Saturday, August 30, 2003

Grounding in physical reality

Along the Crumb Trail, Gary Jones has an interesting post on nature and environmental policy. He's discussing a book by Paul Wapner which looks, from Gary's account of it, more postmodern-friendly than is to my own taste; wherein (my taste, that is) there's a good amount of room for the brute realities of the natural world apart from how they're perceived, not to say constructed – no, not to say it – and shaped, by human beings. But if I haven't misunderstood something here, Gary's response to the book's argument ends up philosophically in the right sort of place.

posted by norm at 5:49 pm | link

Compulsory reading

Enlarging on a suggestion of fellow-Loopster Steve de Wijze's, I think this article should be compulsory reading for all students of the social sciences and humanities – and for a few others as well, including many of their teachers. It begins so:
Here is a story you probably haven't heard, about how a team of American researchers inadvertently introduced a virus into a third world country they were studying... They were experts in their field, and they had the best intentions; they thought they were helping the people they were studying, but in fact they had never really seriously considered whether what they were doing might have ill effects.
The article goes on to argue, amongst other related things, that 'the goal of truth goes without saying, in every human culture'. And it speaks of the author's friend Richard Rorty, but in less frivolous terms than he was dealt with here last Saturday. The author is Daniel Dennett.

posted by norm at 5:44 pm | link

Focus ('But where is the green parrot?' 2)

Round at The Virtual Stoa some days ago, Chris Brooke offered a critical reflection on my green parrot/WMD post. He suggested I'd missed the point, ascribing (as he says I did) Tony Blair's exaggerations over WMD – or worse than exaggerations, should it turn out there was deliberate deception by him in the run-up to the war – to 'a silly error of reasoning on his part', and overlooking the context which actually explains Blair's motives in exaggerating or worse. That context? Existing international law and the UN.

I must say I'm perplexed by this line of criticism. Chris quotes a single paragraph from all of my argument about the war, and ironizes (mildly) at my expense on the basis of it alone: on 'Planet Geras' it looks thus, whereas in fact… and Chris then tells it like it really is.

I have twice recently set out the humanitarian-intervention case (as I see it) for the Iraq war, and on both occasions I dealt explicitly with the context Chris invokes – international law (see the paragraph beginning 'Just think for a moment…') and the international system – thus showing myself to be perfectly well aware of it, and of the weight it carried in public perception. Why assume that, in writing about Blair and Bush and their motives for saying and doing what they did, I would overlook this context? Because I didn't happen to mention it in the paragraph Chris cites? But this is his problem, not mine. Of course, he's not obliged to read anything else I've posted on the topic. Still, I think it's a reasonable expectation that, in engaging critically with someone, you inform yourself adequately what the position you're engaging with looks like in the round. That Chris and I evidently hold different views about the upshot of the international-law context for the arguments for and against the Iraq war doesn't affect this point. To suggest I might just have overlooked the context in thinking about Blair's conduct isn't fair comment.

There's another noteworthy gap in what Chris says. Acording to him, 'it's not at all bizarre that the media should now want to shine a spotlight' on the WMD issue. Agreed. In the post he engages with I say for my own part that that focus may 'be seen as understandable in the simple terms of responsible public scrutiny and criticism'. I also suggest, however, that the focus may be overdetermined, and use the green parrot book as a way of drawing attention to what many of those so focused may be wanting to divert attention from. Chris says nothing about this – as, admittedly, he is not under any obligation to. But I would reckon it makes the recent and current focus on WMD doubly and trebly non-bizarre.

posted by norm at 5:35 pm | link

Arrests for the Najaf bombing

The BBC is reporting this:
Four men have been arrested in connection with Friday's car bomb blast in Najaf which killed at least 95 people.

The local governor said two of the suspects were members of the former regime from Basra, while the others were non-Iraqi Arabs subscribing to the puritannical Wahhabi Muslim faith.

The four men are said to have confessed to the bombing and to other plots intended to destabilise the country.
BBC correspondent Valerie Jones, at the scene of the blast outside the Imam Ali Mosque, said the crowds were chanting against Saddam Hussein and the US forces.

"They are blaming Saddam Hussein supporters for the attack but also they are starting to rather vehemently blame the Americans for not providing them security," our correspondent said.
The so-called Iraqi 'resistance' are not resisting, in any event, on behalf of these people.

posted by norm at 5:25 pm | link

Slimewatch UK No 3

The Guardian rounds up Alastair Campbell's highs and lows. Amongst the lows: 'His obsessive battle with the BBC over Iraq that led to the death of David Kelly and the Hutton inquiry'. Note 'led to'. And note the assumed knowledge about the mind of David Kelly.

Update. A decent contrast (in the sense of moral decency) is this observation from Simon Hoggart on the same day:
None of us can look into another person's heart, but none of that [what goes before - read it] seems to add up to a reason for suicide… I don't for one moment believe the silly conspiracy theories that are shooting around - why on earth would the government want to bring this inquiry on itself? - but I am more puzzled than ever.
(Updated at 11.40 AM on Sun Aug 31.)

posted by norm at 5:10 pm | link

Friday, August 29, 2003


[The earlier instalments in this series were posted on August 15, 18, 19, 20, 22, 25 and 27.]

I turn now to trying to identify the core meaning of the concept of crimes against humanity. This next theme has already been anticipated and it should be seen, I shall argue, as one of two fundamental, and linked, components in the understanding of why crimes against humanity are properly so described. It is that (B2) crimes against humanity are inhumane acts, but inhumane acts of and beyond a certain level of seriousness. Scattered abundantly through the literature, the terminology in which this level of seriousness is expressed displays a certain variety, but it is a variety which is familiar. Crimes against humanity are grave crimes. They are 'atrocious acts', 'the most atrocious offences', 'the worst atrocities imaginable'; acts 'of unforgivable brutality', set apart in their 'wickedness', intolerable by their 'savagery'. They are acts 'so serious', 'so cruel or inhuman', 'so heinous'. They are 'odious', 'peculiarly horrific', 'abhorrent', 'unspeakable'. Availing myself of a nuance I think there is in English between 'inhumane' (which can range from unkind or moderately harsh, on one side, to extremely severe and worse than that, on the other) and 'inhuman' (which is generally applied only over the more severe segment of this range), I reformulate the idea under consideration to read that (B2) crimes against humanity are inhumane acts of and beyond a certain threshold of gravity or seriousness, or they are for short inhuman acts.

An obvious problem with the idea so formulated is going to be that of specifying the relevant threshold with any great degree of precision. From one point of view we need not be too troubled by this. In matters of social, political and moral differentiation precision of a mathematical kind is often not attainable, even when it is desirable. The philosophical concept of crimes against humanity may be allowed some rough edges; it may be allowed to provide a merely broad and general guideline, though of course the application of the concept in law will have to operate with definitions of the actual acts forbidden that are as precise as can be. However, the permissibility of some roughness here notwithstanding, if a threshold of relative gravity is to yield even such a rough boundary around crimes against humanity, we will need some way of specifying the nature of this boundary, of explicating at least the type of seriousness involved and also something of the degree. I advert to what I see as the second fundamental component in explaining why crimes against humanity are that.

It is an idea usually traced back to the French Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, M. François de Menthon, when he spoke of (B3) 'crimes against [the] human status (la condition humaine)' – or, as he also referred to this, 'status as a human being'. De Menthon's own elaboration of the idea I do not find especially economical or perspicuous. It encompassed those faculties the exercise and development of which 'constitute the meaning of human life'; essential rights, including the rights to family life, nationality, and work, and the 'right of spiritual liberty'; the dignity of each individual human being; 'the permanence of the human being considered within the whole of humanity'; the Kantian imperative to consider people as ends and never as means; and more. De Menthon's suggestion has been widely taken up nevertheless, even if it is not always articulated in an identical way. Crimes against humanity are said to be crimes against the human status or condition; against the human person or personality; against the nature or the essence of mankind; against the essential attributes or essential rights of human beings. They are acts 'destructive of a person’s humanity'; or that amount to a 'rejection of the moral significance of…the sufferer's humanity'; or that 'violate… individuals in what they have in common with all other persons'. In an elegant but elusive mot, 'There are crimes against humanity because the victim is a depositary of the latter, at the same time as being a member of it.'

A difficulty in attempting to pin this theme down may be seen in the variant of it according to which crimes against humanity attack the human dignity of their victims. It is the same difficulty as we encountered with the 'inhumane acts' (without more ado) characterization. A person's human dignity can be violated by anything from assaults which cause the most abject suffering and degradation to, for example, the ingratitude and pettiness shown towards King Lear by his daughters Goneril and Regan. Richard Vernon generalizes the point to cast doubt on the whole conception of crimes against humanity as acts directed against the human status of their victims. It is, he feels, too undiscriminating: in light of Kant's second formulation of the categorical imperative it could be applied to wrongdoing in general. However, if we take the notion of an offence against the human status together with the previous point about relative seriousness, I think Vernon's worry can be met. We can hold that for an act to be considered a crime against humanity in the sense of its being a crime against the human status of its victims, it must be harmful to their fundamental interests as human beings. It must be harmful to their interests as human beings just as such, causing or threatening severe, or (as frequently) irreversible, damage to their well-being and their lives. Genocide and torture are paradigmatic in this respect. On the other hand, taking some small-scale advantage of an acquaintance without her knowledge – say, by introducing a not too serious kind of contraband into her luggage before she travels abroad, to be retrieved at her destination by someone in cahoots with you – would obviously not make the cut, even though it treats your traveller-acquaintance merely as a means. On this account of things, the specification of the threshold of moral gravity will more or less map on to a definition of basic human rights, conceived according to the interest theory of rights. I commend it as a way of understanding the core meaning of the concept of crimes against humanity. They are crimes against the human status, taking the latter idea together with the requirement of a threshold of seriousness, and interpreting the two ideas, taken together, in the terms just indicated: of the fundamental interests of human beings just as such, across all the cultural and other specificities that make individual human beings as different from one another as they are.

I shall have a little more to say about the universalist assumption involved in this way of understanding the concept. Before I do, I want first to explain why I reject two particular versions of the 'crimes against the human status' thesis; and then to consider whether there is any good basis for the claim that all human beings, the whole of humankind, are the victims of crimes against humanity.

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

posted by norm at 3:06 pm | link


News on the thug Mugabe:
Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, is building a lavish palace costing £3.75m on the outskirts of the capital, Harare.

Furnishings and security are expected to send the cost to more than £6m at a time when nearly half of Zimbabwe's population is dependent on international food aid.

Its sprawling accommodation includes 25 bedrooms with bathrooms and spas. It is three times the size of the president's official residence, State House, and his adjacent offices.
"It is an affront to the suffering people of Zimbabwe," Mr Makumbe [a political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe and member of the anti-corruption group, Transparency International] said. "It shows that Mugabe will need a further push to convince him that he really must negotiate an end to his reign."

posted by norm at 12:09 pm | link

David Warren

He's back after a month's holiday, and I'm glad he is. From his latest piece:
What we were told was therefore not news, but rather a part of the media drumroll on U.S. casualties - designed to do what Saddam Hussein could not, and mount pressure on the Bush administration, until it agrees to cut and run, leaving its pro-democratic Iraqi allies to the dogs, and inspiring an escalation of Islamist terrorism all over the world, at this proof that America is a "paper tiger".

Returning from four weeks of holiday, in which I did my best to avoid all news, I find myself again somewhat shocked by the sheer malice of the mainstream media. The journalists themselves are overwhelmingly "liberal". In the U.S., for instance, they have been shown to vote as a class for Democrats over Republicans by margins of more than ten-to-one; and further, that they tend to identify with the left wing of that Democrat Party. They want to bring down President Bush, at all costs; and if Iraq is turned back into a Saddamite killing field, or Al Qaeda is given a new lease on life, they don't particularly care. For they smell Republican blood.

Turning to Iraq itself, the situation continues to improve. It was never going to be a rose garden, but it is clear to impartial observers within the country that Iraqis themselves are co-operating - the overwhelming majority within each of its religious and ethnic groups, including even the Sunnis, co-operating with each other and with the U.S. military to hunt down Ba'athists and insurgents, and rebuild the country both physically and institutionally, even through the baking summer heat. It is the most promising event in post-colonial Arab history.
The question on my mind is thus, will the Americans funk out? And the only thing I can say for sure, is that if they do, it will be an unparalleled disaster.
Read the rest, and also, relatedly, this by Mark Steyn.

posted by norm at 12:04 pm | link

When you're smiling

Canadian officials say no.
Canadians applying for passports must now submit photos showing "neutral expressions". They cannot be smiling, frowning, glaring or grimacing, the Canadian passport office said.
Think bland. OK, think Canada.

posted by norm at 11:55 am | link

To an Israeli reader

Hi there Fran! Thanks for your interest.

posted by norm at 11:51 am | link

Thursday, August 28, 2003


Under the title 'Cakewalk: Getting it Wrong – U.S. Military Might and Myths', there's a first-rate article by Fred Smoler in Dissent, giving an overview of the successful military campaign in Iraq. I quote extensively, but you should read it from beginning to end.
By any comparative standard, Coalition losses were negligible: there were sixty-eight American deaths attributed to enemy action, and adding in British deaths, the Coalition fatalities were around a hundred - losses terrible for those who bore them, and for those who mourn them, but fantastically small in any historical perspective.

What is a suitable perspective? Vietnam? Allied deaths in the Gulf and Iraq Wars totaled less than the United States incurred in an average week at the height of the Vietnam War. The Second World War? Pick a proverbial military triumph of the Second World War, in fact, pick the first: the Polish campaign. The Wehrmacht crushed Poland in a thousand hours, and that first blitzkrieg remains a byword for an appalling mismatch. In the course of that mismatch, the Poles inflicted fifty thousand casualties on the Wehrmacht. The Wehrmacht, of course, had significantly outnumbered the Poles, while the hundred thousand Coalition troops had routed three hundred thousand Iraqi troops, and perhaps another hundred thousand militia.

Combine the disparity of losses and the relative size of the forces committed, and you probably have to go back to Agincourt to find so great a victory - but the lethality of weapons has increased notoriously since Agincourt, which makes the minute Coalition losses even more astonishing. So the Iraq War is more or less sui generis: an unprecedented feat of arms that many observers refused to recognize while it was occurring, and which some could not bring themselves to acknowledge even after it had transpired.
The misperception and misinterpretation of the "failure" of Shiites to rise in the south - or in Baghdad - suggests that observers both in the region and in the world press have a shaky grasp of the probable behavior of people incarcerated in totalitarian regimes. People who have been repeatedly and effectively terrorized - and within recent memory betrayed and abandoned by the outside world - are arguably unlikely to risk everything on the off chance that the Americans will arrive before the Mukhabarat does. They will probably wait until the authority of the regime is very visibly disintegrating. The tipping point came late, when American armor raided downtown Baghdad, but it came. People who assumed that the absence of an immediate revolt meant that the people of Iraq were loyal to the regime were very foolish, or peculiarly inattentive to the decades of reports from human rights organizations. Since the fall of Baghdad, the photographs of, and interviews with, men with amputated tongues, cropped ears, gouged eyes, and hideous scars; the reports of the rape couches with restraints and convenient video cameras - so that the rapes could be demonstrated to relatives living abroad; the prison of children liberated on the road to Baghdad; and all the ghastly lot of it, have presumably made some of this clear. But perhaps not.

A number of observers also mistook the attacks by the Saddam Fedayeen for signs of popular resistance. This was like someone mistaking the escalating 1944 savageries of the desperate and despairing Milice for a sign of the broad popularity of its creator, Pierre Laval, and the Vichy regime - but oddly enough, no one at the time seems to have made that mistake. Journalism may not be a progressive science.

It is tempting to pronounce the pessimist case bankrupt. After all, the Arab street did not rise; the Turks did not invade northern Iraq; hecatombs of civilians were not slaughtered by promiscuous air attacks or Iraqi chemical weapons. Regime terrorism did not provoke systematic and savage Coalition responses; urban warfare did not gut the American army; the war did not involve Israel. A few days before the war began, published predictions by the more respected nongovernmental organizations ranged up to fifty thousand civilian deaths, five hundred thousand civilian injuries, and two million refugees and displaced people. The smallest error in this series is off by more than an order of magnitude. But the pessimists retain a powerful argument: proverbially, one can neither mine coal with bayonets nor sit on them. Stable democratic societies are not spontaneously generated by bayonets, either. The work of securing a decent Iraq necessarily began with war, but that goal has many enemies and amazingly few friends. It would be difficult to produce an Iraqi regime as ghastly as the one we have destroyed. Whether we can produce a vastly superior one is an open question. Americans are much better at war than is generally understood, but that is no reason to think that we will show any genius at liberal imperialism.
Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link.

posted by norm at 9:44 pm | link

Trotsky's identity

Roger Simon has already linked to this piece from the Washington Post about Trotsky's great-granddaughter, and Chris Bertram (via other links) earlier pointed to another feature about her. She's evidently a remarkable person, but one thing which particularly caught my interest was this passage from the former of the two pieces:
Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein of Jewish parents. Esteban Volkow uses Bronstein in his own name, but does not practice Judaism. Neither does his daughter, although she takes pride in a background that is half Jewish and half Roman Catholic from her Spanish-born mother.

"I have the two great religions," Volkow says, but she claims neither. "Trotsky was very sensitive to how identities segregate people, so he didn't identify himself as Jewish. He said he belonged to the human race, and I was never given any type of identification as belonging to the Jewish or the Christian."
As this relates to Trotsky, I believe it's true. He saw his primary identity as a universal one. But it's less than the whole story; and this story – of the Marxist revolutionary of Jewish origin – has a significance going beyond the person of Trotsky himself. I mean to post a short essay on the subject within the next few days.

posted by norm at 4:43 pm | link


Naomi Klein is on the slimepool page of my dnoc today. The war against terror for her is in essence a war against human rights. Money quote is her closing flourish (apropos Argentina at the time of the dictatorship):
As with all wars on terror [emphasis added], terrorism wasn't the target; it was the excuse to wage the real war: on people who dared to dissent.
Points towards a detailed critique for those who have the energy: (a) Osama and his crowd, they're dissenters? (b) Why, advocating human rights, does Naomi pass over the human rights of the victims of this species of dissenter?

Michael Totten has a related post up, and so does Oliver Kamm.

posted by norm at 4:33 pm | link

Left meaning

Over at Harry's Place both Marcus and Harry have posted on what being on the left means to them. Why am I telling you this? Well, so that you'll know, and also because Harry has issued a call to certain other parties to do the same, and one of said other parties is me. I accept – how could I not without seeming… pusillanimous? – but on my terms. And my terms are: when I can get to it.

For the time being, I'm happy to go along with this from Harry himself:
I have certainly retained the belief that raw capitalism is not the peak of human achievement and that it is the duty of those on the left to work towards something better.

To be frank, I think if you stop believing that then you are not part of any left that I identify with.
[I]f we are looking for what makes me consider myself still 'of the left'… it is those early emotions, partly a loyalty to 'our side', partly a commitment to a project that has decades of history behind it and above all the feeling that there is still much room for improvement in the world.
(Marcus's view is here.)

I would also refer anyone desperate for some more detailed idea of what I might think on this subject to this and this. Finally, I give notice, Harry, that once I've acquitted myself of the obligation you've laid on me here, you'll owe me one. Who knows what I'll be calling on you to voice an opinion about? Country music? Your seventh-favourite western of all time? I'll think of something demanding.

posted by norm at 4:23 pm | link

Lacking in confidence?

The Dude on the Decalogue:
The first four of the commandments have little to do with either law or morality, and the first three suggest a terrific insecurity on the part of the person supposedly issuing them.
Read the rest. (Via Harry's Place.)

posted by norm at 4:15 pm | link

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Stick 'em in

Alan way down there at A. E. Brain links to an exercise you'll enjoy - unless, of course, you're one of those all-forgiving, see their point of view, arty-farty, namby-pamby, dnoc-reading, give them a nice cup of tea and a little human sympathy, love everybody, he also was somebody's child, pomo-relativist, to understand is to forgive, sort of wet liberal-in-the-bad-sense wash-outs. Take a look for yourself - unless, of course, etc.

posted by norm at 11:35 pm | link


[The earlier instalments in this series were posted on August 15, 18, 19, 20, 22 and 25.]

A similar critical objection (to that discussed in CAH 6) applies to the other half-right idea. Crimes against humanity, it is often said, (A4) are acts that 'shock' the conscience of mankind. Or they 'outrage' or 'offend' the conscience, or the moral judgement, of mankind. Or they are 'repugnant in the public conscience' or 'intolerable from the point of view of the entire international community'; or they represent a challenge to the 'imperatives', or the 'law', or the 'code', of 'universal conscience'. These usages come down from the Martens Clause in the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. I shall take them together with other themes in the literature which are closely related to them: such as that crimes against humanity are acts which shame everyone, or which strike at 'the self-respect of the human race'; that they violate 'all recognized values of humanity', or 'universal moral values', or humankind's 'highest values'; or that they involve 'the destruction of human culture', or 'undermine the very foundation of the enlightened international community'. I do not myself have a problem with the evident assumption in all this of the existence of universal moral values. Others, however, do. I shall come back to the issue in concluding this series.

Yet, if crimes against humanity do indeed shock the conscience of humankind, or shame us all, or cut against our most important values, none of these consequences of them could alone suffice to justify regarding all human beings as their victims. That (for any 'we') we are shocked or shamed or offended in our conscience or our values by acts done to others, even though these acts may be crimes, and awful crimes, against them, is not a demanding enough criterion as to what may be accounted a criminal act against us. For shock, shame and moral offence as such do not establish severity of harm. It may be that it is not humanity-as-victim – an idea to which I will return – that is the operative notion here, but humanity-as-sovereign once more: as a global community we are shocked, shamed or offended by certain kinds of act and, being so, we assert our authority with regard to them, resolve to treat them as criminal and subject to punishment. But then the question has to be addressed, in virtue of what about such acts are human beings so shocked, shamed or offended? Or what is it about such acts that carries them across the threshold to where our most important values are located? Unless we have an answer to these questions, underpinning the shocked conscience of humanity, conscience could come to take in – or, rather, rule out – far too much under the heading of crimes against humanity. It could come to rule out swearing in public, or mere outrages of fashion. Conscience, for present purposes, needs more than intersubjectivity as its basis.

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

posted by norm at 11:10 am | link

More on suicide bombers

Franco Alemán emails me as follows:
I'm writing from Spain. First of all, let me… thank you…You [can] probably imagine the oppressive atmosphere down here in which it has become very difficult to publicly articulate any support for the Iraq war from a non-right perspective without being labeled "an Aznar poodle, who in turn is nothing more than a Bush poodle". It's been much worse here than Britain, but even worse than France, where as you know better than me some high profile voices from the left were openly in favor of ending Saddam's regime.
The reason for writing is that I'm following the "suicide attacker vs homicide bomber" debate and I wanted to ask you if a better solution might be "suicide murderer", but English is not my native language so I may lose some nuance here… [I]t reflects better than "homicide bomber" the fact that the purpose is to murder people rather than 'merely' committing one or several homicides; as I understand [it], "murder" is generally a form of homicide with specific aggravating circumstances (premeditation, being particularly cruel, by arson, etc). At least this [is] what happens, for example, in Spain's legal system, which makes the distinction between "homicidio" and "asesinato"… [And] it doesn't leave out the "suicide" factor, which reflects an extra level of 'wickedness' in the crime.

This logic would make sense in Spanish - though as you can guess there [are] no [such] distinctions in the Spanish press, [which] generally uses the equivalent expression to "suicide attacker", or even "man bomb", if not simply "a Palestinian activist exploding a bomb".
Thanks for your communication, Franco.

posted by norm at 11:01 am | link

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Guess who, Part 42,769

That's as in guess who gets lumbered with the primary responsibility for the death of Sergio Vieira de Mello. Why, the President of the USA, that's who. It happens in this little number by Marjorie Cohn, a professor of law, no less, at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. How does it work? Thus:
But for George W. Bush's illegal and misguided war on Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, would be alive today.
So, you see, George Bush is a full moral and political agent, making choices, in this case 'misguided' and 'illegal' ones. And the people who planned and perpetrated the bombing which actually caused de Mello's death? Ah well, they're pathologized and objectified. For Ms Cohn, professor of law, they figure first under the rubric:
the twisted minds of the terrorists
And they figure next, alongside 'the arrogance of occupation' (and once again, of course, people who act arrogantly could choose to act differently, could they not?), which...
...creates roiling hatred against the occupier.
Now this sounds just uncontrollable, almost like a natural process. And in any case we've seen that it is secondary, 'created' by someone else.

All of which would not be worth noting but for how typical it has become, a lazy (a)moral thinking which just cuts into the chain of cause and effect where it fancies, dehumanizes those whose actions it wants to condone, exonerate or mitigate, and offers not so much as a single syllable of explanation as to why Martin Luther King, say, or Nelson Mandela, didn't get twisted and roiled into mass-murdering people.

Look, I blame the origins of capitalism, whatever they were, for George W. Bush. I blame Osama bin Laden for the war in Iraq. I blame the architects of the Treaty of Versailles for the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. I blame globalization for Harold Pinter and Tony Benn. I blame Cecil John Rhodes for the thug Mugabe. Work it out, Marj... Hey, Margie, I blame Al Jolson.

Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link (but blame upon him for these last ravings).

posted by norm at 10:56 pm | link

Continuing the Australian conversation

Jim Nolan resumes the WMD argument down his way:
Since the expulsion of the UN weapons inspectors in 1998, a veritable procession of people and organisations – including former US president Bill Clinton, former US vice-president Al Gore, the German intelligence agencies and a plethora of weapons and Middle East experts – presented cogent evidence of the Iraqi dictator's appetite for WMD development.
Read the rest.

posted by norm at 10:48 pm | link


To the friends of mine who sometimes read this blog and were at the party yesterday, I just want to reiterate my thanks to you for being there and for making it a lovely occasion. In C major - THANKS.

Among the presents I received yesterday was this blog-relevant item.

posted by norm at 10:47 pm | link

Monday, August 25, 2003


Today is his, though he's younger; and it's also his, though he's older; and it's mine. So here ends the blogging till tomorrow.

posted by norm at 11:00 am | link


[The earlier instalments in this series were posted on August 15, 18, 19, 20 and 22.]

I move on to two ideas which, as a kind of shorthand, I will call half right, though it might be more accurate to say that they are right but secondary. What I mean is that both ideas can reasonably be seen as forming part of a rounded concept of crimes against humanity, but neither is primary to explaining why some acts are justifiably to be treated as being crimes against humanity. I explain in what follows.

The first of these two half-right ideas is (A3) that it is humankind that is the relevant sovereignty where such acts are concerned, humankind the authority ruling them to be illegal and, consequently, flouted by them. When in 1890 George Washington Williams called, apropos of conditions in the Belgian Congo, for an international commission to investigate the charges he was levelling 'in the name of Humanity', this was perhaps his thought – in the name of humanity qua global community. But perhaps also not, for he may have been appealing to the other sense of 'humanity', to the moral sentiment or set of principles. The idea of humankind-as-sovereign seems in any case to have been implicit in the legal thinking by the time of Nuremberg. Geoffrey Best says of the nations that took it on themselves to bring the leading Nazi figures to trial at Nuremberg that they were 'representatives simply of the human race'. And the Chief Prosecutor for the United Kingdom at Nuremberg, Sir Hartley Shawcross, gave expression to the same assumption in declaring that if 'dictators and tyrants… debase the sanctity of man in their own country they act at their peril, for they affront the international law of mankind'. In another of the post-war trials, the Einsatzgruppen case conducted under Control Council Law No. 10, a US military tribunal stated similarly that the defendants were being tried 'because they are accused of having offended against society itself, and society, as represented by international law, has summoned them for explanation'; their crimes, it said, were '[n]ot crimes against any specified country, but against humanity. Humanity is the sovereignty which has been offended'. As the tribunal also declared: 'Humanity can assert itself by law. It has taken on the role of authority'. I have noted in an earlier post how the Israeli Supreme Court in the Eichmann case later reaffirmed this view, saying that the state which prosecutes perpetrators of crimes against humanity acts as 'the organ and agent of the international community'. There is also scholarly opinion to the same effect: that crimes against humanity get to be what they are by the agency of a sovereign instance hierarchically superior to that of each state, by the sovereign authority of the totality of states as expressed through international law.

The thesis is clear enough and in its way unobjectionable, except if one questions – as I shall not do here – the whole idea of the law of nations, of a corpus of universal law to which states themselves are subject. Still, the reason I call the humanity-as-sovereign notion secondary and therefore merely half right is that we are in a position to say of any given crime against humanity that humanity is the sovereignty it falls foul of, only once the class of act it applies to has been defined and criminalized as being an offence in this category. That humanity is the sovereignty which such acts fall foul of cannot itself be the reason for so defining and criminalizing them – a claim that would be circular – it is the consequence of so defining and criminalizing them. This mirrors the point I made with respect to acts which threaten the peace and security of the world by violating certain norms of international law. It will not do to argue that crimes against humanity are 'offences against all of humanity' because their prevention and punishment are the business of all nations. Their prevention and punishment are the business of all nations; or at least that is now the regulative ideal. But they are so because they have come to be treated as offences against humanity to be prevented and punished. In virtue of what, though, have they?

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

posted by norm at 10:59 am | link

Ladies and Gentlemen… the transcendent Bob Dylan

Regarding my earlier post on this, thanks to Jackie D for confirmation that Jack Nicholson introduced Dylan at the Live Aid gig with more or less the words I'd remembered; and thanks to Gary Jones for pointing me towards a couple of sites that discuss the song I and I. Gary for his part responds to my invitation - 'Can anyone suggest some ways of understanding the titular refrain?' - as follows:
I find the argument that it is meant in the Rasta sense convincing. It's a common usage that refers to the belief that the human and the divine coexist in humans. Bob has many reggae/Caribbean connections so it is a credible interpretation; he is certainly aware of that usage and has dabbled in religion. Of course, it's Bob, so he would have a personalized variation of the usage informed by his view.

The lines "I and I/In creation where one's nature neither honors nor forgives/I and I/One says to the other, no man sees my face and lives" do seem to be about such a duality and use key words such as creation and nature. The last line can be seen as a reference to Hebrew scripture.

"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."

It reminds me of the old saying that "The cobbler's children always need shoes", and its variants such as "The roofers roof always leaks". When one has expertise in an activity it is possible, and tempting, to dance close to the edge, to take risks and willingly defer gratifications in knowledge that one has the skill and means to react quickly and surely to immediate need. It also implies that the wages of cobblers and roofers may be inadequate, like the artist that can't afford to own his own paintings. Or... perhaps the physician that can't heal himself.

I should add that I never think that I know what Bob meant, or that he meant only one thing. I suspect his lyrics are layered, intentionally and playfully crafted to have multiple plausible interpretations, intentionally crafted to be meaning generators that spark new views in anyone who hears them. I suspect he does this for his own amusement, that the song once written is as ambiguous and variable to him as it is to us. But... I may simply be projecting my Whitmanesque multitudes on him.
Sounds good.

posted by norm at 10:51 am | link

Oliver doesn't live there anymore

Oliver Kamm has moved. Check out his new home. He is maintaining the old site as an archive.

posted by norm at 10:43 am | link

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Aftermath of the UN Bombing

Read this:
The terrorists watch CNN and the BBC and, understandably, they figure that in Iraq America, Britain, the UN and all the rest will do what most people do when they run up against someone deranged: back out of the room slowly. They're wrong. There's no choice. You kill it here, or the next generation of suicide bombers will be on buses in Rotterdam, Manchester, Lyons, and blowing up the UN building in Manhattan. This is the battlefield.
All of it. And read this:
The more we listened to last week's debates about the U.N. bombing, the less we knew. Meanwhile, some remarkable facts about the lead-up to that attack and its aftermath have gone unreported. Why? Because the truth involved American heroes.
All of it. Both via InstaPundit.

posted by norm at 11:53 pm | link

Apt slogans

From Stephen Pollard:
The Texas KKK's new slogan: Working Toward A Positive Future For All Mankind. This is my favourite bit: We do not seek to offend anyone by our beliefs. We strongly advocate the peaceful existence of all mankind.
There must be a few moments of fun to be had out of this. How about for the Guardian: Resolutely fighting the enemies of democracy and the war against terrorism. Other suggestions welcome.

(Thanks to Eve Garrard for putting this my way.)

posted by norm at 4:22 pm | link

Iraqi Contrasts 3

Finally on the same theme:
The Arab League does not know how to ingest this new creature - an occupied state which is not fighting with all its might against the occupier, an Arab state that is not insisting on being a member of an Arab framework. The Arab embassies are operating on various levels in Iraq, but the heads of the Arab states have not yet declared their recognition of the new government. Businesspeople from all the Arab states are already acting intensively in Baghdad's markets, but no head of state has come to visit.

"It's like discovering your sister, whom you grew up with, is, in fact, not your sister," says a diplomat from an Arab state. "We shall have to make a decision soon to determine whether we adopt Iraq and preserve the Arab unity of rank, despite the fact that this is a government appointed by an occupier, or we let things take shape on their own."

posted by norm at 3:48 pm | link

Iraqi contrasts 2

According to this report from The Age:
The Age is one of only a few news organisations to have interviewed members of the resistance. They made no pretence about the thousands of foreigners, all of them Arab, who have joined the fight. But they denied any active participation by al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam or Saddam Hussein.

They were Sunnis and they argued they had thousands of their own people fighting and willing to fight for a nationally controlled resistance that had banned former Baathists from any leadership position.
From the same newspaper, also this regarding the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad:
Suspicions have focused on the guards rather than other local UN personnel because their links to Saddam's security service were close.
Those are the suspicions of US officials. And these are the views expressed in a statement from the Iraqi Communist Party:
All through its dark rule, Saddam’s dictatorship inflicted enormous damage on our Iraqi people and country. The crumbling remnants of that regime have attempted to continue the same criminal policies by means of sabotage targeting what remains of the infrastructure, especially water, power and telecom facilities, oil pipelines, and other services which are essential for our people.

Escalating their criminal activity, these elements, together with some mercenaries, committed a terrorist attack on the UN office in Baghdad on 19 August 2003. This resulted in heavy human losses among Iraqis as well as UN staff, including the true friend of our people and the brilliant diplomat, Mr. Sergio Vieira De Mello, the special representative of the UN Secretary General. Thus our people have lost a great man who has done his best for building a free democratic Iraq.
(via Harry's Place.) And then there's also this:
U.S.-led occupation authorities have begun a covert campaign to recruit and train agents with the once-dreaded Iraqi intelligence service to help identify resistance to American forces here after months of increasingly sophisticated attacks and bombings, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The extraordinary move to recruit agents of former president Saddam Hussein's security services underscores a growing recognition among U.S. officials that American military forces - already stretched thin - cannot alone prevent attacks like the devastating truck bombing of the U.N. headquarters this past week, the officials said.
Read the rest on these various threads.

posted by norm at 3:45 pm | link

Iraqi contrasts 1

From Tikrit:
The US army opened the first unrestricted Internet access in Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit today in a bid to convince sceptical Iraqis their occupation will bring tangible benefits. "This Internet cafe we are inaugurating gives people in Tikrit for the first time total freedom of access to the web," Major Troy Rader, in charge of the project, told Reuters.
Local residents said internet access prior to the toppling of Saddam was restricted to government-approved sites and was closely monitored by state security services. Though many Iraqis are suspicions [sic] of US motives - saying the troops are here to secure oil and take out Saddam loyalists rather than rebuild the nation - Tikritis enthusiastically welcomed the internet cafe. "Before, we had no free e-mail, no chat, no good information, no connection with the world," cafe user Asim Abdullah said. "We were in a big jail."
Read the rest.

posted by norm at 3:40 pm | link


Some Jewish men on suspicion of terrorism:
Nine Jewish men were arrested in the last few days on suspicion of carrying out terrorist attacks against Palestinians in recent years. One of them, Shahar Dvir-Zeliger, is also suspected of a murder attempt and weapons-related offenses, Jerusalem Magistrate's Court released for publication on Friday.
It puts me in mind of certain contrasts.

posted by norm at 3:37 pm | link

Sport and politics

Some mixing of the two:
Violence may be escalating in Israel and Palestine but children from both sides found friendship on a Japanese football field yesterday. For 22 children - 11 from Israel and 11 from Palestine - sport won over politics as they and Japanese children struggled for control of footballs in the steamy summer heat.
The effort is the brainchild of Daitetsu Koike, a Buddhist monk and president of Takasaki University of Art and Music north of Tokyo, who, inspired by the universal nature of football, decided to bring the children over from their homelands. "All children play soccer, and through this they could communicate," he said. "It’s now become hard for both Israelis and Palestinians to think about peace at home." The week-long programme of football matches, camping, concerts and stays with Japanese families was paid for by donations from Japanese individuals.
Peace activists.

posted by norm at 3:35 pm | link

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