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Saturday, November 15, 2003

Road to catastrophe

Once more from Chris McGreal:
Four former directors of Israel's Shin Bet security service have given unprecedented warnings that the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is leading the country to catastrophe by failing to pursue peace with the Palestinians.
..........
The former intelligence chiefs agreed on a need to take swift steps towards ending the occupation by dismantling some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

"We need to take the situation into our own hands and leave Gaza with all the difficulty that that entails, and to dismantle illegal settlements," said Mr Perry. "There will always be some [settler] groups... for whom the land of Israel nestles in the hills of Nablus and inside Hebron and we will have to clash with them."
See also Haaretz - and my post, 'Two pieces on Israel', here.


posted by norm at 5:25 pm | link


Consistency

A. Karen Armstrong:
A scrupulous concern for human life is also central to Christianity. But... you may not pick and choose which forms of life you will graciously patronise. Thus it is unacceptable to champion the rights of the foetus while dispatching scores of people to the execution chamber... In religion, consistency is all...
I think that's a bit too quick. It has the same formal structure as 'it's unacceptable to condemn the deliberate killing of civilians in war while thinking it legitimate to shoot at enemy combatants'. Fundmentalist Christians, whose views I do not share, would presumably want to deploy a distinction between innocence and guilt here, so defending their own consistency. Unless Karen Armstrong thinks the taking of human life is never justified, as doesn't appear to be the case, she needs a better argument.

B. Check out this pair of quotes from two New York Times editorials, put back to back by Andrew Sullivan. The New York Times leader writers appear to need some further explanation to support their consistency.


posted by norm at 4:56 pm | link


Hilla

Rory McCarthy reports that 'in Hilla, better security and the work of a group of forward-looking Iraqi officials have made the city one of the few successes of postwar Iraq'. It's an encouraging story. Read it and see what you think the key differential(s) might be behind Hilla's greater relative success.


posted by norm at 4:47 pm | link


Never again

Here are two reports of the latest episode of the killing of Jews because they are Jews - in the bombing, today, of two synagogues in Istanbul. According to the second of these reports, a caller claiming responsibility for the attacks said these 'would continue "to prevent the oppression against Muslims"' - though according to Al Jazeera 'many of the dead and injured are believed to be Muslims'. I wonder if thousands will ever march in London to protest the killing of Jews because they are Jews, or the murder of innocent people by terrorists.

Updated at 4.50 PM: For more detail, see here (via InstaPundit).


posted by norm at 2:55 pm | link


The olive trees

A reader has drawn my attention to this report from Israel National News, casting doubt on the story I featured here yesterday (six posts down), about the wrecking of olive trees on which Palestinian families depend for their livelihoods:
Police have requested that the left-wing Israelis and Arabs from the Samaria village of Inbus submit to lie-detector tests after an olive-tree expert brought in by the police concluded they may have manufactured the entire "olive tree saga" as a provocation.
Following up as best I can, I have found only two other reports which deal with this counter-claim. The first, by Laurie Copans from the Seattle Times, repeats the original story, with the counterclaim merely alluded to at the end in the quoted view of a spokesman for the Settlers' Council. This long piece by Uzi Benzamin in Haaretz, however, pretty much confirms the original story, so far as I can judge. As Benzamin sums it up:
Not a sensational turnaround in the investigation of the affair...
You need to read the details. Thanks to Alene in Wilmington DE for the tip-off to these developments.


posted by norm at 2:10 pm | link


Powers of ten

Now this, courtesy of Florida State University, is something to see. It's Wonders of the Universe territory. Thanks to John Abeles for the link.


posted by norm at 12:13 pm | link


Oi oi oi

Aussie Aussie Aussie. It was a great victory, a great opportunist try, defence like a rock. It made me nostalgic for my ole outback home. 'But, Dad, you're from Bulawayo!' Er... well, what the hell.

So it's on to England v France, and according to Paul Kelso:
With a single notable exception, the rugby-playing nations of [the] world will unite behind a common cause tomorrow morning - willing England to lose their World Cup semi-final against France in Sydney. England's rugby players have always attracted antagonism, but for the first time in more than a decade they have a realistic chance of winning the game's greatest prize, and from the Rhondda to Auckland the prospect appals.
What with Chirac and all, this is a difficult one for me, but given how the French play, and - you know - it's rugby, not the world situation, I think it's gotta be 'Allez les bleus'.


posted by norm at 11:47 am | link


Instalanche (updated)

First time it happened to me, I didn't know it was called this. But during the course of the evening I have been hit by an Instalanche. And here is the reason for it. Naturally, I am most grateful as my site meter ticks over merrily. In the last hour I've had more hits than I did the whole of yesterday.

However, there is a cost. For the original cause is today's normblog profile of Saddam Hussein. Little did I know when I arranged this that there would follow revelations of a scurrilous nature. I feel bound to set the record straight about these. It is possible that I have been in Mosul at some time within the past few weeks, though I'm not saying that I have been. But everything else of these revelations I utterly deny and cannot even bring myself to repeat, so alien are they to my ethical outlook and my whole character.

(Update at 11.50 AM on Nov 15: Look, it was late and I'd had a long day. I should, of course, have written 'allegations', not 'revelations'.)


posted by norm at 12:02 am | link


Friday, November 14, 2003

Oh no!

I just came across this, two days late - and from my daily newspaper of choice, no less - via Jeff Jarvis. Julie Burchill is leaving the Guardian.
Burchill said it would be a real wrench to leave for a new berth at the Times, but in modest fashion said: "For the past five years, the tiny bit of me that was good was the Guardian, and the bit of the Guardian that was 'bad' was me..."
Uh uh. In one certain and very important matter, Julie, you were part of the bit that was good. It's a blow.


posted by norm at 11:24 pm | link


Four faces of Afghanistan

[1] Two years after the Taliban were chased from the streets of Kabul, the capital bustles... "There's no one who isn't glad the Taliban are gone," said Mr Bazena. "Even those who aren't making money have peace."

[2] The Taliban have reason to celebrate... with a new and repellent tactic, they appear to be scoring a major hit. In March, Taliban fighters shot dead an El Salvadorean Red Cross worker in southern Oruzgan province. In the past three months, 12 local aid workers have been murdered, causing most agencies to withdraw from southern Afghanistan.

[3] [A]side from America's leading role, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have little in common. Almost all the international community supported the bombing of Afghanistan, and promised to support its reconstruction. Yet those promises appear to be forgotten. Though mandated to expand out of Kabul, Isaf [International Security Assistance Force] currently cannot maintain the complement it needs to patrol Kabul.

[4] Yet, however small the new government's writ, and however huge its obstacles, Afghans have one frail reason for hope. Exhausted by war, and led, however nominally, by an Afghan government... they believe in their new state.
All from an article by James Astill in the Guardian.


posted by norm at 9:39 pm | link


Two pieces on Israel

On the basis of most of what I've read of his, I don't regard Chris McGreal as a particular friend of Israel. But unless these two stories by him are either wholly or substantially untrue, then those of us who are friends of Israel have to speak out against what they describe. The first is of a secret prison in which a form of psychological torture has been practised, as well as physical brutalities. Torture is a crime against humanity, just as suicide bombings are. It is a moral barbarism and a stain upon the Jewish State.
Ami Ayalon is a former head of Israel's intelligence service, the Shin Bet. He was told about 1391 but says he refused to have anything to do with it. "...I didn't think then, and I don't think today, that such an institution should exist in a democracy," he says.
The second - heart-breaking - report is of armed Israeli settlers in the occupied territories who...
are systematically wrecking [olive] trees that have stood for hundreds of years and frequently provide the only livelihood for Palestinian families.
Elements internal to both of these reports suggest they are substantially true.

Israel needs to get out of the West Bank and Gaza, and to dismantle the settlements as part of that process - forcibly if necessary, or by withdrawing the protection of the IDF.


posted by norm at 9:32 pm | link


Three pieces on Iraq

This one from the New York Times:
[V]iolence against coalition troops has increased as the occupation has lengthened and, in regard to the all-important objective of winning Iraqi hearts and minds, unemployment rates are still too high. However, most other trends are encouraging - declining crime rates in Baghdad, increasing numbers of Iraqi police officers being trained, and telephone and water services at about 80 percent of pre-war levels.
This one by Martin Woollacott from the Guardian:
The paradox of Iraq is that the occupiers face a militarily successful resistance which is not at all popular except in limited areas and among limited groups... while the evidence is admittedly largely anecdotal, the picture in Iraq does seem to be one in which a majority, while by no means pro-American, very definitely do not want those resisting them to prevail.
..........
The final paradox may be that the more determined the US is to stay, the sooner it may be able to leave.
This one by Mary Kaldor:
Those of us who opposed the war must now be calling for democracy in Iraq - not immediate withdrawal, nor even [an] accelerated timetable for withdrawal...
..........
[T]here is a presidential election coming up in America. Some people want America to fail in Iraq so that George W. Bush will lose the election. This kind of thinking prioritises domestic US concerns above the fate of Iraqis. It is as sick as the preoccupations of the Republicans in the CPA about 'how will this play in the election?' No one should support the military opposition to America. And there should be no immediate withdrawal of US troops until a framework for democracy is established.
All three are well worth a look. (The first and last via Roger Simon and Crooked Timber respectively.)


posted by norm at 9:29 pm | link


Religious symbols

Am I missing something here? From a report by Jon Henley:
France edged a step closer yesterday to outlawing Muslim veils in schools after a cross-party commission of MPs backed legislation to ban all visible symbols of religious conviction from state-run institutions.
Isn't wearing a symbol of religious conviction rather like stating 'I am a Christian', 'I am a Muslim', 'I am a Jew' and so forth? Therefore, isn't this just like a free speech, a freedom of belief, issue, and the proposed ban on the face of it unjustified? Henley's report continues:
The decision by the 31-member commission is sure to inflame an already heated debate that cuts to the core of one of France's most pressing problems: how far the secular republic can accommodate the demands of Islam. Or, put more bluntly, is being Muslim compatible with being French
But why is that the question? Why isn't the question, rather: is saying you're a Muslim when at school compatible with being French? It's not as if the school itself is being called upon to display or otherwise privilege particularist religious symbols. So, I don't get it.


posted by norm at 4:31 pm | link


Lileks, Moore, Soros

James Lileks today:
Michael Moore went to Germany and slammed America up and down for all the usual reasons - we don't have passports! We only speak English! Our stupid minds! Stupid, stupid! We're not like the cultured Europeans, who - aside from their occasional continent-shattering spasms of facism - are the epp-ee-tomay of culture and enlightenment.
..........
I was tempted to write about George Soros comparing Bush and America to the rise of the Nazis, but I've just had it with these people. I'm more interested in those who ride the coattails of their rhetoric. I want someone to ask Dean this question in the Presidential debate: "Governor Dean, one of your wealthiest backers has compared America in 2000s with German[y] in the 1930s. Do you agree with this analogy?" The only acceptable answer to my ears is "No, I don't." Period.
Both observations pretty much to the point, I'd say.


posted by norm at 4:27 pm | link


Postmodern postscript

[Amended excerpt from previous post.]

I am reminded of this by something strange that happens to me earlier today. I am getting on with this and that, as a guy will, and I have Big Louis on my music machine, a not uncommon arrangement in my neighbourhood, Big Louis being a party that is most pleasing to the ear. I am playing The Great Chicago Concert of 1956, something I will recommend to you as a most worthwhile proposition any day of the week.


posted by norm at 3:21 pm | link


Satchmo for the opposition

You know the way, in a certain kind of movie, a spy or gangster pic, they'll undermine some guy via one of his weaknesses - which could well have to do with women - so that they've then got him for whatever purpose they wish to use him. They?! Who the hell is they?! They is just plain old they, whoever it is that's out to do whatever they're gonna do.

Aaaanyway... I'm reminded of this by something strange that happens to me earlier today. I'm getting on with this and that, and I have Louis on my machine, a not uncommon arrangement round here. I'm playing The Great Chicago Concert of 1956, and I have one ear on the music and my mind on something else. A generally good sound, it recedes at times while I focus on what I'm thinking about.

And then, from one of these fade-out phases, the sound suddenly pushes itself back from the sidelines into my field of awareness with a rising, majestic, anthemic passage. Well, I don't want to sound like any sort of a sentimental mug, but I come over all funny for a moment, and pulling myself away from what I'm thinking about, I stop and listen. Jeez, what is it? Well, what it is is 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. As played by Satchmo. I mean you're just held there, breathless. At this precise moment I'm done for - in a state of total vulnerability. If some 'they' had been on hand to exploit the thing, they could have had me for a Liverpool fan. Spouting 'Danny Murphy, Stevie Gerrard'... the whole kaboodle. Horrors. It makes you think.

Taking stock, now, later in the day: is there a danger it could really happen? Heh. Forget it.


posted by norm at 2:52 pm | link


The normblog profile 8: Saddam Hussein

In his own words: 'In case you've been living under Iraq - er, under a rock - I'm a world-renowned despot, dictator, manufacturer of weapons of mass destruction and all-round threat to world peace. Well, at least that's what the President of a certain superpower would like you to believe. In actuality I'm a very nice guy. Granted, the despot and dictator labels are true, but it doesn't make me a bad person. If you take the time to get to know the real me, you'll learn that I'm an easy-going fellow who enjoys long walks on the beach, romantic candlelit dinners, shooting people, and cuddling. I blog at Saddam's Cyber Palace.'

Why do you blog? > Between the extra charges for going over my minutes, and the constant threat of 1,000 pound JDAMs homing in on the signal, I have found my cell phone to be quite inconvenient lately. Blogging is about the only way I can safely communicate with my vast legions of America-hating followers throughout the world - especially the ones in Berkeley, California.

What has been your best blogging experience? > Discovering all the anti-war blogs.

What has been your worst blogging experience? > Discovering all the pro-war blogs.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Take precautions to protect your contact email address from spammers, either by using a challenge/response system, or spelling out your address, for example, as 'saddam at lugosi dot us'. That will prevent automated spamming systems from detecting your address and repeatedly sending you emails insulting the size of your manhood.

What are your favourite blogs? > Little Tiny Lies, The Complete & Utter Weblog of (pdw), and Amish Tech Support.

What are you reading at the moment? > Is this a trick question? At the moment I'm reading your stupid questionnaire, you infidel fool.

Who are your cultural heroes? > The Dixie Chicks, Britney Spears, Alanis Morissette (even though she wouldn't recognize irony if it walked up and bit her on the tuchus).

What is the best novel you've ever read? > The Stand, by Stephen King, except I'd change the ending so that the forces of evil triumph.

What is your favourite movie? > Lawrence of Arabia.

What is your favourite song? > 'Ahab the Arab', by Ray Stevens.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > That I'm never wrong, even when I am.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Disseminate? What, you mean artificially, like with my sperm?

What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > Shoot your enemies before they shoot you.

If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > You mean the current governing of my country? I'd like to see someone who's actually from the frikkin' country running things. Specifically, me.

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

What would you do with the UN? > HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!! You are kidding, aren't you?

What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Keep moving around, and don't forget to duck when you hear strange planes overhead.

What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Aside from my moustache, you mean? My leadership skills, as well as my total lack of a moral compass. I think my complete inability to admit to having faults is important as well.

In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > Any circumstance involving UN inspectors. Or if it would enable me to score with a really hot babe.

What is your favourite proverb? > Last one in the bunker is a splattered rotten egg.

What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Voting.

What, if anything, do you worry about? > Aside from the constant risk of death and capture, I have no real worries to speak of.

What is your most treasured possession? > My weapons of mass destruction. Er, I mean my gun.

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

What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > Chemist. Or male underwear model.

Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Aaron Barschak.

Which baseball team do you support? > The Chicago Cubs. I tend to identify with underdogs.

If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > An apology from George Bush and Tony Blair. Then again, maybe that's not terribly realistic.

What animal would you most like to be? > A chameleon. He can easily disappear into his surroundings and be virtually invisible to predators. Oh, wait... I guess I already am one.

[Previous profiles: Ophelia Benson (Nov 7); 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 10:00 am | link


Thursday, November 13, 2003

The language of music

This is more worthwhile fare:
Using a database of over 100,000 brief segments of speech, they [the researchers] noted which frequency had the greatest emphasis in each sound. The resulting set of frequencies, they discovered, corresponded closely to the chromatic scale. In short, the building blocks of music are to be found in speech.
..........
[O]ur sense of music, even our love for it, is as deeply rooted in our biology and in our brains as language is.
..........
[M]usic may be even more of a necessity than we realize.
It's a human nature thing, despite the fact that human nature's a fantasy.


posted by norm at 11:49 pm | link


The Trotsky bush

Those of us who've been making lists of clever Marxists won't have considered him a candidate, and we probably wouldn't have anyway since he's well known for being stoopid. But George Bush, don't you know, is a Trotskyist (or 'Trotskyite' as this article would have it).
It's just a coincidence that George W. Bush gave a speech announcing that the U.S. was leading a "global democratic revolution" on the eve of Leon Trotsky's birthday, but it is one that neatly illustrates the militant revolutionism at the core of American foreign policy in the post-9/11 era.
The writer goes on to emphasize Bush's 'mindless universalism', a familiar trope amongst Trotsky's disparagers. In case you might want to read this path-breaking article twice, you can also find it here.


posted by norm at 11:44 pm | link


Memorial for gay victims of Nazism

BERLIN - Germany will build a national memorial to homosexuals persecuted and killed under the Nazis, complementing a memorial to the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, a parliament committee decided today.

Nazi Germany declared homosexuality an aberration that threatened the German race and convicted some 50,000 homosexuals as criminals. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 gay men were deported to concentration camps, where few survived.
..........
Few gays convicted by the Nazis came forward after the Second World War because of the continuing stigma - and because the law used against them remained on the books in West Germany until 1969.
The report is here.


posted by norm at 11:40 pm | link


Re-fisk

David Pryce-Jones redefines fisking:
In the www arena where the world speaks invisibly to itself, a new word has appeared: 'fisking', meaning the selection of evidence solely in order to bolster preconceptions and prejudices. Just as cardigans or mackintoshes are named after an inventive individual, so fisking derives from the work of Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent of the Independent, stationed these many years in Beirut.
(Thanks to Steve de Wijze.)


posted by norm at 11:38 pm | link


This other trail

As a Guardian leader today has it...
No one denies that most Iraqis initially welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein...
Yeah, no one denies it now, or few people do, but I have this impression - and it's no more than an impression - that there were those, including writers for and readers of the Guardian, who overlooked or minimized it as a prospect before the event, those who weren't too clear about it shortly after the event, and those who don’t give any too much weight to it even now (see three posts down).

Then there are these two dnoc-ball letters:
London's Police Authority is right to insist the bill for the police operation should not be paid by council tax payers... But it shouldn't be paid for by the rest of us either, as Eric Ollerenshaw suggests. We would rather this visitor stayed away.
..........
It should be clear to all who value peace that the exclusion zone proposed by Bush's henchmen is to be welcomed - provided it can be widened to the whole UK.
They wouldn't be suggesting, these two, would they, that their freedom to protest must be respected, but the freedom of one democratic polity to receive a visit from the president of another democratic polity, the two leaders of which just got rid of one of the world’s most revolting tyrants, that this freedom should be curtailed? Naah, they couldn't possibly be. But they can count themselves among many fellow dnoc-readers who, for their part, still haven't been able to rise to the challenge of 'welcom[ing] the overthrow of Saddam Hussein', as they show daily by the balance of their silences and their obnoxious sounds.

Last night on Channel 4 news (which I virtually never look at because of its similarly obnoxious leanings, but caught snatches of while closely studying on video the penalty or non-penalty not awarded last Sunday to the ever hard-done-by Liverpool), Jon Snow asks Ann Clwyd, a moral exemplar for our times, approximately this: does it worry her that the Americans might now be preparing 'to run'? Occupiers or cut-and-runners, with these folk the US can't win.

This other trail, what trail is it, do you reckon?


posted by norm at 3:55 pm | link


Blog trail

Gary Jones, who was already blogging at Crumb Trail, not long ago started up a second blog, Muck and Mystery. I recommend it to you. Gary blogs on subjects about which I don't know too much, but I visit his blogs regularly and try to learn. I draw your attention to this post on forests, fires and forest management:
Informed environmentalists have been trying to alter forest management policy in the west for decades but they were either ignored or vilified by the political establishment and its bureaucracy as well as pseudo-environmentalists more concerned about the possibility that individuals and companies - especially forest products companies - might benefit from better forest management than they are about the health of the forests... Those best trained and equipped to clean up the forests are forest products companies, the same folks the anti-capitalist pseudo-environmentalists have been fighting all these years. Any politician or bureaucrat that proposes enlightened forest management policy that would hire such companies, and allow them to salvage some of the timber and so help reduce costs, is met with frenzied denunciation.
And here, on his longer-established blog, he takes issue with an article about warming:
The first two thirds of the article dwell on the consequences of this measured warming and interprets the warming as support for climate models. But the last third of the article cites the North Atlantic Oscillation which has been in its warm phase for the past 20 years, the exact period covered by the study, which transports heat from mid latitudes to the Arctic. Not mentioned is that the Pacific decadal oscillation had also been in its warm phase for nearly 30 years and that solar cycles have been at maximum for the past 100 years. It's a triple dip heat increase for the Arctic that is entirely natural, a fairly rare period when all three oscillations are in phase with one another and so amplify one another though most times they are out of phase and moderate one another... [A]ny sensible analysis of the sparse data we have would be skeptical of theories which attribute nearly all observed climate changes to anthropogenic causes when there are so many strong natural causes that explain the changes.
Since I'm on the trail here, I'll continue down it just a little longer. Hey, I'm back in the city - where Oliver Kamm catches the Beeb out in a faux pas, and Gideon Strauss, responding to the recent list-making, proposes one of top neo-Calvinists (scroll down to the bottom post on November 12). Finally, I've already come across one or two of these at Alan Brain's, but you might find some of them diverting if you've any free time on your hands.


posted by norm at 3:32 pm | link


Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Who said...?

Who said the following about the United States of America?
This is the best country in the world.
Well, now, Noam Chomsky did. It's the end of his answer to the final question of an interview by Deborah Solomon that appeared in the New York Times Magazine ten days ago - her question being, 'Have you considered leaving the United States permanently?', and the beginning of Chomsky's answer being 'No'. What surprises me more than his having said it is that it took me this long to come across the fact that he had. I came across it quite by chance, and wondered why I hadn't already read it somewhere in the press or on a blog. After I started to look around a bit, I did track down a few mentions of it on US blogs - among them JZIP, Not Geniuses and Eye on the Left. Still, given who it was saying this and what he was saying, I'm surprised more hasn't been made of it. Maybe I'm just too cut off from things, and more has.

In looking about, I also found that apparently supporting a course at Ohio State there's this page, in need now of revision. Under the rubric 'The World According to Chomsky', there's a sub-head 'Necessary Illusions', and number 9 of these necessary illusions according to Chomsky is:
This is the best country on earth. If you don't believe it, go live some place else.
The world can be a complicated and confusing place, I tell you. Chomsky has another good answer to his interviewer:
Have you ever been psychoanalyzed? > I do not think psychoanalysis has a scientific basis. If we can't explain why a cockroach decides to turn left, how can we explain why a human being decides to do something?
Come to think of it, that's too short to be a really good answer, but it contains a good point.


posted by norm at 11:13 pm | link


Blair and his critics

Here is an excerpt from Tony Blair's speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet on 10 November:
What is happening [in Iraq] is that for the first time in forty years, some semblance of broad-based government is being introduced with the aim, as soon as is possible, of moving toward full democracy. Over 40,000 Iraqi police are now on duty. The press is free; over 170 newspapers in circulation; the ban on satellite TV lifted so that Iraqis can hear America abused by Al-Jazeera and others - for having liberated them. Access to the internet is no longer forbidden. Nearly all schools and universities are open, as are hospitals and they are receiving medicine and supplies not on the basis of membership of the Ba'ath Party but on need. The canals are being cleared. The power and water supplies re-built. These supposedly evil Americans have voted $19 billion of their own money in aid: the Madrid Conference under the excellent guidance of Prime Minister Aznar has raised another $13 billion. Not a penny piece of Iraq's oil money has gone anywhere but into an account under the supervision of the IMF and UN.

And what is the barrier to progress? Who is trying to bomb the UN and Red Cross out of Baghdad? Or killing Iraqi civilians in terrorist attacks? Or sabotaging the work on electricity cables or oil installations? Not America. Not Britain. Not the coalition. But Saddam's small rump of supporters aided and abetted by foreign terrorists.
(Via Apostablog.) In today’s Guardian there are eight letters (only seven of them online) lambasting Blair, and in not one of them is any significant weight allowed to the points he here set out. From two of these letters:
[B]y using [Blair's] logic I could take over a bank by force, kill members of staff and steal all the cash, then justify my actions by pointing out the benefits to the luxury car trade, diamond merchants, goldsmiths and five-star hotels of the spending power I had at my disposal. (My emphasis.)
..........
If Blair wants to get the country behind him, he needs to ensure that Iraq is a better place than it was before the war. At this time, this is patently not so.
Not a word about the small matter of some of those things that have stopped happening to ordinary Iraqis since the demise of the Baathist regime. Yesterday, I spoke of a sector of the left as the Edith Piaf left. But, with this persistent level of blanking-out denial, one is bound to conclude that there is also what my fellow-loopster Matt Kramer has referred to as a pro-tyrant left.


posted by norm at 12:36 pm | link


What would Orwell make of it?

If you've not already paid a visit there and seen it, I direct you over to Oliver Kamm's to read this post on John Pilger.


posted by norm at 12:29 pm | link


BBC policeman

Tom Leonard in the Daily Telegraph (registration required):
The BBC has appointed a "Middle East policeman" to oversee its coverage of the region amid mounting allegations of anti-Israeli bias. Malcolm Balen, a former editor of the Nine O'Clock News, has been recruited in an attempt to improve the corporation's reporting of the Middle East and its relationship with the main political players.
..........
The BBC denied that the appointment amounted to an admission that it had "got its coverage wrong" but conceded the corporation was sensitive to criticism... An accusation frequently levelled against the corporation is that it reports the Arab-Israeli conflict too much from a Palestinian point of view. Its reluctance to describe suicide bombers as "terrorists" has proved particularly controversial...
Via Biased BBC (and thanks to Sue Leaf for the tip-off).


posted by norm at 12:26 pm | link


Surf rage

No not internet-users fighting it out, but yer actual orig surfers. David Fickling:
Australian surfers are being told to chill out or face jet ski police patrols to prevent the latest threat to local beaches - surf rage. In recent years violent confrontations over who gets to ride which "break" have marred the laidback culture normally associated with the sport.
So much conflict in the world, and now this too. There are, according to Fickling's report, 2.3 million surfers in Australia, 'and one NSW university announced last week that it would be setting up a diploma course in surfing studies'. Suggestions invited, from those who know more about this topic than I do, as to what sort of intra-disciplinary disputes might spring up in surfing studies - between, say, realists and postmodernists, nature-ists and nurture-ists, or whoever.


posted by norm at 12:24 pm | link


Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Papers in the philosophy of cricket

Brian Weatherson draws attention to a call for papers on The Philosophy of Cricket. Some late night suggestions as to possible topics:

'Deconstructing the LBW law.'
'Phenomenon and noumenon at the boundary: a spectating aesthetic.'
'To walk or not to walk: a deontological approach.'
'To walk or not to walk: a consequentialist riposte.'
'The dialectics of slip catching.'
'Cricket's universal appeal: human nature at play.'
'Cricket's universal appeal: "How was that?"'
'The original position and the veil of ignorance: a Rawlsian approach to winning the toss.'
'Cricket, metaphor for baseball.'
'Crooked timber: an economic history of bail making.'
'The dynamics of causation and motive in the dismissal of opponents.'
'The authoritarian umpire: towards a democratic system of decision-making.'

(Updated at 12.20 PM on Nov 12: On the 'to walk or not to walk' issue Brian has now suggested, in an addition to his original post: 'I think I can will the universalised rule "All batters should walk iff they are playing against Australia or Victoria"'. See also Brian's observations here, and a nice comment from Josh Parsons.)


posted by norm at 11:54 pm | link


Marxists - a baker's dozen

Josh Cherniss's 'top five Marxists' poll has led to argument and counter-argument between the two Chrises, Bertram and Brooke, at Crooked Timber and The Virtual Stoa, as well as in the Crooked Timber comments box - with some additional come-back reflections from Josh himself. All of this has prompted further thought on my own part since I said that Trotsky was 'one of the top three Marxists of all time'.

First, I wish Josh hadn't excluded Marx from the poll. Notwithstanding the famous remark 'Je ne suis pas marxiste', Marx was surely the greatest Marxist thinker there has been. I know this can sound anomalous, but he belongs to the tradition which he founded, so the thing makes a certain kind of sense. And I'd be absolutely amazed if Marx didn't come top of any Marxists poll in which he was allowed as a candidate. Not to be able to vote for him was frustrating - like being forbidden from picking either Louis Armstrong or Miles Davis, or both, in a poll on jazz trumpeters; or from picking Bradman and/or Sobers in a poll about the greatest cricketers; or from picking Fred Astaire, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, for any polls relevant to their respective talents. (I am obliquely reminded here, however, of Peter Tinniswood's hypothesis that Richie Benaud would come second in a Richie Benaud lookalike competition - second to ET.)

Anyhow, that was the first way in which my choice of a top five for Josh's poll was forced to diverge from what might have been my real top five. But, thinking about it, I've come to the conclusion that I don't in fact have a top five Marxists. I have a top three; and I have a top 13. What I mean is, I can rank a top three; and then there are another ten who come into consideration, who are contenders for me, but I don’t feel I can put them in an order. Why 13 and not more than that? Just because 13 is the highest number of Marxists where I don't have any regrets about someone I've had to exclude if I'm told to stop. Unless my memory has blanked out such an important someone, there's no fourteenth Marxist I feel I'm giving a rough deal.

Finally, as to the question whether these are the 'objectively' top 13 Marxists or just my 'personal favourites' (Josh's distinction), they're the Marxists I've read whose work I learned most from, wanted to read more of, got on with - in a reading sense, whether agreeing, disagreeing or, as generally, some of both. A glaring omission, in the eyes of many others, is going to be Gramsci; and then, possibly Adorno, Ernst Bloch, and who knows who else? But, hey, you can put any of them on your list.

Here they are then, my top 13 Marxists, ranked down to number three, and then in alphabetical order. Beside each of them I put one example of his or her work, as being a good example and something that was important to me at some point in my life, and in some cases still is.

1. Karl Marx (Capital, Volume 1)
2. Leon Trotsky (Results and Prospects)
3. Rosa Luxemburg (The Mass Strike, the Party and the Trade Unions)
> Louis Althusser (For Marx)
> Perry Anderson (Considerations on Western Marxism)
> G. A. Cohen (Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence)
> Isaac Deutscher (the Trotsky trilogy)
> C. L. R. James (Beyond A Boundary)
> V. I. Lenin (The State and Revolution)
> Ernest Mandel (Rosa [Luxemburg] and German Social Democracy)
> Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization)
> Ralph Miliband (The State in Capitalist Society)
> Sebastiano Timpanaro (On Materialism)

(Updated at 12.15 PM on Nov 12: There are now two further, thoughtful posts up on this by Josh Cherniss and Chris Bertram.)


posted by norm at 9:47 pm | link


Israeli UN resolution 2

Further to the item I posted a few days ago on the Israeli resolution at the UN, there are follow-up reports here and here. The resolution calls 'for the protection of Israeli children victimized by Palestinian terrorism' and looks unlikely to carry.


posted by norm at 9:39 pm | link


Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation redux?

Andrew Porter writes:
THE BBC and ITN are locked in a battle to take over the potentially lucrative contract to run television and radio stations in Iraq. They are bidding for Iraqi Media Network (IMN), once the main propaganda vehicle for Saddam Hussein and his regime.
..........
"We are certainly looking at Iraq," said a BBC spokesman. "We obviously feel that there could be a role for us in helping to get things started again in terms of educating people and getting through. We will be looking at what we are able to offer."
Educating people seems good. They might begin with some BBC employees. Or must we look forward to Fiona Bruce, ensconced in Baghdad, solemnly intoning, 'But Rageh the news that Andrew Murray and George Galloway have chained themselves to one another round a large tree not far from Westminster is likely to be of concern to Iraqis, surely'? (Rageh: 'Yes, Fiona, you're right. This is what happens to those who criticize the world's only superpower.') Thanks to Anthony for the link.


posted by norm at 12:37 pm | link


The Edith Piaf left

George Monbiot writes a piece in today's dnoc in which he opines that, had a peaceful resolution been attempted - this apropos the last gasp offers to the US by Saddam's negotiators, in the hope of averting military intervention - 'Iraq might be a pliant and largely peaceful nation finding its own way to democracy'. Monbiot's article is appropriately titled 'Dreamers and idiots', an angle on his hypothesis already alluded to round at Harry's Place. I would like to highlight something else, though, referring back to the conclusion of my post immediately below this one. Monbiot, fearless and unrelenting critic of governments and other wielders of power, opponent of Bush and Blair's war for a democratizing regime change in Iraq, is willing to credit Saddam Hussein and his 'team' as the possible vehicle of such a democratization.

In the same neck of the woods:
With a week to go before the US president arrives, the promise of the three-day visit is already acting as a magnet for protesters and anarchists from all over Europe.
How many of them do you think will be celebrating the downfall of Saddam by their protests? 'Non, rien de rien...' etc.

For an antidote to Monbiot read The Dude.


posted by norm at 12:34 pm | link


Monday, November 10, 2003

Private explanations, public meanings

On Saturday morning I had the misfortune to turn to one of the BBC channels when George Galloway was on screen, part of a group talking to Clive Anderson. Over at Harry's Place there's a reference to this discussion by Johann Hari, one of the others who was involved in it, and as he says, Galloway once again sought to explain his disgraceful obeisance before Saddam Hussein in 1994 as having been intended as a salute to the Iraqi people. Johann is quite properly dismissive of this explanation. For myself, I find it remarkable that anyone who has listened to George Galloway more than three or four times hasn't by then picked up all they need to know in order to draw the necessary conclusions. I think some purpose may be served, all the same, by devoting a bit more space than Johann gives to it to Galloway's self-serving explanation for the words he felt able to utter during that notorious encounter - the words being 'Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.'

If I were to say publicly about someone that she, or he, was a loathsome and verminous heap of garbage, this would be taken as an insult, no question about it. Even if I were to offer later that I had intended it as a compliment, it would be taken as an insult by anyone of intelligence (the affirmation of a complimentary intent here only deepening the insult, if you think about it). Again, if I were to suggest to you that we submit a matter over which the two of us had been in dispute to an independent panel of arbitrators in order to resolve it; and if I were then to refuse, when this panel resolved in your favour, to abide by the result, nobody but a fool would take it as a satisfactory explanation on my part that I had never in my own mind regarded the panel's judgements as authoritative. Further if I, as someone of more or less equal means with you, or of more abundant means, and with plenty ready cash indeed upon my person, and not in any temporary difficulty, or under mental or emotional stress of any kind, were to sit with you many evenings in a pub and accept from you first one drink, then another, and another and so forth, and without ever offering to reciprocate were to get up at 10 o'clock and go home, I would be perceived by you, as well as by others in the know about this habitual conduct of mine, as mean, even should I profess in principle to be moved by the most generous of impulses.

Words and acts, rituals, conventions, have public meanings, whatever the inner thoughts might be of those who use, or perform, or engage in them. Sometimes there are ambiguities, it is true. But often there aren't. 'Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability', spoken before a particular person of power, and one whose murderous relationship to the Iraqi people was - as Johann Hari points out - perfectly well known, is not a salute to the Iraqi people whatever the speaker may be thinking when he says it.

Keep the structure of the situation and change the persons involved. Imagine some prominent, and putatively left-wing, visitor to apartheid South Africa standing before P.W. Botha and pronouncing those same words, 'Sir, I salute...' and all that followed this out of the oily mouth of George Galloway, without the 'Sir' sticking in his throat and saving him from all that followed. Who on the left then would have taken it as adequately explaining the utterance that it had been intended as a salute to... the people of South Africa? No one, that's who. Sorry, I'll correct this. Only someone who'd be willing, without some very special context, to accept 'Why have you got a rat up your bum today?' as an endearment.

One of the more worrying things about George Galloway is not George Galloway himself, since, as I've already said, anyone with an ounce of perception should be able to draw the necessary conclusions after merely watching him talk a few times. No, it is that there is a sector of left opinion willing, not merely to be associated with him, but to see him as a spokesman for their cause and beliefs, and to rally to his defence. The silences and evasions in this quarter about Saddam Hussein and his regime, silences and evasions which those of us who supported the war alleged, and those whom we alleged it against always deny, are symbolically concentrated in that willingness. But the days of innocence are past. We already know this story and its awful consequences. The question is why a sector of the left is ready to relive the story in a new version. It's a question which anyone who cares about the future of the left, and the values which the left should rightly stand for, needs to address.


posted by norm at 11:00 pm | link


An Iraqi reaction to the Bush speech

From a new Iraqi blog, The Mesopotamian (scroll down to Saturday, November 8):
Many people ask whether we have heard the President's speach. Yes we have. Immediately the Chorus of AlJazeera, Al Arabiya, etc. and amazingly, CNN, BBC etc, started their spoiling, doubt-semming, bitchy insinuations, interviewing, this character from egypt and that "analyst " from Syria etc. ( seldom an Iraqi is asked, or if they find one, a well known former close associate of the Saddam regime or someone like that ). Pretending to be objective, pretending to be "balanced", they try their best to kill the joy that the shining reassuring words bring to our frightened hearts.

Well, we should be starting to talk about the "Mistakes". There are two ways to consider these: The first is the destructive, biased, spitefull fault pointing of the "enemy". The other the constructive, corrective, anxious for cure advice of the "friend". I think you all know in which camp I stand.
..........
Immagine that the shining speach of President Bush ( El George El Bush, I would like to call him from now on - as is the tradition when we wish to honor great Sheiks to add El (the) before their names, "The George The Bush", El Bush the Lion-heart of the New World !), has hardly reached the masses here in Iraq. Perhaps few quotations interspersed with bitchy commets from Al Jazeera and the like.
Gosh, not El Steve El Bell?


posted by norm at 10:46 pm | link


Pariah nation

The following communication comes off a thread (on the website of the British Medical Journal) which concerns the complicity or otherwise of Israeli doctors in human rights violations, including torture. The issues raised are of great importance and deserve to be examined seriously. But some of those contributing to the discussion exhibit attitudes that ought to disqualify them from being taken seriously. Here is one Patrick M. Riordan:
Sir---many of us have no confidence in the intellectual and moral integrity of Israeli doctors. To elect one as WMA [World Medical Association] president is a bad joke. Israel is a pariah nation, and its representatives have no place in 21st century society.
I've lately been lamenting the fact that Israel should be widely regarded as a pariah nation. But for this guy - who has no confidence in the moral integrity, not of some Israeli doctors, but of Israeli doctors period, and who feels that Israel's representatives ought to be treated as outcasts from international society - it's quite right and proper for Israel to be be regarded as a pariah nation. Riordan also gives, as a competing interest of his, that he is a member of BIGBAG (Boycott Israeli Goods, Boycott American Goods). It's not an organization I was aware of, but imagine that - there are two countries in the world whose goods are to be targeted for boycott, just two: Israel and the United States, and that's it. The thread from which this comes is here (you need to fill in a short questionnaire to gain access). Thanks to Anthony Cox for the link.


posted by norm at 8:46 am | link


Saddam

From a review by Christina Lamb in yesterday's Sunday Times of John Simpson's The Wars against Saddam: 'A typical story is of... Saddam turning up at a village, taking a child on his knee and asking if the child knew who he was. "Yes," replied the child, "every time you come on television my father spits on the ground and switches it off." The entire family disappeared, including the child.'


posted by norm at 8:44 am | link


Dinner companions

As selected by right-of-centre bloggers over at Right Wing News.


posted by norm at 8:42 am | link


Sunday, November 09, 2003

Sports weekend

Well, only one of the four teams I was supporting in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals - Australia - came through, and if I had to say now, on the basis of those four games, which of the semi-finalists is least likely to win the trophy, it would be them, Australia. I continue to hope all the same. Today Ireland only started to make a showing after they'd all but lost the game to France, who looked formidable; and Wales in the first half looked like they might give England a fright but then succumbed to England's greater all-round power. Yesterday New Zealand looked the business.

So the four semi-finalists are the four teams most expected to be there from the off. This means that all nine entrants for the normblog Rugby World Cup comp are still in with a chance, although if Aus were, improbably, to end by winning the tournament, then Jim Nolan, who (like me) picked them, has the wrong first tie-breaker in New Zealand as the other finalist. If you don't understand what I'm saying here, never mind; I do, and anyone else who cares will also.

Rugby disappointments were more than compensated for by the fact that Manchester United beat the scousers at Anfield, than which there is very little sweeter in sport. As some would have it, we didn't really beat them, we just scored more goals, but that is the kind of unseemly excuse-making that one somehow learns to cope with.


posted by norm at 11:39 pm | link


The Brigadier

Here's some reading of a different kind, a couple of excerpts from the Brigadier, Peter Tinniswood's wonderful creation. Peter Tinniswood died in January of this year. If you have any interest in cricket and don't know his tales, you might like to treat yourself.
I am bound to say that I consider the Belgians to be the most revolting shower of people ever to tread God's earth. Eaters of horse flesh, they let us down in two world wars. They're hopeless at golf. They drive on the wrong side of the road, and they're forever yodelling about their blasted fiords and their loathsome fretwork egg-timers. Is it any wonder they made such a confounded mess of running the Congo?

When we went there in 1914, there was not one decent wicket the length and breadth of the country, and the facilities for nets were totally inadequate. And, if that weren't enough, during our matches there were at least two outbreaks of cannibalism among spectators, which I found totally unacceptable, and which I am convinced were responsible for the loss of our most promising young leg-spinner, M. M. Rudman-Stott.
..........
The lady wife, like most members of her sex (which is female), has an inordinate number of birthdays. As she grows older these undoubtedly increase in frequency. Indeed I am of the opinion that she is now celebrating as many as one per annum. This year, I suppose, she will have a birthday on the Saturday of the Lord's test. She usually does. And as always when she informs me of the impending approach of this frightful event, I shall look at her, and I shall think to myself - why?

Why, why, why? Why on earth did I ever marry her? Certainly there was a physical attraction. That I cannot deny.

I remember to this day the surge of emotion that coursed through my veins when I first caught sight of her. The rose garden at dear old Castle Arlott slumbering with honey-laden bees. The gentle summer breeze lisping through the timid tracery of the delicate Frindall tree. The Benaud bush aflame in scarlet bloom. The phlox Lakeriensis flowering hazily lazily benignly blue. And into my view she glided; a tall, slim, sylphlike figure in purest white.

My heart missed a beat. The sap rose in my loins. Dear God, she was the spitting image of Herbert Sutcliffe.
(Paragraphing amended.) There you go. Just sharing one of my enthusiasms.


posted by norm at 9:58 pm | link


War round-up

Unable to write at any length for posting right now and probably until Tuesday, I continue to direct you to items of interest which I've come across.

Here is an item about the finding of mass graves in Iraq:
As many as 300,000 Iraqis killed during Saddam Hussein's 23-year dictatorship are believed to be buried in more than 250 mass graves found so far around the country, the top human rights official in the U.S.-led civilian administration said Saturday.
Senator John McCain on How to Win in Iraq:
Prematurely placing the burden of security on Iraqis is not the answer. It is irresponsible to suggest that it is up to Iraqis to win this war. In doing so, we shirk the responsibility that we willingly incurred when we assumed the burden of liberating and transforming their country, for their sake and our own. If the U.S. military, the world's best fighting force, cannot defeat the Iraqi insurgents, how do we expect Iraqi militiamen with only weeks of training to do any better?
David Aaronovitch has one of his typically sober moral reflections in the Observer, in response to a fashionable idiocy:
The military conflicts we have been 'marched into' by Mr Blair are Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. That isn't because the PM never understood the words of 'Imagine', but because it transpired that the Taliban, the hard men of the Baath, the amputating militias of West Africa, the Hutu Interahamwe and the Serb army of Radko Mladic had been brought up on something other than Joan Baez.
From Human Rights Watch:
President George W. Bush should end the transfer of detainees to countries that routinely engage in torture, such as Syria, if he is to fulfill his pledge to champion democracy and human rights in the Middle East and honor the United States' international legal obligations, Human Rights Watch said today.
..........
Since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has reportedly facilitated or participated directly in the transfer of numerous persons without extradition proceedings, a practice known as "irregular rendition," to countries in the Middle East known to practice torture routinely.
..........
Expelling, returning or extraditing a person to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be subjected to torture is a violation of the Convention against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty that the United States ratified in 1994.

The Bush administration has acknowledged this obligation, and asserts it does not render suspects if it believes it is likely that they will be tortured.
..........
"…diplomatic assurances about the treatment of detainees are often hollow and are not being effectively monitored," [Tom] Malinowski [Washington Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch] said.
Thanks to Matt Kramer for the McCain link and Steve de Wijze for the Aaronovitch.


posted by norm at 9:24 pm | link

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