Saturday, July 29, 2006


If Darth Vader had a brother...

Aye, 'tis funny.


Of the "necessary conditions" for an enduring ceasefire

The logic, such as it is, employed by Bush and Condi is that since cease-fires have been broken in the past, it is the cease-fires themselves that are the impediment to peace. No cease-fires ergo no broken cease-fires. It's sort of like saying that red lights are the reason drivers run red lights. Remove the traffic lights and, presto, drivers aren't running red lights anymore. Just ignore the carnage at intersections.

Friday, July 28, 2006



Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > God. A very dark, cynical sense of humour, leavened by a penchant for slapstick.

Ooh, that guy's funny. Via whom, I feel this might well be it in terms of "decline of Western civilisation" tipping points.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


The CAP - not so bad after all?

Yep, this is an interesting counterintuitive piece claiming that the CAP, or Western food subsidies in general, are actually beneficial to African countries.

Not totally convinced, but interesting.


Distinctions, abstractions, justice, war

As I've said in comments, I think Marc Mulholland makes some good points in response to Norman Geras' challenge to those condemning Israel's ongoing assault.

I think there's another problem with what Norm says though. The problem is this: he not only abstracts the question of whether Israel's cause is just from Israel's conduct of its war (i.e. jus ad bellum from jus in bello) - an abstraction I agree needs to be made in any given war, though it is, forgive the expression, a moral and conceptual minefield - but he also seperates the question of whether there is, in the abstract, a "just cause" from whether that cause is what the war is actually "about" - whether those prosecuting the war are motivated in their decidion to wage war exclusively, or nearly exclusively, by that cause.

Now, I think there's a case for making that abstraction as well, since any just war will probably be fought with some mixed motives on the part of those who decide to fight it. One of Churchill's (and others') reasons for fighting Nazi Germany was the defence of the British Empire. For a war to be just it is not necessary that all the intentions and motivations of those who decide to fight it be just.

Norm says that "Israel does have just cause" - objectively, as it were. No examination, then, of whether the war is being fought (even in part) because an inexperienced Israeli prime minister with no military background wants to prove his tough-guy credentials, or because the Israeli government wants to assert its regional dominance, or because it wants to pre-emptively intimidate anyone out of resisting the imposition of an unjust "solution" in the West Bank, or because it generally wants free reign in its dealings there and in Gaza.

No examination either as to whether official statements to the effect that Israel's goal was to inflict pain, to "set Lebanon back twenty years" might lend weight to the judgment of some observers that "the Israeli strategy at first hand appears to be...: to impose an abysmally high blood tax on the Lebanese in general, and Shiites in particular, so Hezbollah will not again think of kidnapping its soldiers or bombarding its territory"; and whether such a strategy, to the extent it exists, might be made possible by currents of opinion or emotion that exist in Israeli society (such as prejudice against, hatred of or contempt for Arabs, or desire for vengeance) which exist independently of the objectively just cause (which I agree exists).

As I say, I think this is fair enough, at least potentially. But it strikes me that one can make a case that Hizbullah also had just cause - that is to say, there existed good reason to wage war against Israel - namely its continued occupation of the West Bank and the violence it was committing in Gaza before (and after) Hizbullah first attacked. (I don't see that it would be a priori illegitimate for Lebanese groups to help Palestinians in this regard.)

Remember - we are maintaining a conceptual seperation between jus ad bellum and jus in bello so Hezbollah's methods are irrelevant in deciding whether it had just cause. Similarly, we are only talking about whether there exists, objectively or abstractly, a just cause for attacking Israel, not whether that just cause is really why Hizbullah attacked - which may also have to do with, say, hatred of Israelis, or Jews in general, a desire to destroy the Israeli state, a desire to influence Lebanese politics (all on the part of both Hizbullah and its non-Lebanese backers).

But while making no comment either way about what Israeli intentions and motivations might be - only stating that there is a just cause (which, again, I do agree with) - Norm not only ignores the question as to whether there was a jus ad bellum case to be made for Hizbullah's attack, he also seems to claim that the political context of the attack on Israel - to wit, Hizbullah and Iran's declared desire to see the destruction of Israel - makes Israel's cause "especially" just. But if we are to rule out the question as to what Israel's war in Lebanon is "really about" - as opposed to what can justify it in jus ad bellum terms - then surely Hizbullah's attack on Israel deserves the same treatment.

There is a confusion here. At least part of it might well reside in my own thinking. Perhaps it can only be dissipated by turning to Michael Walzer's "four wars" idea).

Wednesday, July 26, 2006



Like several commenters, on reading this Kevin Drum post I immediately thought of the New York Post's classic headline: "Headless Body Found in Topless Bar". There's some other great ones in comments, but I particularly like this story:

A Miami Herald editor lost his job over a hed he wrote for a story about Pope John Paul II getting a colostomy after being shot. It ran in just one edition:

Il Papa's Got A Brand New Bag

I came across that NY Post headline in this terrific Christopher Hitchens piece on fictional portrayals of journalists.

From which:

In [Michael Frayn's] The Tin Men, published in 1965, there are some boozers and louts and misfits, to be sure. But the brilliance of the thing lay in its attempt to reduce the business of hackery to an exact formula. At a demented research institute named for William Morris, eager eyes gaze at a computer that can handle UHL, or "Unit Headline Language". A survey is conducted, in which people are shown the random headlines:




A total of 86.4 % of those responding say that they understand the headlines, though of this total a depressing number cannot quite say why. Thus the search must go on. Would people like to read about air-crashes with children's toys in the wreckage, or without children's toys in the wreckage? In the case of a murder of a woman, should the victim be naked or partially clad? Frayn re-summons the tones of old Fleet Street into this laboratory of shame, when the questing researcher Goldwasser is brusquely accosted by his vile assistant Nobbs: " 'Do you prefer a female corpse to be naked, or to be clad in underclothes?' he repeated to Goldwasser. 'That's what I call a good question, mate. That's what I call a good question.' "

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Cuba bombs Washington?

This post at TPM Cafe made me clearer on some facts I was only vaguely aware of, perhaps because I tend to discount the bad behaviour of the US towards Cuba on the grounds that it has been so disgraceful since, well, forever, and never really looks like changing.

Oh, it's a fucked up world alright...


Against (the rejection of the concept of) war crimes

Via Lenin, I see that Ken MacLeod has made some (hardly unprecedented, but forcefully expressed) criticims of the whole field of "just war theory" and "the attempt to civilise warfare" or, as he also puts it, "to make war an accepted part of civilised life, which is to institutionalise war and thus to perpetuate it". He also says that if he "were to criticise Hizbollah's rocketing of would only be on the grounds of its futility, if that could be shown."

Well, I don't agree: I'm pretty keen on the rigorous application of (non-utilitarian/consequentialist) moral and legal standards (jus in bello) to all participants in warfare, and I don't think discarding all criteria but victory is a good idea. But since I don't think I have very much to say that isn't well expressed in Michael Walzer's book, I'll restrict myself to pointing out that MacLeod's claim that just war theory

tells us that to aim a bomb at an enemy soldier and kill a hundred civilians is - if the necessity is there - legitimate collateral damage...

isn't actually true. Certainly the principle of "double effect" can be formulated in very dubious ways, and applied in disgusting ways by apologists for all sorts of crimes and criminals. But it can also be formulated in a way compatible with our being "responsible for the foreseeable consequences of our wilful acts." I doubt, for example, that an action aimed at very few combattants that (predictably) killed very many civilians could be justified according to the much maligned categories of "military necessity" or "proportionality", nor the requirement that combatants take risks and accept costs in order to avoid doing harm to non-combatants.

I wonder what Ken's attitude towards the atomic massacres at Hiroshima and Nagasaki is - for that matter the non-nuclear firebombing of Tokyo, or of the German cities? I see them as abominable war crimes which have never been officially acknowledged - but if I read him correctly he is in no position to think that, unless he sees them as either "futile", or part of wars that were themselves unjust, criminal etc.

(See also this Jonathan Edelstein post on the utility of legal restrictions on the methods of warfare.)


Andre Gorz' critique

It's easy to mock Andre Gorz' Reform and Revolution, (PDF) for starting out as follows:

THE working class will neither unite politically, nor man the barricades, for a 10 per cent rise in wages or 50,000 more council flats. In the foreseeable future there will be no crisis of European capitalism so dramatic as to drive the mass of workers to revolutionary general strikes or armed insurrection in defence of their vital interests.

coming, as it did, on the eve of perhaps the most dramatic (if not the most revolutionary) general strikes ever to hit European capitalism - the evenements of May '68. (And according to this, most workers didn't even get that 10%, let alone the 50,000 flats.)

But he says some worthwhile things in it all the same:

It becomes necessary to show that the oppression and alienation of labour accepted for the sake of liberation in non-labour can only result in alienation of consumption and leisure; that to acquire the goods for the consumption and leisure which "liberate" him from the oppression of work, the worker is led by an infernal logic to work longer and longer hours and faster and faster, to take on overtime and bonus rates to the extent that he loses all possibility, material or psychological, of any liberation whatsoever; that the man at work is the same man as the man not at work, and that the one cannot be liberated without the other; that the basic class interest of all workers is to put an end to their subordination in labour and in consumption, and to take over control of the organization and purposes of social production; that a rise in direct wages is a priority demand for an important mass of workers, but that satisfying it is insufficient to put an end to capitalist exploitation...

As long as production decisions are dominated by capital, as long as consumption, culture and life styles are dominated by bourgeois values, the only way to live better is to earn more. But if capitalist relations of production are abolished, living better will also mean working less and less intensely, adapting work to the requirements of the workers' biological and psychological equilibrium, disposing of better collective services, greater possibilities of direct communication and culture, in and out of work, for oneself and for one's children, etc.

On the other hand, the checks and limitations imposed on scientific technical and cultural development by the capitalist criterion of profitability; the sterilization of economic resources and human energies implied by the process of financial and geographical concentration; the under-utilization of human capacities and the waste of energy necessitated by the authoritarian organization of labour; the contradiction between the law of maximum returns which dominates production on the one hand, and on the other the waste constituted by a marketing policy based on continual innovations with no use value and costly "sales promotion" campaigns, etc., all these contradictions of developed capitalism are as important if the system is to be challenged as the subjects of immediately conscious discontent: they imply a critique of the capitalist life-style, of capitalist values and rationality.


The mass revolutionary party exercises its directive and educational functions without pretending to know in advance the answers to the questions it will raise. Not only because these answers cannot be found within the framework of the existing system, but because their research and elaboration by permanent confrontations and debates among the rank and file is par excellence the way to provoke the participation, the prise de conscience and the self-education of the workers, to give them a direct hand in the party and the society to be constructed, and to let them grasp, through their exercise of party democracy, the profoundly authoritarian and anti-democratic character of the society in which they live.

Then there's this passage, which made me think about the kind of role that could be played by the internet, and blogging in particular, in the construction of participatory, rather than merely representative, democracy:

Therefore, the destruction of the cultural monopoly of the bourgeoisie will not take place by the mass diffusion of previous cultural production. The mass diffusion of "culture" is merely the diffusion of one kind of consumption goods amongst others. Its various forms-television, cinema, paperbacks, press - are based on the centralization of communication inherent in the "mass media". In other words, the "means of mass communication" do not allow the mass of individuals to communicate one with another; on the contrary, they allow the central communication of information and cultural products to a mass of individuals which is maintained in the state of a silent, atomized mass, destined for passive consumption by the very unilateral character of this form of "communication".

The internet seems, at least potentially, a pretty decentralised mode of mass communication.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Similar, but different

It's been nagging me that people passing by here might not have realised that my post on Israel as genocidal state vs Israel as politicidal state (posing some questions about this post by Norman Geras) was not the same item as the similarly entitled post that immediately preceded it, Israel as genocidal state vs The role of racism in Israeli policy (inspired by a different post by Normas Geras).

Because they're not.


Gideon Levy in Ha'aretz

Worth reading in full (as, most definitely, was this), but here's some extracts:

Israel went into the campaign on justified grounds and with foul means. It claims it has declared war on Hezbollah but, in practice, it is destroying Lebanon...

Every day increases international criticism of Israel and hatred of it. That is also an element in "national security." As opposed to the choir in Israel that makes a false presentation as if the world is cheering Israel, the images from Beirut are causing Israel enormous damage, and rightly so...

The fact that George Bush and Tony Blair are cheering Israel might be consolation for Ehud Olmert and the media in Israel, but it is not enough to persuade millions of TV viewers who see the images of destruction and devastation, most of which are not shown to Israeli audiences. The world sees entire neighborhoods that have been destroyed, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing in panic, homeless, and hundreds of civilians dead and wounded...

Ceasing it now guarantees a limited achievement at a limited price. Continuing it guarantees a heavy price without any guarantee of a suitable reward. Therefore, Israel must cease and desist. The president of the United States can push us to continue the war all he wants, the prime minister of Britain can cheer us in parliament, but in Israel and Lebanon, the blood is being spilled, the horror is intensifying, the price is rising and it is all for naught.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


On a lighter note...

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
Fuck you, clown.

(Via, and with apologies to.)


A new vocabulary

We need a new vocabulary to reflect the realities of modern warfare.


The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit.

Another classic from Alan Dershowitz. At the risk of insulting your intelligence, I'd be interested to know what how he'd classify the citizens of, say, Tel Aviv or New York should they refuse to obey a "well-publicized notice" to leave from Al Qaida or Hizbullah or whoever.

Saturday, July 22, 2006


Israel as genocidal state vs Israel as politicidal state

I said I was "somewhat puzzled" by Norman Geras' post yesterday, in which he described this:

Each provocation and counter-provocation is contested and preached over. But the subsequent arguments, accusations and vows, all serve as a distraction in order to divert world attention from a long-term military, economic and geographic practice whose political aim is nothing less than the liquidation of the Palestinian nation. [Norm's italics.]

as a libel, a disgusting lie and its authors as being at the worst end of a sector of world opinion that is worthy of nothing but contempt.

It's a short post, but they're strong words, which I'm sure weren't written without some reflection, so I think it's fair enough to examine them in detail.

Now: "the liquidation of the Palestinian nation" is actually an ambiguous phrase. "Nation" can be taken as synonomous with "people", and to liquidate a people is what we call genocide. And as indicated yesterday, I, like Norm, disdain the discourse that portrays Israel as guilty of genocide, or of harbouring aspirations in that direction. And so I think it unfortunate that the authors allowed such ambiguity to appear in their letter.

But "the liquidation of the Palestinian nation" might also - or rather instead - mean the liquidation of the Palestinian nation as a nation - the permanent denial of the aspiration of the Palestinian people to nationhood in its generally accepted form i.e. a nation-state, national self-determination.

Given the prominence of the concept of "politicide" (coined apparently by Baruch Kimmerling*) among more radical critics of Israeli policy, it would seem uncharitable (and I think probably inaccurate) to assume that the authors meant the first, rather than the second of the two meanings I have suggested.

But then I'm not sure that that is what Norm has done. His only mention of genocide is in linking the post to a previous one (commented upon here yestereday) pertaining to the "[t]he discourse of Israel as a genocidal state". He opposes the "lie" (that a long-term Israeli aim has been "the liquidation of the Palestinian nation") to the truth that Israel's enemies have sought, and seek still, "the liquidation of Israel". This leaves us no wiser as to what Norm means by "the liquidation of Israel", or what he takes to be meant by "the liquidation of the Palestinian nation" - genocide or "politicide".

In so far as there are any hints in this regard, Norm's reference to "the existential threat stalking the Jewish state" might indicate that, for Norm, "liquidation" is (presumably in both cases - both "the liquidation of Israel" and "the liquidation of the Palestinian nation") taken to mean not necessarily genocide, but also the lesser crime of "politicide". Otherwise he might have made a stronger claim by referring to "the existential threat stalking the Jewish (or Israeli) people".

But cutting through all this semantic speculation let me say this: I certainly don't feel the same way about the discourse of "Israel as guilty of politicide" as I do about the discourse of "Israel as guilty of genocide". I think it would require a good argument to discredit the former - not so much the latter.

Perhaps I am vulnerable to the charge of "permit[ting] [my]self mentally to block out the existential threat stalking the Jewish state" (and thus "worthy of nothing but contempt") due to a couple of things I've written recently, specifically that "Hamas and Hezbollah say they want to destroy the Israeli state, something they have no prospect at all of achieving", and that "'the destruction of the state of Israel' remains (thankfully) a very abstract threat".**

But it has always seemed to me downright insensitive to make so much of the threat to Israel's existence without at least explicitly acknowledging that, when it comes to the denial of a "right to exist" to other nations, Israel is more sinner than sinned against, since the threat to the existence of the State of Israel, being a threat, remains in the realm of the potential, whereas the non-existence of the State of Palestine is very real indeed, and that is (not entirely, but) decidedly the responsibility of Israeli policy.

So: I'm somewhat puzzled that Norm either a) assumes the meaning of "the liquidation the Palestinian nation" is genocide, or b) considers the existential threat posed to the Israeli state by its enemies to be more significant than the existential threat posed to the Palestinian state by its enemies, which he surely must if he considers the accusation of politicide, when leveled against Israel, to be "[r]eversing the truth".

*Kimmerling's 2002 article linked to above describes the Sharon government's policy as "the politicide of the Palestinian people, a gradual but systematic attempt to cause their annihilation as an independent political and social entity." I should note that, whatever the truth or otherwise of that charge, his subsequent claim that "politicide is a crime against humanity that is very close in its severity to genocide" seems to me to radically understate the importance, in his definition of politicide, of the qualification "as an independent political and social entity". I do not think that this undermines my point that one has to distinguish between the accusation of genocide and the accusation of politicide.

**It has not always been so abstract or hypothetical, and nor can we be sure it will remain so if Iran gets a nuclear weapon. But Israel has been the regional military superpower for some time now. That it cannot expect always to be that, and that it cannot expect always to have the uncritical support of the world's most powerful state, are good reasons for it to seek peace by doing justice.

Friday, July 21, 2006


Israel as genocidal state vs The role of racism in Israeli policy

I hope I'm not being facetious , or even condescending if I say that I'm somewhat puzzled by this post.

But before addressing it in a later post, let me first say something about this one, or perhaps just inspired by it. I can agree with Norm that "[t]he discourse of Israel as a genocidal state" is foolish, foolish rhetoric - at best. Israel has never committed genocide, there is no obvious prospect of Israel ever committing genocide. Israel knows better than most societies what genocide is, and if the lesson many Israelis have drawn from the Holocaust is that Jews must never allow themselves to be the victims of genocide again (whatever it takes), many others have drawn the conclusion that noone should ever be the victims of such a crime - precisely because they are crimes against humanity, not just against Jews.

And when Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says, by way of contributing to that sorry discourse, that "the [Israeli] politicians, generals and soldiers on this mission, and their supporters, are consumed with burning revulsion for all their non-Jewish Semite neighbours", I think that's a truly remarkable generalisation. I think of the Israeli soldiers I have met and count as my friends, and, although we didn't talk politics too much, I struggle to see them in that picture.

On the other hand one doesn't need to know a lot about Israel (and I don't claim to know a lot about Israel) to think it plausible that racism, in all its shades and manifestations, plays some significant role in bringing about, in making possible, the policies it pursues, the action it takes. From the (relatively marginal) voices on the right of the Israeli political spectrum calling for expulsion ("transfer") of the Palestinians, to ex-Labor PM Ehud Barak's remark to the effect that Palestinians, or perhaps Arabs in general

are products of a culture in which to tell a lie...creates no dissonance. They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category

and stretching to include non-Israeli supporters, including progressives and liberals such as Maureen Lipman, whom I was appalled to see making this defence of Israel's actions in Lebanon:

human life is not cheap to the Israelis and human life on the other side is quite cheap actually, because they strap bombs to people and send them to blow themselves up.

it seems to me that Israeli racism has a legitimate and significant part to play in an analysis of the Arab/Muslim-Israeli conflict. (Anti-semitism playing an obvious, and more regularly highlighted, role on the other side).

(I should say that I don't think there's anything I've said here that Norm would necessarily disagree with, at least on the basis of what he's posted at Normblog. I started this post intending to write about Norm's later post but got carried off in this direction. In any case it's not a bad amuse-bouche before I set about disagreeing with him more explicitly.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Walzer on Israel, Lebanon, Palestine

Via Norm I came across Michael Walzer's piece in The New Republic. I wasn't too surprised to find that it was rather soft on Israel and its assaults upon Lebanon and Gaza. Still, having recently read and enjoyed Just and Unjust Wars, I think Walzer deserves to get a hearing. And he does describe the attacks on power stations in Gaza and Lebanon as "an attack on civilian society".

Nonetheless, though I dislike both the title and practice of "fisking" (the former is too dismissive of Robert Fisk and the latter is usually fairly small-minded, not-as-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is stuff), I've given Walzer's article a bit of a going over, while trying to avoid excessive sarcasm, context shaving, unfairness etc.

Indented bits are Walzer, the rest isn't:

since Hamas and Hezbollah describe the captures as legitimate military operations--acts of war--they can hardly claim that further acts of war, in response, are illegitimate.

True enough - but nor can attacks on the Israeli military be seen as illegitimate, or terrorist. Yet the capture of an Israeli soldier is described as such by the IDF, and the UN proposes a solution based on the release of captured Israeli soldiers without any equivalent move (unless you count giving the Palestinians back the kidnapped quarter of their legislature) on the part of the Israelis.
The further acts have to be proportional, but Israel's goal is to prevent future raids, as well as to rescue the soldiers, so proportionality must be measured not only against what Hamas and Hezbollah have already done, but also against what they are (and what they say they are) trying to do.

Really? So Israel's inflicting of hundreds of civilian casualties on Lebanon is proportionate "collateral damage" for an operation in response to a tiny fraction of that figure (counting civilian and military victims) being inflicted upon Israel because, for example, Hamas and Hezbollah say they want to destroy the Israeli state, something they have no prospect at all of achieving?
no state can tolerate random rocket attacks on its cities and towns. Some 700 rockets have been fired from northern Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal a year ago...It doesn't matter that, so far, the Gazan rockets have done minimal damage

A UN report issued yesterday said the Israeli Army has carried out 168 airstrikes and fired more than 600 shells into Gaza, while Palestinian militants have fired 177 rockets toward Israel.
The report said 100 Palestinians have been killed since the Gaza offensive began, not counting the 13 yesterday.
(Via Lenin).

Israel has waited a long time for the Palestinian deal with the rocket fire from Gaza

Walzer might have mentioned that Sharon's government gutted the capacity of the PA to do very much at all.

In the past, I am sure, some Palestinian attacks were motivated by the experience of occupation.

How very generous!

But that isn't true today. Hamas is attacking after the Israelis departed Gaza and after the formation of a government that is (or was until the attacks) committed to a large withdrawal from the West Bank.

As I understand it, Hamas, was not behind the rocket attacks from Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal, so Walzer must be referring to the tunnel attack that killed several Israeli soldiers and captured another, Gilad Shalit. Israel, Walzer says, had "departed Gaza" - hence this attack can't possibly have had anything to do with "the experience of occupation". Well, as Gideon Levy wrote in this bracing howl of righteousness in Ha'aretz: "It's no accident that nobody mentions the day before the attack on the Kerem Shalom fort, when the IDF kidnapped two civilians, a doctor and his brother, from their home in Gaza." (See reports by Reuters, carried at the Turkish Daily News, and the BBC.) *

In any case, if the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are part of one nation ("Palestine") then it can hardly be said that Gazans are unaffected by the ongoing occupation of the West Bank. They are Palestinians, and part of their country is still occupied.

Similarly, Hezbollah's attacks came after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The aim of these militants is not to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel; it is to destroy Israel.

Here Walzer claims to know more than he possibly can. We don't know to what extent Hezbollah's attack was inspired by solidarity with the besieged and terrorised Gazans, and to what extent it was a (Syrian?) power-play in Lebanese and regional politics. Given both these possibilities (and the possibility of mixed motives), it seems very, very badly reductive to just arbitrarily attribute it to a presumably permanent and total desire to "destroy Israel".

Admittedly, that is a long-term aim that derives from a religious view of history. Secularists and pragmatists have a lot of trouble acknowledging such a view, let alone understanding it.

And some apologists for Israel have a lot of trouble acknowledging that "the destruction of the state of Israel" remains (thankfully) a very abstract threat, certainly compared to the destruction of (as in, "denial of existence to") the Palestinian state, not to mention of Lebanon.

the Israeli response has only a short-term aim: to stop the attacks across its borders.

Only a short term aim - to inflict a "very, very, very painful" toll, "setting Lebanon back 20 years", and thus to "change the rules of the game". Here, Walzer again claims to know rather more than he can, and possibly less than he should. Again, his epistemological extravagance cuts Israel's way.

(See also Chris Bertram's criticism.)

*This underreported story was mentioned by Noam Chomsky in that same interview. Knowing Chomsky was very good about responding to emails, I asked him for sources, which he duly gave. He didn't mention the BBC report though, which I got from the comments at that Chris Bertram post.)

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


More Adventures with Chomsky!

While I'm at it, at the end of the same Chomsky interview mentioned in the comments here, he gives a quote from Moshe Dayan, adressing the Palestinians: "we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave".

(Actually that's the wording he quoted in a Guardian article from 2002, which is presumably more authoritative than his quote from memory in the interview. This 1991 article gives the the quote slightly differently and places it in the context of "a Rafi meeting of September 1967, [at which] there was a dispute between [Shimon] Peres and Dayan").

But various Google searches gave me nothing at all except references to Chomsky himself using the quote. That's hardly strong evidence that it's made up or something, but has anyone else ever heard that quote?

Pre-emptive Update!: Right. After a lot (for a blogpost) of complicated google-research I tracked down the sourcing of the quote to this section of Deterring Democracy (avilable online in its entirety) - where the relevant reference is, I think, "Beilin op. cit., 42-3". Op fucking cit, great. Tracking back to here - "Yossi Beilin, Mehiro shel Ihud (Revivim, 1985)".

Yip, it's in fucking Hebrew. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

The first thing I got on googling that, was this post. This worried me, since once you end up at dedicated anti-Chomsky sites featuring the phrase "self-hating Jew", well, that smell is the swamp. However, without relying on the mercifully defunct blogger "dhimmi" (beyond - is this too much? - trusting that Chomsky's quoted reply is authentic) I did learn that Chomsky wrote this:

"During the 1948 war, he [Ben Gurion] held that "To the Arabs of the Land of Israel only one function remains -- to run away."

without mentioning that these were not actually Ben Gurion's own words, just his sentiments, and seems to imply this would mislead only "people who are really desperate to defend their own crimes".

Make of it what you will.

(Christ, but that was the most annoying - and least lazy - thing I've ever put on this fooking blog-thing.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


More law

I've been meaning for some time to acknowledge Jeff Weintraub's response to my response to his post (at Normblog) on the Genocide Convention.

Firstly I want to thank Jeff for taking the time to reply. I was glad (and somewhat relieved) to see that my thoughts didn't come across as too superficial.

I don't have too much to say in re-response.

The first thing I will say is that it's true that Jeff did not (as I said he did) say that the Iraq war was legal because of the Genocide Convention. Actually all he pointed out was that it was illegal to do nothing to punish and/or prevent genocide in Iraq, and that this was rarely if ever mentioned by those who opposed the invasion because of its purported illegality. Both these points are true (though I'm unsure of what the legal or practical implications ought to have been in 2003).

In fact, it did occur to me, while I was arguing against the idea that the terms of the genocide convention could vindicate the invasion legally, that there was a better (though not necessarily convincing) argument that they did make illegal the actions of those countries that opposed the invasion at the UN (while doing nothing else to punish/prevent genocide in Iraq.)

On the question of whether the Iraqi regime was in fact guilty of genocide: I think Jeff makes a good argument that my interpretation of the Genocide Convention (specifically of its stipulation that the ethnic, religious, national or racial groups targeted by violence must be targeted "as such" for it to amount to genocide) would unreasonably restrict the category of genocide, ruling out any genocide with any kind of instrumental purpose. In response I would say that without this "as such" the Convention's definition of genocide is unreasonably wide. This has arguably already happened with Srebrenica, but a literal reading of the Convention (less "as such") could include all and any types of hostile acts towards human beings. Even with the "as such" qualification it could be seen to include every racist/xenophobic/sectarian killing.

I reckon a better definition of genocide can be produced, one that better captures the specificity of the crime of genocide. Of course, that will probably have to happen via judicial review, since the Convention's wording is unlikely to be appropriately amended.

(Oh yes, one other thing: I think that the idea that "one side-effect of [the Iraq war] was to prevent what would almost certainly have been another genocidal bloodbath in Iraqi Kurdistan after the 'containment' of Saddam Hussein's Iraq had collapsed" is far too breezy to play a major role in any cassus belli. Firstly, I don't see that the no-fly zones were in such bad shape - morally as well as in terms of implementation and sustainability - as the sanctions regime was. But more importantly it was too much of a long term consideration to justify a war in 2003.)


Chomsky interview with New Statesman

"I think Afghanistan, if we look at it, is one of the most grotesque acts of modern history."

Quite honestly, apart from syntactical clumsiness, that seems rather disproportionate, given how filthy the modern tide has been and all. We all say silly things from time to time I know, and I doubt Chomsky would have written that sentence. But I'm not entirely sure he'd retract it either.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Skies of Lebanon

I think these two posts by Matthew Yglesias on the present crisis say some things worth saying.


At least they can safely pass a law to throw Enda Kenny in jail now

(For the blissfully uninformed: Enda Kenny).

There's very little public discussion and debate, outside the legal columns, of Supreme Court judgements in Ireland, certainly compared to in the US. Vincent Browne, one of the few prominent columnists (not surprisingly, he's also a barrister) to discuss such matters regularly, makes a fair point today.

Non-Irish readers (and Irish readers can safely skip this paragraph) may not know that there was a splendid panic here recently when the Court found that a 1935 law describing the offence of statutory rape was unconstitutional since it didn't allow for the possibility that someone could make an honest mistake about what age their sexual partner was. This led to the brief release of one statutory rapist (only about 6 months before he was due to be released, but that didn't make the headlines) and others seemed set to be freed as well. But then, hey presto, the Supreme Court decided that their finding of unconstitutionality was not to be retroactively implemented, thus returning "Mr A" (hint to Mr A - change that name, man, it gives a sinister impression, which is definitely not what you need in your situation!) to prison (hurrah!) for an offence that no longer exists.

Now (and welcome back my fellow Irishmen and women!), obviously enough, sympathy is rather thin on the ground for this "A" fellow, who had sex with the twelve year old daughter of a friend (hence no question of an honest mistake) after getting her drunk. And it would indeed be unreasonable to apply all court judgements retroactively, ruat coelum and all that.

But the Court now appears to have decided that retroactivity should almost never apply - it should be a rare exception. So the state can now, in theory, throw people in jail on the basis of unconstitutional laws - already existing, or yet to be made - and expect the Supreme Court to back them up. Presumably such people need not all be as repulsive as "Mr A".

Browne concludes:
There is something very serious here, if my contention is correct. It would mean that the Supreme Court was playing around with the law to fit the circumstances.And one of the safeguards we supposedly have of our liberties is that the Supreme Court will always stand by the law, at all times, irrespective of how unpopular or how difficult.
This seems like the kind of thing that deserves more discussion. There'd more fuss about it if it happened in America, that's for sure.

Saturday, July 15, 2006



I'm still waffling away over here. Latest comment:

Sorry about the misnomer Frank, if it's any consolation I did the same thing to myself when I said that I was an ex- libertarian - I too thought of myself as a "a liberal (in the unbastardised sense)".

Empirically, your claim that wealth "always [goes down] when governments start fiddling around with its distribution" is unsustainable - all governments of advanced industrial countries do so, and GDP continues to rise. Even a weaker version of that claim is discredited by the fact that the post-war economic miracle coincided with the expansion of the Keynesian/welfare state. Granted most of state spending was not oriented towards distribution per se, but much was, and much more (educational spending for example) had an egalitarian distributive effect. Theoretically, it's also wrong, because the defence of property rights (i.e. state enforcement of particular property relations) is precisely a massive "fiddling around" with the distribution of wealth, in the sense that it is not somehow natural or neutral - it is a definite decision to coercively enforce a certain distribution of property (and hence wealth), and not other possible distributions.

I also think your belief that economic inequality is unimportant is unsustainable, but that argument can wait.

Going back to the point about apathy and dominance, to put it fairly simply and abstractly: presuming that the state does indeed affect the interests of different people, and groups of people, differentially - i.e. some for good, some for bad, some better than others, some worse than others - it is in everybody's interest to be able to defend/assert their interests vis-a-vis the actions (and non-actions) of the state.

If liberals/libertarians had their right to vote taken away, we could expect their interests and aspirations not to taken into account by the state. Similarly, those who are apathetic are less likely to have their interests taken into account, i.e. to be treated fairly, by the state. They will have no say in the state's actions/non-actions but will still be affected by these. In this sense they will be subject to domination - not total domination, not slavery, but a relationship of domination with those who disproportionately influence the state.

These are all things that could probably be better expressed - and of course have been by others - outside the confines of a comment box back-and-forth, but there you go.


The banality of evil?

Destruction of locks and dams, however--if handled right--might (perhaps after the next Pause) offer promise. It should be studied. Such destruction does not kill or drown people. By shallow-flooding the rice, it leads after time to widespread starvation (more than a million?) unless food is provided--which we could offer to do "at the conference table."

That's from a memo written by John McNaughton in 1966, when he was US Assistant Secretary of Defense - Robert McNamara's right-hand man. In it, you'll have noticed, he contemplates (as to "be studied") a military-diplomatic tactic of placing "more than a million?" (North) Vietnamese civilians at risk of starvation.

Now, the "whizz-kid" bureaucrats and "Kennedy liberals" who prosecuted the American war in Vietnam from (say) 1963-69 certainly haven't "gone down in history" - if that phrase has any meaning - as heros. But nor have they been universally seen as evil men. But this document (which was first revealed, along with a shitload of other shit, in the Pentagon Papers) really does seem to show someone - not some outsider demagogue, whipped by a tidal wave of history from the margins of society onto its peak (à la Hitler and other Nazis) - who is so thoroughly and seamlessly integrated into his society's structures of power that he doesn't even realise the evil inherent in what he is doing.

Is this something like what Arendt meant?

(I came across this some months ago via this essay by Chomsky. I'm certainly not Chomsky's biggest fan - nor his biggest detractor - but it is, I think, an excellent piece of work, as are other pieces by Chomsky from the period. Christopher Hitchens has, once or twice, floated a theory that Chomsky once upon a time fought the good fight very well, but lost the head a bit, so to speak, at one stage or another. Without associating myself with Hitchens, I'd be interested to hear if anybody else thinks there's anything in this. Though of course cool-headed and reasonable discussion of Chomsky, critical without functioning as apology for power, can be very hard to find.)


The ideological content of antipolitics

In response to this:

Older commentators bemoan any "apathy" detected in younger generations about politics and ask what can be done to rectify this "defect". Some find themselves cheering on deluded fantasists, millenial extremists, righteous moralists and all sorts of extremists and busybodies merely because they display "passion" about politics. But a passion for politics translates into a fervent and irrational desire to change the world for the "better", (usually at the expense of a lot of broken eggs). The politically apathetic, by contrast, have no desire to interfere and intervene in the lives of others. This ought to be cheered.

Political power is an extremely blunt instrument which can do a lot of harm...

I've posted this comment:

"Political power is an extremely blunt instrument which can do a lot of harm."

Best, then, to have it wielded by the rational elite, insulated from popular scrutiny by the healthy apathy of the masses.

Leave power to the experts, they'll look after things. Your interests will not be negatively affected. Go back to Big Brother, or whatever amuses you.

Friday, July 14, 2006



I slithered lithely from my stool. This deed somehow necessitated a second manoeuvre, that of picking myself up off the floor.

From Money, by Martin Amis.



"Our response will be very restrained," Olmert promised. "But very, very, very painful."

That was on Wednesday. On Thursday:

More than 50 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the attacks.

A man of his word, then, the prime minister.


Torturous Trend

Because the Irish Times insists on having at least one poisonous, right-wing, neo-imperialist, war crimes-apologist, North American syndicated columnist to balance the banal, moderate-liberal orthodoxy that generally prevails in its pages, and because Mark Steyn did the job a little too well, we now have the great pleasure of reading one Charles Krauthammer's weekly musings in Ireland's declining paper of record.

So it was that I noticed, in Monday's column, the tender care with which he too chooses his verbs:

The court tortures the reading of Common Article 3 [of the Geneva Convention]...

To "torture the reading" of something - that itself seems like rather a clumsy syntax. If not out and out torture, "aggressive interrogation" of the English language at least. But really, to choose that particular verb - you've got to admire the sheer balls of these guys.

Either admire, or apply electric shocks to, I suppose.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Immigration in Ireland

Maria Farrell and Jonathan Edelstein both post on immigration in Ireland.

The past decade or so of immigration in Ireland has been fairly extraordinary, following, as it does, pretty much a century and a half of mass emigration. According to The Irish Times Book of the Century (Fintan O'Toole, 1999):

By the early [nineteen] twenties, 43% of Irish-born men and women were living abroad...

That too is pretty extraordinary, and so is the rapidity with which the phenomonen has been inverted.

There's one thing Maria wrote that ticks me off though, one of the great cliches in pro-immigration discourse:

we’ve seen a great influx of people from central and eastern Europe and the Baltic states, much to the benefit of our economy and our society as a whole.

I think the word for this is reification. "Good for the economy", "good for society": here I stand with Thatcher, against treating abstractions as though they were concrete. Immigration may indeed bring net benefits to the recieving society and its economy. But net benefits means good for some, not so good for others.

It's hardly surprising that business interests, glad to have the domestic labour market "rebalanced" in their favour, and middle-class liberals, insulated from labour market competition with the newcomers and benefiting from cheap service labour (classically maids, cleaners, gardners etc.), are happy to welcome immigration, and bemused at the ignorant fears and prejudices of the lower classes.The latter, of course, are far more likely to be the losers in the whole net benefit gig.

This is not to reject immigration. As an internationalist I don't confine my sympathies to Irish workers - and constraining the free movement of workers (and others) does not come high on my list of ways to combat inequality, injustice, exploitation etc. in Ireland. What it does mean is that (short of a democratic economy, wherein workers would no longer have to compete with each other to be employed by capitalists) measures to combat inequality & co. in Ireland become all the more imperative - for pragmatic reasons relating to the danger of a racist/far-right "backlash" - as the immigrant, and soon immigrant-origin, population grows.

Matthew Yglesias has argued to similar effect:

...immigration, on the whole, has a positive impact on the American economy. It makes the pie bigger, as the case goes. But while doing so, it winds up disadvantaging an already disadvantaged group, which is bad. That sounds to me, however, like a situation that calls for a combination of higher levels of immigration (more pie) combined with more robust social insurance and social welfare spending (make sure the poor get enough pie) which ought to create a win-win situation for the broad mass of America's workers and consumers.

But also: the role of the trade union movement in fighting exploitation, in integrating immigrants into social life, in promoting solidarity amongst workers, quite simply in organising, becomes more important than ever, and for society as a whole.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Point of law

The following relates to international law, a matter I have no expertise at all in. Nor do I believe that the legality of an action, whether under national or international law, is anything like decisive in regard to its morality. I'd be interested to get an idea of the general state of scholarship on the relevant questions touched on here, in particular the interpretation of the Genocide Convention. This post represents no more than an amateur dipping of the toe into international legal waters. I hope nobody will misinterpret it as legal fetishism, nor, above all, as an attempt to in some way downplay the crimes of the Baathists in Iraq.

Jeff Weintraub says not only that the invasion of Iraq was legal, but that it was legally mandatory - that it was illegal not to overthrow the Baathist regime. This is because it was, says Weintraub, guilty of genocide at least once (against the Kurds during the Anfal campaign of the late eighties) and possibly twice (against the Marsh Arabs). This, so the argument continues, meant that all signatories of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide were legally (as well as morally) obliged to act.

There are problems with this.

Firstly, I'm not sure that Saddam is in fact guilty of genocide (as opposed to mere mass murder), even according to the fairly broad definition of the Genocide Convention. Broad as that definition seems to be, the Convention nevertheless stipulates that for the various specified acts to be genocidal they must be "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such".

That "as such" seems to me to be important. Does it not imply that the victims must be targeted because of their nationality, ethnicity etc.? If so, must not one ask: in unleashing terror upon the Kurds, was Saddam attempting "to destroy, in whole or in part" the Iraqi Kurds "as such" i.e. as Kurds - or because Kurdistan and the Kurds were seen as a centre of opposition to the regime? (The same question applies to the Marsh Arabs).

Secondly, does the Convention really give the right to, indeed place an obligation upon, every signatory to prevent and punish genocide in whatever manner they see fit? Wouldn't that conflict with another piece of international law, the UN Charter, which outlaws all military action (at least against UN members) except in self-defence and/or with the assent of the Security Council? Perhaps this might be seen as a development of international law, rather than a contradiction of it, but I have my doubts, given article 8:
Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide...

This seems to indicate that the Genocide Convention is not supposed to overrule or amend the Charter's restrictions of warfare. One might point out that this article only says what signatoires "may" do, not that they cannot act unilaterally to enforce the convention as they see fit.

Perhaps. But as with the above expressed doubts regarding the guilt of Saddam Hussein and his regime (on the specific charge of genocide) this question, and any other, would, according to the terms of the Convention, surely have to be settled by the International Court of Justice. Article 9 seems fairly clear on this:
Disputes between the Contracting Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the present Convention, including those relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or for any of the other acts enumerated in article III, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice at the request of any of the parties to the dispute.

I think it's fair to say that any attempt to defend (legally) the invasion of Iraq as an "application" of the Genocide Convention would have been subject to such a dispute, not least because the Iraqi government was itself a party to it. Has the ICJ made any judgements that may be seen as pertaining to the Iraqi case in 2003?

Monday, July 10, 2006


Zidane uses his head

Funnily enough, if anyone still has Saturday's Irish Times sports section, Tom Humphries' article on Zidane details an incident from his - Zizou's - youth where he was being watched by a scout. Initially the scout thought he wasn't tough enough, seeing him hacked down by another player and just carrying on with the game - no reaction.

But then, a few minutes later, out of the seeming blue, he sees Zidane grab his assailant by the shoulders and headbutt him.

So it was always coming.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


On anti-Luddism

From Das Kapital:

Gentlemen of the jury, no doubt the throat of this commercial traveller has been cut. But that is not my fault, it is the fault of the knife. Must we, for such a temporary inconvenience, abolish the use of the knife? Only consider! Where would agriculture and trade be without the knife? Is it not as salutary in surgery as it is skilled in anatomy? And a willing assistant at the festive table? If you abolish the knife - you hurl us back into the depths of barbarism.

(Quoted by F. Wheen, whose Marx biography is tremendous fun, via Norm.)

This is a very nice bit of satire, and it explains very well why I think it's more than a bit unfair that "Luddite" has become a term of abuse.

Friday, July 07, 2006


Not that there's anything wrong with that

Hilariously, or at least amusingly, I see that I am described as an "Irish Property Commentator" by the Wikipedia entry for the Irish Housing Bubble.



Over at Normblog, Eve Garrard tries a little zingaroo against Jonathan Steele on Israel, Hamas and that sort of thing. But while it's true that Steele did write some silly things on the whole condemning/understanding question some time ago and this gives Garrard something legitimate to zing about, I think this particular zingaroo lacks a bit of zing, since there's no real contradiction between, on the one hand, calling on Europe to condemn Israel's recent actions and, on the other, regretting Europe's "refusing contact" with Hamas after their recent election victory.

If Steele were calling on Europe to refuse contact with Israel, while condemning its decison to refuse contact with Hamas - well, that'd be zing heaven. But he doesn't seem to be doing that.

Thursday, July 06, 2006



The presence of such personalities as Franco, Salazar or DeValera in European politics guaranteed Europe's preservance of traditional values. We lack such men of action these days

So says some Polish MEP opposed to a European Parliament statement of condemnation (Franco quivers in his grave) of the Spanish dictatorship.

While we in Ireland are, of course, flattered that our contribution to the struggle against Communism has been recognised by our Polish friends, this is unfair on Dev. He was, after all, a democrat, at least after the foundation of Fianna Fáil in 1926. (His line against the Treaty had been, of course, that "the majority have no right to do wrong". I might come back to the undemocratic nature of the anti-Treatyites in a later post about Ken Loach's new film.)

He (Dev) also took some flak for remaining neutral between Franco and the Republic - flak for not backing the generals, that is.

But I think the Salazar comparison has been made in rather more reputable quarters than the Polish right. I think Tom Garvin makes it at some point in Preventing the Future. This, no doubt, demands some research, which I won't be doing right now.

(Via Back Seat Drivers.)

Monday, July 03, 2006


Kantian-priestly and vegetarian-Quaker prattle

As for us, we were never concerned with the Kantian-priestly and vegetarian-Quaker prattle about the “sacredness of human life.” We were revolutionaries in opposition, and have remained revolutionaries in power. To make the individual sacred we must destroy the social order which crucifies him. And this problem can only be solved by blood and iron.

Ah, polemic.


My, that's one itchy lookin' back you've got there!

It is proven, once again, that flattery does indeed get you everywhere. (Scroll down to 21 June. Actually, don't bother, all it is is compliments and a link to here in return for compliments and a link to there).

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Into the swamp

Via Andrew Sullivan, who has been agonising over whether Bush is a war criminal (which he almost certainly is of course, though we shant expect any consequences to follow), I see that this National Review editorial says the US Supreme Court

acknowledges no limits on its powers — whether imposed by Congress or by the English language, which it had to torture in order to construe the DTA’s unambiguous limitation of its jurisdiction as an invitation to meddle.

So - "acknowledges no limits on its powers"; "torture". This comes as rather a blow to those of us who thought the old cliche about how Americans don't understand irony was a bit ridiculous.


Impending doom in Ireland

Here's David McWilliams' weekly jeremiad about the impending doom that awaits what Tommy Tiernan has called "our Celtic-Tiger-golden-calf-bullshit-economy where everyone has fourteen jobs, twelve mobile phones and no fucking personality". McWilliams' thesis (which seems fairly solid to my untutored eyes) is that conspicuous consumption in Ireland is being funded not by "real" economic activity but by massive private debt, which is itself encouraged by and predicated on the property boom. But the boom won't last. He also refers (characteristically smartly) to the "under-30s Stakhanovites" who are squeezed by the rising property prices so welcome to those who got in before the boom. To wit, he closes his article thusly:

Our political class (the vast majority of them over 50) doesn’t seem to care. Is it any wonder that the under-30s don’t vote?

But I would suggest he gets cause and effect exactly the wrong way around here: what are the chances, given low levels of voting and other input into the political process among any particular group, that the "political class" will take their interests fully into account?

Some previous posts relate to this: one on voting rates by class in America, and a couple of more recent reflections on depoliticisation.



Still, I do like the way Yglesias puts things like this:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are a lot of countries out there. We can't invade them all. We can't even really bomb them all. If you're "consistently" in favor of using force in every possible situation or as the solution to every problem, you're not thinking very seriously about the issues at hand.

It's a fair point.

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