Saturday, September 27, 2003

'Image concerns'

Lord MacLaurin of Knebworth, chairman of Vodafone warns the England and Wales Cricket Board that Vodafone's sponsorship of the game could be jeopardised if England tour Zimbabwe. For England to visit Zimbabwe with the current regime of Robert Mugabe in power, he says, would be 'abhorrent'.

Tim Lamb, ECB chief executive:
Of course we have concerns too and have expressed them... It is a regular item of discussion at meetings that deal with England matters. We are very mindful of the issues that arose before the World Cup, and we will need to give serious consideration to concerns expressed by our sponsors. There has been no suggestion that Vodafone would pull the plug although we fully understand their image concerns.
Why can't this guy talk like a human being - I mean, like he has some moral understanding?

posted by norm at 10:09 pm | link

Stating the obvious

Julie Flint:
The voice of Iraqis who supported war over continued tyranny has been hushed from the very beginning. Organizers of the great anti-war demonstrations in Britain confiscated banners saying "Freedom for Iraq" and seized photographs of the victims of Halabja, the Kurdish town where Saddam’s army gassed 5,000 civilians. No space was given to people like Freshta Raper, who lost 21 relatives in Halabja and wanted to ask: "How many protestors have asked an Iraqi mother how she felt when she was forced to watch her son being executed? How many know that these mothers had to applaud as their sons died or be executed themselves? What is more moral? Freeing an oppressed, brutalized people from a vicious tyrant or allowing millions to continue suffering indefinitely?"

In mid-summer, I spent over a month in Iraq. What I found there did not correspond to what was being reported most crucially, that the liberators were widely perceived as occupiers. That simply wasn't true. In Baghdad, where US forces had permitted widespread looting (although not as much as reported) and where security and services were virtually nonexistent, attitudes toward the Americans were mixed. But even in Baghdad, even with Saddam and his sons still lurking in the shadows, the sense of relief at the toppling of the regime was palpable.

A university lecturer showed me the bakery below her apartment where educators who fell foul of the ousted dictator were burned alive and said: "We could smell it. Iraq was a prison above ground and a mass grave beneath it. I feel as if I have been born again." Outside Baghdad, in the Shiite south, the mood was overwhelmingly upbeat. In Basra, ordinary people gave the thumbs-up at the mere sight of a Briton.
It is worth stating the obvious, so momentous is it: For the first time in almost half a century, Iraq has no executions, no political prisoners, no torture and no limits on freedom of expression. Having a satellite dish no longer means going to jail or being executed. There are over 167 newspapers and magazines that need no police permit and suffer no censorship, over 70 political parties and dozens of NGOs. Old professional associations have held elections and new associations have sprung up. People can demonstrate freely and do.
Obvious. Momentous. And yet... Please read it all. (Via Harry's Place, where the counter-demo proceeds, and Bill Herbert.)

posted by norm at 5:41 pm | link

Unwise words

There's a virtual counter-demonstration (to the Stop the War march in London) going on over at Harry's Place today. This is my contribution to it.

'Stop the war' is an anagram of 'what poster'. Well, what poster? This poster. It's one I linked to some while back. The depiction is of a before-the-war state of affairs in Iraq which, being charitable, one might say was one-sided. It's not a depiction of someone having their eyes gouged out. Is the poster representative of the attitudes of the whole anti-war movement? Obviously not. There are enough people who were part of that movement and knew perfectly well what went on in Iraq under Saddam. And yet it is symbolic. It is symbolic of something which happened within the anti-war movement, happened widely there, and continues without let-up. For the anti-war movement acted to block a course of action leading to the imminent demise of Saddam Hussein and his regime, and many of those who were part of the campaign are uncomfortable with that fact. They are uncomfortable with openly acknowledging it, with looking it straight in the face. Hence the various modes of denial from the off: marching with posters that said 'Free Palestine' (not even 'Free Palestine as well'); the widespread inability of opponents of the war to come right out and say: 'Even though I opposed the war, it has delivered a great, a massive, historical benefit, the ending of one of the most hateful and murderous of regimes'. Instead, green parrot, green parrot, green parrot. OK, so not to labour points I've already made.

But, as Shelley Berman in a sketch from way back had it, here's the thing, see. A week ago, responding to a certain leftist thread in the Iraq war debate to the effect that those of us who supported the war were idiots and suchlike, I challenged those who talk this way:
Let them say, if they have the courage, stupidity or whatever else it takes to say it, that they think it would have been better for the Iraqi people to still be enduring the torments they suffered under Saddam Hussein than to be in the position they are now in, for all its many difficulties. Just say it: 'It would be better if the torture chambers and all the other paraphernalia of murder and oppression in Iraq were still in place'. And unless you can say that, then you should back off the 'idiots' and 'so-called left' stuff. Because those of us who do very much think it's better that all of that is over, we not only think it now that it is over; we thought it before the war, when it's being over was in the offing. It was possible even then, with a certain amount of foresight, to think Iraq would be better off after the military intervention of the Coalition than it was before it.
Well, lo and behold, I'm on the Crumb Trail where I go now regularly (and which has a new home you'll find if you follow the link I've given), and it leads me to a place I'd not previously been, Ken MacLeod's Early Days of a Better Nation; and this in turn leads me to Wis(s)e Words, the blog-home of Martin Wisse. And Martin is talking 'sellouts' and 'useful idiots' there, and then he gets to this:
I'm sick and tired of those who gave Bush and his cronies another chance to screw up a country, after it had already become clear what he had wrecked in Afghanistan… If you supported the war on Afghanistan, you were wrong. If you supported the war on Iraq you were doubly wrong. If you still support the war on Iraq, you're a fool. We said nothing good would come from this and indeed, nothing good has come from it.
Think about the locution here 'screw up a country', vis-à-vis both Afghanistan and Iraq. As if they were previously unscrewed. But that is, actually, chicken feed. Think carefully about: 'We said nothing good would come from this and indeed, nothing good has come from it'. It's hard to know whether it's worse for Martin Wisse if he really believes this statement or if he doesn't and is just looking for a strong effect. But nothing good: not the closing down of the torture chambers, not the eviction of Saddam and his two boys from their seats of power, not the opening up of Iraq to a free press. Just nothing. I will credit the guy with not really believing what he says; with just enjoying his own sharp strength with language. But it's a particular irony that this goes out under the conceit Wis(s)e Words. Someone who can, in all deliberateness, actually give forth that depraved statement would do well, truly, to reconsider or shut up.

It isn't typical of the whole opposition to the war. It is symptomatic of a wide tendency towards denial within the anti-war movement. Stop the denial.

posted by norm at 12:14 pm | link

Friday, September 26, 2003

New Left Review at Old Trafford?

Over at Cinderella Bloggerfeller yesterday – referred there by an email I received – I was startled to see the link to a blog called New Left Sports Review. 'Is it possible?' I wondered. Could this be a sort of blog supplement of the journal of renown on whose editorial committee I served for many years, with which I've had a loose association for much longer, and in which a significant proportion of my published work first appeared to the world? Can Perry, Robin and the rest of the NLR équipe, as it used sometimes to be called, have decided on a new online venture about sport? What might be appearing there? Frederic Jameson on 'Rugby Union Scrummaging Tactics between Modernity and Post-Modernity'? Mike Davis on 'The Urban Landscape of English County Cricket'? Peter Gowan on 'Baseball: The Dialectical Contradiction of American Expansionism'? I hastened, breathless, over to the site.

But it wasn't as I'd speculated. It was something else, a new left blog about sport, to be sure, but not a New Left Review one. The beginning didn't strike me as altogether auspicious, with Paula Radcliffe pluralized in the second post, as though she might occasionally run against herself – not in the sense that she doubtless does occasionally run against herself, but in the sense that she could, perhaps, be made up of both a Paula and a Radcliffe who would from time to time run against each other. However, this is merely a pedantic attachment to what I take as correct (though it may now be in the way of becoming archaic) usage.

More perplexing was a statement of intent in the very first post, lying - as everyone familiar with the blogglobe quickly gets to know - below the second post. Amongst other things this statement of intent said:
Just because someone appreciates the work of Noam Chomsky, it doesn't mean that they don't like to watch college hoops on TV. Just because they were against the Iraq war, it doesn't mean they can't enjoy a good hockey fight. Just because they think protecting the environment is important, it doesn't mean they are against letting loose every other weekend with the ridiculously wasteful excess that is a Formula One race.
Try as I might I could not at first find a way of reading these propositions that made good sense to me. I homed in on the middle one, about the Iraq war. So: because you were OK with that ghastly regime being left in place for some good long time to come, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy hockey? I don't see the connection here - any connection. No, hold on. He - for it is Dave - thinks being against the Iraq war was good. Reconfigure therefore. Because you're an anti-imperialist and/or despise and/or distrust George Bush, and consequently opposed the war, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy hockey? I still don't get it. Let's take one of the premises Dave and I agree about. Just because you think protecting the environment is important, it doesn't mean you can't get into Formula One. That's true. I have a friend, Rorden, he's on the left, I'm pretty sure he's for protecting the environment, and he loves Formula One. He thinks it's better than cricket (come on, I ask you). So Dave is right about this one, but still, what's the door he's pushing at?

I'm just having a bit of fun here. I know the door. Only I'm surprised anyone thinks it's still shut. It's the door that consists of a certain type of serious leftist or sometimes just intellectual, for whom interest in sport is unspeakably trivial and time-wasting. When I first arrived in this country and went to Oxford there was certainly a lot of that about, though even then it was never entirely general. I can't believe there are many places now where it still prevails, and where there are, so much the more impoverished are they.

I go with Kurt Vonnegut in Timequake:
Listen: We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different.
It isn't the whole truth; it's not the most important truth; but it is an important truth. And those who don't know and love any of competitive sport miss something absolutely exhilarating. For there are human beings in this world who have the talent and the training to fart about so brilliantly that when their efforts join and contest the efforts of other similarly brilliant farters-about, you get moments of thrilling and unforgettable beauty.

I wish Dave and his new blog well.

posted by norm at 3:18 pm | link

Hugo Young 1938-2003

Frank Keating remembers another side of him:
The grieving mountain of obituaries for this paper's imperishable Hugo Young mentioned only in passing his passion for Yorkshire cricket. Hugo would tell how he would forsake all ambition to be the Yorkshire Post's cricket correspondent. Long installed in that job when Hugo joined the Post from Oxford in 1963 was the stately ancient JM Kilburn, prickly and pompous, whom the young turks of the paper regarded with a mix of awe and derision.

Whenever we met, that marvellously mischievous glint shimmered from Hugo's spectacles and he knew and I knew that it was time for him to retell his favourite subeditors' tale - of the elderly Post sub (one of those sardonic and literate green-eyeshade fellows the profession has, alas, killed off) running down to young Hugo's desk triumphantly flourishing Kilburn's match report, which ended with the very Kilburnish peroration about the match proceeding with "interminable inevitability". The old boy was overjoyed to tell Hugo he had changed it to "inevitable interminability".

posted by norm at 12:26 pm | link

Hitchens on Levy

Christopher Hitchens reviews Bernard-Henri Levy's Who Killed Daniel Pearl?.
In a recent conversation, M. Levy said to me carefully that he doubts the conventional wisdom of the Western liberal, who believes that a settlement in Palestine will remove the inflammation that produces jihad. A settlement in Palestine would be a good thing in itself, to be sure. But those who believe in its generally healing power, he said, have not been following events in Kashmir. Indeed, it is from the Pakistani-Saudi periphery that the core challenge comes. I don't think that anyone who follows Levy's inquiry into corruption and fanaticism, and the intimate bond between them, will ever listen patiently to any facile argument again.
That's certainly optimistic, but read the rest of the review; you'll see what he means.

posted by norm at 12:15 pm | link

The normblog profile 1: Chris Bertram

[As advertised on Wednesday, this is the first of a regular series in which bloggers will be presenting themselves by way of answering questions from a wider menu of such questions devised at normblog.]

Chris Bertram was born in Nottingham, England in 1958 and educated at Oriel College, Oxford and University College, London. He became an active socialist whilst living in Paris in 1978 and had spells working for Verso editions and on the editorial committee of New Left Review. He was founder-editor of the journal Imprints. He has taught philosophy at the University of Bristol, England since 1988. His book Rousseau and the Social Contract was recently published by Routledge. These days he is best described as an egalitarian liberal. He and his partner Pauline have two sons aged 15 and 18. Chris started blogging at Junius, and is now one of the team at Crooked Timber.

Why do you blog? > From a nagging impulse to argue with people about politics and other things. From frustration at my academic work being read only by others like me. For fun.

What has been your best blogging experience? > Hard to say. I had some pretty stimulating exchanges with Cato types on property rights and freedom which I enjoyed. Getting feedback and support from complete strangers has been great.

What has been your worst blogging experience? > I had a nasty spat with one blogger, for no particular reason that I can work out. And I somewhat regret posting a fisking of someone whom it would have been better to correct in a friendly email - blogging can foster nasty attack-dog instincts which are better restrained.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Write often, write honestly, be polite, be willing to admit that you might be wrong, try to see the other person's point of view.

What are your favourite blogs? > (Leaving out my fellow Crooked Timberites) Brad DeLong, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Natalie Solent.

Who are your intellectual heroes? > Jerry Cohen, John Rawls, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

What are you reading at the moment? > Ulysses, and Amartya Sen's Inequality Reexamined (again).

Who are your cultural heroes? > Turner, Denis Potter, Billie Holiday, Shostakovich.

What is the best novel you've ever read? > My favourite one is Stendhal's Le rouge et le noir.

What is your favourite poem? > Wordsworth, 'Lines written above Tintern Abbey'.

What is your favourite movie? > Truffaut, Les 400 Coups.

What is your favourite song? > Ebben? Ne andrò lontana, from La Wally, preferably sung by Maria Callas or Renata Tebaldi; but in other moods I'd go for Waterloo Sunset or You'll Never Walk Alone.

Who is your favourite composer? > Richard Wagner.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > I was bitterly opposed to the Falklands War, but I think now that Thatcher was right about it.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Fundamental human equality.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Moral relativism.

Who are your political heroes? > Spartacus, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Lincoln.

If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Real local democracy.

What would you do with the UN? > Remove the great power veto and find some way to give countries which meet minimal standards of democracy more of a say than those who don't.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Enjoy the present.

What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Kindness.

What personal fault do you most dislike? > Absence of compassion.

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Barcelona or Manhattan.

What would your ideal holiday be? > Barcelona or Manhattan.

What do you like doing in your spare time? > Er... blogging? No, reading, listening to music, walking, watching football.

What talent would you most like to have? > I've tried and failed to learn the piano.

Who are your sporting heroes? > Bill Shankly, and currently Steven Gerrard.

Which English Premiership football team do you support? > Liverpool.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > David Hume, Dennis Potter, Billie Holiday.

[The next normblog profile will appear here next Friday, with others to follow on a weekly basis, barring unforeseen events.]

posted by norm at 11:19 am | link

Thursday, September 25, 2003

The mechanics of the argument: two comments

I have received two comments on my post of yesterday about Karen Armstrong, both of them relating to a point I didn't discuss. Julie Cleeveley writes:
This is the Karen Armstrong who was a nun for seven years during the Sixties, and then went on to write a number of books on religion, including 'Shifting Ground and Cultural Bodies: Postcolonial Gender Relations in Africa and India.' She goes straight into my top five of cringey females, along with Glenda Jackson, Clare Short, Kirsty Young and Princess Diana. This phrase 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter' is trite, glib and morally bankrupt. When irritated by middle-class, politically correct, Guardianista nonsense I find it helpful to check facts. What does OBL himself have to say about his aims and motivations? I quote from an interview conducted by John Miller in May 1998. 'Allah has ordered us to make holy wars and to fight to see to it that His word is the highest and the uppermost and that of the unbelievers the lowermost. We believe that this is the call we have to answer regardless of our financial capabilities. This too answers the claim of the West and of the secular people in the Arab world. They claim that this blessed awakening and the people reverting to Islam are due to economic factors. This is not so. It is rather a grace from Allah... We do our duty of fighting for the sake of the religion of Allah. It is also our duty to send a call to all the people of the world to enjoy this great light and to embrace Islam... Our primary mission is nothing but the furthering of this religion'. There you have it. OBL is fighting for the freedom to destroy our freedom.
Nelson Ascher, who blogs at EuroPundits, also addresses the 'freedom fighters' claim:
[W]hen Ms Armstrong writes about the Islamic terrorists that 'they regard themselves as freedom fighters', she is making a conceptual mistake that is even more irresponsible because she sees herself as a specialist on Islam. As far as I know, 'Islam' itself means 'submission' (to god, his laws etc.), not any kind of freedom. Even the idea of free-will is alien to Islam. The terrorists are ultimately fighting to submit believers and unbelievers to their god, and that's how they regard themselves. To even suggest that they see themselves as 'freedom fighters' of any kind is thus not only anachronic but also ana-cultural and also, last but not least, does injustice to those who consider themselves not freedom, but obedience or submission, fighters. Were we to play games, it would be quite easy to show that, due to her ethnocentric, indeed, to her eurocentric views, Ms Armstrong not only distorts the true purpose of the Binladenites but commits the worst possible sin, that of imposing Western categories on the understanding of non-Western peoples. In short, using the term made famous by Edward Said, Ms Armstrong is guilty of the sin of 'orientalism'.
Thanks for these two comments.

posted by norm at 6:15 pm | link

It's a shame it's Milne

Seumas Milne writes rather too often on the Guardian's Comments & Analysis pages of which he is the editor, and today is one of the days we're favoured with a contribution by him. As bad as those pages can sometimes be, when it's Milne you must expect the worst. (Well, nearly. I'm willing to allow A. L. Kennedy pride of place, though it's pretty crowded down there.) Chris Bertram, who as a writer is not given to excess, referred to Milne earlier this year as a 'talentless hack'.

Today Milne gives us, just like that, as having helped to strip the war of its last vestige of legal cover, 'the admission by the former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix that he now believes Iraq long ago destroyed them (WMD)'. But why should what Hans Blix thinks now have any bearing on that matter? Even he, no friend to what Bush and Blair were intent on in the first three months of this year, said then before the UN Security Council that the Saddam regime had serious questions still to answer (a point, let me say in passing, these days widely disremembered).

Second, Milne gives us a revealing picture of his attitude to what he calls 'the resistance to the occupation'. Many commentators have pointed out that this terminology carries legitimating implications and for Milne it largely does:
Unpalatable though it may be, it is the Iraqi resistance that has transformed the balance of power over Iraq in the past six months, as it has frustrated US efforts to impose its will on the country and the US public has begun to grasp the price of military rule over another people.

By demonstrating the potential costs of pre-emptive invasion, the resistance has also reduced the threat of US attacks against other potential targets, such as Iran, North Korea, Syria and Cuba. Bush, Blair and the newly cowed BBC absurdly describe those defending their own country as "terrorists" - as all colonialist and occupation forces have done - and accuse them of being "Saddam loyalists".

In fact, the evidence suggests a much more varied political make-up, but if Bush and Blair have managed to achieve a partial rehabilitation of Ba'athism in Iraq they have only themselves to blame.
He can't quite go all the way with it, you see. There's something a little hesitant there. Given the characterization, why 'unpalatable'? Because of the Ba'athist element, maybe? And you think you've seen it all, but in the realm of ideas - if you'll forgive the expression in this context - you never have. Bush and Blair, to whom belongs the enormous moral and historical credit of having seen off the regime of Saddam Hussein - and this in the face of the protests by friends of democracy and human rights everywhere! - why, they are to blame for 'a partial rehabilitation of Ba'athism in Iraq'! Before, naturally, when the regime was in place, Ba'athism was dead. Shameless Milne.

Finally, there is this:
The reality is that the occupation offers no route to democracy, which is unlikely to favour US interests. What is needed is a political decision to end the occupation, a timetable for early withdrawal and the temporary replacement of the invading armies with an acceptable security force, perhaps provided by the Arab League, while free elections are held for a constituent assembly under UN auspices.
I won't make the argument in detail again, having done so less than a week ago, but Milne only neglects to tell us what route to democracy Iraqis would now be looking at had the war 'they could not stop' been stopped.

posted by norm at 4:22 pm | link

More on Iraq's electricity

An account by Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the problems:
"It's hard to exaggerate the impact of three decades of crippling under-investment by Saddam Hussein in Iraq's infrastructure," Bremer said in a recent interview. "He spent his nation's money building palaces and weapons and his army, not funding the things people need to survive."

But several American and Iraqi specialists contend the U.S. occupation authority has been slow to address the problem. Immediately after Hussein's government fell, they maintain, more money and attention should have been focused on buying spare parts and trucking in large, gas-powered generating units that can each power as many as 40,000 homes. Doing so, they insist, would have reduced the frequency of blackouts and the anger that crystallized toward the occupation.
Chandrasekaran looks at the background and the prospects in what is an informative piece.

posted by norm at 2:19 pm | link

Fraternal admonition

Christopher Hitchens responds to Norman Finkelstein.

posted by norm at 2:18 pm | link

Only a joke

I wonder what he would have to say about this. He does, anyway, seem to share a widely-held view about George Bush's speech at the UN.

posted by norm at 2:17 pm | link

Same old Arsenal

On the front page of my dnoc there's talk of failure 'to discover a single trace of an illegal arsenal'. But if you go to the back page it's a different story, with 'an unprecedented 12 charges' against members of a certain football team. The verdict of Kevin McCarra:
The tenuous claim that Van Nistelrooy had incited the conflict has rightly been disregarded. The Dutchman, like an affronted maiden aunt, gave a sideways hop in the incident with Vieira but he did not feign injury. An irritating manner is yet to be classified as a breach of the laws of the game. The FA has chosen to confront Arsenal, accusing the club of "failing to ensure the proper behaviour of their players". All of this might be portrayed as an over- reaction, considering that Sunday's fracas did not see anyone taken to hospital.

There was, however, damage to the image of the Premiership in a match of global interest. The scenes at the end were tawdry and the shoddiness was almost exclusively Arsenal's. Nor was this a random lapse.
Too right.

posted by norm at 2:13 pm | link

2 + 2

Stephen Pollard has had 200,000 visitors to his blog and lost 25 lbs dieting. That's 1 lb for every 8000 visits. Double congrats, Stephen. Treat yourself to large slice of cake.

posted by norm at 2:10 pm | link

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

A 'police-blotter' mindset

Hans Nichols reports in The Hill, (the 'newspaper for and about the US Congress'):
Journalists are giving a slanted and unduly negative account of events in Iraq, a bipartisan congressional group that has just returned from a three-day House Armed Services Committee visit to assess stabilization efforts and the condition of U.S. troops said.

Lawmakers charged that reporters rarely stray from Baghdad and have a "police-blotter" mindset that results in terror attacks, deaths and injuries displacing accounts of progress in other areas.
The lawmakers said they worry that the overall negative tone of American press outlets' reports did not do justice to the progress being made by an occupying force reconstructing a country after years of neglect and in the face of remaining hostile elements that profited under the old regime.
Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), agreed that the stabilization effort is making headway. "In fairness, the war is neither going as well as the administration says it's going or as badly as the media says it is going," Taylor said.
Read the whole thing. Thanks to John Abeles for drawing my attention to the item.

posted by norm at 4:40 pm | link

The normblog profile

A new feature begins here the day after tomorrow. Every Friday a blogger will be presenting himself or herself by way of answering a series of questions from a wider menu of them which has been devised by a team of people around normblog. There are questions about blogging, about politics, about ideas, culture and life.

The normblog profile will feature bloggers large and small, short and tall, left and right, here and there. You will ponder, you will laugh, you may cry.

Starts Friday. Don't miss it.

posted by norm at 4:19 pm | link

'The reason of things'

Nice piece by A. C. Grayling under this title, on the value of reading novels. It's in the Times for September 20 (run a search on Booker Prize).

posted by norm at 4:14 pm | link

The mechanics of the argument

Late last week an article by Karen Armstrong appeared in the Guardian, entitled 'Our role in the terror'. The article isn't especially remarkable. It embodies standard themes and moves of the sort of post-9/11 argument commonly to be found in that newspaper. But I marked it down for blogging then and follow through on the intention now, even though it has taken me some days to get to it, because of the stark clarity with which Armstrong's presentation of these standard themes and moves shows up their one-sidedness.

Let's start at the very core of would-be progressive post-9/11 opinion: the 'yes, appalling but'. Here it is, twice:
The terrorists' methods are appalling, but they regard themselves as freedom fighters, and there is nothing mysterious about the source of these extremist groups: to a significant degree, they are the result of our own policies.
Terrorism is wicked and abhorrent, but it has not come out of the blue.
That Armstrong should say that the extremist groups are a result of Western policies 'to a significant degree' is apt in light of the analysis she goes on to offer, because her analysis covers two broad classes of explanatory factor. One of them is the class of factor which I'm taking her to subsume, directly or indirectly, under the heading of bad policies: for example, 'allowing conflicts to fester', 'supporting undemocratic regimes', and (by inference on my part) 'pronounced inequalities of wealth, power and status'. But this is not Armstrong's whole diagnosis. Indeed, these are not the things she starts with. What she starts with is a thesis about how fundamentalist religious movements arise in reaction to secularism and modernity, a pattern she detects 'in every major faith tradition during the 20th century'. She writes:
Wherever a western-style, secularist society has been established, a religious counterculture has developed alongside it. The persistence of this militant piety shows a disturbing and worldwide alienation from western modernity.
It seems reasonable, consequently, to conclude from Armstrong's analysis that an approach to meeting the problem of fundamentalist-inspired terrorism, at least for anyone who has an attachment to the ideals and ways of modernity, might be to combine a defence of the ideals and ways of modernity, on the one hand, with an attempt to rectify bad Western policies, on the other.

This is not how it pans out, though. By the time Armstrong gets to wind up, the reaction-against-modernity aspect of the analysis seems to have disappeared as a policy-guiding consideration. According to her:
Millennial or fundamentalist extremism has risen in nearly every cultural tradition where there are pronounced inequalities of wealth, power and status. The only way to create a safer world is to ensure that it is more just.
One needs to proceed with some caution where great sociological generalizations are concerned, but my own judgement, for what it's worth, is that a world with less of the kind of injustice Armstrong is referring to would very likely give rise to less in the way of moral atrocity than the world we actually inhabit; not none but less. Still, why - and how - has the fundamentalist reaction against secularism and modernity dropped out of the picture when she concludes with her recommendations as to what should be done? And why does 'more just' there miss out the dimension of justice which consists of opposing, fighting against, organizations that wantonly murder others, to say nothing of opposing political regimes that do?

Armstrong's diagnosis of the problem of terrorism is multi-factor, but it comes down to two threads: the fundamentalist-reaction-against-modernity thread and the Western-complicity-in-political-and-social-injustice thread. But prescriptively it's only the second thread which counts. In this she is wholly representative of the post-9/11 liberal and leftist 'doves'. To use one analogy amongst many possible here, she and they might just as well say that governments should deal with violent crimes against the person by creating a more pacific culture. Yeah right. (And I guess I'd better spell out that I'm a firm supporter of trying to create a more pacific culture.)

Anyway, I won't go into the why of what happens in Karen Armstrong's analysis. But I'll show you the how of it. After putting up her fundamentalist-reaction-against-modernity thread, Karen Armstrong effectively takes it down again, and this is how she does it: by saying that it doesn't, by itself, explain the terrorism of religious fundamentalists:
Only a small minority of fundamentalists take part in acts of terror, but when people feel that their backs are to the wall, they can lash out violently.
People seem to assume that Muslim extremists are mechanistically driven by a fanatical strain inherent in Islam itself, which is patently not the case, since the terrorism that currently concerns us is chiefly confined to the Arab world, which makes up only 20% of the Islamic population. It is widely believed that the terrorists are simply inspired by a fanatical yearning for paradise and martyrdom that has fuelled both Hamas and the Iranian revolution in exactly the same way.

These reductionist theories are dangerous.
So, T is the result both of F and of P. But because F doesn't alone explain it... we can now focus exclusively on P and prescribe accordingly. The small flaw in this procedure is that it can be operated the other way. You could drop P, and focus exclusively on F – you know, wrong-headed or evil people and that's all there is to it. Religious fundamentalism may not be a sufficient condition for terrorist violence. But nor are social and political injustice and a sense of such injustice sufficient conditions of it either. At the cost of repeating myself (and others) yet once more: there are movements against injustice which have not engaged, and movements against injustice which do not engage, in the deliberate murder of innocents, much less contemplate this on a vast and indeed terrifying scale.

Nothing for it but to walk on two legs, if you have two legs: the battle for a more just world (but on the several dimensions of what justice must encompass); and the battle - always and everywhere necessary - against its enemies. I don't remember where I read this, since it was in my early explorations of the blogosphere and before I knew about the importance of remembering and noting links: it was something to the effect that one should try, once in a way, saying 'Yes, therefore' rather than 'Yes, but'.

posted by norm at 2:56 pm | link

Yes and no

Some dos and don'ts of the road by Bruno Bozzetto. (Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link.)

posted by norm at 12:13 am | link

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Bring home the troops?

Here's a piece from within the American left arguing that this slogan shouldn't be supported. It's by Edward W. Lempinen and at Salon (where it can be accessed with a free pass for the day):
[T]he use of slogans like "bring the troops home" or "he lied, they died," is luring partisans into a realm of moral simplicity. And for everyone on the left - whether antiwar, pro-war or morally conflicted - this should be a cause for concern.
Read the rest. I found the article via Nathan Newman, who has a post up about the same issues. Thanks to Alan Johnson for pointing me towards the Nathan Newman post.

Postscript: 'U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticized President Bush's "pre-emptive" attack on Iraq but urged world leaders Tuesday to set aside their disputes over the war and join forces to build a peaceful democracy in the troubled nation.'

posted by norm at 3:59 pm | link

The universe

I never could understand how the universe could have a chronological beginning. It makes no sense to me. Nor can I understand how it can be bounded. I mean, it's everything, right? So what's going on beyond the points where it comes to an end?

That is just to indicate to you that I'm not well placed to understand this article on 'multiverse' theories. But I read it carefully all the same, and did pick up on this, which is going to worry some people:
The final twist in this saga is that almost all multiverse theories predict the existence of infinitely many duplicate cosmic regions, including duplicate Earths and duplicate Guardian readers. There will also exist all possible variations on this theme.
Think of it, billions of dnoccers in 'all possible variations'. Gadzooks!

posted by norm at 3:56 pm | link


Kevin McCarra:
For years, the Arsenal disciplinary count has whirled upwards like a Geiger counter in a radioactive site and, through it all, people have puzzled over the seeming paradox of a side of refined style that, in a few seconds, can degenerate into a band of louts... The manager's bond with [his team] is preserved by his ludicrous readiness to condone their actions at almost any time... [H]is players would be well-advised to seize control of the lawless areas inside their own heads.
Back in about 1953, in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (as was), the only English football team I'd heard of was Arsenal. So, insofar as I had any interest in football then - and I didn't have much - Arsenal were the team I identified with. Till I came to Manchester in 1967, saw Charlton, Best, Law and co. a few times, and that was that. All the same, I've never had any particular animus towards Arsenal as a club. You want to beat them when they're amongst your main rivals, but that's purely a functional thing. It's so Manchester United can win the title; there's no real hostility in it. It's not like the historical rivalry with Liverpool. Or like Manchester City - though, frankly, with them it's not been worth bothering for rather a long time. As someone I know once put it, 'They go round full of grievance when no one ever did them any harm except not to notice they exist.'

However, I've strayed from the point: which is that I was at Old Trafford on Sunday and my feelings towards Arsenal have now changed. The spirit in which they play the game's a bloody disgrace. That was so even before the unseemly brawling towards the end of the game. I think I'll give them pride of place until further notice. That'll teach them!

And all my Liverpool friends - a lot - will be so relieved.

posted by norm at 3:52 pm | link

What a Lulu

A follow-up at Alan's on yesterday's post about Lulu, the rescuer-kangaroo. Lulu may be nominated for an RSPCA National Bravery Award. I just love this story.

posted by norm at 3:46 pm | link


I've been adding links to my sidebar lately and will continue to do so, having some still in the pipeline. If you've got time on your hands and want to check out some sites you didn't previously know, take a look.

posted by norm at 3:45 pm | link

Murat Sertel 1942-2003

In my post about jazz albums on Sunday I happened to mention, in amongst a group of friends from my grad student days, Murat Sertel. Another friend from the same time wrote to tell me that Murat died earlier this year. There is an online memorial for him here.

Murat was a good friend to me in 1966-7 when we were at Nuffield together. I have many fond memories of him, including of his support through a couple of rough days and nights. But the one I'd like to share is the very best memory I have, and that is of Murat dancing. Boy, the guy could dance! And when he and Franny - another old friend - danced together, what a joyous thing it was to see.

posted by norm at 3:43 pm | link

Monday, September 22, 2003


Leo Benedictus is an enthusiast:
Boggle, as everyone knows, is a game in which 16 lettered dice are shaken into a grid, from which the players must plot as many words of as great a length as they can in three minutes... This game is, after scraping the calluses off the soles of one's feet, the least sexy pursuit yet devised by man. And, considering its emphasis on spatial processing and pedantic clever-clogging, devised by a man it surely was. Far purer in form than the frustratingly haphazard Scrabble, this is the game for those of us whose enjoyment of Countdown has nothing ironic about it.
And I'm an enthusiast too. But he shouldn't knock Scrabble. It's also great. And Countdown is good as well. Carol Vorderman's laugh, though - ouch, it's as hard as nails.

posted by norm at 11:27 pm | link

Put off

Simon Hoggart is one of the remaining attractions of my dnoc. He has a generous piece today on the 175th birthday of the Spectator. In it he writes in passing:
One reason why the [New] Statesman is mired in its sluggish circulation is that it has to hang on to its core readership, and that means running the work of right-on, okay-yah writers such as John Pilger and Andrew Stephen, who do very well in the page traffic surveys. But I suspect they serve to put off other potential readers.
Now, what does that remind me of?

posted by norm at 11:24 pm | link

Translated title

This one: The regime we failed to save.

As explained by Henry McDonald (via Harry's Place):
Had Tony Blair and George Bush heeded the demands at the demonstrations against the war of liberation in Iraq, the status quo in that country would still exist.
Read it all.

posted by norm at 11:18 pm | link

Free speech shield?

And this item is also in the same ballpark (as the post two down). Was going to Iraq as a human shield a free speech issue? The BBC's reporter seems sympathetic to the claim; but Steven Den Beste thinks it's baloney. (Via Jackie at au currant.)

posted by norm at 3:08 pm | link

Just war tradition

This is relevant to the previous item, immediately below. It's Jean Bethke Elshtain, interviewed by Michael Cromartie, talking about the debate over the Iraq war:
[T]he just war tradition either was not referenced seriously or was actually misstated. I mean the criteria were distorted and the many complexities, subtleties and nuances of just war fell out. The notion that you must be directly attacked in order for a casus belli to pertain is wrong, for example. A strict interpretation of that requirement would mean we shouldn't have gone to war against Hitler's Germany, either: Germany had not directly attacked us. What was interesting to me is that people who otherwise lament sovereignty in favor of a far more internationalist or "cosmopolitan" outlook were suddenly using sovereignty and non-interference as if these were well-nigh inviolable concepts!

I would also have emphasized, from the side that favored the war, the absolute horrors of the Saddam Hussein regime at least as much as Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction. I don't think the Bush Administration got the proportions right in making its case... I talked recently with Hassan Mneimneh, who co-directs the Iraqi Research and Documentation Project at Harvard University - now relocated to Washington, D.C. ... Hassan described some of the documents seized in the 1991 Gulf War (there are "millions of documents," he says), and he can barely talk about what was going on, it was so hideous.

So, I would have put the human rights issues front and center, the genocide against the Kurds, the destruction of the whole way of life of the Marsh Arabs, the attacks on Shiites in the South, on and on... Here the just war formulations of St. Thomas Aquinas would come to the fore very quickly, given his arguments about the "repression of wrongdoing," applied to the offensive as well as the defensive use of force. A passive toleration of massive injustice and wrongdoing in the name of "peace" is, for Aquinas, a serious offense.

In theory, it would be nice if one could count on the UN to act. But in the last 50 years, the UN has only chosen to act three times under the collective security rubric. It defaulted in Bosnia, where people were beaten and hauled off never to be seen again as "peacekeepers" stood by and where folks flooded into un-declared "safe havens" and were there shot to pieces. The European community, in whose backyard this was taking place, failed to act as well. The UN defaulted in Rwanda, as did we. It defaulted in Kosovo. Clearly, some tough thinking needs to go on about collective security arrangements, perhaps regional alliances, as an alternative to the UN. Security Council vetoes pretty much guarantee that there will be future instances when people are being slaughtered with impunity as the "world community" stands down.
I think we need to recognize that if there's an opportunity to stop hideous violence being perpetrated against people, if you have the power to do something about that, and you refrain from doing it, then you're complicit at some level in the continuation of that horror.
Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link (via Political Theory Daily Review).

posted by norm at 3:05 pm | link

Making life easy for yourself

Chris Smith, MP for Islington South and Finsbury, reviews Nick Cohen's Pretty Straight Guys, and he writes this:
The strangest chapter in the whole book is the one dealing with Iraq. Cohen seems to believe this is about the one thing Tony Blair has got right, even if for the wrong reasons. All of us who opposed the decision to take military action are dismissed out of hand as apologists for Saddam Hussein, apparently willing to maintain him and his evil regime in power and - by implication - running the risk of becoming oppressors of the Iraqi and Kurdish people.

This is arrant nonsense. We can surely welcome the fact that Saddam's regime has gone, but raise serious doubts and questions about the way this desirable objective was achieved, and the absence of proper international agreement and authority for doing it in the way and on the timetable chosen.
I haven't read Nick Cohen's book and I don't have a copy to hand, so I can't check if Smith gives a fully accurate representation of what Cohen argues. But it is child's play for opponents of the war to say that they weren't apologists for Saddam Hussein. Indeed, most of them weren't. I count many such opponents of the war amongst my friends and I can vouch for the fact that they aren't. What is harder for opponents of the war to answer – and they can't answer it – is that they pressed for a course of action which, had it prevailed, would have left the Baathist regime in power; so that 'apparently willing to maintain him and his evil regime in power' looks to be true, and consequently not nonsense, arrant or otherwise.

As for welcoming the demise of the regime – a 'desirable objective' – it was also possible to look forward to this objective beforehand and take a position that might have helped to bring it to pass. And as for the absence of 'proper international agreement', one could have urged all those involved at the time towards – and marched by the tens of thousands to try to ensure - precisely agreement for military intervention. Woe, too late. But not too late, evidently, to withhold support from the effort to see that the desirable objective is now reinforced and consolidated in a desirable way.

I offer, finally, a reflection on the notion of 'support'. When opponents of the war have been faced with the suggestion that they were acting like supporters of Saddam Hussein and his regime, they have responded indignantly. Fair enough. They were mostly not supporters of him or it, and I don't think it's accurate to call anyone a supporter of someone or of something whom or which they detest. But there's a different kind of support. There's the support which a platform provides for the person standing on it, the support which a lifeline represents to a drowning man. What kind of support would Saddam have preferred in the build-up to the war in Iraq? Thousands of people around the globe thinking 'I love that guy; he's got a really good moral instinct and a sure political grasp’ - but not bothering to do anything about the threat facing his regime? Or the support which he actually received from all those thousands who, though doubtless disliking what he stood for, marched and argued and agitated in such a way as to provide a lifeline to his regime? It's an easy question to answer. But it's a more difficult one for (most of) the war's opponents to deal with than the idea that they had some inner sympathy for the Baathist regime.

posted by norm at 12:28 pm | link

Mbeki and Mugabe

From South Africa the Mail & Guardian reports on the split within the Commonwealth over Zimbabwe, ahead of the upcoming Commonwealth summit in Nigeria:
[Thabo] Mbeki spokesperson Bheki Khumalo warned this week that "megaphone diplomacy" would not produce the desired results in Zimbabwe.

"Sanctions have been imposed on Zimbabwe for a number of months now with no result at all and we don't think that using megaphone diplomacy will work," he said. "Our view is that the Commonwealth imposed the maximum penalty on Zimbabwe by suspending it for one year. We do not understand this business of Australia saying that Zimbabwe [should still be] excluded. You cannot impose a specific punishment on a country and then, because you don't like it, simply decide to continue that punishment."

Mbeki and the Department of Foreign Affairs maintain that their "quiet diplomacy" will achieve the political transformation Zimbabwe requires.
Mugabe has relished giving the lie to South Africa's upbeat approach. Several times he has denounced speculation about his impending departure as "wishful thinking". His action this past week in closing the independent Daily News and allowing the illegal ransacking of the newspaper's premises demonstrates that he is determined not to help even those who believe they are helping him.

Amnesty International declared: "This latest action by the Zimbabwe government has sent a strong and clear signal to regional and international leaders that human rights are under siege in Zimbabwe."
Quiet diplomacy, wishful thinking.

posted by norm at 12:07 pm | link

Israel's strategic situation

There's a piece in Haaretz about a report just published by the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.
[One] center researcher, Brigadier General (Res.) Shlomo Brom, said that the most significant aspect of the eradication of Iraq's army is in the change in the understanding of Arab leaders regarding the new situation. As a result of Iraq's defeat, it cannot field a significant force to threaten Israel in the near future. Brom said that the way in which the U.S. won the war, with four armored divisions against Iraq's 24, has implications for the power of the IDF against the Syrian army.
Jaffee Center scholars conclude that the Palestinians were also very weakened by the fall of Iraq, which was the head of the radical Arab camp. With regard to terrorism, the report says that the Palestinians are avoiding carrying out a mega-terror strike for fear that they will be the ones to suffer from such a strike.
Read the rest.

posted by norm at 12:01 pm | link

Right sites

Find out the favourite political sites of right-of–centre bloggers here.

posted by norm at 11:59 am | link

Roo story

This story is a nice way to start a day.

posted by norm at 11:56 am | link

Sunday, September 21, 2003

15 Great Jazz Albums

If you're a regular reader of normblog and a thoughtful and discriminating one – refuse the characterization who will – then you'll know this had to happen. And you were right, so well done. In fact I have some political stuff on my mind, but nothing that can't wait. I've been wanting to compile this list for a while now, and what better time than on a quiet Sunday morning? Two constraints, both of them artificial but helping to keep the task manageable: (a) to get on the list the album has to be in my collection; and (b) nobody gets on the list twice (unless as a sideman on someone else's session).

Under these assumptions, here's my list of 15 great jazz albums. They aren't ranked, just in alphabetical order (by musician).

> Cannonball Adderley, Somethin' Else (1958). In a way Cannonball is lucky to get on this list, given some of those who didn't make it. But this album is way out ahead of everything else of his that I know and it has to go on.

> Louis Armstrong, The Complete Hot Five and Seven Recordings (1925-9). Ideally, I'd want to have some later Louis as well, say the The Complete Town Hall Concert (1947), but 'Hey, you made the rules, so handle it.' Apart from Armstrong himself, just listen to Johnny Dodds's clarinet solo on 'Struttin' with Some Barbecue'. And play 'Once in a While', or play it again. If it doesn't make you want to do whatever is the jazz equivalent of 'Yeeeehah', you need a talking to.

> Art Blakey, Moanin' (1958). I've owned a copy of Moanin' since 1959, when I was just acquainting myself with the music, and my sister Sue sent a copy for me back from Johannesburg to Bulawayo with my Mom. It was my first Blue Note album, with the marvellous picture of Blakey taking up nearly the whole cover – and with that opening riff by Bobby Timmons.

> Dave Brubeck, Jazz Goes To College (1954). There are some as turn up their noses at Brubeck. Too bad. And Paul Desmond was somethin' else.

> John Coltrane, Giant Steps (1959). The title says it.

> Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (1959). How I first came upon Kind of Blue was: I was in a record shop one day browsing for new stuff and it's playing over the shop's sound system. 'What is this?', I ask one of the guys, and he tells me, slightly surprised I wouldn't know what is possibly the greatest of all jazz albums. It's a problem for me that my rules forbid Miles's Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (1965), but this point's already been dealt with.

> Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster (1957). I'd want both these blokes on, so no better way to do it than to combine them. Money track: 'Shine On Harvest Moon'. Listen to it and then tell me you wouldn't rather have been able to play tenor sax like that than do just about anything which you can do.

> Keith Jarrett, (no, not the bloody Koln Concert, but) At the Blue Note: The Complete Recordings (1994). Like the book says: '[T]wo sets from each of three consecutive nights at the New York club. It might be considered warts-and-all but for the fact that there are no warts.'

> Brad Mehldau, The Art of the Trio 3: Songs (1998). I don't have the musical expertise to be able to describe this adequately, but put on the opening track, 'Song-Song', and listen to what happens. Long slow dawdling intro, you're wondering where it's going, indeed if it's ever going, and then – oh, man – you're suddenly hit by the loveliest melodic passage and set of variations.

> Modern Jazz Quartet, Pyramid (1959-60). There are some as turn up their noses at the MJQ, but see above, the response on Brubeck. I loved John Lewis's playing when I was 16 and I still do. To say nothing of Milt Jackson.

> Thelonious Monk, Brilliant Corners (1956). To be honest, this is a bit like Bunuel on a list of great movies. He's got to be on it, but which movie? Same with Monk here. I can't leave him out. Any of a number of his albums would do, though.

> Lee Morgan, The Sidewinder (1963). His greatest – with the marvellous Joe Henderson on tenor sax.

> Oliver Nelson, Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961). Freddy Hubbard playing his socks off on the best track, 'Stolen Moments', and Eric Dolphy, likewise, on flute.

> Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section (1957). What to say about Art Pepper? Dunno. I just love his stuff, and it's like with Monk: this one will do; it'll more than do.

> Jimmy Smith, The Sermon (1957-8). It reminds me of when I was a graduate student, and Wife of the Norm and I first started going out; and of friends then, Chris and Marion, Murat, Franny. Oh yes, and it really rocks.

Oy, the things I've had to omit. I hope JDC isn't a jazz fan and getting ready to pounce on me for missing out, well, Duke Ellington. But despite my own earlier strictures, I'm willing to venture this. If you have a jazz collection of, say, 75 or more albums and don't have at least half – therefore eight – of these, your collection is... less good than it might be.

And now: the thoughtful and discriminating reader aforesaid will have anticipated the following as well. I'm inviting entries for the normblog top 15 jazz albums poll. Please send me your nominations, any number up to, but no more than, 15. Closing date Sunday 5 October, 11.59 PM normblog time. Come on, have a go, enter. You know it'll be fun.

posted by norm at 2:04 pm | link

No beer – in Australia?!

I'm not really familiar with Australian country music, but its greatest son, Slim Dusty, has died recently, a few days after Johnny Cash, so I point you towards this piece about him by Iain Shedden in The Australian. Dusty's best-known song was A Pub With No Beer.
"He articulated the very essence of Australia to a great many Australians," said music historian Glenn A. Baker. "His view of this country was a reliable and comfortable one that was shared by the people he played to for more than 50 years. He was never scared of a country town. He took his music out there and he did it."
Thanks to Jim Nolan for putting this my way.

posted by norm at 1:52 pm | link

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