Thursday, April 28, 2005

War in our time

Jon Snow, waving some pieces of paper, for all the world like Neville Chamberlain - at last the legal advice on the war in Iraq, in full. It turns out to be part of a summary of the advice given on 7 March 2003.
27. In these circumstances, I remain of the opinion that the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force. [...] The key point is that it should establish that the Council has concluded that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity offered by resolution 1441, as in the draft which has already been tabled.
No great surprises there. (Update: the full advice is here. )
Menzies Campbell again on Iraq: if Blix's inspections had continued, they might have proved that Saddam Hussein had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. He would then have been fatally weakened - liable to overthrow from inside or outside. But he would still have retained sufficient instruments of internal repression, even without the threat of using chemical weapons on his own people. As for him being overthrown by a neighbour, do we really think that letting Iran, say, do it would have been a better outcome?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Supreme Court

On the BBC, Ashraf Ghani, former finance minister of Afghanistan and now chancellor of Kabul University.( The Interview). He referred to his piece in The New York Times, presumably this:  'Where Democracy's Greatest Enemy Is a Flower', 12 Dec 2004 - link here.
SIAW worry about 'whether we’d sufficiently differentiated our position from the conventional secularist views proclaimed by such luminaries as Richard Dawkins or Polly Toynbee'. Interesting. Norm takes a similar view too apparently.
Comments here on the House of Lords.
Rafsanjani has confirmed his return. (Update: A few from the Middle East)

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Rampart

Revenons au "rempart", argument reflet de cette indécision. Remarquons d'abord que l'utiliser est, dès le départ, se placer sur le terrain des opposants à la Constitution, puisque c'est vanter l'idée qu'il faut une protection contre la néfaste évolution du monde. Pain bénit pour les "anti" qui n'ont aucun mal à montrer que ladite protection ne fonctionne pas et que, pis, l'Europe est devenue le fourrier du libéralisme. Bolkestein ! Bolkestein ! Le mur contre l'ultralibéralisme est percé de toutes parts.
A cette erreur s'ajoute une lâche hypocrisie. Car, si les gouvernements français avancent officiellement l'idée que l'Europe va nous "protéger", la vérité est qu'ils espèrent en secret qu'elle va nous bousculer, nous forcer à faire ces "réformes" qu'ils savent nécessaires mais que l'opinion publique refuse.
... Dire d'abord que la mondialisation n'est pas le mal. Elle a des travers mais engendre une forte croissance mondiale qui sort de la misère des milliards d'êtres humains, notamment les affamés chinois et indiens. Les Français devraient s'en réjouir. Pour ne pas en souffrir, il faut non pas "se protéger" mais "s'adapter".
'L'Europe "rempart contre la mondialisation ultralibérale" : quand cessera cette hypocrisie ?', Eric Le Boucher in Le Monde, 16-17 Apr 2005.

For those like Menzies Campbell (LibDem spokesman) who think that US forces are 'the problem' in Iraq:
Madain has had no police force since a mob of criminals and insurgents burnt down the police station last year. The police fled.

Sunni guerrillas quickly took over, running the town as their own criminal fiefdom and randomly killing Shia residents, whom they considered infidels and US sympathisers. Then they launched an all-out attempt to purge the town of its Shias.
... So far 57 [bodies] have been found but Abu Qaddum ... says that local police are too afraid to retrieve any more. Locals want American troops to secure the area and send divers down for the rest.
'Saddam's men strike back in purge that left river of blood', James Hider in Baghdad, 22 April 2005

Update: War Stories ---

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Stuck in traffic on the shuttle bus to central Paris, I missed the drama (or theatre) in Rome on Tuesday evening - comments here.Walked all the way down the Champs Elysées and past the Virgin Megastore somehow. Got the metro back from Clémenceau.

Wednesday: quite a good book section at the Virgin store at La Défense station. Bought a copy of Antoine Vitkine's book - the first recently-published one I've bought at full price for quite a while. Buying the book is a political decision - that sounds pretentious I know, but I could have bought something like 'What the 9/11 commission missed out...'

Due to a bomb scare, the train (RER) stopped at CdeG Etoile. Had to continue the journey to Chatelet via Metro line 1. Skimmed through the book on the train. One site it recommends :

The FT Mag's 100th

On the occasion of the FT Magazine's 100th edition, John.Lloyd (Editor's Letter, 9 April) asks 'Let me know how you think we're doing.' Pretty well, I'd say. Your Magazine is on my must-read list, along with The New York Times Magazine (via the Internet). In-depth background information and analysis are invaluable. I particularly like the 'books-essay' and other extended reviews. As George Orwell says somewhere, short reviews are of little use, other than as publicity.

These aren't quite the quotation I was looking for, but they give the general idea.

And incidentally the book review, which for lack of elbow room has dwindled to a perfunctory summary, might become a work of art again, as it was in the days of the Edinburgh and the Quarterly. ( As I Please, 2 June 1944)

Even in reputable literary papers 'it was quite usual to send a book to a reviewer with some such formula as, "Review this book if it seems any good. If not, send it back. We don’t think it’s worthwhile to print simply damning reviews." ' ( As I Please, 9 June 1944)

W H Smith last weekend had a new magazine on prominent display - The liberal (presumably not 'The Liberal'), Not much online, but here is a sample: Brave New World RICHARD GOTT (on South America)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A textbook study

I found that its 18 galleries of high-quality displays, maps and texts amount to a lavish and expensive re-write of the history of Japan's imperial age, to show the Japanese as innocent victims of a conspiracy by the Western colonial powers, to thwart Japan's ambition to lead East Asia and force Japan into war. (William Horsley, BBC News, Tokyo)
Now, where have I heard that before. I know, that Chomsky book.

Animal Farm

Today's Radio Times, with reference to Animation Nation on BBC4 (TV) on Monday, tells us that the 1954 animation of Orwell's Animal Farm (shown at Christmas on British TV) was made with covert CIA funding. It's still a good film, even though it has an optimistic ending, unlike the book's.

The Euro

The implications of the persistent lead in the opinion polls of the 'no' to the constitution in France (first signs of which reported here) are starting to sink in even on Wall Street. The FT's Lex has this on Saturday:
Ironically, the French referendum on the EU constitution may be of more importance for sterling than the UK election.
France Inter has been playing music instead of its normal coverage for much of the last week, due to industrial action, through this crucial period (Chirac's TV debate, for example), but they had Charles Pasqua on  Friday morning. All the woes of the EU economy, apparently, are down to the European Central Bank and its exclusive focus on inflation. And this is the argument of an opponent of the constitution on the 'Right'. The Euro is said to be 30% over-valued against the US dollar (how can the dollar be under-valued when the US has such a large trade deficit. The truth is that both are over-valued against the Chinese renminbi). Not that France should withdraw from the Euro, just that the ECB should be brought under political control.

All of which makes it seem strange that debate on Europe has hardly featured in the British election. I know that it is supposed to have been neutralized by the UK referendum, which we are told will still be held in 2006 whatever the outcome in France or elsewhere, but if the French do vote 'no' and the constitution process collapses, according to a BBC analysis there may be an attempt to salvage some of its elements, such as having an EU Foreign Minister.

See also The Economist's 'Can the constitution be saved?' and 'Related Articles'.


Heard a little bit of Nicola Sturgeon (the SNP's leader at Westminster) on BBC's Today on Friday. Must say she sounds more sensible than that clown Salmond.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Roads to Peace ?

The Financial Times of 4 Jan 2005 carried a report about some proposals made at the Herzliya conference. These concerned interlocking deals to exchange land between Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. I couldn't find anything on the FT's site, nor on the conference's. The gist however can be found in the news brief from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, December 13, 2004 ('New proposal for Golan')

Read the 'road map' or, as Dominique Strauss-Kahn recommended soon after Arafat's death, the unofficial Draft Final Status Agreement (Geneva Accords), here in French or here in English (neither, though, has the annexes, with the all-too-important detail.

Finally, read 'The Interregnum' by James Bennett, from the NYT Magazine. There's a lot more in it than the following extracts.
A few days after Arafat's burial, I visited the guards outside his Gaza City headquarters, which like the Ramallah compound had been bombed repeatedly by Israel. They said they would protect this ruin by the Mediterranean forever, as a memorial. Then one blustery day in February, the governing Palestinian Authority obliterated it, leaving a trim sand lot and a clean sweep to the sea.
But he was right about at least one big thing. Arafat's core insight, derived in the 1960's from Frantz Fanon, was to reject the ascendant pan-Arabism of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and to posit instead a Palestinian exceptionalism. He believed that a distinct Palestinian nationalism would take shape through armed struggle with Israel. After Israel humiliated Nasser and the Arab armies in the Six-Day War in 1967, Arafat and his vision emerged as the heroic alternative.
Hardest for some Palestinians to admit is the influence of Israel, of the parliamentary debates and acerbic press they followed on television and in the newspapers. To be Palestinian is to be intimately, painfully acquainted with paradox. It is to know that, in part, you owe your national character and your democratic dream to the very people who occupied your land and compromised your rights.
Abbas's approach is different, but his stated goals are like Arafat's. ... Abbas also rejected the deal that Barak offered at Camp David. Like other Palestinians who support a two-state solution, Abbas argues that the Palestinian leadership made its territorial concession many years ago, agreeing to settle for the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. That amounts to a mere 22 percent of historic Palestine, Abbas likes to point out. A refugee himself, Abbas is no less insistent than Arafat that Israel recognize a ''right of return'' for refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and their descendants, though he has explored ways to limit any resulting immigration into Israel.
What is known rather grimly as a ''final status'' deal does appear a long way off. There is a possible intermediate step, and Abbas fears it. He worries that the Israelis and Americans will seize on a Gaza withdrawal to push for a possibility mentioned in the road map, the creation of ''an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders.'' No one knows exactly what this would be. But it would give the appearance of a great step forward, an achievement for Bush on the order of Oslo. Abbas says he would reject it as a trap, a version of what Sharon calls a ''long-term interim agreement'' that would defer resolution of the toughest issues. Abbas thinks it could create a state that hopscotched from Gaza through enclaves on the West Bank, while downgrading the conflict to just another border dispute and releasing international pressure on Israel for further concessions. From a historical perspective, it is an astounding possibility: that Ariel Sharon could wind up insisting on a Palestinian state over the objections of a Palestinian leader. If Bush backs it, it may be an offer Abbas cannot refuse.
From Eric the U, on the UK election, Could Labour lose? ---

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Protestant England

Ruth Gledhill in The Times "Now retirement at 80...": 
It is going too far to speak of the death of Protestant England, but it certainly represents the death of that dreadful but deep-rooted prejudice which for so long infected the British psyche — the prejudice against anyone or anything with an allegiance to the Church of Rome.
Anti-catholic prejudice might be dead in England, but sadly it's a little different in Scotland.

Josie Byzek here (via duckdaotsu ):
But it seems -- seems, I say: I'm not sure this is accurate -- that progressive groups are so locked into the debate as defined by the pro-lifers that they're not willing, or are unable, to give weight to our perspective on these issues.
I ask my fellow progressives to tweeze the disability perspective out of the culture-war rhetoric of either "life at all costs" or "better dead than disabled." Don't let the rightwing continue to frame this issue. Instead, help us articulate the nuances of our perspective in the public debate.

Friday, April 08, 2005

More blogging on Radio 4

Update on Norm's argument over Iraq ....

On the other side, wouldn't you agree that somebody like Christopher Hitchens supported Bush for President because of his Iraq policy (Kerry might have gone 'wobbly'), rather than the other way round?

I missed the first ten minutes of Kenan Malik's programme on BBC Radio 4, but the transcript is here.
If you want time to keep a blog going, it has to be light and throwaway. That’s why the best blogs are short, pithy and angry – not necessarily the ideal template for a new kind of politics.
Surely the point is that you can be as long - or short - as you want. Issues and arguments can be analyzed in the greatest detail - as in Norm's series of posts.
So in a sense you’re saying blogging is like a high tech version of a saloon bar debate?
All you ever do is hear from the people who shout the loudest and the most confidently.
MALIK:   For Will Davis the internet has been taken over by the playground bullies.
As in a pub, people tend to group with others they find have something interesting to say and, Omygod, I'm on the same side as Iain Duncan Smith. The analogy with a pub conversation is a good one. There is always background noise - like doing a search and finding scores of hits repeating the same Chomsky rubbish.

One more thought about Iraq: it sometimes seems that the big post-war event is the failure to find WMD, a turning point in the argument, like the discovery of Auschwitz and so on discredited certain views that were held before (see here).

On the other hand, I recall Lindsey Hilsum on Channel4 News saying at the time of the deepest crisis, in April 2004, 'Bush just keeps repeating these mantras about "democracy" '. Well, now Bush and Blair have helped the Iraqi people to take the first step towards democracy. That time of crisis tends to be forgotten by those for whom the story of Iraq is 'sliding further and further into chaos'. Another quotation from that time:
These are the times that try men's souls, and — as Tom Paine's enlightened acquaintance, Mary Wollstonecraft, would have added — women's, too. This is the crisis; we'll come though it.
('Two-Front Insurgency', William Safire, New York Times, 7 April 2004)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


I came across this by chance:
Some rules make sense. In Britain [of course], for example, people installing gas boilers are required to undergo special safety training. But dozens of other regulations seem arbitrary or archaic. Several countries will only grant telecommunications service licenses to residents, for example. Belgium, for one, requires many types of service companies, including advertising agencies, to notify authorities any time they send people to Brussels to work for a client there, giving details of their names and how long they'll be working in the country.
Strange, though, they don't mention Frits Bolkestein (interviewed on France Inter this morning). As France Inter noted, perhaps the fact that he has given his name to the services directive partly explains the venom with which the French, falling back on hatred of la Boche, have opposed it.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


A  review in the FT Magazine (19 Mar) refers to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Memorias de mis Putas Tristes, bizarrely given in English as 'Sad  Memories of My Whores', recalls to mind a review of the book a few months ago (also in the FT Mag), when the title was translated as 'Memories of my Melancholy Whores'. Is 'sad' becoming a word that is tainted by its colloquial use of the last few years? This is where it is used to refer to something or somebody that a little earlier might have been called 'pathetic'. Come to think of it, that is another corrupted word. Both words are used with a meaning something like 'contemptible' or 'inadequate'.   

In the same issue, Jonathan Derbyshire has a review of John Berger's book, Here Is Where We Meet. Leaving aside what he rightly describes as the sermonising of references to Bush and co. 'ruining Iraq' in 2003 (as if Saddam Hussein had not spent the previous 23 years ruining Iraq), Derbyshire cites as illustration of Berger's painterly 'verbal precision' this:
a dog's tail "thumping" on the floor of a Lisbon tram.
This seems to me to be quite unexceptional. How else would you describe what a dog does with his tail to the floor? Berger's interview on Radio 3 Easter Monday wasn't too exciting either. There is a free sample of his fictional prose here and he has an essay at OpenDemocracy too, apparently.

Sunday, April 03, 2005


The recent death of Pope John-Paul II has occasioned much comment about his stance against war. As Timothy Garton Ash pointed out some years ago this has a consistency going back to the 1944 Warsaw uprising against Nazi occupation. This was certainly a tactical mistake. Soviet forces were happy to stand by while the Polish insurgents were massacred. Norman Davies tells how the Soviet soldiers were on one bank of the river while the Germans were on the other opposite: ' "They didn't fire at each other, but if any Soviet soldiers tried to cross the river to help the Poles, both sides fired at him."  There is a chilling mournfulness to the image the account conjures up - Russian soldiers literally sunbathing on one side of the Vistula while the Germans literally obliterated Warsaw street by street on the other.'  ('The Warsaw Uprising, Told Vividly by a Welshman', The New York Times, 31 July 2004).

The second big influence on Karol Wojtyła was his mentor Cardinal Wyszynski. He was open in his opposition to communism and was imprisoned. Wojtyła was less confrontational in his course. The story of Nowa Huta and the bishop of Cracow I mentioned some months ago. There patience and, finally, compromise paid off.

Under communism, the Church resisted merely by continuing to exist and retaining the allegiance of the people. It was different under right-wing dictators. Many of these, like Franco and Salazar, claimed to be upholding the principles of the Church.

A week or two ago there was a piece on the BBC about Archbishop Oscar Romero to mark the 25th anniversary of his assassination (not this, but it's worth reading anyway): 'I implore you, I beg you, I order you - stop the repression,' he said two days before he was shot dead (and there was probably an 'in God's name in there). The 3 words (probably 2 in Spanish), 'I order you', would have been enough to seal his fate. In effect, he was ordering members of the armed forces to disobey their order.

Pope John-Paul is said to have kept Romero waiting around when he received him and then rejected his arguments.


The World Service again has a plum in 'The interview' (link here - again wait for the link to be updated sometime Monday perhaps) - Tariq Ramadan (see here):  'France has a problem with Islam per se.' When he re-applied for a visa to the US, he was asked whether he supported the Iraq war.