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Wednesday, December 10, 2003

New site

Apologies that this comes so late in the day, but I was unable to get in here till now to post anything.

I have a new site. Please visit.


posted by norm at 10:31 pm | link


Tuesday, December 09, 2003

A few statistics

John Carvel in today's Guardian:
Support for raising taxes to spend more on health, education and social benefits has nearly doubled over the last 20 years.
..........
Its [the National Centre for Social Research's] first report 20 years ago found that 32% thought taxes and spending on the welfare state should be higher. By 1991 - after Margaret Thatcher's second and third terms in office, when curbs on public spending were tightest - this rose to 65%. The figure dropped to 50% in 2000, but climbed back to 63% this year.
David Aaronovitch in the same place:
Now, with higher taxes and vast extra sums going into public services, the first polls are beginning to show that people want to pay less to the Revenue. Some 57% of respondents in a recent YouGov poll said they would oppose paying any more taxes for public services, and 79% said they thought any extra raised would be wasted. Other recent polls broadly support these findings, with an ICM poll showing 82% of people believing that the extra spent on public services so far had had little or no effect.
Am I being slow here or... what?

John Carvel:
Poverty in Britain has fallen to levels last seen in the late 1980s...
..........
Altogether 22% [are] living below the [poverty] line...
Nearly a quarter, then.


posted by norm at 1:59 pm | link


Two blog posts and an article

> Check out Marc Mulholland, responding to Ken MacLeod's post which I discussed here yesterday. Marc has some reflections on America which should be read.

> Check out Alan Brain on why war isn't always wrong.

> Check out Anne Bayefsky on the UN and anti-Semitism.


posted by norm at 1:35 pm | link


Mbeki

For some reason it's not in the online version of this Guardian report but it is in my actual dnoc:
His credentials [Thabo Mbeki's] as a leader of African opinion have been badly dented, not to mention his reputation as a defender of democracy.
Credentials? AIDS. Zimbabwe. Hmm.


posted by norm at 1:29 pm | link


Cricketers

From Carr's Dictionary of Extra-ordinary English Cricketers, compiled by J.L. Carr:
Ranjitsinhji, Maharajah Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, Sussex, b. 1872, whose elegant yet aggressive cutting, leg glides, race and title, captured the nation's imagination. Why, even my father had heard of him.
From Thirty Obituaries from Wisden, compiled by Matthew Engel, alumnus of the University of Manchester:
MANNING, CARDINAL,... It may seem a little strange to include Cardinal Manning's name in a cricket obituary, but inasmuch as he played for Harrow against Winchester at Lord's in 1825, in the first match that ever took place between the two schools, his claim cannot be disputed. (Wisden 1893)
..........
HEMINGWAY, GEORGE EDWARD... He was a free batsman and in the field generally stood mid-off or cover-point, but business and weak sight handicapped his play considerably. On one occasion when playing a single-wicket match against his two brothers he hit the ball into a bed of nettles; the fieldsmen quarrelled as to who should recover it, and during the argument the batsman ran about 250. (Wisden 1908)
..........
WEBBER, LIEUT. HENRY (South Lancashire Regiment)... He made his first hundred in 1863 and as recently as August 6, 1904, when 56 years of age, made 209 not out for Horley v. Lowfield Heath, at Horley, in three hours after a full round of golf in the morning... (Wisden 1917)
Overlooking, if one can, the specifically cricket content and just focusing on the feel of it, can any reader tell me if there's a non-English equivalent or close parallel? Or suggest how precisely to characterize it?


posted by norm at 12:53 pm | link


Estimates hovered around 750,000

No, not that again, but this:
Horns were beeped in celebration and taxi drivers got out of their black cabs and waved and smiled like men who knew that the only things still running were their meters.
Thousands out on the streets of London for the England rugby team.


posted by norm at 12:48 pm | link


Double Standards (Eve Garrard)

We care about double standards. We think people shouldn't have them. It's a strike against a view if it displays them. So criticisms are levelled at George Bush for attacking Iraq while leaving other, maybe worse, tyrannical regimes untouched; at Noam Chomsky for attacking America's sins while saying little or nothing about those of other states; at the EU for publishing several reports about European Islamophobia but suppressing one about European anti-semitism; at the UN for passing resolutions calling for the protection of Palestinian children from attack, but not one for the protection of Israeli children.

We're surely right to complain about double standards. If we judge an action to be wrong, then we ought to judge other actions of the same kind in the same circumstances to be wrong. That's a bedrock feature of morality, so much so that when we find people using double standards, the explanation we offer is usually pretty discreditable to the person deploying them. So people say that Bush isn't really hostile to tyranny, he's just in Iraq for the oil; or that Chomsky isn't motivated by a love of justice but rather by an animus against America.

However, the charge of double standards can sometimes be rebutted, normally by showing that the two allegedly similar things being differently judged really are different, in some morally relevant way. Thus Chomsky can say (and does say, as quoted by Johann Hari over at Harry's Place) that the reason he slags off America and not the rest of the world is that we all have a duty to criticise our own countries, where we have some responsibility and can have some influence, rather than other countries which won't be affected by our complaints. And Bush and his supporters can say that he attacked Iraq rather than, say, North Korea because of at least two major differences: North Korea is known to have nuclear weapons, so the price of attack might be very great, and in any case, the USA doesn't have such unlimited resources as to be able to take on all the world's tyrannies. Even the one is proving pretty demanding in blood and resources.

Personally, I think the first of these responses is unconvincing - Chomsky has no problem criticizing Israeli policies and I'd be surprised if he has a problem with non-Americans who criticise America. But whatever we may think of either or both of them, they're clearly the right kind of response to a charge of double standards. They cite differences between the cases under consideration, differences of a sort which might justify making different moral judgements. And if the facts are as alleged, and are of sufficient moral importance, then the rebuttals may work.

What are we to make, then, of the UN, supporting resolutions about the need to protect Palestinian children from attack, but not about the need to protect Israeli ones? The point about such resolutions is that whatever may be wrong about the adults' stance in a conflict, the children are innocent, and their innocence and vulnerability make a strong moral claim on us, to help and protect them. Judging Palestinian children to be legitimate objects of a resolution to protect them, but not Israeli children, looks like deploying double standards. Can some relevant difference be pointed out, to justify this difference in judgement?

Some might say that the difference is that Israel is the political offender, or the worse offender, here. But even if that were true, it's surely irrelevant, since the point of such resolutions is that the children are innocent, whatever their parents are like. What else might explain the UN's double standards? Can it or its defenders say, analogously to George Bush as we have imagined him above, that they have expended so much of their resources of compassion on Palestinian children that they don't have enough left over for Israeli children? Surely not - it's hard to see why compassion is in such short supply at the UN that it runs out just when Israeli children are reached. Can the UN say, in the Chomsky manner, that it can have more influence when criticising Israeli soldiers for killing Palestinian children than when criticising Palestinian suicide bombers for killing Israeli ones? But why should it believe this? And if it's true, that's surely something the UN should try to redress, rather than collude in. So what is the difference which the UN perceives between Palestinian children, the objects of care and compassion (at least, enough compassion to produce a resolution), and Israeli children, who don't seem to warrant even this?


posted by norm at 12:42 pm | link


Monday, December 08, 2003

Inversion

Here's John Patterson discussing the movie The Last Samurai:
The contemporary resonances of The Last Samurai are unmissable, though most American critics seem to have missed them easily enough. With Tom Cruise facing down a US regiment on a foreign field, it's possible to see him as a John Walker Lindh figure - except he's the hero. No doubt they would string him up in pretty short order nowadays.
I didn't follow the later stages of the John Walker Lindh story closely enough to form any clear view about what may have led him down his chosen path. Maybe there were important mitigating factors. But Lindh was fighting for the Taliban; and it is of course the Taliban who, amongst other of their quaint practices, used to string people up in Afghanistan. Lindh, to the best of my knowledge, hasn't been strung up. But, hey, it's the liberal zeitgeist. A dubious quip is fine if it lets you get a kick in at the main enemy.


posted by norm at 11:13 pm | link


Iraqi workers

David Bacon, a labour journalist, writes in The Progressive about the problems facing workers in Iraq today. It's not a rosy picture, and the failure of the occupation authorities to get rid of anti-union laws is indefensible, as well as being short-sighted from their own point of view. At the same time the information Bacon himself provides shows that a certain thesis of his here is one-sided:
Most Iraqi workers hoped the fall of Saddam Hussein would liberate them, enabling them to recover their lost rights. Chief among them was the right to an independent union. In 1987, the regime of Saddam Hussein reclassified most Iraqi workers - those who labored in the huge state enterprises that are the heart of the country's economy - as civil servants. As such, they were prohibited from forming unions and bargaining.

The occupation, however, didn't lift this decree. It is still in force, as privatization looms like a sword of Damocles over those workers and the factories on which they depend for survival. And while keeping in place the ban on unions, the occupation authorities have kept wages low and unemployment high.

For Iraqi workers, the signal could not be clearer: The overthrow of Saddam did not bring liberation.
On the other hand, this is what emerges in the interstices of Bacon's article:
Despite the hostility of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the fall of the Saddam regime has led to an explosion of workplace organizing activity.
..........
[A workers' leader:] "We must change this law that says we don't have [the] right to a union. If the law doesn't change, we'll change it anyway, like it or not."
..........
Even without legal status... unions are finding ways to operate and win some demands.
..........
If the armed conflict intensifies, the political space may close.

Keeping open the space for unions to organize and for workers to gain some control over the economic decisions that will affect their lives is not a concern of Iraqis alone. Union leaders from Britain, France, and the International Labor Organization have visited Iraq to press for workers' rights.
..........
A delegation from U.S. Labor Against the War visited Iraq in October to investigate conditions.
So the war didn't bring liberation, but it opened a 'space for unions to organize and for workers to gain some control' over decisions affecting their lives. Labour organizations from elsewhere, and that opposed the war which opened this space, are now trying to help Iraqis keep the space open and widen it - and a good thing too. But here you have the strangeness of the political world we now inhabit. (Hat tip to Clive Bradley for the link.)


posted by norm at 10:10 pm | link


From Zimbabwe - for Iraq

I've posted today on both Zimbabwe and Iraq. Now, thanks to Douglas Rogers who drew my attention to it, I direct you to this intersect between the two countries: an article at New Zimbabwe by Charles Frizell which states the case for military intervention in Iraq in terms of a simple analogy. At the same time, Frizell in effect links back to a long tradition in the literature of international law - that of the right of humnitarian intervention - to highlight what's wrong with present arguments from 'legality' against such intervention:
Let's look now at a family and not a nation. Let's say that one's next-door neighbour is abusing his family and children. He's burning them with lighted cigarettes, raping his daughters and has even killed a few of the family members for daring to oppose him. In this situation, what is the correct action?

Please recall that he's not actually posed any direct threat to you or your family at this time. Do you turn a blind eye, saying it's of no concern to you? That is the present convention in international relations, the doctrine of non-interference.
..........
Using this analogy, let us imagine that after accusing your neighbour of having bombs under his bed you break into his house and chase him away.

When searching the house, you find no bombs but rather a number of children buried in the garden. You always suspected this may have been the case, but you are condemned by all and sundry because the justification you used (bombs under the bed) remains unproven even though you find hard evidence of all sorts of atrocities, possibly even more than you had imagined. Is that logical?
..........
[W]here the abuses are clear and blatant; oppression, murder, violence and excessive corruption then one's moral responsibility is very clear.
Douglas Rogers who kindly sent me the link for Frizell's article offered his own reflection on certain 'connections' here, in an email he sent a few days ago:
It is extraordinary that only those who suffer from severe oppression seem to understand the moral case for intervention. Most Zimbabweans I meet when I go back home do.

My own awakening to the moral abdication of much of the left came from being in Zimbabwe and South Africa during the elections early last year, when I was horrified to hear liberal white friends of mine in South Africa stroke their chins and shake their heads and say things like "how complicated" the situation in Zimbabwe is, and even the priceless: "Mugabe is an interesting man." You will not find many black Zimbabweans saying these things but some white liberals seem so consumed with guilt or self loathing they will excuse any brutality if it is committed by someone who is not white.
Good to know of these Zimbabwean voices for the liberation of the Iraqi people as well as their own.


posted by norm at 6:17 pm | link


No skin off Ewen's nose

This article at the Guardian website details the process of finding mass graves in Iraq and the preparation for a tribunal to try crimes against humanity there:
The mass grave at Mahaweel, with more than 3,100 sets of remains, is the largest of some 270 such sites across Iraq. They hold upward of 300,000 bodies; some Iraqi political parties estimate there are more than 1 million.

"It's as easy to find mass graves in Iraq as it once was to find oil,'' said Adnan Jabbar al-Saadi, a lawyer with Iraq's new Human Rights Ministry.
On the same website is an article today by Ewen MacAskill in which the theme is that Osama bin Laden is winning. There are other things in MacAskill's piece that I would have a quarrel with, but in the light of the mass graves and everything connected with that, I was struck by the following sentence of his:
Perhaps the war on Afghanistan was necessary - but the war on Iraq was not.
Just like that. Unnecessary. He means because 'There was no link between Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden.' And nothing else swims into view.

There is a loose connection between this and the subject matter of an email I've just received from a reader, regarding my post about Ken MacLeod immediately below. The email reads:
Ken MacLeod's argument is flawed for the reason you say. But there's also another point. I think there's a problem with saying you opposed the war because you were worried about strengthening the imperialist world order, when in fact you live within the imperialist world order and your life is pretty damn good. Not that this applies to everyone living in the US and Britain, but I'll bet it applies to the majority of the war's critics, and it applies to just about everyone in these countries if you're comparing them with the victims of Saddam's regime. So, making the argument is a bit bloody cheeky frankly.
The point here, I would say, is that one should give significant weight to the suffering of those who have to bear the cost. This is why I've felt from the very beginning of all this, given the scale of such suffering in Iraq, that those on the left who couldn't bring themselves to support the war shouldn't have opposed it either. And whatever they did, they ought to give some weight, now, to the fact that most Iraqis were pleased to see the regime's demise.


posted by norm at 5:16 pm | link


Before the flood?

There's a long, very interesting and eloquent post by Ken MacLeod at The Early Days of a Better Nation. It sets out the pro-war left position as fair-mindedly as I've seen this done by any opponent of the position, before going on to say why he is an opponent of it. His core reason, I think, is contained in this passage:
The strengthening of imperialism, of the New World Order, is no small thing. It is to enhance the moral authority and material power of a force that has been, and will be, used against far more hopeful and progressive uprisings, movement[s] and states than those it is now deployed to crush. In even the opposition to it in Europe and Russia, we can see the heat lightning of worse storms to come; of, in the words of Gabriel Kolko, another century of war.
This is an argument I've encountered several times in debating with anti-war friends, and the problem with it, as far as I'm concerned, is the way in which it loses the specific in the general. Because of the general character of US power as projected by opponents of the Iraq war, we must oppose a course of action which leads to the demise of the Saddam regime. Why can't we not oppose that, and - yes - oppose the same power if and when it is used against 'more hopeful and progressive uprisings, movement[s] and states'? Because by then it will have been strengthened? But that's strengthened by having rid the world of one of its most ghastly regimes. So we must put the present and proximate future of the Iraqi people in the balance against a long-range (and doom-laden) projection of the global future, and put the specificity of how American power is used here or there, and now, against the generality of what it is fixed as being in its very essence. Some of us felt unable to make that call.

In the same way that the generality of American power swallows up the specificity of its use, Ken MacLeod has (I don't know, I guess) the benign intentionality, or assumed teleology, of the left diminishing the significance of its mistakes. He speaks of 'silly slogans and daft stunts', and says 'so bloody what?' - as if the left hasn't had to pay a rather heavy price in the past for some of the very conceptions at work in this supposed silliness and daftness.

(Hat tip to David Bennett for the link.)


posted by norm at 12:13 pm | link


Zimbabwe: call for 'a coalition of the willing'

Here's a piece by Mduduzi Mathuthu about the latest development:
THE decision by President Robert Mugabe to drag Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth is a perilous, self-serving adventure for which he should be held to account.
..........
What emerges from this sordid saga is the frightening reality that Robert Mugabe now thinks he can make any decision without consulting the nation, let alone consulting his cheering numbskulls that gathered in Masvingo for the party conference at the weekend.
..........
[He] makes the decision to pull the country out of the Commonwealth over breakfast with his wife.
..........
There can only be one conclusion - Mugabe now thinks Zimbabwe is his personal fiefdom.
..........
Progressive nations should now form a coalition of the willing and carry the same unity displayed at this summit to the United Nations. A clear signal should be sent to Mugabe in the form of a resolution that the world has had enough of his misrule.

As in the case of Iraq, if Mugabe then decides to stick his head in the sand like an ostrich, he should be suspended, or other severe alternatives should be pursued as long as they will secure Zimbabwe and return it to the people.
Mathuthu's article is on the website The Zimbabwe Situation. I recommend it, as also New Zimbabwe, which I've linked to here before, and Zvakwana.


posted by norm at 11:58 am | link


Mass rape as a legitimate instrument of war?

See John Bayley on Anthony Beevor's The Fall of Berlin:
After what the Germans had done in Russia the Russians were more than entitled to get a bit of their own back and they did.
(Thanks to David Bennett for the tip-off.)


posted by norm at 11:54 am | link


Sunday, December 07, 2003

Non-paradoxes of democracy 2

In publishing the results of the Alternative Big Read here (on November 26), I pointed out that, had I asked everyone to send me only their top book, rather than their top three books, the results would have been different (with James Joyce's Ulysses, for example, coming fifth rather than tenth); and I said I might return to the issue. The issue I had in mind was the way voting systems or other decision procedures reflect the preferences which they're supposed to aggregate. So, don't be so impatient. I'm returning to it.

Imagine a newspaper - let's call it the Daily Knock - and imagine some random blogger having the opportunity to get a weekly guest post on her blog from one of three Daily Knock journalists, but only from one of them. Having already established - by who knows what process - which Daily Knock journalists are the three favourites with readers of her blog, our blogger proposes a poll to decide which is their most favourite of all. We're going to need names for these three journos, so let's suppose that they are, in no particular order: Larry Oulde; A.A. ('Christopher') Robin; and Dubs Notrechem.

The poll is announced, the blogger - let's call her Lydia - urges her readers to send in their votes, she even repeats her appeal to them once or, maybe, twice. Assume she ends up with 100 votes. This assumption is only to make the arithmetic easier: her blog has way more readers than that, but many of them are on holiday, and some others don't like going in for things. Assume that the voting system allows each voter just one vote: for his or her first choice from the three Daily Knock journos (hereafter DKjs), and that this is the result.

Robin - 40
Oulde - 35
Notrechem - 25

That seems clear enough. Robin therefore wins and gets to do the weekly guest post, and all is well. However, subsequent research reveals that all 35 readers who voted for Oulde preferred Notrechem to Robin, and all 25 readers who voted for Notrechem preferred Oulde to Robin, so that for 60 of the 100 voters Robin is their least favourite DKj of the three.

Indeed, had Lydia invited her readers to put in a ranked vote covering all three, this would have been the result (there being - just to keep things simple - a strange bunching of preference orderings):

40 voters: 1. Robin 2. Oulde 3. Notrechem
35 voters: 1. Oulde 2. Notrechem 3. Robin
25 voters: 1. Notrechem 2. Oulde 3. Robin

Well, if you do the maths, as Lydia did, assigning 3 points for a first place, 2 for a second and 1 for a third, this is what you get (trust me):

Oulde - 235 points
Notrechem - 185 points
Robin - 180 points

So, Oulde should have won and Robin, who did win with the voting system actually used, should have come last according to this voting system. Arguably, too, this is the better system since it takes account of the voters' whole preference order, not just their first choices.

Now look at something else. Suppose the breakdown is like this and we're not counting points, just looking for a rational aggregate social preference on the basis of these individual ones.

40 voters: 1. Robin 2. Oulde 3. Notrechem
36 voters: 1. Notrechem 2. Robin 3. Oulde
24 voters: 1. Oulde 2. Notrechem 3. Robin

Here 76 voters prefer Robin to Oulde; and 64 voters prefer Oulde to Notrechem. However, 60 voters prefer Notrechem to Robin. Why 'however'? Because in a rational individual we expect preferences to be transitive. If I prefer Robin to Oulde and Oulde to Notrechem - and I'm not letting on what my actual preferences are as between these three DKjs - then I'd be expected to prefer Robin to Notrechem. But the readers of Lydia's blog do, as a collectivity, prefer Robin to Oulde and Oulde to Notrechem, yet they prefer Notrechem to Robin. (This means that if you vote between any pair of the three DKjs, eliminating the loser of that pair and putting him up against the remaining DKj, you can run three different decision processes and you'll get three different results. Check it out. Or don't bother, just trust me.)

Look, finally, at this. Imagine that as well as the three DKjs we've already grown to know and love, there's another more occasional contributor to the Daily Knock, a writer of fiction - call her B.M. Nixon. And suppose that the individual preferences of the readers of Lydia's blog, when Nixon is in the frame, break down as follows:

40 voters: 1. Notrechem 2. Oulde 3. Robin 4. Nixon
30 voters: 1. Oulde 2. Robin 3. Nixon 4. Notrechem
30 voters: 1. Robin 2. Nixon 3. Notrechem 4. Oulde

Assigning points as before, but now 4 for a first place and downwards to 1 for a fourth, Lydia does the maths (correctly) and gets this:

Robin 290; Oulde 270; Notrechem 250; Nixon 190

But Nixon, finding out even before the result is announced - there's been a leak via Lydia's window-cleaner - how badly she's done, withdraws from the contest. Lydia is inclined to go with result as before and declare Robin the winner anyway. But she shouldn't do that. With Nixon not part of the contest, those preference orderings immediately above would look like this:

40 voters: 1. Notrechem 2. Oulde 3. Robin
30 voters: 1. Oulde 2. Robin 3. Notrechem
30 voters: 1. Robin 2. Notrechem 3. Oulde

Aggregating afresh with 3 for a first place (and so on), this is the result:

Notrechem 210; Oulde 200; Robin 190

Therefore Robin wins if Nixon is a candidate and comes last if Nixon isn't a candidate, when Notrechem wins. So, what's the big deal? Well, it looks a bit like someone who, offered a choice between seeing Manchester United at Old Trafford and going to an Emmylou Harris gig, chooses the football, but when told by the person providing this choice 'Oh, you could also see Brendel playing Mozart', says 'Well, in that case I'll go see Emmylou.'

These things may look paradoxical, but actually they're not. (They're no more paradoxical than the fact that two people both voting in a definite way between two options - one for A, the other for B - produce a tie overall across the pair.) There's only an air of paradox if you assume that collectivities have a single mind like individuals, which of course they don't. There's no reason why, when you aggregate the preferences of a group, the results should display the same kind of rationality that the choices of an individual actor (usually) do. In fact it has been shown by Kenneth Arrow - and take this as very approximate please, since it's not within any expertise of mine (I'll be glad of greater precision and/or necessary correction from someone who knows more about it) - that on certain reasonable assumptions about the conditions we would ideally want any decision procedure to satisfy, there is no decision procedure which isn't subject to the possibility of 'arbitrary' results, given some combinations of individual preference orderings.

Where that leaves us as between Dubs Notrechem, Larry Oulde and A.A. ('Christopher') Robin is anybody's guess. I'm glad it wasn't my blog - for more reasons than one. But I hear from Lydia that Dubs in fact squeaked home.


posted by norm at 10:38 pm | link


Alinda, the lovely lady singer

In the Guardian 'Weekend' magazine there's a lovely article about Maurice Sendak by Tony Kushner - a eulogy really, but none the worse for that. Sendak's children's books were among my favourites back when I was reading to my daughters. Looking at them again today I find whole chunks still familiar to me. From Where the Wild Things Are:
And when he came to the place where the wild things are
they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth
and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws
till Max said "BE STILL!"
and tamed them with the magic trick
of staring into all their yellow eyes without blinking once
and they were frightened and called him the most wild thing of all
and made him king of all wild things.
There's also the absolutely marvellous quartet of One Was Johnny, Alligators All Around, Chicken Soup With Rice, and Pierre. I'm telling you, if you have small children, do them and yourself the favour. If you don't, buy the books in any case for the children of a friend, and read them (the books) before handing over. My personal favourite is The Sign on Rosie's Door, which begins so:
There was a sign on Rosie's door.
It read, "If you want to know a secret, knock three times."
Kathy knocked three times and Rosie opened the door.
"Hello, Kathy."
"Hello, Rosie. What's the secret?"
"I'm not Rosie any more," said Rosie. "That's the secret."
"Then who are you?" asked Kathy.
"I'm Alinda, the lovely lady singer."
"Oh," said Kathy.
Great, great books.


posted by norm at 12:49 pm | link


Christmas books

Wife of the Norm, spelt out in full here because she's the story - or half the story - and not an incidental detail in it (now, come on, you know what I'm saying), gets a heigh-ho in the Sunday Times today:
Christmas is a good time for traditional retellings. Among the most striking of the recent crop for 5-8s is Adèle Geras's emotive and literate reworking of Sleeping Beauty (Scholastic £14.99), spectacularly illustrated with Christian Birmingham's light-filled, romantic pastels and shaded drawings, which give new energy to an old tale.
In the Dragunia's round-up of favourite books of various well-known people for 2003, Steven Pinker puts in a shout for Virginia Postrel:
Virginia Postrel's The Substance of Style (HarperCollins) is a brilliant analysis of a phenomenon: that people care more about how stuff looks. Postrel invents a new kind of social criticism, one that is economically literate, brimming with psychological insight, and deeply respectful of ordinary people. After reading this book, the world will literally look different.
That is the whole thing - except for all the other well-known peeps and their faves.


posted by norm at 12:43 pm | link


How to...

Do you know about eHow? It has the answers to many different 'how to' questions. I tried 'to fish', 'to bake bread', 'to make movies' and 'to knit socks'. Not that I want to know, actually, but just by way of messing about; no, correction, by way of researching for you, my readers. Anyway, there's material on the first three but not on the fourth. More seriously, there's nothing on 'to start a blog', and ditto 'weblog'.


posted by norm at 12:40 pm | link


The undiscovered Melanie Phillips

Tipping his hat to the Friday normblog profile, Bobbie, along the way at politx, started a regular Unopened Files feature in which previously undisclosed work gets to be disclosed. This week it's a piece by Melanie Phillips. She's on top form:
The moral fibre of our once-great country depends on the nuclear family. If one thing has proven more utterly responsible for the unerring rise in crime, violence, domestic abuse, drugs, national debt, Islamic terrorism and the collapse of Leeds United FC, it is the demise of marriage in favour of co-habitation.
..........
[W]e don't need more people telling us that co-habitation is fine. We need people to recognise it for the pure evil that it is. We need to concentrate on bringing back a time when men, women and children each knew their role and fulfilled their remit perfectly. A time when crime was low, poverty non-existent and you could buy a loaf of Hovis for tuppence.
Read the whole thing. Talking of which, what happened, Bobbie, to the promise of 'The first time Glenn Reynolds wrote "Heh"'? Is this a cover-up?


posted by norm at 12:36 pm | link


Don't

WotN and I couldn't be bothered trekking out last night, so we watched The Bourne Identity on DVD. It features two central characters utterly devoid of spark, humour, interest, character, and indeed identity. This is partly determined by the fact that the two principals can't act, but it's also helped along, rather, by a lifeless script and a few other things. You don't know who he (Jason Bourne, as... acted by Matt Damon) really is, nor does he know who he is, nor do you know why the people who are trying to get him are trying to get him, nor who they are. And it doesn't matter that you don't know all this, because from quite soon in you don't care that you don't know. When you find out finally, you still don't care. So, my advice to you is: if you haven't, don't.


posted by norm at 12:33 pm | link


One good heh deserves others

Heh about this.

And heh heh and heh about these:

Leeds United 1 - 1 Chelsea
Leicester City 1 - 1 Arsenal
Newcastle 1 - 1 Liverpool

Well?! It's Sunday. I'm resting.


posted by norm at 12:30 pm | link

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