Chickens Coming Home to Roost

by Henry on February 17, 2005

Some interesting news just in from Ireland. Observers of Northern Ireland politics may remember the “massive bank raid”:http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/front/2004/1222/2122287523HM1ROBBERY.html last December, where the thieves netted UKP 26.5 million. The dogs in the street knew that the IRA were responsible, but when the UK and Irish governments, as well as the body charged with monitoring the ceasefire said as much, they were met with vociferous and indignant denials from both the “IRA itself”:http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/front/2005/0119/109897192HM1LEAD.html, and from “Sinn Fein”:http://www.ireland.com/newspaper/front/2005/0211/287693130HM1NORTH.html, the IRA’s political wing. Now, Irish police “have arrested”:http://www.rte.ie/news/2005/0217/cork.html seven men who appear to have been in possession of large quantities of Northern Ireland banknotes; it appears that those arrested include two Sinn Fein members, one of whom is a former elected representative. As the leader of the Irish Labour party, Pat Rabbitte has noted in a statement:

bq. even at an early stage, it appeared that today’s events were particularly significant in the context of the Northern Bank robbery and subsequent denials by IRA and Sinn Féin.

At this stage, one hesitates to make any definitive pronouncements – the possibility exists that these jokers had a perfectly legitimate reason to be carting around UKP 2.3 million in Northern Ireland and British banknotes. But if it does indeed turn out that this is some of the missing cash, it puts Sinn Fein in an extremely awkward position. Everybody knows quite well that they’ve been lying through their teeth about IRA involvement in the bank raid – but there hasn’t been any smoking gun evidence that would put the lie to them. It’s clear to even a casual observer that the IRA and Sinn Fein are organically linked, and there’s very strong reason to suspect that Sinn Fein’s electoral successes in the Republic have been bankrolled in part by the proceeds of crime in the North. This has been having an extremely damaging effect on democratic politics in the Republic. It’s long past time for Sinn Fein to decide whether it’s a normal political party in a democratic system or the political wing of a particularly nasty private army that even during its supposed ceasefire has consistently demonstrated its keenness to maim and cripple innocents.

If the US government is willing, it has a very easy means of signalling how drastically Sinn Fein/IRA’s political options have narrowed. The annual St. Patrick’s Day parties at the White House have been an integral part of the peace process. When Sinn Fein leaders started getting invites as well as democratic politicians, it signalled the US government’s willingness to underwrite Sinn Fein’s role in the negotiations, and any subsequent political arrangements. The gossip around Washington has been that the entire occasion is going to be cancelled this year because the US government doesn’t want to meet and greet terrorists – but also doesn’t want to single them out for disfavor for fear of offending Sinn Fein’s friends on Capitol Hill. If the government wants to send out the right signals it should go ahead and hold the function – but invite only representatives of those political parties that are committed exclusively to democratic politics. This may sound like diplomatic niceties – but it would send a quite powerful signal, and, I suspect, have a substantial chastening effect on a group of people who are in sore need of chastening.

Wittgenstein Reads Weininger

by John Holbo on February 17, 2005

I’m rather proud of a piece I’ve written about a new anthology of essays, Wittgenstein Reads Weininger, for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. (A nice online journal that just does short reviews. They just underwent a redesign. Now smoothly searchable.) I think I did a pretty solid job of covering this modest quadrant of scholarly specialization – this suburb of Wittgenstein’s Vienna, if you will; while also providing some clear views of the city; and some sense of the strange bird who roosts and rules there – this fierce Austrian double-eagle, gripping Frege and Russell in one sharp beak! Schopenhauer, Kraus … and Otto Weininger in the other! Who understands how such an ornithologico-philosophical thing could be? (As Wittgenstein once paraphrased Plato to one of his over-awed followers: ‘I study not these things – e.g. logic – but myself, to learn whether I am a Typhon-like monster, or a simpler sort of creature.’) And so I managed to turn a book review into a modestly original short essay. The editor very kindly let me ramble on twice as long as I was supposed to. But it’s still quite short [UPDATE: I think the word I was reaching for was ‘long’.] The Kraus quote I stuck on at the end is one of my favorites.

Changes in legal publishing

by Micah on February 17, 2005

Last week, a dozen of the top American law journals announced their commitment to reducing the length of law review articles. The Joint Statement concerning this policy is available “here”:http://www.harvardlawreview.org/articles_length_policy.pdf. A number of journals have already adopted policies to implement the goals behind this statement. The so-called “Virginia Experiment”:http://www.virginialawreview.org/page.php?s=membership&p=announcements#length (see the link on Short-Article Policy), which began a year ago, sets a presumptive word limit at 20,000 words and effectively caps articles at 30,000 words. “Harvard Law Review”:http://www.harvardlawreview.org/manuscript.shtml#length has recently adopted similar language, with a 25,000 word preference and a 35,000 word limit. These policies will have serious implications for what is published at Virginia and Harvard. Far less constraining, but nevertheless significant, are policies adopted by “Columbia Law Review”:http://www.columbialawreview.org/information/submissions.cfm and the “University of Pennsylvania Law Review”:http://www.pennlawreview.com/submission.php, both of which have set presumptive word caps at approx. 35,000 words. Other journals will probably adopt similar policies in the near future.

From the perspective of academics in non-legal disciplines, these words caps may seem absurdly generous. Most peer-review journals won’t accept articles over 10,000 words. And, to be clear, these limits are ceilings. Most law reviews regularly publish “essays”—really just normal length articles—that are far below these numbers.

One would think that this is all relatively uncontroversial and rather long overdue. And there has been some positive feedback from legal bloggers. “Orin Kerr”:http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2005_02_07.shtml#1108060955 quotes the Joint Statement rather approvingly, and Larry Solum gives it a characteristic “very interesting!”:http://lsolum.blogspot.com/archives/2005_02_01_lsolum_archive.html#110788056452294809

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International jurisprudence, Dublin style

by Maria on February 17, 2005

It’s all happening in Dublin these days. In January, Michael Ignatieff gave the first annual Amnesty lecture in Trinity College – since published by The Dubliner magazine. Ignatieff tried to explain and in some sense justify American exceptionalism in matters multilateral, particularly the ‘judicial narcissism’ that prevents US judges from incorporating foreign jurisprudence and international legal norms.

Meanwhile, no less a personage than Antonin Scalia put the idea of judicial isolationism to the test only last Friday night, which he passed in the company of a horde of boisterous Dublin barristers.

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Sense on Livingstone

by Chris Bertram on February 17, 2005

The New Statesman has “an excellent leader on the Ken Livingstone row”:http://www.newstatesman.com/nsleader.htm . Read the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

bq. The demand for ritual recantation and punishment whenever someone expresses themselves “inappropriately” (itself a prissy, nannyish sort of word) has become an inhibition on free speech. A football manager loses his job when he “insults” disabled people; an editor’s career is endangered when his magazine “insults” Liverpudlians; a commentator is thrown off the airwaves when he “insults” tsunami victims with a feeble pun. The worst sin of all (and rightly so) is anti-Semitism; but to place Mr Livingstone’s remarks in that category is another example of trivialising the genuine article.

Indeed. The second part of the Statesman leader is about Michael Howard’s disgraceful pandering to the racists with his proposed “health checks” on migrants. Unfortunately this (and the recent competitive bidding by Tories and Labour alike for the xenophobic vote) doesn’t receive nearly as much attention from the “left” blogosphere — a point “well made on John Band’s blog”:http://www.stalinism.com/shot-by-both-sides/full_post.asp?pid=788 .

Fans of the Hotelling/Downs Median Voter Model will be truly gratified by the latest two policy initiatives to be chucked in the general direction of the National Health Service. From the Conservatives (NB to non-UK readers: they are our right-wing capitalist party, which means that they are in favour of socialised medicine and abolishing university tuition fees).

” We will bring back matrons to take charge and deliver clean and infection-free wards”

And from the Labour Party (NB to non-UK readers: they are our left-wing socialist party, which means that they are in favour of privatisation of local government services and identity cards)

Matrons will take the lead in setting standards for hospital cleanliness”

Three reasons why I find this particular piece of policy-by-Daily-Mail-editorial-page rubbish particularly disspiriting.

1. Some nurses are men; if I was one, then I think I would be pretty cross at the idea that a senior position was being created whose name came from the Latin for “mother”.
2. A “matron” in the NHS today is a ward sister with extra managerial responsibilities; ie a quite senior medical professional. If I was one, I think I would be quite cross that in the view of my political masters, my real role in life was to be a comedy battleaxe running a finger over the dusting.
3. This whole business is a response to a stream of tabloid hysteria about MRSA. MRSA is a bug which colonises the noses and skin of lots of human beings, and becomes a problem when transferred to burns or wounds patients through poor quarantine or lack of handwashing. It’s a problem completely unrelated to “dirty wards”, as anyone who ends up spending an hour or two reading the free leaflets in hospital waiting rooms can confirm. If you put every hospital in the UK into a big pot and boiled them, there would still be an MRSA problem as colonies of it are endemic in the population and it is spread by people, not wards. Apparently, the manifesto-writers for our two leading political parties either don’t know this, or do know it and have decided that what the Mail thinks (plus the opportunity to pander to the turn-back-the-clock tendency in British public life) is more important than the facts.

Like I say, democracy isn’t working.