Rick Perlstein and Lingua Franca

by Henry Farrell on April 10, 2006

“Rick Perlstein”:http://rickperlstein.org/ finally has a proper web page. Much goodness, including his classic “Unfucking the Donkey”:http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0531,perlstein,66378,2.html . Aaron Swartz, who put the page together, has also put up a mirror of Lingua Franca‘s old web page – archives are “here”:http://linguafranca.mirror.theinfo.org/archives/.

Eppur si muove?

by Henry Farrell on April 10, 2006

So it looks as though the Italian right has done “rather better”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/ca24d172-c8aa-11da-b642-0000779e2340.html than the pundits (myself included) were predicting. Funnily enough, the exit polls, which predicted a substantial victory for the left, “were badly off-target”:http://www.repubblica.it/2006/04/sezioni/politica/elezioni-2006-7/altalena-dati/altalena-dati.html. With 60,794 out of 60,828 polling districts declaring, the left seems to have won the Camera by a margin of 25,000-40,000 votes, and is likely to win the Senate by a hair, once the votes from expatriates come in (see “here”:http://www.repubblica.it/speciale/2006/elezioni/senato/index.html for a nice flash animation of where those expatriate votes are going). The right is “calling for a recount”:http://www.repubblica.it/2006/04/sezioni/politica/elezioni-2006-7/unione-dichiara-vittoria/unione-dichiara-vittoria.html, but probably more because it wants to destabilize the left than because it thinks it’s likely to change the results. Under Italy’s new electoral system, even a knife-edge victory in the Camera should provide the left with a working majority, but it’s unlikely to get much done, because the Senate is just as powerful, and the coalition’s room for manoeuvre there is likely to be narrow indeed.

As all the pundits are lamenting, this means stalemate in the short run. Neither side is likely to give in – each thinks it has won. The left think that they’ve pulled off a victory, albeit one that’s far closer than they had hoped for, under circumstances where the broadcast media and the electoral rules were blatantly rigged against them. The right think that they’ve managed to stem the red tide, and deserve to hold onto power – they’ll be prolonging the agony as long as they can. Neither will concede easily.

We’re also likely to see increased pressures towards fragmentation in each coalition. Neither group of parties was precisely happy before the election. Prodi’s neck was already being measured for the chopping block, just as in the 1990’s when he was kicked upstairs to the EU Presidency thanks to the machinations of d’Alema and Cossiga. I suspect that he’s soon going to succumb to the siren call of academe (rector of some university perhaps) or of private sector opportunities. Rifondazione Comunista, a grim lot even as semi-reformed Stalinists go, are going to start getting restive, and the various opportunistic chancers among the left parties are likely to start feeling their oats. But Berlusconi isn’t much more secure than Prodi is – the Northern League has been getting increasingly truculent and may well calculate that under new circumstances it’s better off outside pissing in. On the one hand, Berlusconi can claim that he clawed back the result to a draw through the virulent ramping up of rhetoric in the last couple of weeks. On the other, he’s becoming increasingly radioactive. Even Confindustria – as right wing and self-interested a claque of capitalists as you’re likely to find – has made it clear that he’s a liability and an embarrassment.

Predictions as to what’s likely to happen over the next few months? My best guesses, in decreasing order of probability would be (1) A shaky left coalition that will hold out for a few months to a year. (2) failure to create a stable government, leading to new elections followed by a short lived right wing government under Berlusconi (I suspect that the left has taken its best shot in this round), which then collapses in on itself, creating a new crisis (3) new elections, but with no clear result, leading to stalemate and a caretaker government of technocrats appointed by the president, (4) breakdown of the opposing coalitions, and a return to the opera buffa of strange bedfellows coalition governments that were typical of Italy up to the early 1990s, with Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia likely being excluded. But really, your guess is probably as good as mine at this stage – it’s all up in the air.

Update: revisions made following discovery of new info on _La Repubblica_ after first draft was posted.

Untold Stories

by Kieran Healy on April 10, 2006

I picked up Alan Bennett’s new collection, Untold Stories over the weekend. It looks as though it is at least as good as Writing Home. The prose is — well, here’s an example from the diary entries:

bq. I’m sent a complimentary (sic) copy of Waterstone’s Literary Diary which records the birthdays of various contemporary figures in the world of letters. Here is Dennis Potter on 17 May, Michael Frayn on 8 September, Edna O’Brien on 15 December, and so naturally I turn to my own birthday. May 9 is blank except for the note: ‘The first British self-service launderette is opened on Queensway, London 1949.

This is just Bennett being the Woody Allen of Leeds, but there’s a lot more to him than this. Well worth your time.

Safe at last

by Chris Bertram on April 10, 2006

Yesterday was a big day in the Bertram household, as we are season-ticket holders at “Bristol Rugby”:http://www.bristolrugby.co.uk/ and Bristol beat Newcastle Falcons convincingly and thereby secured our Premiership status for next season (Leeds would need to win every remaining game with a bonus point, with no further points for Bristol to catch us — it isn’t going to happen). Bristol came up from National Division One last season and were every pundit’s tip to go straight back down. So it is a very nice feeling that the critics have been proved wrong. I expect it will be tough again next season, but at least there will be a next season in the top division.

Defenders of the faith

by Chris Bertram on April 10, 2006

The great Madeleine Bunting/Enlightenment debate rolls one, with a “synoptic response from the columnist herself”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1750579,00.html . I’m not a great fan of Bunting’s brand of handwringing multiculturalism myself, but she doesn’t acquit herself badly despite getting in a bit of a muddle about rationalism and anti-rationalism. (It is instructive to contrast the calm engagement of her latest contribution with the “ill-tempered hectoring and puerile name-calling”:http://hurryupharry.bloghouse.net/archives/2006/04/10/she_wouldnt_let_it_lie.php that the self-styled defenders of the Enlightenment are engaging in, a mark of desperation if you ask me.) She also asks a very good question: why are this particular bunch of people wrapping themselves in this particular cloak at this particular time? I guess the answer is that once they have cast themselves in the role of historic defenders of reason and civilization against the barbarians, they can spare themselves the trouble of worrying too hard about the messy details of Guantanamo, torture, “extraordinary rendition”, and thousands upon thousands of dead bodies. They can also deliver stern lectures about “relativism”, “universalism”, “moral clarity” etc whilst applying one set of standards to them (the fanatical headchoppers) , and a different set to us (the shining defenders of civilization) . Steven Poole has written a “quite brilliant post”:http://unspeak.net/C226827506/E20060407120225/index.html on the use of the rhetoric of universalism to justify double standards by one of the foremost peddlers of this tosh, the ever-pompous Oliver Kamm.