Friday, November 21, 2003
Before the invasion of Iraq, the Flash epic "wargame" here was being linked to by lots of people in their emails. I looked at it again today; on the whole it holds up well (better than say the Pentagon's predictions of what would happen, in some ways) but it's fascinating in the ways that it assumes things, as we all pretty much did, that turned out to be wrong. In fact it hinges on the notion that Saddam has all sorts of WMD, including nuclear. It also runs the "Arab street will rise up" line which as ever turns out to be overstated, although of course the absence of mass riots in various capitals does not imply that the invasion has not helped recruitment for al qaeda and other nasty groups. It also has Saddam being killed.
The past's future of course is always naive. But it's surprising to me how naive so recent a past's future is. If you see what I mean.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
The Danger of Travelling Via The US
I have blogged about the Maher Arar case before and it's getting a new round of blogosphere-attention. Bits of the story that seemed less certain before are now being pretty much confirmed, and it's even clear which Justice Department official deserves to rot in hell for giving the specific order that this should happen.
Slightly less horrific, but nevertheless disturbing, a Canadian citizen of Indian (specifically Goan) extraction was deported earlier this year while in transit back to Canada from India. For, umm, having a Hispanic-sounding surname, which the Chicago INS officials were unable to cope with from someone of her ethnicity. This remarkable display of fuckwittedness was resolved only when the Kuwait Airlines crew on whose plane she was deported helped her out by contacting Canadian diplomats; the INS had not allowed her to get in touch with her own country's consular officials, as in the Arar case.
I am especially concerned about this because a philosophy colleague of mine (of South Asian ethnicity) is going to spend a few months in Chicago next year and it starts to look disturbingly possible that we will have to rally round and get him freed from INS limbo if it turns out the INS don't approve of metaphysics in the Oxford tradition.
(Actual philosphers will realise from that last sentence that I don't actually understand what work it is that my colleague does. Ho hum.)
This is too horrible to write about.
Somebody take me back to the late 90s, please.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Shorter Nicholas Kristof: The Democrats have failed to suggest coherent alternatives to the current Iraq strategy (he does not note various immediate and practical suggestions that have been made by Democrats: that the Iraqi Army might be restored, unilateral privatization should be avoided, and Ahmed Chalabi shunned). Instead, they should suggest that the Iraqi Army might be restored, unilateral privatization should be avoided, and Ahmed Chalabi shunned.
He is, alas, clever Oxonian that he is, channelling the spirit of Friedman here a bit, and playing a bit fast-and-loose as well. He quotes Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, as saying "I actually think that Bush is the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen" in evidence of his argument that the UK and Italy are keen to withdraw from Iraq. He must know that there has been no serious suggestion by British politicians that this should or will happen. He should know that the Livingstone line, from yesterday's press conference, was made specifically with reference to Bush's pathetic-excuse-for-an-environmental-policy, not his pathetic-excuse-for-a-foreign-policy.
It's very far away, but it's going day by day
At some point I will have to write a post explaining how I came to believe, wrongly, that the near-unilateral invasion of Iraq was the least bad of all the plausible alternatives; mea maxima culpa.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
OK, my traffic logs show the world *is* going crazy over nasi lemak - the food, not so much the website/allegedly-incisive political commentary etc - for the second day in a row. It's the Eastern hemisphere's fastest-growing food sensation!
Oh god. Collective punishment. And all for the folks watching on TV back home, I guess, because this is the worst god-awful thing they could do in local terms, leaving aside the moral question. (If anyone can show me collective punishment actually working as a counter-insurgency measure, I will retreat to the formulation that this is a rational outrage. Currently, however, it seems like an irrational one, aimed more at releasing emotional tensions than achieving anything.)
I think this, if it really is part of a general strategy rather than an isolated war crime, is enough to swing me to the argument that things might actually be better if the coalition forces just exited, rather than staying to do this sort of thing. Cobble together some sort of UN intervention force...
In other news, the Guardian's poll shows everything rosy in the garden of New Labour, with a majority in favour of Bush's visit to the UK - including a majority of young people. I think, though, that this is far enough out of line with previous polling on the subject to make one suspicious that this is an outlier, and their random sampling happens to have picked up way too many New Labourites. This thought is pretty much confirmed by the fact that every other question they ask produces big swings from the previous month in a pro-Blair direction. Unless other polls start producing the same results, this just doesn't look very convincing.
Monday, November 17, 2003
Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber links to some fascinating material from Columbia symposia on Constitutions, Democracy and the Rule of Law. Although CB mentions Gerry Cohen's argument that, roughly speaking, if you are an oppressor state, you have no moral standing to criticise what the oppressed do in direct consequence of their being oppressed, he also does not create a comments link for this story - it's as if he thought that the Cohen paper would be grounds for a fiery and unhelpful comment debate, or something. I can't imagine why that would be...
There is other interesting material in the symposia - things said by Przeworski and Gambetta especially. I would comment further on these if this post were not procrastination for the paper I have to give in twenty three hours and fifty two minutes time. The Cohen paper is eloquent, thought-provoking, and, in essence reminds me why I didn't take political theory any more than I had to as a graduate student. There is something basically wrong in the Cohen argument and I can't quite finger out what it is or the point at which it occurs. I think it's something to do with the difference between, on the one hand, moral standing, and on the other hand the empirical likelihood of your insincerity. If (one of Cohen's examples) the person who has kidnapped your child chides you for your lack of parental concern when you refuse to pay the ransom, it's not so much that the kidnapper lacks moral standing as that you have to believe, as a matter of your practical understanding of human psychology, that the kidnapper is either insincere or mad. Whereas, empirically speaking, I'm not sure if the same is true of an oppressor who says "If only the oppressed fought our soldiers rather than attacking our civilians" - it seems quite plausible to me that this person would be sincere. In that case doesn't moral standing derive from sincerity rather than location?
As I said, not a thing I would want to do professionally. In fact I have the highest approval for my decision to avoid political theory: for my Masters degree I was taught political theory by the great Professor David Miller. After the end-of-course exams, at a drinks party or something, he asked me how it went, and I said, in full self-deprecating say-something-nice-to-me mode, "Well, you know, I'm no political theorist". There was a short pause, then he said, "Hmm", and started nodding his head. "Yes."
(He was right, too - my theory paper was about a class and a half worse than all my other papers, though I blame the weather or something for that).
This site has now been running, and hence I have been dorking around on the LoserNet, for a bit over a month, and it gets two kinds of traffic. The first comes from blogs, and is usually about 90%, and the remaining 10% is from people searching for (recipes for?) nasi lemak on Google and Yahoo. Nasi lemak is a rather wonderful dish (described above), which is why I chose it as my nom de cuisine and I have been happy to provide a few links to online recipes to help those searching. I can't vouch for the quality of the recipes, though - I've only ever had nasi lemak made for me. When we go to Singapore my mother-in-law has it delivered every morning for breakfast, and rather wonderful it is too - roughly equivalent, I suppose, to kedgeree, but much hotter (the sambal belachan - chillies, vinegar, sugar, dried prawns) and much creamier (the rice), and with fresh little fish (ikan bilis) or slightly bigger yellow fish (ikan kuning). There is a little Malaysian cafe in Chinatown in London, which I think is called Kopi Tiam, which does a decent nasi lemak, too, and I think the Malaysian restaurant opposite the Odeon cinema on Shaftesbury Avenue also does it, though I usually have their excellent lamb sambal & would advise against their disappointing sayur lodeh. Makan lah!
Well, today, about 90% of my traffic so far has come from people searching for the food, which is a huge increase on the usual amount. Which is, you know, fine, but a bit puzzling - why is the world so much more interested in this dish today than on any day for the past six weeks? Probably writing about this topic will make it even worse...
I have a paper to finish by tomorrow. This dorking around on the LoserNet is excellent procrastination.