All The More Reason

When Progressives Leave the Field of Play
July 25, 2007, 5:23 pm
Filed under: Euston Manifesto, Iraq, Johann Hari

I like Johann Hari, and I often find myself nodding along involuntarily with much of what he writes. At the time of the Iraq war, he was one of a few leftists who spoke out in favour of intervention.

Since then, he has recanted – albeit in a slightly over-dramatic, ‘I once was blind but now I see’ fashion. The jist of his disavowal was as follows: we were right to go into Iraq, but we were wrong to think that neo-conservatives would act thereafter in the spirit of emancipation hoped for by the pro-war left (ergo, we were…er…wrong to go into Iraq). The culpable scarcity of American troops in the dawn of that liberation, combined with subsequent displays of incompetence bore the hallmarks of an administration with barely half an eye on the ball, and provide ample evidence for this proposition.

In his latest piece, though, he goes one step further:

“[the pro war left] has moved from tactically siding with the US in order to defeat a greater enemy – my initial position – to reflexively defending US imperial power, no matter how horrific. Many Eustonites somehow convinced themselves that the US military had become the armed wing of Amnesty International…A policy of systematic torture? The immediate imposition of mass privatisations, causing mass unemployment and sectarian unrest? The barricading of civilian men aged between 18 and 60 in Fallujah before attacking it with chemical weapons? Indeed, with a few exceptions, the pro-war left has never engaged with the situation in Iraq since March 2003.”

Leaving aside the slightly barmy implication that the current sectarian bloodbath was ‘caused’, or even catalysed, by insufficient mobilisation against privatisation, this is a serious indictment sheet.

I have some sympathy with the argument that the ‘Euston Agenda’ – at bottom, a belief in the universality of human rights, and the need for an worldwide defence of these values by progressives, using ‘hard power’ if necessary- should tackle abuses by the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom as vigorously as it does those in Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan.

When raised with comrade-members of the Euston cabal, the response to this is twofold: (a) those abuses are not comparable, and (b) there are plenty of voices willing to condemn the former in a knee-jerk manner, so why add to the bleating? These may both be legitimate points, but when your avowed intent is to defend universal human rights, it surely becomes impossible to stay silent on these matters without descending into a mire of hypocrisy and cant. Far from weakening our own position, we strengthen the case for universal human rights when we admit that their abuse – and their defence – is universal. A more nuanced tone is not only morally right, and vital for Euston’s credibility, it also wrong foots critics.

That piece of parish business aside, whilst Hari’s criticism of over-zealous leftists blind to American excesses may be partly fair, it fails to deal with what seems to me a far more important constituency- namely, those ‘progressives’ who seem blind to anything other than American excesses. They too must bear their share of responsibility for what has happened in Iraq in the past four years. Indeed, their malign influence can be seen even before the war.

When President Clinton came to power in 1993, we now understand from Iraqi insiders that he attempted to offer Saddam ‘a new chapter in relations’ through the medium of an American pastor of his acquaintance. When his advances were rebuffed, ‘progressives’ supported the view that starving a country into submission (lining the pockets of corrupt UN officials in the process), and ineffectually lobbing a few cruise missiles towards the Gulf every now and then, was preferable to the removal of that country’s despotic leader. President Clinton had eight years in which to construct and implement a soft, post-Saddam, landing. Instead – as with the deadly high-altitude bombing of Kosovo and the retreat from Mogadishu – he concocted a typically ineffectual Third Way between isolationism and using American might in a just cause.

Liberals, therefore, had ample opportunity to come up with a just and effective solution for Iraq, and they muffed it. In short, progressives abandoned a progressive cause and left it in the custody of Republicans. When it came to the crunch, instead of trying to pressure America into coming up with a coherent post-invasion strategy, the worldwide anti-war movement chose to sit at the back and throw bottles. Rather than a cautionary tale against humanitarian intervention, Iraq should be seen as a warning of what happens when leftists desert their internationalism en masse, in favour of unconstructive and onanistic isolationism They have nothing to be smug about, and much to be ashamed of.

Against this background, Hari’s claim that the pro-war left ‘has never engaged with the situation in Iraq since March 2003’ seems all the more absurd. Whilst Stoppers have spent their time attacking American abuses, liberal hawks have almost run out of breath with which to call for solidarity with Iraqi trade-unionists and other democratic and secular movements in the country. Whilst many of Hari’s colleagues call for withdrawal of troops – surely, by definition, the very antithesis of ‘engagement’ with the situation in Iraq – Eustonites continue to call for the moral support, already shown, to be bolstered by further material support. We may lose this argument and, more importantly, this war, but if Hari thinks that solipsistic self-criticism and trite references to ‘US Imperial power’ constitute a greater ‘engagement’ with the situation in Iraq, he has more to be self-critical about than he knows.

Michael P


Academic Soap Opera
July 18, 2007, 6:26 pm
Filed under: Jacques Derida

This piece, which I found via aldaily, chronicles a fascinating dispute between the Derrida family and the University of California at Irvine.


Le Timing
July 18, 2007, 5:23 pm
Filed under: Rhetoric

It’s natural for a language to take on new words based on the influence of other cultures and languages. Often times this is lamented if one feels that there is already a perfectly good word in the language. I’ve felt that way sometimes, but not with the word timing in French. I’ve frequently heard this used orally by French sports commentators. This is the first time I’ve seen it used in an official publication.

Rembourser son crédit avant la date prévue est un droit, mais la négociation et le timing sont les meilleurs atouts pour s’en sortir sans prise de tête.

I don’t like the sound of the –ing in French in general: le jogging, le parking, le babysitting. But I really like the sound of “le timing”. As best as I can tell it’s related to the fact that the timing means an exact moment in time, and so the rarity of the –ing sound in French helps emphasize this particular moment. Nice one LeFigaro!



400 million for the freedom of 6 Bulgarians
July 18, 2007, 3:06 am
Filed under: Libya

This story is complicated and I don’t pretend to understand all of it. In brief, six Bulgarian nurses working in Libya were charged with contaminating 438 children with HIV. I wouldn’t go expressly to Bulgaria for treatment of something, but it strikes me as preposterous that they could be responsible for something like this. Assuming that all of these children are infected with HIV, how in fact did they get infected? The sheer number alone raises the eyebrows. Edit * This article on wikipedia suggests that the sanitary conditions in the hospital were a large factor.

In order for the families of the victims to renounce the death penalty, they demanded a financial payout. We have lawsuits in the west as well, but usually it’s done after the criminal case is over and not in order to decide the defendant’s fate. This is the world we live in.


Keep this man away from helicopters!
July 15, 2007, 3:26 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s hard to tell from this article whether this bank robber has escaped from prison two times or three via helicopter.

Pascal Payet, 43 ans, s’était déjà évadé de la prison de Luynes (Bouches-du-Rhône) en hélicoptère en 2001. En janvier, il a été condamné, en compagnie de trois complices, par la Cour d’assises des Bouches-du-Rhône à sept ans d’emprisonnement pour avoir organisé une autre évasion spectaculaire toujours en hélicoptère, de la même prison de Luynes en 2003.

In the headline though, it claims it’s his second escape. Either way, it’s time to put this man in a prison where there are power lines!


The Loudness War
July 13, 2007, 2:38 pm
Filed under: Interesting Idea of the Week, Music

Ever wonder why older songs sound quieter compared to new songs when played back to back? This YouTube video explains the trend in popular music over the last 15 years or so to make albums sound louder and louder.

To briefly explain, imagine that you are talking to a friend at a pub. In the early evening, over steak and kidney pie and a guinness, all is well and one can speak at barely louder than a whisper. However, from time to time there are exclamations of “Cor”, “Blimey” and even brief guffaws of laughter. As the evening goes on, and more patrons arrive, the conversation becomes louder. This is tolerable, because one can still make a point by speaking up a bit from time to time. By the end of the evening, not only is a pint glass balancing on one’s head, but one is hoarse from yelling for the past hour straight. It is at this point in the evening where a fair amount of subtlety has left the conversation. This is roughly where we are in the loudness of records these days. Last orders, anyone?


Pregnancy and Drinking
July 12, 2007, 7:32 pm
Filed under: Health

This is an interesting piece on the social pressure not to drink at all while pregnant. Arguably, some of these zero–tolerance measures are highly difficult to maintain if one wanted to have a larger family. For some people, having a child is the culmination of years of planning and expectation. In that type of scenario, it’s almost natural that one would want everything to go “perfectly”. Accordingly, one might be willing to make more sacrifices. On the other hand, if this is your fourth child, maybe you’re sick of not being able to drink a glass of wine from time to time.