Saturday, October 25, 2003

Controversial Read

I've got a lot of time for Catherine Bennett as a journalist. She has an oblique and astringent way, is not totally predictable like so many of her colleagues on the Groan, and is often on target. Here she has a go at The Big Read, and it's hard not to cringe at some of what she details. But in the end I'm more persuaded by Joel Rickett:
[F]or all its flaws, the project has engaged an audience left cold by other efforts at televising literary debate. Viewing figures for the shortlist programme peaked at 2.6 million; 180,000 people have downloaded the guide to setting up a reading group. And the viewers are turning back to libraries and bookshops. In 22 weeks, the 100 Big Read titles have sold almost 3 million copies in all editions. Modern classics have seen the biggest boost - Catcher in the Rye, Nineteen Eighty-four, Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird have all sold at least 50% more copies than they did in the whole of 2002. Some less acclaimed titles have also benefited - but the Big Read was always intended to spark emotional as well as intellectual debate. Its critics also contribute to that debate - even if some of them believe they are above it
... and by Genevieve Clarke, of the National Reading Campaign:
Those working in schools and colleges are delighted by The Big Read - over 30,000 downloads of support materials from our website to date. The series is an entertaining and enjoyable device. What matters more is that it is a catalyst for a whole host of activities that can encourage people of all ages not predisposed to reading to realise its relevance to their lives.
Send in your entries for the normblog Alternative Big Read is what I say.

posted by norm at 7:56 pm | link

Not your uncle

Mike Marqusee has a piece about Bob Dylan today which ends by trying to enlist him for the anti-war movement. It's a shame, because as the body of the article makes clear, Mike is well aware that it's part of the breadth of Dylan's appeal and achievement that he wasn't tied exclusively to any movement. Nevertheless, the piece finishes so:
But if the new movements ['today's anti-war and global justice movements'] learn from history, not least from the magnificent contradictions of 60s Dylan, they will be able to stand on their forebears' shoulders, see further and achieve more. In any case, they have already given Dylan's music a new home and a new resonance. One reason his songs endure is that their targets are still with us. When George Bush visits the UK next month, protesters will aim to fulfil Dylan's prophecy of 1964: "Even the president of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked."
Yes, even he sometimes, because everybody sometimes must have to stand naked. I think particularly here, in a different sense of those words, of the tortured who are forced to. And I think too, in the same sense of those words, of all those leftists and liberals who marched to prolong the life of Saddam Hussein's regime. To hope to mobilize Dylan's lyrics for a movement which was ready to block the ending of that foulness is worse than a cheap shot.

posted by norm at 1:04 pm | link

Lest we forget

A Guardian leader this morning concludes its discussion of the Iraq donors' conference in Madrid as follows:
Above all, Iraqis, not Americans, must direct the key reconstruction allocation and planning decisions. Lest we forget, it is their country.
A little bit of moral honesty wouldn't come amiss here. The leader-writer is only in a position to opine thus about who should now direct the key decisions because, thanks to the Americans and their allies, the Baathist regime is no more. Lest we forget, the Guardian wasn't a top supporter of the initiative which removed it.

posted by norm at 12:06 pm | link

Friday, October 24, 2003

Exit the groveller (updated)

More than 24 hours have passed and I've not marked the expulsion of George Galloway from the Labour Party. Can't be allowed to happen. So here's my contribution to the happy event.

Last night on the 6 o'clock news on Radio 4 I thought I heard something along the lines of Galloway having been expelled 'for his forthright opposition to the Iraq war'. Er... no. But perhaps I misheard, so let it go. Then, however, here is the same thing again:
Mr Galloway's passionate anti-war stance, which saw him take part in demonstrations up and down Britain, goaded Tony Blair and the party into action.
If an anti-war stance, even a forthright or passionate one, had been the grounds for Galloway's expulsion you'd now be looking at a mass purge of the Labour Party. It's a dumb thing to say. It's a stupid explanation. Still, heh anyway.

Updated at 12.05 PM on Oct 25: I plainly didn't mishear. Or, rather, even if I did the once, this stuff is all over the place. It's in the Herald:
Mr Galloway has said all along that his only motive was to campaign against an "immoral and illegal" war... [M]any people agree with his passionately-held views on the Iraq war. But Labour has decided that these views cannot be tolerated within the party.
It was in Socialist Worker:
How much lower can New Labour go? Millions of people in the anti-war and trade union movements must be asking this question as the Labour Party drags George Galloway, the MP most associated with the anti-war movement, before a kangaroo court.

In his speech at last month's Labour Party conference Tony Blair said, "Iraq has divided the international community. It has divided the party, the country, families, friends... I do not at all disrespect anyone who disagrees with me." But Blair's respect does not go far. Galloway's tribunal could see him thrown out of the Labour Party.
And it's on the slimepool page itself of my dnoc, among the letters:
A rubicon has been crossed. George Galloway has been expelled from Labour essentially for thought crimes. How to oppose a war without opposing the fighting of it?
It is a shame that many Labour backbenchers who hold similar views to George Galloway have kept their heads beneath the parapet. The claim that Labour is a "broad church" is now, along with Clause 4, destined for the political dustbin.
George ('Saluting your courage... your indefatigability') Galloway was expelled after being adjudged guilty on the following charges:
he incited Arabs to fight British troops
he incited British troops to defy orders
he threatened to stand against Labour
he backed an anti-war candidate in Preston
Anyone who thinks that, even so, he shouldn't have been expelled, needs a better argument than that he was expelled because he opposed the war. For good measure here, another heh.

posted by norm at 11:37 pm | link

Turkey and Europe

From the latest issue of The Supporter (26, October 2003 - no link), published by the Medical Foundation:
The Medical Foundation last year provided help and support to nearly 750 newly referred torture victims from 24 European countries. Perpetrators ranged from state security officers and gangsters operating with official connivance through to the ubiquitous 'skinhead' nationalists of Eastern Europe.

The bulk of the victims from Europe seen at the Medical Foundation - more than 400 - were from Turkey, a country that has yet to meet the criteria for EU membership, which include the outright proscription of torture and measures to eradicate it. There the torture of Kurdish separatists and members of hard left organisations is so endemic that one leading Turkish human rights activist recently posited that there could be no improvement until the several thousand torturers employed by the state were retrained in other skills.

Many of the accession states poised on the threshold of the EU, however, also present cause for concern. The three Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have each seen regular attacks on ethnic minorities, particularly the Roma, that have met with little official interest.
The website of the Medical Foundation is here.

posted by norm at 7:42 am | link

Britain's war on Saddam had the law on its side

The article so titled, by Christopher Greenwood, Professor of International Law at the LSE, should be read carefully by all those who say different. Thanks to WotN for the link.

posted by norm at 7:25 am | link

The normblog profile 5: Harry Hatchet

Harry Hatchet started his blog, Harry's Place, in November of last year.

Why do you blog? > I like a good argument - especially about politics.

What has been your best blogging experience? > Being called a 'turncoat' and a 'sell-out' in the same day.

What has been your worst blogging experience? > When my boss asked me if I ever read any of those weblog things...

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Do you really need to do this? Have you got anything interesting to say? Do you want to make it public?

What are your favourite blogs? > In general I enjoy nearly all the British political blogs and find most of the American ones a bit pompous - Matt Welch and Jeff Jarvis are regular visits, though. British Spin always has something interesting to say. Stephen Pollard is an enemy of the people but is a good provocateur. And then there is your good self, of course.

Who are your political heroes? > I think the Stranglers were right - 'No More Heroes'. We had enough of those in the last century.

Who are your intellectual heroes? > See above. But Christopher Hitchens is a talent on many levels.

Who are your sporting heroes? > Ah, that's different. When I was a kid, Billy Hamilton, the former Burnley and Northern Ireland striker, was my hero and of course you never really abandon your childhood heroes. The greats? Franz Beckenbauer and Garfield Sobers in the two sports that really matter. Modern day? Gabriel Batistuta.

What are you reading at the moment? > Antonio Gramsci - towards an intellectual biography, by Alastair Davidson, written before Marxism Today made Gramsci into a tee-shirt, and Beyond a Boundary, by CLR James.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > Where do I start? Rejecting Leninism was probably the beginning of the journey. For a lot of people it's the end of the journey, though.

What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > Despite the above, Lenin's advice to always ask the question 'Who benefits?' It's a pretty good start to looking at any issue.

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Berlin, Rio, Copenhagen, London, New York and Havana all have attractions for me.

Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Peter Kay.

What would your ideal holiday be? > Following an Ashes series around Australia.

What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Watching Formula One and attending fitness clubs.

What do you like doing in your spare time? > Cooking. There are few finer pleasures than cooking a meal for friends and then eating, drinking and arguing with them.

What is your most treasured possession? > The cricket ball my Grandad kept after he took all ten wickets in a match.

Which English Premiership football team do you support? > I don't. I support Burnley who play in the Nationwide League Division One.

What talent would you most like to have? > Comic.

What is your favourite movie? > Twelve Angry Men - the Sidney Lumet original.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > I'm revisiting some research on the 1956 Hungarian revolution, so an evening with Nikita Khrushchev, Imre Nagy and Janos Kadar would be useful as well as entertaining in a macabre way. It would make the cooking easier, too.

[Previous profiles: Chris Bertram (Sep 26); Alan Brain (Oct 10); Jackie D (Oct 17); Michael J. Totten (Oct 3). The normblog profile is a weekly feature, with a new profile posted every Friday morning.]

posted by norm at 7:10 am | link

Thursday, October 23, 2003

ABR - further update

Since I announced the Alternative Big Read, an exciting and wildly popular event here at normblog, the BBC have annoyingly reorganized their pages, removing the top 21 titles from the list of the top 100. Henceforth, therefore, you must go both here and here, in order to be able to cast your eye over the full list of candidates from which you're choosing your top three. But please keep the entries coming in. Look, I know who many of you are who've not yet entered. Do you want to carry that guilt around - my knowing, your not having done anything yet? Easier just to put in your vote. Go on. You want to really.

posted by norm at 5:02 pm | link

Brits and the US

A couple of responses to my post about Linda Colley's article yesterday. From John Malone in New York:
For all the condescension of Linda Colley's Guardian piece, she does at least point out that Americans now have easy access to a startling variety of media sources from around the world. This is a point I've been making (in vain) to my friends in Europe for two years now, who as a rule assume I'm ill-informed. It's especially welcome to see this point made in the Guardian, where the notion that Americans are ignorant is gospel.
From Neville Fridge, a British expat in California:
[H]aving grown up watching so much American TV, listening to American music etc., British people tend to assume that they already know all there is to know about the country and its culture. This is of course to confuse Hollywood movies with the real thing, a fatuous misstep, but one which people not only make but then often fail to reassess for decades. Europeans also tend to assume that they are cosmopolitan, while Americans know little about other countries or cultures. What they rarely stop to consider is that a startlingly high proportion of trips from the UK are within Europe only. In terms of the wider world, trips from London to Nice have become scarcely more adventurous or enlightening than trips from Denver to San Diego. I find it amusing that the source of Europeans' belief in their cosmopolitanism turns out in this way to be parochialism embedded in their own thinking.
Thanks for these comments. Also perhaps I'll just make it clear, in case anyone was in any doubt about this, that my remark about people who deserve 'a sound thrashing' was definitely in jest.

posted by norm at 4:42 pm | link

Great start

Via Harry's Place various tips from the Socialist Alliance to its members if they're going on TV. They include these:
Know what your talking about. You must be prepared, you'll be unable to take in notes with you, or quickly look anything up so you must know the score before the start of the interview.
Make sure you make your points not theirs. Without sounding too much like a politician don't be afraid to turn a question on its head to suit your purpose. Don't be evasive but your there to promote your agenda not theirs.
Writing literate English, and therefore knowing the difference between 'your' and 'you're', would be a better beginning than this is for knowing what you're talking about.

posted by norm at 4:22 pm | link

Trotsky and the Jews: a reply to Oliver Kamm

I would not ever look forward to crossing swords with Oliver Kamm. As a regular reader of his blog, I know him to be a formidable antagonist. More importantly, although our political and intellectual outlooks obviously diverge in a number of ways, on some of the issues that have lately been dividing the combined camp (if I may so put this) of liberalism and the left - issues which I judge to be critical for our time - Oliver's writing stands with the very best there is in the blogosphere. If I have to choose between his robust anti-tyranny and anti-terrorist liberalism, and the kind of moral-equivalence, root-causes, would-be leftism that is now so widely current, this choice will cost me less than half a second and, as many times as I have to make it, be the same.

It is therefore of some relief to me that, while wanting to defend myself against the criticism Oliver has made of my essay 'Trotsky: Jewish universalist' - posted here on September 2 - I don't in fact need to cross swords with him. I'm not just playing with words. This is what I mean. In criticizing one of the concluding remarks of that essay, Oliver doesn't directly fault the substantive claim which it embodies (concerning Trotsky's relationship during the 1930s to Jewish concerns), and I don't think he can fault it, as I shall go on to show. He rather casts doubt on it indirectly by referring to matters over some - though, even here, not all - of which there will certainly be disagreement between the two of us, but which were not the subject of my essay and do not affect the claim in question. I don't therefore need to enter into dispute over them here, although a fruitful discussion of them between us would certainly be possible. The purpose of what follows, then, is to show that the claim I made and which Oliver challenges is unscathed by the considerations with which he backs that challenge.

Oliver's disagreement with me takes off from the following passage from my conclusion:
Luxemburg wrote in 1917 to a friend that she was at home wherever there were clouds and human tears, but that she had no special corner in her heart reserved for the ghetto. Two decades later, on the very threshold of the disaster [i.e. the Shoah] whose threatening shape he had somehow managed to perceive ahead of time, Trotsky reserved a corner of his mind, at least, for the original people of the ghetto.
Let me remind those who have read the essay, and set out for anyone who hasn't, the evidence I gave in support of this statement. Having reported earlier in the essay that Trotsky's general standpoint on Jewish matters was - in common with many other Marxists of his era - that 'The class standpoint must not be subordinated to the national one', and that on this basis he formulated an 'opposition to Zionism... that would last more than thirty years', I went on to say the following:
After 1933, once Hitler had come to power, the predicament of the Jews... occupied Trotsky's mind. The 'gigantic dimension of the evil burdening the Jewish people', as he referred to it in 1938, and 'the shocking bestialities inflicted by Hitler's gangs' after the German invasion of Poland, brought a reassessment by him of the nature of anti-Semitism.
I said also:
[A]lthough he continued to be opposed to Zionism because of the enmity it was leading to between Jews and Arabs, he was now prepared to envisage a territorial base for a Jewish national identity which he thought likely 'to maintain itself for an entire epoch to come'. He believed only socialism could provide the conditions for a benign outcome along such lines, since it was a feature precisely of the grave crisis of capitalism that this small people, the Jews, could 'no longer find a place on our planet.'
It is these passages which provide the background to my concluding remark about Trotsky in his last years having 'reserved a corner of his mind' for the Jewish people. Note that this is a quite limited claim. Not only do I make it clear that Trotsky remained opposed to Zionism even in the 1930s, and in face of the Nazi threat to the Jews of which he was more aware than most; I also say merely 'corner of his mind', and this immediately precedes a sentence in which I indicate that I'm not necessarily asserting Trotsky's concern for the Jews as having been intensely passionate, for I continue:
Where exactly his heart lay on that line familiar to secular Jews, joining the age-old dream of a just world with a concern for the fate of their long-troubled people, is harder to say.
Oliver's disagreement with me is set out in his post of September 4, 'Trotsky, Trotskyism and the Jews'. Since, in developing his criticisms of my concluding remarks, he focuses on whether or not Trotsky at this time showed a genuine awareness of the 'necessity of pursuing Jewish particularist claims', I need here to lay out the evidence there is, and on which I based myself, for believing that Trotsky was 'now prepared to envisage a territorial base for a Jewish national identity'. That will require substantial quotation, for which I ask the reader's indulgence. Trotsky:
[T]he Jewish question cannot be solved within the framework of capitalism. I do not know whether Jewry will be built up again as a nation. However, there can be no doubt that the material conditions for the existence of Jewry as an independent nation could be brought about only by the proletarian revolution... The establishment of a territorial base for Jewry in Palestine or any other country is conceivable only with the migrations of large human masses. Only a triumphant socialism can take upon itself such tasks. It can be foreseen that it may take place either on the basis of mutual understanding, or with the aid of a kind of international proletarian tribunal which should take up this question and solve it. (1934)
[A] workers' government is duty bound to create for the Jews, as for any nation, the very best circumstances for cultural development. This means, inter alia: to provide for those Jews who desire to have their own schools, their own press, their own theatre, etc., a separate territory for self-administration and development. The international proletariat will behave in the same way when it will become the master of the whole globe... If this or that national group is doomed to go down (in the national sense) then this must proceed in the same way as a natural process, but never as a consequence of any territorial, economic, or administrative difficulties. (1934)
During my youth I rather leaned toward the prognosis that the Jews of different countries would be assimilated and that the Jewish question would thus disappear in a quasi-automatic fashion. The historical development of the last quarter century has not confirmed this perspective. [Trotsky then refers to the growth of anti-Semitism, both generally and in Germany, and to Jewish cultural developments. - NG] One must therefore reckon with the fact that the Jewish nation will maintain itself for an entire epoch to come. Now the nation cannot normally exist without a common territory. Zionism springs from this very idea. But the facts of every passing day demonstrate to us that Zionism is incapable of resolving the Jewish question. The conflict between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine acquires a more and more tragic and more menacing character... Socialism will open the possibility of great migrations on the basis of the most developed technique and culture. It goes without saying that what is here involved is not compulsory displacements, that is, the creation of new ghettos for certain nationalities, but displacements freely consented to, or rather demanded by certain nationalities or parts of nationalities. The dispersed Jews who would want to be reassembled in the same community will find a sufficiently extensive and rich spot under the sun. (1937)
"The Friends of the USSR" are satisfied with the creation of Birobidjan. I will not stop at this point to consider whether it was built on a sound foundation, and what type of regime exists there. (Birobidjan cannot help reflecting all the vices of bureaucratic despotism.) But not a single progressive, thinking individual will object to the USSR designating a special territory for those of its citizens who feel themselves to be Jews, who use the Jewish language in preference to all others and who wish to live as a compact mass... Are we not correct in saying that a world socialist federation would have to make possible the creation of a "Birobidjan" for those Jews who wish to have their own autonomous republic as the arena for their own culture? It may be presumed that a socialist democracy will not resort to compulsory assimilation. (1937)
[The four passages all come from the same collection: Leon Trotsky, On the Jewish Question, New York: Pathfinder Press 1970. They are to be found at pp. 18, 19, 20-21, and 28-9.]
These passages and the line of thought they embody form the very core of the case for the closing remarks of mine which Oliver puts in question. It has to be said, however, that he is very quick with that case - I mean in his dismissal of it. For here, in what immediately follows, is the whole basis of Oliver's dismissal, and it is, I contend, manifestly insufficient. (It's not that he doesn’t have other things to say as well. He does. But they aren't relevant to the point at issue. I'll come back to them after first attending to it.) Oliver quotes the last of the four passages I've set out above, and then continues:
Birobidjan was the supposedly autonomous region allocated to the Jews in the USSR. And so far from being a recognition of Jewish national claims, it was a means of breaking collective Jewish identity. Its inhabitants were scattered among towns thousands of miles apart, isolated from each other and without means of recalling their heritage or practising their observance. Trotsky refers to the 'bureaucratic despotism' of Birobidjan, but that's no more than the sectarian and pedantic criticism of a man fundamentally in sympathy with the polity and society that, after all, he himself had helped create. The entire Soviet system was, to him, a 'deformed workers' state' rather than, as it actually was, a monstrous and irredeemably evil totalitarianism.
I believe that this gloss by Oliver on Trotsky's thinking on the issue simply denatures it, and in a way that is obvious. It denatures it by turning Trotsky's repeatedly stated endorsement of the right of the Jews to a national homeland into a mere willingness to assign them something like Birobidjan - this despite Trotsky's clearly-signalled reservation about its character, which Oliver discounts as unserious. However, the other passages of Trotsky's which I have cited show that his commitment was not to some existing Soviet variant of a Jewish territory. It was a quite general commitment, expressed in terms which Oliver and probably many other readers of this blog may regard as quaint, or deluded, or dangerous, or any combination of the three, but which Trotsky nevertheless foresaw as having to be taken in all seriousness by a future (and as he would have thought) healthy socialist alliance of the world's peoples: a commitment to accepting for the Jews their own national territory, in which to pursue their cultural goals and self-determined development in the way they saw fit. Oliver focuses on Birobidjan as a miserable travesty of that aspiration. But Trotsky not only registers his own doubts about the 'soundness' of what was going on in Birobidjan; he explicitly formulates the aspiration in rather lavish terms: speaking both of 'the very best circumstances for cultural development', and of 'a sufficiently extensive and rich spot under the sun'.

On the basis of Trotsky's documented positions I think the statement I make about his attitude during the 1930s to Jewish particularist claims is vindicated and Oliver's demurral shown to need better support than he gives it. What seems evident to me from the remainder of his post is that Oliver's demurral rests on something else; or it is a displacement of other concerns. I mean here a negative overall appraisal of Trotsky - of the man's political thought, his political record - and of certain prominent variants of contemporary Trotskyism on Oliver's part. For immediately after the passage of his which I've quoted - and half of which is already about his view of Trotsky in general rather than about Trotsky's relation to Jewish issues - Oliver moves away from the specific question in dispute between us to Leszek Kolakowski's dismissive view of Trotsky as thinker and political actor, and thence to contemporary Trotskyism and the attitudes to Israel to be found within it, including the views of the Socialist Workers' Party and of Alex Callinicos; and on, even further, to the Red Army Fraction. I don't want to seem like an obsessive counter and measurer or anything, but fully half of the words in Oliver's post (and, yes, I have calculated it) are not about Trotsky and the Jews at all, but about Trotsky in general, Trotskyism and Trotskyists later, and other tendencies on the far-Left.

But how can these other matters support Oliver's negative verdict on Trotsky's position vis-à-vis the future of the Jewish people unless they can be demonstrated actually to undo what Trotsky repeatedly said on this question? Even if Oliver's negative assessment of Trotsky were wholly valid - and there are some issues I have with him here, but they are not for this post - he would need to show how, precisely how, Trotsky's generally bad politics rendered his explicit statements concerning the Jews null. I contend that Oliver hasn't shown this. Political viewpoints are not seamless wholes. People with altogether lamentable politics - Oliver's view of Trotsky, not mine - might still have a good view about this or that, or even about this and that. A fortiori, Trotsky's views can't be impugned just by citing the views or the benighted politics of the SWP. For if they for their part support the formula of a 'secular democratic state' for Jews and Arabs, then they have simply, so to put this, fallen back behind Trotsky's standpoint on the national question and the rights of the Jewish people.

When Oliver concludes, therefore, 'For these reasons I believe Norman overstates the extent of Trotsky's perspicacity about the Jews', I don't think most of the reasons he has given are relevant to establishing any overstatement on my part. And the only one that looks as if it might be relevant - a single quotation - won't bear the meaning Oliver wants to ascribe to it, as the cognate statements from Trotsky's writings plainly show.

I intend a short sequel to this post in which I'll sweep up one or two other points I'd like to discuss that arise from this exchange, but are extraneous to the question of what Trotsky thought about the Jewish right of national self-determination.

posted by norm at 3:11 pm | link

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Crimes of universal jurisdiction

This is an important article by Richard Wolin criticizing the obnoxious views of Ted Honderich regarding "Terrorism for Humanity" (sic). The following passage sets out a point I've emphasized on this blog more than once:
Dating back to the Hague Conventions of 1898 and 1907, one of the mainstays of international law is the imperative that warring parties distinguish between combatants and civilians. Those precepts were vigorously reaffirmed by Additional Protocol I to the 1977 Geneva Convention, which representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization attended. The distinction is widely recognized as a linchpin of international human-rights law. By intentionally targeting civilians, suicide bombings deliberately contravene those precedents.
According to an October 2002 report by Human Rights Watch, "Erased in a Moment: Suicide Bombing Attacks Against Israeli Civilians," which condemned the intentional and systematic massacre of innocents, the suicide bombings qualify as a crime against humanity. In international human-rights law, the fundamental precedent was set by the 1945 Nuremberg Charter. The Nuremberg precepts were recently reaffirmed by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which defines crimes against humanity as the "participation in and knowledge of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population," and "the multiple commission of [such] acts ... against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack." According to the Rome Statute, both individual perpetrators and the organizations that sponsor them bear criminal accountability for such acts. They are crimes of universal jurisdiction and are subject to no statute of limitations.
Read the rest. Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link.

posted by norm at 5:40 pm | link

Way South

Way South is a South African blog which I come to know about because there is a post up about my recent series on 'The Rights and Wrongs of Amnesty'. Richard (no second name discoverable) concludes his discussion there (scroll down to October 20):
No, this was not a reconciliation. The TRC was a Peace commission. For the new South Africa to become a reality, both sides needed to have their killers forgiven. Their leaders cleared of responsibility for what they allowed. Justice for the victims of apartheid South Africa was traded in return for our peace.
My own view, too, essentially.

posted by norm at 4:54 pm | link

Intensely annoying article - for three reasons at least

Linda Colley writes today, in the tabloid section (G2) of the Groan, an article entitled 'God bless America - for three reasons at least'. She's drawing attention to features of America which she commends, a quite necessary activity in the present climate, especially given the venue of her article. As she herself sums up these good features of America, after dealing with each one in detail, they are 'its openness to global news... the vitality of its political debate, and... its superior opportunities for women'. I found the article annoying none the less, and here are three reasons why I did.

First, there is its insufferably patronizing premise and tone. As a younger person might put it, she's like, 'Hey everyone, I've been to America and, you know, it isn't so bad' - as if she'd just spent a few days in the company, let's say, of Andrew Murray and George Galloway and was wanting to tell you that that contained a good side. Second, the three things she picks out about America for praising more or less come down to the fact that it is a long-established democracy with one of the most advanced democratic cultures on the planet. The fact that she has to spell them out, in semi-awe, tells you something about her own expectations, and about her expectations of her readers - which may, unfortunately, be well-founded in relation to a significant proportion of them. However, though keel-hauling is rightly something the democratic world has put behind it now, anyone of mature adult years wanting to contribute to intelligent political debate who still needs to be told such facts as these about America does rather deserve to be taken out and given a sound thrashing. Thirdly, wouldn't you know it, but read Ms Colley carefully and you will see that one of the reasons she's so pleased about the vitality of political debate in the US is that it represents a hopeful pointer with respect to what she calls 'American foreign policy adventures' - like the war to free Iraq from Saddam. Democracy for Americans good, hey Linda - and Iraqis, they can bloody wait.

Still, mustn't grumble.

Like, hey everyone, I've read Linda Colley's article and, you know, it isn't so bad. For she does at least say that America has sometimes been seen 'as dangerously egalitarian, worryingly innovatory, and excessively democratic. Now that it rules the world, these radical and reformist aspects of America can easily get forgotten.' Too right.

posted by norm at 3:59 pm | link


Michael Howard reporting from Baghdad in the trusty old dnoc refers to...
...the Shia religious establishment, represented by Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, who has condoned cooperation with Iraq's new government.
Does he mean what he says? Or doesn't he know what he means? Hard to answer, given where he's writing.

posted by norm at 2:45 pm | link

Iraqi trade unions

Also via Tom Watson, I came across this post by Eric Lee on the development of trade unions in Iraq since the end of the war:
[W]ith [the] collapse of the Ba'athist regime, the official 'unions' collapsed as well - and two distinctly different movements stepped into the breach. One, the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU)... Another... a union of unemployed workers, one which has gotten a lot of press attention in the far-Left press, at least here in Britain. There are even remnants of the Saddamist unions, the former GFTU, though Abdullah [Eric Lee's source] sees them more as gangsters than a rival trade union movement. Indeed the IFTU refers to the Saddamists as a "yellow union".
Facing an estimated seven million unemployed, a collapsed economy, and the need to build up a new society from scratch, the Iraqi unions face enormous challenges.
Lee calls for the 'help and support of trade unionists everywhere'.

posted by norm at 2:08 pm | link

ABR update

The Alternative Big Read (see post immediately below) has got off to a flying start and, on the basis of the entries I've had already, I can disclose one thing about the normblog readership: as a collectivity you're more interested - much more interested - in novels than you are in Rugby Union. Not twelve hours after announcing the event I had a bigger entry for it than I got for my Rugby World Cup competition all told. Surprised? Naah. Me neither.

Other points I can reveal at this early stage. There is already a sizeable blogger contingent. And we have participation at parliamentary level, with an entry from Tom Watson MP - one of the quickest off the mark. So come on now, everybody else. Keep those entries flowing in.

posted by norm at 1:46 pm | link

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

The (normblog) Alternative Big Read

Being a glutton for punishment and despite recent affirmations that I wouldn't be doing this sort of thing again for a while, but dismayed to find that the last 21 titles for the BBC's The Big Read do not include the greatest novel I've ever read, I have decided to run here at normblog... (cue trumpets) The Alternative Big Read.

The way it'll work is this. I invite you to bypass the BBC's final list of 21 books, go back to their longer list of 100 from which these 21 came, and send me your top three titles from this longer list. You duly oblige, ranking your choices: 1) this, 2) that, and 3) the other - the rankings to be weighted in the reckoning up. We thereby find out, ahead of the BBC result, what the composite taste is of the readers of this blog. That is something you would all surely like to know.

The poll closes at the end of Sunday 16 November, my time. Get your vote in early so that I don't have to issue reminders and appeals. Come on loyal readers. Do it please. Do it soon.

posted by norm at 10:15 pm | link

Mystic River

I saw Mystic River last night, Clint Eastwood's latest outing as director and based on the novel by Dennis Lehane. It's a first-rate movie: a gripping story that never flags through close on two and a half hours, with outstanding performances by the main principals, Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins. Someone I haven't seen for absolutely ages, Eli Wallach, also makes a brief appearance, but the chief interest - revolving around the murder of a young woman (the Sean Penn character's daughter) - is in the relationship between three men who were boyhood friends and whose lives have been marked by the tragic experience of one of them. The family dynamics around each of the three also play a crucial part in a story in which the evils of the past afflict the present and new wrongs go unredeemed. The discussion by Joe Queenan here is less than totally enthusiastic, and less enthusiastic than I am, but this judgement of his hits the nail on the head:
[I]t is a joy to watch actors as good as this get the opportunity to perform long scenes without having the director constantly cutting away for reaction shots. Moreover, Mystic River is a film made entirely without special effects; the budget seems to have been devoted entirely to paying for an interesting screenplay and hiring interesting actors. The kids are going to hate it.
See it if you can. It's American cinema - the best - at its very best.

posted by norm at 8:37 pm | link

Atlas shrugged off

Further to my post about the James Atlas article yesterday, see the cogent responses to him by Oliver Kamm and Michael Totten.

posted by norm at 1:05 pm | link

Benn - when?

Tony Benn (burdened with a record going back at least twelve years) writes a letter to the Guardian today as a concerned democrat. Why is it I can't take this quite as seriously as I might if the letter came from someone else? I don't have an entirely reliable memory these days, but I'd like to be reminded if in the sequence, Saddam, Milosevic, al-Qaida/the Taliban, Saddam again, there's been a single occasion when Benn didn't oppose the intervention to put a stop to what those named in the sequence were up to.

(Amended at 2.50 PM.)

posted by norm at 12:52 pm | link

Independent, resolute and fearless

There's a leader in my dnoc today about the BBC. It concludes:
The corporation has come under unprecedented scrutiny and attack - from Lord Hutton, from the government, from corporate rivals and from powerful conservative ideologues. These are formidable forces, but it is doubly vital that the BBC remains independent, resolute and fearless. To blink now would, in the long run, be fatal.
Nice one. Such morally elevating adjectives, those. But amongst the forces not mentioned here as a source of scrutiny and criticism are those many ordinary TV viewers who pay the licence fee and weren't happy to be supporting a public broadcasting organization which proved itself far from independent of anti-war opinion. It would be better if the BBC were to show itself less 'resolute and fearless' - actually I mean stubborn - and reassess its record in this matter. Maybe it's beginning to, quietly; I have to say there have been occasions, watching the news in the last two or three weeks, when I've had the impression - and it's just an impression, and just mine - of some effort finally being made towards a greater even-handedness.

posted by norm at 12:30 pm | link

Monday, October 20, 2003


I read J.M. Coetzee's novel Disgrace a couple of years ago. I read it specifically because I'd been told it was relevant to thinking about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and that was something I was then thinking about. It is not the best way of reading a novel - with a particular moral or intellectual problem in mind. For this may well lead you to miss other things the book has to offer. But anyway that's how I read Disgrace, I found it very powerful, and I don't think my appreciation was wholly confined by my reason for wanting to read it in the first place. Still, I offer this brief note on it as a sort of postscript to the series on 'The Rights and Wrongs of Amnesty' I ran here recently (October 6, 8, 10 and 14), and a belated tribute to J.M. Coetzee for the Nobel Prize he has lately been awarded.

Disgrace is the story of a South African professor, David Lurie, who loses his job after having an affair with a student. He leaves Cape Town and goes to stay with his daughter Lucy on her farm. There they are attacked one day by three black intruders. With her father powerless to come to her aid, Lucy is raped and becomes pregnant. Though David wants to bring in the law, she is insistent that they do not. You can find reviews of the novel here, here and here.

I don't know if there's just one parallel to the TRC in Disgrace or indeed if the one I see there would be agreed by other readers, or by the author. But my own feeling is that the book works best as an allegory about reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa if the rape stands in for the crimes of the apartheid regime. David's is then the voice of justice, wanting the crime pursued and punished, Lucy's the voice of reconciliation. In the end, however, as I read it, David too becomes reconciled in a certain sense to an evil unredeemed. It seems to me to be there in the scene at the end of the book when, walking over the countryside, he comes upon a view, from some way off, of Lucy working at the farm. There is something of detachment and acceptance in the way he's described as perceiving this. It's there, also, in his relationship to the suffering of animals and its alleviation, something we are shown as he helps a woman friend whose job it is to put down dogs which are beyond hope. There are evils in the world which nothing, no merely human justice, can put right.

Assuming that the way I've construed it here makes meaningful sense of Coetzee's story, then it's something I'd want to argue with. Can you argue with a novel? I'm going to in any case. I'd argue with it as conflating metaphysical and moral reconciliation. The former - a metaphysical reconciliation with suffering and injustice - is surely part of any real wisdom about living manageably in a brutal world. However, moral reconciliation with deliberate evil, with humanly caused and humanly avoidable or preventable injustice, even if some degree of this may impose itself upon us... it should be fought with all the strength and resolution at our command.

posted by norm at 6:36 pm | link

Health issues

Here are two reports relating, broadly, to the distribution of health in relation to the distribution of... other things. According to this one:
Americans express broad, and in some cases growing, discontent with the U.S. health care system, based on its costs, structure and direction alike - fueling cautious support for a government-run, taxpayer-funded universal health system modeled on Medicare.
As to be expected in a primarily employer-based program, there is a huge income gap in insurance haves vs. have-nots. Among Americans with household incomes of $50,000 a year or more, just eight percent are uninsured. Among those with incomes under $50,000, the number of uninsured swells to one in five. Among just those with incomes under $20,000, it grows to nearly one in three.
That's in the US. This report concerns global mortality rates in childbirth:
African women are 175 times more likely to die in childbirth than women in developed regions of the world, according to new findings on maternal mortality released on Monday... a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 16 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, while one out of 2,800 women has the risk in the developed regions.
See also here.

posted by norm at 2:31 pm | link

'Not a war about Bush'

James Atlas surveys the views - now - on Iraq of some prominent left-liberal figures:
[Michael] Ignatieff hasn't changed his mind. "Would you prefer to have Bremer in Baghdad or Saddam Hussein?"... "Anybody who wants the people who are shooting American soldiers in the backs at night to win ought to have their heads examined".
[Michael Walzer:] "The issues that were in dispute last March have been superseded by new issues... Many of us who opposed the war are not prepared to call for the withdrawal of American troops. It's hard to work out a political position opposed to that of the administration. The issues now are not the kinds of issues around which you can have a political mobilization: issues like not enough troops, no unilateralism, no domestic security."
[Christopher] Hitchens is more gung-ho than ever. In his October column for Vanity Fair, he reports from his latest trip to Iraq that definite progress is being made. United States military officers are kinder, gentler men than the "grizzled, twitchy" American veterans of Cambodia or El Salvador. "Their operational skills are reconstruction, liaison with civilian forces, the cultivation of intelligence, and the study of religion and ethnicity," he wrote.
[Paul Berman:] "To overthrow Saddam is still a good thing, and we must ensure that it turns out to be a success and not a failure. Cheering on the sidelines doesn't do a lot of good. What we need to do is try and persuade people that this is not a war about Bush but about totalitarianism in the Middle East."
Josh Cherniss has a critique of Atlas's piece up at Sitting on a Fence. He says the thesis of the article doesn't hold up, but that it's otherwise a 'good piece on some very admirable and attractive voices'. (Thanks to John Abeles for the link.)

posted by norm at 11:27 am | link

Grass roots

Paul Weaver tells of cricket fever in Bangladesh in the run-up to the Test against England:
On the few pieces of grass you see in this desperate city, children are playing cricket. "They are even playing cricket in the paddy fields," says Macky Dudhia, who was appointed the cricket board's chief executive officer only two weeks ago.

In one local school a large drape in the assembly hall points out all the fielding positions. When England played the President's XI last week thousands waited outside the ground to cheer their heroes as they left. Anwar Hossain, Anwar Hossain Monir, Hannan Sarkar and Mushfiqur Rahman are hardly world names but they were the only four Test players in the local team and they were greeted like gods.
Weak as it now is in Test match terms, the country may have a great cricketing future.

posted by norm at 11:09 am | link


If you're not earning enough, you maybe need to do something about your height:
Offering a new and much more literal measuring stick for the corporate glass ceiling, a University of Florida study says tall people earn better pay than short people. Each inch, the report said, adds $783 a year to someone's income.

The study, released this week, concluded height matters more in determining income than gender. Tall people best short people on job evaluations and even fare better on seemingly objective measures, like sales performance.

Researchers say the advantages probably come from an inclination to respect tall people and to view them as successful. Apparently, people look up to people they have to look up to.
Short story? Tall story? Take your pick.

posted by norm at 11:07 am | link

Anti-Jewish hatred

This article from Haaretz gives some background on the Malaysian Prime Minister and goes on to discuss anti-Jewish hatred in the Muslim world:
The anti-Semitic outburst by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at the Islamic summit conference he was hosting last week is not surprising. Back in 1984 Malaysia - a country in which there are no Jews - prevented a visit by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra because of its intention to perform a work by a Jewish composer (Ernst Bloch's "Schelomo - A Hebrew Rhapsody") and this even before the intifada and with no connection to Israel. In 1997 Mohamad blamed Jewish billionaire George Soros for the currency crisis in his country.

Therefore, what is more worrying than the statement itself is a different phenomenon: that Mohamad's claim that, among other things, the Jews control the world, received the blessing of the Egyptian representative and aroused no reservations among the 57 states that participated in the conference and supported the renewal of the boycott of Israel. Indeed, the attitude of the Muslim world - Arab and non-Arab - toward both Israel and Jews, has become threateningly more extreme.
Read the rest. Thanks to Nelson Ascher of EuroPundits for the link.

posted by norm at 11:05 am | link

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Know your friends

Mahathir thanks Chirac:
MALAYSIAN Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has thanked French President Jacques Chirac for blocking a European Union declaration condemning his comments last week that Jews "rule the world by proxy," news reports said today.

Chirac, backed by Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, stopped the EU from ending a summit on Friday with a harshly worded statement deploring Mahathir's speech, which also included suggestions that Jews get "others to fight and die for them."

A French diplomat, who asked not to be named, said while Chirac disagreed with Mahathir's strident views, he argued that an EU summit declaration "would not have been appropriate."

Malaysian newspapers said Mahathir had expressed his gratitude to Chirac for his "understanding" of the speech he made at the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the world's largest Muslim grouping, in Malaysia last Thursday.
Ah yes, 'understanding' - that's the word these days. This report has more on understanding.

Update at 9.30 PM: Whether the thanks were too warm for Chirac or for some other reason, he has now written to Mahathir to condemn his remarks about Jews:
PARIS - French President Jacques Chirac sent an unusually frank letter Sunday to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad personally condemning his comments last week that Jews "rule the world by proxy."

"Your remarks on the rule of Jews gave rise to very strong disapproval in France and in the world," said the letter. It added that "these remarks can only be condemned by all who preserve the memory of the Holocaust."
Thanks to Eve Garrard for the link.

posted by norm at 11:25 am | link


Eight Marine reservists accused in the mistreatment of prisoners of war in Iraq were being held Saturday at Camp Pendleton on charges ranging from negligent homicide to dereliction of duty, military officials said.
The item is here. See also here.

(Amended at 11.20 PM.)

posted by norm at 11:22 am | link

Unique Miles

Sony Legacy is putting out a five-disc set of the sessions from which the Jack Johnson album came, thirty-three years after its original release. The set covers 'four months of continuous recording, and contain[s] over three hours of new music'. There are opposing views about it. On one hand:
Despite producing the original sessions, Teo Macero was not involved in putting the set together, and is adamant that they should never have been released in this form. "I hate it," he says. "I think it's a bunch of shit, and you can quote me on that. And I hope you do. It has destroyed Miles and made him sound like an idiot. It's a terrible thing to do to an artist when he's dead. Those records were gems, and you should leave them as gems."
On the other hand:
"[Miles] had conversations with everyone he worked with," remembers [Michael] Henderson. "What not to do, look out for this, but be yourself and just listen to it. He'd say, 'Here it is, this is the way I see it, but you do what you do.'"
"A lot of people have tried to do that music without really understanding how it was done," [Henderson] says. "... Miles knew what he was doing. He wasn't guessing. What we were doing was untouchable, and we knew that at the time. It was what it was. It was unique, and with a life of its own."
The article is here.

posted by norm at 11:18 am | link

A life in writing

The Guardian carries a long and informative profile of the novelist Susan Hill. From which:
"I'm always surprised when you hear people proclaiming that the novel is dead because how can it be? The novel is the most exciting and plastic of forms, you can do anything with it."
"Edna O'Brien says all we ever write about is love and death, but I think there's also good and evil, and I write about all four."
From her The Service of Clouds: "[T]here are moments, pure as fire, which we experience and which we do not forget, and sometimes when they come, we know them for what they are"
Susan Hill's website is here. As well as being a writer of evident wisdom, she's a staunch Manchester United supporter - so a person of evident wisdom.

posted by norm at 11:13 am | link

Football focus

I can't be sure of this but on a certain programme last night I thought I caught a reference to Liverpool as looking like a mid-table team. Me, I'm saying nothing. They're only 'ten games from greatness' after all.

posted by norm at 11:11 am | link

It's a Jewish Thing

Could've fooled me. But fly on down to Alan's and see for yourself.

posted by norm at 11:10 am | link

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