by Henry Farrell on December 14, 2003

When we set up this blog, several of us were inspired by the “Volokh Conspiracy”:, which has done a quite remarkable job in combining smart political and intellectual commentary. We’re now taking another leaf from the Volokhs’ book; from here on, we hope to invite the occasional guest-blogger to join us for a week or so. We’re all very grateful to “John Quiggin”:, who has very decently agreed to be our inaugural guest-blogger. We hope that most of you are already reading his blog (if you aren’t, you ought to be) – he’s one of the smartest economic and political commentators out there. We’re pleased to have him on board.

Captured dictators

by Henry Farrell on December 14, 2003

“Atrios”: has further thoughts on Hussein’s capture – as he says, the capture of Hussein doesn’t change the fact that this was a war of choice, and was a mistake. But he then says

bq. it isn’t clear he’s any worse of a guy than some of the folks who are a part of our “Coalition of the Willing.”

which I find quite unconvincing. Even as squalid dictators go, Hussein was quite spectacularly nasty. I don’t know how many other rulers in recent history have deployed poison gas against their civilian population. Hussein’s capture is cause for unalloyed good cheer.

Iraq, Saddam and 9/11

by Chris Bertram on December 14, 2003

Great news that “mass-murdering dictator Saddam Hussein has been captured in Tikrit”: . With any luck the Iraqi people will get to try him for his crimes against them over so many years. One thing he won’t be charged with, tried for, or convicted of is involvement with 9/11, despite some reports in today’s Sunday Telegraph from the if-you-believe-that-you’ll -believe-anything department. As “one”: of the “two”: pieces says:

bq. For anyone attempting to find evidence to justify the war in Iraq, the discovery of a document that directly links Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks, with the Baghdad training camp of Abu Nidal, the infamous Palestinian terrorist, appears almost too good to be true.

Leaving out the “appears almost”, I’d agree with that. And it gets better …

bq. In the memo, Habbush reports that Atta “displayed extraordinary effort” and demonstrated his ability to lead the team that would be “responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy”.

bq. The second part of the memo, which is headed “Niger Shipment”, contains a report about an unspecified shipment – believed to be uranium – that it says has been transported to Iraq via Libya and Syria.

In next week’s episode Instapundit excitedly links to an article alleging the discovery of a Post-it apparently connecting Jacques Chirac, Noam Chomsky and Stavro Blofeld to a Cuban bioweapons project….

[UPDATE: This should really have been two separate posts – I had started writing on the absurd Torygraph story when the news of Saddam’s capture came through and ended up adding to the beginning. But the effect on some readers of my combining the two things may be to suggest that I’m somewhat grudging in my reaction to the tyrant’s arrest. I’m not — it really is great news.]

Bad writing

by Chris Bertram on December 14, 2003

Good to see “Ophelia Benson”: “writing in the Guardian”:,12900,1106159,00.html on the topic of academic bad writing. Her piece contains the following quote from a volume edited by Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin: as open an admission of deliberate obscurity as you’ll find anywhere:

bq. Any discourse that was out to uncover and question that system had to find a language, a style, that broke from the constraints of common sense and ordinary language. Theory set out to produce texts that could not be processed successfully by the commonsensical assumptions that ordinary language puts into play. There are texts of theory that resist meaning so powerfully – say those of Lacan or Kristeva – that the very process of failing to comprehend the text is part of what it has to offer.

(noticed via “normblog”: )

UPDATE: John Holbo has “yet more on bad writing”: to supplement his earlier efforts and reply to critics.


by Chris Bertram on December 14, 2003

Out to see the Welsh National Opera’s magnificent performance of Parsifal last night in Bristol. It was brilliantly conducted by Anthony Negus who brought out the shimmering beauty of the music. There were — as there always are — problems with the production, which both accentuated the specifically Christian aspects of the libretto and included absurdities such as Kundry towering over Parsifal in an enormous red dress (about 10 feet high!) in Act 2. But that shouldn’t diminish what was a very powerful experience both musically and dramatically — I’d single out, despite the red dress — the sexual tension of Act 2 as especially well done. As for individual performances: Sara Fulgoni as Kundry and Alfred Reiter as Gurnemanz both shone. (Spotted in the audience: Bryan Magee.)

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