Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Fransisco Franco re-elected mayor of Salamanca

Well that's interesting.

Sunday, February 25, 2007



I read somewhere a while back that the greatest opening line of a novel was

Last night I went to Mandelay again.

And I have to say that while I don't know why, what book it's from or where Mandelay is, it's a pretty great opening line.


Seeking salvation

What's interesting is that while many people will have heard of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria, and more of the Committee of Public Safety in revolutionary France, less will be aware that in the French titles the same word ("salut") is used for salvation as for safety.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Id and ego

So far today I have been mostly examining my soul. Results so far: mostly absence. On the one hand I ponder our radical aloneness within our consciousness*, what Sartre called "abandonment" - the absence of God. Yet while accepting the impossibility of any conception of the soul as "God's presence in man" (or something of the sort), I also am keenly aware of the turmoil possible within one consciousness, seemingly originating in a kind of conflict-like relationship between, on the one side, a longing that demands to be expressed in the soul-metaphor and, on the other, the intellect, the conscious consciousness, the consciousness of which we are conscious.

Well, it is a Saturday!

*See how I have to say "our" here rather than the surely more accurate "my"? In any case this post should clearly be written in German. Anybody understanding it in English is invited to share their enlightenment in the comments section.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Remarks in response to Norman Geras and Jeff Weintraub

Norm and Jeff Weintraub have responded to my last post.

Norm says that whatever about "the precise terms on which negotiations are to be entered by either side," his "main point was to draw attention to the imbalance in how the Guardian presented the situation, as if Israel were the sole offender."

The point I would make is that the Israeli government is in fact the sole offender, in the relevant sense - it refuses to enter substantial negotiations with its Palestinian counterpart. If I'm not mistaken the new Palestinian government is seeking substantial negotiations, but is being "boycotted" by the Israeli government (with the support of the EU and US - so I suppose it's wrong to say Israel is the sole offender after all). It was this boycott that the Guardian editorial Norm criticized referred to.

Now maybe Norm would say that this is a difference without a distinction - OK, Israel boycotts Hamas, but then Hamas doesn't recognise Israel, so there's two of them at it. And so the Guardian fails to be even-handed when it calls on Israel to end its boycott without making a similar call upon Hamas to end its non-recognition.

But as I see it this objection doesn't work, because if we take it to be the case that calling on Israel to end its Hamas boycott is the same as calling on Israel to recognize Hamas (and should therefore be matched with a call for Hamas to reciprocate) then it must be the case that in not boycotting Israel, in seeking negotiations with it, Hamas is already implicitly recognizing Israel.

In fact this view is not without merit. Ultimately Hamas will have to recognise Israel if peace and justice are to come about, but it is wrong to demand that they do so as a precondition for substantial negotiations, especially when there are signs that this is a position they may be moving towards - by entering into a coalition with Israel-recognizing Fatah in a government that has said it will respect previous (Israel-recognizing) agreements and also by observing an incomplete but nevertheless significant ceasefire. And it is reasonable to criticize the Israeli government (and its international supporters in this respect) for refusing seriously to negotiate, particularly when there is reason to doubt the sincerity of its public reasons for doing so.

To breifly address Jeff's points now:

As noted above, the new government's position seems to be that it will in practice respect agreements previously entered into by the PA. So long as the official negotiating position of the Palestinian government is that it seeks sovereignty only within the pre-1967 borders I wouldn't make it my priority to have Hamas publicly humiliate itself by very explicitly jumping through Israel-recognizing hoops - and I would suspect the motives of those who would. I would also note that it is hardly unprecedented that a change in government would see one side seek to redefine the political reality formed by the Oslo process - Sharon was elected against, so to speak, that process and proceeded unilaterally to declare the other party to the agreement (Arafat) an unfit partner for negotiations.

On the Irish analogy (which was made by Norm of course) - it can be dismissed in the same way as all analogies by pointing to relevant differences. It's true that there was far less at stake for Britain than for Israel. But I think Jeff might get more analogical joy from the comparison if he thinks about the decision of the Northern Ireland Protestants (led by David Trimble), rather than that of the UK government, to negotiate with the IRA at a time when the latter, while on ceasefire, continued formally to deny their right to self-determination.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Israel, Ireland

What Norm misses here is that the question is not really whether Hamas (or the new Palestinian Authority cabinet) should recognise the "right to exist" of the Israeli state, or whether the Israeli government should "recognise" Hamas or the Hamas-led cabinet. Indeed the Guardian, contrary to what Norm says, makes no call for Israel to "recognise" anybody - but rather to end the boycott of Hamas.

In other words it's a matter of whether explicit recognition of Israel's right to exist should be made a precondition, rather than an outcome, or indeed an implication, of negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian representatives. Obviously there are all sorts of things both sides would like to have the other side unconditonally agree to, but I would suggest that that's an argument for, not against, negotiations; and that refusing to negotiate until those things that are important to you are guarenteed by the other side is a formula for not having negotiations.

Which might be the point of course.

I would also point out that the IRA (or Sinn Fein) didn't, strictly speaking, negotiate with the British government but with the government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and that SF/the IRA did indeed seek the abolition of the Northern Irish state (i.e. it's integration with the Republic of Ireland). More to the point, unionist leaders in Northern Ireland (whose position can be seen as analogous with that of the Israeli government, since it was essentially "their" state whose existence was challenged) also entered into negotiations with Sinn Fein.

And, indeed, both negotiated with the government of the Republic of Ireland, whose constitution claimed sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

And it was only at the end of the process of negotiation, with the endorsement, in 1998, of the Good Friday Agreement by Sinn Fein and the government of the Republic, that SF officially "recognised" Northern Ireland (whose police force it has only just agreed to support) and that the Republic changed its constitution.

I suggest that had the British government refused to enter negotiations until these steps were taken, we'd still be waiting for the "peace process" to start. It is foolish or worse to make recognition of Israel a precondition of talks with Palestinian representatives.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Social socialism

I'm re-reading this (PDF) Erik Olin Wright paper, because it was very good indeed the first time I read it. Whence:

...capitalism imposes eliminable harms on many people; it limits individual autonomy; it is unjust; in crucial respects it is inefficient; and it constrains democracy. None of these criticisms implies, necessarily, that the only effective remedy is the wholesale destruction of capitalism and its replacement by a comprehensive alternative. It is possible that institutional devices could be constructed within capitalist societies to neutralize these problems to a significant degree. This has certainly been the traditional belief of social democrats. But whether the solution is ruptural anticapitalism or reformist anticapitalism, the effect of institutions which neutralize these negative effects of capitalism is to introduce counter-capitalist mechanisms into the operation of capitalist societies.


What's crass?

In case you followed the link and are perplexed, the last post referred to the fact that the LSE had placed side-by-side the announcement of the tragic and premature death of a lecturer in economic history and a notice of a vacancy for a lecturing position in, yes, economic history. They've changed it since.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Into his grave as quick?

Is it me or does this seem somewhat crass?

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