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Saturday, November 08, 2003

Great Expectations 2 (ABR)

Now, people. I address this to you in the most solemn of tones. Have I ever let you down? Have I failed you in some way? Ah, there was that, but didn't I always do my best? The great expectations I'm talking about here are for the normblog Alternative Big Read, in which you have only just over a week to cast your vote. And there are some of you, regular or occasional visitors to this site, who have still not put in an entry. Aren't you ashamed? What must I do, beg? You want my poll should be a laughing stock? Ridiculed on street corners? Spoken of slyly in offices, corridors, shopping malls, multiplex cinemas and cricket pavilions? Roughly dismissed at gatherings of the influential, the shapely or the revolting? Unthinkable that anyone could want this. I have mobilized my wife. I have roped in my younger daughter. I will even share with you, for free, what my own choices were: which is 1. Crime and Punishment, 2. Jane Eyre, and 3. The Catcher in the Rye.

If you haven't put in an entry, will you now do so, please. You need to look here and here. You don't need to re-read any of the books listed, you just have to read their titles. Then you send me your top three, ranked. Come on, you'll feel a lot better.


posted by norm at 6:27 pm | link


Jenny Geras on Great Expectations

[Following WotN's presentation of her choices for the Alternative Big Read last Saturday I asked my daughter Jenny if she might do something too, and she came through with this. Once again, it's not an attempt to influence anyone else's vote, it's to keep you off the streets.]

A senior source at normblog - who cannot be named - has revealed to me that aside from my own first-place vote for Great Expectations in the Alternative Big Read, the book may not be a front-runner. I've been prompted by this great injustice to explain why I gave it my vote.

Great Expectations has everything you want from a novel: an exciting, fast-moving and entertaining plot, brilliant and realistic characters, and the kind of universality that A. C. Grayling describes so well in the article here, when he refers to 'the opportunity to consider one's own experience, seeing in the mirror of the story reflections of one's world, and the universal aspects of oneself, at the revealing angles that result from seeing them refracted into other guises.'

I'm not going to get into the whole 'two-dimensional characters' debate, but what I will say is that Great Expectations has some of the most vivid and convincing characters I've ever encountered. We know these people. If there is anyone out there who truly believes that there is no one as honest and good and selfless as Joe Gargery, or anyone as cold-hearted and manipulative as Miss Havisham, then all I can say is you need to get out more (or even perhaps just stay in more, and read more newspapers). The minor characters are particularly brilliant: the lawyer Jaggers, the fawning hypocrite Pumblechook, and my personal favourite, Mr Wemmick, whose ruthless and total work/life separation I especially identify with. Even down to the most insignificant characters: Herbert's father Mr. Pocket, a character of very little consequence in the book, is described as being 'a gentleman with a rather perplexed expression of face, and with his very grey hair disordered on his head, as if he didn't quite see his way to putting anything straight'. That may not be the most outstanding piece of prose you've ever read, but when I first read the sentence it immediately reminded me of someone I used to know.

And this is the thing about Dickens. Last Saturday, Wife of the Norm made the case for Jane Eyre, and yes, it's a great book. But when was the last time you met someone and thought, 'God, that person really reminds me of Jane Eyre'? I strongly suspect that this has never happened to you, because Jane Eyre isn't a real character. Beyond a few adjectives - good, headstrong, plain - who can properly describe what Jane Eyre is like as a person? Similarly, can anyone tell me anything about Winston Smith? Are any of your friends a bit like Heathcliff? I hope not. Dickens's genius lies in his astute observation of the very best and worst aspects of human nature, in the way he pins down our little quirks and cruelties. The fact that some of his characters seem to embody only one characteristic has led to the criticism that they're caricatures. Here John Irving has put forward a far better defence of Dickens than I ever could, in a piece in which he quotes George Santayana saying that 'we are such people ourselves in our true moments'.

And the plot - okay, so a few people turn out to be coincidentally related. If this is a problem for you, then you might want to steer clear of Dickens. But Great Expectations has a good plot and what I consider to be a proper one. From the opening pages I knew that this wasn't the kind of novel which would have two alternative endings, or in which you'd be told on the final page that the latter section of the book you'd been reading had all been the invention of an unreliable narrator. Great Expectations is never dull; in fact it's as readable and fast-paced as a contemporary thriller. Of how many of the other books in the Big Read Top 100 can this honestly be said? Ulysses and War and Peace may have more literary merit, but what use is this if only 0.01% of the population can struggle their way through them with the help of extensive literary criticism? Since the Big Read started, one or two people have said to me that they voted for War and Peace even though 'I skipped the battle scenes - they just go on for too long'. Any book in which you are skipping large sections for the sake of enjoyment should not be getting your 'top book' vote.

But the main reason why Great Expectations gets my vote is this: no one can fail to identify with Pip, even though he is sometimes an unlikeable and unreliable narrator. We all know that we would probably be better off with the sensible Biddy, but we would all of course fall in love with Estella. And we all cringe at Pip's treatment of Joe when Joe comes to visit Pip in his new London home and meets his new London friends, but which of us can honestly claim never to have felt like this?
I had little objection to his being seen by Herbert or his father, for both of whom I had a respect; but I had the sharpest sensitiveness as to his being seen by Drummle, whom I held in contempt. So, throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.
In the early part of the book, Pip wants nothing more than to escape from his simple life in the forge, and to become a gentleman in London, so that he can impress the unattainable Estella. By the end, he has come to realize what is 'good' in his life and that 'goodness' sometimes comes in strange shapes - such as that of a seemingly terrifying and dangerous criminal. We ourselves are made to consider what our own expectations are and what they should be. This may sound trite when stated plainly by me, but then Dickens himself put it much better. So, as they say, read the whole thing.


posted by norm at 4:41 pm | link


Signing up for courses

Fancy taking a course on 'Humanist Feminism And Progressive Sexuality In The Liberal World'; or one on 'Introduction To Early Sumerian Sculptures: Evaluation and Empowerment'; or 'Sportspersonship In The Postmodern World: The Big Picture'; or 'Cardplaying In The Real World: Abstraction, Understanding, and Perspectives'. You'll find them, and others like them, here. (Via Chris Brooke.)


posted by norm at 3:32 pm | link


Josh's poll

Across town at Sitting on a Fence, and prompted by my remark of yesterday (see three posts down), Josh Cherniss is conducting a poll for the Top 5 Marxists. He's ruled out this guy, who I definitely had in mind when speaking of 'top three'. And I'm assuming he's also ruled him out. Otherwise I'd be finding room for the author of:
From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.

I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it.

It isn't necessary to have relatives in Kansas City in order to be unhappy.

Mr. Gottlieb, Mrs. Claypool; Mrs. Claypool, Mr. Gottlieb. Gottlieb, Claypool, Claypool, Gottlieb.
Anyway, catch a cab over to Josh's and cast your vote.


posted by norm at 3:20 pm | link


Two articles and a video

Sorry, but for reasons explained in the previous post I'll not be writing too much this weekend. The best I can do is direct you to other output. Here, then, are three items. First, an interesting piece on Paul Wolfowitz by David Ignatius - from which:
I find it impossible to fault on moral grounds the case for toppling Saddam Hussein last March, and for staying the course now. America did a good deed in liberating Iraqis from a tyrannical regime. But Hussein never posed the sort of imminent danger to America that administration rhetoric implied, and Wolfowitz must share the blame for exaggerating that threat. However dubious the arguments for war may seem in retrospect, I believe it would be wrong to abandon Iraq now, when a relatively small number of insurgents are waging a ruthless campaign to subvert the change and reconstruction that most Iraqis seem to want.
Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link. Second (via InstaPundit) this article from inside Iraq:
There's a weird disconnect between the debates raging in the West about what's happening here, and the way Iraqis talk. Sometimes it's as if the Western media and the Iraqis are discussing two different countries.
..........
Iraq's a mess. But most Iraqis would be amazed by the depiction of their country in the Western media. They wouldn't recognize themselves.
Read the rest. Finally, if you have the facility to do so, you might like to look at this video about the education of Palestinian children for death. Thanks to John Abeles for the link.


posted by norm at 3:01 pm | link


Friday, November 07, 2003

Rugby World Cup quarter-finals

Chris Brooke at the stoical Stoa tells us what he's doing the next couple of mornings:
I expect that I shall spend much of the weekend in front of the telly, supporting New Zealand against South Africa, Ireland against France, Wales against England, and Scotland against Australia.
Snap. It's where I'll be, too, tomorrow and Sunday morning. But I'll be supporting South Africa against New Zealand (almost certainly a lost cause), and Australia against Scotland (a better bet). Like Chris I'll be for Wales against England. As always. And how much misery that's put me through. Still there were the days of Gareth Edwards, Phil Bennett, J.P.R. Williams. On Ireland v France I'd normally be more open, but I'm thinking Chirac, so it's Ireland. Chris has the links.


posted by norm at 11:03 pm | link


Anniversary 2

Who do you think said this?
The percentage of freaks among people in general is very considerable, but it is especially high among teachers.
You can find out by following the link under the final word of this sentence, but before you click on it, see if you can guess. Anyway, today is also the anniversary of his birth. He later became him. Here he is again with his wife, Natalia Sedova. He's one of the top three Marxists of all time.

[Update at 5.55 PM: Horrors! That's not what I think about teachers, right. Just a quote out of the ordinary run for who it was saying it. I don't need a second round like the copy editors thing. Or worse, I'll get an outraged teacher who's married to a copy editor. Or a family of teachers living next door to a collective of copy editors still embittered about the fruit. Have a go at me if you want for 'one of the top three Marxists'. But teachers are fine. Teachers are good. I was one. Phew.]


posted by norm at 5:24 pm | link


Ashes anniversary

Frank Keating in the Groan:
Cringe at the memory, for today is an inglorious anniversary. The morning of November 7 2002 was cloudlessly hot at the Gabba for Australia's first Ashes Test match of the new century. The tan-coloured pitch was flat, welcoming and boundlessly overflowing with runs. England's captain Nasser Hussain won the toss, something his predecessor Alec Stewart had failed to do throughout the previous series. "I think we'll 'ave a bowl," he announced.

It was a Bateman cartoon moment. For an instant the world froze over. A million miles away, I still swear, the television pictures went on a fuzzy and demented blink. Inside the stadium 30,000 souls remained dazed with astonishment at probably the most ignominiously daft decision a Test match captain has ever made. Australia ended that first day on 364 for two, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting posting a second wicket record of 272 for the venerable Brisbane patch. Just over three days later Australia had won by 384 runs.
Cringe? The man has no feeling for history. This was the game that got Australia going towards its eighth consecutive Ashes series victory, in a sequence which now reads 4-0, 3-0, 4-1, 3-1, 3-2, 3-1, 4-1, 4-1. Making it 28-7 to Australia (with 8 draws) since 1989. England supporters needn't be too despondent, however, seeing as how it was England who won the last in this run of 43 Tests. How well I remember the jubilation there was up and down the land as Australia, at Sydney in early January, utterly failed to win the series 5-0.


posted by norm at 4:56 pm | link


Anti-Semitism 'politically incorrect'

Anyone wanting confirmation of the thought I proposed in Thursday morning coming down (October 30) - the thought, that is, 'just because you're a critic of Israel, it doesn't mean you're not an anti-Semite' - need look no further than this editorial from the New Straits Times:
Not too long ago, disliking Jews was a legitimate political and cultural attitude in the West. Nowadays, antiSemitism is politically incorrect, and people like [Marvin] Hier and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre are adept at exploiting this taboo to support Israel's racist and genocidal policy towards the Palestinians. They try to stifle discussion and criticism of Israel, and use threats when they can. But Dr Mahathir's example shows not everyone is afraid of being labelled anti-Semitic when they speak the truth, and not every voice can be silenced. The Palestinians continue their struggle and everywhere, as the EU poll shows, people are speaking up for justice and peace for the Palestinians, and against the Zionist threat to world peace and Israel's continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.
If the signs of anti-Semitism in this passage, emboldened by its legitimate, not-to-be-stifled impulse of 'discussion and criticism of Israel', are not already obvious to any reader, then remember that the speech this writer is commending to us as exemplary is the speech in which Mahathir Mohamad said that the Jews rule the world, get others to fight and die for them, and invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that 'persecuting them would appear to be wrong'. Lunatic stuff? Indeed. Should left-liberal opinion in the West be concerned about it? It should. Is it? Not too much.

Apropos... Francois Brutsch (as translated by me, which almost certainly means not well enough):
I haven't really got over a discussion I had last year with a very dear friend, of the generation before mine (and who had lived, therefore, through the war), a grande bourgeoise of the cosmopolitan left. After September 11 2001 she was indignant at the satisfied admiration felt by another friend, also of the left. Viscerally pro-Palestinian this woman had exclaimed: 'Well, you know, there are too many Jews about!'
Perhaps it's an isolated instance. But I'm not confident it is.

(Update at 5.30 PM: see this post at au currant.)


posted by norm at 3:28 pm | link


The revival of Iraqi trade unions

The two reports here and here make interesting reading. They're about how Iraqi workers are resurrecting independent trade unions, but also about the limitations on the activity of these which the Coalition Provisional Authority is maintaining. Both reports are written from an anti-war perspective, and it's hard to know how far this may have affected the substance of them. Neither shows any awareness of the tension within the viewpoint they both express, celebrating as they do developments within the Iraqi workers' movement only now possible because of the war and occupation which they opposed and oppose. At the same time, the growth and the freedoms of trade unionism are crucial to establishing a genuinely democratic culture and democratic institutions in Iraq. Support for Iraqi trade unionists from the Western left is rather more apposite than the solidarity with the bombers being argued for by some. (Thanks to David Bennett for the links.)


posted by norm at 1:53 pm | link


Return to Iraq

An Iraqi reports after returning home:
As the eight days went by, I started to revise assumptions formed under the influence of western news coverage dedicated almost exclusively to the reporting of violence.
..........
Some reports from the country seem to imply that Iraqis welcome at least some of the violence as legitimate resistance to occupation. During my eight days I did not meet a single person who shared this view. Indeed, the vast majority of people in Iraq - especially women, who represent 60% of the adult population - do not want the Americans to leave anytime soon.
..........
They do not harbour warm feelings towards the occupying forces... Iraqis only grudgingly admit gratitude for liberation from Saddam Hussein. Often they describe it as a coincidence of interests. But they want the foreign troops to stay because the various thugs, terrorists and political and religious militias still at large would turn the country into a meat grinder if the troops left tomorrow.
Read the rest. (Via Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber.)


posted by norm at 12:32 pm | link


The normblog profile 7: Ophelia Benson

Ophelia Benson grew up on a farm (of sorts) in New Jersey. She was educated at a tiny girls' school in Princeton, a crammer in Oxford, and a large state university in the Middle West. She has spent her adult life in 'a seemingly random series of occupations' (The Big Chill), including several years as a zookeeper, and in which she picked up a chronic habit of broad but shallow reading. She writes a monthly column for The Philosophers' Magazine Online, is editorial advisor to The Philosophers' Magazine, and editor of Butterflies and Wheels.

Why do you blog? > Partly to make Butterflies and Wheels more frequently updated and more interactive (as well as that bit more interesting, I hope), but also because I think the world desperately needs to hear my opinions, and I like to oblige.

What has been your best blogging experience? > The overall experience of seeing what we thought was going to be a small, mostly-portal site take off like a rocket (mostly or entirely because of all the stunningly generous people who agreed to write articles for us right at the beginning) and just keep going.

What has been your worst blogging experience? > When the server had a hardware problem and we were offline for a day or two, and about three weeks' worth of blog posts were unrecoverable.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > The same as US Congressman Barney Frank's advice to his colleagues: be interesting or shut up.

What are your favourite blogs? > Crooked Timber, Critical Mass, EnviroSpin Watch, and - defiantly - normblog.

Who are your intellectual heroes? > Christopher Hitchens, William Hazlitt, Montaigne.

What are you reading at the moment? > Jonathan Rose's The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes.

What is the best novel you've ever read? > There are at least ten really - but Emma and Wuthering Heights will do for the top two.

What is your favourite poem? > Hamlet.

What is your favourite movie? > Dr. Strangelove.

Who is your favourite composer? > Bach.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > There are lots. But maybe the clearest is identity politics. I used to have a lot of sympathy; now I think it's both obscurantist and dangerous.

If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be President, who would you choose? > Ralph Nader.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Pay attention.

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

What personal fault do you most dislike? > Rudeness.

What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Sex. No, eating. No, sleeping. No, seriously - clothes shopping.

What, if anything, do you worry about? > What if anything do I not worry about?

Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > San Francisco, London.

What would your ideal holiday be? > A protracted exploration of Italy.

What do you like doing in your spare time? > Reading, talking, walking, watching sunsets, teasing.

What is your most treasured possession? > An antique writing desk (the portable kind) my mother gave me when I was a child.

If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to? > Cordelia.

Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > John Cleese.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Cervantes, Montaigne and Shakespeare. Or else Byron, Hazlitt and Keats.

What animal would you most like to be? > A bat, so that I could find out what it's like.

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


posted by norm at 10:46 am | link


Thursday, November 06, 2003

George Bush speech

From Bush's remarks at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy today:
This is a massive and difficult undertaking - it is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice, because we know the stakes. The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region. Iraqi democracy will succeed - and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran - that freedom can be the future of every nation... The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution...

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe - because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. (Emphasis added.)
The text of the speech is also here.


posted by norm at 9:35 pm | link


Welcome, Mr President - but… er… um… go home Mr Bush

I think the Guardian leader today wants to say that George Bush isn't welcome here, but boy, talk about mealy-mouthed. This is how it goes. First, there's the shoeshine: American people, close and fruitful ties, side by side through the great wars of the 20th century, common values and beliefs, shared economic activity, fashion, music, etc. Then there's the business:
None of this should be forgotten when George Bush blows into town on November 19 for a three-day state visit. But there is a distinct danger that it might be. In his capacity as head of state and current leader of a great people, the president deserves the glad hand of friendship. But in his other, inescapable capacity as George Bush, the fountainhead of perhaps the most controversial, confrontational and divisive US administration in living memory, one that is widely distrusted and feared abroad and at home, and one whose actions have caused great and painful dissension within our country, Mr Bush is very far from being universally welcome.
So, there's a distinct danger that the shoeshine might be forgotten but not by us; oh no, the old Pres, in so far as he is Pres, deserves the glad hand and so forth. But as George Bush, that's different; the guy... and you wait for it but the contrast evaporates on you in a certain way, since we don't get told what, as Mr Bush, actual George Bush deserves. We just get told that he is far from being universally welcome. However, since self-evidently, given 'dissension within our country', he is not universally unwelcome either... well, you get my drift. I'm reminded of something Howard Jacobson wrote a while back: to the effect that those who say 'it will be perceived this way' frequently endorse the perception they purport merely to describe. Anyway, the leader writer gets there - sort of - in the end:
This ambivalence, shading into outright hostility... is the product of a strong, principled, essentially political objection to one man and his many narrow, dangerous policies; policies that are unworthy of the American people and which many indeed deplore.
The other side of the dissension is, perhaps, not 'principled'. No Wollheim issues (see my post of yesterday) for the Graun, hey. Sod the parliamentary majority for the decision to go to war.

For a more serious discussion of 'ambivalence' towards George Bush, take a stroll over to Harry's Place and read this post of Gene's.


posted by norm at 3:24 pm | link


The 'most serendipitous event'

A 'revisionist' Arab view of the war in Iraq, setting out simply what so many on the Western left have found it so difficult to come to terms with. If you follow up only one link today, it ought to be this one. (Thanks to Franco Aleman for the tip-off.)


posted by norm at 12:29 pm | link


Inequality

This comes from a discussion by Julian Borger of inequality in the US today:
The richest 1% of Americans now own well over 40% of their nation's wealth. It is a skewed distribution that sets the US apart from other modern industrialised nations. In Britain, widely viewed in America as the embodiment of social stratification, the richest 1% owns a mere 18% of the wealth.
The point that struck me here was less the one Borger intended, the American 40%, striking though that indeed is; it was his 'merely' about the British 18% - even allowing for the possibility that the word's presence is motivated by the large difference between the two figures. But anyway, rounding up a bit for easier visualization, the British case according to Borger's statistics is that 1% of the population owns a fifth of the wealth.

To get a grip on this, change things round as follows. Imagine a working collective composed of 100 people in which one of these people was carrying a fifth of the total work-load, with the remaining four fifths of it shared between the other 99 of them. It's kind of like that. Only the distribution is not of a burden, it's of command over the goods of life. Perhaps the picture is less one-sided than it at first appears because on some relevant criterion of desert the 1% are this much more deserving. Or perhaps no significantly more egalitarian set of arrangements is feasible.

Yeah right.


posted by norm at 12:01 pm | link


Israeli UN resolution

The BBC reports:
Israel is to introduce a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly for the first time ever. The resolution - calling for Israeli children to be protected from violence by Palestinians - is Israel's way of testing the waters at the UN. The world body, which has a large Muslim and Arab contingent, passes more than 20 resolutions criticising Israel each year.
..........
But Israel decided to introduce its own resolution, which seems closely based on an Egyptian one in defence of Palestinian children, after a suicide bomber killed 21 people in Haifa last month.
..........
"The test will be if they pass the Palestinian one but not ours," deputy Ambassador Arye Mechel told the Associated Press.
There's also a report here.


posted by norm at 11:28 am | link


Restating the case for war

The Dude, that's who:
Before the war, it was a staple of anti-interventionist argument that Saddam was too well-armed to be attacked and would unleash weapons of mass destruction in a horrific manner. (Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany opposed the war despite being - possibly wrongly - informed by his intelligence services that Saddam was no more than three years away from acquiring a nuclear bomb.) Any failures of prediction on this point can thus be shared equally, but there is no moral equivalence between them. Thanks to the intervention, Saddam Hussein has been verifiably disarmed, and a full accounting of his concealment and acquisition programs is being conducted. Where is the objection to that? Why so much surliness and resentment?

I am pleased to notice the disappearance from the peacenik argument of one line of attack - namely that Saddam Hussein was "too secular" to have anything to do with jihad forces. The alliance between his murderous fedayeen and the jihadists is now visible to all - perhaps there are some who are still ready to believe that this connection only began this year. Meanwhile, an increasing weight of disclosure shows that the Iraqi Mukhabarat both sought and achieved contact with the Bin Laden forces in the 1990s and subsequently.
..........
We are fighting for very large principles... and for extremely high stakes. And yes, part of the proof of this is the horror and terror and misery involved. Only a few months ago, the first elected president of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic, was shot down in the street by the alliance of mafiosi and ethnic fascists who constitute the legacy of Slobodan Milosevic. That gruesome reverse took place years after Milosevic himself had been put under arrest (and only a short while after the corpse of his murdered predecessor, Ivan Stambolic, had been finally unearthed). But do you want to try and imagine what former Yugoslavia would look like now if there had not been an international intervention (postponed and hobbled by the United Nations) to arrest the process of aggression and ethnocide?
Read the rest (via Michael Totten). Please also read this (via Andrew Sullivan).


posted by norm at 10:58 am | link


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Contextualizing, if not overriding, the present threat of rupture

Having a dull day? Need something to liven it up? Then trip on over to Butterflies and Wheels where Ophelia Benson has just posted a couple of rich examples of bad - or as she also says 'fatuously portentous' - writing. They are spectacular, even gorgeous, in their extremity. No, I mean they're breathtaking. Where do the people who write like this live? Do they know any part of the real world? I give you just one sentence from the first of the two excerpts, to tempt you:
Like most founding gestures, this one gave monumental status to an origin retrospectively invoked, thereby giving the past authority over the present in a management strategy that seemed aimed to contextualize, if not override, the present threat of rupture and incoherence.
As Ophelia says of the whole thing: 'breathes there a soul so dead that that passage doesn't inspire it with uncontrollable mirth?' Go read more.


posted by norm at 6:11 pm | link


Wollheim's paradox

Richard Wollheim (1923-2003) died yesterday. There is an obituary for him here. It's not what he'll mainly be remembered for, but reading the obituary brought to my mind that years ago, on a course I taught jointly for a while with Hillel Steiner, one of the things we used to cover under the concept of democracy was Wollheim's paradox. I didn't myself, and don't, consider it any kind of paradox, but I revive it today for anyone who hasn't come across it.

Suppose a democratic machine which aggregates individual votes to produce a collective choice. Now imagine someone who is a committed democrat voting between two policies A and B, where A and B are mutually incompatible. Let's call her Karen. She votes for A and the machine comes up with B as the collective decision. Karen obviously favours the implementation of A otherwise she wouldn't have voted for it; but as a committed democrat she also favours the implementation of B, because this is the democratic will. But the two policies are mutually exclusive. It's important to the terms of the problem, as Richard Wollheim posed it, that A and B are not to be thought of as merely wants on Karen's part. There's nothing logically odd about having incompatible wants. It happened to me yesterday. I wanted to watch Manchester United playing Rangers and also to see Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, but the two things were on at the same time in different places. Karen's commitments to A and B in the would-be paradox are both moral evaluations. She thinks A should be implemented, for whatever combination of moral reasons prompted her to vote for A, and she thinks B should be implemented because it's the democratic choice.

I solicit brief statements resolving the paradox or (what may come to the same thing) explaining why it isn't one. I may post the most elegant and compelling of them.


posted by norm at 3:03 pm | link


A modern form of slavery

Sophie Arie reports here on trafficking:
For around three months, Janie was made to work in the grimy Paddington brothel, slogging through up to 16 hours of sex each day, as the commuters rushed in and out of work only streets away. Customers paid £30 to £50 per half hour, "depending on what they wanted". They all used condoms, she says, convinced she must be riddled with diseases. "One night I had 26 customers," she says, staring at the table cloth. "I'd like to have sex one day with someone I love. But I don't think I'll ever do it without thinking of all those men."
..........
The US government estimates 700,000 people are being trafficked for exploitation around the world each year.
..........
Most European countries as yet have no legislation against this modern form of slavery. In Britain, a sexual offences bill is currently in parliament and due to be passed before the end of the year, meaning human traffickers will face a sentence of up to 14 years for trading in humans for sexual exploitation.
Would a strict liability offence for those paying for sex with people who work under coercion be feasible? Perhaps someone with the relevant legal expertise could take this up as a blogging point.


posted by norm at 2:54 pm | link


Terrorism

Further to my post of yesterday, 'Words...', see this item on definitions of terrorism (via Jeff Jarvis). Thanks to Anthony Cox for drawing it to my attention.


posted by norm at 2:50 pm | link


Not understanding

Salam Pax professes not to understand:
The bombing of the Red Cross was one of those things that make your world stop. You kind of try to find the reasoning and try to understand why anyone would do that, but I guess the nature of these attacks is that they do not follow any logic sane people can understand. Just like the UN bombing this is beyond any explanation.

Iraqis know they are getting their medicine in public clinics for free because of the efforts of organisations like the Red Crescent/Red Cross, just as they knew the only reason why they are still getting their rations is because the people working for the UN here in Iraq were able to get the rations programme on its feet really fast after the war. The attack on the Red Cross was followed by a series of attacks on police stations. These stations used to be guarded by US troops, but they left more than two weeks ago. The only people in those buildings are Iraqis and it is mostly Iraqis who those attackers killed. I really can't understand any more how they can call themselves "resistance" when all they do is kill Iraqis.
I don't understand what he doesn't understand about the logic, unless he does really understand - as I think the last sentence here shows he does.


posted by norm at 11:54 am | link


Hey, hey, good lookin'

I'm late on this story, but draw your attention to it as a public service:
Professors aren't known for fussing about their looks, but the results of a new study suggest they may have to if they want better teaching evaluations. Daniel Hamermesh, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, and Amy Parker, one of his students, found that attractive professors consistently outscore their less comely colleagues by a significant margin on student evaluations of teaching. The findings, they say, raise serious questions about the use of student evaluations as a valid measure of teaching quality.
..........
Some male professors also may be dismayed about another finding of the study: "Good looks generated more of a premium, and bad looks more of a penalty, for male instructors," say Mr. Hamermesh and Ms. Parker in a paper about their findings, "Beauty in the Classroom: Professors' Pulchritude and Putative Pedagogical Productivity." According to their data, the effect of beauty (or lack thereof) on teaching evaluations for men was three times as great as it was for women.
'Professors' Pulchritude and Putative Pedagogical Productivity' is nice. Otherwise, I'm saying nothing about this matter. I'm keeping my own counsel.


posted by norm at 11:50 am | link


Old Trafford

I return home last night from one Old Trafford, having seen my team comfortably beat Rangers, only to read this by Matthew Engel, about the other ground of the same name:
One of the most historic stadiums in British sport may soon be consigned to oblivion, it emerged last night. Lancashire County Cricket Club are considering a move away from Old Trafford, their home for the past 138 years, to a purpose-built stadium on the east side of Manchester.
..........
[T]he arguments for a move may be compelling. Old Trafford is rundown, and increasingly overshadowed by its namesake ground down the road. The site is bounded by the road and the railway line, and parking is fiendishly difficult. Crowds at major games have been declining, and Lancashire's Test match status has come under threat.
But... but... splutter... harrumph. As Engel's report goes on:
[T]raditionalists are likely to react with dismay at the possible loss of their ancient home. One shocked Mancunian commented: "It's like Lord's moving to Canary Wharf."
Engel also refers to Jim Laker's record 19-wicket haul against Australia in 1956. It's not a memory I especially cherish since I was then, as I remain now, a supporter of Australia in this ancient and brilliant rivalry. But there's also 1955 when South Africa had three centurions in the same innings, Jackie McGlew, John Waite and Paul Winslow - what, you didn't know about that? - and Winslow brought up his hundred with a huge blow, a six that cleared the sightscreen at the Stretford End, bouncing down into the practice ground beyond. What about tradition, damn it? (Which reminds me, I must write here about Peter Tinniswood.)


posted by norm at 11:41 am | link


Got a penny, chuck it

My hypothesis of a few days ago is confirmed by Steve Tompkins:
I followed a group of London kids along the street, picking up the pennies they were throwing out of their pockets... Sad or what?
I haven't bothered you with the links nor will I now, but I must tell you, it's become plain from other dnoc letters lately that there's more interest in this subject than you'd have thought.


posted by norm at 11:35 am | link


Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Words (terrorism, evil)

Simon Tisdall today offers readers of you know what a lecture on the importance of language. Words, he tells us, 'spoken, written or broadcast, are our main form of communication' (I'm glad that's been straightened out), and therefore political leaders should watch what they say, 'mind their language'; 'careless talk' is, Tisdall says, potentially deadly. I'm no fan of the guy, so readers can check it out for themselves - I mean, that I'm not stitching him up unfairly - but Tisdall's examples of the way language can be badly used do rather have a certain slope to them. Though this isn't the entire sequence, it will give you the essential flavour: he covers 'crusade', 'civilisation' and 'the civilised world' (Tisdall: 'deeply divisive, even racist, not to say insulting'), 'terrorism', 'evil', 'WMD'; and also two words which he says 'the west's leaders gingerly eschew' - 'resistance' and 'occupation'. Not too many observations by him in - how shall I put this exactly? - other directions; pertaining, for example, to how some liberal-minded journalists, or members of the anti-war movement, might themselves use or abuse language.

Anyway, let's call him out at his chosen game. I concentrate on just two matters. First, terrorism. Simon Tisdall:
Terrorism is a salient case in point. In the abstract, "terrorism" is a terrible thing; everybody deplores it; nobody supports it. Why then is terrorism such a growth industry? Because its definition is not agreed. It depends where you stand. Terrorism has, thus, become a much abused, highly fungible term.

For Donald Rumsfeld, for example, the weekend helicopter attack at Fallujah was simply the work of "terrorists". That statement conceals a larger, unpalatable truth.

To the oppressed of the world, the men of violence are, variously, militants, freedom-fighters, guerrillas, insurgents, heroes, martyrs. The real terrorists belong to the "other side". Yet "state terrorism" is a concept that is barely recognised by the ostensible oppressors.
That's it. All of it. Lecturing his readership on the perils of loose talk Tisdall gives us, on the matter of terrorism, that it just 'depends on where you stand'. Otherwise expressed, sweet, fragrant zilcheroodio. It's worse than nothing in fact, because it tosses aside a long history of moral and legal thinking, what has been codified within the rules of war and other humanitarian law, namely, certain standards obliging everyone engaged in military and political conflict, universally valid standards; so that it isn't simply a matter of 'where you stand'. One of these norms is that the deliberate targeting of innocents - civilians, non-combatants - is a crime; and here is where any useful definition of terrorism must begin. I don't claim that this is the end of it or the totality of wisdom, but it's a big step along the way, and anyone who discusses the subject and simply overlooks it - not even bothering to hint why he might find it something to move beyond - doesn't deserve an audience on a matter of such moral gravity.

Evil. This word can indeed be used too loosely and quickly and Tisdall properly points the finger at George Bush's generalized remark about the prisoners held at Guantanamo. But he also speaks of the word 'evil' as 'another trip-wire for the unwary, to be sidestepped by sensible politicians in the secular, rational west'. What word, then, would Tisdall, in secular and rational mode, have us use instead? Let's start from an example which he may be expected to be receptive to: an example out of the armoury of state terrorism - torture. Let's listen to someone who knew of what he spoke, Jean Amery, in his At the Mind's Limits. Everyone, everywhere, wanting to think seriously on this, or any connected, matter should take the trouble to read Amery's essay 'Torture'. I spare you worse from it:
[W]ith the first blow from a policeman's fist, against which there can be no defense and which no helping hand will ward off, a part of our life ends and it can never again be revived.
..........
Whoever was tortured, stays tortured. Torture is ineradicably burned into him, even when no clinically objective traces can be detected.
..........
Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world. The shame of destruction cannot be erased. Trust in the world, which already collapsed in part at the first blow, but in the end, under torture, fully, will not be regained. That one's fellow man was experienced as the antiman remains in the tortured person as accumulated horror. It blocks the view into a world in which the principle of hope rules. One who was martyred is a defenseless prisoner of fear. It is fear that henceforth reigns over him.
As Amery himself says, what was done to him was 'by far not the worst form of torture'. You can read about worse any day of the week if you have a mind to. But how are we, now, us smug secular rationalists, to speak about such things? Unfortunate occurrences? Wrongdoing? Like when someone lies without good reason to a friend, or treats a workmate shittily? The definition of evil is no easy matter. I myself have two philosopher friends who have made it their subject. But I would suggest that, pending a persuasive substitute vocabulary, evil is a reasonable way to describe what torturers do and evil an apt epithet for regimes that systematically practise torture. Read the first paragraph here (and, for other reasons, the whole thing - via Michael Totten), and then say that what these members of the Fedayeen Saddam did was unpleasant, misguided, wrong; or read about what is going on in the labour camps of North Korea and say why that isn't a terrible evil and the regime responsible for it an evil regime. Not the totality of wisdom, I repeat, just a necessary word.

For the rest, Simon Tisdall and others who think like him might like to ponder the use of the terms 'freedom-fighters', 'heroes', 'martyrs' and 'resistance' in relation to those who fly civilian aircraft into skyscrapers; those who randomly kill children (and others) on buses and in cafes; and those who murder people working for the Red Cross. Perish the thought that I might speak in any way divisively but I think the civilized world, by which I mean a global humanity with aspirations towards life and peace, needs a defence against these things.


posted by norm at 3:12 pm | link


Jews

"Jews are the new Nazis" reads the perfectly stencilled graffiti appearing on walls across Sydney in recent months.
So begins this article in today's Australian by Elisabeth Wynhausen (via Mentalspace). Wynhausen doesn't especially dwell on the thing. She's writing about a controversy surrounding the decision to award the sixth annual peace prize, of the Sydney Peace Foundation at the University of Sydney, to Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi; and the focus gets to be about the way in which a sector of Australian Jewish opinion is using 'free speech to inhibit free speech'. The article contains this exercise in social-scientific enquiry:
Australia's 84,000 Jews make up about 0.5 per cent of the population, or less than one-third of the number of those of Arabic-speaking descent. Only one or two electorates in Australia can be swayed by the Jewish vote. So why do a handful of representatives of a tiny section of the population have so much political influence? To answer money, or political donations, often gets you labelled as anti-Semitic.
While we're in this general area, I recommend the piece here by Natan Sharansky 'On Hating the Jews'. Though I don't share all Sharansky's perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has some cogent argument about anti-Jewish hatred past and present. Why is this nation different from all other nations? I asked a few days ago. Sharansky: 'Israel has effectively become the world's Jew.'


posted by norm at 11:20 am | link


Monday, November 03, 2003

Forgiveness in South Africa

There's an article in the Guardian today about how a South African woman - Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist at the University of Cape Town - came to a forgiving view of one of the apartheid regime's major criminals, Eugene de Kock. The piece touches on all the most difficult questions involved, regarding responsibility and guilt, how people come to be involved in evil - the side of someone that makes them a killer and the 'what might have been' - the impulse to forgive, and the importance here (as I would see it) of de Kock's remorse. Having discussed these issues already in my posts on amnesty (see October 6, 8, 10 and 14), and in the brief piece I wrote about J.M. Coetzee's novel, Disgrace (October 20), I do no more than to direct you to the article as being of great interest.


posted by norm at 3:19 pm | link


Zimbabwe's truth

They are young Zimbabweans living rough in Johannesburg, on the run from the Zimbabwean secret service and the youth force commanders who taught them violence.

They are not wanted for the rapes, beatings, murders and arson they committed in the name of Zimbabwe's ruling party, but because they ran away and are now telling the truth about what they've been doing.
The article elaborates on this 'truth about what they've been doing'.


posted by norm at 2:53 pm | link


US liberal exchange

Matthew Yglesias proposes some things to consider for 'hawkish liberals or ex-liberal hawks or whatever you want to call them'. Michael Totten and Armed Liberal, at Winds of Change, reply to him. The issues being discussed are close to the concerns of this blog.


posted by norm at 2:45 pm | link


In Tikrit

An 'inside look' at some of those fighting the American occupation in Tikrit.
They had fought with Hussein's crack Fedayeen Saddam troops since they were teenagers, and had been assigned combat duties in the war. With no job and an intense distaste for the Americans occupying Tikrit, Saleh, a stockily built man in a well-ironed checked shirt and black trousers, signed up for battle weeks later.

Also knitted into the underground web of fighters are about 75 foreigners, mostly Syrians, said Saleh. "They have been here for months," he said, and were dispersed among groups of fighters.
The article is from the Boston Globe.


posted by norm at 2:42 pm | link


Consistency, sincerity, George Monbiot

Last week George Monbiot wrote a column in the Guardian questioning the sincerity and consistency of Tony Blair over human rights issues. His argument is simply stated. Amongst the reasons given for the Iraq war only one had any force. He also calls this reason an excuse, but in any event:
So just one excuse remains, and it is a powerful one. Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant. While there was no legal argument for forcibly deposing him on the grounds of his abuse of human rights, there was a moral argument. It is one which our prime minister made repeatedly and forcefully. "The moral case against war has a moral answer: it is the moral case for removing Saddam," Tony Blair told the Labour party's spring conference in February. "Ridding the world of Saddam would be an act of humanity. It is leaving him there that is in truth inhumane."

There were many, especially in the Labour party, who disagreed with his decision but who did not doubt the sincerity of his belief in the primacy of human rights.
Monbiot then goes on to say how he thinks we should assess the sincerity of Blair's belief:
There is just one test of this sincerity, and that is the consistency with which his concern for human rights guides his foreign policy. If he cares so much about the welfare of foreigners that he is prepared to go to war on their behalf, we should expect to see this concern reflected in all his relations with the governments of other countries. We should expect him, for example, to do all he can to help the people of Uzbekistan.
There then follows an extremely grim and detailed descriptive paragraph about current practices of torture and murder in Uzbekistan. I do not excerpt it because some readers may wish to avoid it. (If you'd like to read Monbiot's article and avoid the paragraph in question it's the one beginning 'There are over 6,000 political and religious prisoners in Uzbekistan'.) The rest of his article then informs readers of Blair's (and also US) support for Islam Karimov's regime in Uzbekistan.

Western democratic governments professing concern about human rights are properly a subject for criticism and condemnation if they turn a blind eye to the kind of atrocities George Monbiot describes - the more so if they actually offer the governments perpetrating these their support. I have no quarrel with that part of Monbiot's argument. I want to offer some critical observations on the issues of consistency and sincerity.

As to consistency, I'm interested in Monbiot's own. He allows now that there was a 'powerful' moral case for the war in Iraq, but I don't recall his having done so back then, when the war was still in the future, the proximate future, and when to do so would have been an allowance relevant to acknowledging the good reasons of all those who supported the war. Possibly I missed it (and I mean this without sarcasm – no one can keep on top of everything); but going back to look, what I've found suggests possibly not. On November 26 2002 George Monbiot was describing the anticipated war as an 'unjust war'. An unjust war for which there was nevertheless a powerful moral case? The thing doesn't seem to go through all that easily. But, OK, let's make the effort. It's not impossible that Monbiot uses 'just' and 'unjust', as applied to war, in a quasi-technical way, such that a war is only just if it meets a number of criteria simultaneously, and this one didn't meet them all, even though there were some good moral considerations in favour of it. Fine. Then that could be said. 'The war is strictly unjust, although there's a strong moral case for it because… etc.' However, if you merely say 'unjust war' without the 'although' clause, then I suggest this will put in the minds of your readers that there isn't a strong moral case because of the usual associations of the words 'unjust war'. Most people will read you as thinking there isn't a moral case at all, let alone a strong one.

Still on the matter of consistency, I also don't recall George Monbiot at the time - when this debate was still forward-looking, towards a war in the future - setting out graphically detailed descriptions of torture practices and other atrocities in Iraq. Again, I went back to see if I missed them. I found one article protesting human rights violations and the treatment of prisoners - at Guantanamo Bay. If Blair's consistency is a matter for moral scrutiny, then isn't anybody's? Why didn't we have from Monbiot, when he was opposing the onset of the war, the same searing descriptions of the Iraqi tortured as he now gives us of Uzbeki victims? It would have reinforced the point that there was, as he now says, a powerful moral reason for the war. The fact that he didn't offer such descriptions is symmetrical with his focus, at that time, on the unjustness (in his opinion) of the war. I could generalize here to other prominent anti-war journalists, but sufficient unto the post.

Finally, sincerity. This is no doubt important in a politician and a statesman. However, there's one comment I'd like to make about it, too, because it's relevant to a whole slab of anti-war argument (of the kind, 'They obviously don't really care about the Iraqis; look at their record in relation to [name of country]'). If 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.


posted by norm at 12:53 pm | link


Sunday, November 02, 2003

The Emmylou Review #1

Ladies and gentlemen, people all... I give you the incomparable... Emmylou Harris.

I've been a while getting round to this, but there's no avoiding it. Over the next while normblog will be saluting, celebrating, the work of a fine artist. I like to consider myself, not merely a fan, but an Emmylou completist. I don't claim to have everything Emmylou's ever sung on - far from it. She does so much guesting on other people's albums, singing background and harmony vocals or what have you, that if there's anyone who does have all of it, that's a major achievement. I hope they have ample storage space. But I must have close to all of her own stuff. Anyway, this post begins a series in which, in a manner of speaking, I review it all.

As a curtain raiser, you might like to read the informative and properly admiring piece from today's Observer by Sean O'Hagan:
It would not be overstating the case to say that Emmylou Harris was set free by country music, period, and that she, in turn, helped free the music of the prejudices and stereotypes that had stalked the most conservative of American popular art forms throughout the progressive Sixties. Though The Eagles may have sold more records with their slick Californian country-rock, and her late, great mentor, Gram Parsons, may now be recognised as the music's progenitor and greatest visionary, Harris can stake her claim to being the woman who single-handedly carried the torch for that vision, touring relentlessly, and releasing well over 20 albums on which she became the greatest living interpreter of country standards, and a great, if fitfully productive, songwriter in her own right. Her voice lends itself to sad songs and, as she put it, 'That pool of melancholy just gets wider and deeper as you get older.'
..........
[S]he... is tuned to the key of life, and blessed with a voice that comes close to capturing the infinite sadness that all great country singers evoke, that high lonesome sound that calls out to all of us, that, as Gram once put it, sings us back home.
So down to business now, with the first three albums in my rolling review.

1969 - Gliding Bird

Those who've got any way into the study of Marx's ideas will know about the Young Marx and the Mature Marx, and the debate about whether, between the one and the other, it's more a story of continuity or one, rather, of a sharp break. Well, with Emmylou, there's not so much a break between this first album of hers and what came after it, as a yawning chasm, a gulf, an interplanetary journey. This is juvenilia; it's before Emmylou became Emmylou. Don't try to obtain it, unless you too have aspirations to completeness. It's truly awful. She even ruins some good songs written by other people. I'm obliged by the rules of my own review to pick out the following. Top track: Bobbie's Gone. Runner-up: Gliding Bird.

1975 - Pieces of the Sky

Different ball-game. This is the real beginning of the story. Whatever else had happened to Emmylou to make the difference, one thing which had happened was Gram Parsons and the Grievous Angel album. If you don't own this, then listen, forget it, you ain't no kind of a dude. Your life may be rich in a thousand other ways, but is also hopelessly impoverished. Rectify the matter. Soon. Back to Pieces of the Sky, where the top track is Emmylou's immortal lament for Gram Parsons, and the runner-up belongs to what I like to describe as the 'about-to-drop-dead school' of country music, since 'crying-in-your beer school' doesn't quite encapsulate the pain and sheer yearningness of it all. Top track: Boulder to Birmingham. Runner-up: Too Far Gone. Bubbling-unders: Sleepless Nights; Coat of Many Colours.

1976 - Elite Hotel

Proust didn't know the half of it. It's 1977 and me and 5-year old Soph wander into the little record shop (sic) in Didsbury to look for a birthday present for Wife of the Norm - or Adele as she was in those days. I pick out this album to sample a few tracks. Why? Who knows? Track one is Amarillo. Oh man, what a sound: Emmy, Hank de Vito on pedal steel, and James Burton, Herb Pedersen, Glen D Hardin and more. Next up is Together Again, also about-to-drop-dead school. We're out of there, me and Soph, Elite Hotel gift-wrapped for the old girl. I've a country-music pain in my heart just thinking about it. Top track: Sin City. Runner-up: Together Again. Bubbling-unders: Amarillo; Satan's Jewel Crown.

Watch this space.


posted by norm at 10:28 pm | link


Shameless plug

The plug is for my daughter Sophie Hannah's translations of Tove Jansson's The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My and Who Will Comfort Toffle?. The latter is reviewed here.


posted by norm at 11:57 am | link


Them Royals

I don't usually take any interest in the Royals but my eye stopped on this review of the Paul Burrell book because of the review's author, Catherine Bennett - one of the stars at the Groan. Well, I must be a bit naïve, but I was startled by the following:
Burrell started working for them, aged 18, as a pantry under-butler, or washer-upper. Such nonentities, he discloses, are not permitted to look their employers in the eye. They are not allowed to walk down the middle of the Buckingham Palace corridor carpets. At Balmoral, they are not even allowed to watch the television when the royals are out (Princess Margaret would check to see if the set was warm)... Burrell learned that his first duty was invisibility: "At Sandringham House, maids would dart into a walk-in cupboard under the stairs so as not to be seen when the Queen was coming down the stairs."
Bennett is also rather cruel about Camilla Park-My-Rolls. What does Prince Charles see in her? 'There is nothing there to see.'


posted by norm at 11:46 am | link


A soldier's memories

Via Majestron, there's a fascinating interview here with a homeless Vietnam vet. Amongst many other things of interest is this:
So, you were a good soldier? A fabulous soldier! You couldn't meet a better soldier.

You enjoyed it? Absolutely. Because you have no idea the sense of power that you get from killing someone.
I'm uncomfortable even merely quoting it. But I came to the conclusion some while ago that we have to look this kind of discomfort in the face, rather than telling each other fairy stories about the wholly benign character of human nature but for various corrupting social influences. The interview isn't all of this character, incidentally, and it's one of three at the site.


posted by norm at 11:16 am | link


Peace demonstration in Israel

The BBC reports:
Tens of thousands of Israelis have marked the eighth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin with a peace rally in Tel Aviv.
..........
Up to 100,000 people gathered on Tel Aviv's Rabin Square for the peace rally, according to one estimate. Demonstrators, who included campaigners against the troop presence in the Palestinian areas, waved banners in support of the "Geneva initiative", an unofficial plan drafted by Palestinians and Israeli leftists.
The report from which this comes, headed 'Thousands at Israeli peace rally', has a rather unusual structure (at the time of posting). There are three paragraphs with basic info about the rally. They are immediately followed by six paragraphs not really about peace or a rally: Gaza, shooting, West Bank, deaths, wounding. And then back to the report's announced topic. Hey, I'm not saying this is necessarily significant, just that it looks odd. See for yourself. Well, maybe. I'll take a copy.


posted by norm at 10:44 am | link


Comparative occupation

This is an interesting piece, based on his own experience, by Ralf Dahrendorf: 'Living Under Occupation':
But the most important aspect of the German experience was the sense of where the occupation would lead. In the old Soviet zone, it soon became clear that it would lead to a totalitarian satellite regime. Those who could left the Soviet zone and settled in the West; those who could not faced the sullen existence of subjects rather than citizens.

In the Western zones, a different set of expectations soon prevailed. As the occupying armies were replaced by civilian officials as administrators, and Germans were recruited to help them, the silver lining of Western democracy became more and more noticeable.
(Via Chris Bertram.)


posted by norm at 10:30 am | link

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