Saturday, November 29, 2003

Dead wrong

Let's not get carried away, however (see previous post, and the conclusion to the Julie Burchill one a bit further down). With my hard-won reputation for even-handedness to protect, I feel bound also to point this out, from yesterday's leader on Iraq:
Ayatollah Sistani is hardly alone, in Iraq or beyond, in believing that truly representative self-governance is a desirable objective that is achievable and workable far more quickly than the Bush administration, in its condescending, self-interested way, will allow. Having repeatedly got it wrong, Washington should take Tony Blair's tip and hold a national conversation in Iraq.
Don't you just love that? I mean not like you love your children, or even your pets; but like you love those lovable acts of total public thick-headedness that open people's mouths in a take-their-breath-away moment of defeated admiration. I don't necessarily have a quarrel with 'representative self-governance... a desirable objective... far more quickly', since I don't have a close enough grasp, frankly, of the details on the ground. It sounds plausible, anyway.

What I love, though, is the Washington (therefore, Bush) having 'repeatedly got it wrong'. Here's one thing they didn't get wrong. They expected the majority of the Iraqi people to welcome the liberation from Saddam Hussein's tyranny, and even the Guardian doesn't deny that the majority of them did so welcome it, and that they're still on balance relieved about it, for all that there remain grave problems for their country. And this means, too, that on a decisive moral question of our time Bush and Washington were not wrong, and the Guardian itself was, in a perhaps more important sense. That is, Bush and Washington were on the right side, and the Guardian was on the wrong side, backing a course of action which would have left the torture chambers and the rape rooms in operation. Unless the Guardian, through its editor, is prepared to say - just say it, do - that it would be better now if Saddam were still in power, then it should concede that it did get that (terribly) wrong. Of course, the paper is entitled to go on offering its opinion as to what should happen next. But it would speak with greater moral authority if it could draw a proper balance sheet on what has happened so far and its own place in that, rather than burying it away somewhere in a slyly passing phrase. Here the thing is so deeply buried as to be invisible. Truly representative self-governance would not be on anyone's agenda right now, let alone quickly, if a certain roadblock to it had still been there. The Dragunia, and much of the opinion it represents, argued for it to be left there sine die.

In the same line of country is this report yesterday about how the US branch of Save the Children leaned on the UK organization:
One of Britain's most high-profile charities was ordered to end criticism of military action in Iraq by its powerful US wing to avoid jeopardising financial support from Washington and corporate donors, a Guardian investigation has discovered.
That - the leaning on - is the whole story, and the angle implicitly: isn't this shocking? Not a word about the scandal of a charity supposedly dedicated to the welfare of children publicly recommending a course of action which would have prolonged the life of a regime that tortured and murdered children, sometimes in front of their parents. (See my post of October 11.)

Still, mustn't grumble, hey? It's Saturday. Later...

posted by norm at 12:43 pm | link

My good old dnoc

Another thing I love about my dnoc, people, is that sometimes it endorses my views. Despite the bad press for Love Actually - a movie WotN and I both thoroughly enjoyed - whaddya know but the Dragunia, with the fearless courage you'd expect of a fine liberal newspaper, speaks out for us. It speaks out for us twice. (Scroll down a bit both times.)

posted by norm at 12:20 pm | link

Blog round

> Philip Stott takes a break from the environment to issue a 'cri de coeur for women composers'. I have a problem about linking to this and you'll see why if you go there, but I figure the 'rabbiting on' thing suitably modifies the other thing, and anyway it's a good read.

> Oliver has been partying - as only Oliver Kamm.

> Elizabeth is conducting a different kind of book poll. Hurry on over there and take a look, then send her your entry.

> Chris is that desperate he's now hoping for divine intervention.

> And - making a slight detour off the blog path to take in something related - this guy has also got it bad:
Which living person do you most despise? Ryan Giggs, for scoring that goal.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? I. Hate. Sir. Alex and Ferguson.
Aw, diddums.

> Gary is blogging about 'planetary magnetospheres and their crucial role in maintaining a habitable environment'.

> Gene, across the pond at Harry's, responds to my response to his response. As far as I can see, the area of difference between us comes down to this: for Gene, were Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and unilaterally implement a quasi-settlement - as one of normblog's readers puts it in an email, 'dismantl[ing] the settlements and fully withdraw[ing] into her pre-1967 borders, unilaterally recognizing an independent Palestinian state and insisting that it prevent attacks from its territory under penalty of a declared state of war' - this could lead to 'an even more combustible situation than exists now'. I don't think so. Noam, in the comments box at Harry's, sets out the argument.

posted by norm at 12:16 pm | link

Only one Julie Burchill

Even if she'd never written anything else and never writes another thing, everlasting honour to Julie Burchill:
Not only do I admire the Guardian, I also find it fun to read, which in a way is more of a compliment. But if there is one issue that has made me feel less loyal to my newspaper over the past year, it has been what I, as a non-Jew, perceive to be a quite striking bias against the state of Israel. Which, for all its faults, is the only country in that barren region that you or I, or any feminist, atheist, homosexual or trade unionist, could bear to live under.

I find this hard to accept because, crucially, I don't swallow the modern liberal line that anti-Zionism is entirely different from anti-semitism; the first good, the other bad. Judeophobia - as the brilliant collection of essays A New Antisemitism? Debating Judeophobia In 21st-Century Britain (axt.org.uk), published this year, points out - is a shape-shifting virus, as opposed to the straightforward stereotypical prejudice applied to other groups (Irish stupid, Japanese cruel, Germans humourless, etc). Jews historically have been blamed for everything we might disapprove of: they can be rabid revolutionaries, responsible for the might of the late Soviet empire, and the greediest of fat cats, enslaving the planet to the demands of international high finance. They are insular, cliquey and clannish, yet they worm their way into the highest positions of power in their adopted countries, changing their names and marrying Gentile women.
You should read every line. Another thing Julie might have said - tentatively - in the Guardian's favour is that we may just be seeing the early signs that the penny's finally dropped with them on one thing and the paper's becoming more alert to the dangerous world-wide growth of anti-Semitism. See the recent leader and also this article by Emanuele Ottolenghi.

posted by norm at 9:09 am | link

That shelved report

The Austrian-based E.U. Monitoring Committee (EUMC) on racism and xenophobia is claiming that its report on anti-Semitism wasn't released only because it wasn't good enough. The Chair of the EUMC Management Board, Bob Purkiss:
"I deeply regret that a collective decision of the Board, based purely on the insufficient quality of the work carried out by the Berlin Center for Research on anti-Semitism, has been used to discredit the work of the EUMC, in its fight against anti-Semitism in Europe".
As I said in my previous post about it, the report should be available to public scrutiny to allow an informed judgement. For Purkiss also stated that...
his organization was "not in the business of stigmatizing whole communities on the basis of the actions of racist individuals".
And this statement is not entirely reassuring if you think about it. (Thanks to SdeW and EG.)

posted by norm at 12:12 am | link

Friday, November 28, 2003

Testimony to ballot rigging

From the same site (as linked to in the post immediately below) and on a rather more serious matter, comes this:
"I filled in hundreds of ballot papers. There were too many to count, maybe thousands." He said that he had worked with five others, who were also filling in ballot papers. He said the ballots were later put in boxes and transported to the capital, Harare.
It's from a report about two former Zimbabwean army officers who say they helped to rig President Robert Mugabe's re-election last year. See also here.

posted by norm at 11:46 pm | link

Your chocolate years

This is quick. Work it out as you read and don't cheat by looking ahead.

> Pick the number of times a week (greater than 1 and smaller than 10) that you'd like to have chocolate.
> Multiply by 2.
> Add 5.
> Multiply by 50. You may use a calculator.
> If you've already had your birthday this year, add 1753, and if you haven't, add 1752.
> Now subtract the four-digit year in which you were born.
> You should be left with a three-digit number.

The first digit was your original number - how many times you'd like to have chocolate each week. And the next two numbers give your age. 2003 is the only year it will ever work (apparently).

I'm not 100% sure where I got this from, but I think it might have been in an email from these guys.

posted by norm at 11:28 pm | link

What if it doesn't end it?

Along at Harry's Place a few days ago, responding to my post Enough, Gene asked what I meant by saying 'Israel now has the primary responsibility and the power to bring this horror to an end', as well as posing the question, 'What if withdrawal doesn't end it?' Two readers of this blog have also written to me disagreeing with my statement and citing the responsibility of the Palestinians under Arafat's leadership for blocking the path to a peace settlement.

My view is predicated neither on a denial of Palestinian responsibilities in this matter - something I've certainly been clear about in what I've written here - nor on any automatic assumption that, by ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will immediately be able to enjoy a secure existence.

First, however, I fail to see how the security of Israel, and of Israelis, could be made worse by its withdrawal from the occupied territories. If it has then to continue to fight for its existence, I believe it will be better placed to do so, both strategically and morally. Attacks upon it would now be from without, and the states from which they came could be held accountable, with all that this entails. Under international law any state may defend itself against attack. Israel would then be defending itself, moreover, without the opprobrium that attaches to its being an occupying power, holding down a subject population.

Second, I don't accept that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has been only about security. If that were the case, what are Jewish settlements doing on Palestinian land? Why were they ever allowed to proceed in the first place? Why have they not been forcibly dismantled? The settlements are a token of the injustice of the occupation. It's time to end this. Israel will then be better placed to defend itself, and its friends will be better able to defend it.

Would that be a guarantee of anything? No. But if someone's got a better option, I'd like to see it. A peace settlement would be good, of course; but, in the meantime, the present state of affairs is a calamity on the way to becoming a catastrophe.

posted by norm at 4:54 pm | link

Root causes (Eve Garrard)

[Soon after normblog got started, I posted a short item by my friend Eve Garrard on the reporting of the power outages in the US and Canada. She contributes another post today, and will continue to do so on an occasional basis.]

We're often told that rather than condemn terrorists we should look for the causes of their existence and activities - one implication being that that will enable us to do better at coping with them. Well, understanding terrorism is worthwhile for its own sake, and doubtless helps us to deal with it. But I'm wondering just how this focus on root causes is supposed to work. Because firstly, there's an embarrassing number of causes around the place. With terrorism, the causes usually cited are the terrible poverty and oppression, and consequent despair, suffered by the terrorists. Even if this is true (which it may very well not be - Osama and his best buddies don't look notably poor and oppressed to me), it's pretty obvious nonetheless that the causal story doesn't stop here. Plenty of people are oppressed and impoverished, but they don't respond by blowing up innocent civilians. Something else must be going on too.

An interesting article on the bombings in Turkey by Helena Smith in Norm's (and also my) dnoc offers ten causes: the influence of French existentialism, psychological problems, the militant Islamist teaching of the sheikhs leading underground religious sects, 'a system that appears to nurture religious inspired hate', terrorist training in Iran, Syria, Pakistan, and the Gulf States, funding from the business-endowed foundations that support militant Islamist sects, poverty and unemployment, Hizbollah's readiness to look after its members' families, Turkish oppression of Kurds, previous Turkish support for Islamist groups including Hizbollah. (Very unusually, Israel doesn't get mentioned in this article, but root causers normally cite the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in very prominent ways.) And of course there are plenty more to be cited, since causes march back inexorably into the past, and also fan out contemporaneously, depending on how energetically we search for them.

So secondly, once we have a plausibly rich account of the root causes, which of them are we to select - to try to alter? One obvious recommendation is that we should focus on the ones we think we can do something about. But which are these, and who are 'we'? The implication is generally that 'we' are the West, but there's not a lot that the West can do about the hideously anti-Western and anti-Semitic teaching in the Islamist schools and in much of the Arab press. Middle Eastern governments could do plenty; if we're focusing on root causes, that might be something to go for. The assumption that the only effective agents here must be Western (or maybe Israeli) ones amounts to the view that they are the only ones on the scene capable of taking responsible action - the only real grown-ups. This is a piece of egregious racism, covertly denying the agency of non-Westerners.

Another implicit suggestion is that the important - the real - root causes are the ones that are blameworthy: it's because Western powers, or Israel, are so immoral that their activities count as root causes. But that line of thought makes root causes useless for working out what to do - we'll only identify as root causes the ones produced by the side we already blame. And in any case it's illogical: we started, after all, by being told that, rather than condemn, we should look for causes; but we end up with condemnations at least as severe as the ones we started with. Understanding the causes of terrorism is valuable, but we shouldn't pretend that it will give us a clear fix for our political problems. If it's not done with care and even-handedness, the search for root causes is liable just to provide us with a mirror of our current political prejudices. We set out to do better than moral condemnation, but end up by producing... moral condemnation, more dishonest because less overtly acknowledged.

Finally, suppose we do find a decent way of deciding which are the important root causes. Is that necessarily going to make a difference to what we ought to do? What seems to be at work here is a medical model of politics: we can't treat the disease unless we know the cause. Actually that's not universally true even in medicine. And it isn't always true in politics either. There are some things so terrible that they have to be directly opposed, no matter what's causing them. If Churchill had known more about the root causes of Nazism in 1940, would it have made any significant difference to what he had to do?

posted by norm at 2:21 pm | link

The normblog profile 10: Natalie Solent

Natalie Solent was born in 1964. She has worked as a commercial artist, author of textbooks (under a different name), waitress, teacher, civil servant, recruitment consultant and stay-at-home-mother. She blogs at Natalie Solent and Biased BBC

Why do you blog? > Heredity. When I was a kid my grandma always used to shout at the TV when politicians she didn't like came on, and I was very rude about that. But blood will out and I realised I had better find some socially acceptable equivalent. I did, and now my kids are rude about my blogging.

What has been your best blogging experience? > Getting linked to by Andrew Sullivan and The Corner on the same day.

What has been your worst blogging experience? > Discovering that my post Andrew Sullivan had linked to was (unintentionally) unfair. I had to frantically add corrections in different coloured type.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Aside from boring stuff like 'check your spelling' and 'post fairly often', I'd say that if you have a passing thought, post it. A blogger's asides are often the most original and appealing part of his or her blog.

What are your favourite blogs? > My answer to that one changes week by week. At the moment I'm into education issues and I check into Brian's Education Blog daily.

Who are your political heroes? > Churchill, Lord Salisbury, Ronald Reagan. (A part of my brain is screaming as I say this.)

Who are your intellectual heroes? > Lots of 'em, but the one who comes to mind is Bernard Levin. Now I freely admit that Bernard Levin, although an excellent columnist, is not a philosophical teacher to rank with the greats of human history. However he is a reachable hero for me: he wrote a column for the Times nearly every day on any subject that took his fancy - dream of that O ye Bloggers - and got me interested in politics at the age of eleven or so.

Who are your sporting heroes? > Truth to tell I lost track of sport some time around 1980. The last sporting competition I remember really caring about was the Wimbledon women's final in 1977. Virginia Wade won, hooray!

What are you reading at the moment? > A Microsoft Word document called 'profile' which I created to write this one. Um, sorry, kid at heart. The proper book I am reading is Five Equations That Changed The World by Michael Guillen. It adds to my stock of knowledge about Newton, Faraday, Clausius, Bernouilli and other great scientists but has the annoying habit of saying things like 'How ironic, how cruel and painful, was the timeless struggle between life and death, Clausius lamented bitterly, holding his wife's cooling hand', without the slightest indication whether the author got this touching scene from Clausius' letters or other documents, or simply made it up.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > A great many issues. I used to be a socialist, now I'm a libertarian.

What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > 'Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.'

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > A terraformed planet orbiting another star.

Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > P.G. Wodehouse.

What would your ideal holiday be? > The Italian Lakes, but only if I can get there by teleportation. I hate getting to places.

What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Following fashion. Following football. Going to pubs if you have to stand up, since my feet always start hurting.

What do you like doing in your spare time? > Sewing, like it says!

What is your most treasured possession? > Our grandfather clock. It has been in my husband's family for two hundred years.

Which English Premiership football team do you support? > The Premiership is the new name for the First Division, right?

What talent would you most like to have? > Non-procrastination.

What is your favourite movie? > Ice Cold in Alex.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > I think I'll go for living guests since having dead people round to dinner gets earth all over the floor. How about Thomas Sowell, Roger Penrose and Terry Pratchett?

[Previous profiles: Ophelia Benson (Nov 7); Chris Bertram (Sep 26); Alan Brain (Oct 10); Jackie D (Oct 17); Harry Hatchet (Oct 24); Saddam Hussein (Nov 14); Oliver Kamm (Nov 21); Roger L. Simon (Oct 31); Michael J. Totten (Oct 3). The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature.]

posted by norm at 10:11 am | link

Thursday, November 27, 2003

A new anti-Semitism?

Under the above heading three of six letters in the Guardian today - those from Matthew Collins, M.M. Austin and Ian Simpson - rely on what has become a standard trope in responding to the question it poses. As stated by one of them:
I find it absurd that criticism of the Israeli government should be seen as anti-semitism.
Well, it may be hasty, but it's not absurd. It just depends. I won't labour the point I've made here more than once before, since in another of the six letters Paul Gross puts it clearly enough:
Jewish people must be careful not to equate the legitimate criticism of Israeli policies with anti-semitism, but equally, there has to be more awareness about those who use the cover of anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism to peddle what genuinely is anti-semitism.
I shall concentrate on a different aspect of the matter: the way those three letters simply draw attention away from the concern over a possible resurgence of anti-Semitism as if this weren't a genuine problem.

With a social phenomenon of this kind - that is, an increase in one form of racist prejudice - it's obviously going to be difficult to gauge exactly how things stand at a particular juncture, and there may be those with an interest in exaggerating how bad things are, or whose judgement of how bad they are is just gloomier than the evidence warrants, interest or no interest. But the same can also be true in the other direction. There may be those with an interest in minimizing the grounds for concern, or whose judgement is unduly sanguine in face of the evidence.

From the first impression they give, these three letters are not the letters of rabid anti-Semites. Still, they are part of the problem they seek, by parroting the now standard left-liberal trope, to wave away. Matthew Collins's letter contains the useless diversion that the Palestinians are also 'a semitic people'. As if he, or anyone else, might be in doubt about what anti-Semitism is supposed to mean in the context of this discussion; which is prejudice or hatred against Jews - got that Matthew? (On this topic, see also Oliver Kamm.) But what is more generally wrong with the indignant plea in all three letters is the diversionary pretence that there's actually no problem to be addressed, that the fears of a growth of anti-Semitism, both in Europe and globally, are baseless.

With the desecration of Jewish cemetries; attacks on Jewish schools; abuse of Jews by 'peace' demonstrators; the recent bombings of two synagogues in Istanbul; use of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and other overt forms of anti-Semitic propaganda in the Arab world; the most patent delusions there about Jews (this item via Roger Simon); a speech by an Islamic leader at a conference of other Islamic leaders in which the former purveys yet once more an odious myth about Jews controlling the world; and for which he is applauded by those other leaders; and after which some commentators in the West think it just the right moment to point out that he's not such a bad guy in other ways (see my post of October 27, 'Police racism...') - with all of this you'd have thought it not all that outlandish to suggest there might be some cause for concern. But no, 'one can be a critic of Israel without being...' and so on and so droning forth.

I don't know any better than the next person just precisely how far things have now gone in this matter. But how far do they need to go? In some old words of a certain Robert Zimmerman which have an unintended bearing here, 'You see[n] what happened last time they started'.

I'll end with this:
A cartoon of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon eating the head of a Palestinian baby against the backdrop of a burning Palestinian city has won first prize in the British Political Cartoon Society's annual competition.
If you haven't already done so, take a look at that cartoon. Is it anti-Semitic? Yes, it is - grossly and offensively anti-Semitic. It is, despite the fact that criticism of Israel, of the government of Ariel Sharon, and of Ariel Sharon himself, are perfectly acceptable by way of free political discussion, as well as being, in my own opinion, called for. But such representations have a context and a history, and as is pointed out by Matthew Kramer in commenting on a post by Roger Simon, the devouring of the blood of non-Jewish infants by Jews is a classic anti-Semitic theme:
If [the cartoonist] was not aware of that blood-libel, then he was culpably ignorant of the connotations of his drawing. To be sure, he plainly also had in mind Goya's famous painting of Saturn (or Cronos). Nonetheless, the portrayal of Sharon graphically evokes a hoary anti-Semitic stereotype. It is inflammatorily bigoted.
Even were one to suppose, charitably, that the cartoonist was ignorant of the relevant history, the Independent newspaper and the Political Cartoon Society seem also to have been untroubled. Are we to assume that nobody in these quarters has any acquaintance with that history?

Try this now. Most readers will be familiar with the fact that there is a well-known cartoonist given to drawing George Bush as a monkey, because - don't you know? - George Bush isn't too smart. As I've indicated here before, the humour doesn't appeal to me personally, but I wouldn't argue that it's beyond the bounds of legitimate caricature, exaggeration for purposes of getting a laugh, political polemic. But suppose the very same sort of monkey caricature were to be used to ridicule a black political leader - given the history of pictures and gestures which have sought to demean black people as being less than fully human. Would that be acceptable? No, it would be racist. Would there be a public outcry if a cartoonist drew such a caricature of a black leader, and it was published in a major national newspaper and then went on to win a national prize? There most certainly would be. Anyone can see this. What's the difference? (Hat tip to Jenny Geras for one of the ideas in this post.)

posted by norm at 9:40 pm | link

Surprise visit to Iraq

In a stunning mission conducted under enormous secrecy, President Bush flew into Baghdad today aboard Air Force One to have dinner with United States officials and a group of astonished American troops.
Read the rest here. (Thanks to David Levine.)

posted by norm at 7:16 pm | link

A baker's dozen survival tips for academic speakers

As proffered by William Germano, vice president and publishing director at Routledge. I like this one:
Prepare yourself in advance for questions... Always keep in readiness something you might want to add as a supplement to your talk... If you're faced with a question you can't answer, answer one you can ("Speaking of that, I'd like to share with you this story, which helps clarify what we're discussing here today.").

Expect that at least one person in the audience will ask something truly strange...
Sound advice. (Hat tip to SdeW.)

posted by norm at 3:30 pm | link

Israeli children get the thumbs down

Israel has withdrawn its first draft resolution to the UN in many years, in face of wrecking amendments. The resolution called 'for the protection of Israeli children from terrorism' - evidently not a top priority of the world body. (Thanks to SdeW.)

posted by norm at 2:47 pm | link

Unfortunate slip?

Flashback to Tuesday when I featured a letter to the Groan from Rosemarie McMichael in San Francisco, thanking people in the UK who demonstrated against Bush's visit. I missed this at the time, but Nelson Ascher wrote to draw my attention to McMichael's sentence, 'Unfortunately, the only "security" at issue is this president's political future and not his physical wellbeing.' Did she mean to say it's unfortunate George Bush's physical wellbeing isn't... at issue? A mere slip, one must hope.

posted by norm at 2:46 pm | link

Imaginary reads

Check out the literary imaginings of Kieran Healy and Jeffrey Kramer upstairs at Crooked Timber.

posted by norm at 2:44 pm | link

My Hornby and my Barlow

This seems like the moment - which had to come - for what is surely the greatest verse about cricket, from Francis Thompson's At Lord's, to appear here on normblog:
It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though my own red roses there may blow;
It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk,
Though the red roses crest the caps, I know.
For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host
As the run-stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro:
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago!
If that doesn't impress you - I'm sorry. There's an interesting essay about the poem in Sing all a Green Willow, by Ronald Mason. And this is worth a look as well, containing a nice romantic passage from Thompson's cricket writing:
Vernon Royle may be regarded as a concrete example of the typical fielder, and the typical fielder's value. He was a pretty and stylish bat; but it was for his wonderful fielding that he played. A ball for which hardly another cover-point would think of trying he flashed upon, and with a single action stopped it and returned it to the wicket... One of the members of the Australian team in Royle's era, playing against Lancashire, shaped to start for a hit wide of cover-point. 'No, no!' cried his partner, 'the policemen is there!' There were no short runs anywhere in the neighbourhood of Royle. He simply terrorized the batsmen; nor was there any necessity for an extra cover - now so constantly employed. In addition to his sureness and swiftness, his style was a miracle of grace. Slender and symmetrical, he moved with the lightness of a young roe, the flexuous elegance of a leopard - it was a sight for an artist or a poet to see him field.
As someone said, The Best-Loved Game.

posted by norm at 2:36 pm | link

The end of Waugh

Following Steve Waugh's decision to retire after the Australian home series against India, there's a warm tribute to him from Mike Selvey. Selvey writes today about the great man:
This is a proud man... He determined to go on his terms. If there has ever been a more predictable century than the bloody-minded, quarter-fit, I'll-bloody-show-'em effort at The Oval two seasons ago (for anyone else to bat with a 2cm tear in a calf muscle would have defied not just medical opinion but belief itself) it was his last-ditcher made in Sydney at the start of this year.

Then, against England once more, on his home ground, in the match in which he equalled the record number of appearances and with his international career absolutely on the line, he flayed the last ball of the day to the boundary to reach three figures.
I have to confess, I come over a bit misty at this, as if nostalgic for something that's scarcely past. Of course, it is already the past, but it's so recent a past as not to be a matter, one might think, for nostalgia. However, Harry Brighouse, paying his own tribute, has the explanation:
I'm in the 'Anyone But England' camp except when England plays Australia, when my principle of supporting the underdog gets the better of my anti-patriotism. But watching Australia the past few years, against just about anyone, has been sheer bliss.
As a supporter of Australia against England since the age of 11, it's doubly or trebly so for me. Watching their cricket in the last decade and a half - during which time I have been present, from the first ball to the last, at 13 entire Ashes Test matches, as well as for many days of several others - has been one of the joys of my life.

posted by norm at 12:53 pm | link

The end of war?

Natalie Angier looks at research into the possibility:
Was Plato right that "Only the dead have seen the end of war"?

In the provisional opinion of a number of researchers who study warfare, aggression and the evolutionary roots of conflict, the great philosopher was, for once, whistling in a cave. As they see it, blood lust and the desire to wage war are by no means innate. To the contrary, recent studies in the field of game theory show just how readily human beings establish cooperative networks with one another, and how quickly a cooperative strategy reaches a point of so-called fixation. Researchers argue that one need not be a Pollyanna to imagine a human future in which war is rare and universally condemned.
Even the ubiquitousness of warfare in human history does not impress researchers. "When you consider it was only about 13,000 years ago that we discovered agriculture, and that most of what we're calling human history occurred since then," said David Sloan Wilson, a biology and anthropology professor at Binghamton University in New York, "you see what a short amount of time we've had to work toward global peace."
I've no quarrel with the general drift of this, but I just hope these researchers are paying proper attention also to the counter-tendencies. For if blood lust and the desire to wage war are not innate, there sure as hell are some things in there other than peace and love. Otherwise it would be hard to explain why human beings are so damn good at hatred, violence and the odd bit of cruelty. (Hat tip to Phil Cerny.)

posted by norm at 12:21 pm | link

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

For Zimbabwe

For those who don't regularly read the paper I am in the habit of referring to as my dnoc and may therefore have missed this item, I commend it to you. It's about a radio station broadcasting to Zimbabwe:
In a country where Mugabe's regime ruthlessly controls all radio and television output, and where the only independent newspaper has recently been shut down, SW Radio Africa is the only independent voice. It broadcasts not from Zimbabwe but from the third floor of an office block in a grimy suburb of north-west London.
I round up here also three other Zimbabwe-related items, these two about the Commonwealth summit in Nigeria, and this one about the Mugabe government's shutdown of the Daily News.

posted by norm at 1:58 pm | link

Forward strategies for Iraq

The Graun 'asked eight experts' the question 'How do we get out of Iraq?' Their answers are here. And this is also interesting (hat tip to Steve de Wijze).

posted by norm at 1:55 pm | link

England's future success at cricket

A hypothesis from Nick Barlow:
George Cohen plays for England in the football world cup final in 1966 - we win.

His nephew Ben Cohen plays for England in the rugby world cup final in 2003 - we win.

Are there any members of the Cohen family who play cricket?
A different hypothesis from Justin Rigden:
Congratulations to Charles Newey on being present at Wembley in 1966 and Sydney in 2003... I hope he is still around to see England win back the Ashes in 2040.
Perhaps this will help:
Australian captain Steve Waugh announced today he would end one of the greatest international careers in cricket history after the fourth Test against India at the SCG in January. Waugh told a press conference at the SCG today he'd decided the Sydney Test before his home crowd was the right time and place to end his Test career.

The 38-year-old veteran of 164 Test matches had been expected to push on to try to achieve the elusive goal of a series victory in India later next year. But he said the decision to finish up after the four home Tests against India was his own and he believed it was right for him.

Waugh is the most capped player in the sport's history, the second highest run scorer with 10,660 at an average of 51.25, and second on the all-time list of century makers with 32.

He will leave the international arena as the most successful captain in Test cricket leading his country 53 times for 40 wins, eight losses and just five draws.
(Via Tim Blair.)

posted by norm at 1:53 pm | link

The normblog Alternative Big Read Top Twenty

It's the moment you've been on the very edge of your seats waiting for: the list, the list, of your favourite books from the BBC's top 100.

Preliminaries. I received 105 entries in the end, and there were votes for 62 of the books which, as you can work out for yourself, means that 38 of them - including Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel - picked up no votes at all. I'm happy to be able to report that Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree, an immortal classic, did pick up a couple of votes, though not enough to get it on to the winning list.

I assigned three points for a first-place vote, two for a second, and one for a third. Here, on that basis, are the normblog Alternative Big Read Top Twenty, with each title preceded by its place number, then its points total, and then (in brackets) its number of first-place votes. I've used that as a tie-breaker where I needed one.

01. 40 (8) Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
02. 35 (8) J R R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
03. 33 (7) Joseph Heller, Catch-22
04. 28 (7) Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
05. 25 (2) F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
06. 23 (4) George Eliot, Middlemarch
07. 23 (2) John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
08. 22 (5) J D Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
09. 20 (5) Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
10. 19 (6) James Joyce, Ulysses

11. 19 (4) Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
12. 19 (3) George Orwell, Animal Farm
12. 19 (3) George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
14. 19 (1) Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
15. 18 (3) Jane Austen, Emma
16. 15 (3) Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
17. 14 (3) Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
18. 14 (2) Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
19. 13 (3) Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
19. 13 (3) Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children

Note that Orwell's two most famous books exactly tie. Note also that, had I asked everyone to send me only their top book, rather than their top three, the result here would have looked a bit different. For example, Joyce's Ulysses would then have taken the fifth, rather than the tenth, spot; and Catcher in the Rye and Anna Karenina would have come in joint sixth, instead of eighth and ninth respectively. So which of the two orderings gives the truer reflection of the aggregate opinion of those who voted? That's an intriguing question to which I may some time return.

For now, thanks to everyone who entered, including the 20 bloggers and 4 other websited people I know about (if I've missed you off, please shout and I'll make good the omission): John Abeles, Ophelia Benson, Chris Bertram, Alan Brain, Chris Brooke, Josh Cherniss, Anthony Cormack, Anthony Cox, Hoodie Craw, Jackie D, Adele Geras, Susan Hill, Mary Hoffman, Bobbie Johnson, George Junior, Marcus Laughton, Colin Macleod, Tom Runnacles, Enoch Soames, Solomon, Charles Stewart, Michael Totten, Jean Ure, Tom Watson.

OK, I did nag a bit. But hasn't it all been worth it in the end? You bet it has.

posted by norm at 11:24 am | link

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

On sale in Gaza

Toys (via Andrew Sullivan).

posted by norm at 3:11 pm | link

Two news items from Iraq

The Iraqi Governing Council has banned the Arab satellite news network al-Arabiya from broadcasting from Iraq 'after it aired a taped message, purportedly from... Saddam Hussein, that called for attacks on Iraqis cooperating with the American occupation.'
The decision to shut the al-Arabiya office - sharply criticized by media watchdog groups - marked a dramatic escalation in the long-festering dispute that pits the U.S. occupation authority and its Iraqi allies against the two networks. In September, the stations were temporarily barred from covering the council's news conferences or entering ministries. Throughout the occupation, U.S. officials have been blunt in their judgments that both networks incite violence against American forces with their relentless coverage of attacks on soldiers, their sometimes inflated counts of U.S. casualties and their airing of statements purportedly from guerrilla groups.
General John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, is saying that intensified military strikes have halved the number of attacks on US forces in the last two weeks, but assaults on Iraqis have increased.

posted by norm at 3:08 pm | link

Reactions to the London demonstration

On the Guardian letters page Rosemarie McMichael writes of last Thursday's demonstration:
I want to thank all the good people of the UK who turned out to demonstrate at the visit of President Bush... We in this country who wish to protest at a site where the president is speaking will find ourselves shunted to a holding pen approximately half a mile away, courtesy of the secret service for "security" purposes, where our presence will never be noticed and we will not be heard. Unfortunately, the only "security" at issue is this president's political future and not his physical wellbeing.
She's writing from San Francisco. Here are two guys - bloggers - writing from Iraq. Omar at Iraq the Model:
The real, living and historical event that took place in Baghdad on the 9th of April that announced not only the downfall of the ugliest dictatorship in modern history but also the beginning of a new era of freedom was a totally a genuine and spontaneous reaction that came right out of the hearts and souls of crowds that have been brutally restrained for decades, and trying to simulate this through a previously organized and timed action was something the least I could say about is pathetic and disgusting .
I really don't understand why people find it hard to comprehend what happened, why are they against it? Why are they speaking on behalf of us?
Alaa at The Mesopotamian:
Those who came out in protest against America, the Allies and the President, what do they want ? They want the Coalition to abandon our people after liberating them and leave them at the mercy of the Saddamists and Al Qaeda thugs and killers. A sea of blood would drown the country if that happened (Heaven forbids), and they know it. Darkness would descend not only on our country, but would engulf the whole world. The fiends of obscurantism and hatred will dance over the ashes and the mass graves their satanic rites of vengeance. The blood of your soldiers and our countrymen would have been shed in vain. Heaven forbids, Heaven forbids.
(Both via Jeff Jarvis.) Different places, different agendas.

posted by norm at 3:04 pm | link

To Monbiot or...? No, not to

George Monbiot is today arguing pretty much what he argued four weeks ago in the same place: that the moral case for the war in Iraq founders on the fact that those who took the US and Britain into war couldn't have been doing it for moral reasons. Monbiot writes:
I do believe that there was a moral case for deposing Saddam - who was one of the world's most revolting tyrants - by violent means. I also believe that there was a moral case for not doing so, and that this case was the stronger. That Saddam is no longer president of Iraq is, without question, a good thing. But against this we must weigh the killing or mutilation of thousands of people; the possibility of civil war in Iraq; the anger and resentment the invasion has generated throughout the Muslim world and the creation, as a result, of a more hospitable environment in which terrorists can operate; the reassertion of imperial power; and the vitiation of international law. It seems to me that these costs outweigh the undoubted benefit.
Most readers of this blog will be familiar enough by now with my views on these issues for me not to have to rehearse all aspects of them again. I draw your attention to just two points. The first is a small detail, possibly of no significance, but actually, I would say, yes of significance, given the balance of Monbiot's emphases in that article of four weeks ago - as I highlighted in criticizing it shortly afterwards (November 3). It's that Monbiot gives the moral case for the war in blander, less vivid, terms than the moral case against it - this in one very precise sense. In the case against, he actually visualizes, visualizes the 'killing or mutilation of thousands of people'; whereas in the case for, he has no dead, or broken, or maimed, human bodies to further clutter his paragraph, 'good thing' though Saddam's demise may have been. The second point is that Monbiot articulates here an insufficiently noted feature of the case against the war, as made by many of the war's opponents, when he refers to 'the anger and resentment the invasion has generated throughout the Muslim world' - as if the rest of the Muslim world were entitled to a veto over the freeing of the Iraqi people; or, to put the same thing differently, as if this wasn't, rather, a question for the Iraqi people itself. The evidence does seem to be that a majority of them welcomed the US-led invasion and are still, all things considered, glad of it.

Monbiot continues:
But the key point, overlooked by all those who have made the moral case for war, is this: that a moral case is not the same as a moral reason. Whatever the argument for toppling Saddam on humanitarian grounds may have been, this is not why Bush and Blair went to war.

A superpower does not have moral imperatives. It has strategic imperatives. Its purpose is not to sustain the lives of other people, but to sustain itself.
[T]he White House is not a branch of Amnesty International.
But in debating the war, those of us who opposed it find ourselves drawn into this fairytale. We are obliged to argue about the relative moral merits of leaving Saddam in place or deposing him, while we know, though we are seldom brave enough to say it, that the moral issue is a distraction. The genius of the hawks has been to oblige us to accept a fiction as the reference point for debate.
This is, in part, childish stuff. Monbiot thinks to educate those of us who supported the moral case for the war - which he concedes there was - by lecturing us about the realities of world politics: strategic interests and the like. Who exactly does he imagine he is educating here? David Aaronovitch gets mentioned by name, and I'm certainly not now going to search through David Aaronovitch's recent output to find what I know, and Monbiot in truth also knows, will be there: namely, evidence of an awareness that the actions of great powers are not governed exclusively by moral motives. George Bush and Tony Blair themselves haven't claimed as much.

Beyond this school textbook level aspect of the thing, however, there is worse. First, the implication that moral reasons count for nothing at all in world politics - a form of crass reductionism which I dismissed yesterday (see 'Ethics and international affairs') in discussing Paul Mason's article, which also dismisses it. Worse still, having allowed that there was a moral case for the war, Monbiot simply takes this back by calling it a 'fairytale', a 'distraction' and a 'fiction'. What does it mean, that he does so? Logically, it means that, when all is said and done, he doesn't assign any weight whatsoever to consequences, only to motives. Stuff the Iraqi people, then, if those who liberated them from Saddam weren't pure of motive. And psychologically, what it means is that George Monbiot, like a lot of others who opposed the war, can't really bear to look in the face where his opposition to the war potentially led: hence no dead and mutilated bodies getting mentioned on that side of the picture. No more than a distraction and a fiction to speak of consequences. All that matters is - and didn't you always know it? - that George Bush is a bad person. This is what I concluded about Monbiot's article of four weeks ago:
[S]incerity] is no doubt important in a politician and a statesman. However... [i]f I have to decide whether to support or oppose military intervention by outside powers in some given country, sincerity and motive will have an important bearing on my decision, but it may not be the critical one. Just think about why it was Tanzania that intervened in Uganda against Idi Amin, and Vietnam in Cambodia against Pol Pot. The conduct of international affairs is rarely, if it is ever, just about high-minded motives, about sincerity. Would it make any difference to your view of whether the Second World War should have been fought if it was true that Churchill or Roosevelt wasn't sincere? Come to that, was Stalin sincere and, if so, about what? There will be a range of different views, amongst those on the liberal-left who supported the war in Iraq, about the sincerity of Tony Blair or George Bush. But to be blunt about it, if it's the interests of the Iraqi people on this hand - their interest, in particular, in being delivered from a regime of torture and oppression - and the sincerity or otherwise of Tony Blair on that hand, then I'm going with this hand.
It won't totally shock you to learn, either, that though some weeks have passed, I'm going with me here and not George Monbiot.

(Updated at 2.05 PM: Harry has posted a long discussion of the same Monbiot article, but dealing mostly with a different aspect of it, though there is some overlap between us.)

posted by norm at 11:37 am | link

Monday, November 24, 2003


Here is one description, one more description, of the continuing tragedy for the Palestinian people, the tragedy of a different kind for Israel and for Jews everywhere who care about Israel, the running sore on the face of the international community - and which may yet develop into a human catastrophe, whether regional or global - that is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In the name of every belief system which recognizes the right of peoples (all peoples) to live in freedom, it has got to be brought to an end.

Anyone who has read this blog at all regularly knows that I do not defend everything done on the Palestinian side, neither do I defend the amoral ways of 'understanding' the inexcusable, the inexcusable in both word and deed. But I am ashamed that a State of the people to which I belong has been for 36 years an occupying power, with all the ugly brutalities that that has come to entail. Whatever the faults, the mistakes and the crimes in both directions - and it has been in both directions - Israel now has the primary responsibility and the power to bring this horror to an end. It is enough.

posted by norm at 4:37 pm | link

At it for over 40 years

It's a shame about Rosemary's swollen ankles, Michele Hanson's aching legs and her wanting to cry in a corner, but this short piece perhaps throws a different, or an extra, light on the discussion some of us have been having about last Thursday's march (see my post of yesterday, The sounds of silence, and the links I give there to Chris, Chris and Harry). For Hanson presents the march as being for many essentially one more in a long line that goes back 40 years. And it isn't that. CND, Vietnam, Chile, anti-apartheid? Even those who conscientiously opposed the war without falling into offensive forms of excuse and evasion should have been able to recognize that it just isn't - because of the stark consequence, had the worldwide opposition to the war actually prevailed. The inability squarely to face this is the reason why the anti-war marches were so unpleasant in their public tone and character, sending the message they did to the Iraqi people - of a solidarity with its oppressors.

posted by norm at 4:31 pm | link

Wild about Harry's Place

It's happy birthday to Harry, Marcus and Gene who are, collectively, one today, as in one-year old, rather than three-in-one - which Harry explains they, in a sense, are not, although in another sense thay also clearly are. Harry's Place was the second blog I became acquainted with, and Harry kindly offered me help when I was starting up normblog. There's always something interesting to read round at theirs and I've taken to visiting several times a day.

posted by norm at 4:26 pm | link

Reports from here and there

Two items of interest, both thanks to Anthony of Black Triangle, where you can also read this post about a paediatrician executed in 1988 for laughing at a joke about Saddam Hussein.

The first item concerns an aspect of the continuing violence in Iraq that I've not previously seen given much emphasis: revenge killings targeted on former officials of the Baathist regime.

The second item, about al-Qaida's current tactics, contains the following:
Saudi police recently clashed with Al-Qaeda loyalists in Mecca, killing two. [US Deputy Secretary of State Richard] Armitage commented on the Saudi effort while speaking with reporters in Cairo today. "The same Saudi security forces since 12 May - the initial bombing in Riyadh - have uncovered literally hundreds of terrorists. They've arrested, they've killed them. They've broken up cells. They've captured unbelievable amounts of explosives and weapons. They found Korans which were booby-trapped," he said.
Note 'they've arrested, they've killed them', which raises a question about whether the 'killed' is separate from the 'arrested' or a consequence of it, and in that case...; and note also, and think about, booby-trapped Korans.

posted by norm at 4:21 pm | link

Ethics and international affairs

The Osama feature in the previous post is from ak13. According to their 'about' page ak13 is...
an online publication that transmits vivid, lucid and penetrating reportage, commentary and satire from the hidden corners of contemporary culture... a space where culture, politics and current affairs collide
Paul Mason, political editor on the ak13 team, recently posted an article, Hopes and Dreams, containing one or two claims that some might find surprising:
The protesters on London's streets this week would like an ethical foreign policy. Their morality is clear, and from these lofty heights they castigate Tony Blair for his support of the war in Iraq. They look at George W. Bush and believe that he has no principles, that he is someone with a disregard for human life and an unhealthy obsession with oil and money.
George W. Bush's foreign policies often seem to come down more on the idealist side than the pragmatic. In pushing for the war in Iraq, the administration rejected the calculating "realism" of George Senior's advisers and, instead, went for more radical options. And radical they have been. Many neo-conservatives - the ones with the big ambitions - put your kaftan-wearing believer in world peace to shame when it comes to idealism and radicalism, as they seem to have sincerely believed that a quick war in Iraq would lead to democracy and peace across the whole of the Middle East.

Through such idealism, we should understand that George W. Bush has his own ethical foreign policy. He believes that the American people elected him primarily to defend their economic and physical security, and that his actions abroad not only enhance his own people's interests, but those of others as well.
[T]hose who attack Bush and Blair for their lack of morals and ideals should think again, for it is these same things that got them into the mess that they are in today.
Some of this can stand as a useful corrective against people inhabiting a political and intellectual milieu in which some decades of anti-reductionist Marxism, not to speak of a long enough time now also of postmodernist anti-Marxism, seem to have had zero effect in quieting the 'It's all about oil' style of political advocacy. The economic interests that move social and political actors are not to be overlooked or underestimated, but the idea that moral principle and belief are neither here nor there - even amongst those whom you oppose - should long ago have been honoured with a decent burial.

Where I have a problem with Paul Mason's article is in his own tendency to suggest that, because there are just so many varying sets of moral beliefs, one should forget the notion of an ethical foreign policy and go for a pure realism of securing national interests:
An ethical foreign policy, however, is an impossible thing. For one thing, whose ethics do you refer to? Mine? Yours? The woman who walks backwards up Pennsylvania Road in Exeter? The word ethics doesn't mean "good", it means abiding by a set of moral standards. So, depending on which set of standards you choose, an ethical foreign policy could mean pursuing a coherent strategy of acting like a complete bastard.
It is obvious, therefore, why Robin Cook was asking for trouble when he started talking about ethics and foreign policy. It is not clear that it is more ethical to defend the interests of people abroad when it harms workers at home. Ideals can mean launching ill-thought-through wars, as well as appeasement and pacifism.
There are different kinds of moral standards, and it is indeed an extremely difficult business navigating one's way through them, trying to discern where this or that one leads in particular circumstances, arguing and counter-arguing over a given issue. But Paul Mason too lightly here steps over the fact that the world has worked a long hard way towards certain all but universally accepted moral standards, many of them now embodied in international law; and these give us some basis, not for easy certainties, to be sure, but at least for some common ground of contention over what is and what is not acceptable - and tolerable - in the international domain.

posted by norm at 12:32 pm | link

Osama's human side

An unusual feature from (yes 'from', not 'about') Osama bin Laden. He begins by confessing to his guilt for 'inciting many violent acts of destruction', then goes on:
But this does not mean that myself, like Presidents Bush and Kabila, Mr Mugabe in his Zimbabwe and the Burmese Junta, despite our crimes, do not have a human and, dare I say it, a gentle side.

For example, many people may be shocked to find that I like to relax and enjoy the same kind of reading matter as many peaceful civilians.

Here, in my bunker in an "undisclosed location" - I know you are reading, Mr Rumsfeld! - where I stay with my friend Mullah Omar, we subscribe to very few newspapers and magazines except Heat (Omar likes to see how Kate Moss's little baby progresses) and The Guardian on Saturday.

Yes. Once a week, I cannot wait to leaf through my Guardian Weekend magazine. My absolute favourite section is near the back. It is the column called "That's My Pet" where, each week, a celebrity and two non-famous people are pictured with snaps of their pets. But the clever Guardian people mix up the order of the animals, their pictures do not correlate with their owners and the reader must guess which pet matches which celebrity.

I am very good at this and can always spot the celebrity pet - here's a clue: it's usually the one with the better quality photo!!

Mullah Omar often gets it wrong and stomps around the bunker in anger when he accidentally pairs up Jackie Collins' Irish wolfhound with a rather sad-looking civil servant from Stockport or infant twins from the Scilly Isles with Peter Hain's goldfish.

He blames his bad eye. But I just do not think he's in touch with his "pet side."
It's an eye-opener.

posted by norm at 12:24 pm | link

Turkish voices

"Turkey never deserved this," said Murat Ozkan, a student. "Turkey never got involved in the war in Iraq, it never sent troops there," he added to nods of agreement from a group of youths peering at gory pictures splashed across a newspaper.
Security expert:
One leading Turkish commentator last night said he believed al-Qaida had targeted Istanbul because it was the ultimate "symbolic city" that bridged the east and west, Islam and Christendom.

"The attacks send a message to the Islamic world that those countries which reform and acquire democratic values, like Turkey, will be a target of Islamic radicalism," Hussein Bagdi, a security expert at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, said.
Two professors:
"Turkey is emerging as a model Muslim country. Its leaders come from an Islamic background but they have embraced western values and made good progress forging ahead with economic, political and human rights reforms. That is clearly a threat for the likes of al-Qaida," said Professor Ihsan Dagi, who teaches international relations at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara.

"Everything about Turkey is the antithesis of what these groups presumably seek," said Soli Ozel, professor of international relations at Bilgi University in Istanbul. "It has an Islamic-rooted party that came to power with democratic means and is now pushing ahead with reforms."
They didn't deserve it, and nor does anybody.

posted by norm at 12:21 pm | link

The Daily Bread

Check out this new blog where Jackie and a few others - The Pieman, Keckler and Dcake - are going to be talking food. I shall be sending them my tips on how to boil an egg to just the right point, and alternative techniques for piercing the film lid before popping something pre-prepared into the oven. And that loaf of bread they've got up there on the site - you could just eat it.

posted by norm at 12:20 pm | link

Mal Waldron

If you're a jazz person and not already the owner of this, consider treating yourself. Or if jazz isn't your thing but is your Dad's, sister's, husband's, friend's, well, then I'm giving you an idea for Christmas or any other festival you might celebrate. Cook and Morton say:
A glorious set, celebrating a master musician. The band is exactly the kind of line-up he thrives on... A lovely album...
They're right.

posted by norm at 12:19 pm | link


From a review by Stuart Jeffries of Colin MacCabe's Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at 70:
It's difficult to think of Godard here as anything other than an egotistical hypocrite. That description, though, would be better than what Francois Truffaut called his old friend a few years earlier. Godard had written to him asking for money to make a new film. "You ought to help me," he wrote, "so that the public doesn't get the idea that we all make films like you." Truffaut wrote back with a 20-page letter, his pencil digging deeply into the page. He later suggested a title for Godard's film autobiography: "A shit is a shit." The men were never reconciled: when Godard heard of Truffaut's death of a brain tumour in 1984, he said: "That's what happens when you read so many bad books."
Crooked timber (not the blog, the thing itself) is right.

posted by norm at 12:16 am | link

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Fun actually

To recover from a hard day of following sport yesterday, in the evening I ambled out with WotN and we got a bus to our local multiplex, there to take in Richard Curtis's new film Love Actually. According to Ben Walters in the December issue of Sight and Sound (no online version of the actual review) the movie is 'a shallow, saccharine distillation of the romantic sentimentalism of [Curtis's] previous screenplays', '130-odd minutes of superficial viewing', marked by 'pat dialogue and situations [that] make engagement a real challenge'; 'the conclusion... has the unwelcome tinge of sentimental porn'. I don't think he liked it. The Guardian reviewer Peter Bradshaw was somewhat more favourably inclined, but for him, too, in the end it's a no-no. The good news, he says, lies in one particular performance, that of Bill Nighy, and...
The bad news is that everything else is rubbish. Well, not all of it, and not total rubbish, but none of the little plots is all that funny or humanly convincing and none has room to breathe or develop.
Well, you can believe these guys and stay away, or you can be guided by me and WotN and go and have a bloody good time.

In favour of the movie is: a stellar cast, with Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth, Bill Nighy, Alan Rickman and Rowan Atkinson all as good as the best British (and, not forgetting Liam, Irish) actors can be; much laugh-out loud stuff, situations and lines; and a load of heart-warming fantasy - this, for the most part, being what the film is, fantasy about love - but not without a shot of worldly realism here and there. It's not King Lear. It's not Twelve Angry Men. And it does have its problems: a child who's a serious casting error, intended as cute but in fact creepy, being major; and a barely-coded briefly-stated view on the current UK-US nexus, which is... er, the wrong view, being minor. Still, to all appearances, a cinema-full of Mancunians thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and in the right mood you might also - you know, if you like this sort of thing. Gene should probably give it a miss.

posted by norm at 11:25 pm | link

Jackie has moved

She is now here - and so is au currant.

posted by norm at 10:55 pm | link

Home Office?

Is this why it's called that?
Asylum seekers could have their children taken into care under Home Office plans to persuade them to go home, it emerged tonight.

Parents whose asylum claims have been rejected would be told to take a "voluntary" flight home or lose their benefits.

They could then have their children taken from them as they would not be able to afford to support them.

It is thought up to 2,000 children could be affected by the clampdown to be announced in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday.

A Home Office spokesman insisted the proposal was designed to protect children. He said the Government did not want children to suffer from action taken against their parents.
Or you could think of it as legalized kidnapping.

posted by norm at 9:05 pm | link

EU body shelves anti-Semitism report

I would have posted about this yesterday but was otherwise engaged. It's been flagged by a number of big American blogs, but is worrying enough to justify giving it further mileage. According to this report in the Financial Times:
The European Union's racism watchdog has shelved a report on anti-semitism because the study concluded Muslims and pro-Palestinian groups were behind many of the incidents it examined.
When the researchers submitted their work in October last year... the centre's senior staff and management board objected to their definition of anti-semitism, which included some anti-Israel acts. The focus on Muslim and pro-Palestinian perpetrators, meanwhile, was judged inflammatory.
You need to read the rest. Eugene Volokh comments:
If the objections were simply that "anti-Semitism" was defined too broadly, to include anti-Israeli sentiment that wasn't anti-Semitic, then I wouldn't be troubled; likewise if the problem really was that the report was limited in its timeframe... But if it's really true that the data wasn't released because the facts that it uncovers - that there really seems to be a problem with Muslim anti-Semitism, a problem that I would think would need to be exposed to be properly addressed - are seen as politically unpalatable, that surely seems quite wrong.
The report should be made available for public scrutiny to allow informed judgement about the whole matter. (Thanks to Eve Garrard for the tip-off. Updated at 9.00 PM to correct acknowledgement.)

posted by norm at 5:35 pm | link

The sounds of silence

Having linked on Friday to one of two excellent posts by Chris Bertram, today I want to discuss the other. As he took some flak for it in the comments box at Crooked Timber, I start by saying that I found Chris's explanation for why he didn't participate in Thursday's march entirely reasonable - as won't surprise anyone, given my own view about it - and, more specifically, I would defend his argument that anti-Bush protestors should not be using the swastika on their banners; defend it against the criticism that this is an acceptable symbol of political agitation in the circumstances. I don't think it is. I think it indicates, on the part of some of those demonstrating, the lack of any sense of even the approximate, let alone the true, dimensions of the political and moral evils that the swastika has come to represent.

I disagree with Chris on one point, however: this is his taking to task of 'liberal hawks [who] are asking rhetorically why there were no demonstrations against Saddam Hussein, or against other tyrannies'. Chris goes on to say the following:
I think that last question is pretty easy to answer: people usually demonstrate because they are angry at their own government (or its associates) rather than at someone else's. Even anger at yesterday's bombings in Turkey wouldn't translate into demonstrations because there would be no point in marching against Al Quaida.
Strictly, Chris is covered by the 'usually' here. He doesn't actually deny the unusual or less usual kind of case: of demonstrations and protests that aren't against one's own government. But then why make no more of such cases in the present context? They seem entirely relevant to it. As one CT reader writes in the comments on Chris's post, there were many demonstrations against apartheid and the South African government. I went on one here in 1970, against a visit of the Springbok rugby team. Even more to the point in view of some of what I shall go on to argue, I recall going on a march of many thousands - this, again, in Manchester, not London (I'm guessing in the early 1980s) - against the National Front and racism, and organized, I would imagine, by the Anti-Nazi League. This was a march, consequently, and part of a much wider campaign, not aimed primarily against any government, but against what was rightly seen as an ugly political and social threat.

How different the global climate of opinion might be today if the international left and the 'peace' movement, instead of acting in a way which, had it been successful, would have rescued a truly monstrous dictatorship from its impending demise, had made some equally public and massive showing against the activities of that regime. And how different things might now be if there were mass demonstrations in London, Washington, Paris, etc, against the disease of global terrorism. Pointless, it will be said, because terrorist organisations and networks, al-Qaida in particular, are not responsive to public opinion. Chris himself doesn't explicitly argue this, but he allows it as a possible inference and it's a view which has been put to me in an email I received after I'd invoked the possibility of demonstrations of such a kind. Well, the beginning of my answer to it is: Oh really? For it's no more than a quick and unconvincing get-out. To know, and be frequently reminded, that they were opposed and heartily despised by all the peoples of the world, rather than being constantly 'understood' and sympathetically explained as men and women made desperate by legitimate grievances, part of an inevitable (or 'roiling' or 'crazed') backlash - this might not stop the purveyors of terror immediately in their tracks, but in what looks like being a long business, a long war (without scare-quotes), the different climate of opinion it would contribute to creating could be of great importance.

It is, after all, the opponents of Bush and Blair who are so insistent that combating terrorism doesn't, or doesn't only, come down to a matter of military might. They could put their money where their mouths are in a double sense by staging forms of protest which show both how much they really do (as they say they do) oppose tyrants and terrorists, and how they really do understand that the battle against such political enemies must be more than just a military one, embracing economic, political and moral initiatives and forms of confrontation as well.

I'm also not persuaded, in this connection, by some otherwise compelling remarks of my blog friend across at the Stoa. Chris Brooke says:
Surely the key point about "outrage" and demonstrations is that big demonstrations are not (or, rather, almost never) spontaneous public displays of outrage at all, but the product of great investment of time and energy on the parts of event organisers.
And he goes on to provide supporting detail for this thesis. In some contexts it would be a persuasive counter-argument against people challenging a certain set of demonstrators as to why they weren't demonstrating against something else. So, for example, if we were marching against a US-supported effort to (shall we say) overthrow a democratically elected Latin American government, it wouldn't be to the point, and a valid criticism of us, for someone to ask why we weren't also campaigning against (shall we say) the cruelty involved in bullfighting. There's an unfathomable amount of injustice and pain in the world, and no one is reasonably subject to condemnation if they focus their efforts on trying to oppose or limit some of it. Still, the reason I don't think the considerations Chris adduces are applicable in the current case may be derived via some observations of Harry's on the same subject, even though these are framed initially as an endorsement of what Chris says.

Harry sees it as 'a weak bit of rhetoric from supporters of the war' to raise the question 'why the anti-war people don't protest about other matters'; but he then goes on to focus on the one-sided content of the anti-war and anti-Bush protests:
For example the Alliance for Workers Liberty marched under the slogan "No to War, No to Saddam"... I happen to think there is a basic contradiction in that position but nonetheless I can respect them for realising there was a need to say No to Saddam. The SWP, CPB, MAB and the overwhelming majority of protestors chose not to make any clear statement about Saddam. If pressed they would mutter that of course, they didn't support Saddam but..... [Harry's ellipsis] However they never felt the need to tell the world they opposed the dictator.

Likewise on Thursday, was it unreasonable to expect the British left to respond in the way the Turkish and Italian left has done this week and combine peace protests with a strong anti-terrorism message?
As this makes clear enough, the anti-war demonstrations are not at all like my hypothetical Latin American government/cruelty of bullfighting case. The issues of the war and opposition to it just were about the Saddam Hussein regime as well. This large monster of an issue wasn't another issue, or at least it wasn't a totally distinct one. It was squatting there, and shrieking out, from the very same location where the issues of the war and opposition to it had set up camp. And if there was anyone who didn't see this immediately, there were enough others, supporters of the war, who kept pointing it out to them. As Harry's argument indicates, no special extra effort of mobilization, no large investment of additional energy, would have been needed by any of those involved, in order to have made a relevant protest about the 'other matters' here. If they couldn't see their way to absenting themselves from the anti-war marches - morally speaking, the best stance, and the most logical one, for those with feelings of solidarity for the Iraqi people but such serious misgivings about a US-led invasion as to have felt unable to support it - they should have made it clear on their banners and in their slogans where they stood vis-à-vis the Baathist regime. They didn't and still don't. Likewise vis-à-vis the war on terror. Of course, that one doesn't protest about a thing doesn't necessarily imply endorsement of it. But in certain contexts the balance of what one says and what one omits to say is significant, and it can have important public effects.

Meanwhile, in Italy and in Turkey there have been public manifestations precisely about these matters. Would that the Italian and Turkish examples might be a pointer to the future without this having to be on account of further episodes of wanton murder across the cities and other living and working and recreation spaces of the world. But it's not easy to be optimistic on that score.

[Updated at 9.00 PM: Harry now has a long follow-up post which I urge you to read.]

posted by norm at 4:15 pm | link

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