Sunday, March 08, 2009

"Call for": considered harmful

Alex Harrowell goes to the theatre to see David Hare, leading to a number of thoughts relevant to our subject ...

48 Comments:

Blogger ejh said...

Alex, I note, is calling for an end to calling for.

3/09/2009 07:35:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

A few points:

a. Why shouldn't people "call for" this and that? Are people not supposed to actively express a wish that, say, murderous regimes be overthrown by their own people? Are they really all supposed to have a detailed plan before expressing the aspiration? In my youth I wished the South African people to overthrow apartheid: I couldn't have identified Cape Town or Johannesburg on a map. Should I not have bothered?

b. why does anybody imagine that important political events happen because other people far away call for them? If it is detached from reality, then at the same time it's not so important, is it?

c. given that nearly all of us, nearly all of the time, are vwery far removed from anything resembling political power or influence, is it really reasonable to expect us to operate from the point of view of a practicality over which we have no control? If we're to criticise the supporters of war in Iraq for not having a coherent plan for the aftermath of invasion, doesn't that invite precisely the same sort of criticism, one that was actually made, that we had no coherent plan for the removal of Saddam? Didn't the antiwar movement actually operate from more of a basis of idealism that the pro-war movement (the latter possessing a cynicism absent from the former) and wouldn't it have been far smaller had it been otherwise?

d. do the particular advocates of practicality actually turn out to be all that practical? Even assuming that they know what they're talking about (and aren't just Some Guy With A Website, winging it with some impressive-sounding terminology) how good are they at judging the outcomes they seek to influence, given Clausewitz's dictum that no plan of attack survives the first shots of battle?

d. can anybody tell me how modern liberalism would ever have come into existence if people in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had not been prepared to engage in the extremely dangerous business of insurrection?

e. isn't the practice of trying to restrict political discussion to the immediately practical something of an illiberal approach?

f. isn't the real problem with "calling for" not that people do it, but that it becomes a competition in which other people are expected to call for the same things and judged severely if they do not? Isn't that the sterile and destructive process, rather than the practice of expressing the aspiration to an outcome in itself?

Isn't this the problem with Decency, and one which it shares with too much hard-left discussion, that it becomes a process of denunciation (and not just denunciation for what people say, but for what they don't)?

g. isn't it the case that political and intellectual ideas need to survive and prosper on their own merits, rather than on the attempt to obliterate alternatives?

h. aren't people going to engage in the habits Alex dislikes just as much whether he wants them to or not, and given that this is the case, is he not hoist by his own petard?

3/09/2009 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Are people not supposed to actively express a wish that, say, murderous regimes be overthrown by their own people? Are they really all supposed to have a detailed plan before expressing the aspiration? In my youth I wished the South African people to overthrow apartheid: I couldn't have identified Cape Town or Johannesburg on a map. Should I not have bothered?

But people didn't just "call for"; they divested, they boycotted, they gave, they helped exiles, and eventually apartheid was overthrown, however badly Margaret Thatcher didn't want it to be.

isn't the real problem with "calling for" not that people do it, but that it becomes a competition in which other people are expected to call for the same things and judged severely if they do not?

Yes. It's the Decent Waltz; step one, call for, step two, demand that others do so, step three, accuse them of treason.

3/09/2009 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

But people didn't just "call for"; they divested, they boycotted, they gave, they helped exiles, and eventually apartheid was overthrown, however badly Margaret Thatcher didn't want it to be.

Yes, but none of this would have happened without the "calling for" and plenty of people never went beyond the "calling for". And nobody knew, when they set out on their path, whether or not they were wasting their breath and their time.

I mean my God, when I was a student in 1983-6 we didn't spend much time demonstrating for the fall of the East European regimes and contrary to received opinion, that wasn't because we liked them. It's because nobody had any real inkling that this was so close. But it turned out that Havel was in the castle before Mandela was out of prison.

You tell that to the young people today, they won't believe you. But that's how it was.

You can't be all that practical. There's a lot of reasons why but one of them is that nobody actually knows what practical is.

3/09/2009 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

GOTO statements (the reference in the article title is to this classic article) are also not harmful in and of themselves and are a quite natural way for a high-level programming language to deal with the flow of control.

However, it was gradually discovered that they led to very bad programming habits, simply because the GOTO statement had no context and it was thus all too easy for lazy programmers to chuck them around without keeping track of where they were going to, where they were coming from, or what the implications of carrying out the GOTO statement were for the rest of the program. The more I think about this analogy the better it seems.

"Calling for" a specific course of action, would be no problem. "Calling for" an outcome (like "an end to apartheid") is always dangerous because "Call for" is ambiguous between "wish for" and "demand action to achieve", and this ambiguity practically begs to be exploited by people who want to associate themselves with the popular and politically attractive first sense, without getting involved with any of the hard work and difficulty implied by the second sense.

If we're to criticise the supporters of war in Iraq for not having a coherent plan for the aftermath of invasion, doesn't that invite precisely the same sort of criticism, one that was actually made, that we had no coherent plan for the removal of Saddam?

Absolutely not, since all of us did, in fact, recognise that a consequence of there not being a war would be that Saddam would not be there. The "callers for", on the other hand, absolutely did not recognise that a consequence of not having a plan would be the shit-show that ensued.

isn't the practice of trying to restrict political discussion to the immediately practical something of an illiberal approach?

Also not at all - people can wish for what they like; what's being censured here is the tendency to simply bracket out consequences (by exploiting the ambiguity in "call for")

In my youth I wished the South African people to overthrow apartheid: I couldn't have identified Cape Town or Johannesburg on a map. Should I not have bothered?

Presumably you supported the actual ANC, which was an actually existing organisation that had good and bad points, and you decided that the good outweighed the bad. If you just decided to write a blank cheque because you wanted to "call for" the end of apartheid then - well, it turned out all right in that case and you should have bothered, but you were taking a hell of a risk[1]. Compare all those kids who uncritically want to "call for" Israel out of Palestine, and as a result end up getting suckered by one bunch of bastards after another.

"Calling for" has all the advantages of theft over honest toil, which is why it's so popular, but it's not just the particular Decent use of it that's problematic. It's a form of words that really invites one into bad intellectual habits.

[1] Specifically, taking the risk that you'd end up being played for a sucker, embittered, and turn right-wing in middle age, cf Anthony, Andrew.

3/09/2009 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Actually, the main use of "calling for" an end to apartheid was specifically on the part of people who didn't want to commit themselves to supporting the ANC or sanctions.

3/09/2009 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'm very far from sure that last will hold up, in so far as I think I understand what it means. (Apart from anything else, by the way, the ANC's strategy for getting rid of apartheid changed several times over the period of its struggle. This did not mean that each new strategy was expressed any less dogmatically than the one before. We may if we wish detect the influence of the SACP in this, and we'll be right, but that in itself may cause us to question whether there's really this divide between practical involvement and certain modes of thought.)

"Calling for" an outcome (like "an end to apartheid") is always dangerous

No it isn't. In itself it's not remotely dangerous, because it's not effective and what is not effective is not really dangerous. And if it's an abusable form of words, well in honesty - what is not?

people who want to associate themselves with the popular and politically attractive first sense, without getting involved with any of the hard work and difficulty implied by the second sense.

Do I have to do that every time then? I mean if I wanted an end to Soviet rule in 1986 did I have to specifcally say what I wanted it replaced with and by whom? I'd have struggled, you know. So would anybody.

Moreover does not the aspiration precede the search for ways of putting it into practice? What happens when I have decided world hunger is wrong but I haven't yet worked put how to get from the undesirable A to the desirable B? Where there's no easy answers, of course people do not need to have found one themselves before they insist that as a society we should be looking hard for one.

Presumably you supported the actual ANC

Did I? I might or might not have (to some extent or other) but there were plenty of people opposed to apartheid who supported other organisations or called for alternative organisations to be formed. It didn't really turn out that way (though of course there was the UDF) and maybe for the better, maybe for the worse. But we can't know.

If you just decided to write a blank cheque because you wanted to "call for" the end of apartheid then - well, it turned out all right in that case and you should have bothered, but you were taking a hell of a risk

Well specifcally, I think we can - most of us - call for the end of things that are pretty definitely bad without further consideration. My response to apartheid was that it should end. My specific degree power over the situation was nil.

I actually think that in those situations, it's quite important to have and to express a central aspiration even though you may have no possiblity whatsoever of putting into practice: unilateral nuclear disarmament, Israel out of the Occupied Territories, end world hunger. Give people some sort of leverage over these situations, or let them see the situation actually starting to change in practice and yes of course then the basic position will also change, people will start talking practicalities and compromises (and those who don't won't matter, by the way, because nobody will be listening to them).

The problem comes not when people without power express principle, provided they don't do so ungenerously: it's when people do have power and piss about. This is why it's problematic (though not necesarily entirely wrong) to suggest that Macmillan should have called for an uprising against the bulding of a Berlin Wall, because it would quite likely have been writing a cheque he couldn't cash*. Geroge Bush Sr wrote a cheque in Iraq 1991 that he probably could have cashed, but then didn't: that was worse still. But to be honest, in just saying "Stop Apartheid Now" ("Now"? What does that mean, "now?") more than half my life ago, I wasn't writing any cheques or taking any risks.

Except the risk of becoming Andrew Anthony. Well, yeah, I've met a few. But there's an opposite but equal risk, that many have also fallen victim to, that people who want to concentrate on practicals to the exclusion of ideals turn into New Labour. That's what that particular movement in politics was and is all about. Lots of the Anti-Apartheid people ended up like that - and I don't think I'd err in detecting a large crossover between the people who were most keen to follow the ANC line in toto in the Eighties, and those who were the keenest Blairites ten and twenty years later. I think there are as many ill consequences in going one way as in another.

I'm quite a student of disillusion in politics, I think every Eighties socialist who didn't become a cynic or a speak-your-phraseology machine is more or less obliged to be. Lots of us did end up disillusioned, but that's because we were defeated. This happens, in history, and when it happens lots of people who were involved become embittered and blame the people with whom they got involved.

Occasionally they have interesting things to say about this, rather more often they don't. Andrew Anthony doesn't, to my mind, and I don't think anything that happened to him (even if you accept his account of events) was much to do with the old "calling for" routine. In his case, indeed, he seemed to be very much interested in doing more than that - if he'd done what I'd done and just called for the US to leave Nicaragua alone, instead of trying to do somthing about it, he might not have suffered the reaction he later did.

Then again, it probably seemed a good idea at the time. Lots of things did.

[* though see Havel's comments on whether the Czechs should have resisted the Soviet invasion more strongly, even though they would still have lost.]

3/09/2009 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Incidentally, I'm not an enemy of practicality in politics, I wouldn't want anybody to think that. I am opposed to practicality with no trace of idealism, partly becasue I think it's a very swift short-cut to cynicism and corruption. I'm also against making a big divide with practical = good on one side and absence of practicals = bad on the other, which is partly because I think it's something of a dogmatic separation and as with all dogmas tends to require reality to be adjusted to fit its claims.

3/09/2009 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I am opposed to practicality with no trace of idealism, partly becasue I think it's a very swift short-cut to cynicism and corruption.

I don't think there's any such thing. What 'works' always depends on what you're trying to achieve, what goals are expendable, what costs are unacceptable and why. I agree about the cynicism and corruption, but I think the route goes via self-deception.

As for 'call for', I think... it's complicated; in fact, the more I think about it the more complicated it gets. There's a difference between "calling for" when done by a mass movement & when done by a politician or courtier. There's a difference, perhaps, between "calling for" a desired end-state ("an end to world hunger") and a specific change ("democracy in Iraq"). There's certainly a difference between "calling for" a desired state ("peace and justice in the Middle East") and "calling for" a negative ("no war for oil"). There's also a difference relating to who you're calling *on*, if anyone. In the anti-apartheid context, we could have "called for"
- disinvestment by UK banks
- changes to government policy
- changes to Labour Party policy
- changes to South African government policy
- changes to ANC policy
- township revolution
- invasion of South Africa
- an end to apartheid

The last one doesn't have any implicit interlocutor, but all the rest are addressed to a different audience.

But maybe that's not the fundamental difference. Some of these anti-apartheid demands may have been futile or even counter-productive, but I don't think any of them necessarily leaves the bad taste Alex associated with 'calling for' - except for the last but one (which, as far as I know, nobody *did* call for), and perhaps the one before (called for by a few anarchists, but nobody listens to anarchists). So maybe it's "call for major upheaval in distant country considered distasteful at best"?

3/09/2009 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I think that as with the GOTO command, the flexibility of what you can "call for" is the whole problem here. It's very easy to "call for an end to apartheid", then act as if you had called for everything else on the list when criticising other people for not doing enough, then act as if you had only called for "an end to apartheid" in the abstract when one thing on the list is tried and doesn't work, then act like you'd called for some things on the list but not others when taking credit for the eventual fall of apartheid. It's too much of an ideological Swiss Army knife.

In general, I am still fond of my own formulation of "demanding immediate action while refusing to specify what that action might be", something I regard as always and everywhere the height of irresponsibility, because it's equivalent to writing a political blank check and inviting anyone who wants to cash it. And the "call for" formulation fits that pattern of behaviour as suspiciously snugly as the barrel of a Remington shotgun fits into a wellington boot.

3/09/2009 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

but nobody listens to anarchists

Actually I listen to Crass frequently, but this may not be what you mean

I think that this

writing a political blank check and inviting anyone who wants to cash it

isn't really true in reality, because the actors who are going to cash the cheques aren't actually going to do so because they've been invited to do so by you, me, or Professor Norman Geras: they're doing it because they want to.

I mean it really doesn't matter all that much if the Professor wants to construct fantasy invasions of Zimbabwe in his head: we all have to have a hobby. What maters a bit more is if he's going to write articles in the Guardian saying I'm an apologist for the London bombings if I care to consider seriously the thesis that they may have been connected with Iraq.

I dunno, there's lots to be said about the connection (and the disconnection) between practicality and idealism but I want to argue strongly that sometimes you really do need a strong emphasis on the other, perhaps specifically those times when you have the least power and the least prospect of finding a practical route to your goal.

Or perhaps, here's a question for you. At the end of Fahrenheit 451, what motivates the people who have pledged to become books? Are they engaging in a practical act to try and preserve literature and thus civilisation, or are they essentially doing something doomed and hopeless, but motivated by the belief that they must do it because it's right? (And does it actually matter which?)

3/09/2009 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

isn't really true in reality, because the actors who are going to cash the cheques aren't actually going to do so because they've been invited to do so by you, me, or Professor Norman Geras: they're doing it because they want to.

I'm not inclined to let Geras off the hook here. The Iraq War might not have happened. It would have been much more difficult, politically, for it to have been fought without Tony Blair. It would have been much more difficult for Blair to have won his very close vote in the Commons if there wasn't a largish media lobby in favour of invasion as a liberal, left-wing and progressive policy. That lobby was wayyy out of proportion to the actual political support for such a view. And the online Decent Left served their part in making it possible.

Blair didn't join in the Iraqi invasion because Norman Geras asked him to, but given that he'd made the decision to do so, the existence of that political tendency (I can't remember whether Normblog existed at the time) did make it easier for him to build the political coalition he needed. This whole political dynamic is the reason why a sensible man doesn't issue a generalised "call for" the end of the ayatollahs in Iran, even though he wants it - if you care about the sort of things your name gets attached to, you can't shirk the duty of paying attention to what you're saying.

3/09/2009 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Of course, but that being so, it wasn't really "calling for" in the sense we've previously discussed: it was an actual, practical course of action, however wicked and stupid, that somebody was proposing to take. It wasn't an ideological position existing largely for the purpose of comparison with other people's ideological positions, it was good old-fashioned political support.

Yet funnily enough when the professor (and the gang) came calling with the Zimbabwe-invasion proposal, there wasn't anybody in even to take their card. How odd.

Which means to me that Geras and chums aren't the players they think they are. They're people being played.

3/09/2009 03:08:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

Precisely the most annoying thing about Norm is his tendency to say "something must be done" and then refuse to say what that something is, or blustering about Douglas Hurd and Henry Kissinger if you ask him. The one thing you can say in favour of the Scoopies is that they do have definite proposals for action, even if those proposals are quite barking and involve Alan Mendoza directing fleets of EU aircraft carriers in the Pacific. Personally, I agree with Huber's quip that there is no instance in military history where doing nothing was an inferior option to doing something really stupid, and that's why you need to be precise.

I think there's something to Justin's argument about people who supported the ANC tout court, and perhaps if you have a little tinge of realpolitik to begin with you're less inclined to become completely cynical later.

To take Cambodia as an example, I have no doubt that Hun Sen is a very bad man, but I have no problem formulating a negative position against the Yanks toppling the Cambodian government. You could even argue that his crushing of the contras in 1997 was, on balance, a good thing while still keeping your eyes open about the brutality involved; or to argue that the latter invalidated whatever value the former had. You could call for support for various people in Cambodia pursuing democratisation. All this is perfectly legitimate argumentation. What would set alarm bells ringing is if Norm writes an op-ed calling for "democracy in Cambodia".

3/09/2009 03:34:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

World of Decency News (not entirely unrelated). Nick Cohen throws another hilarious hissy fit:

http://nickcohen.net/2009/03/09/that-anti-fascist-left-is-still-absent-without-leave/

I can't help thinking this has something to do with just how bad the 'Etonians' reviews have been.

3/09/2009 03:48:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

DSquared: GOTO statements (the reference in the article title is to this classic article) are also not harmful in and of themselves and are a quite natural way for a high-level programming language to deal with the flow of control.

No they're not, they're a horrible way for a high-level language to deal with the flow of control.

I'm not sure what "natural" means in the context of an invention, especially when in two categories of language (functional and SQL/Prolog style languages) they would be, well, perplexing at best.
In a procedural/oo language there is nothing that GOTO can do that can't be handled far better (for both the programmer's sanity, and the performance of the resulting program) by specialised commands.

3/09/2009 04:58:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Phil: Sure there is such a thing as "practicality with no trace of idealism". What do you think technocrats are? Sure Eurocrats, or the graduates of the École Nationale d'Administration, have all been proponents of neoliberalism - but none of them have any idealism, they just think its the most practical solution. And anyone who's experienced corporate politics (most of us presumably) has seen politics sans idealism first hand.

3/09/2009 05:13:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I'm not sure what "natural" means in the context of an invention

In this context, it means "they're more or less the first thing you'd think of when you realise that your newly invented high-level language needs some way to move control around the program". Which is why they (or equivalents) were absolutely ubiquitous before Dijkstra's article, which itself sparked a huge amount of reaction from defenders of the GOTO as a sensible construct. Other ways seem "natural" now because a lot of effort has been put into teaching things differently.

(similarly, in several other eras, the organisation of agriculture on the basis of some people being forced to do it for no money by threat of being killed seemed "natural" and the fact that this system kept being invented again and again is surely at least weak evidence that it had some intuitive simplicity to it).

3/09/2009 05:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Sure Eurocrats, or the graduates of the École Nationale d'Administration, have all been proponents of neoliberalism - but none of them have any idealism, they just think its the most practical solution.

Wouldn't that be rather a strange coincidence? Maybe I'm stretching the word 'idealism' to breaking point, but I think most people whose job description includes making the world a better place have quite definite ideas about what 'better' means - even if they don't articulate those ideas, or ever need to articulate them.

3/09/2009 08:50:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

DSquared:
The first computer language was Fortran. It was designed to be as fast as possible and nobody had written a real compiler before. So they designed a language that was pretty easy to translate into assembler. Assembler has conditionals and jmp statements - which is basically 'if' and 'goto'. Computers had these circuits because they are easy to build. GOTO happened, it wasn't designed.

And this isn't true:
However, it was gradually discovered that they led to very bad programming habits, simply because the GOTO statement had no context and it was thus all too easy for lazy programmers to chuck them around without keeping track of where they were going to, where they were coming from, or what the implications of carrying out the GOTO statement were for the rest of the program.

Its very hard to write good code with GOTO statements, possibly impossible. Dijkstra's point was that good programmer's used GOTO as little as possible. Dijkstra wasn't the first person to make this point, but for some reason his paper was the one people read.

3/09/2009 10:21:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Wouldn't that be rather a strange coincidence? Maybe I'm stretching the word 'idealism' to breaking point, but I think most people whose job description includes making the world a better place have quite definite ideas about what 'better' means - even if they don't articulate those ideas, or ever need to articulate them.

Beyond breaking point. I am a designer of cars and I have a set of requirements we'd like to hit (faster, more fuel efficient, cheaper) for a 'better' car. Not an idealist. I'm an entrepreneur who thinks he can make a lot of money by producing an electric car. Not an idealist. On the other hand I'm a designer trying to build an electric car to eliminate oil dependency - kind of an idealist.

I'm not sure why you'd think they'd "have quite definite ideas about what 'better' means", just because of a job description, btw.

3/09/2009 10:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Notting Hill Dinner Party said...

The problem, widely acknowledged in structured programming circles in the 80s, was not with GOTO but with the labels to which control was transferred, because the original programmer who inserted the label didn't know from where it might be jumped to.

That is: "GOTO London" isn't too much of a problem if you know you're in Leeds. "How the holy fuck did all these different people arrive in London with all this baggage that we weren't expecting and who don't know how the buses work" is a different thing entirely.

3/09/2009 10:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Computer Studies O Level ['B', as it happens], 1984 . . . I vaguely remember that we were advised against too many GOTOs. But what about 'GOSUB' - was that bad too? About the only time I ever programmed for money, there were GOSUBs all over the place. On the other hand, the 'code' [Supercalc macros, as it happens] was Frankenstinian even to my untutored eye.

giftrap= 'voinsupt' - tantalisingly close to 'voidcomp'.

Chris Williams

3/09/2009 11:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS What I am talking about? I got an 'A' for that one, for sure. Perhaps I subconsciously wanted to protect myself, in case I've just said something hilariously stupid about computers.

CW

3/09/2009 11:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Cian - where did all these technicians and entrepreneurs come from? We were talking about politicians and senior civil servants a minute ago.

More specifically, what I'm saying is that I don't believe in a complete absence of idealism in roles you can occupy as an idealist. In my experience some of the most 'pragmatic' people, if you prod them, have a blazingly fierce attachment to their idea of the Good.

3/09/2009 11:47:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Chris W - An 'A' in 1984 is worth an 'A' and a 'B' nowadays, so perhaps you were thinking of your additional 'B' you've got?

http://www.matthewturner.co.uk/Blog/2008/08/how-clever-am-i.html

3/10/2009 09:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Notting Hill Dinner Party said...

CW:

Subroutines are indeed very important, as you can write a small-ish bit of code to do one thing and then use it whenever you need to do that thing (e.g. calculate a square root, or get a password). The crucial difference is in what GOSUB actually means, which is roughly "go off to this named thing, do what it tells you, then come back here". Well-written ones have only one entry and one exit point, so you always know how control flows through the program. Changed within the subroutine don't (usually) affect the control flow.

GOTO just means "bugger off over there, and with luck someone at the other end will tell you to come back to me, but I have no control over whether they will or not". Changes to the code at the place you tell it to bugger off to are rather more likely to have an effect, if someone e.g. deletes the thing that told it to come back.

Sorry Phil, but it's nice to be able to make a contribution for a change.

3/10/2009 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Phil: I was just trying to make the definition about idealism a little clearer. Lets say you had a technocrat whose only idea was that if you built more roads, that would lead to more transport, which would lead to higher GDP. Now by your definition - he's an idealist. Which if that's really what you mean - well yeah, even the most mindless of bureacrats is an idealist, and can we have a new word to replace the old one please...

More specifically, what I'm saying is that I don't believe in a complete absence of idealism in roles you can occupy as an idealist. In my experience some of the most 'pragmatic' people, if you prod them, have a blazingly fierce attachment to their idea of the Good.

Pragmatism and idealism are not mutually exclusive. Jefferson was both, for example. In my experience plenty of pragmatic people are cynics to the core. I don't think the two are particularly correlated.

But what is the idea of the Good that you think are senior bureacrats have? Excluding Class interests, which are something rather different.

3/10/2009 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

GOSUB. Its a braindead implementation of subroutines/procedures. Which are a good thing implemented well. I'd forgotten how horrific BASIC Was.

The crucial difference is in what GOSUB actually means, which is roughly "go off to this named thing, do what it tells you, then come back here".

Which is better, but most versions of GOSUB don't have parameters and local variables. Which means you still have all the problems of context that GOTO brings.

People were still debating GOTO in the 80s? Scary. I guess for error handling, but still.

3/10/2009 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

liberal dinner party watch:

http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2009/03/jews-anti-friend-syria-dinner

3/10/2009 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Is that the URL, or the labels?

3/10/2009 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

I remember GOSUB, which was as stated just GOTO with a meaningful target rather than a line number - rather than GOTO 231, which becomes problematic as soon as you add a line of code before 231, you GOSUBed some-subroutine-or-other.

PROC was the "proper" way of doing flow control.

Python doesn't have a GOTO statement, even if some people insist on trying to make one.

3/10/2009 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Jesus, that NS article might turn me anti-semitic. She stopped being friends with a guy because he didn't hear an anti-semitic remark in Syria? And this is what NS considers worthy of publication. Astonishing.

3/10/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cian, in the 1980s (actually it was 1983), people were still teaching me about magnetic core memory. We found this hilarious at the time, mind - the ZX81 was already old hat.

But now I know that GOSUB was bad too. Ta.

As regards the main topic under discussion, as usual I'd like to refer to an extract from 'Amnesty International With Rockets', part of a pamphlet that I wrote ten years ago:

"Every war fought by an advanced capitalist country in the last 150 years has always had a group of liberal cheer-leaders, ready to explain why, even though all the previous conflicts might have been wrong, this one is 'the first moral war'. It is like those 'Peanuts' cartoons, where Lucy held the football for Charlie Brown to kick. Each time she convinced him that this time she wouldn't pull it away at the last minute. Each time, she did."

That's what's been going on here: Geras and co have been played for suckers, and all that they can do is stick with the cargo cult, 'calling for' this, that and the other in the hope that American warplanes will once more make them matter by inclicting some Marxism on some bad guys far away. To stick with the Watchmen theme for a moment, like Rorschach's old adversaries in the prison, they thought that Bush was locked up with them: actually, they were locked up with _him_.

Chris Williams

PS - Can anyone point me to a half-decent history of software engineering and the software industry in the period 1965-75?

3/10/2009 11:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That NS article is arse, obviously, but it's no excuse for statements like "this is enough to make me/someone/anyone anti-semitic." No it isn't. The lies of some Zionist wingnuts lead to as much justification for anti-semitism as the wealth of the Rothschilds: ie, none at all.

CW

3/10/2009 11:21:00 AM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Fascinating news, everyone - Aaro has looked upon the weekend's Real IRA shootings and has declared his shocking opinions on the matter - Terrorists Are a) Bad and b) irrational.

This is certainly news to me, since I had been under the impression that terrorists were a) a bunch of nice chaps in need of a cuddle and b) military geniuses.

Look, he even finds some obscure web page applauding the attack! Surely this must say some nasty things about people that Aaro doesn't like.

I mean, seriously. Have any of these jokers ever taken on the obvious point - "Terrorists are evil, irrational psychos but bombing their friends and neighbours probably isn't the best way to tackle them?"

I would've thought they'd get bored bashing out the same pish week in week, but clearly not.

3/10/2009 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

what is the idea of the Good that you think are senior bureacrats have? Excluding Class interests, which are something rather different.

I think everyone has some ideas about things that ought to happen and things that ought not to be allowed to happen - ideas that they feel strongly about, as you'll find if you challenge them - and that people in policy roles are likely to have more well-developed and consistent ideas than others. And an ideal world is one where everything that ought to happen, happens, and everything that ought not to happen doesn't - and this is brought about by the kind of mechanisms that ought to bring it about. (Some might think an ideal world is one where nobody's hungry because everyone's working hard and getting a fair wage, or where there's no crime because everyone's appropriately terrified of being punished. The mechanism is just as important as the outcome.)

3/10/2009 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

PS - Can anyone point me to a half-decent history of software engineering and the software industry in the period 1965-75?

GOTO secondhand bookshop

3/10/2009 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Chris: I was joking, sort of. Articles like that are intended to create an unthinking philo-semitism. As for what they really achieve...

3/10/2009 11:39:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Oh, and also sort of joking about the deliberation conflation of anti-Israel/anti-Zionist with anti-semite.

3/10/2009 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK Cian, as you were.

CW

3/10/2009 12:11:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Have any of these jokers ever taken on the obvious point - "Terrorists are evil, irrational psychos but bombing their friends and neighbours probably isn't the best way to tackle them?"

I am waiting for Nick Cohen to tell us that the killing of these two soldiers was an act of war, ergo we should bomb all fuck out of Northern Ireland.

The Aaro piece is just tedious. Misread a few statements, mis-hear a few others, look at some obscure internets backwater et voila, you have the Aaro/decent response to most news stories.

And this is what NS considers worthy of publication.

NS and most other weeklies have such a rapid turnaround that there is always as much arse as there is good stuff. i do liek the way she considers British society to have 'evolved' past the stereotyping of gay people while calling a woman a 'bimbo' in the same article...

3/10/2009 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Wouldn't all weeklies have the same turnaround?

3/10/2009 01:42:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

i guess they would! unless, like the new yorker, they occasionally took a week off...

3/10/2009 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Good God, Aaro has finally secured his yearned for face-time with Clive Stafford-Smith, and the results aren't pretty...

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article5876657.ece

...I've seen CSS being interviewed on a number of occasions, and he's never come off anywhere near as badly as he does in that Aaro piece. It looks like a hatchet job to me, but I'm open to persuasion otherwise.

3/10/2009 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Isn't the real "call for..." semantic crime when a politician "calls for a debate" on a subject, usually meaning they don't wish to be seen to be making any proposals themselves?

3/10/2009 02:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Skidmarx - usually meaning that they are making proposals, but then backing quietly away and leaving them for someone else to pick up.

Rodent - what are you doing, coming round here and paying attention to stuff Aaro writes? Can't you see we're busy? I agree completely about the hatchet-job - you can almost hear the tape-recorder clicking off once he's got CSS to say something that approximates to "I'm Mental, Me, And That's Why I Love Terrorists".

3/10/2009 02:49:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Occasionally he seems to me to be on the verge of denying that there ever was a terrorist problem

ugh, terrible stuff. Aaro also can't let go of this whole 'Binyam was in Afghanistan for, er, some unspecified reason ergo his torture was ok' point can he?

If I had my time all over again, I'd defend paedophiles

incredibly poor subbing - CSS has actually defended them in the past - the man Aaro mentions, Ricky Langley, was a paedo.

this is awful 'journalism'.

3/10/2009 03:04:00 PM  

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