Not George Will

by Ted on August 6, 2005

I can’t imagine a person who voluntarily reads political blogs who wouldn’t enjoy The Columnist by Jeffrey Frank. It’s the hilariously self-serving autobiography of a fictional arrogant, oblivious Washington hack pundit with a keen antenna for suspect ethnicities. Here, the narrator recalls learning about the assasination of John F. Kennedy at his office at the weekly journal of opinion, New Terrain.

I wandered the corridor at New Terrain, sharing my grief with Johnny, Lionel, Tobias and Esther. It was, we knew, our duty to make over the magazine, which was scheduled to go to press that evening, and we met in Tobias’s messy office, stumbling over piles of books.

“It is as if a great athlete has been cut down in his prime,” I said, and they looked at me with astonishment. “As if Ted Williams was stopped in midswing. The game goes on- the demands of history assure that- but joylessly.”

Tobias looked, I thought, strangely impressed, his eyebrows aloft; I saw that Lionel was nodding vigorously, yet seemed unable to stop nodding. Esther’s wide lips parted as if to express a thought. Johnny Stapling, as if overcome by emotion, left the room.

“The shocked crowd does not like the pinch hitter,” I continued. “We cannot boo, because we know that he did not enter the game on his own volition, yet we resent him. Just minutes before we were watching someone else and the world was right.”

It became clear from their approving silence that these thoughts would be included in the memorial edition of New Terrain, and I took notes even as I uttered them.

Now that blogs have removed arrogance, narcissism and hackery from political punditry, we can look back at this and laugh.

(recommended by McSweeney’s)

Robin Cook is dead

by Chris Bertram on August 6, 2005

Robin Cook, former Labour Foreign Secretary and prominent critic of the Blair government over Iraq, “has died suddenly at the age of 59”: . His “resignation speech”: over the war will be remembered for a very long time. From that speech delivered on the eve of war:

bq. For four years as Foreign Secretary I was partly responsible for the western strategy of containment. Over the past decade that strategy destroyed more weapons than in the Gulf war, dismantled Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme and halted Saddam’s medium and long-range missiles programmes. Iraq’s military strength is now less than half its size than at the time of the last Gulf war. Ironically, it is only because Iraq’s military forces are so weak that we can even contemplate its invasion. Some advocates of conflict claim that Saddam’s forces are so weak, so demoralised and so badly equipped that the war will be over in a few days. We cannot base our military strategy on the assumption that Saddam is weak and at the same time justify pre-emptive action on the claim that he is a threat. Iraq probably has no weapons of mass destruction in the commonly understood sense of the term—namely a credible device capable of being delivered against a strategic city target.


by Chris Bertram on August 6, 2005

Here’s a site I think is fun: “Cheezeball”: . Dedicated to (whatever that is) and keeping it free of schmaltz and schlock: ‘ “It is “cheeze” with a “z,” as in “Muzak.”‘. The reviews are often savage (including of a least one album I think is pretty good) and funny and the “manifesto”: is worth a read (and connects with “Kieran’s recent post”: on Christian rock).

Jimmy Doyle on human agency

by Chris Bertram on August 6, 2005

My friend and colleague Jimmy Doyle has a guest post on Normblog: “Human Agency and the London Bombings”: . I hesitate to summarise Jimmy’s argument here, since it is stated with characteristic carefulness and precision, but among the more striking claims he endorses is that genuine human actions cannot figure among the causes of other human actions:

bq. human actions cannot be thought of as mere events in a causal chain of further events. This is expressed in the traditional legal doctrine of _novus actus interveniens_ , according to which a human action cuts short the chain of causally-connected events consequent upon any previous action. For the cause of a human action is not an event at all, but an agent: a person, a human being.

I am not putting a counter-argument, but merely making an observation, in saying that if Jimmy’s view is correct then much of social science and history rests on a mistake. Economics and psychology, for example, certainly presuppose that one person’s action can figure among the causal antecedents of another’s. And all those books on the “causes” of the First or Second World Wars would have to be pulped or substantially rewritten.

Jimmy advances this consideration in favour of his view:

bq. I should emphasize that I have not tried to show that what is presupposed in our ordinary thought and talk about human action is true. But if it turned out false, that would be a disaster; and we would very likely find it impossible to lead recognizably human lives consistent with such a realization.

I suspect that we would find it a good deal easier than he supposes to lead “recognizably human lives”, but let’s leave that to one side. The examples of history and social science show that whilst Jimmy may be right to say that we engage in much thought and talk about human action which rests on the very presuppositions he mentions, we also engage in a great deal of talk about human behaviour that rests on the causal view he rejects. Very likely we would find it hard to get along without that mode of thought and talk too.