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Saturday, February 01, 2003

Oh, to be on the cover of the Economist. Heh heh.

Whether one believes the US can do good by getting more actively and aggressively involved in the Middle East, it's people like this on whose vulnerable shoulders democracy will ultimately have to be built. The international community should do what it can to help them; all I can do is root for them. And believe me, I'm doing so.

Go, Tony! I never could have predicted I'd ever be saying this, but Tony Blair is actually proving to be a major force for good in the world. Indeed, he's one of the few world leaders who's pursuing a sane policy (i.e the one I favour) with regards to Iraq - and the only one who's managing to actually impose that policy on the US, and thus more or less control events. For the first time, I can actually see what my parents' friends mean when they refer to Blair as the leader of the free world.

A good point about South Africa's neighbors, Jacob, of which I was unaware -- I am alas fearfully ignorant about the history of that region after the Boer War. And pretty rusty on the pre-Boer War history as well. It seems to confirm the old quip that 'Even paranoids have enemies.'

I'm inclined to the opposite use of the S. Africa/Israel parallel than Jacob is. I tend to think that, to the extent that Israel's occupation of the West Bank really does resemble apartheid, it's a bad thing, and as an opponent of the one I ought to oppose the other (on the other hand, to the extent that the two situations don't resemble one another, I don't believe in passing the same moral judgment on both countries, as some critics of Israel -- and, indeed, defenders of South Africa under apartheid -- do, or did). At the same time, I think that the situations -- and, certainly, some of the key individuals involved -- are different to an extent, and in a way, that makes the resolution of the one an inappropriate model for the resolution of the other --apartheid and occupation are different things, which call for different remedies. Both ultimately call, of course, to be ended; but this will take different forms, and produce different situations, in each case. Of course, exploring the differences, as well as the similarities, between the two nations can in itself help in thinking about how to address the current situation in Israel/Palestine (and can perhaps also help us understand, and appreciate, better just how impressive and difficult South Africa's transition was, and continues, for all of that nation's current pathologies, to be.)

A very good piece on what doves on Iraq shouldn't say, by Matthew Parris (who's a dove). I agree with much of what he writes, but would add two caveats. One is that, though it may be that some, perhaps many, doves offer the litany of arguments that he sets out in bad faith, others regard each one as a valid reason for opposing the war, which added up are conclusive. Though, as he says, if some or most or all of these arguments are belied by events, it would seem that such doves would have to either switch sides, or find another argument -- as Parris does, at the very end.

This last is not, to my mind, an adequate reason to oppose the war, though it is a compelling one. The fact that the war could be the first step towards American Empire (well, not the first step, really, that was taken a while back -- when we invaded Mexico, at the latest -- and there have been a good number since; but a big step, anyway) is indeed something to worry about; and I worry about it. But that seems to me to be a reason to watch the administration carefully (one is tempted to say, like a hawk), to try to gauge what exactly they're aiming at in the war, and its aftermath, rather than to just oppose it on everything from the start. And, ultimately, if one's worried about America's imperial tendencies -- as I am -- and also believes that war on Iraq is the lesser evil, which will do some, and could do much, real good -- as I do, in my more confident moods -- then one should support the war, and oppose further steps towards empire afterwards. One can support some actions which are steps towards empire as good and necessary in themselves, and oppose other steps towards empire, which aren't. I think that regarding American empire as inevitable will do more to make that empire a reality than regarding it as possible, or even probable, but working to try to curb America's imperial tendencies in each particular situation, without falling into an absolute or knee-jerk opposition to any American action. I also find the prospect of American empire in the future less compelling than the reality of Saddam Husayn's tyranny, and his possible posession of WMDs, in the present.

Fuck. The first 3/4 of my post was just destroyed when I resized my window. I shall try again.

Josh touches on, but fails to recognize, an important parallel between South Africa and Israel that I failed to mention. Indeed, all (or, rather, most, because some of them were occupied and controlled by South Africa) of SA's neighbors were in policy and practice anti-South African, and indeed many sponsored and willingly hosted camps of terrorists in armed battle against the SA government (people like us called them freedom fighters, of course, but terrorists they certainly were). Related, but distinct, from this South Africa presented itself presented itself as the last bastion of democracy and anti-communism (read "whiteness" or "civilization" or "Europe") on in a region of post-colonial countries rapidly destroying themselves in despotism. Similarly, Israel presents itself as the bastion of democracy in its region. Afrikaners were quite justifiably afraid that come the end of apartheid, they'd be pushed into the sea. Certainly if they allowed the (uncivilized) blacks to govern the country, all the strides they'd made in creating Africa's only first-world nation would be undone, and South Africa would become just like Zambia, or Botswana, or Mozambique.

Like I tried to make clear, I don't draw these parallels in order to blame Israel, but merely to see what we can learn from the transition of South Africa to a majority-ruled country.


Friday, January 31, 2003

Well, Jacob, I'd quibble with your use of the term colonial -- colonies do involve the settling of one area by another country; and the Israeli Jews, as you say, don't have a mother country. Nor are they where they are because their ancestors settled there when their mother-country controlled that area.

As for the comparison to Germany: you didn't specify that the issue was collective punishment during occupation. Generally, when one talks about Nazi Germany, one thinks of little things like totalitarianism or genocide; and if one doesn't specify that one is talking about other facets of Nazi rule -- facets that in this case were, as you say, common to a number of other systems as well -- one tends to think that it is those more prominent and more characteristic, in terms of being less widespread, that one is invoking, I apologize for misunderstanding your point -- although I tend to think that my misreading was no more, and indeed less, egregious than yours of Levy's intended point.

As for the issue of collective punishment itself, we can of course debate whether the comparison holds fully in the case of Israel, both in terms of scale, and in terms of the defensibility of both the occupation itself and the methods used to maintain it. I myself, though, have no desire to defend what I regard as a foolish and unjust policy on the part of Israel, so I'll leave the disputation of that point to others; I'll only say that I think Israel is justified in using force to punish or prevent terrorist attacks against civilians, and not for any other reason.

One interesting point of difference between South Africa and Israel which you might want to think about, Jacob, is that South Africa didn't have the same tendency to be invaded by its neighbors. Nor am I aware -- though you know far more about that region than I, and perhaps I am merely ignorant -- of the governments of neighboring countries disseminating anti-Afrikaner propaganda in their universities and over their air waves. These are I think significant differences in comparing Afrikaner and Israeli 'myths' (I prefer to use myth in its more traditional connotation of a fictive narrative, and so feel the need to use quotations here) of persecution at the hands of other groups.

No. I don't think it's grotesque to liken certain actions by Israel to certain actions by Germany. One of the hallmarks of German occupations was collective punishment, and as a method of occupation the brutality of collective punishment was what made resistance to German occupation so difficult. (Unique to German occupation? Hardly.) Unfortunately, Israel practices collective punishment against the people in its occupied territories all the time. That was the point I was trying to make, and likening it to Germany should have only undercut it to those afraid of seeing parallels.

However, I don't think that it's a particularly interesting question. One can denounce the collective punishment policies of the Israeli occupation with our without recognizing historical antecedants. A more interesting parallel is to South Africa. It's become trendy recently liken Israel to apartheid South Africa, an analogy that holds in some ways and does not in others. However, in my (admittedly limited) study of South Africa, what has interested me more than the treatment of apartheid's victims are apartheid's beneficiaries, the Afrikaners. Without getting into possible parallels between Israel's treatment of Palestinians and South Africa's treatment of blacks (again, some a valid, and some aren't), I think it's interesting to look at the parallels between Jewish Israelis and Afrikaner South Africans.

They're both colonial groups--that is, a group that came in (primarily, and originally, from Europe) and took over land previously lived in by another group, and declared it their home. They then dominated those groups legally (imposing their legal regimes) and economically. But they're colonial groups without a different motherland. The Afrikaners, by the time they became Afrikaners, weren't Dutch, and could no more have been expected to return to Holland than Israelis could be expected to return to Poland. Religion is an important part of their identity (a major part of Afrikaner identity is the Dutch Reformed Church, which is very different from the Dutch Dutch Reformed Church), and to a large extent, the religious aspect of their nationalism is the most oppressive and virulent toward the oppressed group. Most importantly, they both have histories of persecution and a belief that they are always subject of persecution, even when they are the persecutors. The founding myths of both nations are wrapped in traumas of historical persecution (the Great Trek and the Holocaust, respectively). (Another, although I think rather unimportant, parallel in their founding myths was the conquoring of inhospitable land that no European had ever conquored.)

However, it's that last and most important parallel that causes the most trouble. (To give credit where credit is due, I owe much of this insight to Erin.) Afrikaners had (have?) the belief that they were constantly persecuted by the British. But Israelis have a myth of constant persecution by everyone. (I use the word myth not to suggest that it's not true, but to denote a common cultural story.)

Ok, so here's where it matters (and here's where Erin helped me). While I don't--and I don't really think anyone does--have a really answer to the question, Why did apartheid end? a good place to start is that South Africans got tired of being pariahs, got tired of being hated. Businessmen were upset that no one would do business with them, travelers were upset that they got dirty looks, the entire country was upset that their sports teams were excluded from internation competition. It's worth remembering that white voters agreed in a referendum to end apartheid at the same time as the rugby world cup, in which they wanted to participate. It may not be unreasonable to conclude, then, that the way to reform Israel is to turn it into a pariah state the way South Africa was. (Even more so than before: ban them from sports competitions; divest; don't do business; give travelers dirty looks; etc.) But remember the difference between their persecution myths. South Africans got pissed off that everyone hated them and reformed themselves; they wanted respect and to be considered good citizens of the world. Israelis, however, chalk up any ostracism to anti-semitism. Of course everyone hates us--everyone has always hated us and always will, they say. (We see this now with the constant statements that anti-zionism, or even criticism of Israel, is equivalent to anti-semitism.)

Another difference, of course, is that Israel, for better or for worse, has an entire cheering section in the US made up of the organized Jewish community. Afrikaners didn't--the cheering section made up by Dick Cheney and his business cronies didn't carry the same moral or political weight.

So where does that leave us? I don't know. My sense is that it leaves us needing a Nelson Mandela and a F. W. deKlerk--neither of which we have. But since I don't believe that apartheid ended simply because of those two, I think we need more--but again, I don't know what.

I also believe in holding Israel to a higher standard, Jacob; but I don't believe that standard ought to include national suicide. Nor should that standard be too high: we should remember that, just because we ourselves are Jews, doesn't mean that the Jews can, or ought to be, morally superior to the general run of humanity. They aren't; and part of the idea of Zionism is that they should be allowed to be a people just like any other -- and therefore as rotten, at times, as any other. And your likening of the actions of the Israelis to the actions of the Germans is, well, just grotesque, and inaccurate, and undercuts whatever point you were trying to make.

Aww...it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. He should have won for Lawrence of Arabia, the best movie ever made, but at least Peter O'Toole still has his pride.

Yeah, it makes you think how anyone could write that the Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia and Poland had never participated in mass muder of Czechs or Poles. I know I'm intentionally misreading him--the point is that since the expulsions, they haven't gone around killing Poles and Czechs--but it still seems strangely unaware. More than that, I hold Jews to a higher standard. First, because I am one, and want to hold my own to a higher standard. Second, because the entire founding myth of secular Israel is based on the Holocaust. And in addition to learning "never again to us," the lesson of the Holocaust ought to be "never again to anyone." It's particularly troubling when Israel seems to emulate Germany. Not only, as Josh rightly suggests, should we not base claims on "the other guys were doing it," but yes, I do hold Israel to a higher standard.

Bad art. Modern art used as torture device by the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. Weird weird weird.

Josh, I promise: by Sunday night, I'll post about communism.

An interesting piece from Jacob Levy's back pages, about the forced expulsion of the Palestinians in historical context. I'm dubious as to whether the fact that 'the other kids were doing it' really makes all that much difference in how we evaluate the Nakba or what we believe the best thing to do about the situation it has done so much to create today to be; but it does make one think.

Addendum to my last post: I already, within a day, find myself wavering in my own resolution. So, I'm not recommending that anyone sign the petition, or join this organization, but I do urge anyone who reads this to check out the American Islamic Congress. I may be missing something, but they seem like a thoroughly decent and admirable group.

It's reading things like this that makes me then get angry when anti-war protestors presume to speak for the people of Iraq ...

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Ian Buruma rocks my world.

As for the Yale petition, I remember having a conversation with my father about it, in which I expressed ambivalent support for it and he declined to get involved. He showed very strong signs of middle-aged conservatism (indeed, he said almost exactly the same thing as Gaddis Smith was quoted as saying in the article)-- which of course resonated with me even as I found them somewhat unsatisfying. As it is, since I agree with the first two demands of the petition and disagree with the third, and don't have especially strong feelings about any of them, I've remained undecided as to whether to sign or not. So, there'll be no endorsement or opposition from me about signing the petition -- but I do urge any Yalies who happen upon this site to at least read it over, and make their own decisions about it.

I also intend to see if I can avoid asking people to sign petitions as part of my own postings. I'm not sure if I can keep it up -- I'm sure that some petition will arrive in my inbox about stopping the slaughter of baby penguins which I'll feel utterly compelled to ask as many people as I can reach to sign (penguins are so cute) -- but I mean to give it a shot. (This of course means that Jacob is not only free, but obbligated, to post as many petition-plugging messages as possible, to make up for my non-participation).

Now, now Jacob: I didn't think, or mean to suggest, that you're trying to impose your rules on others -- merely bowing to your preference (and also my own: as I've said, I'm particularly attracted to the dialogue element of blogging; so if there's no-one with whom to discuss these things, I don't see the point of posting about them. Of course, the whole blog enterprise is based on the idea of having dialogue with other sites, so I may post on Iraq, or whatever other unpleasant-to-Jacob topics I may be moved to, if I see things elsewhere that provoke me. As I've been doing already.)

New rules for Jacob. I'm experimenting with forcing myself to start each post with a link and a short title. That will force myself to always have links in my posts (thus fulfilling one of my previous desires), and I like the style of having headings. However, I don't intend, as Josh seems to think I do, to impose my rules on others on this blog. Jon and Josh should do as they please, including rant about Iraq or anything else they want, in whatever style. I for one have nothing to add today, as the only paper I've read all day has been from 1886. (July 13-29 of the Chicago Tribune, to be exact.)

Shameless self-promotion. On Monday, I was featured in the Yale Daily News in a otherwise mediocre piece about a petition to reform the Corporation election process. In brief, the petition calls for more disclosure: of financing, of business ties to Yale, and of ties to other Corp members. I don't know who is reading this blog at this point (could be just me, Jon, and Josh), but the Yale alumni who are reading this really ought to read the petition and sign it. You can also read the op-ed that started it all. (Minor irritation. YaleInsider covers the petition, as you'd imagine, but calls us "a group of Yale alumni," not Alumni for a Better Yale.)

Some things never change. Like my nerdiness.
I can only say, in self-defense, that I was a bit tipsy at the time of the events narrated in the main feature article (Lou Reed is, by the way, the Balliol MCR gossip sheet, which is distributed to all the toilets -- loos -- to be read (hence lou read -- get it? Hah! And they call me a nerd ...) every week).
Also, I still think that my e-mail and those preceeding it were exemplars of sparkling wit; clearly not appreciated by the yahoos of Balliol. They obviously never knew the joys of the old DS list ...

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

There are many reasons for anti-American sentiment in Britain. Some of them reflect ignorance, media bias, and envy. But, as I learnt tonight at dinner, some of them have to do with the US -- with our culture (or at least sub-culture) of guns and paranoia, our lack of generosity in giving public financial support to the poor and ill, and our retention of the retrograde, inhumane and systematically-unjustly-applied policy of capital punishment. These seemed like fair criticisms to me.

It's always unpleasant when someone starts condemning your country, and you have to say 'Well, America isn't ALL that bad -- but, um, you're right.'

Also from TAP (which I really should read more often ...), a very interesting -- and hopeful -- piece about smallpox.

Though, notice the (downplayed) mention of the government's witholding of information, even from the panel its appointed to investigate the matter -- yet another example of the current adminstration's counter-productive, damaging and paranoid addiction to secrecy. (Though the administration has at least and at long last said that it will be revealing some of its intelligence concerning Iraq's WMDs soon. Let's hope so.)

I don't know if I should say anything about the State of the Union, as everyone in the blogosphere seems to be doing, as that might violate Jacob's stated preference for avoiding talk about one of the gravest and most significant political questions in the world today; but I'll just say now that I pretty much entirely agree with this column from TAP (except, not having seen the Democratic response, I can't say how effective it was)

Ok, this blog now seems in danger of becoming, with the exception of Jon's accounts of young bobo inactivity (don't worry, Jon -- from what you write it sounds like being unemployed, but not broke, isn't that much different, as an experience, from being a grad student. Only without the guilt of having your thesis hanging over you, undone.), a record of the crimes and follies of mankind. Still, I can't help linking to Jacob Levy's first TNR web column. (Levy is a political theorist at Chicago who's written intelligently and well on multiculturalism and nationalism, the history of European liberalism, and constitutional law. He's also a blogger, and as such the purveyor of some of the most reasonable, fair-minded and effective libertarian commentary on the web.)

As for the column itself: I find it odd, amidst agitation for reparations for slavery (about which I have mixed, but on balance negative, feelings), and attacks on the supposed inequity of affirmative action (with which I am not at all in sympathy, as I've written elsewhere, and more than once), this flagrant swindle should have been ignored -- especially given its connection to America's founding, and still un-attoned for, crime against the indigenous peoples of the continent.

Sheesh.

I didn't do sit-ups this morning. I didn't do some scales, warm up, sing a couple songs. I didn't do the dishes. I didn't walk Becca to the train. I didn't get a haircut, get a credit card, make the phone calls. I didn't do any creative writing, bake bread, call Donna and talk about the future. I know it's early still, that there is plenty of daylight and even if there is a hole in my sock, I can just go and get another pair. But this is only day three, and I'm not sure where its leading.

The New York Times didn't come this morning. At least I can be thankful for that.


As if having no jobs wasn't enough. Dominion, Nova Scotia, an old mining town in Cape Breton, is sinking, it seems. First the mines close, and then the entire town starts to sink into the old, abandoned mine. Hell, if there's no work, why would you need a school? This comes on top of the pervasive polution that came with 100 years of coal mining and steel manufacturing. When it rains, it pours, apparently.

More outrage. Sikh lawyer, wearing turban, represents two Sikh community leaders in removal proceedings who are accused of terrorism. SWAT team and snipers show up because death threats have been called to the judge and prosecutor. Police follow the lawyer around, because as a turban-wearing, brown-skinned man, he's the clear suspect.

The punchline is, to quote reporter Ronald Smothers, "It turned out that the prosecutor in the case was the one sending the death threats, apparently in an effort to heighten the sense of danger."

(Actually, this is in an otherwise heart-warming article about the lawyer in question, who just won the right for him to keep his turban on when he visits clients in jail.)

Yes, that is really awful, Jacob (though the story only says 'virtually kidnapped.' Let's watch out for that hyperbolic elision thing of ours).

Sort of makes you wonder if Ann Coulter is right about how the cure to Islamic fundamentalism (including such practices as the imprisonment of women) is forced conversion to Christianity, doesn't it?

Well, shit. I don't have much else to say about this: the Church in Ireland kidnapped young girls, took away their names, replaced them with numbers, and forced them to work in laundries. Then to add ironic insult it real injury, the nuns made the girls pray for the victims of Soviet slave labor camps.

Good line of thought, Jacob! Actually, I would say that the cases of Germany and Japan were succesful for the opposite reason as that initially suggested by Jacob -- they worked in part because they (selectively) built on older traditions. Reconstruction tried to completely suppress the South's traditional social structure and ideological assumptions. In Germany and Japan, on the other hand, there was an initial period of aggression, where certain members of society were assigned blame for the crimes committed within and by both nations, and punished and stigmatized accordingly, and new institutions and norms were imposed. However, this was only temporary, and was followed by a period of backing-off, when the invading powers made their peace with certain members of both nations, to whom they turned over power (and, in Germany, at least, also gave the country generous financial support). So, there was a combination of not allowing the defeated countries to take the moral high-ground, and not rubbing their defeat and humiliation in their faces unnecessarily.
I also think that there's a big difference between trying to impose democracy after a war between nations, and a civil war; but I'm finding it difficult to parse out what that difference is, what it means, why it should be so.

Sometime, I will begin to respond to Josh's previous questions about Communism, its nature and its definition. (I return from a class I was shopping at Harvard Extension about fascism and have some new thoughts on the matter.) I've been thinking about it since Josh posed the topic, but I haven't moved much beyond semantics, so I shan't do it now. What I will do, however, is point to a front page Times article today about college debt. What the article only alludes to (and then, only at the end, and only in a quote from a Harvard administrator) is that one of the real dangers of a high-debt education is that it prevents people from going into public service, the arts, and other non-business fields because it forces them to seek high-paying employment right after graduation. More specifically, it allows only the children of the rich to go into low-paying (but high-value for society) jobs after graduation. Thus a simple--although clearly inadequate--reform colleges should take is to emulate many law schools and create debt forgiveness programs for public interest work.

On another note: I certainly admire the relative democracy of blogs (only relative, because only a small group can or does keep blogs--for starters, they have to have the sort of employment that allows them to spend much time doing it, and of course, they must have access to the internet) and note the other advantages they have over letters. To add another disadvantage, however, they don't have the staying power of letters. Letters (especially in newspapers of record, but also in all newspapers) will be around for generations to come, because newspapers are well archived. Blogs, other the other hand, being dependent on technology and, in most cases (including this one) on a particular company, will probably not even last five years, never mind the length of time that newspapers do. But regardless of all this, the link the letters was really just a way for me to get in that article from the Times. My rules about how I'll be blogging come much more from my interests and time priorities than from my desire to protect the institution of the letters page.

So, based on discussions about Iraq, I've been thinking recently, How do you create democracy? Or, more specifically, how does an outside force create democracy. This came from my thinking, "You invade Iraq to impose democracy, because democracy can't be imposed from the barrel of a gun." And then I thought, "Is that really true?" And then I thought, "Actually, most recent times we've tried to impose democracy, it has worked." The US doesn't try very often, but I can think of two times we were successful in imposing democracy militarily (post-war Germany and Japan) and one time we came close (the Reconstruction south). Someone suggested to me that what these have in common is that we completely destroyed post-war power structures and rebuilt from the ground up. Thus the reason we came close but didn't succeed during Reconstruction is that we didn't sufficiently destroy the antebellum power structures. Except, I now learn, that wasn't really true in Japan. I don't know where this leaves the original question, but it's an interesting article nonetheless.

Another steal from OxBlog (I love ya, guys): this is even better than those Bush/monkey juxtapositions. Which is saying something.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

I think I can see where the gastronomy part of this blog is going to come from ...
Still, lest Jon struggle on alone, I'll mention the bean and corn salad I made last week. This, like much of my cooking, was based on canned ingredients, viz:
canned red kidney beans
canned chick peas
canned sweetcorn, with red bell peppers
canned diced tomatoes, with chilis

After rinsing those of the above that needed rinsing (all but the tomatoes), I put them in a big plastic bowl. I then added:

diced onion
pre-prepared balsamic dressing (balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, sugar, various thickeners)
dried herbs (sage, thyme, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary)
dijon mustard

I then let it all sit in the fridge overnight. It was fairly succesful, though less so than the dhal dish I made, which contained:

reconstituted split red lentils
reconstituted chickpeas
carrots
onion
cumin (oh my, a LOT of cumin)
cinnamon
lemon juice
bottled balti sauce. This involved tomatoe paste, yoghurt, coriander, fenugeek, garlic, chilis, etc.

I first soaked and cooked the chickpeas and lentils with the onions and cumin, then let them stand in the fridge overnight. I then cooked up the carrots, added the lentil mixture, seasoned with cinnamon and lemon juice, and added the balti sauce. It was really good. Someone asked for the recipe.

Lately, though, I've mainly been eating these fancy British ramen-in-a-cup things, most of which, like most things here, involve curry.

Today was the 5th Bread Experiment. It was also the first one I attempted without the aid of a recipe. It shares denseness that has permeated all but of the Bread Experiments, but less so than any but the 4th, and the crust is slightly thinner than the 4th and 1st, which have been the highlights. I didn't have enough yeast for any of the recipes in my books so I just started adding water then flour(plus of course a pinch of salt) until the texture seemed about right, which in fact, I learnt as I attempted to knead the dough, was too little water. It rose nicely, for about four hours, over the vague double boiler that I've been working on, a bowl over a pot of warm but not hot water, to simulate the 70-75 degrees suggested by Jeffrey Steingarten, which improved visible rising quite a bit.

Still, I'm not ready to try sourdough yet, even though I'm out of packaged yeast.

I'll leave it to the reader to figure out my own blogging philosophy.


Since Jacob has stated his own blogging philosophy, I should perhaps state mine. Or perhaps I'll just snipe at Jacob's.

Jacob brings up the relationship of blogs to letters-to-the-editor. Now, admittedly, my take on this is bound to be biased (as I suspect is Jacob's); while Jacob seems to have a knack for getting his letters to the editor published, I do not. In my experience, letters to the editor, in order to be published, need to be concise and reduced, or reducible, to a fairly clear, straightforward position. These are not the hallmarks of my own writing, alas. Nor do I think it preferable that all discussion of politics on the part of non-journalists be of this kind. Blog-writing can be good in providing people with greater space, and greater control, to express -- and to support, develop, and sometimes modify -- their views in a way that is impossible to do through the letters column. (It also gives people space to make asses of themselves. But so do the letters columns. I can't say I've found the quality of blogs at all inferior to those of printed letters. Quite the contrary, for the reasons outlined above).

I think blogs are also preferable in giving people a chance to actually have conversations, rather than just bung their own two cents (or as we say on this side of the pond, tuppence) down alongside everyone else's and have done. This means that there is actual communication, and sometimes minds are changed, positions modified, common ground (or deep divides) discovered where none was before visible. To the extent that I think that open-ended, ongoing dialogue is better than the sort of one-off, single-round exchanges that take place on letter pages, I think blogs, for all their faults, serve as a valuable addition to the media.

And, they're more democratic. I'm surprised at Jacob, actually, on this point. Surely letters pages are a model of democratic centralism if ever there was one! With blogs, you have all of these people acting on their own, with no authority over them, joining together across space to exchange their views, creating their own independent community. With letters pages, you have an editor or group of editors -- let's call them the Central Committee -- deciding who gets to speak and who doesn't, which letter representing a particular position is selected to speak for that position, how much space and time is devoted to any debate, etc. Now, if you're a committed anarchist, which model of commentary on the news would you prefer?

As for Jacob's remark about wanting to have a life: pheh!

Oh, wait. It would be sort of nice to have a life. Hm.

In response to Jon's post: I don't know that the Harvard extension program being self-selecting and it providing a valuable resource as a community of students are mutually exclusive, as Jon seems to suggest. I taught in an online extension program, and I found that self-selection, while it did mean that there were widely varying levels of experience and ability amongst the students, also meant that at least some of the students were highly self-motivated and excited about the course. And Jon's experience so far seems to agree with this, since the actual students he observed seemed 'insightful and knowledgeable' (how many times, Jon, have you found yourself in a seminar at Yale -- with its super-selectivity -- filled with people who were neither? I've encountered a range of insightful to the not-so-much at Yale as well) Of course, the program I taught in didn't award degrees, so that particular careerist motivation wasn't there. But, on the other hand, I've also encountered a Yalie or two who seemed to be at Yale primarily for the prestige of listing a Yale degree on his/her CV.
As to why Harvard has an extension school: I would guess it has something to do with the idea that education should be made available to interested adults who can only attend part-time, and that the University should, as a matter of public service, provide such opportunities -- something I thoroughly agree with and support.

Dude. I don't log in for 24 hours and the blog explodes into prose.



Last night I went to the Harvard Extension School's shopping period, sampling the first lecture of Public Management. As Jacob pointed out, it is unclear why Harvard has an extension school, particularly one that has only the barest requirements for entry. The professor (Arthur Howitt of Kennedy) didn't seem to quite understand that the program was self-selecting only when he described as one of the chief benefits of Harvard the community of students, who should be a resource for each other. I could see this applying to a degree program with a rigorous admissions criteria, but the Extension School requires only a BA for most courses. Suggesting a wide range of student, from the insightful to the not-so-much. And then out into the world they are thrown, perhaps with an Extension School certificate or even degree which allows them to put the Harvard name on an otherwise indistinguished CV. This is conjecture, of course. The actual students I observed last night seemed insightful and very knowledgeable about Public Management.


At the conclusion of his reference to a very interesting-sounding article on cryptography (no fair tantalizing us with an article that can't be linked!), Jacob launches into a brief critique of intrumental rationality/proceduralism/technical control. Now, I agree, broadly, with this perspective, but I do, being me, have a couple of quibbles. First of all, it seems to me that there are two issues here, effectiveness, and reliability. Systems that work based on human judgment may or may not be more effective than those that are based on systematic and procedural 'rationality;' but, human judgment being far more variable than set procedures, they are less reliable, and this can cause complication. One of the appeals of procedure is that it introduces an element of simplicity to otherwise complicated situations. Often that comes at the expense of being able to confront the full complexity of the situation; but on the other hand, it does prevent the situation from falling into complete unpredictability, and thus chaos.
However, far more important, to my view, is the fact that too great a reliance on human judgment may lead to arbitrariness. This is one reason that it's so important to have clearly defined, uniform legal guidelines -- and why legal systems based on such guidelines emerged in reaction against inefficient and, I think far more importantly, often unjust and arbitrary, systems of governance and admiistration. With human judgment, as with everything, there can be too much of a good thing, and some amount of procedural protection is vital. So, I say, two cheers for modernity!
Also, I'm a bit wary of Jacob's concluding remark. I think that the main psychological process that enabled the Holocaust to occur was dehumanization, rather than industrialization and depersonalization of the killing process -- though the latter made the former easier, and speeded up the killing. However, let's remember that less depersonalized, industrialized tactics, which have been based rather more on local knowledge and personal action, have been just as effective -- in Rwanda, for instance, where a combination of traditional ethnic prejudice and animosity, propoganda, and a culture emphasizing and instilling obedience and personal action led to some very personal, very messy, very chaotic yet also very efficient and, in a weird way, methodical extermination.

Ok. This is really my last post before I go and do the dishes. I just saw on LabourStart an article from what must the fascinating publication Gambling Magazine. Seems that HERE has just signed the first ever contract with an Indian casino. Indian casinos, see, aren't covered by American labor law, so while they've brought great riches to the tribes that own them, they don't bring anywhere near riches to the mostly non-Indian workers who staff them. Note that this contract doesn't limit the sovereignty of the tribe in question, and creates a tribal labor relations board to manage disputes. This brings up a question I had while reading Founding Brothers (which I strongly do not recommend): what would have happened to Indians if there had been a viable model in the 18th century (or now, for that matter) of sovereign states within states. The Westfalian model for states doesn't really allow for autonomous state-lets. Perhaps developing such a model would be a way of dealing with separatisms today.

I recently came across the September 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. They used to have a great website with their archive available for free. It seems like they've gotten greedy and decided to make me pay for things, or something. So I can't link to what I thought was a terrific article about Bruce Schneier, most famous for wriitng the book on cryptography (somewhat uncreatively named Applied Cryptography). The gist of the article that Schneier, noted security expert, thinks we're going about post Sept 11 security all wrong, because we're building systems that "fail badly"--that is, when they do fail, all is lost, and much harm is caused--rather than systems that are flexible and redundant, so that if one part fails, things are still pretty safe. But what I found to be the most interesting thing in this article was the emphasis on people. The best security systems, Schneier says, fail because of human failures (people having the same password for everything, for instance, or poorly paid, badly trained, and bored airport guards not paying attention). Conversely, the best security systems succeed because they're based on human judgment. He's right, and not only about security. If the 20th century should teach us anything, I think, it's the importance of people and their local knowlege. Ideas with good intentions--Brasilia, say--fail when technology and imposed "rationality" dominate over the local knowlege of people who are going to participate. Ideas with bad intentions--the industrialized murder of the Holocaust, for example--succeed when people are divorced from their actions.

I still have to do the dishes, so this is going to be short, hopefully. Happily, there's an article in today's Times that allows me to do what I've wanted to do, which is to explain to my imaginary readership (imaginary besides Josh, as I believe even Jon has probably given up on this project) what I'm doing and what I'm not doing.

In today's Business Day, a woman with the improbable name Jennifer 8. Lee (I kid you not) writes about a "high-tech war" waged between editors and lobbyists over the letters pages of newspapers. Apparently, groups send out emails to supporters and get them to cut and paste letters to their local papers. You can imagine the upset that this causes editors. Perhaps absurdly, I think that letters columns of newspapers are really important. They add some measure of democracy to newspapers, and they allow everyday people to have their views put before policymakers and future historians. Especially in small-circulation papers (college newspapers, for instance), they provide a public forum for people of opposing views to learn what the other side says. This is one of the reasons I think the Yale Daily News is foolish in continuing to allow the silly open forums on the bottom of each article page: they should want debate to be on the published pages of their printed newspaper, not some ephemeral cyberpage. Besides, I like the letters column. I'm good at it (five or six and counting!).

While blogs are cool, and certainly they allow everyone to have access to the printing press, as it were, I fear people will stop writing letters to the editor. When everyone can publish their response to this morning's Times, why bother writing a letter?

To that end, my vision of a blog is very much influence by The Guardian's weblog. For many years, I've read a lot of articles on the internet, and then emailed links to people I think will be interested, sometimes with a little note about what I think about the content of the article. That's what I intend to do here. Perhaps I'll be baited into more arguments with Josh (and perhaps Jon?), too. But I don't intend to sit around and talk about the newsmedia. Not only do I think that should be done in the letters column, I also seriously doubt that anyone particularly wants to read my daily summary and response to the paper. And I also don't want much to be caught up in the echo chamber of the "blogosphere." Among other things, if I want to keep up the regimen of reading newspapers and magazines, I can't add to that the rantings of various blog-keepers. Not if I still want to do other things besides sit at my computer, at least. Which I do want to do.

Ok, Jacob, I'm sorry. Very sorry. I know you want to get off the topic of Iraq. And we'll get off the topic of Iraq. I promise. After this.
I just can't resist the temptation presented by the weapons inspectors' reports to the UN, though. Because they allow one to chastise both sides. And you know how I love doing that.
On the one hand, Blix's report -- careful, strict, and, so far as I can tell from the article, free of political grand-standing or manipulation, undermines attacks on him from pro-war zealots. He tried to do his job, he documented what he found, he presented it directly -- precisely what he should have done. I hope that his erstwhile critics will cease accusing him of using his position to foist his anti-war agenda on the world -- I suspect it's too much to expect most of them to apologize for past attacks.
On the other hand, Blix's report does show that, as of now, there is ample evidence that Iraq has resisted complying with UN Resolution 1441, and good reason to believe that it possesses WMD, or the capacities and materials to produce them. One might still think that going to war with Iraq is a bad idea; one might prefer to wait both for further evidence, and to try to convince America's traditional European allies of the justice of going to war. However, based on Blix's report that Iraq has failed to comply with 1441, it would seem that it is the US which is seeking to uphold the UN's word, and France, Russia, Germany and China who are failing to do so, and thus undercutting the UN's authority. Not that that is necessarily justification for war. But if you take international law seriously, it's significant.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Well, Jacob, I did add that the situation wasn't equivalent to Munich. For one thing, as you say, Hitler was in the process of taking over Europe. On the other hand, Hitler wasn't suspected of acquiring WMDs. Nor was he in violation of a UN resolution. Nor did he have a known track-record of genocide (remember that the Nazi campaigns against the Jews, Roma and Sinti, disabled and homosexuals had not yet culminated in mass killings in 1938; mass euthenasia of the disabled began in 1939, that of Jews, Roma and Sinti only after the war had started). We, on the other hand, know that genocide has already occured under the current Iraqi regime.
As far as Jacob's comparisons to other regimes, I think there's a difference between genocides which took place a century or more ago, under the rule of and at the hands of different people, and one which took place at the hands of someone who's still in power. I also think that there's a difference between genocide, and the oppression of the Palestinians -- but this debate is thorny enough without getting on to Israel, which I suggest we avoid as long as we can restrain ourselves. I also think that there's a difference between allowing genocide to happen -- which is undoubtedly bad, and which I've always condemned -- and perpetrating it. So, in short, I think Jacob's rhetorical questions conflate entirely different things, and are consequently a load of hooey.
Also, my main point is that Saddam is continuing to commit genocide against his own people. Now, this is based on my own definition of the word genocide, which admittedly departs from the UN Convention in one particular -- the UN Convention, due to the influence of Soviet pressure, excluded the persecution of groups for political reasons. I, however, think this is arbitrary, and now that we've recognized (I hope) Soviet Communism (and other forms -- Maoist, Cambodian) for what it is, we can recognize other politically genocidal dictatorships for what they are. But, Jacob, if you want to quibble more over wording, fine. Whether you call what Saddam -- oh, sorry, Husayn -- does genocide, or merely mass murder, torture, and terrorism (towards his own people), it's still deplorable -- and it doesn't make much of a difference to me, and it certainly doesn't make much of a difference to the people of Iraq.
So, yes, today isn't at all like 1938. In 1938 Hitler wasn't engaged in the mass-murder of Jews (though he had already interned, and in some cases to murder, political opponents), and the Western democracies had no way of knowing that he would; nor did they know (or care) about his crimes up til then. We know however what President Saddam Husayn of Iraq is capable of, we have some idea of what he's doing now, we know that he's in violation of UN resolution 1441, and we have reason to suspect that he probably possesses, and is trying to increase his stockpile of, WMDs. So, I admit it: bad analogy.
(Also, Jacob, we don't only distinguish between the government and the governed in Iraq. You yourself seem to do so with regards to America, since you refer to government, rather than American, propoganda. And while such a distinction is I think valid in democratic regimes, its imperative in totalitarian ones, where the government is in effect at war with the people. As for your question 'Can't people talk about anything other than Iraq,' well, we can, but it is kind of a serious issue. But, hey, I've been droning obsessively about Hugh Trevor-Roper, and I tried to initiate a conversation about Communism, and you didn't respond. What can I do?)

Actually, Josh, you can use the word Munich as much as you want. But you'll have to explain yourself if you do. [Aside: I'm truly breaking my promise now about not talking about Iraq. But this is, also truly, my last one. Gaah! Can't people talk about anything else besides Iraq?] Unlike 1938, when Hitler had just taken over Austria, Hussein has not even attempted anything even slightly aggressive against a neighbor in more than ten years. But more importantly, there is simply no current genocide being committed. We should have gone into Rwanda to stop the genocide there. We should have gone into Bosnia earlier to stop the genocide there. We should have fought World War II in a way that slowed the Holocaust. But that's not happening here. The Iraqi government [another pet peeve, like the one discussed below: why do people buy into the government's propaganda and distinguish between Iraq and Hussein in the way we do for no other country?] committed genocide against the Kurds. Yes. But how long ago? Are we actually stopping slaughter by invading Iraq? No. In fact, Hussein was gassing the Kurds when the US government was supporting his government. By the logic of "attack Iraq because Saddam's a genocidal dictator," we should be invading the US for aiding and abetting that very genocide! Or at the very least, if an invasion is justified whenever there was a past war crime or crime against humanity, doesn't that mean we should be invading Israel (drag Sharon off to Brussels!), Australia (they slaughtered Aborigines), and even the US (our entire government is founded on the twin crimes of killing Indians and enslaving Africans)?

Does that mean we should forgive and forget? No. Does that mean that I wouldn't like to see Hussein stand trial in an international court for his crimes against humanity? No. Does that mean that warmongers need to come up with a better excuse for invasion? Yes.

In response to Jacob's sudden, and tangential, outburst of formality: I refer to Saddam as Saddam to differentiate him from other Husseins, some of whom also happen to be prominent in the Middle East. I could, of course, use the alternate spelling of Husayn, which is favoured by the CIA Factbook on Iraq. I've also been known to refer to our former president as Bill, and our current one as Dubya, and yes, to Prime Minister Blair as Tony, though in none of these cases on a regular basis. Still, if Mr. Remes objects to my over-familiarity, I shall endeavour in the future to hold myself to a higher standard of address and online deportment.
As for the more substantive points: the problems with ANSWER -- its fondness for tyrants and genocidaires, its attempts to indcotrinate people, its tendency to try to co-opt or take over movements, its emrbacing of lies as policy -- are all hallmarks of Stalinism. Yes, ANSWER is a bad organization; and it's a bad organization because it's Stalinist.

As for my accusing the anti-war movement of being Stalinist led: I'll retract it when the anti-war movement -- as opposed to individual opponents of the war -- stops following ANSWER, that is, ceases to either participate in ANSWER's rallies, or gets its act together enough to keep ANSWER from wresting control of non-ANSWER-initiated rallies.

Also, Jacob, your take on McCarthyism is rather peculiar, to put it mildly; I'd be interested in hearing your rationale for it -- especially given that most of McCarthy's attacks weren't directed against the labour movement.

I would take issue with Josh's characterization of McCarthyism; I see its primary goal and primary effect as preventing the organization of the working class. But that's besides the point.

David Corn, in the article to which Josh links, argues that pointing out ANSWER's faults is not red-baiting. He's right. Complaining that ANSWER packs the stage with its own, boring speakers; that it brings in unrelated pet causes, like Mumia and Leonard Peltier; that Ramsay Clark is a Milosovic supporter; that ANSWER obnoxiously tries to indoctrinate people on their busses down to DC; that ANSWER lies and inflates their march statistics; that ANSWER tries to take over events that it did not plan--all of these things are legitimate, and they're perfectly good reasons to try to get rid of the group. However, calling the anti-war movement "Stalinist-led," and in so doing discrediting it, is red-baiting. The problem with ANSWER is not that it's Stalinist. Its problems are all those things that make it a bad organization regardless of the political labels.

Moving to a different pet peeve of mine. Josh: why do you call the president of Iraq Saddam? Are you his friend; would he call you Josh? Do you regularly, on first mention, speak of Tony and Gerhard and Jacques and Silvio? Actually, more accurately, do you always call the president of Cuba Fidel? Saddam Hussein's family name is Hussein. I don't understand why people insist on calling him by his first name.

McCarthy redux: I see I've failed to answer Jacob's last point; I must've blocked it out, since Jacob was being pretty cogent and intellectually responsible up til then.
First off, Jacob, part of the point of McCarthyism was that he accused people who weren't Communists of being Communists. Second, he tried to have them imprisoned, or at least blacklisted. Thirdly, he did so for political gain, rather than out of principled opposition. Fourthly, McCarthyism was largely about the far right trying to take advantage of the far left's ties with Communism to tarnish, and thus politically neutralize, the Non Communist Left -- people, as you say, like me -- something that for a time it was very effective in doing. By condemning ANSWER and distancing the anti-war movement, you're not defending McCarthyism; you're pre-empting it. Also, I'm hardly saying that the ANSWER people should be locked up, or even shut up. There's a big difference between supporting their right to do and say whatever the hell they want to, and, by associating with them and joining with them, seeming to support them. To fail to recognize that difference -- just as to fail to see the difference between McCarthyism and opposition to Communism -- is morally and politically obtuse.
(Also, while obviously I'm far from averse to historical analogies, there are a few which I think are more rhetorically over-loaded than helpful. So howsabout a deal, Jacob: if you don't use the word 'McCarthyism' I won't use the word 'Munich'?) (Of course, I just have. Ok, for the record, the current situation isn't analogous to the situation with Hitler in 1938.)

Several points in response to Jacob's response to my response ... you get the picture:
I bow to Jacob's knowledge of American labour history -- though I'd also like to point out that, by expelling its Communist members, the AFL-CIO was able to remain a far more powerful political force than they would have been otherwise; had they not moved to distance themselves from Communism, to be associated with them would have been a political liability, and the Democratic Party would have had to distance itself from them. And, while Jacob seems to have more faith in mass-movements than in working through the government and party politics (and I can't say I disagree with him), the fact of the matter is that having political influence has been vitally important in effecting what social, political and economic change labour has been able to effect over the last century.
There's also the example of the British labour movement, which wasn't at all harmed by its distancing of itself from the Soviet Union and the Communist Party (would that it HAD been harmed more!)
As far as spending less time combatting the war-mongers: well, Jacob, the anti-war left seems to be doing a pretty crummy job of that, if even anti-Bush, anti-right-wing-Republican, anti-unilateralist liberals such as myself are going over to the Dark Side. I'm not saying that doing something about the embarassing association with the morally obtuse (to be VERY generous) folks of the WWP will change that -- though it would make it harder for the warmongers to attack the anti-war Left (not that they won't do so, but I won't have to agree with them when they do).
Indeed, I think that opposing the war tout court is futile at this point, and that those who are concerned about the potentially disastrous high-handedness of Bush's foreign policy would do better to argue for greater restraint, deliberation, and diplomacy, while acknowledging the force of both humanitarian and strategic rationales for deposing Saddam.

If I have to be allied with people I don't like, I'd pick being with Bush against Saddam over being with ANSWER in support of him. But then I've always been rather uptight about that whole genocide and totalitarianism thing.

In other news, the New Democratic Party in Canada this weekend elected Jack Layton to be its federal leader. Layton does not, and has never, served in the federal parliament, and this was a major issue in the campaign. (He's not planning on running until the next federal general election.) It remains to be seen how Layton will rebuild the party. The NDP, which used to be a real force in Canadian politics, today has only 14 members in parliament, two above the minimum for official party status. The question for the NDP (which is Canada's member of the Socialist International) is how to attract my generation of leftist activists, who have not been drawn to electoral politics. We'll see what Layton's answer is.

Josh argues that the anti-war Left should be spending more of its time combatting the Stalinists (and thus, it follows, less time combatting the warmongers). I agree that the Stalinists do no one any good, expose us to ridicule, and divide the movement. (Remember, I'm the one who didn't go to DC because I didn't want to be involved in an ANSWER-organized rally.) But, it's worth looking at what happens to movements when they do throw out the communists. The labor movement did just that in the late 1940s, responding to people like Josh who said that its credibility was deminished by associating with communists. So left-led unions were expelled from the CIO, and new unions were created to raid the old ones, so as to kill them as quickly as possible. Communist organizers were fired. Communist ideas about organizing were forgotten.

Well, it happens that communists were the ones in the labor movement who believed in turning unions into a social movement. It was the left-led unions that were more diverse (race and gender) in their membership and their leadership. It was communists who were organizing Operation Dixie to attempt to make a union presence in the south. So when the the communists were thrown out of the CIO, what happened? Well, the slow painful death that we saw from 1950 to 1990 happened. No organizing new workers. No diversity. Ironically, deminished union democracy. Corruption, mob ties, and business unionism. We're only now struggling to get over that legacy.

It leaves the Left in a difficult position. I don't like seeming to defend communists, and I certainly don't want to suggest that the non-ANSWER anti-war movement just allow ANSWER to take over. But I like even less seeming to defend McCarthyism.

My own views on the war are, of course, rather ambivalent and conflicted (or, as I prefer to put it, without quite convincing myself, nuanced.) But that's a story for another post.

Just a quick response to Jacob's rousing defense: I was of course talking about ANSWER, which is as Jacob acknowledges Stalinist-dominated, and therefore, I feel safe in saying, Stalinist. And I meant to complain about the anti-war movement allowing itself to be co-opted, and thus discredited, by those sneaky Stalinists of the WWP. As Jacob alludes to, having movements taken over by Stalinists is something of which the Left has all too long and depressing a history.
As for why ANSWER is so succesful, I think there are a several reasons. One, as Jacob suggests, is that they're much better organized and, frankly, more unscrupulous than other groups that oppose the war. Two, and related to this, they have an ardent, simplistic vision -- and, alas, extremists often by virtue of their extremism are able to drown out and overwhelm more nuanced and responsible people. Three, the non-Stalinist anti-war movement cares more about opposing the war than opposing ANSWER, and so, while not liking to lend, or seem to lend, their support to ANSWER, are willing to grit their teeth and do so. Which in my view is a mistake which ultimately harms their cause far more than it helps it. But then, I've never been able to understand the appeal of, and perhaps as a result have a tendency to underestimate the effectiveness of, rallies and other forms of street-politics.
By the way, Jacob, I don't know if you can really blame it on the 'mass media'. The coverage of the anti-war movement that I've seen in the NY Times has been pretty sympathetic, and hasn't dwelt on ANSWER. And the most telling critique of ANSWER that I've seen came from the Left -- from David Corn of the Nation, though it did not, alas, appear in that ever more irrelevant magazine (it appeared in LA Weekly, also not, so far as I'm aware, the voice of the Establishment)

Ok. First, to respond to Josh's provocation (Josh--you pro-war? You break my heart!) to say that the US anti-war movement is "Stalinist-led" is a gross oversimpilification that not only hints at some of the worst American traditions but also shows a remarkable disconnect with the reality of the American Left. I don't intend to be drawn into this argument, because I will steadfastly attempt to avoid discussing Iraq on this blog (frankly, I don't believe that I have much to add beyond what others are saying) but the use of ANSWER to attempt to discredit the anti-war movement makes me angry, so I must respond. First: ANSWER is a front group of the International Action Center. The IAC is a front group for the Worker's World Party, which is a Stalinist (we on the Left just say "sectarian") party. However, the WWP is not the IAC and the IAC is not ANSWER. There are non-Stalinists who are involved with ANSWER, and although I really don't understand what the hell they're thinking it seems unfair to simply say that they're Stalinists and leave it at that. But that said, I won't have anything to do with ANSWER (that's a major reason why I haven't gone to either of the two rallies in DC) and can't imagine why anyone would.


However. ANSWER is not the anti-war movement. Being Stalinists, they're rather well organized and they've done a good job getting rally permits and chartering busses. Thus people who want to get involved in the anti-war movement often have no choice but to take ANSWER's busses or go to their rallies. Even if they don't want to and want to organize their own, ANSWER, like many communists, have a nasty tendency to take over marches they didn't plan. They did it at the first anti-war rally right after September 11. The ISO (International Socialist Organization) does it so often that people joke about the "ISO method of organizing"--which is to say, taking over an established group and killing it by declaring it an ISO organization. But, in my talks with organized, anti-war Bostonians, the vast majority can't stand ANSWER. Some, like me, have stayed away from ANSWER-led rallies. Some have gone with groups that explicitly reject ANSWER. Many organize on less centralized models. There was an interesting article that touches on some of this in this week's Boston Phoenix.


I find the dominance of ANSWER somewhat puzzling. Before September 11, my generation of American leftists were taking a hard left turn to anarchism--or at least anarcho-sydicalism/anarcho-communism--I'd say largely as a reaction to the horrors of Stalinism. (I'm one of those who went from a youthful socialism to a 20-something anarchism, but that will come later, in a later post.) If the "Seattle Movement" actions were anything, they were attempts to wrest the Left from sectarian groups like the ISO and to groups organized on more anarchist principles, like USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops) and the various DANs (Direct Action Networks). Comes war, and suddenly the fucking communists are back. What the hell is going on here? as Josh rightly asks.


Possible answer (1). The mass media prefers to have us be communists, so that's what they focus on. Possible answer (2). The anarchists were really thrown for a loop by Sept. 11 and it was only the "well organized" communists that could jump into action. Possible answer (3). The anarchists, and others in the Seattle Movement, had nuanced ideas about American and Northern power, and about the new, American style of empire. Comes war, nuance doesn't do so well. The crazy communists who have been going on for years about Iraqi sanctions, Milosovic, etc., see this as fitting in perfectly with their rather un-nuanced views of American power. They can therefore rush into the vacuum of rhetoric left by the anarchists who are still thinking about it. I don't really know the answer, although I lean towards (3).


So to make a long story short, the "Stalinist-led anti-war movement" is no such thing.


So there. That's my last post, I hope, about Iraq. I'll respond to Josh's other comments tomorrow. For now I'm going to bed.


Oxford's own Tim Garton Ash has a neat piece in the latest NY Review on American anti-Europeanism
The article provides a pretty good picture of the Atlantic divide, as well as some hair-raising examples of American small-mindedness (gosh Mark Steyn has problems! Sheesh!) However, it's also prompted thoughts that are far from flattering to the Europeans.
Garton Ash, late in the article, points out that the interests of the US and Europe, with its growing Muslim population, may not ultimately be that far apart. Which got me thinking. What if France and Germany, which have encountered particular problems in and have received particular criticism for their dealings with their burgeoning Muslim populations, are opposing the US in order to appease those populations -- thus avoiding, for example, the threat of domestic terror campaigns that Britain is facing. Ah, those sneaky Europeans!
This theory does suggest grounds for (probably ill-founded) optimism, though: if this is the case, France and Germany may oppose the US's entry into war, but may be less reluctant to step in and help rebuild Iraq in the war's aftermath -- thus helping to build the more democratic and stable Middle East that it's in their best interests to promote. One can only hope.

An interesting piece on British Hawks in the Guardian.

Ok, let's get this straight: William Shawcross, Christopher Hitchens, Salman Rushdie, and the Observer are all PRO-war. Heck, even I've become pro-war. What the hell is going on here? (And what the hell is going on with the Stalinist-led anti-war movement? To paraphrase the Pixies, where are these people's minds?)

So far I appear to be dominating this site. Which clearly shows that:
1) I need to get a life
2) I need to get down to work.
3) If, as I suspect, blogs bring out the worst in us, I have much more worst in me than Messrs. Remes and Markowitz.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Over at OxBlog, Josh Chafetz and David Adesnik have been duking it out over the nature of Communism. This seems to be right up the alley of certain people here (David Montgomerey is even cited).

What d'ya say, Jacob? Shall we take up the torch of the discussion?

Well, I say, yes. So I'll just start off with a small point, and then let Jacob get provoked by OxBlog, and then let myself get provoked by Jacob. The small point is over the difference between political philosophy and a governing philosophy, which Mr. Adesnik doesn't recognize and Mr. Chafetz doesn't establish. However, I think there is one. A political philosophy is a theory, or set of theories, about the nature of politics. This may include theories about the best form of government, but is not limited to them. A governing philosophy, on the other hand, I would characterize as a particular theory about how one should behave in governing, how one should exercize the powers of government. Some political philosophies may also act as governing philosophies -- Machiavelli's advice to princes, Montesquieu's beliefs about teh separation of powers as applied by the Federalist to the U.S. Constitution -- and some governing philosophies may be influenced by political philosophies. But the two are distinct.
Now, Marxism is a political -- or, I would say for the sake of precision, really a historical and social -- philosophy. It is most definitely not a governing philosophy: Marx says very little about how government should work. In fact, he's mainly concerned with demonstrating the inevitable, economics-driven historical process through which government will eventually fade away. (He was concerned with the political tactics of how to organize and behave in such a way as to hasten the fall of capitalism, but his pronouncements on that vary over time and are often open to rival interpretations, of which there have been many, as Mr. Chafetz points out).
Leninism, on the other hand, is a governing philosophy, defined by the way in which it resolves the ambiguities of Marx's views on the withering away of the state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the role of human agency in historical change (this is oversimplifying grossly; but then, that never stopped Lenin himself). Other schools of Communism -- Stalinism, Maoism, Trotskyism -- are all governing philosophies, if even that; they are concerned with government policy, tactics, strategy. None of these governing philosophies have been embraced by all Communists, however, so that one cannot exactly speak of Communism as a single governing philosophy -- for instance, how can one say that parliamentary Communist Parties in France, Germany and Italy share the same governing philosophy as Leninism-Stalinism-Maoism, with their rejection of parliamentary democracy? (This is of course not to absolve Western Communist parties of their anti-democratic, and otherwise pretty lousy, beliefs and actions.)
I would say that Communism (as opposed to communism, which is something ENTIRELY differet ... oh dear this is getting complicated ...) can't really be characterized as a political philosophy, or a governing philosophy, though I'd say the latter is closer. I think that it's a political religion. If you look at the disputes between different Communist (as well as Marxist social-democratic) factions, you're impressed by the way in which the disagreements turn on conflicting interpretations of the same texts, words, ideas. That these texts may be wrong, that these words may be meaningless, that these ideas may be delusive, is not a suspicion that's allowed to surface. And, as with other religions, there are orthodox and heretical camps, and there are both vicious and admirable believers.
However, the analogy to religion mustn't be carried too far: for Communism is not a spiritual religion, but a political one. It's also an organized political movement, which, at least throughout much of its history, was directed from Moscow. This means, firstly, that on the ideological level, Communism was always more prone to lead to horrendous actions -- or the attempt to commit horrendous actions -- than, say, Christianity: for while Christianity may be given a purely private, spiritual interpretation (and today most often is), Communism by its nature demanded radical, and therefore often violent, or manipulative, political action. Secondly, on the practical level, it meant that Communists, many of them motivated by a genuine thirst for justice and hatred of oppression and inequity, allowed themselves to be directed by one of the most malignant governments in history.
I believe that someone once said (or, if not, someone should've said) something to the effect that there were two tragedies of Communism. The first and greater one was the destruction of many millions of lives by Communist regimes (and of many millions more indirectly through the actions of Communist Parties). The second, lesser one was the seduction and blinding of good, decent people by Communism, so that they devoted their lives to serving a great lie.

Finally, a decent obituary of Hugh Trevor-Roper.
And a slightly bitchy, but also largely penetrating, one, which perhaps mirrors his own personality best (And this one isn't on AL Daily yet -- so scoop for me)

Ok, I can agree that Maid in Manhattan looks politically objectionable. I can agree that it looks terrible. I can agree that the latter is good cause not to see it. But the former? Come on, Jacob!

A happy coincidence of the fact that I had to look up the IMDb page to create the K&S link is that I looked at the Chirs Eigeman page that links to it. Did you know that he's in Maid in Manhattan? I wasn't planning on seeing it, since (a) it looked terrible, and (b) it looked politically objectionable, but now I might just have to. Oy.

And now, a recycled post from the other blog in which I participate:
The latest news from Oxford: Hugh Trevor-Roper has died. I'd just like to record here my respect for, and debt to, the writer who first inspired in me an interest in the philosophy of history and the history of ideas, and who did more to impress on me history's nature and purpose as a humane and literary discipline, and instill in me a belief in the importance of clear thought, elegant and powerful writing, and venturesome imagination, than any other author. It is a source of very bitter and, I'm sure, life-long regret that, having come so close, geographically, to meeting Trevor-Roper -- and having hoped to arrange to do so later this term -- I now never will. I can only hope, now, to make my own future work worthy of the standards of literary grace and intellectual engagement, and communicative power set by Trevor-Roper's best work.
(To this I'd add a couple of comments on the NY Times obit to which I've linked, which wasn't available when I first wrote the above. First of all, there are some minor inaccuracies -- when Trevor-Roper declared the Hitler diaries genuine in 1983 he was no longer Regius Professor at Oxford, but was Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge. His quarrels with the fellows there were not only concerned with his allegations that they prefered comfort to scholarship, but over ideological differences: T-R was a lifelong rationalist of anti-clerical bias and moderately conservative bent, while Peterhouse was in those days infamous as a den dominated by, and from whence issued many of the leaders of, the British New Right, who held rather more regressive and authoritarian social views and religious beliefs. As for the labeling of T-R's work as belletrist, I regard this as an unfortunately dismissive and condescending word to choose, carrying the connotations of being amateurish and dilettantish -- accusations which were not infrequently leveled against Trevor-Roper, but which were without merit in the face of his learned, searching and sometimes seminal essays.)

Sorry Josh, but when you're a Cougar you're a Cougar every day from your first cigarette to your last dying day. When you're a Cougar, you stay a Cougar! Note also my obnoxious editing of Josh's post so as to link the K&S title to the IMDB page.

Well, here I am, on the second blog on blogger of which I'm a part. So I don't really need to test this out, really.
I would however like to register my protest at the name cougars -- I'm surprised that you let Jacob get away with that, Jon; after your earlier rebukes about references to Kicking and Screaming, I'd have thought you'd know better. I would myself much prefer to call ourselves the Gang of Three, in ironic reference to the name of the Situationist funk-rock band the Gang of Four, whose name was of course an ironic reference to the leaders of one of the worst regimes in the history of humanity. Ah well.

Well, Jon seems to have claimed red as his color, so I'm stuck with blue. Of course, I could take something else, I suppose, but I'd prefer to complain. Anyway, this post is mostly just to test the system and see how it works. I shall be making a true introductory post sometime later, to explain my theories on blogging, for one, and explain what I will and won't be doing on this blog.

Jon here. Testing out the color settings, and the blogger software in general. Made fancy pancake this morning(yorkshire pudding), but it was too close to the broiler and got a little singed. Also, lots and lots of fat. But tasted fine, if a bit eggy.

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