Monday, July 24, 2006

The answer lies in yesterday

Call me insufferably pretentious, but when I think of the Labour Party I can't help thinking of the opening of Chtcheglov's 1953 Formulary for a new urbanism. (Bear with me, there's some good stuff further down.)
We are bored in the city, we really have to strain to still discover mysteries on the roadside hoardings, the latest state of humour and poetry:
Showerbath of the Patriarchs
Meat Cutting Machines
Notre Dame Zoo
Sports Pharmacy
Martyrs Provisions
Translucent Concrete
Golden Touch Sawmill
Centre for Functional Recuperation
Saint Anne Ambulance
Café Fifth Avenue
Prolonged Volunteers Street
Family Boarding House in the Garden
Hotel of Strangers
Wild Street
And the swimming pool on the Street of Little Girls. And the police station on Rendezvous Street. The medical-surgical clinic and the free placement centre on the Quai des Orfèvres. The artificial flowers on Sun Street. The Castle Cellars Hotel, the Ocean Bar and the Coming and Going Café. The Hotel of the Epoch.

And the strange statue of Dr. Philippe Pinel, benefactor of the insane, in the last evenings of summer. Exploring Paris.

And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the consternations of two hemispheres, stranded in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer setting out for the hacienda where the roots think of the child and where the wine is finished off with fables from an old almanac. That’s all over. You’ll never see the hacienda. It doesn’t exist.

The hacienda must be built.

I do like 'Golden Touch Sawmill'; it's not quite 'Lucky Smells', but this was (a) 1953 and (b) reality. But anyway:

Maintenant c'est joué. L'hacienda, tu ne la verras pas. Elle n'existe pas. Il faut construire l'hacienda.

Call me insufferably pretentious, but where the Labour Party's concerned that for me just about says it: maintenant c'est joué. The Labour Party under Kinnock and Smith was still, in some significant and useful respects, the same organisation that it was under Wilson and Gaitskell and Attlee. When radicals like me argued against Labour there was always an unanswerable counter-argument: this is the Labour Party; this is the party of the organised working class in Britain. It's a big argument, and it got a lot of use. Labour leftists used the Argument to justify staying in the party; entryists used it to justify burrowing away within the party rather than building their own organisations; even Socialist Workers used it, to justify supporting Labour 'critically' (or 'without illusions' or 'go on, just once more' or whatever it was).

Maintenant c'est joué. Firstly, the Labour Party - whatever else it is these days - is not the party of the organised working class. Secondly, the New Labour clique (who are serious about power) have taken steps to prevent it ever becoming that party again. Thirdly, the frankly spectacular New Labour approach to mobilisation, combined with a massive and broadly welcome disaffection with Labour as a party, have left the Labour Party in so weak a state that it wouldn't be much use to the organised working class, even if they turned up tomorrow asking for their party back. If we want a party of the Left, we'll have to build it. The actually-existing Labour Party is a distraction at best.

I've thought like this for a while, but a debate I was in recently brought home to me again the enduring weight of the Labour Party on the Left - and the increasing deadness of that weight. In a comments thread on Dave's excellent blog, I recently got involved in an argument with a Labour Party member. It was something of a dialogue of the deaf; I never really got an answer either to the question "why are you in the Labour Party?" or to "why do you think you're on the Left?", and I got the impression my interlocutor's silence wasn't down to inadvertence or rudeness. Rather, it seemed that the two questions were at once inseparable and unanswerable:

of course I'm in the Labour Party, I'm on the Left!
of course I'm on the Left, I'm in the Labour Party!

It's an increasingly meaningless and arbitrary association of ideas, I'd argue, and one which badly needs to be challenged.

Anyway, here's my half of the conversation (with light edits):

I'm slightly depressed, but mostly surprised, to see someone talking about 'us' being in power. Mind you, I didn't really feel that the Labour Party was in power under Callaghan and Healey (for verily, I am an old fart and do remember the last time Labour won elections).


Parties change, and the Labour Party's changed more than most. I voted Labour all through the Foot, Kinnock and Smith years; right now I'm actively opposed to Labour and doubt I'll ever vote for them again.

I used to vote Labour, because I believed in what I thought to be Labour policies and I thought that the Labour leadership in government, kept under pressure by the Labour Party in the country, would implement some of those policies. All that's gone now. The policies of the leadership are far to the right of anything that has ever gone out under the name of Labour before, even under Ramsay MacDonald. The mood of the party in the country is better, but it's still more right-wing (and more leadership-friendly) than anything I remember even from the Kinnock/Smith period. In any case, the leadership has systematically dismantled all the structures which enabled the party to hold it to account, and now openly claims the right to make Labour policy on the hoof.

New Labour doesn't mean socialism, or social democracy, or even the kind of timid while-resources-permit reformism the party had been reduced to by John Smith's time. New Labour means corporate capitalism, disciplined communities and a tight hold on the reins of power. So, for as long as Labour means New Labour, Labour is not us.


The long-term trouble with Labour is that if you back away from 'extreme' left-wing policies for long enough, you end up with something that nobody will actually vote for, because there's nothing really there. Blair understood this: he offered a break from the Labour leadership's long history of apology and evasion, all those years of left-wing but not far-left, left-wing but responsible, left-wing but patriotic...

Blair isn't left-wing at all: that's precisely his strength. He came to power promising something radically different from the previous fifty years of Labour policy, and he's delivered it in spades. I distrusted him from the off, but he's gone beyond even my expectations. (Privatisation of the Health Service, by a Labour government - I wouldn't have believed it even five years ago.)

What I don't understand is where Labour Party members actually stand these days: setting aside group loyalties, what is it they believe in which the Labour Party can deliver, and only the Labour Party?


[in response to a comment that this is a 'centre-right' country]

You can't say there was massive popular support for New Labour in 1997. Nothing, short of a major split in the party, was going to stop the Tories losing to Labour in 1997. John Smith would have won easily if he'd lived. (Perhaps he wouldn't have had quite so many ex-Tory votes or quite such a huge majority, but neither of those is necessarily a good thing.)

You can't say there's been massive popular support for New Labour since 1997. Guess which election had a larger number of Labour votes - 1979 or 2005?

And you certainly can't say there's been massive popular support for New Labour policies. Who knew in 1997 that they were voting for ASBOs and Neighbourhood Wardens? Who knew in 2001 that they were voting for an appointed House of Lords and an invasion of Iraq? Who knew in 2005 that they were voting for NHS privatisation and compulsory ID cards?

I don't think this is a right-wing country. I do think that submission to authority runs very deep in British society, though: there are a lot of people who want to feel they're being led by a strong leader, someone who knows what's best and may even punish them for their own good. And what better proof of strength could a leader have than taking on his or her own party?

I think this last, tangential point may have been the most important one. You could argue that the Blairites haven't done anything qualitatively new; they've simply improved and enhanced a self-destruct mechanism which was built into the Labour Party all along. I'm referring to the eternally recurring confrontation between the Moderate Leader and the Extremist Agitators. Labour is a left-wing party, but it's not really acceptable to bring a party of the Left inside the institutional tent - at least, not until the leader has proved his party's moderation by facing down the extremists at the grass roots. Blair has only done what Kinnock and Gaitskell did before him, only at a higher level.

The odd thing is that this anti-democratic manoeuvre - a trial of strength, a proof of mastery by leader over party - seems to have a definite emotional appeal. My interlocutor on Dave's blog repeatedly harked back to the glory days of Kinnock's leadership; it turned out that the pinnacle of Kinnock's achievement, in this person's eyes, was his confrontation with the Mils.

Shortly after the debate on Dave's blog had petered out, I started reading Robert Skidelsky's ghastly biography of Oswald Mosley. (Quite interesting in many ways, I have to say, and I'm sure there'll be more mosleyblogging in the days to come. Still ghastly, though.) Here's an excerpt from the original Introduction:
From 1961 onwards I was actively involved in the Labour Party, both at the university level and in the Campaign for Democratic Socialism. It was Hugh Gaitskell's courage, in face of the bitterest denunciations from his own party, in fighting for what he believed to be right, that really attracted me to Labour politics at the time. To be drawn into politics by the personality of a leader may seem immature. Yet there is a sound reason for it. On the quality of the leadership depends the possibility of action. This truth has never, it seems to me, been adequately grasped by social democratic parties. They spend their lives talking about the world to come; yet saddle themselves for the most part with leaders who are all too obviously content with the world as it is: hence the literature of 'betrayal' which pours out in unceasing flood from social democratic pens. Early on in my reading about Mosley I was struck by the dedication of John Strachey's book Revolution by Reason (1925): 'To O.M. who may some day do the things of which we dream'. This exactly parallelled my own feelings about Gaitskell, though not about his successor.
(Sorry, Harold.)

What Skidelsky says here, among other things, is that he was drawn to the Labour Party because the leader was at odds with the party. In effect, his loyalty wasn't to the party but to the leader, and the leader's faction - since, after all, the quality of the leadership determines the possibility of action.

Politics as the cult of the leader - and the cult of action (a favourite Mosley word). It's a way of thinking that hollows out the party, and ultimately the government; democracy doesn't really come into it, either ideologically or structurally. In this perspective the tragedy of the Labour Party is that, although the movement from which it grew represented a strong and coherent challenge to this mentality, the structure of the party itself created opportunities and incentives for new leaders to assert and impose themselves - progressively weakening the party's democratic values as they did so. The rot set in a long time ago, in other words; by 1997 I suspect it had already gone too far to reverse.

L'hacienda, tu ne la verras pas.

Update 25th July: Today's dose of Skidelsky fortuitously brought me to this passage:
Although officially the struggle was between socialism and capitalism, Labour and Tory, Mosley interpreted it in personal terms: himself versus the Chamberlains and the press-lords.
(On the same page Skidelsky writes: "With the local Labour newspaper, the Town Crier, and its editor, W.J. Chamberlain, Mosley established excellent relations (fortified by substantial subsidies)." Not all press-lords, then - or all Chamberlains. But anyway...)
This personalisation of the conflict heightened its drama and bound working-class voters to Mosley (and through him to the Labour Party) in a way which more orthodox methods would never have done (or at least so quickly); at the same time it left something of a bitter taste in the mouths of some of the eclipsed, plodding, local Labour officials. ... Mosley's fault to these Labour activists was that he identified the Labour movement with himself, rather than the other way round.
It looks as if one reason why Oswald Mosley never made it as a Labour politician was simply that he was ahead of his time.

There's a party somewhere

I'm not much of a raver; actually I've never raved in my life, with the possible exception of a couple of hours at a hotel near Preston, one night in 1988. (I was there for a systems analysis course. I said I wasn't much of a raver.)

All the same, I remember smiley-face music, and I remember how things heated up a few years later, with the CJA and 'repetitive beats' and so forth. So I probably shouldn't have been too surprised by this:
Police are desperately trying to find out details of a "mega" illegal rave expected to take place in the coming weeks, as forces across the country begin to report a significant resurgence in the free party movement.
Forces admit there has been a surge in activity, including one party in north Cornwall that was attended by more than 5,000 revellers. Officers are warning landowners and the public to be on their guard after receiving intelligence that large raves may be being planned for weekends in August, particularly over the bank holiday.
On a national level forces are working hard to make sure they share information about raves in the pipeline. Thames Valley police is using Asbo legislation to try to take out prolific rave organisers, while police in Norfolk, another rave hotspot, this week urged landowners to make sure ravers cannot get access to prime party sites.
Over May bank holiday this year hundreds of VW and custom car fans headed to Newquay in north Cornwall for an annual Run for the Sun rally. The police did not notice that among them were many hundreds much more interested in sounds systems than air-cooled engines. Officers watched helpless while as many as 5,000 people partied at a well-organised but illegal rave on a disused airfield at Davidstow, near Camelford. Once thousands of people are on site the police tend to monitor and contain the event rather than try to break it up.

In other parts of the country police have managed to stop big raves. One which had attracted as many as 2,000 people in Northamptonshire was halted; a week later Avon and Somerset police got wind of a planned rave at an old firing range and managed to blockade it. Chief Inspector Richard Baker of Devon and Cornwall's contingency planning unit accepted the Davidstow rave had not been on the police's radar but said the force was now better prepared. Intelligence specialists were monitoring websites and party phonelines to try to pick up word of further free parties and festivals.

But I was mildly surprised, not by what's in this story so much as what's not there: any reference to why the police are so keen to stop people dancing on airfields. The last time things were kicking off, I'm pretty sure that the news coverage was all about how dangerous these scary new wild parties were: the neighbours would be deafened, the sites would be left knee-deep in litter, the countryside would be trashed... As for anyone foolhardy enough to actually go to a rave, they'd be lucky to escape with their lives, what with the dangers of being crushed, trampled underfoot, overheated, dehydrated or unknowingly taking a lethal cocktail of drugs. As time went by it became clear to anyone who bothered to look into it that the organisers of free parties were generally pretty responsible when it came to trashing the environment; that remarkably few people were getting crushed trampled overheated, etc; and that even the drugs people were taking were, by and large, non-lethal. But by that time the legislation was in place and the scene had gone into an enforced decline.

So it's not entirely surprising that, faced with a new wave of rave (sorry, please nobody use that), the relevant police forces are ready and waiting to stop it in its tracks. What is interesting is the absence of any kind of justification - or, in the case of our man at the Guardian, any sense that there ought to be some kind of justification - for these operations, which seem to be a fairly massive clampdown on activities which don't appear to be doing anybody any harm.

Of course, there are laws against raves, passed by the Tories in the mid-90s (with the assistance of the then Shadow Home Secretary, Tony Blair). It'd be understandable if the police were making a case for impartial law-enforcement (we don't have opinions about the law, sir, we're just here to make sure it's obeyed), although obviously there would be room for arguments about priorities. But what's going on at the moment appears to go further. Note the reference to anti-social behaviour:
Thames Valley police is using Asbo legislation to try to take out prolific rave organisers
According to the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act (which introduced the ASBO), 'anti-social behaviour' equals behaving 'in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household' (emphasis added). Picture yourself a rave organiser up before the court. How do you fancy your chances of persuading a magistrate, not only that your activities were not illegal, but that they were not likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress?

I'm old enough to remember acid house; I'm also old enough, just about, to remember this. It looks as if that's where we're heading.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Save our kids from this culture

My frustration with the bearpit that is Comment is Free was brought to a head by this bizarre post by David Hirsh. Once again, I'm going to reproduce my CiF comment here, because frankly I think more people will pay attention to it here than there.

First, a word about Hirsh's argument. He opens thus:
Since before it even existed, Israel has been engaged in two wars with its neighbours. One is a just war, waged by Palestinian Arabs for freedom - which became a demand for Palestinian national independence; the other is a genocidal war that aims to end Jewish life in the Middle East.

The job of the left is to insist on the reality of this distinction and to stand against those who recognise the reality of only one or other of these two separate wars.
The job of the left - ugh. Something very Euston about that formulation - the call to duty, with the implication that this might not be a duty we all like.... But let's press on.
The problem with social reality is that if enough people believe something to be true, and act as though it is indeed true, then it may become the truth. So if Israelis believe they are only ever fighting a war of survival, then they will use tactics and strategies that are proportionate to the war they believe themselves to be fighting. If Palestinians, meanwhile, come to believe that they can win their freedom only by destroying Israel, then they will think of the Jew-haters of Hamas, Hizbullah, al-Qaeda and the Syrian and Iranian regimes as their allies in the task.

The only way out is for cosmopolitan voices and political movements to insist on the reality of both wars - to separate them conceptually and to stand clearly for a Palestinian victory in the fight for freedom and equally clearly for an Israeli victory in the fight against annihilation.
There's a certain narrowness to Hirsh's focus here. I'm quite prepared to nail my colours to the mast and say that I'm not in favour of annihilation, by and large. On the contrary, I'm very much in favour of people who are alive being enabled and permitted to remain alive. But I don't think this commits me to supporting 'an Israeli victory' of any sort, in any set of geopolitical circumstances which I can begin to imagine developing out of the current situation.

But maybe my imagination just isn't up to the job. A few more words from David, this time in the comment thread:
its not far-fetched to imagine a very serious threat. Imagine if the regime in Syria and Iran were joined, perhaps by a Jihadi-revolutionary regime in Saudi and perhaps a Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt. Add these to a Hamas led Palestine and a Hezbullah led Lebanon. This is hypothetical, yes, but entirely possible.

Imagine also, perhaps that the neo-cons in Washington are replaced by the neo-realists - Mearsheimer and Walt advising the White House that it is in the national interest of the US to ditch Israel.

Imagine also a global liberal intelligensia and labour movement that believes the Israelis are so evil that they deserve what's coming to them.

But its OK, because Israel is heavily armed.

The logic of your position, then, is that it is a good thing that Israel has the 4th largest army in the world (or whatever it is) because it guarantees their survival.

So how do you feel about the proposal of an arms embargo against Israel? How do you feel about the proposal to stop US aid and to stop the US selling arms to Israel?

What then is there to guarantee Israel's survival?
I'll stop beating about the bush: I think this argument is silly, offensive and dangerously dishonest. If Israel's apologists genuinely believe the country is engaged in a fight for survival at this moment, they're self-deceived to the point of insanity. If they don't believe that but think that what's going on now should be understood by reference to a completely hypothetical worst-case scenario, they're grossly dishonest. Perhaps even more important, the 'fight for survival' argument is being used to divert attention from what the Israeli government and army are actually doing; in other words, it's being made to do work that it couldn't do even if it was valid.

Here's a comment I prepared earlier:

I think your argument is interesting & instructive, but not quite in the way that you think it is.

There are (at least) three questions which can legitimately be asked of the state of Israel without arousing suspicions of anti-semitism. Firstly, can the state itself be described as constitutionally unjust, either from its founding or since 1967 (and two-thirds of its history is post-67)? I assume you'd answer No, but many people would answer Yes - including many diaspora Jews and a good few Israelis. But a constitutionally unjust state is one which needs to be replaced, not reformed: replaced through the actions and with the consent of its citizens, certainly, but still replaced. In normal circumstances (I'll return to this point), asking whether - as a matter of principle - a constitutionally unjust state has the right to perpetuate itself is asking whether injustice has the right to continue.

Secondly, is the state's posture of perpetual war, and its repeated use of force rather than diplomacy, an appropriate response to the situation Israel finds itself in? Answer No (as many of us do) and any incursion into Gaza, any house demolition, any IDF sniper bullet carries a burden of justification: is this specific action justifiable, or is it just another example of an established, unjust pattern? This is where the allegations of prejudice start flying - those who answer Yes to the second question don't believe there is any such pattern, and consequently judge each specific action as 'innocent until proven guilty'.

Lastly, when the state does resort to military force, is its use of force appropriate and proportionate? It's important to note that this is a completely separate question from the previous one (and does have to be judged on a case by case basis). If I'm fighting for my life and I kill a defenceless passer-by who wasn't threatening me, I'm still a murderer. (Cf. suicide bombers.)

I found your 'Imagine' comment particularly enlightening. Because circumstances alter cases - a position that would be appropriate in normal circumstances isn't necessarily appropriate in the middle of a war. If Israel were an isolated underdog, entirely surrounded by states which seriously wanted to invade and destroy it, and unable to count on any outside assistance - if this were the case, my answer to question 1 would change (from 'Yes' to 'Maybe, but that's not important right now'). And if Israel were not only surrounded, outnumbered and outgunned, but on the brink of an exterminationist final conflict - in that case my answer to question 2 would probably change (from 'No' to 'Maybe not, but it's not for us to say').

So what's instructive about your article is the insight it gives into a certain Israeli mindset - a mindset which I can't regard as being grounded in reality, and one which I'm happy to say isn't universal among Israelis. I also think it illuminates a further, basically irrational slippage over the third question: are the IDF's tactics in Gaza and Lebanon (and elsewhere) disproportionate and inhumane? The answer which comes from Israel's apologists seems to be, essentially, "They had to do something, these people were going to kill them all!" Even in the nightmare scenario where this was actually true, it wouldn't be an adequate answer: if someone's trying to kill you, it's not self-defence to burn out the family who live next door.
Not that anyone appears to be listening to arguments like these. (They certainly aren't listening on Comment is Free...) In a way that's the worst thing about the current situation - the sense that the killers of the IDF are doing exactly what the killers of Hezbollah want them to (and vice versa), so that things are likely to get a lot worse before they get better.

It will have blood, they say - blood will have blood.

Don't have nightmares.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Free of the need to be free

At the risk of sounding like a bad standup -
Mark Thomas: ...this - thing - that’s really tepid and bland and moulded to fit this Lego model of comedy... seventies gag, TV presenter gag, difference between cats and dogs, difference between men and women, have you ever noticed at a dinner party...
- have you ever noticed, right, you know that Comment is Free site? It's not very good, is it?

Here's a comment I posted today (and it says something that I think I'm giving it a wider distribution by posting it here):

I find myself in the weird position of both agreeing and disagreeing with you. I agree with you that there is a problem. The comment threads on CiF are a complete and utter mess; I'm approaching the point of giving up on CiF and posting anything I want to say about CiF/Graun content on my blog, just like I used to.

What I don't agree with the way you describe the problem. I found the tone of both this and the previous 'Less is more' post really startling - offensive, even. You [addressed to Georgina Henry] seem to genuinely hate a lot of the comments posted on CiF; not all of them, of course, just the ones you describe as 'pointless chatter', 'slanging matches', 'quick-fire insults', 'mindless irrelevant chatter' and indeed 'rubbish'. That doesn't necessarily mean you hate the commenters, but I imagine your attitude to anyone who positively values the comments you hate would be pretty tetchy.

But how can you sustain this opposition between the pristine blog and the spoilsport commenters? In other words, when did CiF exist in the form you think it ought to have, before the invasion of the pointless chatterers? I wasn't watching CiF all that closely over the first couple of weeks, but I strongly suspect the answer is 'never'. This is your blog: this is how you designed it. The comments threads would look very different now if you'd required real names to be printed; or if you'd required commenters to display an email address or a blog URL under their name - or even if you'd allowed email addresses or URLs to be displayed. It would look different if you hadn't thrown open commenting rights to anyone who applied; it would look different if you hadn't allowed talkboard users to inherit commenting rights. And it would look different if all CiF content were written by journalists with a personal interest in blogging, rather than consisting very largely of rebadged opinion columns.

All of these are design decisions. The decisions which you (or your blog advisors) made created CiF as it is now.

One other thing leapt out at me from the previous piece.
persistent breaches of our talk policy ... pointless chatter that litters threads ... degenerate into back-and-forth slanging matches ... try our talk boards. Alternatively, as some have done, they can start their own blogs (we're happily linking to quite a few) and continue the quick-fire insults in their own space.
Leave blogs out of it, eh? I could name several blogs where the quality of the debate is in a different league from CiF - where it's something like how I imagine the Platonic ideal of CiF debate, even. But none of those blogs was widely advertised and immediately thrown open to all their readers - and none of them was written by high-profile journalists with a record of ignoring their critics.

To sum up, the reason CiF almost immediately became a high-volume, high-polarisation, Harry's Place/LGF scratching-post isn't that it's a blog. The reason is that it's a blog designed by people who don't understand blogs, and written by people who don't like blogs.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

It happened before

I hate it when my doctoral thesis gets topical. Here are some figures:


Take a moment to read across the rows and get a feel for the shape of the series. Row one starts pretty high - almost one of these things per day - then declines year on year, plummets to almost nothing in 1980 and makes a weak recovery in 1981. Row two starts low-ish (about one every four days) then rises continuously and rapidly as the first series falls; it peaks in 1978 at the extraordinary value of 1110 (three of these things per day) then declines quite steeply, although the 1981 value is still higher than the 1975 starting point. As for the third row, it starts low, jumps to a higher value at the time of the 1978 peak, then stays close to that higher level for the next few years, even while the second series declines.

The figures all relate to Italy. Row one represents the number of mass radical protests (strikes, demos, occupations, mass shoplifts, rent strikes, etc). It's an approximate figure in all sorts of ways, but everything I've read suggests that the trend is valid.

Row two is the number of actions by radical 'armed struggle' groups.

Row three is the number of people killed by those groups.

And here's Anjem Choudray, self-described spokesman for the banned organisation Al-Ghurabaa:
We have been functioning here for the last 10 or 15 years and nobody has ever been arrested for any terrorism-related offences. What this will do is it will militarise many people, because if you stop people propagating their thoughts and ideas, then you will push them underground and after that you have no control over them.
Nice one, Dr Reid.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Forza Italia!

And you won't often hear me say that.

There will be time to wonder about the mysteries of this World Cup - why were the announcements in English? why did the band keep playing "Go West"? why did the crowd keep singing "Vindaloo"? and what did England think was going to happen if they went on playing like that? Time to lament Zidane's idiocy (and Rooney's), time to talk about penalty shootouts, time to wonder why the Germany/Italy match was quite so beautiful. And, not least, time to assemble a fantasy squad consisting entirely of players with Christian names for surnames (Terry, Neville, Gerrard, Henry, it practically writes itself).

For now I just want to leap around like a loon. The result couldn't have been better, apart from the bit about being decided on penalties. Italy were one of the two or three best teams right through the championship; they played against Germany like wolves on speed, and if the final was a bit of a bundle by comparison they still handled themselves nicely for the full two hours. And, most importantly, Berlusconi got kicked out before the contest began, so all the reflected glory will go to Prodi & co ("Have you noticed how we only win the World Cup under a Labour Government?")

Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Materazzi, Grosso, Camoranesi, Pirlo, Gattuso, Perrotta (he's a local lad, you know), Totti, Toni, Iaquinta, De Rossi, Del Piero and (not least) Buffon, vi salutiamo. And I won't apologise for saying it again - if we think it's a big deal to reclaim our flag from fascists, spare a thought for Italian fans who can't say "come on Italy" without it sounding like an endorsement for you-know-who. Time to have done with that.

Forza Italia!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Searching for something to say

Time for a bit of pure self-indulgence; I'm doing the 20-first-line thing again. Only with 25 (thanks Rob), and with a whole bunch of songs either missed out or included for completely arbitrary reasons. (So I skipped some albums which appeared in the earlier attempts, but not all of them.) The difference from the previous two attempts is essentially that this is 25 songs I actually like.

  1. "When your world is full of strange arrangements and gravity won't pull you through"
    - ABC, "The look of love" (Justin)
  2. "Well I remember when you used to look so good and I would do everything I possibly could for you"
    - Love, "Bummer in the summer" (Chris)
  3. "Summer was gone and the heat died down"
    - Nick Drake, "Time of no reply" (Justin)
  4. "Sometimes I feel so happy, sometimes I feel so sad"
    - the Velvet Underground, "Pale blue eyes" (Larry)
  5. "As I was walking all alane"
    - traditional, "Twa Corbies"
  6. "You've got to hope for the best, and the best looks good now baby"
    - Spiritualized, "Do it all over again" (Unity)
  7. "They stumbled into their lives"
    - Blur, "Fade away" (Justin)
  8. "Everyone's too nice to me, the way Vincent Price would be with midnight coming on"
    - Peter Blegvad, "Special Delivery"
  9. "D'you lay with a shallow girl?"
    - James Yorkston, "I awoke"
  10. "Your railroad gauge, you know I just can't jump it"
    - Bob Dylan, "Absolutely Sweet Marie" (Alex)
  11. "Who could find him, the sidewinding Indian?"
    - Spiritualized, "Do it all over again" (actualfactual)
  12. "Moon is giving sunshine, clouds are full of wine"
    - Laika, "Marimba song" (Unity)
  13. "Boy, do you hear me say, do you hear me say now?"
    - the Concretes, "You can't hurry love" (actualfactual)
  14. "This old world may never change"
    - Fred Neil, "Dolphins" (Jim)
  15. "Sonically we're in control"
    - Leftfield, "Original" (Unity)
  16. "I want, him wants, you want, who wants, he wants, I want, him wants, I want"
    - Happy Mondays, "Do it better" (actualfactual)
  17. "They're nice and precise - each one begins and ends"
    - Buzzcocks, "Fast cars" (actualfactual)
  18. "Drag boy dog boy dirty numb angel boy"
    - Underworld, "Born slippy" (James)
  19. "Why this uncertainty? It's not clear to me - would you rather be independent?"
    - Pet Shop Boys, "One in a million" (Unity)
  20. "Spring was never waiting for us, girl"
    - Richard Harris, "MacArthur Park" (Lisa)
  21. "So you lost your trust, and you never should have"
    - Coldplay, "See you soon" (actualfactual)
  22. "It's the darkest time of year"
    - Robyn Hitchcock, "Winter love"
  23. "Thinking of all the times you missed digging it in, you can't resist"
    - Ed Kuepper, "By the way"
  24. "First time, I did it for the hell of it"
    - SFA, "Something for the weekend" (Alex)
  25. "Brown Eyes and I were tired"
    - Brian Eno, "St Elmo's Fire" (Unity)

Have at it.

Update 13th July: that's your lot. Well spotted, all.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Hide them when you're able

I've got a logical mind, perhaps excessively so; people sometimes call me a pedant, but I always point out that pedantry is characterised by excessive reliance on canonical sources and works of reference rather than by mere consistency in the exercise of rational thinking. That shuts them up, I can tell you.

Anyway, having a clear and intuitive sense of propositions such as "if A is true, not-A must be false" is surprisingly useful in some lines of work, but it can make the fuzzier areas of human interaction a bit problematic. In my last job but one I had the misfortune to be part of a group that was selected for an Outward Bound-style 'team-building' exercise, which would take place over a weekend and include lots of the kind of jolly fun activities which I'd managed to avoid for the whole of my adult life and most of my childhood. Correction: a voluntary Outward Bound-style 'team-building' exercise. Cue a conversation with my manager:

"I don't think I'll go on this thing."
"Are you sure? You know, I think you should."
"Well, maybe. But, I mean, it's not compulsory, is it?"
"No, no, it's not compulsory. Think about it, OK?"

And another:

"I really don't think I'll go on this thing."
"I don't know, I really think you ought to. The idea is that the whole group goes."
"Sorry, you mean it's compulsory?"
"No, no, of course not. It's just that it's better if the whole group goes."
"I appreciate that, but it's just not my thing."
"OK, well. It's not compulsory, of course. But just think about it, OK?"

And another:

"Look, I've thought about it some more, and..."
"OK, I know you don't want to go, but I really think you should."
"But... what can I say? I really don't want to go. And it's not compulsory..."
"No, no, of course it's not compulsory. But I really think you should go."

If it's not compulsory, it must be voluntary.
If I can't choose not to go, then it's not voluntary and it must be compulsory.

Brane hertz.

(I went, of course. Parts of it were OK - the rope walk was very cool - but other parts were truly, enduringly awful. I got my revenge in the whiteboard feedback session on the Sunday afternoon.)

That was a long time ago, and I've had a bit more experience of smudgy social reasoning since then. But sometimes even now the fit descends and I turn into LogicMan (None withstand his remorseless inferences!). Most recently in the case of that cuddly Old Labour mascot, John Prescott. Charlie has the story; Alex has the British background; and Dave has the American ditto. Me, I've got the logic.

You see, Prescott's stay on the Anschutz ranch was either personal - an even lower-rent version of Blair's hols with Berlusconi - or business. It can't be both; it can't be neither; it must be one or the other.

If it was personal, why wasn't it declared in the Register of Members' Interests at the time?
If it was personal, what were civil servants doing on the trip with Prescott? (Ugh - better rephrase that before the mental images get out of hand.) If it was personal, how does Prescott justify taking civil servants with him?
If it was personal, why was the offsetting payment to charity made out of government funds?
And if it was personal, why on earth would Prescott choose to spend his holidays with an unsavoury character like Anschutz? (See Dave's post for details.)

On the other hand:

If it was a trip on government business, why has the trip been declared in the Register of Members' Interests at all?
If it was business, why has a payment been made to charity?
And, if it was business, what business could Prescott possibly have to discuss, legitimately, with Anschutz?

Logically, the whole thing's a tissue of contradictions. There are only two interpretations that make any kind of sense. Either it was a personal holiday funded by the taxpayer - including personal assistance from Prescott's civil servants; in this case Prescott is personally corrupt on a truly Italian scale, as well as having lost any sense of political principle. Or else it was a business trip laid on to ease the path of Anschutz's bid for the Dome Casino (si New Labour monumentum requiris...); in this case Prescott is politically corrupt, as well as having lost any sense of principle. And either way he's a liar.

Perhaps this is LogicMan speaking, but surely there's no way out of this one. Prescott has to resign as Deputy PM; if he's any sense he'll resign as an MP, too, before the Standards Committee pushes him. And then he should apologise, in person, to the people of Liverpool. (Not because he's done anything to them, just because it was funny when Boris did it.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Tell me, how much can you take?

The blogs I read regularly have changed a little since I started blogging, but not the blogs I avoid. I can think of a few right-wingers whose frame of reference is so different from mine that, if I did read them, I'd spend all my time responding to them - I mean the kind of people who not only use 'socialist' as an insult but apply it to Blair. Fortunately there aren't many of them (I'm speaking only of British bloggers here) - and besides, depriving myself of Tory blogs isn't much of an effort. Unfortunately there are also some left-wingers whose frame of reference is so different from mine that, etc, and they're harder to avoid.

All of which is prompted by one of my very rare visits to the Normblog; I was genuinely interested to know what Geras would say about Gaza. What he said about Gaza was this:
No government could ignore them.

That's the Qassam missiles that have been fired from Gaza into Israel; and who is saying it is today's Guardian leader. From that you might infer that the Guardian thinks Israel is justified in taking retaliatory action of some kind to put an end to these missile attacks, as well as to kidnapping incursions into its territory. Forget about it.

No, 'the distinction between preemption and retaliation [is] now bloodily blurred', there's a 'harsh cycle of attack, retaliation and vengeance', and everything's too much of a mish-mash to be able to discern anything clearly about actions and responses - I mean too much of a mish-mash in that Guardian leader.

The fact remains: no government could ignore them, and no other would be expected to.
No government could ignore them; ergo it's hypocritical to argue that Israel should ignore them, and the only debate to be had is about 'how' rather than 'what' (let alone 'why'). Some form of armed response can be justified; or, if we can't justify it, perhaps we can condone it; or, if we can't justify or condone, we should recognise that it was inevitable and stop carping. In effect we bracket the morality of the Israeli armed response, taking it as read that armed response is the kind of thing nation states do. What we can legitimately discuss is the scale of the Israeli armed response and the choice of one set of targets rather than another.

But something's wrong here. I can concede the premise that No government could ignore them - any government of any nation state would respond in some way to missile attacks and an abducted serviceman - but not that we have a duty to put ourselves in the offended government's position, trading off our moral instincts against interests of state and the logic of military expediency. Even the Guardian leader which offended Norm goes down this route:
Bombing bridges may have some military logic, but the destruction of a power station seems intended solely to intimidate and inflict collective punishment.
Unsurprisingly, a commenter promptly weighed in in support of bombing power stations as a military tactic.

I keep remembering a grotesque image from children's literature - E. Nesbit, perhaps, or C.S. Lewis in a darker moment - of a friendless giant: he wants someone to play with, but every time he finds somebody and picks them up they break and then they're no good for playing with any more... Israel's intentions with regard to the Palestinians aren't playful, as far as we can see, but the government's actions and its self-image remind me of that giant's endless, unstoppable destructiveness and his undentable innocence.

But they were killing our people - of course we dropped bombs on bridges and a power station and a university and the Prime Minister's office! We had to do something!

Or, for that matter,
But they were living on our land and they said it was theirs - of course we blocked their roads and ploughed up their orchards and closed their shops and bulldozed their houses and shot at their children! We had to do something!

There comes a point, I would argue, when quantity becomes quality: when the disproportion between the two parties to a conflict becomes so huge, so glaring and so consistent as to make it impossible to treat them as interchangeable (But he hurt me, says the giant sitting amid the smoking ruins, I had to do something...). There comes a point when the question is not "After this provocation, could any government do nothing?" but "Whatever the provocation, should any government do this?" I can't think of many governments which have gone in for forcible demographic re-engineering as heavily as has Israel, under Right or Left. Ceausescu springs to mind; Pol Pot, of course, and Mao for that matter; Saddam Hussein, maybe. It's not what you'd call a Hall of Fame.

This relates to a minor but telling weakness in the Euston worldview. The Euston Manifesto's seventh paragraph didn't get much sustained attention at the time, perhaps because everyone was still boggling from the sixth ("Opposing Anti-Americanism"), perhaps because it didn't seem to do very much apart from committing signatories to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Personally I've been a single-secular-democratic-state person for some time - I remember a friend asking me, all of twenty years ago, why it was that the same people who denounced the bantustan system in South Africa seemed to want to create bantustans for the Palestinians. Euston paragraph 7 nicely crystallises my doubts about the two-state solution:
We recognize the right of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination within the framework of a two-state solution. There can be no reasonable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that subordinates or eliminates the legitimate rights and interests of one of the sides to the dispute.
Or, as I parodied it at the time:
Palestine. Ah yes, but Israel. Palestine: Israel. Israel: Palestine. We can't have a settlement that the Palestinians don't like, but that also means that we can't have a settlement that the Israelis don't like, because that wouldn't be fair. Palestine: Israel. Israel: Palestine. You see my point? It's a tough one, isn't it?
The problem is that, for as long as Israelis define themselves as 'the Israeli people', whose self-determination is a distinct issue from the self-determination of a 'Palestinian people', the identities of 'Israel' and 'Palestine' will be perpetuated; and those identities are the identities of the perpetrator and the victim of a great wrong. A great and continuing wrong, but one specifically excluded from the professed universalism of the Euston project. Ellis:
Three of the greatest propaganda achievements of the Israeli state are the concealment of the origins of that state, the construction of an image of Israel as a state much like other states, and the representation of Israel as the victim rather than as the aggressor. The violence, terrorism and injustice of what happened in 1948 are written out of history. And Israel is not in any sense like, say, Italy, or Britain, or the USA. The condition of Israel as an institutionally sectarian state which comprehensively discriminates against its Arab citizens and which for 58 years has been engaged in seizing more and more Palestinian land and water is rarely acknowledged.