Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Gordon Brown is Good

I see from the latest column that the road across Mittleuropa led directly to Brighton. Dave spent his journey fondly looking upon the young and the vibrant, while wobbling his jowls at the news that Hungary’s public sector was too large and that Slovakia had endured some unpleasant nationalistic types. Now, at the Labour Party conference, the journey reaches its conclusion:

DEREK SIMPSON, leader of Amicus, had just finished a conference speech that was all about protecting and defending British workers. He had been rightly worried about the bad employers over at Gate Gourmet but also concerned about “off-shoring” and the risk that giving work to outsiders would “displace our people”.

A minute or so later a small crocodile of international delegates made its way across the floor in front of the press seating. Behind me a Mail sniggerer — spotting an Oriental couple — began to make Fu Manchu sounds and to crack little jokes about the United Nations. And there, I felt, you had it in one speech and one hack’s ribaldry: the foreigner, either risible or threatening. There’s a revolution going on out there in the world and sections of the Left and of the old-school Right want to shut the doors on it.

There’s a revolution going on. Ya don’t say Dave. Now, there’s a certain category of middle class liberal that has benefited from the economic processes of the last decade or so, but is uncomfortably aware that others lower down the chain have not. It’s the kind of thing that can lead to a bad conscience when some union leader or hairy lefty type says that such folk need to have economic policy take account of their interests. Unless of course you can smear them as …well, not exactly racists but the next worse thing. And we can’t be helping racists out can we? No. My bank balance is secure.

Of course, if the poor are racists then we need to be protected from them…but let’s not piss all over that particular cache of Dave’s powder while he’s trying to keep it dry. Let the line evolve.

You can see how this might be a way for Dave to evolve out of his Iraq embarrassments, which gave his columns the sense of a man trying to come up with the wit of the staircase two months after the dinner party. But he’s on somewhat overpopulated ground. In fact, one of the interesting shifts in European opinion forming over the past few years is the way in which old fashioned, bog standard social democrats have been marginalized – repurposed? – as racists-cum-nationalists. A certain sort of mandarin liberal is absolutely outraged at the thought that a Labour government might find a better use for taxpayers money than kicking a failed state to pieces. Likewise, the spiteful curl of the lip at the reluctance of the French and Germans to take granny’s pension and, inter alia, hand it over to the kind of funky young entrepreneur who people like Dave would be pleased to break bruschetta with.

Now the market leader for this segment in Britain is Timothy Garton Ash, who had the advantage of actually being there while the revolution was going on. It’s everyday fodder for the continental bureaux of the posh papers. It lurks like flatulence around the editorial desk of the Economist. It needs a little more oomph than this:

This is what the Chancellor sees, and he sees it as clearly as the man he is likely to succeed. The debates we engage in with such obsessive repetitiveness and attention to detail, are minor considerations set against the strategic questions of Britain’s stance in the world. Do we face the global competition by retreating into our shells and hoping it will go away, or do we march towards the sound of the guns?

The choice is not about principle versus political positioning, so as to garner short-term centrist votes. It’s about whether Britain is a progressive, successful country, full of plumbers, or becomes a backward-looking, defensive one. Gordon Brown has, I think, made his choice.

There was a time during the Cultural Revolution in China when practically everything that dropped from Mao’s lists was made into a slogan and repeated ad nauseum throughout the country. Eventually, Mao ran out of sloganable snippets and his acolytes were reduced to putting stuff like “The People’s Communes are Good” up in twenty foot high big character posters.

Is this it, Dave? “Gordon Brown is Good” Jesus H Christ, is the Times readership these days entirely composed of flunkies and functionaries or what?

Rioja Kid

Friday, September 23, 2005

Friday forecast

I am off on a holiday to the Lake District (although don't be too surprised if you see a few favourable freebie-boilerplate quotes attributed to "prominent Watch blogger bruschettaboy" in the Swaziland Sex Tourism Gazette). I think they have the Observer and Times up there but probably not the Evening Standard or the internet, so you lot are on your honour for this week's contest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

oh fuck me red white and blue

They're coming in thick and fast. Next stop Slovakia. All we need apparently is for a local populist leader to be deposed "with the help of the West", a 19% flat tax and Bob's yer uncle, paradise on Earth. Note now that if you steal something and get away with it, you have "gone legit" in the world of Aaro. Unless you run a popular political party which isn't on the right (by which I mean decent left) side of Western investor-friendly policies. Hmmm, not too keen on the old tax, keen on investment in Eastern Europe, inclined to making apologies for crooks from Czechoslovakia, mates with Alastair Campbell ... surely someone needs to tell our David that it's Murdoch he's working for, not Maxwell?

Borderline off-topic

I must say the Simon Jenkins column in the "Berliner" Guardian is absolutely excellent this week.

lesbians in the news

I was a bit puzzled too. It was shaping up as a bit of an "airmiles" feature, but Aero just doesn't have the mustache of understanding, the izzy-wizzy-let's-get-bizzy build a platitude and they will come globo-mojo of the blessed Friedman.

It's more like "tramp miles". Aero plods across the historic nations of the East, mumbling randomly to himself about how there aren't any Jews around anymore and last time he was here he was with his girlfriend and she was a lesbian and this bloke he talked to says that public spending in Hungary is too high and have you heard about the price of sponge!

And the young people - the dear, young people - the youth of Slovenia are giving him fixed grins and sidelong looks and edging away from the table as Aaro bursts into tears and says I believed in communism once but she was a lesbian and I was betrayed and it hurts but it doesn't matter because all you young people look so happy now eating, drinking and making love but I couldn't, you see, because she was a lesbian and please, please talk to me because I've got a column to write.

And in next week's thrilling installment, Aaro chews a suasage bap and weeps floods of bitter, silent tears as he listens to Adam Michnik talk about pluralism, democracy, making a stand for freedom and the false opposition between Europe and the United States.

Be there, if you can stand it.

The Rioja Kid

Forgive me as I slap on a fake smile and plough through this shit again

hmmm I think we might be in a "creative slump" here at AW; Nick Cohen was "away" on Sunday and all I can really think of to say about this week's travelogue is "I was not previously aware that the road from the Adriatic to the Baltic ran through Brunei". Although I suppose that the road to Damascus runs through Baghdad, so I guess the moral is if you're on a road trip with the Decent Left, make sure that Hitchens doesn't drive and Aaro doesn't navigate. Shock horror, Eastern Europe is now better than it was in the Communist days.

No really. There's nothing to say about this column, other than that it's the kind of guff that the Observer would only have printed in one of those faintly dodgy supplements produced by "Words, Pictures Inc". Maybe there's an angle to it but I've been staring at the thing for an hour and I'm coming up dry. Anyone fancy a pint?

Update. Currently listening to:

"I usedta love her, I usedta love her once ... long long time ago" The Saw Doctors
"Geburt einer Nation (One Vision)" Laibach

Saturday, September 17, 2005

you have to draw a line somewhere

Just to note that on p29 of the paper Guardian, there is someone called "Norman Johnson" who claims to be taking the mantle of Aaro. I think he is taking the piss but I am tired and might be mistaken. In any case, we will not be "watching" him. I can't find him in the online version but if you really want to read it, the column is called "Free Radical" and £1.20 is not really that much to spend given that you get the week's TV programmes thrown in.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Friday forecast thread, unemployment edition

One of the Bruschetta Boys (the one who normally does the FFT and the Cohen /Standard reviews, ie me) is currently "a client of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce" ie on the rock and roll at present. Hence no Wednesday Cohen review as they don't have the Standard in the library where I go to keep warm. Sorry folks; I will be getting on my bike and looking for work presently, so normal service will be resumed.

Meanwhile, place your bets ... here's the form.

Cohen has a piece in the New Statesman about religious schools; presumably his kid has been turned down for the Brompton Oratory as well as the few remaining grammar schools in town. Move out to Barnet Nick, you know you're going to in the end. The Statesman piece is bound to end up in either the Observer or the Standard some day soon, but he usually leaves a decent interval of about a month so I guess not this week.

The Harry's Place indicator is obviously full of Galloway versus Hitchens in New York but I would counsel against going quids-in on this heavily backed favourite. Remember that Hitchens himself occasionally contributes pieces to the Observer. I think it rates no more than a throwaway joke from NC and nothing at all from DA in the main columns; NC will be able to exploit it more for Associated Newspapers. The thinking man's "Unite Against Terror" online decentist and ferocious hack-about-town, Alan Johnson, has a new web project out called "Democratiya", god help us, and I betcha that gets a plug.

Katrina seems to me to be pretty well played out as a theme; doesn't mean DA won't go for it (the vulnerability, the fallibility) but I would guess otherwise. Also, I still think we must have "reach out to the left week" and surely to shit the recent legislation against "justifying or glorifying" acts of terrorism must stir Nick Cohen's ire, not least because he is bound to get caught by them himself in a future incarnation.

So my guesses are:
Aaronovitch, Tuesday: German elections.
Cohen, Sunday: Charles Clarke's laws
Cohen, Wednesday: Hitchens/Galloway in New York (plus luvly Spurs, why can't you get a cab to go south of the river, etc etc).

We haven't had a big winner for a while, so do your best.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

It makes you want to weep

God what drivel. I mean really. This could have been written any month in the last three years (apart from the gratuitous reference to his recent junket, which seasoned Aaro-watchers will remember was to Brunei as well as Borneo). Aaro continues the war against the straw men in his head, who can't tell the difference between Dresden, Hiroshima, Auschwitz and Abu Ghraib. I am reminded of Mark Kaplan's excellent set of definitions under which "moral equivalance" is the wholly unacceptable idea that the USA should be held to the same standards as other countries, "moral relativism" is the wholly unacceptable idea that the USA should be held to different standards from other countries and "moral clarity" is the perfect Zen-like state from which it is possible to excoriate your enemies for both moral relativism and moral equivalence. Dave appears to be close to moral satori in this col, for sure.

It's crocodile tears, by the way. Dave tells us that the whole moral character of the war would alter if it turned out to have been about oil all along. He tells us that "If we became careless of whether or not people suffer because of our choices, we could still become the thing we hate". To which all I can really reply is "those weapons had better be there". Like a starlet who never does nudity until the very day she does, on the day that the other, nastier Abu Ghraib photos show up or the day that Exxon gets the first set of concessions, there will be another rationalisation for why we're still morally OK. I was just overwhelmed by the power of the script, and it was obviously necessary to be true to the character; she would have taken her top off, so I had to take my top off, yeah whatever Dave. What's the road to hell paved with?

Currently listening to:

"Nothing ever happens", Del Amitri. "[...] the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before"

Fun Aaro-fact: In the paper Times he has a new byline photo with a new goatee (different shape to the old one) but until they update the online addition I can't show you it. It does sort of make his face look slimmer; he also appears to be getting a sort of rockabilly quiff thing going on but that might just be the cropping of the photo.

PS: The Cohen col might be in the Standard this evening but after that pile of shit I am not sure I can summon up the will.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Friday forecast thread, sorry

Fuck, forgot to put up one of these. I think it's wall to wall Katrina, surely. They now have the steer from Christopher Hitchens "Bush has suffered enough, poor dear" and both Dave and Nick are competent enough to pick up the ball and run with it. Maybe another go at the Asbos for his Decency? Cohen in the Standard - I dunno, pearly kings & queens, Routemasters, weren't proper old pubs much better than these new bars, how come you can't get a good meat pie any more, whatever happened to Spangles etc.

Update: Outside chance that Aaro will be stung to respond to this.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Alison Pearson is back!

Alison Pearson, author of the novel I Don't Know Why She Bothers, is back from some sort of leave or other and her column is being run in the Evening Standard. This post is just to say a) I think this is the end of the line for the Tuesday Cohen, which is a blessed relief and b) there is no way on God's green earth that we will adding "incorporating Alison Pearson Watch".

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Clarkey malarkey

"Clarkey"? Pardon I? Since when has Decent Dave been on nickname terms with Kenneth Clarke? Did it predate or postdate him talking about "money-quotes" or what? (by the way, Cohen-watchers, I have literally nothing to say about NC's Sunday piece other than that as far as I can tell every single important detail of it had already appeared on Harry's Place and that this is really quite poor). Hang on, "Condi" Rice too. Doctor Condoleeza Rice is really quite particular about being called "Doctor Rice" by quite senior staffers and close political associates, so Dave is clearly best mates with the A-list. Perhaps next week we will hear about "Geri" Schroder and "Frouto" Chirac. Or "Three Bellies" Hussein, I don't fucking know.

I think that the first two paragraphs of Aaro's piece can be summed up quite accurately as "have you read the Chatham House report? Well you've read nine thousand and eighty five words more of it than I have then". Of course a single sentence of a fucking report doesn't "stand up to examination" if you decide that every single question you have to ask about the report has to be answered in that single sentence. And other people's views look even sillier if you are allowed to tell them what they "seem to be". In other words, this week's Aaro is real hackwork; presumably the strain of having to write two pieces this week has told on him.

"The vulnerability, the fallibility" moment of the week (there is also "a world in which there is no safety" right at the end, but this is more psychologically complex):

" But perhaps he deals with this by calculating that the cancer is only putative and a way down the road. The heart disease is only possible and is distant. The bony chap with the scythe and dark robes is still a shadow. In the meantime Clarkes have to live, drive cars, eat good food and wear fedoras."

And the Aaronovitches also have to live, drive, eat good food within the confines of their fad diets and shave their goatees. The heart disease is only possible and is distant. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may for tomorrow we napalm Fallujah. Seriously, I have never been a fan of the "how do you sleep at night" school of journalism and Decent Dave is hardly in a position to start casting stones while simultaneously dismissing the consequences of his journalism with " I have a feeling (and I could be wrong) that the report may be a dud".

Oh, I caught one! "Lamontian conservatism means letting people have tyrannies if the tyrants want them to. […] The reckoning is a long way down the road. And then someone flies planes into high buildings". Yep, it's the cornerstone of Decent political analysis, the reversal of the timeline between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. Remember that this piece started with Ken Clarke's comments on Iraq, everybody. The Time Lord argument is so bad and such a regular feature of Aaro/Nicko analysis that I'm going to start collecting examples for an end-of-year special, help gladly appreciated in the comments.

This column is terrible; it doesn't quite plumb Cohen's depths, but it's a shocking piece of hackwork even so. Aaro's theme is emerging, I think; he is going to be the Chicken Little of the new authoritarianism. Aaro is worried that between the arteriosclerosis, the Muslims and the chavs, he's not gonna live to see fifty, and my God are we all going to suffer alongside him. The only cure for the national malaise that is being projected on to us is war, on anything. Oh but on the other hand, don't take it seriously, propaganda is really just a bit of fun and you lot don't realise what a normal bloke Dave really is:

Ken is a good chap, of course, and engagingly free of pol-speak

Oh yes David. Better keep in with good old Ken eh, because you never know. Having thrown away his bruschetta, Decent Dave is hardly likely to piss on his chips.

Currently listening to:

"Comfortably Numb" - Pink Floyd
"Down To My Last Cigarette" - Patsy Cline

Saturday, September 03, 2005

wham, bam, thank you Dave

Tell me Dave, why do catastrophic earthquakes happen in Iran?

The answer to Hemati is that, after a quarter of a century, Iran is still being ruled by a useless, incompetent semi-theocracy, which is fatalistic, complacent, unresponsive and often brutal. And such a system does not deliver to its citizens one fraction of what the Great Satan, for all its manifest faults, manages to guarantee to ordinary Americans.

Tell me Dave, why do catastrophic hurricanes happen in the USA?

Twice in recent years there have been full-scale disaster drills in New Orleans, because the risk to the city — should anything happen — was so great. But in 2000 and in 2004 the assumption made by experts and officials was that the levees would not be breached. In other words the disaster they got was far worse than the disaster they’d planned for.

You can’t help wondering whether this omission wasn’t essential — that had they hypothesised a levee failure, it would have called the whole existence of the city into question. After the great Galveston, Texas, hurricane of 1900 the seawalls were built 17ft high and the whole town was raised by something like 8ft. It would have been impossible to do that in New Orleans. So maybe they just didn’t let themselves think just how bad things could be.



Friday, September 02, 2005

Friday forecasts?

Hmmm well, have a go in the comments. We're all over the place here; lots and lots of big news stories and no real steer from Harry's Place either. My guess is:

Cohen, Sunday: Yorkshire jihadi videos and how they show it isn't Blair's fault. Perhaps a few swipes at the BBC for getting back on the front foot post-Gilligan?
Aaro, Tuesday: New Orleans, for sure. Theme: "the vulnerability, the fallibility".
Cohen, Tuesday: I am beginning to give up hope that "reach out to the left week" will ever be upon us, but I will nevertheless bet on this one. Sideline; amusing reflections on what it would be like if the levee were to break in Islington.

But the field is wide open. I'm assuming that Aaro will be back from Brunei. Guess early, guess often.

Update: Thinking about it, the Tuesday Cohen col wasn't in the Standard this week; I suspect they dropped him because the Peter Oborne column was held over from the Bank Holiday. This would suggest it will be back this week but you never know.