Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Atrocity Exhibition

A set of photographs, taken by Chris Anderson of Magnum, during the recent violence in Southern Lebanon (via).

Monday, August 28, 2006

Barefoot On Plate Glass, Stamping

I once wrote a short story in the immediate aftermath of a break-up. I called it 'If That's What You Want', a reference to the carefully expressed and in the end entirely justified skepticism of the other party's mother. It is a nasty, bitter piece of work, full of recriminations and snide little asides, and without much redeeming literary merit. I wrote it with the help of the consumption of the better part of a bottle of whisky, but that was as anaethestic as much as for dutch courage. About the only decent passage of writing in the entire thing was stolen from Graham Greene's 'The Human Factor'. The novel is I suppose classic Greene: a tired man, who really wants nothing more than to be left alone, forced into bargains he hates to have to make, ends up sacrificing the only thing that really matters to him in order to save it, and, quiet and forlorn, not wanting and unable anyway to make a fuss, drifts out of the world. I took the last two paragraphs, where the hero - and he is a hero, in his supremely ordinary way - is talking to the wife he left behind on the telephone.

‘Oh yes, I’m not alone, don’t worry, Sarah. There’s an Englishman who used to be in the British Council. He’s invited me to his dacha in the country when the spring comes. When the spring comes,’ he repeated in a voice which she hardly recognised – it was the voice of an old man who couldn’t count with certainty on any spring to come.

She said ‘Maurice, Maurice, please go on hoping’ but in the long unbroken silence which followed she realised the line to Moscow was dead.

It was more than a little melodramatic to, as a twenty year-old, portray the end of a relationship that was barely more than a month old anyway, if in its second incarnation, to the lingering hopelessness of a man exiled from all that he ever cared for. It was even more melodramatic to send it to the person it accused of having done the same thing to me and expect critical reflection on it. About as melodramatic as calling a blogpost 'Barefoot On Plate Glass, Stamping', I'd guess.

About a fortnight ago, Russell Arben Fox wrote this piece celebrating his thirteenth wedding anniversary. I don't believe in the institution of marriage in the same way that Russell does. There's a Billy Bragg song that gets it almost perfectly right, and then precisely wrong, within the space of five lines:

...What makes our love a sin
How can it make that difference
If you and I are wearing that bloody, bloody ring

If I share my bed with you
Must I also share my life...

Exactly, and, well, if you're thinking about getting married, probably yes. Despite my resistance to the idea that there is something sanctifying about making certain promises in front of a secular or religious official - as if the promises you make to each other, implicitly and explicitly, even the expectations that inevitably gather around anything that lasts for long enough, somehow didn't matter - I like what Russell has to say about marriage, and, to my mind, by extension, long relationships. Particularly this:

I can't even imagine what might otherwise have been, or what may have been missed or what perhaps could have been better.

It's not quite a general truth, I think, because we can imagine, play with throwaway fantasies to our heart's content, but it is close enough, and exactly because we can do it to our heart's content. The pleasure of wondering to no particular purpose is only really available when any possible purpose the wondering could have is safely at arm's length. Otherwise it can be paralysing, a plethora of possibilities all terrifyingly on the edge of tumbling into actuality. I might never have done a graduate degree if it wasn't for the other half, but whatever could have been had I not is gone now, something I can, should I choose, happily explore without having to worry about what it would actually be like.

The other half has been having commitment issues recently: they're supposed to be being resolved in Italy over the summer. In many ways, I'm a creature of habit - I have a croissant and then an espresso and a cigarette almost every morning, for example, and have for years -and so I find the idea that the prospect of carrying on as we are is potentially terrifying in a way quite mystifying. But in a way not. Part of the attraction of relatively settled arrangements, like I would hope the other half and I can have, at least qua relatively settled arrangements, is that they foreclose the set of possibilities, make the world manageable, comprehensible even, by restricting the range of things to be worried about. That attraction trades on a fear of the infinite, on a worry about how decision procedures fail when there's too much evidence. That, though, is just the reverse of a fear of a world in which there's no decision procedure, where an infinite set of options collapses back on itself, presenting one path stretching on before you endlessly. They are inescapably twinned, generating and re-generating each other through their need for a contrast, a world without restraint but nothing to act on and a world full of objects to act on but no means of doing so.

So. The other half is frightened of the years stretching ahead, wondering what else might have been. I am frightened of exactly the same thing, in its opposite form. So what do I do? I lose my temper, I am rude, I am sullen: I deny myself all the advantages of time spent together bar those that are the problem in the first place. Barefoot on plate glass, stamping.

Meat Is Murder

Timothy Burke has a post up about the tactics of animal rights activists here. It argues, in a typically considered and well-tempered manner, that openly threatening scientists who use animals in experiments with violence is both morally dubious and tactically unwise. That it is tactically unwise I don't dispute: the people who dug up the owners' of a guinea pig farm's dead grandmother, quite apart from having done something really quite horrible, have done their cause absolutely no favours. I'm not sure that I agree with the claim that the adoption of those kinds of tactics is necessarily morally dubious, though, or at least, I don't agree with the way that claim is always put. Burke wants to say that once you've stepped outside the boundaries of procedural liberalism - the tedious mutinae of political life in a Western democracy: accumulating evidence, making a public case, building coalitions, and in the end, through the normal channels of political action, achieving change - you've stepped off the reservation. For instance, Burke makes this claim, which I think is extremely strong:

[o]nce you accept that it’s ok to put a molotov cocktail on someone’s doorstep because you disagree with them, you don’t have much to say about Timothy McVeigh except that he’s wrong and you’re right, he’s bad and you’re good–you can’t really say any longer that what he did was wrong, just that he did it in the wrong cause.

Timothy McVeigh killed over a hundred people. Intimidation and damage to property, including most damage to property which is reckless to the safety of the people whose property it is, is not mass murder. Just because someone has given up on some moral limits, it doesn't mean they've given up on them all. Further, I don't think anyone really wants to say that all and any breaches of procedural liberalism are to be unreservedly condemned. Take the animal rights activists' case at face value. They believe that scientists who test on animals are engaged in an activity equivalent to legally sanctioned torture of humans on a massive scale. Setting aside the question of whether that view is remotely justified, I'm not sure I would want to say that if what it claims is the case were the case, carefully considered and politically persuasive breaches of procedural liberalism would not be justified.

Friday, August 25, 2006

No More Meaning Than Is Revealed In The Finished Product

The Friday before last, Open Democracy published this rather good piece by Fred Halliday, which deplores the lack of what one provocatively might call Enlightenment-style analysis of recent conflicts in the Middle East, and, by extension, presumably further afield. Halliday invokes Isaac Deutscher and Hannah Arendt as critics of both of the sides involved, pointing to Arendt's distaste at the Israeli derivation of the entitlement to try Eichmann from their Jewishness, rather than any simple universal principle of things human beings must not do to other human beings, and presenting Deutscher - whom Wikipedia informs me he has edited - as arguing that while both sides had legitimate claims, they were not the claims that they were making, and indeed the manner in which they were making those claims seemed almost designed to perpetuate the conflict. I've not read either Eichmann in Jerusalem or the NLR piece which Halliday extracts his claims about Deutscher from, although I can well believe that these are the kinds of things Arendt and Deutscher would have said from what I have read by them.

The substance of Halliday's criticism, as his use of Arendt suggests, is that both sides have departed from universalism: they have become immersed in the particularity of their own claims, and forgotten that they have other audiences to address. It's a bit like Bernard Williams' critique of relativism: it is now far too late for them to just be talking amongst themselves, for there is a problem to be solved, and short of committing various moral horrors, its solution requires the participation of another group which does not accept the consensus which structures their internal conversations. In this context, what Norm Geras says here and then here is interesting.

Geras is troubled by what we might call the perverse totalitarianism of liberalism: it demands that people tolerate each other, regardless of whether they want to or not. This, at least in the structure, particularly the universalism, of its moral claims, seems disturbingly similar to religious fundamentalism: you will do this, whatever your views on the matter. Now, liberals might just be prepared to bite the bullet, and say, effectively, we're right, you're wrong, and the universalism of our moral claims ought not to trouble us, because they're true. I'm not saying that view is wrong: there's a lot of mileage in pointing out that most illiberal political visions involve doing lots of things which are, by anything approximating a decent moral compass, pretty hideous. It is more that I think that there is something more to be said about the perverse totalitarianism of liberalism, something which, I hope at least, does away with the meta-ethical similarity.

Last weekend, I found out that I have got funding to do a DPhil at Oxford - you can go and crow now, David -which I'll be taking up. The problem I am intending to work is that of the relationship between the political and the ethical, how the question of how one should live individually bears on the question of how we should live together and, although perhaps to a lesser extent, vice versa. Crucial to that relationship is, clearly, the distinction between the public and the private. I feel quite strongly about the distinction between the public and the private: recently, for example, I found something like it useful in attempting to defend the refusal to think that anything particularly morally wrong, as distinguished from undesirable or regretable, happened to Inigo Wilson here, and in the past I've mobilised it as a critique of Blair's attempts at self-justification. It bears on concerns about the Government's anti-terrorism policy - the point about the 'just they say it, it don't make it so' critique of that policy, for example, is that it highlights its privacy, its inaccessibility to the public, both as a body of people and as a sphere of discourse, its lack of justification, its arbitrariness, even, at root, its unreasonedness - and - which is where Geras comes in - on the role of religion in public life.

One problem with the use of specifically religious claims for public justification is that they are quite literally incredible: no-one, other than religious people, believes them, or ought to, at least not because they are religious claims, and so no-one, other than religious people, has any good reason to acquiese to them. But, again that's not quite it. In a way, there's a comparison with one of Williams' many critiques of utilitarianism. Presumably, granting for the sake of argument that utilitarianism is true, Williams suggests, it could be the case that the best way to fulfill the commandment of creating the greatest happiness of the greatest number would be to erase from public consciousness all trace of that commandment, and allow some privileged elite of experts to control social life. There is something deeply perverse about that, even on its face - a moral theory which forbids its own promulgation is very strange - but the problem goes deeper than that.

The publicly affirmed rules by which people live their lives, as a matter of fact, have no purchase on their lives - they are systematically decieved about the point of their actions - and, as a direct corrolary of that, the rules which in fact do govern their lives are being kept from having any presence in those lives. Although practically it may be very difficult for the two difficulties to come apart, they are separate: someone doesn't have to be decieving you for you to be decieved - we are after all quite capable of that all by ourselves. What's wrong with this situation is that these people, these victims of what Williams called Government House Utilitarianism, are being denied agency, the chance to live their lives for themselves, to shape their own existences. They are subjects under the most perfectly paternalistic regime imaginable, and that is a hideous possibility.

Notice though that the consequence of that paternalism is the disappearance of the distinction between the public and the private, or, better, the disappearance of those categories totally. The public sphere under Government House utilitarianism is a sham: anything that those who live under it discuss operates totally differently from how they imagine it, and always will, and they have no ability to alter it anyway, because it is under someone else' control. Equally, their understanding of their valorisation of their fidelity to their spouse lacks any grasp on the real reason for that fidelity, and does so because someone else has sketched out a plan of their life, of how every detail of their existence will go: a panopticon that does not even need eyes. Now, clearly, religious or other dogmas don't go quite that far - no-one is deliberately decieved - but the control extends, perhaps not as far, but in the same way. Looking to a completed moral universe to guide political action destroys, by destroying the possibility of either a public or a private sphere, political action itself: what is left to ask about how to live together when we all live the same way anyway?

It is to this distinction that liberals uncomfortable with its meta-ethical tyranny, as I assume Geras is, need to appeal. Liberalism's universalism, unlike that of some of its opponents, is both public and private: it does not demand that the possibilty of human agency is absolutely constrained by a single text or moral principle, merely by some fairly minimal moral commitments, and so allows everyone to go to hell in their own ways whilst retaining enough shared ground to make mutual comprehension possible. In contrast, like utilitarianism, religious fundamentalism demands total conformity to a rigid set of moral diktats, and would thus, if perfectly implemented, destroy the idea of privacy, of a space in which you are not under the gaze of others, and of publicity, of a space where differences can be reconciled or at least ignored, because when everyone does the same thing all the time, there is only one, and so no others to be under the gaze of or differences to reconcile. Indeed, one might press the point against liberalism's more totalitarian foes that their universalism is a charade, that universalism, to make any sense, needs to address the universe, needs to take into account the fact of plurality, of a world inhabited by distinct agents. Understanding Halliday's anti-particularism in this sense might not go too far wrong.

Thursday, August 17, 2006


Jonathan Edelstein has called for donations to support reconstruction both in Lebanon and northern Israel, and has pledged to match donations up to a certain amount. Seeing as I don't think my puny bank account can handle dollar amounts, I haven't given via the link he provides, but I would urge others to. Cirdan concurs. There's Medecins Sans Frontiers UK link here.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Hey Hey, LBJ, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?

The Vietnam War has come to be something of a foundational myth - an example the moral implications of which are beyond reproach, almost - on much of the left, and even the centre, I'd guess. There can't be many Britons, for example, who think that Harold Wilson did the wrong thing by refusing to send British soldiers when asked to by LBJ, and when arguing about other military interventions, despite how much Vietnam gets used, the retort is always 'it won't be like Vietnam', rather than 'what's so terrible about Vietnam?'. I'm not sure how much that is because Vietnam was a totally unmitigated disaster, although you'd have to guess that plays a role, rather than because of how central Vietnam was to the formative political experiences of a whole generation, and so, as a consequence, appears all over that generation's literary and cinematic output, which then means that a whole other generation gets socialised into the myth. Like I was, I suppose. I've read 'Bright Shining Lie' and 'In Pharaoh's Army', and, more importantly I think, seen 'Apocalypse Now', 'Born On The Fourth Of July', 'Platoon', and 'The Deer Hunter'. So in that context, it was interesting to see 'The Fog Of War', a documentary based around a series of interviews with Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defence from 1961 till 1968.

The film is structured around eleven lessons the director, Errol Morris, draws from McNamara's experience in the US Government, the US Airforce during World War Two, and working at Ford in between. McNamara clearly regrets decisions he took, or encouraged the taking of, whilst working for the first two of these organisations: maxim number five, "proportionality should be a guideline in a war", either prompts or is prompted by the thought that he, as an adviser involved in the firebombing of Japanese cities, committed war crimes, and he is clear that US involvement in Vietnam breached maxim number one, "empathise with your enemy", by seeing what the other side saw as a struggle of national liberation as the attempt to maintain a barrier against the spread of communism. Given the conventional wisdom on those events, I don't suppose that's particularly surprising. Neither are the content of the maxims: number two, extrapolated from his experiences during the Cuban Missile Crisis, partly either reflects or is mirrored by work in game theory which has drawn heavily on the experience of nuclear confrontation, claiming "rationality will not save us", while number six, "get the data" is banal even for common sense, although, from McNamara's examples, more important than you might think.

The temptation, obviously, is to regard the lessons McNamara draws as having wider currency. It's not really one I'm prepared to resist, and, given the general terms in which they are articulated, it's one that he and the film explicitly encourage. Only the claim that rationality will not save us, which McNamara quite clearly means to be understood as relating to the use of nuclear weapons - he baldly states that it was a matter of luck, not judgement, that there was no nuclear war in 1962, saying that, amongst other things, Castro had not only told the Soviet Union that they could use the weapons in Cuba but that they should in the event of an invasion, despite both being rational and knowing it would result in the total destruction of Cuba - does not clearly have wider application. Given what I said here, for example, it's tempting to read maxim number nine, "in order to do good, you may have to be prepared to do evil" as alerting us to the occasional duty of neglecting to intervene whilst evil triumphs, for fear of the consequences of doing so, especially in light of McNamara's unwillingness to escalate the conflict in 1962, rather than the more conventional reading.

That's not the clearest one though, I think. Making judgements of counter-productivity and imprudence in morally charged situations can often both difficult and dangerous, because you need to be sure of what aim is not being realised, of what imperative is being violated. That means being sure both of the specific intentions of the actors involved, and of the possible moral limits to the achievement of those ends - because of a standing assumption that people don't want to commit obvious moral wrongs which, to be effective as a tool of criticism, needs to identify obvious moral wrongs - neither of which can always be easy.

In some cases, though, it's relatively easy. A significant strand of the criticism of both what is described as the War on Terror and the current Israeli occupation of the southern Lebanon seems to me to point out that they break maxims one, six, seven and eight - that they don't understand what the enemy is fighting for, that they lacked adequate intelligence, and that they lack the necessary openness to the possibility that the beliefs and reasoning they are fought on is flawed. That doesn't rule out the further criticism, that they are simply wrong and shouldn't be done because of that, of course. It has a kind of strength unavailable to the 'it's just wrong' critique if successful though, because it, immediately, without engaging in further moral argument, performs an immediate reductio ad absurdum: if you want to do x, why on earth would you do y, it demands. For example, why on earth would Israelis think that occupying the southern Lebanon was a good idea, when they did it for nearly twenty years, failed to destroy Hizbullah, and, only six years ago, were more or less agreed it was a pretty disastrous policy? Or that serious damaging the capacity of a state to act by devastating its infrastructure would be a good way of ensuring that it acted to disarm what is by all accounts a well-equipped and trained militia force?

The problem is, of course, that these critiques aren't always paid attention to. Ways of avoiding them are developed: mostly obviously, perhaps, the denial, by essentially denying their humanity, of the opponent's possession of a complex set of motives, and so the possibility of empathy with them. Think of the claim that Hizbullah presents an existential threat to Israel, for example, and the uses to which that is put. Interestingly, the last maxim that Morris drew from talking to McNamara is that human nature doesn't change, which he apparently sees as an ironic comment on the rest of the maxims, since it shows that the mistakes which McNamara made are mistakes that we will keep on making, that, effectively, the maxims are useless because they will continue to be ignored. Maybe we should just go back to chanting.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Maybe We Shouldn't Make Omelettes At All

The claim that

all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing

gets bandied about on the interwebs a fair amount, and you can see both its logic and its appeal: there are costs to inaction, and a succinct and stirring statement of that is a useful piece of political rhetoric. It is often attributed to Burke, although apparently, he never did and it is most likely a poor paraphrase of something else Burke said.

Likewise, the claim that

you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs

despite apparently having been said by Lenin is often used for a similar purpose: it pithily expresses regret about the costs of action, but points to the end that the action aims at, which justifies the imposition of those costs.

Now, as a retort to the omelette analogy, Hannah Arendt allegedly (something like) said

you can break an awful lot of eggs without making an omelette.

This strikes me as not being strong enough. It points to the gap between means and ends, to the possibility of the failure of the means to reach the desired end, when, often, what we really want to get at is precisely the connection between the means and the end. After all, it strikes me as fairly likely that one of the reasons that the political system that Lenin was trying to justify is generally thought to be unjustifiable is that achievement of its ends would have been impossible without, putting it mildly, breaking a hell of a lot of eggs, and that wasn't a price worth paying for any of its hypothesed achievements, even though they would have been, if they had been achieved, desirable, genuine achievements. Put another way, we all realise that, in some situations, the cost of achieving an otherwise praiseworthy end is too high to make the pursuit of that end acceptable. What's needed is some kind of reversal of the non-Burke quote: something like

sometimes, to be good, it is necessary to do nothing.

As A Good Conservative, For Gray It Is An Article Of Faith That Honesty Is Not A Virtue, or, I Will Probably Never Be Employed By The LSE

John Gray had a review of Amartya Sen's new book in the Guardian Review on Saturday. In it, three times, Gray ascribes a particular view to the majority of liberal theorists without ever showing any liberal theorists hold the view. Firstly, he states that

[u]nlike most liberal thinkers, [Isaiah] Berlin understood that, while freedom may be a universal value, it is far from being an overriding human need.

Secondly, that

[a]long with many liberal philosophers, [Sen] seems to think human conflict is a result of intellectual error.

Lastly, that

[f]or Sen, as a good liberal rationalist, it is an article of faith that the violence of identity is a result of erroneous beliefs.

Gray's evidence for the second two claims consists of a series of quotes from Sen's book, which it looks to me like he has at best misread, and would themselves in any case only show that Sen, rather than liberals more generally, seeks to explain human conflict through intellectual error. For example, he says:

[w]riting of sectarian conflict in post-Saddam Iraq, Sen observes: "It should not be so surprising that the overlooking of all the identities of people other than those connected with religion can prove to be a problematic way of trying to reduce the hold of religious sectarianism." The implication is that sectarianism in Iraq is a product of intellectual confusion...

Since Sen, in the statement quoted by Gray, is talking about methods of "trying to reduce the hold of religious sectarianism", it strikes me that the 'overlooking' he is talking about is likely not to be an epistemological blindspot, as Gray supposes, but a feature of Coalition policy, which has been surprisingly willing to let alone Iraqi politics fragment on sectarian grounds, given the predictable consequences of doing so. Of course, even if Sen did believe what Gray ascribes to most liberal theorists, that would not mean other liberal theorists did.

Or, again, leading up to the second of the uncorroborated assertions, earlier in the piece:

[t]here is a deeper unrealism in Sen's analysis, which emerges in his inability to account for the powerful appeal of the solitarist view. He tells us "there is a big question about why the cultivation of singularity is so successful, given the extraordinary naivete of the thesis in a world of obviously plural affiliations". Here we touch the heart of Sen's continuing bewilderment. Along with many liberal philosophers, he seems to think human conflict is a result of intellectual error.

Given that Gray himself earlier says

[t]he solitarist view of human identity is plainly false

and it is reasonable to wonder why a view which is plainly false persists, I fail to see what is wrong with stating that the falsity of a view leaves a "big question about why [it] is so successful", or why that means that Sen must believe that conflict caused by that view "is a result of intellectual error" any more than John Gray must.

Further, the causal account of the roots of human conflict Gray offers looks to me rather like that which one would reasonably expect Sen to provide. Gray says of the violence in Iraq:

[its causes] are many and tangled, including conflicts of interest, rival power structures and competition for resources. Iraq is a post-colonial construction whose populations are divided not only by ethnic and religious allegiances but also by rival claims on its oil reserves. Toppling Saddam's tyranny meant destroying the state and plunging the country into chaos. Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities are not at one another's throats because they have a mistaken view of human identity. Trapped by the brutal logic of anarchy, they are locked in a battle for survival that could go on for generations.

This looks very much to me like what I will call the Collective Action Problem Explanation of violence: the lack of a stable regime has meant that other affiliations, able to provide the some of benefits associated with any established order, have come to the fore, and then, in the absence of an over-riding power, started competing over resources. Sen, amongst other things, has worked quite extensively on social choice theory, as indeed Gray states whilst introducing him. Social choice theory deals quite extensively in collective action problems: the Tragedy of the Commons, for example. Sen would therefore be well aware of the processes which are involved in the Collective Action Problem Explanation, and indeed probably rather better versed in them than Gray. Since none of the quotes Gray does produce actually contain a causal explanation of violence, it does not therefore seem unreasonable to believe that Sen does at least show an interest in the Collective Action Problem Explanation.

Gray's evidence for the first of his unsupported claims is, of course, liberal theorists' failure to grasp the importance of the Collective Action Problem Explanation, as exemplified by Sen. This works because by not grasping the importance of the Collective Action Problem Explanation, liberal theorists don't see that solutions to collective action problems, supplied not by freedoms but by stable authorities, are crucial to the reduction of violence in human life, a reasonable goal by anyone's lights. Now, I haven't read Sen's book, and I assume, maybe not wisely, that Gray has, so perhaps Sen genuinely does ignore it. That, though, does not licence the claim that the majority of liberal theorists ignore it. Indeed, it is the centre-piece of a major strand of liberal political thought, social contract theory - Rawls and Locke, neither minor figures in the liberal canon, are social contract theorists, for example. Social contract theory seeks to explain what justifies state power. In doing so, it necessarily calls upon the bad things that happen in the absence of state power - the things the Collective Action Problem Explanation talks about - since otherwise, the point of states and their creation of stable authorities would be totally obscure.

I said last year that

Gray is either so stupid as to be a shocking indictment of the processes one is required to go through to obtain a professorship in Britain, or a devious liar...

I tend now towards the latter explanation.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Even Numbers Have Limits

Back in my early days of blogging, I wrote a post extolling the virtues of the protest song. In it, I mentioned the Mos Def track, Mathematics. This track basically lists a series of statistics which give reasons to be skeptical about the claim that American politics is race- or class-blind - the black unemployment rate is, according to Mos Def, more than triple that for whites, for example. Now, clearly, statistics don't tell us everything relevant about a given situation: the proportion of German adults killed or injured in World War Two, when compared to the proportion of British adults killed or injured in the same conflict, by itself might be quite misleading about the justice or otherwise of that conflict, for example.

Still, statistics can be useful: if, let us say, we were to discover that an organisation which was claimed to be an existential threat to a given state was killing 0.4 citizens of that state a month, that would, surely, give us good reason to be skeptical about the claim. Equally, if we were to discover that a state's attempt to destroy the threat posed by that organisation was resulting in the deaths of people at around 875 times the rate that the threat had previously been resulting in, we might question whether the response was proportional: whether, in fact, it represented a reasonable response to that threat.

With that in mind, it might be relevant to know that, during the course of this discussion with Brian Barder, I worked out - on the basis of figures provided by the Israeli Foreign Ministry - that for the conflict before last month's escalation in southern Lebanon and northern Israel to have killed as many people as it has since that escalation, it would have had to gone on for about 875 months, or very nearly 73 years. Further, that before the conflict's escalation, Hizbullah's attacks on northern Israel had, since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon, been killing approximately 0.4 Israeli citizens - not civilians, I might add, but citizens - a month. Even including the eight Israeli soldiers whom I understand were killed in the kidnapping which began the current conflict, that figure only rises to 0.5. Assuming, as I did in the original calculation, equal casualties on each side, that would mean that it would have taken a bit more than 58 years to kill as many people as the post-escalation conflict has.

On the basis of that, it strikes me that anyone claiming that either of the two sides party to that conflict presented a serious existential threat to the other or that a return to the status quo would be unacceptable must be taking the piss. On the other hand, any participant in a conflict which has destroyed much of a state's infrastructure and killed over six hundred of its inhabitants in less than a month clearly does present an existential threat to that state. One wonders whether anyone who thinks that Israel is entitled to respond as it is believes the Lebanese military would be entitled to respond in a manner, were it able to, which ended up killing Israelis at 875 or even only 700 times the rate the Israeli military is currently killing the Lebanese.

I apologise those who have already seen these numbers: I thought their limits were worth stressing just a little more.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Le Solitaire

Whilst I'm thinking about goalkeeping and philosophy, and particularly goalkeeping and Camus, a couple of quotes dug up from here. Apparently Albert, presumably as a result of all those hard years as a youth international, had this to say about the beautiful game:

All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.

Sartre, on the other hand, fittingly for someone who seems to have regarded almost all interaction with others as an example of stunningly bad faith, seems to fail to grasp the essential point of a competitive sport:

In football, everything is complicated by the presence of the other side.

Bourdieu, well, what more can you say:

Nothing is simultaneously freer and more constrained than the action of the good player. He quite naturally materialises at just the place the ball is about to fall, as if the ball were in command of him - but by that very fact, he is in command of the ball.

Soundsystem-Related Bleg

I currently have a Hitachi AX M68 stereo, and it is, not to put to fine a point on it, pissing me right off. Since the heatwave began, it has, all of its own volition, been changing its function - so switching from, say, playing a CD to playing the non-existent first auxiliary input - and the volume. I could live with this whilst it was actually hot: my room, the only window of which is south-facing, gets ridiculously hot during the day, and electronic equipment is not necessarily built to cope with those kinds of temperature extremes. But now it is not hot: in fact, it's raining. I'd rather not spend the money to buy a new stereo, as this one is only about a year and a half old, so I really need to fix it. Any ideas anyone? I have tried google, but nothing seems to come up.

Update, 10/08/06: Having left it unplugged all weekend whilst I was visiting i miei genitori, it now seems to be fine.