Thursday, September 28, 2006

Marx Is Claiming It Was Offside

The infamous Monty Python philosophers' football sketch, here.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It May Not Be Chaotic, But Is Unquestionably Grotesque

Ronan Bennett - whose personal history I was unaware of - has a puff piece for John McDonnell and his campaign for the Labour leadership in The Guardian today. I'm increasingly inclined to take my place on amongst the dead-enders by voting for him, even though I'm pretty sure he's fairly clearly unelectable, whenever the leadership election comes around. Regardless, Bennett's piece has a fine penultimate paragraph, revolving around a quite pleasingly provocative ironic rhetorical repetition of a memorable attack on the Labour far left:

In 1985, Neil Kinnock, then Labour leader, made an electrifying speech at the party conference denouncing Derek Hatton and the bankrupt Militant Tendency-run Liverpool council. Kinnock was devastating about "the grotesque chaos of a Labour council - hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers". The unlamented Hatton is long gone, but compared with the record of Blair's administration his misdeeds were petty. Cash for honours, secret loans, a neo-con foreign policy, war crimes in Iraq, home secretaries boasting they send more people to prison than the Tories ever did. A Labour government - a Labour government - in which sit both Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt, former stalwarts of the National Council for Civil Liberties, proposing 90-day detentions for terrorist suspects, restricting trial by jury, throwing asylum seekers into prison ... The list is long. It may not be chaotic, but is unquestionably grotesque.

Quite.

Update: it looks like Peter Hain is going for the left-wing vote in the Deputy Leadership.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Paying Attention

Norm Geras, attempting to defend the Decent Left against Tony Judt's recent LRB piece attacking them, picks out this as the core of Judt's attack:

the habit of casting every political choice in binary moral terms

Geras then goes on to accuse Judt of being intolerant because he's unwilling to see that reasonable people might disagree over the invasion of Iraq and various other military interventions. This obviously implies precisely the kind of fault Judt accuses the Decent Left of: the reason he is intolerant is that he is casting all of these political choices in binary moral terms, because he, and those like him, refuse to believe that a reasonable person could only take one side in these disputes.

This response, obviously, doesn't really address Judt's argument, and doesn't even really adequately lay a charge of hypocrisy. Notice that Judt isn't saying there's anything wrong with casting individual political choices in binary moral terms: the critique is that every political choice is cast in binary moral terms. This is sensible, because there are political choices which ought, in all realistic situations, to be understood in certain binary moral terms: to torture or not to torture, for example. What the idea of every political choice being cast in binary moral terms suggests is an inattentiveness to the moral complexity of the world. After all, it would display a lack of moral sense to insist that most decisions about marginal tax rates and their effects on incentives ought to be understood through the lens of a discourse on Nazism. To do so wouldn't have paid sufficient attention to the various sources of moral costs and benefits, most of which have more or less nothing to do with Nazism, which properly impact on such a decision: it would be morally blind.

It strikes me that that is a perfectly respectable critique of the Decent Left: in its rush to see everything through the prism of democracy promotion and suchlike, it ignores a whole host of other costs and benefits which ought to be considered in cases of intervention, as well as the manifest shortcomings of those whom it expects to act as its agents, so, when it formulates the terms on which the decision is to be taken, they don't take into account all these other costs and benefits, or the problems of implementation. It's not so much that the Decent Left sees things in binary moral terms then, but that they see them in the wrong moral terms full-stop: anyone who trusts George Bush and his coterie of plutocrats to successfully run a democratising occupation and so was liable to cast the invasion of Iraq in the binary moral terms of for or against democracy clearly hadn't been paying enough attention to a number of things, not least how George Bush got where he is in the first place.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

But That's Your Argument. We Want Someone Else's Argument

Phil has news of an alternative to Wikipedia here, and given what I said here, unsurprisingly, I think it's probably a fairly good idea, if it can be made to work. What my recent experience of Wikipedia indicates is that a fetishism of sourcing has developed which rather is like a particularly ineffective, ersatz and bizarrely frustrating version of the changes which are being proposed anyway: a kind of scholasticism which would be a brilliant parody if it weren't in such poor taste. What's the point of the much-vaunted wisdom of crowds if you get shouted down unless you can cite one of the select few who make it onto the 'reliable source' list, anyway?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Reader Requests

You only get fifteen this time, and they're not in alphabetical order. None of the artists are repeated, including from last time, which made it more difficult, which accounts for the shortness. Also, I'm hungry, and want to go and make my dinner. But, there you are: fifteen more examples of lyrics that piss all over most of VHbloody1's list.

1. They called him MC squared
cos he rapped like no other - Super Furry Animals, Hermann Loves Pauline, Phil

2. You'd better throw away the spoons and all the other dirty things
Cos when the law arrives this evening, I don't think they'll wait and ring - Spacemen 3, Call The Doctor

3. Oh, I didn't realise you wrote poetry
I didn't realise you wrote such bloody awful poetry - Frankly Mr Shankly, The Smiths, Phil

4. I am descendants of the builders of your street
Tenders to your cotton money
I am hip-hop - Hip Hop, Mos Def

5. Far above the ocean, deep under the sea
There's a river running dry because of you and me - Goddess on a Hiway, Mercury Rev, Tom

6. Some people think they jive me
I know they must be crazy - Walk On Gilded Splinters, Dr. Johm

7. Sunday morning waking up
Can't even focus on a coffee cup - Where Do I Begin, Chemical Brothers, Phil

8. I thought I could organise freedom
how scandinavian of me - Hunter, Bjork

9. Paramedics fell into the wound
Like a rehired scab at a barehanded plant - Invalid Litter Department, At The Drive-In

10. She don't do major credit cards
I doubt she does receipts - When The Sun Goes Down, Arctic Monkeys, Jarndyce

11. I trapped a spider underneath a glass
I kept it for a week to see how long he'd last - England Made Me, Black Box Recorder

12. But I believe in this - and it's been tested by research
That he who fucks nuns will later join the church - Death or Glory, The Clash, Phil

13. I can't believe life is so complex
When I just wanna sit here and watch you undress - This Is Love, PJ Harvey, Simon

14. I'm over the city, fucking the future
I'm high inside your kiss - Eric's Trip, Sonic Youth

15. Sometimes we ride in a taxi to the ends of the city
Like big stars in the back seat like skeletons ever so pretty - The Asphalt World, Suede

Update: Embarassingly, listening to the song in question over the weekend, I found that I had in fact got the lyrics to #3 wrong, and that there's a much better couplet in the song anyway (I want to live and I want to Love/I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of ring any bells, anyone?). Clearly, the reason I'm bad at these when other people do them is that I have a memory like a leaky sieve. Apart from for my own mistakes.

Update II: I've announced them all, because no-one had been guessing for some time...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Theory Of Heaps

Hannah Arendt famously talked of, when writing on Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem, the banality of evil: that it does not wear a mask of open contempt for moral standards, that it does not exalt in its violation of those standards, that it is not a Hannibal Lecter-like figure, smiling as it gleefully discusses eating someone's liver with expensive Italian vegetables, but tries to reassure itself of its probity, its basic moral uprightness, the difficulty of its position, that it was just following orders, that it comes not from a too perfect understanding of other people's pain, but from a failure of that capacity, a quite ordinary lack of empathy.

The little increments matter. Each extra indignity, the next small piece of suffering inflicted, failed, I suppose, for men like Eichmann to mount up, but were somehow seen in isolation, as acts and events missing important connections to other, similar, acts and events. Not just that though, for surely the point is that as well as missing the sum of these horrors, they missed them as horrors individually. Not only did the genocide of Jews and other so-called undesirables qua genocide pass these people by, but each of the steps, the downward cycle of chipping away at their status as a bearer of rights, each a crime, went un-noticed. The increments matter, because it is only when they go unremarked upon that the greater horrors can be widely enough contemplated to be achieved.

I remember the most heart-rending thing about studying Nazism through documents during my A-Level history course, for example, being the last document in the textbooks we used, a list of the numbers of Jews murdered in the Holocaust by country. Tens of thousands here, hundreds of thousands there, and eventually millions in Poland and the USSR. Six million can seem like an unimaginable thing until you see it laid out like that, increment upon increment, mounting and mounting on, seemingly endlessly, these already huge numbers piling on top of each other, their orders of magnitude growing, until the incomprehensibly evil becomes comprehensible through an understanding of each of its parts. It gives you a sense of scale. You understand how terrible it was by understanding that the horror of even the smallest of its parts is at the edge of understanding.

So, increments matter. The little details matter. Understanding things bit by bit matters. And now, the reveal: this, by John Emerson, is wrong. What it wants is grand systems, philosophy painted with broad strokes, Hegel's two page long sentences on the inquities of the Neapolitans and Montesquieu's theory that different climates have different effects on the elasticity of the nerves and thus on temprament. More, the less said about the idea of giving up on truth, the better. Much analytical philosophy may be badly written and obsessed with logic, and at times wilfully obscurantist and overcome with an urge to systematise. What it is good at though, is attention to detail.

My mother, having been fed a line by someone still kicking at Plato's shins, once expressed, half-jokingly, the worry that I might be drawn into the study of the theory of heaps. The theory of heaps, even though I'm not personally interested in it, matters: it is, as Rorty correctly identifies, about vagueness, about how precise and how knowable the boundaries between concepts are. The idea is, if we can get clear about the precision and knowability of the boundaries of the concept of a heap, we'll have better idea about how vague in general concepts are. Since if we don't have a good idea of how vague concepts are in general, we are liable to make mistakes when using them, to call things by the wrong name, to become confused, this seems to me eminently sensible work, even if initially apparently rather ridiculous. But then, it is easy to forget how the little increments, the individal details, matter.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Your Debutante Knows What You Need But I Know What You Want

Other people do these, and I humiliate myself, so, having had the misfortune to spend part of my Friday night watching VH1's attempt to find the 'Nation's Favourite Lyrics' - which was exactly as hideous yet compelling as you might imagine - I'm having a go. These aren't first lines, and they don't contain the title of the song, unless I particularly like them. They're just a collection of lyrics that I really like. None of the artists are repeated. Guess away. One person, who ought to know who they are, isn't allowed to guess 1, because I want to see someone else get it. Also, they're in alphabetical order by artist, because that's how my music is organised in ITunes, and I'm too lazy to muddle them up.

1. He drowned his stepson in the duck pond
He let the wifebeater out to make a pop song
Put razorblades in the icecream
Made nobody famous on the big screen - Bad Old Man, Babybird, Tom

2. In the end it took me a dictionary
To find out the meaning of unrequited
while she was giving herself for free
at a party to which I was never invited -The Saturday Boy, Billy Bragg, Rachele

3. And I say 'Oh come on now
You know, you know about my debutante'
And she says 'Your debutante just knows what you need
but I know what you want' - Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, Bob Dylan, Liz/Phil

4. I took time to work it out in seats of higher learning
but I never understood a single thing they said to me
except 'son you know you think you've got a chance but let me tell you
we've worked you out and you've come here to fail' - Get Action, The Delgados

5. She's filing her nails while they're dragging the lake - Watching The Detectives, Elvis Costello, Phil

6. He fills his head with culture
He gives himself an ulcer - At Home He's A Tourist, Gang Of Four, Phil

7. Oh make me over
I'm all I wanna be
a walking study
in demonology - Celebrity Skin, Hole Ben

8. Gertrude Stein said that's enough
I know that that's not enough now - Roseability, Idlewild, El

9. There's nothing left alive
'cept a pair of glassy eyes - Gimme Danger, The Stooges

10. And in any case it wouldn't be the same,
'Cause we've all grown up and we've got our lives
and the values that we had once upon a time, seem stupid now
'Cause the rent must be paid
and some bonds severed and others made - Burning Sky, The Jam, Phil

11. I’m flat-busted, wild-eyed and free
I couldn’t get arrested if I tried
A has-been at a mere thirty-five - Big Star, The Jayhawks, El

12. Wanted a woman
Never bargained for you
Lots of people talking
Few of them know
Soul of a woman
Was created below - Dazed and Confused, Led Zeppelin, Liz

13. Burn, Hollywood, burn
taking down tinseltown - Open Up, Leftfield, Ben

14. Sun came up
It was another day
Sun came up
You were blown away - Drunken Angel, Lucinda Williams

15. It's so hot in here
What are they trying to hatch? - Parade, Magazine, Phil

16. I was looking back to see if you were looking back to see me looking back at you - Safe From Harm, Massive Attack, El

17. We should go into town and get some money
We could go to the pictures and see something funny
Share a popcorn and we can go to the pub at night
Get right tanked up and go home and have a fight - R U Still In 2 It, Mogwai, Rachele

18. And they wished they'd dug a deeper hole to bury Sorrow - The Carny, Nick Cave, Rochenko

19. He danced for those at minstrel shows and county fairs throughout the South
He spoke with the tears of fifteen years how his dog and he travelled about - Mr Bojangles, Nina Simone, Rochenko

20. Lend me some sugar
I am your neighbour - Hey Ya, Outkast, El

21. Every night before I go to sleep
Find a ticket, win the lottery - Free Money, Patti Smith, El

22. 'Let's sit, let's talk, politics goes so good with beer
and while we're at it, baby
why don't you tell me one of your biggest fears'
and I said 'Losing my penis to a whore with disease' - I've Been Tired, The Pixies

23. I used to compose my own critical notices in my head
The crows gasp at [blank]'s masterful control of the bicycle
skilfully avoiding the dog turd outside the corner shop
Imagining a blue plaque outside the place I first ever touched a girl's chest - I Spy, Pulp, Oli

24. I read bad poetry into your machine - At My Most Beautiful, REM, Oli

25. She'd ask me to dance in a mansion on top of the hill
She'd ash on the carpet and slip me a pill
And she'd get me pretty loaded on gin - Ryan Adams, Sylvia Plath, Ben/Rachele

26. Think that I have caught it fast
Probably contagious
Think that I'm a winner, baby
Probably Las Vegas - Think I'm In Love, Spiritualized, El

Only four of these artists were, so far as I can remember, in VH1's parade of the stupidity of people prepared to vote in online polls: #5, #24, #9 and #3, but they are forgiven, particularly as it's not these songs. Which tells you something about the way the lyricist of #23, in particular, has somehow been totally erased from public consciousness.

Update: I'll announce all the remaining ones on Sunday.

Final Update: All announced.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Two Poems

The best novel I've read recently has been Peter Carey's Theft. David Mitchell's Number9Dream was a little too tricksy for its own good, a series of clever-clever experiments tied together by a narrative whose increasing tendency towards hysteria was a clear sign of having to bear too much weight - a Yakuza mass-murder and an organ theft and sex slavery ring exposed by email virus in a fairly conventional coming of age story, for Pete's sake - and Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved, whilst an interesting and at times beautifully written exploration of the varieties, the successes and failures, of love, is a little staidly middle class - narrated by an art history professor, married to an English professor, with a successful artist, himself married to a kind of intellectual historian, for a best friend - for my tastes.

Theft, though, Theft is really bloody good. The prose is captivating. Calling it an effortless evocation of the interiority of the twin narrators doesn't do it anything like justice, because evocation implies too much artifice, the idea of pentagles and incense, of summoning something that wasn't there before. They just are, natural objects that didn't need creation, helplessly alive. Neither is it effortless: they struggle, they rage, they are stubborn and stupid, hardly slipping through the world with barely a backward glance. It's unashamedly full of sweat. It's almost like it's not written, like they just spewed out onto the page, except, of course, it's about fakes and putting on a face to the world, and particularly the way Australians both live up to and disappoint others' expectations of them, and so it's well aware that it's putting on a face for the reader. It's demotic in the best possible way, subversive and grumpy and unreasonable, with raw cunning and wit, laugh-out-loud funny, and it knows it is, so it doesn't feel hectoring. I'm quite happy to call it brilliant. If it doesn't win the Booker, it'll be a f*cking travesty.

Bringing it up here though, the point is that it is about, like the couple of other Peter Carey novels I've read, the myths we tell about ourselves and others tell about us. The artist who is feted for his anger, his lack of decadence, his rawness and authenticity, ends up producing fakes, happy with himself because in a way, that's what he's always been doing. That, the implication is, is what Australia has been doing since well before Glen McGrath started, in a quite calculated attempt to psyche them out, naming opposition batsman he was going to target before Test series. Surely though, however well put - and it is damn well put - this is just Hegel and recognition over and over again: the master and the slave, with the frictionless world of absolute power lacking anything to interact with. You need something to kick against, something that kicks back, partly so you know you're kicking against something, so you've got a target to aim at.

The first summer I was seeing the now ex-other half was very difficult, which isn't to say it wasn't good for me. I wrote this for example.

In your eyes that leap as you smile,
Pools of polished oak,
Rich with whorls
And a grain poured full of love,
I have seen the world
Crafted with a gentle hand.

I make a burnt offering of part of my heart
And hope a wind catches it to bring it to you.

Here is the offering,

A song to fit the world it describes,
Warm amber, golden at its core.


I taught myself to be contented, which wasn't easy, and I got quite good at it. Maybe I ought to have been more like this, written I think sometime that same summer, drawing on an evening's drunken conversation with a middle-aged closet gay, confused, unhappy and profoundly religious man two friends and I met in Carcassonne whilst inter-railing a few summers before.

"With my own hands
When I make love to your memory
It’s not the same
I miss the thunder
I miss the rain"

He is an outgrowth of the frame,
The painstaking marks’ monochrome
Describing sinews as cables pulled taut,
Tiredness twined into their weave
As they dive into the shadow above the collarbone
And cling to that below it,
The arms a pair of wretched cranes
Overloaded with the stark gravity of the body.

Hung high and weighed down,
The penitent’s perfect release
In the nails and the sorrowing eyes,
The sacrificial lamb gradually bleeding out.
That is what you saw on your mountain
During your epiphany of pilgrimage,
By the grace of God,
Finding the infinite made carnal flesh.

How appropriate that
We met in that town:
Clutching to cheap histories
And faded associations
Like a tramp with a faded locket,
Much fingered and never quite pawned,
A cauterising, distant reliquary,
The saint’s bones mere skeletons of hopes.

Whispered promises sordid in the night
Made intimate the simple secrets of summoning,
The parallel lines etched acid into dreams,
Compasses for seeking out tarnished absolutes:
Sublimation into a frenzied dance
Where we imagine ourselves gods
Elevating one lust above all others
And not caring for the world outside.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It's Not Funny Anymore

Apparently John Hutton, Work and Pensions Secretary, said on BBC Breakfast this morning, talking about when exactly Blair will quit, that

I think the view of the majority of people, is that the prime minister has made his intentions reasonably clear

Shouts of 'from his cold dead hands' didn't ring out, I'd guess. More seriously, I'm guessing that, even for a political party constructed around a kind of blinkered tough-mindedness about the politically possible, Blair has become too much to bear now, maybe even partly because of the moral bankruptcy of his policy rather than the electoral consequences of allowing him to cling on. In a way, there's a sadness about the identities of the people who are, if this palace coup is successful, going to topple Blair. They're all Blairites, so I don't suppose there's much chance of any serious ideological change. Brecht's perfectly contemptous joke at the expense of the Stasi state still captures perfectly the relationship between the Labour Party and its leadership. You begin to wonder whether it's f*cking worth it.

When The Levee Breaks

More photos (via).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

You Just Do What You Gotta Do

In this review of Christina Aguilera's most recent album, Dorian Lyskey damns the record as a whole in what I can only assume, in the absence of any knowledge of it in particular, is an entirely fair manner by saying of one particular song that it

sounds, for once, like it's aimed at one human ear rather than an entire Super Bowl crowd

A lesson for us all, there, I think. Likewise, in Siri Hustvedt's 'What I Loved', one character describes to another the letters with which she persuaded a third to leave his wife and child for a second time and come back to her:

"They had to be sincere" she said, "but they couldn't be maudlin. They had to be well-written, without a shred of self-pity, and they had to be sexy without being pornographic"

Well, I may not have tried for the sexiness, but on that kind of standard I can't say I didn't get more or less exactly what I deserved. I think I'm going to have a glass of wine, and listen to someone who really knew how to sing to just one person.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Step Away From The Crocodile

I've seen a couple of Steve Irwin TV shows. My abiding memory of them is him proding a disturbingly large and fast and increasingly angry scorpion which he'd just breathlessly told the poor cameraman was really quite poisonous - so poisonous in fact that, here, on top of a rocky outcrop in the middle of the some wilderness or other, if it stung you, you'd probably die, since it'd take too long to get to an antidote - with a stick to try and get it to come out from under the rock it was attempting to shelter beneath and crawl onto another stick he was holding. He was, by any standard, seriously reckless. But entertainingly so. There's a degree of irony in his untimely death having occurred in such an apparently unlikely manner, even. Still, RIP.

The other thing which piqued my interest today was Banksy pulling a kind of guerilla art stunt aimed at Paris Hilton's release of a record (all over the bloody place, but I saw it first here). There's a flickr slideshow here (via). Just to prove I really can't let things go, in the context of this disagreement with Timothy Burke, I'd guess this is hardly well within the bounds of procedural liberalism - theft and various violations of the trades description act are presumably involved - but no-one sensible thinks Banksy is halfway to being Timothy McVeigh.

If This Pisses Anyone Off, It's Not My Fault

Imagine I worked in a department store, and one day sold someone a knife. Further, imagine that that person was buying a knife with the intention of using it to murder someone else, which they then did. We would find it difficult, presumably, to hold me responsible to any significant degree, if at all, for that murder. People buy kitchen knives and don't murder people all the time. There are plenty of perfectly legitimate uses of kitchen knives. Still, there are conditions under which selling someone something which they then used to murder someone would make you at least partly responsible for that murder: if they were clearly insane, or violent, or the object in question was one whose only plausible use was to harm other people. Moral and causal responsibility are not identical, but they do overlap.

Buried in this series of relatively brief comments on other people's posts, including a somewhat over-enthusiastic defence of London, is an attempt at an argument against meritocratic justifications of laissez-faire capitalism. Accepting for the sake of argument that laissez-faire capitalism is meritocratic - not something I'd accept otherwise - it runs something like this:

a meritocratic distribution is one where various costs and benefits are distributed according to some fairly assessed criterion of merit;

100m sprinting involves a fairly assessed criterion of merit, in particular, the ability to run short distances quickly;

a distribution which distributed costs and benefits on the basis of results in 100m sprints therefore would be a meritocratic distribution;

a distribution which distributed the cost of lifelong slavery on the basis of results in 100m sprints would therefore be a meritocratic distribution;

any distribution involving lifelong slavery would not be just;

therefore, not all meritocratic distributions are just;

for some property x to be a sufficient condition of some other property y, all things which are x must also be y;

therefore, the property of being meritocratic is not a sufficient condition of being just.

Now, that argument may not be watertight. In particular, the first two premises might be dubious. We might deny that the ability to run short distances quickly counts as a merit. We might also deny that any distribution which involves distributing costs and benefits on the basis of merit is meritocratic, on the grounds that the merit should be connected in some way to the costs and benefits which are distributed on the basis of it. Notice what wouldn't count as an argument against it though: simply denying it by saying laissez-faire capitalism wasn't like sprinting in a number of ways other than sharing the property of allegedly distributing benefits meritocratically. To do that would be to refuse to engage with the argument at all, because, after all, the argument doesn't claim that sprinting is like laissez-faire capitalism, except in this one respect - that it is allegedly meritocratic. Obviously, the argument is entirely comfortable with the fact that laissez-faire capitalism doesn't typically involve wearing tight-fitting lycra, because it picks out one common feature, their meritocracy, and so saying 'laissez-faire capitalism doesn't involve wearing tight-fitting lycra' would be avoiding the question. We might call doing that being incorrigible, literally impossible to correct, since persistently doing that would be effectively totally avoiding any attempt at an argument a disputant put to you.

The point about moral responsibility is of course that some principle roughly like 'you, barring insanity, incapability or serious coercion, are morally responsible to some degree for outcomes which are predictable consequences of your actions' is broadly true. It is far from being the only principle with which we might assess the moral character of particular actions, and has nothing at all to say about how we assess the moral character of the outcomes of particular actions: it merely assigns some indeterminate degree of responsibility for outcomes which could be predicted as the result of actions. That indeterminacy is also important. It allows us to distinguish between naivety, negligience, passive assistance and active doing, and distribute responsibility appropriately. We might think, for example, that leaving your car door unlocked when nipping into the shops for five minutes would leave you less responsible in the event that it is broken into than if it was left unlocked overnight in on a street where it was public knowledge that cars were frequently broken into. However, assuming you are not mad, you are still to some degree responsible.

On the assumption that the risk of terrorist attacks on the UK has increased as a result of British participation in the war in Iraq, and that there was no proximate threat from Iraq - which could serve as coercion - the British Government is, on the basis of that principle, to some degree responsible for that increase in risk. The responsibility is also clearly morally serious, since it involves a breach of the duty that governments surely have to take special care over the safety of their citizens. That is not to say they are wholly or even mostly responsible for that increase in risk: obviously, almost all of the responsibility falls on those willing to commit acts of terrorism against British citizens. Neither is it to say that this is the only consideration which bears on moral assessment of British participation in the war in Iraq: most obviously, any increased risk of terrorist attacks on Britain that have from the war in Iraq are hardly its most prominent consequence - ask Iraqis how safe they feel. But neither of those facts remove the first: that, if Britain has been exposed to a greater risk of terrorist attacks as a result of participating in the Iraq war, then those who took the decision to participate bear part of the responsibility for that risk.

Further, some of those who took that decision have denied that responsibility. To say

Our opponents will say: you made terrorism worse... I believe differently. I believe this global terrorism will exploit any situation to further its cause. But I don't believe that its cause is truly to be found in any decision we have taken

is to first admit that the cause of terrorism is furthered by decision you have taken - if you're exploiting something, you must be getting something out of it - and then to distance yourself from that furthering - its true cause is found elsewhere, and so I have nothing to do with it. Causal responsibility does not in this case result in moral responsibility. To describe the claim that

Iraq... is seen by extremists as a fertile ground for their recruiting

as

a statement of the obvious

is obviously to acknowledge some causal relationship between the decision to invade Iraq and a greater ease of recruitment for extremists - which in this context clearly means terrorists. To go on to describe that claim as being capable of being

elided with the notion that we have "caused" such recruitment or made terrorism worse

is to deny that you bear any responsibility for that situation by distinguishing the fact that there is a causal relationship between a particular decision and an advantage for terrorists from the idea that those who took that decision are to any degree responsible for that advantage. If the two are different to the degree that they can be elided, the causal connection does not imply the moral one. That is, allowing that the causal connection is predictable, a denial of the principle that 'you, barring insanity, incapability or serious coercion, are morally responsible to some degree for outcomes which are predictable consequences of your actions'.

Maybe that is reasonable, though. Maybe that advantage was not a predictable consequence of the decision. No, really, stop laughing at the back. Maybe an invasion of a Muslim country by the great Zionist-supporting infidel Satan would make Muslims already prepared to murder thousands of people by flying airplanes into tall buildings less likely to be ill-disposed to those who share some cultural heritage with it. Really, I'm being serious. Especially when that superpower is ruled by a coterie of barely competent corporatist hacks who claim they don't do nation-building. No, you misunderstand me, I'm not taking the piss!

Obviously, as I've already said, that's not the only consideration that bears on the decision to go to war in Iraq, but it is one. Tony Blair denies it, and with it, the principle that you bear some of the responsibility for the predictable consequences of your actions. Fine. Presumably he wouldn't mind if I sold a gun to a latter-day John Bellingham. After all, he of all people could hardly hold me responsible for the consequences. As for Brian, well, I can only assume that when he called me incorrigible, he presumably meant in the sense where he finds me impossible to correct because I'm always right.