Sunday, 30 March 2008

Ooops 2

Following up an earlier post on last year's NIE report on Iran's nuclear weapons program, and the doubts later expressed about it by director of US national intelligence, Mike McConnell, here's a story I didn't see at the time: an interview on the subject with David Kay, veteran weapons inspector.

It's not comforting.

Found via Oliver Kamm's post today on preventing nuclear terrorism.

Hats off

A detail from a work in progress. This painting is pretty much finished, but there are at least six others in various states of incompleteness lying about. And that crack in the ceiling is getting larger...

Friday, 28 March 2008

Throwing flowerpots

Recently I had a look at the 1954 German film of Erich Kästner's Emil and the Detectives. The script for this version takes even greater liberties with the book than the 1931 film.

During the climactic chase, when scores of children pursue the thief Grundeis through the streets of Berlin, a man looks out an upstairs window and then starts chucking flowerpots. Is it Kästner? And is he aiming at the kids or at the film makers?

Here's another still to compare, Erich Kästner four years earlier seen  at the start of the 1950 film Das Doppelte Lottchen, adapted from Kästner's book Lottie and Lisa.

The first script for the 1931 Emil film was written by Kästner and Emeric Pressburger, later the writer of such classics of British cinema as The Red Shoes and A Matter of Life and Death. When they made the mistake of delivering the script early to UFA, the studio gave it to Billy Wilder to 'improve'. 

Emeric Pressburger also directed a remake of Das Doppelte Lottchen, titled Twice Upon A Time (1953). A later remake was more successful, Disney's The Parent Trap.

I've written more on Kästner's books elsewhere, and Kästner and Pressburger here. There are more Kästner posts on this blog too.

Stills copyright © Universum Film GMBH & Co. DVDs of the films can be found on They are in German with no subtitles.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008


One of the most frequently made arguments against the invasion of Iraq is that the motives behind the action were not the publicly stated ones of removing the regime's WMD capability and fighting terrorism, nor was the invasion motivated by a wish to free oppressed people from tyranny, or expand democracy. The overly familiar argument is that the real motive was oil, or war profiteering, or empire building.

I don't much care to argue against this point of view, not because I think it's correct, but because I think motive is irrelevant in judging whether a deliberate action is right or wrong. The result of the action is what's important.

How can motive be used as a guide to judging action? How can we even know with any certainty what someone's motives are? Can anyone even be fully aware of their own motives? These might be profitable depths for psychoanalysis to plunge into, but in an argument about whether an action is right or wrong, these questions seem more like quicksand.

To further muddy the matter, how often does anyone have a single clear motive for a big decision? A philanthropist is likely to have more complex motives than simply a desire to make others happy. That doesn't mean they will fail to make people happy.

In another case, a person may act purely with regard to their own interest, for example in clearing an obstacle or solving a problem that stands in their way, and others may yet benefit from their action. The absence of an altruistic motive doesn't mean there must be an absence of benefit to others.

But in contrast, if someone acts on a purely selfless motive, then can't we expect that their actions will be good? I don't think so. There are more than a few examples of selfless ideologies that take on aspects of tyranny. Too often those who are prepared to deny themselves their wants and needs are also prepared to deny them to others.

Away with motive, then. You can't be sure of what the motive was, and even if you could, it can't define whether the results of an action are good or bad, and therefore whether the action itself was good or bad.

An objection: in detective stories and court cases, doesn't motive often take centre stage? It must somehow be useful in understanding what's going on, mustn't it? Can't we use motive to find out if someone is committing a crime?

Well, the followers of Sherlock Holmes start with a crime, and then may use possible motives to identify suspects. Motive is not used to decide whether a crime has been committed in the first place. Later in a trial, motive may be taken into account in sentencing, but again it doesn't decide whether a deliberate action was criminal or not.

Is all this the same as saying the end justifies the means? No. Quite the opposite. The phrase 'the end justifies the means' is another way of saying if one is motivated by a good end, then one is justified in one's actions. Instead I'm saying the means determine the end. In judging a deliberate action, look at what the result is.

Of course in the case of the invasion of Iraq there were a lot of actions involved beyond the one action of deciding to invade, and no alternative to that central action was free of its own consequences. Those arguments are too great to go through here though, at the end of this small argument on motive.

Follow up posts: Motive 2, Motive 3. See also Re-fighting World War Two.

Now do you see?

Each with their own point of view, from StairCaseNotes.

Copyright © Susanna Jacobs

Monday, 24 March 2008


Late yesterday evening, walking down a dark road with my four year old daughter, past silent gardens, she imagined ghosts in the shadows. Coming towards the driveway she said, 'there might be ghosts in that house, maybe there aren't any people in there, only ghosts dressed as the people who lived there. It's a secret, don't tell...'

The photograph is of another ghost road, in another country.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

On the shoulders of giants

Tomorrow is my father's birthday - hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

Photographed in Denmark, 1968.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

More milk

A postcard sent from Jersey, dated 1906, probably published in Germany.

Who will weep

From Harry's Place, remembering words spoken in a debate in the House of Commons five years ago:

We must face the consequences of the actions that we advocate. For those of us who support the course that I am advocating, that means all the dangers of war. But for others who are opposed to this course, it means - let us be clear - that the Iraqi people, whose only true hope lies in the removal of Saddam, the darkness will simply close back over. They will be left under his rule, without any possibility of liberation - not from us, not from anyone.

This is the choice before us. If this house now demands that at this moment, faced with this threat from this regime, British troops are pulled back, that we turn away at the point of reckoning - this is what it means - what then? What will Saddam feel? He will feel strengthened beyond measure. What will the other states that tyrannise their people, the terrorists who threaten our existence, take from that? They will take it that the will confronting them is decaying and feeble.

Who will celebrate and who will weep if we take our troops back from the Gulf now?

Monday, 17 March 2008

Norm: 'illegality' as mere attitude

Today here's Norman Geras on the oh so obviously illegal invasion of Iraq.

There's one part I'm not sure of. Norm appears to accept the assertion that the invasion took place without the authorization of the Security Council, that the authority of the Security Council was bypassed. My understanding was that the UK Government's legal justification for the invasion maintained that sufficient authority for action was given in existing Security Council resolutions, so disputing the argument that the Security Council's authority was being bypassed.

Older stuff on this from Oliver Kamm here, on the head of the Royal Navy who sought private independent advice on the legality of the invasion prior to the event. Most of the post I'm in strong sympathy with, except for the opinion of his correspondent quoted at the end who believes the First Sea Lord was wrong to seek private advice.

My own amateur knockabout on this topic on the Comics Journal message board in response to this continues here, and here, and here, all the way to here! Then a break then to do some painting, read a couple of books, and help with some homework, before it starts all over again

The above drawing has little to do with anything here. It's another illustration from the Times Higher Education Supplement, published in 1995.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Give your best friend an Ainslie Whisky

Here's a taste of the humour of yesteryear, from the 1904 issue of the Danish satirical annual Blæksprutten. Most of the annual is made up of full page drawings, small gag cartoons, and illustrated verses. But at the back are three pages of small ads, livened up with a comic strip. I've extracted the strip and laid it out in a more web-friendly way below.

The note in panel one says "Darling, I cannot be yours." The reply in panel five says "Beloved, when you read this I shall be dead."

So y'see, if only Romeo had been fond of a drink then all might have ended happily. Below, more of how the strip originally appeared when surrounded by small ads.

Many thanks to the brother for this.

Copyright © Estate of the Unknown Cartoonist

Also known as Bundle

bruin builds a boat
Here are a couple of interesting pictures sent to me by a Rasmus Klump fan. Above, a collection of the Glasgow Evening Times Bruin strips. My correspondent writes that there were at least three editions of this book, published by the Evening Times, the Evening Telegraph, and the one above by the Leicester Mercury.

The book is a translation of the first Danish collection of Rasmus Klump strips, recently reissued in a facsimile edition.

Below, a third english language identity for Rasmus Klump - Bundle! This sounds like an attempt at a direct translation of his Danish name. The book was published in 1975 by Collins, London, so actually it's his second english language name, predating the American Barnaby Bear books by four years.

Many thanks to my fellow Rasmus fan for the pictures.
Click here for all Klump/Bruin/Bundle/Barnaby Bear posts to date.

bundle in slumberland
Rasmus Klump copyright © Egmont Serieforlaget

Monday, 10 March 2008

Lighten up

Lay down that load, you need no longer be lumbered so.

Common Sense says if you must have a religion, at least pick a reasonable one - Deism!

The above painting was first published in The Times Higher Education Supplement in 1994.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Segregation 2

A follow up on Obama's adviser's idea of promoting segregation in order to prevent violence: a New York Times article earlier this week reported on a decline in religious belief amongst young Iraqis as a result of the sectarian violence. It included stories of increased religious repression within both Shia and Sunni communities as they became more segregated. A sample: 

It was just as bad, if not worse, for young Sunnis. Rubbed raw by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a homegrown Sunni insurgent group that American intelligence says is led by foreigners, they found themselves stranded in neighborhoods that were governed by seventh-century rules. During an interview with a dozen Sunni teenage boys in a Baghdad detention facility on several sticky days in September, several of them expressed relief at being in jail, so they could wear shorts, a form of dress they would have been punished for in their neighborhoods. 

here and also here

It doesn't seem hard for me to imagine that promoting segregation could actually make things worse, not just between communities, but also within them. If religion is encouraged as the primary identity of people it just gives more power to religious leaders, and religious leaders have obviously a vested interest in building the power of their own sect rather than in developing a tolerant open society. That was certainly the view I came away with from growing up in Ireland, and I wouldn't wish such a situation on anybody.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008


Did you listen to BBC Radio 4's Start the Week on Monday?
One of the guests was Samantha Power, talking about her new book on Sergio Vieira de Mello, an extract from which appeared in The New Yorker.
Towards the end of the programme, another guest, Ronan Bennett, asked her in her capacity as an adviser to Barack Obama whether as president Obama would pull out of Iraq. Part of her answer surprised me - here it is in full:
"Yes, I think one of the things that he's done though, that sets him apart from his colleagues in the Democratic Party and on the left, is actually developed a plan for responsible withdrawal, which to you might sound like an excuse for staying but is in fact a planning process that would actually put Iraqis central to our thinking about how we get out, so it would involve fair notice, and moving potentially people from mixed neighbourhoods to homogenous neighbourhoods, tragic that it's the equivalent of facilitating ethnic cleansing, which is terrible but if that is the choice of people there, massive refugee assistance initiatives so that neighbouring countries actually open their borders again because they've been sealed for a long time, so the short answer is his best guess right now, from talking to military people, is that you could get all combat brigades out within eighteen months, but you also have to embed in it some consideration of what is happening to Iraqis as you go. But his objective would be both to be able to focus on Afghanistan and in quotes deal with al Qaeda, and I think we have to learn to live with insecurity in the way that people in this country have lived with it, but also in order to restore American standing longterm."
- Apologies for that unwieldy paragraph, but I didn't want to seem to be taking anything out of context.
The bit that surprised me was "...moving potentially people from mixed neighbourhoods to homogenous neighbourhoods, tragic that it's the equivalent of facilitating ethnic cleansing, which is terrible but if that is the choice of people there..."
Samantha Power is obviously more knowledgeable about ethnic cleansing than I am, as she's best known for her book on genocide, so I find it strange that she's advocating entrenching the results of terror in a way that is likely to increase sectarianism rather than overcome it. And I find it bizarre to talk about this as a choice by Iraqis, as the population shifts have been as a result of terror carried out by the minority of violent thugs on each side of the divide.
I also find it strange to suggest that Barack Obama would wish to enable segregation rather than combat it, albeit segregation in Iraq rather than the US. Is that really his thinking?

This post appeared first as a comment on Harry's Place. The drawing above is an old one from 1993, published in the Times Higher Education Supplement, illustrating a different war.

I have a follow up post on this topic here.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Bruin at Sea

I've been lucky enough to get my hands on a second scrapbook of 1950s Bruin strips from the Glasgow Evening Times. For those who missed my earlier post on Bruin, start here and continue here.

Of interest to readers of the Danish original of the strip, titled Rasmus Klump, are a number of strips included here that don't appear in the current Danish editions.

These provide the missing link between Rasmus Klump bygger skib and Rasmus Klump møder Ursula.

Rasmus Klump copyright © Egmont Serieforlaget