October 07, 2006

Anna Politkovskaya Dead!

Anna Polikovskaya was one of the bravest investigative journalists around today- she brought uncomfortable truths to light about Russia and its campaigns in Chechnya, about the Putin regime and Yeltsin's government. According to the Guardian she was found shot dead today in an appartment building in Russia. There is a good tribute to her here. No motive for her death has yet been ascertained, yet rumour and speculation has already started. Polikovskaya was one of the bravest reporters in the world at the moment, reporting on the ways that Putin and his regime had committed war crimes in Chechnya and had links with bandits and gangsters closer to home. I have only read one of her books and yet through it you could easily see her courage. Anyone who esteems Russia or good journalism should feel very sad today and salute a woman who truly beleived that Russians deserved the same rights and freedoms as anyone else.

Some of her articles can be seen here

Hitchens vs Kissinger- again

As reported earlier on this blog and discussed on Professor Cutler's blog, Henry Kissinger has strolled back to the front of US foreign policy. Christopher Hitchens never Kissinger's greatest fan, has responded with typical clarity and anger here. Hitchens is wrong though to state that Kissinger and the neo-cons are direct opposites- far from being so they share an agenda but divide on its analysis, so that they both aim for stability but disagree about the way there. Their problem though is shared: both Kissinger and the neo-cons advance less through an understanding of a particular situation and what to do there than a broad and general theory about international life- consequently both of them run into problems misunderstanding phenomena such as third world nationalisms as commitments to a world war against the west whether communist or Islamist. Its by leaving the subtleties of the situation behind, that Kissinger and the neo cons risk making mistakes with their policies- failing to recognise the rhetorical traps of supporting democracies or the West in every situation without realising why and how the attacks on the West or democracies like Isreal and South Africa in the past take place. The world is not as simple as either Wolfowitz or Kissinger or indeed Hitchens understand and in the heat of the battle, they've lost sight of the field.

The Focus of the War on Terror

Tim Montgomery on Talking Politics (this link may only work for a week) has just advanced the thesis that to the traditional politics of economics we should add foreign policy to those traditional topics which win elections. He hypothesised this based on the importance of Iraq within the American elections despite the economic success of the Bush administration- despite what Montgomery argued as another commentator replied to him the economic gains from growth have not been evenly distributed and consequently the election may be more economically based than we thought.

Montgomery may be wrong but why would foreign policy be getting this attention and what kind of foreign policy is getting this attention? What we are seeing is the typical attention to foreign policy garnered during wartime. For example the news is dominated by accounts of the crisis in Iraq, this morning by a statement from the Prime Minister of the UK about Afganistan but unless other countries slide into humanitarian catastrophe they are seldom mentioned. To give a rough idea at 11.48 UK time this morning a search on the Guardian website for the word Iraq produced 37,429 results, Afghanistan produced 12630 results whereas a search for one of the places where a large Islamist terrorist attack has actually happened, Indonesia only produced 4101 results. For a quality paper like the Guardian which reports far more international news than some of its competitors the largest Islamic state in the world is far less interesting than the places in which UK troops are fighting and dying.

What can we infer from this about Tim Montgomery's statement and the wider war on terror? Firstly it is evidently true that within the Guardian at least and via a more anecdotal approach in the UK press and the blogs the Iraq war bulks large in the public mindset but what is also true is that the idea of a war against Islamic terror doesn't. The public don't seem to be interested or the media don't seem to be interested in areas of the Islamic world where British troops aren't fighting, even say an area close to Iraq with large connections to terrorism like Saudi Arabia only produces slightly more (4,970) results than Indonesia. Obviously the interest in Foreign policy that Tim Montgomery talks about is not an interest in the Islamic world or in areas where Islamic terrorism is prominent like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, as much as an interest in the areas that are under occupation.

This bears out a further insight with which I wish to end this blog. Several commentators have labelled this new war, a long war against terrorism. But if we are at war with Islamic terrorism, then in Britain at least that hasn't made the public or the political classes more interested in the Islamic world at last. So for example there is almost no discussion of our policy in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan which risks reproducing the dangers that the neo-cons diagnose in the middle East, no notice has been paid to the seeming incongruity of our policy in the stans to that in the Middle East, even by people critical of the government. This war on terror therefore looks much more limited in focus than it might do from the outside or the speculations of commentators- from the purview of the Western public the war on terror seems to have two aspects the first being domestic Muslims and the dangers associated with them, the second being the particular events in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Never let it be said, but the war on terror actually might be a misnomer for our foreign policy concerns at the moment. Despite what they say, the public and media seem, sensible or not, to view the war on terror as a misnomer- for them it stretches not across the whole Islamic world except in a vague way but describes two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and police operations against some crazy people in the West.

In a fascinating addition the Guardian also gives a breakdown by year so that we can see that the number of Indonesian stories has been relatively equal ranging between 300 and 600 stories a year since 1999, whereas stories on Iraq have fluctuated more severely- 800 in 1999, 600 in 2000, rising to 12500 in 2003 during the invasion and falling back since but even then to levels of interest 6 times higher than Indonesia. Iraq therefore wasn't of special interest before we invaded but has become so since and as interest in the violent occupation has faded so public interest has faded.

October 06, 2006

Carnival of Cinema

The Carnival of Cinema is up here. A post from this blog is featured so go and all of the rest of the posts are worth reading.

October 05, 2006


Stephen Colbert unfurls the neo-neo-con option for foreign policy here.

The plight of Iranian women

An important post from Ali Eterez on the plight of Iranian women which calls upon all who read the post to submit a letter of protest to the Iranian ministry of justice- something in my view thoroughly worth doing. The Blog entry which includes instructions for a site written in Farsi and a sample email to send to the Iranian President and ambassador in London, is here.


On the anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street many pundits- including Christopher Hitchens and a couple of days ago the venerable New York Times commentator and former Nixon speechwriter William Safire have turned to describing the new threat of Al Quaeda in words borrowed from the midcentury conflict, choosing to describe it as a movement of Islamo-Fascism or as Hitchens has argued Fascism with a Muslim face.

Does the comparison with Fascism help us understand this movement or will it hurt it? Safire argued in the New York Times that it was the appropriate term to use as

the compound defines those terrorists who profess a religious mission while embracing totalitarian methods.

This comparison is being made often enough by enough people that its worth thinking about and again its a subject to which this blog will return again and again. There is something though that is fundamentally right and something fundamentally wrong with the analogy- beyond its anachronism and in my opinion we have to be very careful about how its used.

If we want to understand what is going on we need to be careful with our terms. In the 1940s the Fascist and Nazi powers waged a war in alliance with Japan across three continents against a coalition of communist and democratic powers- a war in which approximately 50 million people died, roughly 30-40 million of them Russians. Nothing like that can be seen today- this is no third world war- and anyone who thinks it is needs their head examining.

Fascist and Nazi ideology furthermore was not particularly religious- it was based on a skewed interpretation of the philosophy of Freidrick Neitsche allied to a particular reading of some of the early twentieth Century German idealists, the jurisprudence of men like Carl Schmidt and the elementary popular psychology and nationalism of Hitler and Mussolini. Fascism and Nazism furthermore unlike Communism and Islamic Fundamentalism saw their main ideologues develop the theses after the regimes began. They were welded together as needed- not ideologies crafted, absorbed and then transalated into political action.

In one way and one way alone are Fascism and Nazism related to Islamic Fundamentalism. If we go back to the second quarter of the twentieth century, between 1917 and 1940 we find a series of countries from France and Spain in the West to Russia in the East facing the problem of the collapse of an old regime in exactly the same way- by the invention of a rightwing, ultra movement. This movement took a different form in each country depending upon its timing and location- from Kornilov in Russia to Franco in Spain though you find the same people backing it. The Franz von Papens of the world, aristocrats with a religious bent, who want to exploit nationalism to prop up the old regime. To some extent as Isaiah Berlin noted these people were the descendents ideologically of some aspects of the romantic movement, of Joseph De Maistre (though modern scholarship is beggining to question that). This vague right, which grew out of a reaction to modernity and a desire to restore traditional or reinvent in a radical way traditional society has some features in common with Islamic Fundamentalism. But using the term Islamo-Fascism excludes much of that vague right from our argument.

So the term is not useful- it attaches this conflict which is more of a policing operation and an effort to persuade to a great war against an economic superpower- it strengthens the hand of those that want to oversimplify the movement that we are up against and diminishes the effort we can put into understanding why this is happening and it undermines any victory in this war- because it is self evidently true that powers that can't remake Iraq by force are going to struggle with Iran let alone the whole of the middle East or the Muslim world.

Wake up this is not the second world war, these are not Fascists. Lets try and develop a strategy which doesn't involve fighting the war of 1939 in 2006 and relies upon analysis instead of analogy.

October 04, 2006

Why would anyone want to go into public life?

Because of this?

Watch Boris Johnson being chased out of the Tory conference by the media for saying that children were entitled to eat what their parents fed them, that Brown being Scottish might be a problem and that more localism might end in Sharia law in some areas- now all three comments might be stupid but all three sound like off the cuff remarks and shouldn't be taken too seriously. All three needless to say have been said by the very journalists chasing him several times- but oh well since when was consistency associated with the press- quis custodiet custodes?

Arthur and George.

Julian Barnes's recent novel has been written about in many places- sometimes as in this review by David Wormesley in ways that readers of this blog would be interested in. Its a very rich novel which tackles a fascinating case- when a half Indian soliciter was arrested, convicted and then freed upon the evidence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a case which led to the creation the Appeal Court.

I want to pick up a different thread from most treatments of the novel so far advanced in the media, and concentrate not on the history but on Barnes's acute understanding of the psychology. As this is a novel written in two first person accounts, what we get is an overwhelming impression of the way that every human perception is isolated from every other. In the case of Conan Doyle, the isolation is as Wormesley and others suggest epistemelogical- what we see with Conan Doyle in this novel is a series of attempts ot understand and grapple with the world, a series of attempts in which Doyle had to make elisions of reality, he presumes things without evidence, infers things from the evidence but its perfectly clear to a reasonable reader that he cannot do anything more. For Doyle within this book to have stuck to the evidence and not manufactured reality would have been to take a road leading to depression or insanity or both.

For the other narrator though the effect of isolation is almost more interesting and one that has really not been written about. George Edalji from the beggining of the book to its end has no friends, very few close relationships (perhaps only those with his father and his sister) struggles to communicate with anyone and more often than not fails. Whereas Doyle goes through life effecting others and rewriting his effects, Edalji on this evidence glided through life without any effect. We never meet his clients as a soliciter, though the historical record suggests (and Barnes partially agrees) that he was a gambler and had financial links with others, we never see them. Reading Edalji's account is an incredibly claustrophobic experience- the only talkers apart from himself taunt him or bulldoze him into their agendas- he is almost always a silent objector to others' plans.

It leads one to the realisation though that suspision of Edalji was not purely racial though it had a severely racial compartment. In Barnes's book it was also because of his personal behaviour, nowhere is this more evident than in the behaviour of the Police, especially the Inspector in charge of the case. Barnes's portrait of the meeting between Edalji and the Inspector shows how the peculiarities of Edalji's character lead him to infuriate the policeman and consequently lead to his arrest. The portrait of Edalji is the portrait of a victim of society- his struggle to be heard and clear his name a part of his struggle to be heard at all. In many ways Edalji is always struggling to be heard- struggling at the beggining of the book to succeed, in the middle to be released and at the end to be recognised as a wronged man. He has a story always he longs to tell. Only in the middle section of the book, where Doyle's constructed narrative takes over Edalji's story can Edalji be heard and even then, its perfectly clear that its Doyle's version of events that is heard not Edalji's.

The problem that this book therefore faces us with is wider than the problem of racism- though Barnes doesn't underplay that- its a dual issue- on the one side what humans do is take facts and draw lines between those facts to create a narrative, an idea of what happened, what is happening, what it means and what will happen. On the other is the realisation that there are some humans whose views about the world and themselves are never heard because they lack natural articulacy, socially awkward and irritating, they lack the ability to talk save through a ventriloquist who, as Edalji finds, pronounces their words with a different accent.

This is in part what this review has done to this marvellous novel, and being a humble ventriloquist I venture to suggest you should read it and correct my errors of pronounciation, but its worth wondering as well whether the issue of politics today is as much the franchisement of those naturally disenfranchised as of those unnaturally.

October 03, 2006

Newsnight's Posh-o-meter

Tonight Newsnight went to the Tories to find out how diverse they were- and really attacked the Tories for failing to get enough women, minorities or underprivileged people on the A-List. They also attacked the idea that Tory MPs were too educated- too many of them having gone to Oxbridge.

Reminds me a little of Tom Lehrer who once spoke about his experiences in the US Army

And, the usual jokes about the Army aside, one of the many fine things one has to admit is the way that the Army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion, in the sense that not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed, and color, but also on the grounds of ability.

Seems like nobody in the BBC has ever heard Tom Lehrer- anyone surprised?

The penalties of action

Benjamin Disreali, British Prime Minister and general eccentric argued within the House of Commons that 'if it is not neccessary to change it is neccessary not to change". His advice has not generally been heeded since then by a succession of either politicians or pundits who through this century have lauded change for the sake of change. Today though we have a difference, on crooked Timber, Daniel Davies lauds the principle Disreali uttered- and challenges rightly the view that something must be done, this is something let us do it. Rather Davies insists that in the case of Darfur, any advocate of action make a case for how action will make the life of the Sudaneese people better. Recently in both the US and the UK the advocates of intervention whether on the right or the left have had it all their own way- governments have been rebuked for not intervening in Bosnia, Croatia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and the Sudan and have intervened in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Haiti, Iraq and Afganistan. The voices against intervention have frequently been the same the voices criticising a lack of intervention and have argued upon the basis of universal responsibilities and rights. Davies is far from unique but he is in a minority in arguing against a possible but not proposed intervention, in arguing that there must be a test for applying force which is shown in all circumstances. He is thus beggining the task we must all turn to now and should have turned to before of working through the methodological debris that surrounds the concept of intervention- why we intervene in specific cases and why not in others. What constitutes a threat? What constitutes an emergeancy? And what is intervention designed to do? Such questions require more popular study...

David Frum's Choices

My last post focused on Henry Kissinger and the Iraq war- three days ago David Frum ex speech writer to Bush prophesied that Bush will at some point in the next year be faced with a deal that allows the US to take diplomatic credit for a deal which allows Iran to maintain the uranium enrichment it has already done and its influence in Iraq but will allow the US out.

The true magnitude of the choice that Frum beleives that Bush will face is laid out here. Frum sketches out the sheer lack of alternatives facing the President, and analyses Bush's reaction:

How will the president react to this proposition? Every instinct in him will revolt against it, I am sure. But what is his alternative? A war with Iran to add to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?...Failing that, the alternatives seem rapidly to be reducing themselves to two: either admitting defeat - or else accepting defeat without admitting it.

But Frum doesn't stop there, his post finishes by raising the possibility that a discussion will take place within the White House and be visible enough that

conservatives and Republicans unhappy with the dangerous drift of current policy cannot make their voices heard.

What is the solution in Iran? Frum is right- we can't invade and nor can we stop therefore the development of nuclear weapons and support for Hizbollah- there is evidence that Saudi princes may be using their leverage on the Syrians to some end according to this report but what end that is nobody knows.

The problem is that as Frum recognises we don't have much leverage upon the Iranians- they have the oil, they have the guns, they can upset us in Iraq.

Any foreign policy geniuses out there with an answer?

October 02, 2006

Henry Kissinger argues Victory is the only meaningful exit strategy in Iraq*

Fred Halliday recently described the Bush administration as a reprise of the Ford administration with Rumsfeld and Cheney back in positions of importance. Halliday may according to Bob Woodward's latest book be more right than he beleived he was- it seems not merely Cheney and Rumsfeld but the most baleful influence of them all, Henry Kissinger, has returned to advising the President. For Woodward Kissinger and the rest are attempting to make right the mistakes made in Vietnam. For Kissinger the mistakes of Vietnam were clear, they lay in the fact that the United States withdrew and showed its weakness to the world. By being weak, the US leant encouragement to its enemies and failed its friends.

Kissinger was reared upon scholarship about the European 19th Century, his doctoral dissertation focused on the great 19th Century politician and architect of stability, Prince von Metternich (Austrian Foreign Minister 1809-48). The interesting thing about Kissinger is that he learnt an incredible ammount in the Austrian archives about the power relations between states- correctly inferring how the wise and resolute application of strength could deliver the ends of the state that used it. By fearing the madman Richard Nixon, the Soviets and Chineese would be driven to negotiate in a way that they would not have with Lyndon Johnson or John F. Kennedy.

Kissinger in his Washington Post article of 2005 had a particular comparision in mind- Vietnam. For Kissinger Iraq was a test of resolution for an alternative kind of domino effect- whereas Vietnam must be held because of communist triumph across Asia if it fell, Iraq must be held if not Islam will triumph all over the Middle East and throughout the wider Islamic world. Again we see a misunderstanding of the situation- both in Vietnam and Iraq the worldwide challenge was buttressed by a local challenge, a challenge of nationalism.

What is wrong with Kissinger's viewpoint in 2005 and wrong now with Bush's view is the concentration on the broad canvass- the geopolitical view- ignoring the political, local view. The realist view of diplomacy focusing on relationships between the great power, the kind of great dance of the diplomatic leaders, misfocuses the attention of the world upon the wrong arena. In Vietnam and Iraq the United States policy has run into the sand (literally in the latter case) because of this realist way of thinking. Concentration on the broad canvass, concentrating on playing off the leaders of the movement or eliminating them rather than realising that all these come second to the local political aspect of foreign policy.

Increasingly the greatest players in the Middle East include Al Jazeera along with Iran. Increasingly in Iraq eliminating leaders and capturing the members of the ex-regime has had no result- dealing with the ideological challenge of Islamism through regime change has failed. The problem has been that dealing with an ideology and nationalism through power politics and a realist approach has proved unsuccessful. That's not to say that the approach doesn't have its merits- but as the approach in Vietnam and Iraq of Bush advised by Kissinger, Rumsfeld and Cheney has been a failure.

Obviously other things have motivated US policy but trends of realist thinking have lain behind it and have not been stressed enough by pundits concentrating on neoconservatism, obviously there are other ideas lying behind US policy but I hope this analysis shows that some of the failures have to be attributed to a foreign policy establishment reared on realists.

LATER Here is a really interesting read about the realists in the Administration and the way that they are striking back at the Right Zionists through Bob Woodward. Worth reading definitely.

A NOTE ON SOURCES The paraphrase in the title is Bob Woodward and comes from a transcript of a report done by CNN's Howard Kurtz on 28th September 2006. The interview with Halliday where he made the comment about the Ford Administration was up in July of this year at this address but unfortunately has now been deleted.

Responding to Racism

Gary Younge today in the Guardian wants us to have a sensible conversation about race. The problem with Mr Younge's article is that he concentrates on one part of the problem- the racism of poor Whites and just denounces- he isn't interested in analysing why some white people turn to racism and some Muslims turn to Fundamentalism. He might reply to me that his article is meant to redress a balance and convey the truth that there are white racists as well as Muslims and that whites have something to apologise for. He is right- but there needs to be a follow up article.

There are two constructive ways to reply to racist whites or racist Muslims. The first is to perform the role that say Amartya Sen has done and spread understanding of a foreign culture- it isn't neccessary in Sen's world to view India as spiritual and exotic, the land of Bollywood and Brahmins, because Sen provides another Argumentative Indian. Such an article would talk about the long traditions of learning in Islam, the long traditions of toleration and thoughtfulness, the simularity of the best parts of Islamic culture to the best parts of Hindu, Christian, Jewish and other cultures and the way that cultures have interracted throughout history.

The second is to analyse what causes white and Muslim and any other racism. Analysis of the circumstances on poor council estates where groups are encouraged to compete with each other for resources. The creation of communities with community leaders who compete with each other for attention and seek to represent communities- a daft idea if there ever was one for reducing racism. Analysis of the growth in faith schools which also leads to the division of communities. Analysis of all the trends in our society that lead to the regarding of an individual as solely important through their racial, cultural or religious identity and not through their identity as a rational thinking individual.

Consequently though Mr Younge is right, we do need to go further- in order to deal with this problem we need to educate people about the cultures they don't share and work out why they refuse this education- only education and analysis will heal the divisions that Mr Younge chronicles.

October 01, 2006

Tourism in a dictatorial regime.

This evening on the Radio 4 program Feedback Sandi Toksvig the comedian and presenter was interviewed about a travel program that she did for the BBC about the Sudan. Toksvig had sold the idea of people going to Khartoum, the capitol of the Sudan (a version of the travel item is available on the website linked to above) and the program was concerned with whether you should sell the idea of people going to a place like Khartoum during a time like this- when massacres are happening in Darfur.

What was interesting about the broadcast was the issue which has become of increasing salience over the last couple of decades as transportation networks have improved, how should we travel? Should we only holiday in those places that are ethical to holiday in or does it not matter? There is a problem here- many governments in the past and now have relied upon the foreign currency that tourists bring with them- consequently through the dollars and pounds brought into a country tourists subsidise the regime. Furthermore they can become the willing stooges of a government committed to propaganda. Aung Sung Suu Kyi gave another important reason in an interview saying that the local people had built resources that they couldn't use.

Naturally there are problems with going to countries with bad human rights records but I would argue that even there, there are merits in going which outweigh the bad things noted above. Firstly isolation breeds support for dictatorships- dictators need enemies and thrive upon them as a means to create support so conversely the more people see Westerners or others around, the less easy it is to demonise the governments or peoples when they criticise the regime for human rights abuses. Secondly visitors who discuss things can open up avenues to residents of a country- the vision of a man who doesn't beleive in God I know stunned Iranians when a friend of mine visited last year, they didn't know that such a thing existed and was not a devil. Thirdly the foreign currency brought in might enrich the government but it also does two other things: it binds the government into world networks for whom participation means increased human rights and secondly it does profit local people.

All of these criteria vary from country to country- going to a society with free speech but no human rights is different from going to North Korea. So what we have is a scalar- obviously Toksvig speaks ludicrously when she says that she would have gone to Sudan but not to South Africa (Darfur is probably worse than Soweto) yet her underlying principle is right- this blog ends up sitting firmly on the fence- travel is a matter of nuance.

Would Rousseau wear Prada?

The Devil wears Prada comes across as a mediocre Hollywood bildungsroman- there is nothing particularly wrong with it- and lots including a typically brilliant performance by Meryll Streep is right but it is a conventional tale where a little country girl goes to the city and grows up. Such tales are more fascinating than works of genius- they tell us more about the conventional dilemmas of society. It doesn't take much to see that The Devil wears Prada is a profoundly political film- it is actually a more feminist film than many in the genre where the girl takes off her glasses, loses her IQ and finds a man- in this taking off your glasses might lose you the man- an unusual admission in a populist Hollywood film that women can contribute character as well as looks to a relationship.

More seriously, and there is something serious about Pop Culture, what the film is about is the sacrafices that you make at work, whether as a man or a woman (though Slate magazine's reviewer questioned whether the film would be the same with a man in the lead role), to get ahead. At one point one character says to another who is depressed, that when they confess their life has been torn apart, then they will know they are about to be promoted. This film gives us the sense of human beings walking around a self created hell for the pleasure of it. Counterbalanced to that is the everpresent fear of failure, of the sack, of failing to meet the tyrant's eye.

This film therefore does more than just present a nice portrait of a girl growing up, it actually reinforces the importance of considering how employment and life fit, or to use the cliche, how the work-life balance functions. The director probably goes no further- but I think there is more. The work-life balance is a mere metaphor for something else afterall- that is the idea that human beings are more than the results of their work and the impression they make between nine and five. Classic economic theory tells firms to ignore any extra dimension to their workers: classic moral theory might tell us to worry when firms do what they must under the economic laws.

The film thus opens up that perrenial of argument about the market- what does it do to people? Does it make them happier or sadder? Do we end up as Rousseau predicted as disfunctional slaves and tyrants, working all hours to stay ahead of the neighbours or keep up with the Joneses or do we like Smith predicted enlarge our horizons and feel more intimately the needs of our fellow citizens who are unlike us? This film is ambivalent- on the one hand tyranny is abhorred but on the other the main character discovers through her slavery fashion (presented as an art in this film) and its pleasures. She smashes her personal relations but by overcoming the tyrant's demands she proves herself to herself- she exchanges the role of a girlfriend and friend for that of a sophisticate and success, going from convivial gatherings to glorious parties.

Whether the choice is one that is offered within our society or whether it is one she gains from is dear reader your decision, but it is a view of modern society that that is your choice- will you cleave to equal relations with friends and families or empower yourself through work. Reviewers have clashed over this: the New Yorker's David Denby was inspired by the world of fashion whereas Joanne Laurier from World Socialist Website was revolted. Division amongst the reviewers may well in this case represent the genuine choice involved. The broadbrush of a populist movie may not present the subtleties of the situation but it does present a decision taken within the present social regime starkly and its worth pondering.

Of course our heroine is able to survive (this is Hollywood!) but the questions remain long after the credits have rolled.

The trouble with policies.

The mantra from the media repeated in this week's Economist is that David Cameron needs policy announcements and thinking, needs a philosophy of government but does he? What does David Cameron want to do? The answer to that question is that he wants to govern and come to power, the Economist and numerous other commentators, some like Alaistair Campbell offering helpful advice from the left, argue that what he needs is a position on where he sees Britain in twenty years time- methinks they are mistaken.

Politicians- and fundamentally this is what Daily Kos in the US realised, don't need policies or credibility. It matters not one whit that George Osborne has never spoken to the city trade associations- he still looks like a young new face. It matters not one whit that conservative policy on the US is incoherent to the point of incompetence- they aren't listened to anywhere and why should anyone listen to them on it- the government is in enough trouble on those issues as it is. William Hague in today's observer grasps the key point that policy is something governments do, what oppositions do is mood music. They create a sense, a 'vision thing' to quote the elder Bush, of what they hope the country to look like when they come to power. Cameron's strength is that he has ignored policy but offered plenty of the vision thing to the electorate.

If he wishes to look for an example to follow then he need merely look at Blair because many of the same siren voices that urged Blair to look at policies then are urging Cameron too now. What Cameron needs are the kinds of promises in Blair's manifesto, promises like those to establish a food standerd's agency or reduce class sizes that establish your nature as a caring person but don't confine you to a tax rate or a position upon issues that change.

Policies at this stage will become targets not good points- the calculator at the Treasury would love a couple of proposals to bite into- whereas vague commitments will establish the character of the new conservatives.