Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Form and content

Matthew Yglesias on President Bush's strengths.

"What Bush has is a really determined look."

And he does, doesn't he? As for Kerry...well, "lugubrious" keeps coming to mind. And that voice, oh that voice - it just drones...

But then Bush has that infuriating smirk...

Dilemmas, dilemmas.

Monday, August 30, 2004


There must be no whitewash at the Whitehouse

Continuing this stunning flurry of high-quality blogging, I direct you to a short but good Washington Post column (via The Washington Monthly, which will no doubt be relieved that DC here observes blogging etiquette by linking to it) on the Abu Ghraib reports:
How Torture Came Down From the Top.

As I say it's short, so read it. But I will still excerpt:

"The causal chain is all there: from Bush's February 2002 decision to Rumsfeld's December 2002 authorization of nudity, stress positions and dogs; to the adoption of those methods in Afghanistan and their sanction in Iraq by a commander looking back to Bush's decision; and finally, to their use on detainees by soldiers who reasonably believed they were executing official policy.

So why do the reports' authors deny the role of policy, or its makers? Partly because of the Army's inbred inability to indict its own; partly because of the desire of Rumsfeld's old colleagues, such as Schlesinger, to protect him. But there's another motive, too: a lingering will to defend and preserve the groundbreaking decisions -- those that set aside the Geneva Conventions and allowed harsh interrogation techniques. Schlesinger argues they are needed for the war on terrorism; he and senior Army commanders say they are worried about a "chilling effect" on interrogations and a slackening in intelligence collection"

As for DC's view? In a sense, on this question, all one needs to ask oneself is this: has there been over the last couple of years or so (is there even now?) any very serious concern at the highest levels of the Bush Administration that torture should not happen on its watch? I suggest not.


Moral Steyn

Mark Steyn's Irish Times column today was so grotesque that I felt physically nauseous as I re-read it. Maybe I'll go at it sometime, but really, anger and nausea would probably make for an overly long, excessively abusive and insufficiently coherent post. (If I were in the mood for witticisms I'd say something like "but such problems have never held Steyn back, so...").

I happen to think that historical memory is both important and significant. Basically, it can say a lot about present day society, culture, politics etc. It is bad enough that "Vietnam" (by which is of course meant the war in Vietnam) appears to be rembered in America as a tragedy because of the tens of thousands of futile American deaths rather than for the millions - millions - of lost Vietnamese lives. Steyn apparently believes the real tragedy was neither, but rather the besmirching of the good name of the US Army by the likes of John Kerry, who denounced atrocities by US troops when he came home. (Perhaps Steyn would prefer "atrocities"?)

Anyway, I've been meaning for the past few days to write some words of praise for this post from the great Chris Young, relating to more Kissinger revelations (same old semi-hidden collaboration with Latin American dictatorship's terror campaign). Instead I'll just reprint its main three paragraphs, which say pretty much everything that needs saying, and in just the right proportions:

"Why do I highlight these things? I want to make clear that the point is not to vilify the U.S. or to imply that the U.S. is somehow uniquely awful in the world. Evil, I hear, came into the world even before the founding of America, and if the world ever limps along after the U.S.'s passing in some distant future, evil will no doubt limp along with it.

The point is that the U.S. has never really come to terms with its past, and that so long as that remains the case, its ability to understand how others see it will be limited, as will its own capacity to do good. Kissinger is a controversial figure in American politics. But a healthy political culture would not have permitted him to become a controversial celebrity in the first place, and a properly functioning legal system would have brought charges against him long ago. Instead, he gets on television as a respected pundit and is invited to all the swanky parties. Instead, he is the current President's first choice to lead a panel investigating 9/11.

Kissinger is just one figure. Paying too much attention to one man runs the risk of distorting broader patterns of blame, and can lead to superficial analysis of events that had deep structural causes. Still, there he is, prominent, respected by a large portion of the political culture -- and scot-free even though many of his misdeeds are public knowledge. His prominence is a constant reminder of a culture of impunity in Washington, a culture which sees just about every triviality as a topic worth yelling about on national television, but just about nothing as a sufficient cause to shun someone from public life."


"But of course, as a friend of Israel, the President opposes the intifada, regardless of Mr Singer's views..."

The BBC recently had on a documentary on Peter Singer, Australia's "controversial"* philosopher. I've been looking forward to read some of his work ever since, because I actually found him quite captivating - clear, logical, compelling. (At least for talking heads - but isn't that always more impressive, albeit perhaps less reliable, than text?) All the more so for his opinions relating to matters on which my own are under-formed: the value of human life, and the related question of animal rights, topics on which my attitude previously incorporated ignorance, indifference and exasperation (at the hope of coming to any solid views).

In particular, I am impressed by his argument against making a fetish of human - and only human - life of itself, as opposed to because of certain qualities it has relating to consciousness, capacity for suffering etc. Cerainly I am a strong believer in euthanasia rights. Singer's conclusion is that animals ought to be treated "humanely" in so far as, and to the degree that, they have these same qualities i.e. those qualites that make human life valuable.

(It is the converse conclusion - that humans need not be treated in this manner in so far as they lack those qualities - where one obviously needs to tread exceedingly carefully, though one does indeed need to tread).

Chris Young - who is after all a philosopher; and what, you are right to ask, am I? - says Singer is simplistic and wrong-headed, but also interesting and provocotive. (And I was indeed interested, and thought was in fact provoked.)

Anyway, I'm not quite ready to jump on-board the infanticide bandwagon, but I do understand the reticence of President Bush's press secretary since I have it on good authority that the latter eats babies.

* Of course, if he weren't controversial there wouldn't have been a documentary. Nonetheless, Singer didn't strike me, in his manner at least, as an obvious controversialist.



I find it unbelieveable how shoddily Bobby Robson has been treated by Newcastle United. Firstly it's impossible not to like Bobby, and secondly he's done a good job for 'em. I'm a massive fan of Alan Shearer - in fact I want his babies - but I hope he doesn't take the job if offered - too soon, I would think, for both him and the club, (which, by the way, seems an utter shambles run by an utter prick).

(On the other hand, I do like the fact that dropping Sheerah seems to be an automatic sacking offence).

Wonder what Geordie Blog makes of it all?

UPDATE: If I'm such a massive Shearer fan - which I am - how did I I only just find out he's retiring at the end of the season? Well?


Public-Private Partnerships

Following the boy Thatcher's high-jinks in Africa, there's some teasing of the left-supporters of the Iraq war at Crooked Timber, and how they oughtn't object to privatised regime change.

Well, to return to a recent theme, these boys (and girls) were more in the game of regime preservation than regime change. But they do remind us that "privatised" foreign adventures aren't entirely new, and don't always have to be dishonourable.

(Incidentally, I believe Ireland may well have been the only country from which more volunteers fought for Franco than for the Republic. For shame.)


New Fisherblog, New Blogosphere

Renewed, Modernised and with No Reverse Gear:

Fisherblog is back.

Time will tell whether it's all spin and no delivery.

Sunday, August 29, 2004


¡Salud y república a todos!

No doubt I'll have something proper to say soon, but in the meantime I really do recommend this post from Diana Pérez García on the Spanish Civil War and its place - as is and as should be - in Spanish political memory. It's not often I can say I'm actually moved by a blog post. But I can for this one. If, like me, you care about this sort of thing, go read it.

Saturday, August 21, 2004


The World

For whatever reasons, I've been buying, and indeed reading, Le Monde fairly regularly of late. I have thus been meaning to blog something from it since 1) there might be interesting articles, 2) readers might enjoy a non-Anglophone perspective, 3) nothing could more clearly demonstrate/puff up my sophisitication and intelligence.*

Norm rather beat me to the punch on this story (that's "the punch", not "a pulp", an important distinction, I feel), but an article from last Monday's Olympics section can serve as fodder for the second post of my Olympics Reports on Countries Bombed/Liberated by the Americans series. (Out of laziness and fear that more fluent French speakers will correct my fairly casual effort at translation, I haven't looked for the article online. The following is only an extract).

"There's only five of them, but they're there....The [Afghan] delegation isn't very numerous: it consists of three men and, above all, of two women. Friba Razayee will compete in the judo trial in the 70 kg category; Robina Muqim Yaar will line out from the beginning of the 100 metres series.

They are 17 years old. Their faces will be seen, and they will be, perhaps, a little overwhelmed. What is happening in Athens isn't nothing, since they are the first two Afghan women to represent their country at the Olympic Games. "This event is for us full of joy and exaltation" gushes Haidar Shoukria, adviser on sports and physical education in Afghanistan's ministry of higher education. "Symbolically, it is all the more important that it happens here, in Greece, cradle of Olympism and democracy. Because sport is one of the values that helps peoples to escape fundamentalism [integrisme]."

"This is also the success of an initiative taken in the most difficult of moments" explains again the president of Negar, an organisation for the defence of [the rights of] Afghan women, created following the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in September 1996.

The idea of one day seeing women parading under the Afghan flag in the Olympic Games might have seemed Utopian at the time. Yet it has guided these women, with conviction, even during the darkest hours of the Afghan night. "This is the proof that in struggling, you can succeed", Haidar Shoukria today rejoices to herself.

During the summer of 2003 Utopia started to become possible. The Afghan committee first of all retook its place at the heart of the great international Olympic family in the month of June. In August, on the occasion of the World Athletics Championships in Paris, it was, for the first time in a competition of this stature, a mixed delegation which flew the Afghan flag.


Over the course of the Games, the gender-mix [la mixite] is gaining ground. In Barcelona 1992, 35 nations didn't filed a single woman in the events. There were still 26 in Atlanta four years later, and only eight in Sydney. In Athens there shouldn't be more than four."

*I rather relished the act of reading a French translation of a Noam Chomsky book recently (Le Profit Avant L'Homme - presumably "Profit Over People" in the English version). This is not much different, for good and for bad, from reading Chomsky in English, but I quite enjoyed the sensation of becoming a caricature straight out of the fevered imagination of some anti-intellectual foaming-at-the-mouth Fox News reactionary demagogue.**

**As soon as I had typed the words "anti-intellectual foaming-at-the-mouth Fox News reactionary demagogue" I just had to Google them. This brought me to here: a rather funny story about working for a Christian fundamentalist (exploitation and religion similtaneously? Oh the humanity...), which has the following paragraph as its prelude:

"It is still astonishing to me that a jowly church-breathed authoritarian --who you'd never want to get too close to because of his God Fearing Man-Stank -- like John Ashcroft exists ouside of a Pacific Northwest militia compound in the first place. But to have that same, what I like to be believe, unlikely man also be the Attorney General of the United States is just super-duper astonishing. I consider the sterotype of which General Ashcroft fits to a T to be the most ignorant, unlikable and discomfiting personality type another human can possibly have."

The same blog then brought me, rather appropriately, to this piece of Bush-Cheney campaign antiFrenchism (for want of a better, or indeed real, word). In conclusion: the owld internet is great, is it not?


Terminological illogic

Following on from this post another terminological question comes to mind: why on earth do people talk about "ballistic missiles" without being laughed at? Aren't all missiles ballistic? (I can't remember where I read someone pointing this out, though I have a feeling it might have been C. Hitchens.)


And who shall review the reviewers?

In today's Irish Times Brian Dillon reviews Hatchet Jobs, a collection of reviews by the implausibly named Dale Peck, famous for the following sentence: "Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation."

Gratifyingly (especially when one sees Peck's face), Dillon's review is not, on the whole, a positive one:

"And then there is the matter of his own style: a medium in which "transition" is a verb, and banal metaphors so belaboured that by the time he announces (of an obscurely significant hole in the ground) "I want to embrace that image, but also let it go", this reader could only sigh: yes Dale, please, give it up... And if that sounds "snarky", consider this: "genuine polemics approach a book as lovingly as a cannibal spices a baby". That was Walter Benjamin, a critic who deserves better than to be seen in the same sentence. As Dale Peck."

Gotta like that.


Liberal Media

I consider it likely that there is indeed something of a liberal bias among journalists, both in the US and elsewhere. What people forget to say though is that this is distinct from, and indeed opposed to, a left, or socialist bias. As Noam Chomsky told Andrew Marr (link at Lenin's Tomb):

"I would call the press relatively liberal. Here I agree with the right wing critics. So, especially the New York Times and the Washington Post, which are called, without a trace of irony - the New York Times is called the "establishment left" in say, major foreign policy journals - and that's correct, but what's not recognised is that the role of the liberal intellectual establishment is to set very sharp bounds on how far you can go - "this far, and no further"."

Apropos of which Mark Kaplan's remarks are relevent:

"In the U.S....the terms mapping out the political spectrum are ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’, which of course denote two pragmatic perspectives within capitalism, pushing capitalism itself outside the horizon of debate. The term ‘liberal’ rent from its original meaning, now refers to little more than a certain attitude to ‘permissiveness’ and ‘tolerance of the Other’. And indeed, even this lame term has long since taken on a pejorative ring. (Moreover, commentators who are resolutely and obviously on the Left - eg Chomsky- get referred to as ‘liberals’, since the available language, like some autistic Adam, is incapable of naming them). Similarly, ‘conservative’ has become a misnomer. It has nothing to do with the authority of tradition and distrust of abstraction, since all it wishes to ‘conserve’ is the abstract logic of capital and the capitalist-fundamentalist pursuit of profit.The ideology of capitalism is, among other things, precisely this anamorphosis whereby language is bent and malformed in such a way that the system in which we live and breath disappears as an object of critical thought."



"A long time ago Scott Adams wrote, in Dilbert,

Stupidity is like nuclear power: it can be used for good or evil. And you don't want to get any of it on you.

-- and this, coincidentally, is about all that chemical, biological and nuclear weapons have in common. As I've said before, anybody who talks seriously about `weapons of mass destruction' without saying whether they are talking about nuclear, chemical or biological weapons either doesn't know what they're talking about, or is trying to mislead. "

So says Chris Lightfoot, obviously a man after Chris Young's heart.

Thursday, August 19, 2004



Via the Virtual Whatsit, links to some very interesting blogs. If you don't know 'em go look 'em:

Charlotte Street - by MarkKaplan. Fairly high pitched (for bloggism) philosophy. Good Stuff.

Via that: the Young Hegelian . Similar type of stuff - also Good.

And also BertramOnline.

Finally the nicely named - well, Frenchly named anyway - A Gauche.

Stuff to say tomorrow, promise.

Saturday, August 14, 2004


Now I can die happy

One of the little indulgences we bloggers are prone to is the prurient check as to where our (rather paltry - numerically that is, quantity and quality etc. - in my case) readers come to the site from. Fellow Irish bloggers Dick O'Brien and Frank McGahon mention some of the Google searches that have brought readers their way.

But I've been checking the DC site metre and frankly I think we can close the book on this competition now.


John Kerry's Red Peril

This is obviously the work of asinine neo-McCarthyite reactionaries. It's also quite funny in places, and aesthetically impressive in its detail. Indeed it all seems a little bit too elaborate to be the work of enthusiastic freelancers - I wonder who's "behind" it?

But more importantly, they weren't the first to identify Kerry as a raging Commie.

(Via Harry's Place.)

Postscript: this all reminds me of the rather droll remark by some anonymous Bush campaign aide to the effect that by the time Karl Rove et al were through the voters wouldn't know which side of the Vietnam War John Kerry fought for.


A glimmer of hope for the Olympics - and for Iraq

The Olympics will be in many respects a sad and sordid affair. Nonetheless I hope this is a glimpse of what sport at its best can be, what it can mean to people and nations:

“This victory will be received with happiness by my people, who have suffered through much,” said Iraqi coach Adnan Hamad, whose countrymen were already taking to the streets of Baghdad, lighting up the night sky with streaks of celebratory gunfire.

The stunning victory over a team that made it to final of the recent Euro 2004 tournament brought a rare moment of joy for Iraqis plagued by violence, chaos and constant power outages.Across their homeland, they watched the game on television at home and at cafes. Even people at a Baghdad barbershop took time out of their late-night haircuts to celebrate the goals."

One comment though. According to the report:

"Iraq was a surprise addition to the Olympic tournament. The nation managed to cobble together a team amid ongoing conflict at home and efforts to rebuild an Olympic committee that was previously run by Saddam Hussein’s late son, Odai, who allegedly tortured players when they fell out of favor."

Really, can we get rid of that "allegedly" now?

(Latter link via Chris Young, who some time ago surmised the situation laconicly, but, I think, perfectly eloquently).


The Psychology of Holocaust Remembrance - a Faulksian Slip?

So much sun and sports, so many books and blogs.

But so few posts here at DC. So much easier squatting in comments boxes. And as for those without comments boxes, there's email. Of course there's also blogging, but I was temporarily unable to get in here. So I sent the following email in response to this post of Norm's, then deciding to post it here since I had access again, as well as an obligation to my ravenous readers. Here it is:

Foul Indeed

Besides Faulks' appearing resentful at the "insistence" of the victims that their suffering be remembered, there is also the ridiculousness of the notion that any such victims could be in any position to "insist" on any such thing.

I'm reminded of the concept I recently came across (in John Gray's Straw Dogs, since you ask) that there is only guilt (emotionally speaking, that is) in relation to the Holocaust because the Jews survived - that is, that nobody feels guilty about fully successful genocides, such as those of the indiginous Tazmanians etc., precisely because there are no surviviors. Thus the Jews arouse guilt, but, or therefore, they also arouse resentment. (Related, though I'm not sure how, is a fact I also discovered from Gray's book - that Hitler planned, post-extermination, to open a Museum of Jewish Culture. I have only average knowledge of the whole topic, yet was stunned at never having come across this fact, as well as stunned by the fact itself, which I have not yet been able to compute).

Anyway, here's me ruminating at random to an actual scholar of the Holocaust (among other things of course), not having so much as read a single aspect of the substantial relevant literature...

Cheeky, me.

UPDATE: I had meant to link to this rather unLeninist review of Gray's latest book, which offers an intelligent discussion of the concept of liberty. Turns out that "Lenin", like me but unlike Lenin, believes that socialism entails (what is worth entailing in) liberalism, even though those who designate themselves toute court as liberals neglect to apply their principles to the institutions (broadly defined) of the present (i.e. capitalist) mode of production.

Monday, August 09, 2004



Chris Young wrote this a few days ago:

"You cannot lead a credible international movement against nuclear proliferation while resisting inspections for everyone. Nor can you lead a credible international movement while you're pushing ahead aggressively in the development of new weapons systems like mini-nukes, as the U.S. currently is. You cannot, as for example France does, defy the entire world in nuclear testing, and then turn around and pretend to be useful in persuading other countries not to defy the entire world in nuclear testing. You cannot treat the possession of nuclear weapons as a mark of prestige that goes along with a certain stage of development and then persuade developing countries that nuclear weapons are not a mark of prestige that goes along with a certain stage of development. And so on."

Apropos of which (along with this strange and worrying report) there are worse things I could do than draw some attention to the quiet dignity of Hiroshima as it commemorated last Friday the 59th anniversary of August 6, 1945.

And of course today (Monday) was the same anniversary for Nagasaki, where, as the comrades starkly put it,:

"Tens of thousands of human beings were burned alive, and tens of thousands more received fatal doses of radiation, not to secure victory - since the Japanese government had already conceded defeat - but to ensure that the right inference was drawn, from London to Moscow, from Helsinki to Rome."*

*A still-debated historical thesis of course, and one I can neither refute nor endorse.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Hair to the 'Fro-ne*

Good grief.

* Can you believe I thought up - and used - that title? "Hair", you see is like "heir", and "'Fro-ne" is involves "'Fro", as in "Afro" hairstyle, and is also like "throne" (in fact Rio might even say "frone" instead of "throne" if Eastenders is anything to go by). Now tell me I shouldn't be working for the Sun. Shameless, I am.


Theories of Relativity

Gavin Sheridan has a series of quotes from the delightfully named Alain de Botton - go on, say it, throw in some Gallic flourish: Alain de Botton - author of Status Anxiety.

From one of them:

"We take our points of reference from those around us: our friends, our family. These are the people who determine our feelings of success. Which is why Rousseau wrote that the best way to become rich is not by trying to make more money, but by separating yourself from anyone around you who has had the bad taste to become more successful than you."

Which reminds me of that wonderfully cutting remark of Gore Vidal's:

"Every time a friend succeeds, a little part of me dies."


The long post relating to Irish politics but dealing with universally applicable liberal capitalist nonsense

Mary Harney, for those who don't know, is leader of the small (about 4% of the electorate) but ideologically hegemonic liberal-right Progressive Democrats, and Tanaiste, or Deputy Prime Minister, of our great government here in the land known to well-meaning but patronising English people as Eire.*

Ideologically I've departed from Mary's parish, though as I've pointed out before, I think one has to recognise the intellectual strength of that general philosophy, more compelling in many (most?) ways than standard social democratic/left-liberal thought. Also she remains one of our better politicians on a personal level; I'm still quite fond of her, anyway.

Nonetheless I couldn't help chortling away to myself at the exposition of her political philosophy as reported in Monay's Irish Times.

She starts out with a viscious assault on the integrity and patriotism of Ireland's entrepeneurs:

"...Ms Harney says increasing tax on wealth would only encourage the rich to live elsewhere as tax exiles..."

What an unconsciounable smear. Such small minded begrudgery could only be motivated by an ugly and unworthy sense of envy. These heroes, the corporate Romuluses and Remuses of the Celtic Tiger, have lifted up the plain people of Ireland from their state of low destitution: does she think they would abandon us now over a few percent more for the taxman? That they have some sort of wealth-fetish that would supercede their love of their fellow-countrymen?

Well so do I actually.

Harney went on, so the report tells us, to say that "those who had earned wealth had the right to decide what should happen to it". What a splendid principle! - those who do the work should control its fruits. Positively socialist! Naturally though, for Harney this principle in practice supports its own negation; for this point was made in "defend[ing] the Government's cuts in inheritance taxes".

To repeat in order to emphasise, as well as clarify: the principle - "those who earn wealth should have the right to decide what should happen to it"; the application - "wealth should be controlled by those who have done nothing to earn it".

Of course one has to expect the Orwellian description of those who successfully appropriate wealth through exploitation as "wealth-creators" or "earners of wealth"; yet "equality of opportunity" ( as opposed to "equality of outcome", favoured by redistributionists) is supposed to play an important part of any conscientous liberal's normative Weltanschauung. Inheritance (the abolition of which was, incidentally, among the strikingly modest immediate "demands" of a certain Manifesto written 150-odd years ago) is hardly compatible with the meritocratic ideal.

But then who are we to overrule our forerfathers when it comes to the social and economic realities they have bequeathed us? As Harney says: "If one generation has earned the wealth and worked hard, it is reasonable to say that the should make the decision on who benefits from that". Reasonable indeed, but why limit this to inheritance? - if we're serious let's have a fully fledged Necrocracy: the rule of the dead. After all, everything we have is owed to past generations one way or another. Restore the staute books from the foundation of the state, I say! From a certain point of view the nightmare Joyce was trying to awake from is actually rather pleasant.

In this (widely shared, or at least unquestioned) view the aforementioned meritocratic ideal becomes no more than a tautological sleight of hand. The syllogism: 1) society should be ordered by merit; 2) those who are wealthy have, by definition "earned", even "generated", wealth; 3) it is therefore wrong in principle to punish with higher taxes those who have earned their place at the top. Q.E.D.

Thus Harney, in the same interview, mixes loosely the normative and the observational, the prescriptive and the descriptive, the should-be and the is: "...we live in a meritocracy where people are rewarded on the basis of merit....We live in a society where every body should have equality of opportunity and that's what's important...". (Emphases added).

This came in defence of a party colleague's remark to the effect that economic inequality was a driver of economic progress, a view she shared even if it "could have been explained using different language"; by which, of course, she means "different, less truthful language". After all, few in Ireland object to such views. Expressing them openly and coherently, on the other hand, is pushing things.

But never fear, for the PDs have a social policy as well - specifically crossing their fingers and praying for patronage: "I would like to see perhaps in Ireland, on a voluntary basis, a greater culture of some of the wealth that is acquired going back to the state...perhaps through endowments, through foundations". Well, perhaps.

"There is a very strong culture in the United States where very rich people have a great sense in wanting to give something back to the society which gave their wealth".

And it works out so well there...

But hold on...what's this about "the society which gave their wealth (sic)"? That noise, faint in the background, is the sound of a large house of cards collapsing.

*Though, rather confusingly for all concerned, that is the name of the country according to the Constitution.

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