi war criminals, and although its emergence was not just out of the blue, but foreshadowed by earlier developments within customary international law, its use as one of the headings in the Nuremberg Charter did have an accidental aspect. It was proposed only at a late stage of the conference which drafted the Charter. The term 'crimes against humanity' has become part of contemporary usage. Designating a class of offence under international law, it has also entered into moral and political discourse much more generally. Its range and content are therefore of some interest. Since the notion of a crime which is against humanity is not altogether transparent, it seems to the point to enquire if any clear and useful meaning can be given it.

In the legal and other literature on this topic there are a dozen or more ideas associated with the thesis that, in harming their immediate and their indirect victims, certain types of offence represent an injury as well to humanity. These ideas are not all utterly distinct. Some of them stand to others of them in relations of resemblance, overlap, contiguity, implication and the like. But I shall in any case review all of the ideas I have come across which I perceive as being sufficiently different from one another to merit separate examination; though I make no claim that my way of individuating and classifying the ideas I shall be reviewing is either ideal or definitive. Some of these ideas I reject as putative candidates for giving us the core of the concept of crimes against humanity. Others I accept as being usefully part of the concept, but regard as secondary all the same. I fix on two ideas as primary - primary in that they disclose those features in virtue of which an act might be persuasively construed as a crime that is against 'humanity'.

A convenient point of departure here is to note that there is now wide agreement amongst authorities on international law that crimes against humanity are subject to universal jurisdiction. The meaning of universal jurisdiction in the present context is a permissive rather than imperative one. That is to say, even though some relevant international conventions textually obligate signatory states to prosecute or extradite suspected perpetrators of crimes against humanity when they have the opportunity to do so, it is not clear that such an obligation has been firmly established in international law. But states do all have a right to prosecute or extradite such persons. The universality principle differs from the other main recognized jurisdictional principles in not involving any particularized connection between the state which asserts jurisdiction and the criminal act over which it asserts it. These other principles are the territorial principle, the nationality (or active personality) principle, the passive personality principle, and the protective principle. They enable states to assume jurisdiction over offences committed, respectively, on their territory, by their nationals, against their nationals, and in the circumstance that 'an extraterritorial act threatens the state's security or a basic governmental function'. The universality principle requires no such direct nexus between the given offence and the state which asserts jurisdiction. It rests only on the offence being recognized in international law as a crime of universal concern.

The classic case for the assumption by states of universal jurisdiction was piracy. The principle was later extended to apply to the slave trade and, during the twentieth century, to crimes against humanity and a number of other offences. It was famously invoked in the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961. In upholding the principle, the Israeli Supreme Court declared that crimes against humanity damaged vital interests of the international community and violated universal moral values embodied in the criminal law of civilized nations. The state which prosecutes the perpetrator of such crimes, the Court said, acts as 'the organ and agent of the international community'. Appealing to the tradition that the pirate is an enemy of humankind, it took the view that since the considerations justifying universal jurisdiction applied to piracy, they must a fortiori apply to the graver offence of crimes against humanity. Other national courts have subsequently had recourse to the same tradition. A US court in 1981, in a case involving acts of torture in Paraguay by one Paraguayan against another, stated that 'the torturer has become - like the pirate and slave trader before him - hostis humani generis, an enemy of all mankind'. Authorizing the extradition of John Demjanjuk to Israel in 1986, the US Supreme Court declared: 'International law provides that certain offences may be punished by any state because the offenders are "common enemies of all mankind and all nations have an equal interest in their apprehension and punishment"'. Most recently, the House of Lords in the Pinochet case also made reference to this motif of the 'common enemies of mankind'.

This figure long associated with the principle of universal jurisdiction, the figure of the 'enemy of all mankind', stands at the very threshold of our enquiry - into the possible meanings of the notion of a crime which is 'against humanity'.


There is a widely-noted distinction I shall make use of in separating into two broad groups the ideas to be considered here regarding why crimes against humanity are properly thought to be such. 'Humanity' might refer to (A) 'the human race or mankind as a whole'. Or it might refer to (B) 'a certain quality of behaviour' or 'human sentiment', covering some or all of kindness, benevolence, compassion, philanthropy and, indeed, humaneness. In line with this distinction I shall designate the several ideas I go on to examine either A or B as seems appropriate, and number them sequentially within each group. (See the 'handout' in the post immediately previous to this one.) I start with three ideas which strike me as inadequate to giving us a persuasive meaning for the claim that certain types of act constitute crimes against humanity.

The first idea is (B1) that crimes against humanity might be defined simply by being, in the language of Article 6 (c) of the Nuremberg Charter, 'inhumane acts' - offences, in other words, against humaneness. This fails by not setting a high enough threshold. Crimes against humanity will be inhumane, to be sure, but inhumane acts are far from all being serious enough that they could, as an entire category, be sensibly accounted criminal offences under international law. For there is a common usage in which not only acts of extreme cruelty or which cause devastating harm, but also acts simply of a notable degree of unkindness or mean-spiritedness, are spoken of as inhumane. One might think, for example, of a parent punishing her child for a minor rudeness by forbidding him to see his friends for many days; or of a cheese-paring government policy which restricts the already modest enjoyments of people reliant on state pensions. Hannah Arendt evidently had a weak meaning of the expression 'inhumane acts' in mind when she described its use in the Nuremberg Charter as 'certainly the understatement of the century' - 'as though the Nazis had simply been lacking in human kindness'. The cue for her remark was the German translation of Article 6 (c) of the Charter, in which 'humanity' is rendered as 'Menschlichkeit' (the moral sentiment or ensemble of values) rather than as 'Menschheit' (humankind).

To guard against too weak a meaning, those writing about crimes against humanity often conjoin the word 'inhumane' with an intensifier of some kind. Thus you will find: 'cruel and inhumane'; or 'so brutal and inhumane', 'shockingly inhumane and cruel', 'inhumane acts of a very serious nature'; or, as in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 'inhumane acts... intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health'. I have earlier noted, too, how Egon Schwelb, perhaps the first to propose an 'inhumane acts' as opposed to 'crimes against the human race' reading of Article 6 (c), proposed it under a rule of legal interpretation - the eiusdem generis rule - that would encompass only acts beyond a certain level of seriousness. It may indeed be that, although Arendt and others following her have criticized a notion of crimes against humanity centred on too weak a meaning of 'inhumane', no one has actually subscribed to it in this meaning. I include it for consideration, all the same. It has a place in the literature, if only as an object of criticism. And I for my part do also reject it. I shall, however, be returning to this issue. If we are to look for a convincing sense of the concept of crimes against humanity on the side of our distinction where such crimes are seen as acts violating a body of sentiment or principle to do with the acceptable treatment of human beings, then we need some threshold of seriousness which the bare word 'inhumane' does not supply.

[The next instalment in this series will be posted on Friday.]

posted by norm at 8:30 pm | link


This post represents the blog equivalent of a handout accompanying a seminar presentation. It's for readers following the series on crimes against humanity, a guide to what's now to come. You might find it useful to have a printed copy.

A. Humankind, the human race/species

A1 Diminish the human race
A2 Threaten the peace and security of mankind
A3 Breach the sovereign authority of humankind
A4 Shock the conscience of mankind
A5 Threaten (the existence of) humankind
A6 All humankind the victims

B. A certain quality of behaviour/sentiment

B1 Inhumane acts
B2 Grave ('inhuman') acts
B3 Acts against the human status or condition
B4 'Genocidal' acts

posted by norm at 3:24 pm | link

From the San Francisco Chronicle

Something else more congenial:
A group of 37 Iraqi teachers spent the summer removing gratuitous Hussein references from school textbooks, slicing out his photos and deleting Baath Party screeds. With $107 million from the U.S. government and the United Nations' oil-for-food program, 65 million new copies of the edited textbooks will be printed and distributed to schools within the coming months.

It hasn't been an easy task.

The editing panel had to review 556 books, sentence by sentence. Fuad Hussein, a returned Iraqi expatriate who chose the panelists, remembers seeing one teacher's hand hesitate the first time she had to cross out a picture of the dictator.

"I told her, 'Don't be afraid. Just bring the pen down here, then across here, and he's finished,'" he said.
Link via Tim Blair.

posted by norm at 11:59 am | link

It's all in a day's work for Dagbladet

You've probably had enough of the dnoc-fare by now, and so might like to know what Dagbladet is saying. According to this new Norwegian blog, it's your same old same old. Check out the photos, though, for something more congenial.

posted by norm at 11:56 am | link

Homicide bombers

Here is one thing that's true even if George Bush believes it, and which ought by now to have become clear even to the anti-war, free Palestine, why-do-they-hate-us, root causes, sector of left and liberal opinion:
"By their tactics and their targets these murderers reveal themselves once more as enemies of the civilised world," a sombre President George Bush said at his Texas ranch.
And here is James Lileks (via au currant):
But nowadays the phrase never again is met with sneers: of course again. And again and again, as often as possible. Fascists in thrall to a death-god, again. Creed-addled men who shrug at the death of babies, again. Poison-fed people who pass out candy to celebrate the murder of Jews, again. Never again has become please, not tomorrow.
And this is a witness to the Jerusalem bombing:
The terrible thing was to see the children.
And this the director of a hospital:
"About half of the 41 injured who came to our hospital were children," Professor Yonatan Levy, director of the Shaarei Tzedek hospital, told Channel One television. He said the two most seriously injured were a girl with a head injury and an eight-month-old baby girl on a respirator whose parents could not be found. Israel Army Radio said the baby later died.
Don't anyone write to me to 'contextualize'. I know the context, and this is still murder and a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute.

posted by norm at 11:51 am | link

Swallowing a camel?

A snatch of Polly Toynbee:
Removing Saddam was not a bad idea - so long as the rest of the world supported it. So long as the UN was there too. So long as Britain was not sundered from Europe over it. So long as our foreign policy was not irredeemably in hock to a neo-conservative White House.
So long as you're in your own sort of company, that's all right then. Not George Bush, just George Galloway and - well, let's just say the company of what was a bad idea, not removing Saddam. Sometimes it's more important to go with the idea. As was mentioned here a while back 'Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.'

posted by norm at 11:45 am | link

'Suicide attackers'

Here's more fairness and balance. The Guardian's man in Jerusalem, Chris McGreal gives us this: 'The suicide attacker - homicide bomber, as the Israelis prefer to call them…'

Yeah, they prefer it. I think I know why.

posted by norm at 11:39 am | link

Slimewatch UK no 2: Foot in it

Paul Foot today in my dnoc:
[M]illions of citizens of New York and other US cities were plunged into darkness and chaos. They were obliged to suffer at least a tiny fragment of the agony of the people of Iraq, similarly cut off from electricity.
Think about the 'at least' there.

posted by norm at 11:36 am | link

Tuesday, August 19, 2003


[This post continues the series trailed here on Friday and begun yesterday, setting out some further introductory matter.]

3. Article 6 (c) of the Nuremberg Charter spells out the offence of crimes against humanity as follows:
Crimes Against Humanity: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.
The Article goes on to make leaders and others involved in the formulation of a 'common plan' or 'conspiracy' to commit such crimes responsible for all acts performed by anyone in carrying them out. Article 7 then rules out the plea of sovereign immunity by asserting that the position of heads of state or of government officials 'shall not be considered as freeing them from responsibility or mitigating punishment.'

Article 6 (c) provided the basis for another important legal instrument of the same period, Control Council Law No. 10. This law was for the prosecution of other, lower-ranking, Nazi war criminals than those tried at Nuremberg. It was to be applied by German courts and by tribunals of the Allied powers within their respective zones of occupation. Article II 1 (c) of Control Council Law No. 10 reads:
Crimes against Humanity: atrocities and offences, including but not limited to murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, rape or other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds whether or not in violation of the domestic laws of the country where perpetrated.
Three additional offences have been included here: imprisonment, torture and rape. It should be noted in this connection that the two Articles are somewhat open-ended anyway, beyond the offences which they explicitly list. Both refer to 'other inhumane acts', and Article II 1 (c) is couched in terms of atrocities and offences 'including but not limited to' the ones it goes on to name. The most widely-cited early article on crimes against humanity (Egon Schwelb, 'Crimes Against Humanity', British Year Book of International Law 23, 1946, 178-226 at p. 191) suggests a construal of the words 'other inhumane acts' according to a rule of legal interpretation known as the eiusdem generis rule. By this rule, 'other inhumane acts' would be held to apply only to acts of a similarly serious nature to those actually specified. It is an interpretation that has subsequently taken hold.

Yoram Dinstein has described Article 6 (c) of the London Charter as 'a veritable landmark', and Geoffrey Robertson says of the Nuremberg Trial that it 'stands as a colossus in the development of international human rights law'. Others put the same thing more dramatically still. Eugène Aroneanu thought that the institution of the offence of crimes against humanity would 'change the face of the world'; and Elisabeth Zoller has written, in like spirit, that the new notion was 'pregnant with a complete upheaval in international law'. There is another word for this common trope: it is that the emergence of crimes against humanity at Nuremberg marked a 'revolution', or at any rate the beginnings of one, in the field of international law. If it did so, however, this was a revolution which announced itself in the modest terms of continuity with the past. It played down its own novelty. For in the Judgement of the Nuremberg Tribunal it is plainly stated that '[t]he Charter… is the expression of international law existing at the time of its creation'. In Control Council Law No. 10, as well, Article II begins with the affirmation that each of the offences which it provides for is recognized as being a crime. It is a familiar idea, of course, and one with august credentials in the history of political thought, that the elements of every serious revolution first mature within the womb of the old order before being born as the new state of affairs they are destined – or, put in historically more open terms, have the potential – to become.

Even so, it has been controversial whether the definition of crimes against humanity in the London Charter was merely expressive of an offence already existing under customary international law, or was, on the contrary, a legislative act creating a new crime. I pass over that controversy in the present context. Whatever view one may take about it, it remains true that the sense has been widely expressed of the beginnings of a revolution here. If a revolution is what Nuremberg announced, however, then as with many another revolution the true significance of this one is far from having been clear. On virtually every dimension of interest its meaning was ambiguous and is disputed.

In this series I shall be engaging with just one of those ambiguities.

4. As set out in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (July 1998), crimes against humanity are 'any of the following acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack':

murder; extermination; enslavement; deportation or forcible transfer of population; imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; torture; rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity; persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender… or other grounds that are universally recognized as impermissible under international law…; enforced disappearance of persons; the crime of apartheid; other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.

[Tomorrow I move on to the central question of this series: Why, or in what sense, can crimes against humanity be reckoned to be, indeed, against humanity?]

posted by norm at 3:25 pm | link

Outside Baghdad

A different kind of report:
AL HILLAH, Iraq - There's more to America than New York, Washington and Los Angeles. The same is true for Iraq; there's a vast country outside Baghdad and the "Sunni triangle" that's now the center of a guerrilla campaign. It's understandable that Western press reports are fixated on attacks that kill American soldiers. But that focus is obscuring what's actually happening in the rest of the country - and it misleads the public into thinking that Iraqis are growing angry and impatient with their liberators.

In fact, there is another Iraq that the media virtually ignore. It is guarded by the First Marine Division, and, unlike Baghdad, it has been a model of success. The streets are safe, petty and violent crime are low, water and electrical services are almost universally available (albeit rationed), and ordinary Iraqis are beginning to clean up and rebuild their neighborhoods and communities. Equally important, a deep level of mutual trust and respect has developed between the Marines and the populace here in central and southern Iraq.

I know because I'm one of those Marines. My reserve unit was activated before the war, and in April my team arrived in this small city roughly 60 miles south of Baghdad. The negative media portrait of the situation in Iraq doesn't correspond with what I've seen. Indeed, we were treated as liberating heroes when we arrived four months ago, and we continue to enjoy amicable relations with the local populace.
Read the whole thing. (Via Biased BBC.)

posted by norm at 12:16 pm | link

Two-state majority

Amos Oz laments:
Week after week public opinion surveys in Israel and Palestine consistently show that more than 70% on both sides endorse the ceasefire, support the road map, and approve the idea of a two-state solution: Israel next door to Palestine.

Yes, everybody is unhappy about those solutions, everybody is full of suspicions and mistrust, everybody who says yes says so with clenched teeth. Nevertheless 70% of both sides are ready for peace.
So then? So then, read the rest.

posted by norm at 12:14 pm | link

More greatest figures of the 20th century

This time it's the result of John Hawkins' poll of left-of-centre bloggers.

posted by norm at 12:13 pm | link

Cometh the hour, cometh the little ginger bloke

Shirley Giles loves Paul Scholes:
[N]ot for him the traditional celebration of sliding across the pitch on his knees with his shirt over his head or making out with the corner flag. No, after tapping the ball past a flouncing Arsenal goalie, he merely grins. And after scoring against Bolton, he makes a (barely visible) thumbs-up sign and... grins.
So do a lot of other people (love him).

posted by norm at 12:11 pm | link

normblog poll: Top 15 Country Music Stars

I received 29 entries, with each participant allowed up to 10 selections. Their selections were distributed over 80 different Country music stars. Of these 56 secured 3 votes or fewer (46 of them, in fact, only a single vote) and were eliminated. Although I announced the exercise as a Top 10, I've settled for a Top 15, since on the actual distribution of the votes this makes the neatest cut.

Thanks from me to all who took part, including the blogger contingent: au currant, British Politics, Majestron, Outside the Beltway, and We the undersigned.

Here they are, then, the results.

Top 15 Country Music Stars

1. Emmylou Harris (16)
2. Johnny Cash (14)
2. Hank Williams (14)
4. Dolly Parton (12)
5. Patsy Cline (11)
6. George Jones (10)
7. Willie Nelson (9)
8. Merle Haggard (8)
9. The Carter Family (7)
9. Iris DeMent (7)
9. Lyle Lovett (7)
9. Gram Parsons (7)
13. Nanci Griffith (6)
13. Waylon Jennings (6)
13. Tammy Wynette (6)

Bubbling Unders: Steve Earle (5), Loretta Lynn (5), Randy Travis (5), Gillian Welch (5), k.d. lang (4), Bill Monroe (4), The Stanley Brothers (4), Townes Van Zandt (4), Dwight Yoakam (4).

I append various comments made along with the submissions

'I saw Dolly interviewed recently and when she was asked about all the money she spends on her appearance, she replied: "Well it costs a lot of money to look this cheap"!'

About George Jones: 'You want to hate it. You want to loathe it. But you can't because it's so good.'

'Whenever someone takes the mick out of country for "Stand By Your Man", I lose respect for them.'

One participant was the well-known children's writer Jacqueline Wilson. She authorized me to disclose that her entry consisted of nine female singers and Willie Nelson - or, as she also said, 'Nine women and one willie.'

'If you include cajun, I would add Eddie LeJeune and D.L.Menard. I had the wonderful experience of meeting Menard, when he played in Bradford in the early 90s. He was about 60 at the time and told me that when he started out, to sing in French was considered very "backwoods". So he played the roadside clubs in Louisiana, singing mostly Hank Williams tunes. Eventually, he met Williams and said he was most generous and kind, but by that point, quite broken down. They talked about how one writes sad songs, and Williams spoke of having a sad life. Menard told me that Williams is still much loved in the cajun community, because Jambalaya lent some legitimacy to local sounds and themes.'

'Jean Shepard (the greatest female singer no one has heard of).'

And here's one for the guys over at Harry's Place: 'BTW, as you probably know, the real or at least American Dave Dudley (born David Darwin Pedruska) is a C&W giant, creator of the truck driving genre - and an honorary lifetime member of the Teamsters.'

Results tabulated with, first, the Carter Family doing their stuff in the background, then Lyle Lovett ditto: including that great song with the great lines, Cause I don't love you any less/But I can't love you anymore.

posted by norm at 11:20 am | link

Monday, August 18, 2003

Medical jargon

Doctors are having to be more careful these days. Here's why:
Medicine is a profession already overflowing with acronyms and technical terms, and doctors over the years have invented plenty of their own.

However, Dr Adam Fox, who works at St Mary's Hospital in London as a specialist registrar in its child allergy unit, says that far fewer doctors now annotate notes with acronyms designed to spell out the unsayable truth about their patients.

The increasing rate of litigation means that there is a far higher chance that doctors will be asked in court to explain the exact meaning of NFN (Normal for Norfolk), FLK (Funny looking kid) or GROLIES (Guardian Reader Of Low Intelligence in Ethnic Skirt).

Dr Fox recounts the tale of one doctor who had scribbled TTFO - an expletive expression roughly translated as "Told To Go Away" - on a patient's notes…"This guy was asked by the judge what the acronym meant, and luckily for him he had the presence of mind to say: 'To take fluids orally'."
It continues in the same vein.

posted by norm at 4:23 pm | link


[This post begins the series trailed here on Friday]

1. The idea of crimes against humanity was born, formally speaking, at the end of the Second World War. It was one of three classes of offence – the other two being crimes against peace and war crimes – in the London Charter signed by the Allied Powers on 8 August 1945, and it made up Count Four of the indictment of Nazi leaders and officials before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. This much is a matter of generally agreed fact. Much else about the idea, however, is contested. It is a site of uncertain meanings and of disagreement over a number of important issues of substance. A central purpose of the work in progress on which this series will be based is to chart a way through these uncertainties and differences with a view to arriving at a concept of crimes against humanity that may be, I hope, at once clear and compelling.

What is a crime against humanity? In the literature which has accumulated about this during more than half a century, it has become a commonplace that the content and boundaries of the idea have been imprecise. They were so from the very beginning. Hannah Arendt was reflecting a common view when she wrote that the judges at Nuremberg had left the new crime in a 'tantalizing state of ambiguity'. Its subsequent evolution, too, 'has not been orderly', as is not altogether surprising for a concept in customary law. There is a wide scholarly consensus about the resulting state of affairs. 'While crimes against humanity are clearly enshrined today in customary international law,' one commentator has said, 'their precise definition is not free of doubt'. 'The scope of crimes against humanity', writes another, 'is difficult to determine precisely'. Yet others speak of the term as 'shrouded in ambiguity', its definition as 'notoriously elusive', a situation of 'chronic definitional confusion'. What I undertake is, accordingly, an exercise in clarification. It can only effectively be that, however, by being at the same time an exercise in reconstruction.

The monograph which I am writing on this subject is intended as a work, not in legal theory, in which I do not have the necessary competence, but in political philosophy. My focus is on the logic of the ethical conception, on the normative and other philosophical assumptions, underlying the offence in law of crimes against humanity. I am trying to domesticate this concept within the domain of political thought. For in a large and still growing literature about it, the contribution of political philosophers has so far been relatively sparse, the main input having been from writers with an expertise in international law. I do not, for my own part, bypass either the legal concept of crimes against humanity or the specialized literature that deals with it. On the contrary, I rely heavily on this literature and I track the concept's emergence and development within international law as the basis for my attempted reconstruction. It is nevertheless the moral and philosophical grounding of the idea that is my principal concern.

2. It is an important principle of the rule of law that there is no crime except under law, that is, except when an action is in breach of some obligatory norm passed or recognized as being one by the body or bodies with proper authority so to pass or recognize it. Most generally this has meant that crimes are crimes under one or another system of municipal law and, since the origin of the modern state, that the definition and the punishment of crime have been seen as being the business of the sovereign authority of the state. It is not a new idea, all the same, that there exist higher, or prior, normative principles limiting the scope of what any sovereign polity may itself lay down or do, principles which even it, and its agents and functionaries, can be in breach of. As Geoffrey Best has written, 'In however unspecific a form, the notion that rulers could fall below a bearable standard in the handling of their subjects was as ancient as the notion that rulers who became unbearable forfeited the right to remain in charge.'

In the history of political thought conceptions of natural law and natural right constitute an obvious source here, pointing as they do beyond local specificity and variety towards general principles valid for all humankind. In the textbooks of international law as well, from Grotius and Vattel onwards, the view has been widely supported that there are limits to what a sovereign authority may legitimately impose within its own domain, so underwriting an option of humanitarian intervention there, by other sovereign powers, in exceptional circumstances. These circumstances have been variously formulated: '[i]f a tyrant… practises atrocities towards his subjects, which no just man can approve' (Grotius); 'if tyranny becomes so unbearable as to cause the Nation to rise' (Vattel); in pursuit of a 'higher policy of justice and humanity' (Harcourt); 'in behalf of a grievously oppressed people, which has never amalgamated with its oppressors as one nation' (Creasy); 'when a state… becomes guilty of a "gross violation" of the rights of humanity' (Engelhardt); 'where the general interests of humanity are infringed by the excesses of a barbarous and despotic government' (Wheaton). Speaking to the notion of crimes against humanity during the trial of the major Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, the Chief Prosecutor for the United Kingdom, Sir Hartley Shawcross, directly referred to this tradition of argument. Though acknowledging as the general position that 'it is for the state to decide how it shall treat its own nationals', Shawcross went on to invoke the view of Grotius, among other texts and precedents, asserting:
Yet international law has in the past made some claim that there is a limit to the omnipotence of the state and that the individual human being, the ultimate unit of all law, is not disentitled to the protection of mankind when the state tramples upon his rights in a manner which outrages the conscience of mankind… [T]he right of humanitarian intervention by war is not a novelty in international law – can intervention by judicial process then be illegal?
Still, even if the universality of natural law and human rights, of justice and humanity, was well established as a theme in political thought and as a current of respected opinion in the literature of international law, it had not definitively established itself as the basis of, precisely, judicial process before the Nuremberg Trial. As Alain Finkielkraut has written, it had 'never been able to descend from the heights of theory… for it had always collided with another founding principle of modern politics – the absolute sovereignty of the state.' It was the Nuremberg Trial which marked the official birth of the concept of crimes against humanity, inaugurating its effective, its practical, emergence into the world of law and the law of the world.

[Tomorrow I will post some further introductory matter, and then on Wednesday begin tackling the central question of this series: Why, or in what sense, can crimes against humanity be reckoned to be, indeed, against humanity?]

posted by norm at 3:31 pm | link

A free pass

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times:
Many Iraqis today express real resentment for the other Arab regimes, and even toward the Palestinians, for how they let themselves be bought off by Saddam. They feel that Saddam used the Iraqi people's oil wealth to buy popularity for himself in the Arab street – by giving Palestinians and other Arab students scholarships and nice apartments in Baghdad, and by paying off all sorts of Arab nationalist writers and newspapers. And then these same Arab intellectuals and media gave Saddam a free pass to torture, repress and starve his own people. In other words, "Arabism," in the minds of many Iraqis, is the cloak that Saddam hid behind to imprison them for 35 years, and now that they can say that out loud, they are saying it.
Read the rest. (Via InstaPundit - again. Linking to IstaPundit, I read somewhere lately, that's like coals to Newcastle. So what can I do? It's an interesting item and there may be two or three readers here not familiar… well, OK, one or two.)

posted by norm at 11:24 am | link


Michael Demmons explains that this is what he is - an Obvioust - and gives some examples:
It's obvious that the BBC is biased.

It's obvious that Saddam Hussein killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and needed to be removed by force.
Yup and yep. But, of course… No, I'll leave the obvioust objection to you. (Via InstaPundit.)

posted by norm at 11:22 am | link


From the Independent on Sunday's Editorial page (accessible only on payment, and so taken from here):
There may well be compelling ethical arguments for removing murderous dictators and, on occasion, supporting the United States in doing so. But the government's argument was that it was necessary to pre-empt the imminent threat of Iraq's WMD - indeed, this was the only legal justification for military action.
If it was the only legal justification, this is law that needs moving on, then – precisely because of the 'compelling ethical arguments'.

posted by norm at 11:14 am | link

David Kelly

Matthew D’Ancona writing about the Hutton Inquiry:
For me, the most poignant, and most bitter, irony of the first week's hearings was this: the revelation that Dr Kelly, far from being a bespectacled, tooth-sucking peacenik, was actually something of a hawk. So closely associated has he become with scepticism about the September dossier and about the disputed "45 minute claim" that he has come to be seen, posthumously, as the personification of the case against the war, a martyr to that cause. This, it now transpires, is a complete misrepresentation of what he really thought about Saddam and the liberation of Iraq.

On June 30, for instance, Dr Kelly wrote to Bryan Wells, the head of counter-proliferation and arms control at the MoD, to make clear that a decade's contact with Saddam's murderous regime had left him in no doubt about "the menace of Iraq". He concluded: "I most certainly have never attempted to undermine Government policy in any way especially since I was personally sympathetic to the war."

In her testimony on Tuesday, Susan Watts, BBC Newsnight's science editor, who spoke several times to Dr Kelly in May, testified "that he thought very definitely that there were [Iraqi] weapons programmes and that if there were to be any evidence of this, it might well be a lengthy process to find that evidence and a process of putting together pieces of information and that that process was really only beginning".

Indeed, when Ms Watts asked if there were any questions he thought she should ask Robin Cook he "suggested he should be asked why he was adamant in his position… that there were no weapons". Mr Blair could not have put it better himself.

On July 8, Martin Howard, the deputy chief of the Defence Intelligence Service, wrote to the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, that Dr Kelly believed it was "nearer 100% likely that there was some existing CW [chemical weapons] in Iraq's possession" at the time of the war. But, in a taped conversation with Ms Watts, the scientist's emphasis was rather different. "That was the real concern that everyone had," Dr Kelly said, "it was not so much what [the Iraqis] have now but what they would have in the future. But that unfortunately wasn't expressed strongly in the dossier, because that takes away the case for war."

What the weapons expert meant was this: that the Government, in his view, was wrong to focus upon existing weapons stocks - the casus belli Mr Blair and George W Bush had agreed upon - when the real problem was Saddam's indisputable intention to develop those stocks in future. Dr Kelly felt that the Prime Minister and his aides were exaggerating the Iraqi dictator's present capability, caricaturing the available intelligence, and, in so doing, discrediting a noble cause.

That, of course, was an easy and lofty conclusion for a backroom MoD egghead to reach, insulated as he was from 24-hour media coverage, hostile parliamentary scrutiny and the need to sell the war to the deeply sceptical public. The dossiers, imperfect as they were, were a comprehensible response to a completely new political dilemma. They were the first, faltering attempt by Western governments to prepare public opinion for a pre-emptive attack on a rogue state with proven links to terrorist organisations which refused to come clean over its WMD stockpile. The stakes were, and are, unimaginably high, as Dr Kelly discovered much too late.
Read the rest. Thanks to Eve Garrard for the link (via Stephen Pollard).

posted by norm at 11:10 am | link

'Ideological sympathy'

Who in Iran – what sort of political forces – made a hero out of a serial killer of women? Well, who do you think?! Read Dan De Luce on the UK premiere of the documentary And Along Came a Spider.

posted by norm at 11:07 am | link

The greatest figures of the 20th century

John Hawkins gives the result of his poll of right-of-centre bloggers on this.

posted by norm at 11:06 am | link


A few days ago I drew attention to a new Swiss blog, Un blog-notes à plusieurs mains. It's now retitled 'Un swissroll', not exactly at my suggestion, but as a result of my post about it.

James Joyner at Outside the Beltway, makes his list of 'interesting liberals' among bloggers and includes normblog on it. I've been wanting to say something publicly since he earlier welcomed me to the blogosphere, and this now gives me the opportunity to do so. Though liberal means something different on your side of the water than it does on ours, James, what I've been wanting to say is – Cheers!

A friend writes: 'Oliver Kamm is awesome. Actually I don't really believe in him; I'm convinced there's no such person. He's really a committee – a committee of avenging angels, mind you, but nonetheless a committee. No one person could possibly do all that stuff so fast... my jaw dropped at the energy and precision. It's like reading a right-minded hurricane.'

posted by norm at 11:03 am | link

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Diana Mosley - 'A better class of fascist'

Read this and this as an antidote to that.

posted by norm at 12:04 pm | link

Guest spot: Eve Garrard on the Bleeb and the outage

Last night I watched BBC News 24's report of the return of electrical power in the US and Canada. It was all about the losses, the dangers, the inefficiencies, the scope for anger, for grievance, for resentment, and so on. From time to time they rather grudgingly noticed that there hadn't been any riots, nor had the Toronto street boiled over in rage and fury. A perfectly good and interesting report could have been made about the remarkable self-control, self-help and mutual support of the population, and that would have been more newsworthy because less expected. What's wrong with our media? The relentless emphasis on the debit side to any event has the subtext that resentment and grievance and finding someone else to blame are the proper, the natural, response to any disaster. But this undermines our strength and optimism, and it could weaken liberal democracy by eroding the virtues needed to sustain it.

posted by norm at 12:03 pm | link

Will it sell?

According to this source the world's two most notorious fugitives have a new joint venture. And still there are those who doubt that there are links.

posted by norm at 12:01 pm | link


From Alan Johnson and Debbie Williams I have a suggested addition to the nonpareil category: Billie Holiday. I have to confess that not only do I agree with this suggestion, I am also embarrassed by my omission of her. Ella and all the others notwithstanding, it was inexplicable. Apologies.

posted by norm at 11:59 am | link

Sports pic(k)s

The Observer today has a competition for the greatest sporting photograph. I must say, I like No 3.

posted by norm at 11:54 am | link

Shared passion

Talking of the premier league, Paul Mirengoff over at Power Line enthuses about the beginning of the new season, explains his passion for the game and anticipates – as it turned out, correctly – that his team (Everton) will lose. 'My few blogs about soccer', he laments, 'have not yielded any evidence that my passion is shared by readers…' Not by all readers.

posted by norm at 11:53 am | link

Maiden Voyage

Sunday morning, Herbie Hancock and the guys on my machine - I'll take it. Cook and Morton:
Maiden Voyage has been tussled over more than once. Revisionists will argue that it is glib and superficial, not at all the masterpiece it has been claimed to be. We increasingly disagree and have no hesitation this time round in promoting it to the premier league… it represents a colossal achievement from a man still just 24 years old… [George] Coleman plays with delicate understatement and Hancock never puts a foot wrong.
They recommend the album; I recommend their marvellous book.

posted by norm at 11:50 am | link

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