Friday, June 30, 2006

Further Evidence That The Combination of Sunshine, A Job And The Football Has Not Swallowed Me Whole

This, at Qwghlm, is very good. But, can I say, as well as stopping the state paying for the world's wealthiest woman's indolent, stupid and downright dishonest relatives, I want bits of her property provided by and for the purposes of the state - the various palaces and artworks given to the Head of the state, for example - nationalised, or at least taken into charitable hands, so that they can be enjoyed by people whose heritage they are, rather than the descendants of the murdering bastards lucky enough to manage to take, by means unfortunately all too typical of their times, it by force.

Not On A Stage Of Their Own Making

Dearieme said something quite interesting in the comments to this brief piece linking to a lengthy and pleasingly outraged rant at Ephems of Brian Barder. There's something understandably quite appealing about the frisson of excitement to be gained from re-imagining the past, from playing speculative games with something that, unlike the present, since it is fixed, cannot play them back. The case that Dearieme suggests as the point at which normality collapsed is quite plausible, it seems to me:

I sometimes wonder whether "normality" is the hypothetical state the country would have reached if its evolution after 1913 had not been distorted by two World Wars.

You could go further back, perhaps, but coming further forwards seems harder: the near past, more recent in our minds, its immediate causal ancestors also closer to present concerns, seems somehow more fixed than a past which is now beyond the memories of almost everyone now living. It is more implicated in the present perhaps, lacks the distance to be different, since doing so would make us too different to be us, maybe almost unrecognisable, despite the fact that, since we live now, the chances are most of us would live in most other nows, and so we must be us.

Going further back, although easier I think, in extremis seems to present a kind of reverse version of the same problem: rather than resulting in a kind of disquiet from the alterations a change would make to us, a kind of excessive openness, going too far back, to say medieval times, is too closed, has too many fixed points that need to be changed. Rather than disorientation occurring because things are similar without being the same, it occurs because things are too dissimilar to be anything like the same. Just as pondering what would have happened if the Gang of Four hadn't split the centre-left vote in 1983, or Argentina hadn't invaded the Falklands, brings the prospect of a series of selves which are both us and not-us, sets of weird, separated twins unable to reconcile their similarities with their profound differences, pondering what would have happened if Henry VIII had been able to have a child with Catherine of Aragon opens up the possibility of something like the children your parents had in another life, in another country: an insistence on a meaningful relationship despite all the evidence, other than that of the counter-factual, that strains at credulity, even comprehension.

So I like the idea of a world without the First World War: close enough to make sense, and far enough away to keep contingency at bay. Just in Britain, we could imagine a Liberal Party that didn't split under the strain of running a total war, and then institutionalise that split in the face of being squeezed both from the left and the right; Home Rule for Ireland without 1916 and its aftermath; Reform of the House of Lords; perhaps a better response to, or even the avoidance of the slump of the 1920s; no enormous national debt accumulated from funding our Allies. Globally, who knows, whether, for example, Tsarist Russia would have been able to hobble towards some kind of quasi-constitutional liberal state in the absence of the pressure of war that it suffered horribly in, and whether, indeed, that would have made for, globally, a better world. A world without the First World War might be a considerably more hospitable place.

It might not be though. Assessing how long the various multi-national empires of Central and Eastern Europe and the Near East and their resentful successor states could have staggered on, shedding and gaining territory, opening opportunities for and creating requirement of international realpolitik is, I think, likely to be rather difficult, as making accurate guesses to the consequences of the various demises of the various states also is. Equally, domestically, whilst Asquith and Lloyd George's differences, exacerbated by the War, certainly started the liberal collapse in the 'real' Britain, tensions over Ireland or the scope of domestic reform could easily have brought similar tensions to the fore. After all, famously, if you'd told people in 1913 that Britain would be fighting a war the next summer, they'd have assumed it would be in Ireland.

One of the people doing a doctorate in political theory I know is working on establishing a framework for thinking about compensation for historical injustices, in which counterfactuals play a role, as they are needed to assess the level of damages which themselves constitute the injustices. One of the limiting features of his model is that the counterfactual used to assess the damages needs, in order to attribute moral responsibility properly, to imagine a world in which neither serious wrongs nor supererogatory acts are committed, where damages are not either increased or diminished by the intervention of other actors. That, of course, seriously limits the number of counterfactual worlds, yet his model incorporates the possibility of reasonable disagreement about the content of those worlds. In a much larger set, that disagreement is likely to be all the greater.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Lunatics Have Taken Over

We're still waiting for the resumption of something resembling normality.

Money Is Not Speech

There's an interesting passage in the Michael Dibdin detective novel, Medusa, where the protagonist, a somewhat disillusioned Italian policeman, Aurelio Zen, is being lectured to by a friend, Gilberto, on the genius of Il Cavaliere, who, Gilberto claims, has realised the importance of presenting the appearance of importance, rather than of competence, to winning elections. Zen interjects, after the friend uses as an example Berlusconi's ubiquity in the Italian media, pointing out that, after all, Berlusconi does own most of the Italian media, making it rather easy for him to present himself in a favourable light all over it. Gilberto replies:

So did the Christian Democrats and the Socialists and Communists back in the old days. That's not the point.

It is the point though: a monopoly is, definitionally, rather more monolithic than an oligopoly, and dominance is markedly more difficult to achieve without being monolithic. Oligopolists compete against each other, for example. Perhaps given the remarkable stability of one particular party, if not necessarily the dramatis personae made up of its leading members, in government in postwar Italy, we might think that the characterisation of pre-Tangentopoli Italian politics as oligopoly is a little misleading, but that's somewhat beside the point. No-one would dispute, for example, that the British media, for all its undoubted faults, including some rather shameless biases and blindspots, was, holistically, freer than the Italian media under Berlusconi.

A while ago, before a series of tabloid-orchestrated moral panics buried it, when the loans-for-peerages scandal was running full pelt, various Labour party figures floated the idea of increasing state funding for political parties. This got a fairly frosty reception, understandably: it looked like a rather shameless attempt to pilfer the public purse to pay off debts mortgaged against blatant and now impossible abuse of privilege, and indeed probably was. That doesn't mean, though, that increased state funding for political parties would necessarily be a bad idea.

Think of it like this: political parties, in some form or other, are probably a necessary requirement of a functioning democracy, at least in the world as we live in it now. They set agendas, formulate policy, discipline members, and, by solving a series of collective action problems, provide a context in which debate can occur. Insofar as we have an interest in living in a functioning democracy, then, we have an interest in having political parties. That, of itself, of course, doesn't mandate state funding, since that interest could be satisfied by other means, most obviously private donations.

The problem with private donations, though, is at least twofold, and in a self-reinforcing way. Private funds are not distributed equally, and the prospect of them being so is thoroughly utopian. This means that, not necessarily even in a deliberate or even culpable way, parties are likely to align themselves towards those individuals or institutions with the capacity to give larger donations. This is a general problem: I suspect that the reason that lots of Oxbridge colleges spend lots of money on rowing, compared to other sports, is that rowers, traditionally, gave comparatively large sums of money to the college after graduating, which meant that there was a larger pot of money to use to spend on rowing, leading to the recruitment of more rowers, who were then more inclined to give money to the college, and so on.

Given the significant collective action problems that parties solve, and so the substantial barriers to entry against any new parties, having parties aligned to the interests of those with the capacity to give large donations is not good: such parties will be unrepresentative, and because of barriers to entry, it will be difficult for new parties to emerge. Berlusconi, after all, needed control of much of the Italian television network and print media, as well as substanial connections with various parts of the old regime, to carve out a niche for Forza Italia even in the total chaos that resulted from Mani Pulite. That kind of vaulting of the fences is difficult, and rare because of it.

The second problem is relatively new: the widely noted disengagement from party politics, which is no doubt partly, although far from exclusively, driven by the perception that the main political parties are distanced from the concerns of the man on the street, or the Clapham omnibus. That means that most people are less likely to give money to political parties, unless, of course, they can give enough to get direct leverage. Those who can do that, though, are hardly the man on the Clapham omnibus: they are inevitably much wealthier, even given Clapham's recent gentrification, and so have rather different interests, interests their donations will likely support against those of more typical citizens.

Those two problems suggest that private funding is unlikely to be sufficient to ensure that political parties continue to exist without falling into the hands of unrepresentative individuals and interest groups, thus tainting the political process. The difficulty with state funding though, is that it is typically also anti-democratic: it is assessed on the basis of votes at the last election, or seats in the legislature, and so tends to institutionalise whatever political configuration exists at the time it is introduced, thus further distancing parties from the electorate. What needs to be done is somehow democratize without privatizing party funding.

So, this is my suggestion, first made more than a fortnight ago here. The state, either in the form of a tax rebate or a direct benefit, gives all adults some small sum of money - it would only need to be a couple of pounds a year to match current levels of party political funding in Britain, I think - which would have to be donated to a political party, whilst imposing some upper limit on any other donation, except in the first couple of years of the party's life. The upper limit could be monitored through the party's accounts, rather than those of private individuals, and so would not involve any invasion of privacy, while the costs of the payment itself would be, in the grand scheme of things, miniscule, and could hardly be viewed as particularly troubling, since it could be given to any political party, thus giving control over it to the citizenry at large. I suppose that, for fairly obvious reasons for anyone on the left in Britain, it would probably be a good idea if you could also agree to sign your contribution over to some organisation.

Doing so, I think, would democratize without privatizing party funding. Most importantly, it would break the monopoly of the wealthy on it. Indeed, it would go further, as long as the defining of political parties was done carefully enough, than the oligpopoly of publicity that existed in Italy pre-Tangentopoli: it would presumably create something approaching perfect competition for political funding. Even right-libertarians, for all their 'money is speech' and 'of course there should be a market in political influence' schtick, can hardly object to that.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Closer To Crabs Than Human Beings

In the midst of a piece about a policeman pointing out that publishing sex offenders' addresses might not be sensible, a Home Office spokesman says:

Mr Reid had only been home secretary for a short period of time, but had already made a number of statements about the protection of the public being paramount.

Apparently, the fact that after their addresses were made publicly available, a number of sex offenders in the United States were killed by vigilantes has no bearing on the protection of members of the public.

An afterthought: it has all become clear to me - the Home Office spokesman was thinking of pediatricians. No more torch-wielding mobs for them.

Update: now the News of the Screws, in defending itself against the allegation that it is deciding government policy, confuses the relationship between a newspaper and its readers with that between an MP and their constituents:

A News of the World spokesman said: "A newspaper's role is to represent readers...

Funny, I don't seem to remember any elections being held in which a tax-dodging plutocrat was picked to represent anyone.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Who Put The Cookies In The Cookie Jar?

One of the advantages, separate from, if causally linked to and the reputation they help to generate, the quality of the teaching and library resources, of being a student at a University like Oxford is the quality of the other students. This often goes well beyond the indirect benefits of an ambient environment rich with the careful consideration of bright and well-read people to quite direct help: I've read bits of a couple of people's theses over the past few years, and a couple of people read my master's dissertation. Obviously, this kind of thing can at times be a little awkward: just because we're all bright and well-read, it doesn't mean we necessarily agree, and so the issue of an ethics of criticism comes up - how, if you think someone is wrong, far should you go both in voicing whatever criticism makes you think they are wrong and in helping them reduce its impact.

It can be hard to navigate those problems: I once wrote back to someone, saying that I had found it difficult to proof a thesis chapter they had given me properly because I thought it was 'systematically dishonest' in its treatment of certain theorists. That was probably a bit much, not so much because it was mud that had no right to stick - it was actually, if hyperbolic, more or less accurate - but more because it shouldn't have been slung in the first place. What had got me aggravated about the chapter in question was, I think, two-fold: firstly, I didn't support the conclusion argued for, and secondly, that I felt that some basic norm of academic discourse, that you interpret your opponents reasonably charitably, had been violated. Although I may be being overly generous about my motives, I think it was actually the second of these two aggravations that was most at work in me losing my temper.

It does matter, that in academic disputes opponents are interpreted reasonably charitably, that their most convincing arguments are given an airing. It matters generally of course, in the relatively simple sense that dishonesty is a vice, but it matters particularly for academic and similar discussions where the ostensible over-riding aim is to find or at least approach closer to truth or some simulcra of it. In the absence of that norm, the possibility of a conversation where disagreements are aired openly and have the possibility of resolution relying on the unforced force of the better argument recedes and perhaps disappears: a retreat to smear, misrepresentation, and the abuse of institutional privilege as the first line of intellectual defence occurs, and the ideal of truthseeking slides further away.

That norm is not only of particular importance to academia, but is particularly instantiated in it. Most academics most of the time aim at it, and that, as well as the structures of anonymous peer-review and so on, tends to support it. It is not some kind of transcendental ideal, but an actually existing practice - perhaps one of a number of actually existing practices, which cut against each other, but a practice, and a significant one at that: its absence would mean a substantial change to the institutions of academia as it currently exists. Were such a change to happen, we would, I would suggest, be much less able to rely on academia to produce work which was at least constrained by the various virtues of the enterprise of seeking the truth.

This line of thought, and ones analogous to it, have been staples of the criticism of Mill's defence of freedom of speech, and various other freedoms, as resulting in the progress towards truth and other ideals implicit in the idea of 'the interests of man as a progressive being', since his first statements of them. De Tocqueville articulated something like it when stressing the importance of the institutions of local government, and the norms of behaviour learnt in them, in sustaining American democracy in the middle of the nineteenth century. What's interesting about Mill though, is that he is making claims not solely about law, but also about various other social sanctions, ranging from rudeness to, presumably, extra-legal violence, and passing through institutions like the organised boycott en route. His harm principle is not meant to be applied merely by the government as it gets out of the way, but by everyone as they all get out of each others way.

Mill, then, was at least alive to the role of wider social behaviour in the seeking and publicising of truth, if unfortunately blase about the institutions, institutions which, because coercive, would have likely violated the harm principle, needed to sustain the sorts of behaviour he would have liked. That seems to be absent from some contemporary theorising about freedom's truth-seeking features. Phil quotes:

Wikipedia entries are nothing but the emergent effect of all the angry thrashing going on below the surface. No, if you want to really navigate the truth via Wikipedia, you have to dig into those "history" and "discuss" pages hanging off of every entry. That's where the real action is, the tidily organized palimpsest of the flamewar that lurks beneath any definition of "truth."

The Britannica tells you what dead white men agreed upon, Wikipedia tells you what live Internet users are fighting over.

The Britannica truth is an illusion, anyway. There's more than one approach to any issue, and being able to see multiple versions of them, organized with argument and counter-argument, will do a better job of equipping you to figure out which truth suits you best.

Phil, earlier in his piece, raises the 'wisdom of crowds' chestnut of the number of jellybeans in the jellybean jar, where, typically, no individual guess will be correct, but, given a large enough sample, the mean will converge on the right answer. As I said in the comments on Phil's piece, most questions aren't like that of how many jellybeans there are in the jar, and discussion of them doesn't follow the same model implied by the jellybean jar with its discrete examples of guessing. In most cases, someone already knows how many jellybeans there are, or at least has a good idea, and what an institution aiming at truth should be doing is identifying that person and then privileging their answer. Otherwise, the noise-to-signal ratio soars, and the truth gets buried beneath a series of claims and counter-claims, an average of which can be difficult to extract, and will anyway be skewed by people's differential willingness to get involved in that kind of mud-slinging.

That's not to say that there aren't other virtues of the marketplace of ideas, or that its products have no relation to truth: people have a right to be heard, authorities need to be questioned, and for some topics, the analogy implicit in jellybean example holds. It's just that that's not the whole story. I substanially rewrote this wikipedia entry (before and after), have intervened again to correct a couple of fairly misleading subsequent edits, and would do it again, if I saw an entry which I thought had the capacity and patience to make significantly better. Doing that, though, depends on expertise and normative commitments imported from a quite different set of institutions, and that, basically, the entry's not particularly controversial, because I'm not willing to engage in a series of flamewars. A lot of the time, the dead white men - and that's a cheap shot, too - are right: however guilty we might and perhaps should feel about it, they put the cookies in the cookie jar.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


I'd always been under the impression that you had to try and harm someone else to be making war, but apparently not any longer: hanging yourself with your blanket in a prison cell now counts as an act of war.

Update, 12/06/06: There's been a fair and entirely justified amount of oppobrium heaped on the US government's clearly morally bankrupt official line, but I think that the most thoughtful thing I have read about it is this, which, having discussed and endorsed the Kantian view that suicide, because it treats human life as an end not a means, is morally culpable, ends:

[The suicides'] personhood was already being used as mere means, by their jailers, and their suicides put an end to that abuse, as the abuse of slavery is ended when the slave dies attempting to escape. What we would say of the slave is, not that he lacks regard for human life, but that he shows precisely that regard which is appropriate to it. I would say the same of the Guantánamo suicides.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Poverty Of Low Expectations

In the pleasingly intricate World Cup prediction competition here, I said this about England's chances:

Too prone to giving the ball away to win the World Cup, England will nonetheless prosper against sides lacking the pace or guile to punish them on the break, and, fortunately for England but perhaps not for the standard of football, there are a fair number of those in the competition.

Other than a referee who either needed a white stick and a dog, or was somehow related to the Paraguay coach, pretty much faultless favouring the South Americans, that's pretty much a fair comment on both the standard of the game and England's prospects.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Misdirecting The Post

Phil Edwards says something suggestive, if relatively commonplace on the left, in the comments on his piece on the relative virtues of Englishness:

[i]f we're going to mobilise on any basis I'd be happier orienting to class irrespective of nationality.

I too would, ceteris paribus, prefer to mobilise on the basis of class rather than nationality. That of itself, is not particularly interesting: nationalism, as a backwards-looking ideology, with its grounding of political rights in arbitrary membership of a historically-rooted community, is hardly a particularly progressive political force, so one would not expect progressives to approve of it. Conversely, class, for all that it is rooted in historical social formations, typically seeks to eliminate itself and so is both forward-looking and hopefully not as permanently or as seriously violent or divisive as nationality.

What's suggestive about it is the context in which it occurs. It raises issues about the relationship of nationality and class and their respective identities, by begging the question of whether the divisions which constitute classes and nationalities are so separate that one, distinct from the other, can be used the basis of an attempt at political mobilisation. After all, one can hardly mobilise on the basis of class as against nationality if class is deeply intertwined with nationality and vice versa.

I said in the comments to Phil’s piece that there can hardly be much hope of mobilising Englishness against the Britishness he characterises as an ideology of Empire and central state power when Britishness is so closely tied, at least in its elites, to Englishness. I think that’s true, if perhaps less so than it once was: for all Tony Blair, a man brought up and even educated in Scotland, is transparently culturally English, his next in line is unashamedly Scots, culturally as well as by birth, and to my mind superior for it.

Although I can’t speak with any authority at all on the class hierarchies of the other parts of the Celtic Fringe – and they are the Celtic Fringe: that’s precisely the point – I get the sense that class hierarchies are structured differently in Scotland. My mother, a Scot, has always claimed to find the English class system bizarre as well as morally repugnant, having been socialised into a quite different and, she would claim, substantially less pernicious system of social hierarchies in her Grampian fishing port. That would make sense in light of the thought that the British establishment is predominantly English: the Scottish class system has had its top lopped off, and so its exploitation and status hierarchy differ from that of the English one, simply because to a certain degree you stop being Scottish once you reach a certain level.

This calls into question the social ontology of class and nationality that motivates the commonplace sentiment about it being preferable to mobilise politically on the basis of class rather than nationality. Some of the same historical experiences which shaped Scottish national identity, however we might characterise that anyway, shaped the particular manifestation of class identities in Scotland: a variety of forms of English dominance, political, military and economic, played midwife to them both. For a Scot, to mobilise on the basis of class, presumably against various parts of the elite, is to some degree to mobilise on the basis of nationality, against the English.

If that’s true of Scotland though, it could be true elsewhere. Indeed, a priori – and this is all a priori – given that Britain was a centralised state relatively early, one might expect that it would be more true elsewhere. Political and economic centralisation, one would expect, by reducing the importance of more local centres of power, would tend to be a homogenising force, decreasing the importance of particularistic affiliations like nationality while increasing the importance of more universalist ones like class: after all, if the political relationship which matter are with some local notable, it is them, not the place occupied in the distribution of the means of production that will tend to define a political identity.

There has, I understand, been some debate within Marxian circles about the question of whether Marx made some mistake in his assessment of the world-historical power of class, on whether other, in some ways more primal, forces have shaped the world over the past hundred and fifty years. Tom Nairn quotes Ernest Gellner on this possibility here:

Marxists basically like to think that the spirit of history or human consciousness made a terrible boob. The awakening message was intended for classes, but by some terrible postal error delivered to nations…

Nairn seems to think that the problem has been a lack of patience, that Marx’s prophecies had a longer delivery date than those awaiting them expected, that globalisation has finally managed to re-direct them to their proper recipients. I’m skeptical. Either way, his explanation is Marx’s youth in a society whose features he thinks are becoming more and more common – the Rhineland of the 1840s, a borderland imbricated and in the interstices of a number of competing authorities. I wonder, though, whether Marx and Engels’ time in England, experiencing a British class system which, despite ruling over a multi-national state, was, in its upper echelons, mono-national, might have had its effects too.

Update, 10/06/06: Merrick has a slightly different take on the Britishness-Englishness thing at the Sharpener here. I suppose the problem I have with Englishness is that it thinks of itself as Britishness: unless its resurrection involves some explicit admission that Great Britain contains two other nations, and the British Isles another one, Englishness is going to be even more reactionary than Britishness. Put it another way: so far as I know, the BNP has no presence in Scotland at all. It is only a minority of the English who think that they have some legitimate greivance on the basis of the their Britishness.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Raking Over The Coals

I recently heard someone else describe what I once described as

the 'we had to destroy this village so as to avoid destroying all those other villages' logic of inexorable arms buildup and extension of threat

as 'tragic realism'. Apparently it's the appropriate term of art. It is appropriate, I think. The sense that a morally responsible person could not avoid in the steadfast, if doubtless somewhat misleading, attention that view pays to the nastier side of international politics is overwhelmingly of tragedy: that, it claims, the cost of avoiding obliteration is the willingness to obliterate others, a kind of classic example of, if true, the falsity of the idea that ought implies can, a set of choices, all of which are morally terrible. That's not to say that there aren't other phenomenologies of that view: the idea of a steely-eyed violence, transcending petty moral scruples, for example, undoubtedly has an appeal for some. It is, presumably, to describe those other attachments to this view as morally irresponsible.

I am not a tragic realist. There are a plurality of logics of action in international politics, some of which have more of what could be called a moral character than others, and whilst there may be a place for the logic associated with tragic realism, the way in which formal and less formal international institutions have clearly created divisions of the spoils which are not zero-sum illustrates that other logics have their place too. The one thing that you could not accuse tragic realism of though, when it is genuinely tragic, is an unwillingness to acknowledge the moral costs its logic creates: indeed, that is the whole point of it being tragic.

It is something of a recurring theme here, the idea that there are serious moral losses involved in most serious choices. After all, what makes those choices serious is precisely the fact that there are genuine and weighty considerations for each option, which typically cannot easily be reconciled, if at all. To operate with some other idea of the moral universe is, for this view, to be utopian, to refuse to face up to the pluralistic and conflictual structure of value in the world, to fail to confront that structure's unavoidable incompatibilities. Acknowledging those incompatibilities is of course the only first step towards negotiating them, for better or for worse, but it is a necessary first step. In its absence, various sources or locations of value are dismissed, and as a consequence of their dismissal, suffer, sometimes to the degree of obliteration.

The failure of some people (via) to come to terms with this idea is, undoubtedly, a cause of much suffering in the world. What is so frustrating, even odd, about Geras' argument is that refusal to acknowledge costs he must know exist. For example, his argument would run just as well if used to argue in favour of invading North Korea. After all, the core of his argument is the undoubted hideousness of Saddam's regime:

the regime had been responsible for, it was daily adding to, and for all that anyone could reasonably expect, it would go on for the forseeable future adding to, an immensity of pain and grief, killing, torture and mutilation. It's been said before, including by me, and so I won't labour the point too much here; but this was not merely an unpleasant tyranny amongst many others - it was one of the very worst of recent times, with the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on its hands, to say nothing of the lives torn and wrecked by it.

This is the argument that no-one has an answer to, the sheer moral horror, which few dispute, of Saddam's regime. It is that moral horror which calls us to act. I'm not quite sure that it is, as Brian Leiter thinks it is, a consequentialist argument: it might simply point to that moral horror, and demand that something was done about it, that it was not allowed to continue. Yet North Korea is at least as hideous a regime as Saddam's, so presumably Geras thinks, just as strongly as he thinks that the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do, that invading North Korea would be the right thing to do.

That's clearly mad though. Invading North Korea would destabilise the region enormously, lead to casualties probably at least in the hundreds of thousands, and have all kinds of other assorted moral costs which, unfortunately, make it an incredibly unwise, let alone immoral, thing to do. Geras must know that, which is must be one reason why, so far as I am aware, he has never argued directly in favour of invading North Korea. All those are reasons, though, which applied to invading Iraq. Maybe Geras can call on other considerations, not mentioned in this particular argument, to differentiate the two: maybe they are even morally respectable. I haven't the patience to find out.

Compare Geras' view to tragic realism, its blank denials of the costs of its own pronouncements - or lack thereof - seem to commit it to an admission of to the haunted air of moral difficulty lingering around genuine tragic realism. I don't think it's hard to see which comes off better.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Some Kind Of God

This reminded me of how ridiculously, ridiculously good a footballer Dennis Bergkamp is. Touch, pace, strength and above all the vision to put them to wondrous use. More moments of genius from Dennis here.

Choices, Choice, Choices...

I'm not sure whether I should kill Muttiah Muralitharan, all of England's middle order, the Trent Bridge groundsman, or some combination of the three. I understand reasonably well how England managed to throw victory in this series away, as the list of potential murder victims suggests, but still, in a just world...

Saturday, June 03, 2006