Friday, December 03, 2004

GONZALES AND TORTURE: CALL TO ACTION: Readers may want to sign and forward the petition at this site, as well as reading the information contained therein. I urge you to do so.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

SIDEBAR UPDATE: This is just to call to anyone's attention the addition of the self-titled blog of my sometime classmate, fellow Saybruggian*, and friend Julie Saltman. Julie and our mutual friend Rob (who's guest blogged here in the past) had a blog together at some point, which was recently removed (with considerable sadness) from the sidebar after long lying dormant; so it's good to see that Julie's been keeping on blogging on her own. (She actually has been since July; ok, I'm slow on these things). There's a focus on legal matters, as befits Julie's status as a law student, and her fairly partisan progressive bent is given free rein.
These tendencies are both on display in this post on the latest sex scandal involving a British politician and someone involved in publishing the Spectator (here this means two different people, Home Secretary David Blunkett and his sometime mistress Kimberly Fortier, the publisher of the Speccie, as opposed to the scandal involving Speccie editor and former Tory Shadow Arts Minister Boris Johnson, he of the 'razor-thin wit' and the Monty Python upper-class twit manner. Happily, again unlike the imBorlio, no former students of Balliol were involved in this one, so I needn't hang my head in collective shame). Julie points out the oddity of a Labour politician having an affair with the publisher of a right-wing magazine. She goes on to point out that Blunkett is quite an authoritarian, and suggests that this makes it not so surprising. Now, one could make an argument about the authoritarian strain in the British left and the libertarian strain in the British right; but the Speccie is at best selective in adhering to the libertarian tradition (when the authoritarianism was coming from Mrs. Thatcher, they were all for it), so the point doesn't really hold here. Certainly, there is as little love lost between Blunkett and the Speccie (a recent issue of which showed the blind Blunkett, in a typically savage cover cartoon, as a giant android with metallic tentacles crushing British liberty) as there appears to be much love lost between Blunkett and the Speccie's publisher (indeed, one can't help but wonder about the coincidence of that wounding cover and the revelation of Blunkettes, um, entanglement with Fortier).
Now, I agree with Julie that the main thing to dislike about Blunkett (whom I'm happy to say I've disliked for years) is his scant regard for civil liberties (and the fairly authoritarian strain of communitarianism that is his governing philosophy). However, I don't think that the scandal here is his crossing the political lines to do his diddling (besides, this is British politics, after all; ideological boundaries have very little to do with personal behaviour, particular where hormones are involved. To actually let a little thing like ideological disagreement stand in the way of an illicit screw would be most un-British). What is notable in the case is, first, Blunkett's alleged use of his power to get favours for Fortier when the two were having an affair, and his reported harassment and bullying of her after their break-up. All of this does seem to be of a piece. Blunkett's intentions may be romantic and, to his own mind, honourable; but he tends to wield power in an irresponsible and bullying way. I'm not sure that I want someone who badgers his ex-mistress with harassing calls and letters being in charge of a compulsory national identity card system or public CCTV monitoring of every street corner. (Yes, I know, that's a cheap ad hominem argument, and I already feel somewhat ashamed of it. But the fact is that politicians are people, and the sort of people they are does have some impact on the policies they pursue, even if those policies aren't reducible to any politician's personality.)
In other words, the problem I have with Blunkett isn't so much the inconsistency between the public moralist and the private adulterer; it's the consistency between the public authoritarian and the private bully.
Those harsh words having been said, it is worth noting that Blunkett seems to have been terribly hurt by Fortier's ending of the relationship, and seems to genuinely care about the child he claims is his; so one should perhaps not be so hasty in one's personal judgement.

*That is, a sometime member of Saybrook College, one of the 12 residential colleges at Yale. The photo on the website linked to above is of the grass courtyard at Saybrook, where Julie and I both had rooms our senior years; you can see what was once Julie's window in the photo, but not mine.
Saybrook -- or at any rate my year in Saybrook -- has been well represented in the world of blogging. This blog started out as the collaboration of 3 Saybrook students, one of whom went on to do his own blog for a while (we miss you Jacob. Or I would, if it weren't for the fact that I now receive a number of what would be blogposts on Waldheim as personal e-mails); ditto the now-departed Daily Diner, where Julie and Rob blogged. That's a total of 5 Saybruggians class o'02 with 4 blogs among them. And the tradition of Saybruggians blogging has continued in later years as well.
All of which makes me wonder whether there was something weird about Saybrook (ok, silly question -- rather, whether among the many weird things about Saybrook, there was something that leads to a proclivity towards blogging. The water did taste sort of funny ...), or whether this is actually fairly typical and I only know about the thickness of bloggers on the ground in Saybrook because, uh, I was there. Balliol also seems to do ok in terms of blogging, as this, this, this, this, and this (Chris was at Balliol as an undergrad, even if he's now at the pretty college with the deer park) all suggest.
Why do I trouble the dear reader with this catalogue? Not only self-absorption and cliquishness, though it must be confessed that has something to do with it. Partly, I suppose, because I'm a bit feverish at present and don't know any better. But also for a somewhat more respectable reason: I'm interested in social and intellectual networks, particularly connected with elite educational institutions, and the way they contribute (or not) to what is said and thought and done in society as a whole (this is, I hasten to add, a non-normative interest). I've also become rather interested in conspiracy theories based on such social/institutional networks, in part because I now find myself (or, rather, institutions or organisations in which I'm involved) included in some of these, mainly because conspiracy theories, and the often erudite loons who develop them, are just really interesting.
So, do we find any trend among Saybrook and Balliol blogs? With a very few exceptions, all of us seem to be left of centre, to varying extents (though philosophically we run the range from my pessimistic liberalism to Jacob's anarcho-syndicalism and Chris's socialism, with plenty of other offshoots here and there); and a lot of us have studied politics or history (or both). Other than that, I don't notice any uniformity of vision or style; but perhaps I'm just too much a part of it to notice.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

MORE ON UKRAINE: There may be something wrong, or worth arguing with, in this David Aaronovitch column on the situation in Ukraine; but I certainly can't find it at the moment.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?