Archive for September, 2007

I can die now

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

I have been quoted in Language Log. This is like being reviewed in Nature: it involves a demonstration that there are important lacunae in my knowledge of sex.

More from the department of the bleeding obvious as it comes in.

Weasel me up

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Out they come, dazed and bewlidered,1 from their bunkers to explain what they meant all along. The latest is Sir David Manning, Blair’s ambasador to Washington, who told the New Statesman:

“He [Mr Blair] believed the WMD story. It’s not true that it was made up and that he always knew it was made up. Was it wrong? Yes. But the idea that he somehow sat down and confected this story and that was the justification for the policy he opted for is not true.”

But the whole point of power in an organisation is that you don’t have to be explicit. Any powerful man cultivates in his subordinates the power of mind-reading. Anyone around Blair knew without being told that the story had to be confected; had to be true. Otherwise there could be no British participation in the war, becasue it would have been clearly illegal. So, no, Blair didn’t have to sit down on the sofa. Alasdair Campbell did. And even he didn’t entirely confect the story, not in all its details. He just swept all conflicting evidence away.

In a narrow sense it is of course absolutely and completely true that the WMD story was the justification for his policy. He couldn’t have sold the war to parliament, to the army, and possibly to his conscience, without that justification. But a justification is all it was. It wasn’t the reason for the policy. It was, if you like, the the justification that you give to your subordinates – “our action is justified because”. It wasn’t the justification you offer your superiors — what Tony said on his knees at night — which would have been something much more high-minded and brutal about the need to keep in with the Americans.

more: Mr Blair “was always in favour of regime change, but that did not mean he always wanted regime change through military means. He must have known it might come to military action, but I have always believed he hoped and probably believed there was a way of getting there by using the UN to put pressure on Saddam. I don’t think he ever wanted to go by the military route.”

Unfortunately, the tooth fairy never showed up to extract the rotten little dictator, so we had to invade after all.

1 Yes, it’s a typo. But one somehow more onomatopoeic than “bewildered”

A bad film

Monday, September 10th, 2007

I am a huge fan of Aki Kaurismäki so the latest film he’s made was a correspondingly large disappointment: Lights in the Dusk is the story of a remarkably stupid and stubborn man who goes to jail rather than betray the woman who has betrayed him. It carries familiar themes to the point of self-parody: the bank manager laughs as he refuses a loan; the hero is sacked, strong and silent. I think he smokes more cigarettes than he has lines of dialogue.

It is visually gorgeous; but it looks to me like a drunk’s film: the extraordinary passivity and uselesness of the hero is inexplicable on any normal reading of psychology; so too is the patience and forebearance of the heroine. No one fights back except by banging their heads even harder against the wall. The contrast with his earlier films could not be greater in this respect: in those the pivot of the action was always someone trying something new, however disastrously. You might say that the final scene, where he grips the heroine’s hand while slumped against a bulldozer, shows him trying something new. But it could have come as the climax of a ten minute film, not an eighty minute one.

None of the above should discourage anyone from his other films.

Hot from the dept of the Bleeding Obvious

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

I have grown interested in something called Terror Management Theory, which suggests that people find cultural escapes from the burden of their own mortality; in general they become more attached to their own traditions and more hostile to others. In most circumstances, this leads to xenophobia; but with liberals, it leads, apparently, to increased tolerance, since that is one of their core values. So, reading around, I find this conclusion to a paper:

The results of this study complement the growing body of literature on the connection between terror management and religious belief. This work has shown that thoughts of death can increase belief in supernatural agents (Norenzayan & Hansen, 2006), increase support for religiously motivated martyrdom attacks (Pyszczynski et al., 2006), and that affirming certain aspects of religious belief after thinking about death reduces the effect of mortality salience among more intrinsically religious individuals (Jonas & Fischer, 2006). Previous research on religious fundamentalism specifically in connection with TMT has shown that fundamentalist beliefs can be an important terror management mechanism in helping control awareness of death (Friedman & Rholes, 2007, in press).

Isn’t science wonderful?

An unusual comment problem

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

An interesting story from the Swedish blogosphere: Carl Bildt, the former Prime Minister, now foreign minister, has a blog. He is in fact a natural blogger, picky, aggressive, articulate and contemptuous of lower beings; and his blog is a real one, too with comments that he may actually read, where people argue furiously with one another.

In the course of these arguments, they say things impermissible in polite society, and sometimes, in Sweden, illegal. Now Bildt himself is being investigated for commiting a possible crime against the consitution as a government minister because he did not remove the nasty ones quickly enough. His defence is also interesting: that they were anyway archived, so removing them would make no difference to their availablity. I don’t know quite what is meant here — is he referring to Google? I should, I know, find this out later. For the moment, I just put this entry up, so as to rid myself of another open tab that requires action.

Quick Notes

Saturday, September 1st, 2007
  • Getcha getcha kulcha here …
    Torrent links to every one of Bergman’s films. Found through the blog of a leader writer on SvD: it’s hard to imagine any British paper’s leader writer doing that, or, indeed, any British cabinet minister setting up a facebook page, as Carl Bildt apparently has. No, I haven’t friended him.
  • am reviewing Peter Conrad’s Creation for the Graun. It is like walking across a very large desert paved with mah-johng tiles: paragraph after paragraph, all about the same length, all written in clear and sometimes admirable English; none of them actually going anywhere. Every — Tenth? Fiftieth? — there is a phrase to spark thought. Then the trudgery resumes. There isn’t between the paragraphs a sort of aphoristic gap as in John Gray; just a small blank discontinuity.