Saturday, March 01, 2003

This is NOT the way to win the war for the hearts and minds of the Arab world. Do we really want to man who gave us Howard Stern on the airwaves to be representing America to the people of the Middle East?
And no, Mr. Pattiz, MTV did NOT bring down the Berlin Wall -- though Radio Free Europe did help. I suggest you follow their example, instead of subjecting the Arab world to a barrage of the gutter-froth in which you specialize.

Exciting news (for me, at least)! A biography has just been published of one of my heroes, Irving Howe. The NY Times reviewer, Joseph Dorman (whose own masterful documentary, Arguing the World, contains some terrific interviews with Howe, as well as Dan Bell, Irving Kristol, and Nathan Glazer) finds the book a bit too reverent -- not such a bad thing in my book, though to treat a pugnacious controversialist such as Howe with the sort of respect he really deserves seems to me to require arguing with him a bit. But it should at least provide a welcome corrective to Edward Arnold's sometimes illunimating, but terribly judgmental, study of Howe -- as well as offering a far fuller, better-proportioned account of Howe's life. I look forward to reading it. (As for anyone who may actually be reading this, and is unfamiliar with Howe's work: go read Politics and the Novel now! It's a great work, in my opinion by far his greatest)

As OxBlog asks, why don't the Kurds have gas-masks? Note to Messrs. Blair and Bush: send these people the supplies they'll need to withstand the horror's they're threatened with thanks to you, or shut up once and for all about democracy and humanitarian intervention.

As a counter-weight to my last post, an interesting piece in the NY Times on the proverbial voice in the Iraqi street. The article is generally interesting, but one remark stood out, from an Iraqi intellectual: "War is far worse than the benefits of any change, and besides, the United States always leaves things worse than they found them." A bit simplistic, and I hope it won't prove to be the case; but it's all too often been all too true -- and we have to keep that in mind.

A very interesting article on the Iraqi Left opposition. It makes some very good, well-expressed points, such as: 'Opposing American imperialism is one thing. But ignoring Iraqi fascism is quite another' and 'Only a quintessentially American arrogance would lead leftists in a big country to think that leftists in a smaller country don’t matter. Iraqi socialists and leftists have endured Saddam’s Ba’athist terror long enough to know the left from the right in Iraq.’ Right on -- or almost; the first part of the second phrase is unfair. Is the quintessence of America really arrogance? That seems to me rather a strong and simplistic statement. Sure, America and Americans can be very arrogant -- but the quintessence? Also, are American Leftists any more unconcerned with the Iraqi Left than European Leftists? (Actually, I know the answer to that one: nope.) Nor can one say that America generally is more arrogant than Europe -- as Chirac has so ably demonstrated. However, that's a quibble; the article as a whole is informative, and makes some good points, and provokes thought.
There is another, deeper, more troubling aspect of the article, though: it seeks to convince American Leftists that Saddam isn't a genuine socialist, and so they shouldn't support him. Which raises the question: if he were, in fact, a genuine Stalinist, rather than fascist, would that make the case for Leftists opposing him any weaker? The article seems, despite its own good intentions, to be in danger of falling back into the 'no enemies on the Left' mentality that allowed American Leftists to be hoodwinked by, and support, some of the most awful regimes in human history. When will the Left learn that inhumanity, whether in the name of Socialism, or race, or nation, or whatever, is still inhumanity -- and it must be fought as such? Not, apparently, any time soon.
One final way in which I found the article, for all its strong points, deeply disturbing: it was bad enough feeling myself on the same side as George Bush and co. But to find myself on the side of the Iraqi COMMUNIST party? I'm just so weirded out!

Ok, more on the Oxford Chancellorship election -- but this will be an objective statement (mainly!)
THere are four candidates. The one out of left-field, thus far with the smallest base of support, is Sandi Toksvig, who's being supported by the Lib Dems and is running on a no-fees platform. That's pretty much it; I don't know if she has any other plans for the University. She's a Cambridge graduate, and the only woman -- and I think the youngest candidate -- in the race.
Lord Neill of Bladon is 76, and the Warden of All Souls; most of his support seems to come from within that hallowed college, some of whose more left-leaning fellows support him (but not dear Jerry Cohen); otherwise, his support seems to come more from the right. He therefore seems to be in a parellel position to Lord Blake in the last election -- an internal candidate, the head of a college, supported by the right against a more moderate Tory politician (Ted Heath, in that case -- Heath, incidentally, is backing Bingham this time around). And, sure enough, Lord Blake is backing Neill.
Tom, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, would seem to be the Labour candidate, I'd guess, though the party hasn't endorsed him so far as I know. He supports top-up fees, at least, though he's also been critical of the Government in his capacity as first Law Lord in the past. He also favours legalizing cannabis. Groovy!
Chris Patten is a former chair of the Conservative Party, former (and last) Governor-General of Hong Kong, and currently EU Commisioner. He is considered the front-runner, being the only major politician thus far standing. So far as I know, he hasn't taken a stance on top-up fees -- in fact, he hasn't really put forward much of a platform, although he refuses to rule top-up fees out and looks favourably at a graduate's tax. He's also already Chancellor of the University of Newcastle, and plans to continue on there. He's younger than the other two top contenders, Bingham (69) and Neill (76), being a spring chicken of 58. For more on Patten, and the others, see this.
Ok, that's what I know. As for what I think, I lean towards Patten or Bingham -- and not just because they're Balliol men (though that helps)! I think that the all-out opposition to top-up fees is stupid, short-sighted, and a good example of fake, as opposed to real, egalitarianism -- so I'm against Toksvig (also, I do find the idea of a Cantabrian being elected Chancellor of Oxford a bit weird). Lord Neill I know little about, and he is kind of old to take up the job. Bingham and Patten both seem like they'd be articulate, dedicated spokesmen for Oxford, and for better funding for higher education generally -- which'd be great. I lean towards Bingham, just because he has a somewhat more explicit platform and also is closer to my own political/ideological position, but I'd be happy with Patten.
As for who's likely to be elected, it's actually kind of hard to tell, and could get rather interesting. Neill threatens to pull a Blake, and split the right, so that Patten suffers the same fate as Heath (for whom he voted that time round). However, Toksvig could take away a lot of the left-liberal vote from Bingham, drawing all those obnoxious folks who are opposed to fees. Grrr. Of course, I don't expect Toksvig's candidacy will get that far, but it could be enough to act as a spoiler.
Of coruse, if Clinton were to enter the ring after all, everything would be shot to hell.
Oh, by the way, correction: 6 of the last 8 chancellors of Oxford have been Balliol men. There's not been a non-Balliol-educated Chancellor since 1956. I say, when you're on a roll like that, why give it up?

Friday, February 28, 2003

More news from Balliol: two honorary fellows of Balliol -- Chris Patten and Tom, Lord Bingham of Cornhill -- have been nominated for the Chancellorship of Oxford. If one or the other is elected, that'd be getting the 21st century off to a good start! (3 out of the 5 Chancellors elected during the 20th century -- Viscount Curzon, Harold Macmillan, and Roy Jenkins -- were Balliol men). I would imagine that, politically, Bingham would be the candidate of the liberal-left, and Patten of the moderate right (he having been Chairman of the Conservatives -- but also pro-Europe). Still, a look at the lists of supporters offers some surprises -- the fact that the Social-Democrat David Marqaund (whom I quite admire) and the leftist scholar of Middle Eastern affairs Avi Shlaim (whom I admire less) both supported Patten, while the 'terribly Tory' (his own words) Tutor for Graduate Admissions at Balliol, DE Logan, is supporting Bingham. As one might expect, there are supporters of both men in Balliol, though more seem to be supporting Bingham, not surprisingly.
All in all, I'm looking forward to an interesting effusionj of academic politics! And may the best (Balliol) man win! (Ok, I promise, no more Balliol chauvinism for some time ...)

More news from Oxford -- and more specifically, Balliol: Christopher Hill has died. Despite his Communist affiliations (embarrasingly obvious in his history of the Russian Revolution which is -- well, let's just say it hasn't worn well!), honorably (if a bit belatedly) renounced after the Hungarian uprising, and attempt in some of his work to fit the material into some form of Marxist framework, Hill was a great historian: his writings on obscure religious sects and radical political splinter groups of the English Civil War period -- groups with names like the Ranters and the Diggers and the Muggletonians, plus more familiar ones such as the Quakers -- remain authoritative, fascinating, and readable. I remember reading his classic The World Turned Upside Down, as well as his sensitive and ambivalent life of Cromwell, God's Englishman, in junior high, and being really inspired by them (and also borrowing another book of his from the library at my father's university, and breaking its spine with over-reading). Despite his early allegiance to the determinist, materialist, and teleological doctrines of Marxism, Hill had a profound appreciation for the power of ideas -- especially religious ideas -- to move people, and a great and unpatronising feel for the sheer foreigness and strangeness of past beliefs and mental worlds. I like to think that I learnt this from him -- and it was from him that I first learnt it (the lesson was later reinforced by Hugh Trevor-Roper and Isaiah Berlin) I'm sorry not to have been able to meet him, though he apparently hadn't been compos mentis for some time, but I still lament his passing (though I don't lament his failure to carry out his plans to literally level Balliol and rebuild it with modern architecture -- this was in the early '70s. Imagine what that would've meant! On the other hand, he was no knee-jerk revolutionary: witness his dismissal of '60 student protests as 'street theater' -- bravo, comrade!))
Note on the Times obit: the Master of Balliol in Hill's undergraduate days who so strongly influenced him was named A.D. Lindsay, not A.P., the great historian of 17th Century England (and Balliol man) whose successor Hill was, was RH, not RJ, Tawney, and Hill's tutor was ViviAn, not ViviEn, Galbraith. The don who was able to draw out Hill, along with Galbraith, was Kenneth Bell -- given that Bell has already been mentioned in the article, it's bizarre that he isn't named in this anecdote (it was Bell, incidentally, who got Balliol to purchase Holywell Manor -- my current residence).
Addendum: There's a NY Times obit with much less colour, and thus fewer errors. The Guardian has a warm, appreciative account. The Independent, as so often, is similar to the Guardian, with some interesting additions, but generally not as good. The Telegraph ([free] subscription required) is perhaps the best account of Hill's ideas, and is frankest -- and thus most damaging -- on his Communism.

The latest news from Oxford: not all Oxford students hate the US!!! Newsflash indeed. (Incidentally, I know one of the people quoted in the article, and one of the people in the picture -- the guy with the really big grin on the far left, who I suspect is in fact on the far Right.)

This is despicable.

Strange bedfellows: the anti-war alliance contains, shall we say, unsavoury (or, if I may be permitted the expression of moral judgment, abhorrent) elements aside from the Stalinists (not that they're not bad enough), as Nick Cohen points out in the Guardian.
This raises an interesting question: if Trots can ally with Islamic fundamentalists, why can't the fascistic Ba'athist regime?

An interesting canvassing of anti-war opinion -- well, celebrity or semi-celebrity opinion -- from the website of the Stop the War Coalition -- oops, I mean, the Guardian. (Sorry about that. Don't know how I could've gotten so confused).
Now, I've not read most of the statements. I'm sure that many contain numerous sharp insights, felicitously expressed. However, judging just by the headlines -- and this may of course be the Guardian's fault -- one is struck by something strange. The feature is introduced by talk of offering alternatives to war, and is billed as actually offering them. Yet the headlines for the various articles do not indicate any positive suggestions. They indicate a good deal of criticism of the US and its allies' motives, true. And contains some most enlightening thoughts. Viz:
'ANy fool can make war. Peace requires more vision and courage.' Mmm-hmm. And any fool can offer blanket statments like 'Any fool can make war ...'; offering positive solutions takes, at least, serious thought. Instead, we get a good deal of US-bashing -- ok, fair enough; it is the Guardian after all; the author blowing his own horn over his proposal for dealing with Northern Ireland; a false claim that the US is grooming the Iraqi dissidents for rule (um, have you talked to the Iraqi exiles? They ain't being wooed or groomed ...); a forced argument that US support would corrupt such people (hey, better 'corrupted' by the US than tortured to death by Saddam. And, by the way, given European grumbles about Bush's self-righteous Bible-thumping, are you sure you want to bring in talk of 'corruption'?); and the assurance that the Iraqi regime will eventually collapse, as all such regimes do. Well, maybe -- jury's still out on China, North Korea, etc. -- but how many innocent Iraqis have to live in subjection and die in torment before the laws of history take care of them?
'We Proceed in Iraq as Hypocrites and Cowards -- and the World Knows It' The world, according to Zadie Smith, doesn't include the US, the former Soviet Bloc countries, or Israel. Right. Note that Smith also dismisses the argument that opponents of the war need to offer an alternative. Ok, so what's her piece doing in a feature devoted to offering alternatives? Note also the likening of the US to a young thug threatening to rob a house. I see; so toppling a blood-drenched dictator seeking WMDs is like burglary? Zadie, stick to the novels -- your talent for fiction clearly outstrips your sense of reality! And, by the way, if you don't think that the questions of what is to be done to prevent Saddam from acquiring and using WMDs, and liberate the people of Iraq, demand some thought, well, all I can say is, I doubt your seriousness.
Then there's 'If Saddam is to be Removed, it should be by MI6 or the CIA' Um, guys, you don't think they've been trying, for years?
Then there's 'It's not our job to pull Arab chestnuts out of the fire for them' Now, I don't mean to suggest that the two situations are morally equivalent, but what would you think about making this statement in 1940, substituting 'Jews' or 'Poles' for 'Arabs', or c. 1994 substituting 'Bosniaks' or 'Tutsi'? This is mere selfishness, masquerading as wisdom.
Note, by the way, Will Self's statement that 'I think that doing nothing is a perfectly good response to the current situation in Iraq' At least the sometime celebrity addict-novelist is up-front. Right. Iraqis are dying, both from sanctions and Ba'athist state terrorism; Saddam is seeking, and may posses, weaponse that'd allow him to kill his neighbors in mass numbers, and possibly strike longer-distance enemies through terrorism. God's in his heaven, all's right with the world! Let's hug that status quo tight! Inspections work, Baghdad is a great place to raise a family, and we don't have anything to worry about -- praise the Lord!
'The US and UK don't care about Iraqis - they've been killing them for years' All too true, alas. But, again, without wanting to assert an analogy, imagine saying 'The US government doesn't care about African slaves -- its been permitting slavery for years' All too true, as well; but hardly an argument against the Civil War (well, actually, it was and is)
And then there is Noam Chomsky. Ah, Chomsky. The never-ending pit of poor reasoning. Let's listen to the man himself:
'Solution? Give Iraqis a chance to survive, and there's every reason to believe that they'll get rid of him the way that others have. Meanwhile, strengthen measures to ensure that Saddam, or some replacement, doesn't develop significant military capacity. Not a very serious problem right now, since as is well known, Iraq is militarily and economically the weakest country in the region'
Give Iraqis a chance to survive? What does this MEAN? As a linguist, one expects more of Prof. Chomsky. Give them a chance to survive -- meaning allow them to continue to be terrorized and killed by their current rulers? And how are they going to get rid of Saddam? Every reason to believe? Can you give one reason to believe, Professor? And what do you mean by 'the way others have'? Have what? Gotten rid of Saddam? No-one else has. Oh, or do you mean get rid of brutal despots? You should be more careful with your use of language, professor! Let's see, how have others gotten rid of despots? Hitler -- oh, we helped. Stalin -- he died, and his people continued to suffer under less competent tyrants and goons for several more decades, until they collapsed -- with some help from the US, the Pope, and dissidents in the Soviet Bloc (many of whom now support war on Iraq ... hmmm...) Mao? Oh, wait. China's still Communist. Castro -- oops. Well, Kim Il Sung ... oh, never mind. Yeah. Again, note the appeal to the inevitable fall of dictators. Wouldn't it be nice if things worked like that? But, you know what, Professor Chomsky, THEY DON'T. Either we do something about Saddam, or we say frankly, that we just don't care all that much about whether the Iraqi people are oppressed or not.
And what are these 'measures'? I can think of two. One is sanctions. As Chomsky's own side has pointed out, they are a moral disaster and crime -- and also don't seem all that effective. The other is inspections. But given Saddam's ability to stockpile banned missiles as things are, it doesn't seem like that's worked perfectly well, does it?
Ah, Chomsky, Chomsky! You make it so easy to talk oneself into a pro-war position! But I don't want to be pro-war -- I mean, that would mean being on the same side as Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, National Review! Why do these stupid, stupid people on the anti-war side keep pushing me towards the arms of people I've spent most of my life assuming were largely wrong and ill-willed?

Thursday, February 27, 2003

There is a strange, unique sort of humor that comes from people saying really stupid things while thinking that they're being very smart by making fun of other people whom they think are saying stupid things, which are in fact much less stupid than what they themselves are saying. (Got that?) Case in point: Maureen Dowd. Her column seems to be premised on the idea that it's cool to make fun of little countries. And yet, presumably, she would regard similar heavy-handed contempt on the part of the US government with withering alarm. She also, of course, goes completely wrong in her juxtaposition of the present situation with the Cold War. We were protecting 'Old Europe' from the Soviet Bloc countries??? Hardly. We were protecting it from the Soviet Union -- whose successor-state, Russia, incidentally, is currently allied with France and Germany in opposing the US -- NOT from the victims of the Soviet Union's imperial stretch.
Dowd's last line is revealing, as she ironically reflects that we don't need French wine after all. This is, I assume, intended to make fun of those who think that Bulgaria is a good replacement for France as an ally. But, instead, it is an effective lampoon of the sort of cocooned, effete, frivolous yuppie who is more concerned with vintages than with serious questions of either geopolitics or morality. Someone, in short, like Maureen Dowd.
(Ok, this is the last steal from, and attempt to behave like, OxBlog for the day, I promise.)

'East Europe under Communist rule was practically paradise' Thus Noam Chomsky.
I'm very nearly speechless. The man's idiocy has reached new levels. Idiocy and blindness, combined with the most breathtaking -- and undeserved -- moral arrogance and presumption.
Of course, it is just possible that one of the greatest theorists of linguistics of recent times means, by the word 'paradise,' 'massive totalitarian prison filled with pervasive poverty, corruption, repression, mendacity, despair and brutality.' If this is Noam Chomsky's paradise, he can have it (and I sort of wish that he would, in fact, be ennabled to experience it firsthand); give me his idea of Hell any day -- and may I one day exhibit even a fraction of the courage, insight and grandeur of the man he calls 'morally repugnant'.

Idiots. That's what many of the leaders of the anti-war protests in London -- which a large number of my friends here attended -- seem to be. Ok, so they oppose war; fine. I do, too, in some moods. But to just IGNORE -- and seek to SILENCE -- those who actually suffer under Saddam Husayn, and who actually have first-hand experience of life in Iraq -- it's blind, it is stupid, it is arrogant, it is irresponsible.
And it forces me to agree with an article from NATIONAL REVIEW. Do you realize how difficult that is? And how much that pisses me off?
Were it not for the press of work, and the fact that I have a bad cold, I'd feel like going down to London to see if the Iraqi men with the big 'Indict Saddam' posters in Trafalgar Square are still around. I just feel like I'd like to be with them now - to show my support for those who actually have an idea of what's going on in Iraq, and really care.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Dept. of self-promotion: I have an op-ed piece about sanctions and Iraq in today's Yale Daily News. I wrote it in haste, and in a fit of pique, and didn't take much time to go over it, and there are a few excesses I now regret -- I ought not to have called the authors of the earlier piece I was attacking 'mendacious', which was just a presumptious and un-called for ad hominem attack for which I now feel very sorry. But I stand by my argument, and most of my criticisms of the authors of the earlier piece and their brethren in struggle.
Speaking of whom: also in today's YDN, news on anti-war protests in New Haven.
Well, now. This is the sort of thing that makes supporters of war rub their hands together with glee, and sane opponents of war clap their hands to their heads in despair. Being somewhere in the middle, I feel a bit torn; but will take the low road, and pursue the more enjoyable path of mocking and criticizing these folks as they deserve.
First, notice some of the organizations involved. Like the Green Party, who organized it. A question for the Greens: Happy now? Are you still so damn pleased with yourself for claiming that there's no substantive difference between teh two parties, and helping to damage the Gore campaign and get Bush elected? I don't suppose any Greens will ever admit it to themselves, but when the troops start moving into Iraq they SHOULD reflect that they helped the people who are responsible for launching the war come to power in the first place (which may just mean that the Greens wind up unintentionally helping liberate the people of Iraq. Hmm. On second thought, maybe they really are a force for democracy!)
Ok, point number two: they had a member of the NATION OF ISLAM speaking!!! Ok, now what politically savy, or even sane -- never mind decent-hearted -- campaigner for peace decides to destroy his or her movement's credibility by associating it with the Nation of Islam? Sheesh.
Note also Zinn's statement: "The talk [in the news] is about strategy and tactics," Zinn's statement said. "What is missing is what an American war in Iraq will do to hundreds of thousands of ordinary human beings."
Howard, Howard, Howard. Where are you? Have you read any of the many discussions of the importance of freeing the people of Iraq, and disarming Saddam in order to prevent future terrorist threats? What are these objectives about, if not improving -- or indeed saving -- the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary human beings? Nor are tactics and strategy unconnected here: the strategy and tactics we adopt will decide what happens to all those ordinary human beings. I whole-heartedly agree about the primary importance of recognizing, and reckoning with, the human cost of war before pursuing it, and also conceiving of the war's objectives in terms of how we can improve, or save, people's lives. But to claim this for one side, and one side only, is just unfair; and to say that no-one is talking about it is inaccurate.
The thing about King George of America just wasn't cogent enough to address. The argument about the war being undemocratic: well, much as a regret it, the American people did send some sort of message by returning so many members of the President's party in the mid-term elections. And I don't think those areas of the country that went Republican did so based on Bush's handling of the economy! But, besides, sometimes politicians do have to defy the wishes of the majority of their people, when they feel compelled to do so. We call that political courage, and it can serve virtuous and necessary ends as well as bad ones.
Then there's this nugget of insight: "I can tell you, the Iraqi people do not want this war," Anthony said. "They want democracy. Most of them do not want Saddam Hussein in power, but they do not want the United States in power either."
Well, of course they do. And if wishes were horses, Saddam would fall without any bloodshed. But, how does Prof. Anthony suggest that Saddam be toppled without force? And if the people of Iraq were offered a choice between no war and continuation of Saddam's reign, or war and its end, which would they choose? And, with Saddam's minders roaming around, would they really voice their true sentiments to any foreign visitor?
Note the quoting of a 7 year old kid on this being a 'war for oil' Ah, if only this peurile view were only taken by those old enough to appropriately hold it!
As for talk of 'the blood that will spill in the streets of Baghdad': blood already spills in the streets of Baghdad. This is because Iraq is controlled by a regime that sends black-masked goons out to decapitate women in the streets.
Wake up, America, indeed. And wake-up, anti-war movement.

OxDem update: Assuming that there is anyone who reads this blog who isn't already a member of OxDem (last I checked, there wasn't ...), he/she/they/it should check out OxDem's new website.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

NOTE TO READERS: Having just checked the web-page version of this blog, I see that there is an currently advertisment at the top, which you may be seeing even as I write, for the Church of Scientology's Freedom Magazine. I'd just like to say that this site in no way endorses Scientology; and that I, for one, advise you not to waste any time on, or be taken in by, this wealthy, powerful, aggressive, allegedly utterly mendacious and criminal,and, in my ill-informed opinion, false cult.

The last, best hope of mankind: There is an excellent article by Paul Berman in the latest TNR, arguing for a Lincolnian devotion to fostering democracy and liberalism -- and doing so through a combination of military with MORAL power. Some of Berman's implicit ideals seem to me wildly utopian (but, as that wise old sceptic Anatole France said, if there had never been any dreamers, men would still live in caves); but his conclusion seems to me both powerful, and appealing -- and correct (he does seem to me a bit unfair to Tocqueville -- but if one reads his piece as political journalism and moral advocacy, rather than political philosophy, it is very good value indeed.)

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