Archive for April, 2003

Dead Socialist Watch, #28

April 30th, 2003

Beatrice Webb, born 2 January 1858, died 30 April 1943.

I still have a soft spot for the Webbs, despite everything. (“We shall have books, not children”, “Two typewriters that beat as one”, etc.) But for their extraordinary justification of the show trials, published in the second edition of Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation (yes, the one without the questionmark in the title), click here.

Correction & Clarification

April 27th, 2003

No time to write sensible entries: term’s beginning, and I have a lot of writing to do. But this is priceless. From the New York Times:

An article last Sunday about the disappearance of Saddam Hussein and the fates met by other dictators misidentified a prominent and elusive supporter of the Baath Party. He is Tariq Aziz, Mr. Hussein’s deputy prime minister. (Tariq Ali, an author, does not support the Baath Party.)

(via LBO-talk).

Dead Socialist Watch, #27

April 27th, 2003

Antonio Gramsci, died 27 April 1937.

Dead Socialist Watch, #26

April 23rd, 2003

Karl Polanyi, author of The Great Transformation. Born in Vienna 21 October 1886; died in Pickering, Ontario, 23 April 23, 1964.

Dead Socialist Watch, #25

April 21st, 2003

Richard Stafford Cripps, born 24 April 1889, died 21 April 1952.

Dead Socialist Watch, #24

April 14th, 2003

Here’s another one: the greatest of all the Russian futurist poets, Vladimir Mayakovsky, born 19 July 1893, died 14 April 1930.

Comrade life, let us march faster,
March faster through what’s left of the five-year plan.


April 14th, 2003

I’m in something of a state of perpetual motion these days, so I may not be around to update this page much over the coming week or so.

So, in the meantime, here’s an excellent snippet from everyone’s favourite oversized philosopher, Thomas Aquinas.

Questions on Whatever (Quaestiones Quodlibitales), Question 12, Article 20.

Whether truth is stronger than either wine, the king or woman.


1. It seems that wine (is stronger than the others) because it affects man the most.

2. Again, (it seems) that the king (is stronger than the others) because he sends man to what is most difficult, namely, to that which exposed himself to mortal danger.

3. Again, (it seems) that woman (is stronger), because she commands even kings.

On the other hand is the fact Eszra IV, 35 says that truth is stronger.

I respond that it should be said that this is the question proposed to youths (who were going to be destroyed) in Eszra. One should realize, therefore, that if we consider these four, namely wine, the king, woman and truth, in themselves they are not comparable because they do not belong to the same genus. Nevertheless, if they are considered in relation to some effect, they coinside in one aspect, and so can be compared with each other. Now, this effect in which they come together and can be compared is the affect they have on the human heart. One ought to see, therefore, which among these most affect the heart of man.

One should know, therefore, that man has a certain ability to be affected corporally and another in his animal (nature). This latter is of two kinds, according to the sense faculties and according to the intelligible faculties. The intelligible, indeed, is of two kinds, the practical and the speculative.

Among those things, however, which pertain to affecting according to the disposition of the body, wine has the excellence which makes (someone) speak through drunkenness. Among those things which pertain to the affecting of the sensitive appetite, pleasure is the more excellent and principally sexual (pleasure), and so woman is stronger. Again in practical things, i.e. in human things, which we are able to do, the king has the greatest ability. In speculative things, the highest and most powerful is truth.

Now, however, bodily powers are subjected to animal powers, animal powers to intellectual (ones), and practical intellectual powers to speculative (ones). And so simpliciter truth is greater in dignity, and more excellent and stronger.

There’s a bit more in this vein available at the Thomist Humor [sic] page.

Dead Socialist Watch, #23

April 14th, 2003

Simone de Beauvoir, born 9 January 1908, died 14 April 1986. Socialist, feminist and existentialist philosopher.

Thinking of dead socialists, as I do, I saw earlier today that Mike Kidron (permanent arms economy, early SWPer, State of the World Atlas, etc.) died recently.

Birthday Boy

April 9th, 2003

Birthday greetings to the excellent Tom Lehrer, who is 75 today.

Booze on a Budget

April 9th, 2003

Since it’s Budget day, and since comrade Brown has just raised the price of beer — again — it’s worth remembering (as people often don’t) that John Stuart Mill’s defence of taxing booze in On Liberty is conditional on the necessity of having a decent chunk of public funds raised through indirect taxation. Since the British Government could easily choose to raise the money it raises from booze through rises in the direct, progressive income tax case, rather than through the indirect, severely regressive booze-and-cigarettes tax, this particular case for taxing booze is considerably weakened. Here’s the passage in full:

A further question is, whether the State, while it permits, should nevertheless indirectly discourage conduct which it deems contrary to the best interests of the agent; whether, for example, it should take measures to render the means of drunkenness more costly, or add to the difficulty of procuring them by limiting the number of the places of sale. On this as on most other practical questions, many distinctions require to be made. To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained, is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition; and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable. Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price; and to those who do, it is a penalty laid on them for gratifying a particular taste. Their choice of pleasures, and their mode of expending their income, after satisfying their legal and moral obligations to the State and to individuals, are their own concern, and must rest with their own judgment. These considerations may seem at first sight to condemn the selection of stimulants as special subjects of taxation for purposes of revenue. But it must be remembered that taxation for fiscal purposes is absolutely inevitable; that in most countries it is necessary that a considerable part of that taxation should be indirect; that the State, therefore, cannot help imposing penalties, which to some persons may be prohibitory, on the use of some articles of consumption. It is hence the duty of the State to consider, in the imposition of taxes, what commodities the consumers can best spare; and � fortiori, to select in preference those of which it deems the use, beyond a very moderate quantity, to be positively injurious. Taxation, therefore, of stimulants, up to the point which produces the largest amount of revenue (supposing that the State needs all the revenue which it yields) is not only admissible, but to be approved of.

Full text here.


April 9th, 2003

Following the recommendation of other bloggers (Kieran Healy, Junius, Matthew Yglesias), I’ve just taken, and enjoyed, the Battleground God test, receiving one direct hit and biting one bullet along the way. It’s excellent, a lot more sophisticated than the usual e-quiz, and provides good stuff to think about. It’s also fun.

As a baptised member of the Church of England, I’m not really religious (I’m not terribly philosophichal, either, as my colleagues in Philosophy know: greetings, Martin, Mary and Olly), but I do have an Inner Jansenist, and the quiz rebelled against the two answers my IJ prompted me to give, sticking up for divine omnipotence (even at the cost of philosophical absurdity: God can make 1+1=72) and thinking that belief in God is justifiable even when it is not based on the kinds of things which are needed to justify beliefs about the external world. So I’m not entirely happy with the results it has spat back at me, even though the quiz has given me its second-highest award, which is clearly a good thing to have.

I’m not unhappy having a bit of an Inner Jansenist, though it can be slightly alarming at times. I know other people who report an Inner Bearded Trade Unionist and an Inner Tory, and I think these are probably far more disturbing over the long run.


April 9th, 2003

Raj recommends this fine animation sequence about the liberation of Afghanistan.

Simon, by contrast, is interested in collecting things.