Thursday, August 31, 2006


No more free ride

I think this is quite encouraging. Note that the Bush Administration spokeswoman made the point that "a [greenhouse gas] cap imposed in one state or country simply causes industry to move to another location."

Indeed. If only there was some kind of agreement whereby all states and countries would agree to such a cap, thus eliminating or lessening that problem.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Saying you want a revolution

Lenin was once said to have remarked, in a rare flash of humour, that the German Social Democrats would never launch a successful revolution in Germany because when they came to storm the railway stations they would line up in an orderly queue to buy platform tickets first.

- p. 15, Richard J. Evans, The Coming of the Third Reich

I'd not heard that before, though what I had heard was a similar remark attributed, I think, to Karl Marx to the effect that there would never be a revolution in Germany because people would always keep off the grass. I wonder which - if not both, or neither - is true?

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Grass: 60 years a-Crabwalking?

Perhaps it isn't the kind of thing that's going to light up the blogosphere, but it's still pretty shocking to hear that Gunter Grass was in the SS (or rather that he has hidden that fact all these years).

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Jews for Justice - sycophants and collaborators, polluting European Jewry?

I've alluded before to Marxism's tradition of vigorous - at times venemous - polemic, starting with Marx himself, who was no shrinking violet. Norman Geras, however, is very much of a current of Marxism of a more humble kind, if I can put it that way. Usually his argumentative style is characterised by restraint and sweet reason, if not denying itself - or the reader - all the pleasures of polemical bite.

So like one commenter at Katheder blog I was taken aback in a small way by the raw resentment I sensed in this letter Norm co-signed with Shalom Lappin and Eve Garrard. This paragraph above all reminded me of a kind of Marxist (or Marxist-Leninist) rhetoric I would never have associated with Norm:
We are confident that when the history of this period is written and the widespread loss of political reason that characterizes our age is finally recognized, your group will be properly consigned to a footnote in the long and dishonourable tradition of Jewish sycophancy and collaboration with hostility that has polluted the margins of European Jewry over the generations.
Clearly I'm not, so far, making any substantial criticism of the piece, rather than expressing surprise at its tone (in large part given by the accusatory use of "you..." at the start of each sentence). But to make one substantial point, this seems a strange criticism to me:
Your deep concern for Jewish principles of justice and compassion do not lead you to step forward as Jews in order to condemn the genocide in Darfur, the blood-letting in the Congo, the massacres in Chechnya or any other cases of massive human rights violation far surpassing the brutality of Israel's occupation of the Palestinians.
At the risk of getting snarky here myself, what part of "Jews for Justice for Palestinians" doesn't make it clear that the particular concern - the raison d'etre one might say - of this organisation is to work against injustices imposed upon Palestinians by the Israeli state? In that context, whataboutery seems as ill-judged as if I were to ask, say, the Red Cross why they didn't seem to care about cancer victims.
(Admittedly the organisation is also condemning Israel's policies against Lebenese, but, firstly, this is hardly unrelated to Palestinians and, secondly, we can take it that JJP is animated not by a strange and arbitrary affection for Palestinians as above Chechnyans etc., but rather by a special concern with Israel qua the Jewish state.)

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Just saying

I suppose it's worth pointing out that more Palestinians than Israelis have died in the hostilities of the last six weeks or so (nearly 200 since June 28 - via Lenin). Not that it's a contest (at least from my point of view), or that I passionately wish more Israelis had died to balance things out, but at this stage it looks likely that this summer is going to go down as having seen a war between Israelis and Lebanese, which it has of course, except that there's a third party there.


I would have guessed he was more of a Telegraph man...

Oh Almighty God, please, we beg you to send us our Guardian- who You have promised us- soon and appoint us as His close companions


Written by Mahmood Ahmadinejad at 04:12

Not sure what the last bit means - "appoint us as His close companions". Is he looking for a job or what? Either way, he's going to need patience if he's expecting the paper edition to be sent out to Tehran.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Levy again

Another piece worth reading (even after a week) from Gideon Levy in Ha'aretz. I hadn't heard this quote before:
Israel once again is not distinguishing between a justified war against Hezbollah and an unjust and unwise war against the Lebanese nation. The camouflage concealing the war's real goals was ripped off by this defense minister, who says what he means: "Nasrallah is going to get it so bad that he will never forget the name Amir Peretz," he bragged, like a typical bully. Now at least we know that Israel went to war so that the name Amir Peretz is never forgotten. It's the war for the perpetuation of the name Peretz and the blurring of Dan Halutz's failures. And to hell with the cost.

I remember feeling a certain tentative hope when Peretz defeated Shimon Peres for the Israeli Labor Party leadership.


Of the social and the material

One of the most useful distinctions made by Marx is, I think, that between the social and the material. (This is emphasised in one of the early chapters of GA Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, from which I derive much of what follows).

The social: historically situated, specific to a particular time, place and social formation, contingent. The material: permanent, inherent to human nature or to nature itself, present in any and every place, time and social formation.

This conceptual distinction is particularly useful in thinking about "necessity". Our material needs exist always, are an inherent part of what it is to be human. Other needs are social. For example, it might be true to say that people genuinely need their car to get to work; but, not only is it obviously the case that people have not always needed cars, it's also true to say that people need not always need them in the future (if, say, society managed to rejig the organisation of work so that everyone worked from, or at least within walking distance of, their homes).

"Socially constructed needs", as I think Claus Offe has called them, can be said to be things you need, but that you don't need to need. (Note that this is quite distinct from a distinction between "objective" and "subjectively perceived" needs - the "socially constructed needs" I refer to aren't the result of any particular value orientation or state of consciousness of the people concerned - rather they are genuinely "objective" needs, but not necessary in the sense of inevitable or material.)

Thinking about the material and the social in this sense is a way of setting about identifying those aspects of social reality that are truly inevitable, in the sense that they will still be features of any future social (including socialist) formation, just as they were in previous ones. But it also helps one to identify other aspects which, though they do, in present circumstances, seem inevitable, and are experienced by individuals as objective necessities, are actually social/historical rather than material/permanent. Death, grief, disease, unhappiness, fear, confusion - these shall always be with us. The poor, to take but one example, need not be.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Trains, planes and automobiles

This is a very good point. Plus, like Marc Mulholland, I really have no desire at all not to be allowed to read on planes.

I mean, and a propos of my last post, we could eliminate deaths on the road at the stroke of a parliamentary pen if we just banned cars, but nobody seems to favour that, even though people here in Ireland have been getting angrier and angrier at the failure of the authorities that be to reduce death on the roads.

Yet, aware of the huge inconvenience that banning cars would cause to millions of people (including, of course, the enormous economic damage it would do), people seem perfectly happy to accept some hundreds of people dying on the roads each year, as much as they would like it to be, say, 200 instead of 400 per year.

So in practice people are willing to be sensible and weigh up the slightly reduced risk of dying that would be the upside of a particular measure against the inconvenience that would be its downside, and decide accordingly.

But it's still not really the done thing to point out that we can't - and shouldn't - actually do everything we can to minimise such risks.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


How lightly clad?

A propos of Norm's radical proposal:

1) You have to have the money to buy/hire/send your things. (But then in the long run "you" pay for all that security too.)

2) All this luggage being sent forward - how's it getting there? Wouldn't it still need to be checked for bombs? (Admittedly luggage planes would presumably have a lot less people on them.)

3) Just how lightly clad? And does it apply to air-hostesses (or stewards, depending on your tastes)?

And while we're on this sort of thing: I can't remember who I read some years ago suggesting this, but wouldn't it be a good idea to invent some kind of inbuilt mechanism in cars that disabled the engine unless a breathalyser had been passed? And then make it legally mandatory?

Also, why is it legal to build cars that go faster than the maximum speed limit?



Has it ever struck you that the process whereby your opinion of what ought to happen in the world gets implemented, or translated into reality, in the world itself is badly, profoundly and perhaps irredeemably dysfunctional?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


300 years

Faute de mieux - and I'm having trouble coming up with mieux at the moment - I think it's worth recalling, as Israel appears to want to re-occupy southern Lebanon, that the supposedly intolerable status quo ante bellum, from the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 up until June of this year, seems pretty good compared with the last four weeks or so, and probably compared to any likely post bellum situation. At any rate, it would have taken about thirty years of that "intolerable" situation for Israel to suffer the casualties it has in this - tolerable? - escalation. By the same calculation, it would have taken Israel approximately 300 - that's three hundred - years before it would seen as many of its citizens die as Lebanon has in slightly less than a month.

It's entirely possible, of course, that things might have gotten somewhat worse even if Israel hadn't chosen so to escalate, but this is all worth bearing in mind. Also, in terms of violations of the Blue Line since 2000, Israel appears to be the more guilty party.

Both those links via "Lenin" by the way, whose leap onto the Hezbollah bandwagon one would have to wonder about. I mean, while it does appear that Hezbollah's combatant/civillian kill ratio is way, way better than the IDF's, that doesn't seem to be for want of trying on its part. And I have to say that this line of argument by the SWP's Lindsey German:

I don't agree with the politics of the Iranian regime, or the Syrian regime or Hamas or Hezbollah - but when I see what's happening, and who they're up against, I know whose side I'm on. People say to me 'well, there are two sides to this'. Yes, there are. On one side, there is a country being invaded and bombed, and its people are being killed. On the other side is the country doing the invading and bombing and killing.

strikes me as eerily similar to some things said once upon a time by patriotic American liberals about George Bush, Bin Laden, and "knowing what side" to take.

Now I happen to think it can be OK to lend a certain support to unpleasant political forces, or political forces with very unpleasant streaks, when they're doing some "objectively" desirable thing - overthrowing the Taliban, say, or Idi Amin, or Hitler, or US imperialism in Indochina, or the French variety in Algeria etc. - according to whatever political and moral analysis one makes of what the other Lenin might have called a concrete situation.

But I don't see why one ought to do so uncritically.

Oh, and while I'm doing the balance thing, I should say that I don't like this picture too much. I know the US would like Chavez to be so isolated that he could only make pragmatic alliances with pricks, but I'm not so sure that he actually is that isolated. Yet, while my casual-enough following of Venezuala makes me think he's done much more good than bad there (and in Latin America generally), and makes me very sympathetic to him, I am a little unnerved that he appears to go out of his way to pick out the Saddams, the Ahmadinejads, and, yes, even the Castros as especial friends.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


The dogs that don't bark

If one a) remembers that voting and non-voting in the US is pretty significantly class-correlated and b) considers it likely that the rightward drift of US politics in the last thirty or forty years has had something to do with the failure of the Democrats to mobilise the relatively poor in that society, it appears that Mat Yglesias misses something in this post - namely, about half the American population.

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