Sunday, October 30, 2005

did you know ...?

That David Aaronovitch is a trustee of the Family Planning Association? Well you do now.

Jokes about "what does Aaro use as a contraceptive? his journalism" will not be necessary.

Nerdy Cohen Completism ...

Tim, mate, you've missed one. "The Bank Borrows An Idea - From Enron" was Nick' Staggers column last week. I can see why it's not on the blog because it's a massive hostage to fortune; I am in a position to personally testify that Nick managed to get massively the wrong end of the stick, and the letter from the Secretary of the Bank of England complaining about it is basically right. The BoE has always had a system of performance assessments under which you are more or less "up or out". I owe my modest career in the world of high finance to this fact; indeed every couple of years I attend a dinner with a scattering of consultants, financiers and hedge fund managers where we toast the lucky day that we were removed from the civil service "fast track to success" and forced to fuck off and get proper jobs in the real world.

Key extract for those who are frustrated with the New Statesman's rather insane content management policy (and an example, by the way, of Nick's gift for writing sensible comments side by side with complete nonsense):
I'm not saying that the bank's economists will run off with the gold reserves. It's not the honesty of civil servants' actions I worry about so much as the honesty of their advice. Civil service independence rests on the belief that public servants are free to speak candidly to their masters without fear of the consequences. The ideal is already hard enough to live up to. A dominant minister or prime minister promotes civil servants who don't say things such as: "The war in Iraq is going to be harder than you think" or "Your NHS reforms are going to create chaos".

It was for this reason that the civil service watered down "ranking and yanking" when Sir Michael Bichard, then permanent secretary at the Department for Education, proposed it at the height of the dotcom bubble.

Now it's back and is about to be imposed on one of Britain's oldest institutions. Nothing, it seems, can discredit a bad idea in Whitehall if it's a bad idea which has come from the private sector. I'm sure its proponents won't be following the directors of Enron to prison, but I'm equally sure that, like Enron, the economy they manage is about to crash.

btw, for anyone on "Melanie Phillips Mutation Watch", the first seal on the Vaults of Dacre is grammar schools. The second seal is crashing house prices. There are only seven seals ...

A column is born in the ghetto, and its mother cries

Nick Cohen, "Politics of the Ghetto", paragraph 1:

"When I was a reporter on the Birmingham Post & Mail, I could guess anyone's politics by how they described the looting and murder that overwhelmed Handsworth in September 1985. If they talked about the 'Handsworth riots', I knew they were conservatives ..."

Paragraph 5:

"Twenty years on, I am back on the Lozells Road after another riot" (emphasis added)

This stuff writes itself, it really does. I don't even know if this choice of words is intentional, mistaken or Freudian, anymore.

In related news, Nick manages to write a column about the incitement of religious hatred which doesn't mention Incitement To Religious Hatred. Now fair enough, I doubt that Warren G is a regular reader of the Observer or the New Statesman, and probably not the leadership of Ligali either. But a more self-aware columnist might have pondered the fact that (by my count) just over 50% of the columns listed on his Guardian page have in one way or the other had as part of their message that the Muslim communities of the UK are a dangerous presence within our midst. From Muslims to Asians is, shall we say, a small step. I do think that there is a case to answer here; it is quite probable that the Handsworth riots were just one of those damned things that happen from time to time, but in as much as they have root causes, I doubt that future historians will say that it is totally ridiculous to believe that one of those root causes was the way in which it became acceptable in 2004/5 in mainstream British media and society to demonise the Asian community by using the Muslim religion as a proxy. It would obviously be foolish to claim that it's all Nick Cohen's fault (in rather the same way that it's obviously foolish to claim that it's all "the liberal left"'s fault), but this blog is Nick Cohen Watch, not Warren G Watch.

Theodore Dalrymple, the pseudonym of a Birmingham doctor and writer, noted recently in the Telegraph that the shopkeepers were facing a modern variant of European (and now Middle Eastern) anti-semitism

In which statement he is (though you can go a mile too far with this analogy) more or less on to something. In which case, it might well be remembered that European anti-semitism was based on two main lies. First, the blood libel, which I believe is the analogy in Nick's own mind here. But second, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; the belief in a global conspiracy to take over the world by using the tolerance of the foolish goyim against them. Right back atcha, Nicko.

Friday, October 28, 2005

nick has a blog

Er, can we add to the sidebar, please?
All right, I come not to praise Nick Cohen, but to ...
However, as is traditional, I'll start with the praise. Kudos to Nick for keeping comments open so far. And kudos to his readers for not (so far) descending into abuse of each other (what we on the interweb call ad hominems).
So, about that site. Tom, the webmaster, demurred from my description of Nick's site as a "blog." Well it looks very like a blog to me. Stephen Pollard and Boris Johnson are both journalists who republish their articles on the web in a blog format. Neither object (AFAIK) to the word "blog." So, Tom, it may look like a pile of old newspaper clippings to you, but to me (and, I fear, the rest of the world), it's a blog.
Now, this is somewhat off-topic, but I've meant to blog my own complaints about Jakob Nielsen's views on Weblog Usability. (Though PZ Myers says many good, that is, negative, things about it.) And here I'm struck by Nick's site. There's his portrait photo (a big deal for Nielsen) which if you look at it the right way, looks like a stack of the letter "V" starting with his shirt collar (rebelliously sans tie), then his chin, his mouth, his nose, and his hairline. But the photo is fine, it's better than Boris's or Stephen's (OK the latter has a caricature). It's the London skyline that interests me. Apart from the fact that it's inescapably phallic, what is it supposed to mean? I'm not sure which bridge that's from, but that's basically the skyline of the City. Now, Nick reports on many things, but he's not a City reporter. I know he's got to have something (I use the eyes of my cat), but why that? How does that represent his writing? I've lived in London. I know that vista (though the Glass Cock is new), but to me anyone who uses "London" to represent "the world" is parochial, and parochial in a way I object to. Something like 10% of the population of this country live in the capital, and the rest of us don't. If there is a disconnect between journalists and their readers, it's there as much as anywhere. Nick thinks he can snigger about Islington, and maybe he can. But only because the majority of Observer readers take Islington as meaning "scrounging brown-nosing London meeja bastards." The rest of us no more care about internecine London borough snobbery than we do about the victors in 14th century wars in central Africa. I don't care, and I used to live in Islington.
But back to Nielsen. Before he recommends an author picture, he recommends an author bio, Now for blogs, this is largely ignored. But for journalists, it matters. Nick is paid to deliver his opinions, and readers may want to know what qualifies him to give them. His biography says that he "does occasional pieces for many other publications, including ... New Humanist." Now I happen to know that Nick is deeply convinced humanist and secularist. As am I, so those are plusses to me. I suspect, from what I've read that he's always considered himself on the left (clearly left of the Labour Manifesto of almost every election he's been entitled to vote in, I suspect), but not a member of the party. Again, by me, that's fine. Sartre was against joining the Communist Party, and under his advice and my own personal slackness, I paid subs and went to Labour Party meetings very occasionally. (I'd liked to have joined the rival left parties, but they seemed to believe in stuff, which I generally considered a mistake: also, no fit women -- which was the deal-breaker.) But whether he is a member, or not a member, of the Labour Party makes a difference to how you read him. (Pretty Straight Guys was so disloyal that you have to suspect "not a member". But would Bob Marshall-Andrews have said anything different? And he's a Labour MP.) How old is he? Did he vote before Thatcher came to power? If so, who did he vote for in 1979? (Lots of former lefties, like Harold Pinter, voted for Mrs Thatch.) What's his education? (Harold Wilson had a first; Michael Foot a second -- there's a throwaway line about his family having second class minds in the biography I read. I prefer Foot, though Ben Pimlott made a very good case for Wilson.) His former employment? Has he ever been really poor? (I suspect pretty much yes.) OK, the last one would be too much detail, but his bio reads more like a bibliography (and Tom, you can get an Amazon account and then link; make money for both of you).
I am serious about this. If any columnist wants to give me the I-have-a-brain-the-size-of-a planet thing or I-have-contacts crap, I'm "Can I have a receipt, please?"

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Private Eye

There's an article in Private Eye this week which appears to be subtly (as a brick) suggesting that Nick Cohen ("Nick Incoherent") is a drunk. Is this just by way of revenge for him suggesting that everyone should sue them for shitting the bed over the MMR/autism link (from our scientific correspondent: "not what you might call Paul Foot's finest hour"), or is it based in some sort of fact? Nick has always struck me as more of the New Puritan type, but I'm not exactly in the loop. Answers in plain cover to the email address on the right.

The man they swapped for Aaro...

...was in Baghdad the other week. Simon Jenkins has got a sideline in mooching around stately homes, and he treated Iraq very much in the same way. It was a vulgar, rackety affair, a shoddy erection by a parvenu, a counter-jumping soap boiler, a neoconservative.

So what’s this kind of high Toryism doing in the Groan, then? It’s not just for sport. There’s too much of it. As well as Jenkins, there’s Captain Max astounding the crusties with his grasp of military jargon. There’s Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Hywel whatsisname. I tell you, there’s an Oakeshott infestation over on Farringdon Road.

What got me thinking about this was our Nick’s assertion the other week that he’s engaged in the great intellectual struggle of our time and that there was an almighty smash up due on the good ship centre left. So what is the state of play, opinion-wise, and what’s it got to do with all these Tories making themselves at home at the Groan?

It seems to me that while Nick may be up for a fight, the people he’s accusing of spilling his pint aren’t. Rather than engage in a great intellectual struggle with Nick, Dave and the decents, mainstream left opinion (inasmuch as the Guardian op ed pages represent it) seems to be routing around it. On the one hand you have Seumas Milne’s usual repertory company, sticking it to the septics and sticking up for the Allah-besotted. On the other you have all these genteel Tories, preaching realism from a comfortable distance above the fray. The parameters here seem to relate to the majority consensus in Britain over the London bombings, namely that the Iraq conflict made them more likely to happen. Within that there's plenty of room for a chat about the who and the what and the why. Outside it...well, where's your audience?

Something similar seems to be going on over in Blogistan. The pro-war left went into a spasm of self-righteousness after July 7, de-linking here and there; condemning this, insisting on that, stagily revealing collaborators, sternly sorting sheep from goats. The result seems to be that they’ve now shrunk into a circular network, constantly cross linking, boosting their favourite columnists, uninterested in events that don’t immediately fit in with their preconceptions and increasingly adrift from the general bloggy conversation. The United Against Terror project seems to have gone splat and Harry’s Place is reduced to trolling for attention. Even their old antagonists at the movement antiwar sites don’t seem to bother too much with what they have to say. The only outward channel they have leads them directly to the hard right in the USA. And so a tendency hardens into a sect, which in turn boils down into something that’s starting to resemble a cult.

When this happens, you have to shout louder for attention. You have to say that you’re involved, for instance, in the greatest intellectual struggle of your time. You have to promise apocalyptic smash ups. Those who disagree with you have been driven mad by the course of history. It’s all a bit sad.

The Guardian made a smart move when it hired all those Tories. It’s just the political analgesic the recovering internationalists in its readership need. Aaro made a smart move too in jumping shop to the Times, where the faces are friendly and which appears to be running the foreign policy end of the David Cameron franchise. But if I was Nick and I heard that Matthew Parris fancied something to do on a Sunday, I’d be a bit worried about my gig.

Rioja Kid

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Famous Aaronovitches In History

Inspired by this (via)

"I am still one of those optimists who believe that it will soon be shown that President Johnson was telling the truth about the Gulf of Tonkin attack. However, whatever the truth of those allegations, they had nothing to do with my reasons for supporting escalation of US forces. I support the goal of protecting the South Vietnamese from a brutal dictatorship. Why doesn't anyone ask the Vietnamese what they think? Apart from a few Vietcong holdouts, the population massively supports the Thieu government, as shown by the recent elections"

-- Robert Macnamaaronovitch, Dubuque Guardian-Times, 1965

"What leader would I suggest for the Communist Party? Well, once I had unshot myself, spat out the poisoned cakes, unstabbed myself, climbed out of the freezing river and not seduced the Tsarina because of my uncanny ability to calm her haemophiliac son, I would be looking closely at Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. He is the young and dynamic candidate, and although he is forced to pay lip-service to the outmoded concepts of collective farming and a police state, I heard a speech by one of his cleverer advisers which suggests that he is a Menchevik at heart. He also plans to build a pipeline across Siberia – old-fashioned types might call this impossible to achieve without forced labour, but where is their alternative plan? It's Lenin for me"

-- Josef Vissarionovich Aaronovitch, Russian Royalist Gazette, 1916.

"A Modest Proposal To Relieve Our Latterly Famine: In all the Eating-Houses and Dinner-Parties of Dublin, the talk is of Famine and Rapine in Ireland beyond the Pale, and social success is to the Man who BLAMES THE ENGLISH. Clearly this Talk is but the Folly of Those RACIAL DISCRIMINATORS who onlie see in the Success of Foreign Investors the IMPOVERISHMENT of the Masses. Surelie in this new Age of Globalisation, the Onllie Solution to our current Crisis is to fondlie embrace THE NEW ECONOMIE and to heed Mr Pritikin's most Excellent Advice, to shun the POTATOE. For what is the alternative Proposal?"

-- Dean Jonathan Aaronovitch, pamphlet, 1822

"Laisse-ils mangent la bruschetta"

-- attributed to the Queen of France, Marie Aaronovitch, 1793.

"I am one of those optimists who believes that the Children's Crusade is a good thing. Although I have no real interest in the stated purpose of the Crusade, to capture the Holy Land for Christianity, I also despise the petty orthodoxies which hold that the Empire of Saladin is 'not ready for feudalism'. This almost racist view on the modern Left should be shunned by all decent Christians. Some people say that a rabble of under-thirteens led by a lunatic may not be a match for a horde of Saracen cataphracts with steel armour and cavalry. However, it seems far more likely that the heathen will throw down their weapons, worship the Lord and greet the Children's Crusaders as their liberators. With flowers and sweets".

-- Richard Coeur d'Aaronovitch, 1212

"Make no mistake: Ethelred is ready"

-- The Venerable Aaronavitche, 875


-- Fragment attributed to Veni Vidi Aaronovici, 23BC

"Once there was a man who was bitten by a hornet. Angry at the pain, he took out his male member and proceeded to beat the hornet's nest most violently with it. To his surprise, he was stung again and again in this most painful place. A crowd gathered and began to laugh at the man, saying 'you fool'.

Moral: They were all wrong and at least he was doing something"

-- translated from The Fables of Aeronovitch

PS: oh yeh, a note for the Friday Forecast gang; Aaro is a bit handier with a Filofax than Nick, so the fact he's mentioned the Kurds in this col means that "Turkey must be allowed to join the EU" is probably a non-runner for the next few weeks.

Mr Cohen, meet Mr Fo.

Further NC thoughts from a different Bruschettaboy ... don't worry, I will have the Aaro column covered later today or this evening.

I have to say that I personally am finding it harder and harder to sustain the idea that NC is Basically A Good Bloke whose Heart Is In The Right Place, and this column is close to being the final straw. The general form of the piece is one of the central arguments of McCarthyism and its cognates; these damn commies/Islamists don't believe in democracy and freedom, so why the hell should we respect their rights and freedoms. Nick's very keen on making comparisons between Hizb-ut-Tahrir and fascists parties, but if anything, the comparison is more valid wth the other big totalitarian movement of the last century. Of course, to make the argument that "these damn Hizbies are as bad as the Stalinists and therefore we should set our policy toward them following the example of the House Un-American Activities Committee" would stand out a bit in the pages of the Observer (where Tailgunner Joe is still considered by and large to have been one of the bad guys), so the comparison has to be always to the BNP and (preferably) Nazi Germany.

As I say, outright McCarthyism is an idea whose time hasn't quite yet come in the Guardian Media Group (no really, they were bloody pissed off when they were bounced into blacklisting Dilpazier Aslam). So, there has to be a paragraph (it's at the end, blink and you'll miss it) in which Nick says that all things considered, we probably shouldn't ban Hizb outright and chuck all their members in jail; a sustained Cointelpro campaign and ostracism will do for the moment (perhaps we ought to consider making a list, in black, of all their sympathisers, just in case some journalists forget to expose them enough). This is what shifts Nick's column from the straightfoward genre of McCarthyism into its more left-friendly sister genre of "Liberal McCarthyism". By which I mean, the school of thought that chucks in the occasional piety about "defence of our historic liberties", rails angrily against authoritarian policies at the appointed hour every fourth Sunday, but at the end of the day ends up by reminding those readers that dammit, those Commies are as bad as the Nazis, dammit! And is it really the best use of our time to try and bail out people on blacklists, when they certainly wouldn't do the same for us if this was Soviet Russia (the Caliphate)? And you kids, when you're out there protesting against the war in Indochina, do you realise that you might as well be supporting dictators? There's no rock 'n' roll behind the Iron Curtain! And so on. All we need to complete the picture is a big old diatribe against those "fellow travellers" who have deserted the liberal values of the Democratic Party and seem to spend all their time making excuses for the Evil Empire. ("Our Friends on the Left", an examination of agonies, idiocies and compromises of mainstream liberal thought will be published by 4th Estate in 2006.)

If anyone wonders whether I'm auditioning for a minor speaking part in Nick's book as a representative of "the liberal left" who's bent on excommunicating Nick, then yes I am. I don't expect to get the part by the way; since this is the man who claimed that "the Guardian ran a web debate entitled: "David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen are enough to make a good man anti-Semitic'", I expect that most of the main roles in Nick's production to go to fictional characters or composite strawmen (in particular I strongly expect that the book's portrayal of TLL will substantially over-represent anti-Semites; the false claim that the middle class British Left are in general anti-Semitic is usually the capstone of the bridge between loony Left and loony Right). But in general, I personally (and I know that several other users of the BB pseudonym disagree with me on this matter) think that Comrade Cohen is wandering off the reservation and needs to get back on it, sharpish.

The thing is that Qutbist pan-Islamism is certainly rather less of a threat to the free world than Communist expansionism was between 1950 and 1989. Hizb-ut-Tahrir are probably more of a "conveyor belt" toward terrorist violence than the BNP (as far as I am aware, the political racists recruit from the violent racists rather than vice versa) but I doubt that it is more of a conveyor belt than the one that existed between the Italian Left in the 1970s and the Red Brigades. But, much earlier on and for much less practical reason, our government is employing much more restrictive measures than it ever employed against Communism. In this country, that is; we're about on a par with 60s USA and still a bit better than 70s Italy, although we are about to pass an anti-terrorism Bill with 90-day detention without charge and crimes of 'glorifying terrorism'. I know enough about the anni di piombo to not want to see them repeated, even in milder version, in my country. I also don't want to see the British political system damaged in the way the Italian one was by a government of authoritarians and a political opposition which was too obsessed with anti-Communism to do its job. And I certainly don't want to see a journalist I once admired carrying water for this project just because he read a book by Paul Berman.

A couple of weeks ago in the Standard, Nick was bemoaning the predictable BBC-PC liberalism of political theatre. I suspect that it won't be too long before he's reviewing the opening night of "Accidental Death Of An Islamist".

Update: Oh yeh, the "Can we sue over MMR?" filler item is a direct lift from Boris Johnson. Don't think for a moment that the addition of The Lancet to the list of guilty men is unintentional, by the way, although the stupidity of NC's actual charge possibly is. When he says "Wakefield's original research was based on a sample of just 12 children, which was too small to be meaningful, as the Lancet ought to have known", he appears to be acting under the belief that the Lancet only exists in order to publish finally considered conclusions of the entire medical profession. In fact, Wakefield's study was published as a case study of 12 cases; the Lancet regularly publishes case studies of this size because it is the only way to get the ball rolling on unusual or novel medical developments (I think my brother did one in the BMJ about a new surgical technique on diabetics which was based on half a dozen cases, which sounds pretty small but isn't if you've blunted a scalpel on every one). The Lancet was quite correct to publish the study and was also correct to be appalled at the way Wakefield overstated his case at a subsequent press conference.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Lazy Sunday Cohen Watch, Got no time for worries, Chris Brooke does his scholarly thing on St Augustine and staying in hotels. Nick’s Observer piece, When Harriet met Hizb, isn’t up on his blog yet, so no link.
FWIW, I think Nick’s piece is dreadfully written, as if he’s trying to drop into Tabloid, but his education gets in the way.
A few weeks ago, Harriet Harman was holding a surgery for her Peckham constituents. As always, it was an open house, and every variety of south Londoner was coming to her office. She had dealt with the usual run of complaints and appeals when the door opened and for the first time in her life Harman confronted authentic anti-democrats.

An opening with the deep sonority of one hand waving. “As always, it was an open house” seems to convey Ms Harman’s special gift for hospitality, though “every variety of south Londoner” and Peckham make me think of Del Boy and Rodney dressed as Batman and Robin. Politicians’ surgeries are open houses. That was true of Enoch Powell as well. It’s cruel of me, but my reaction to “for the first time in her life Harman confronted authentic anti-democrats” was, “She’s never met the crustier members of the Conservative Party?” (Sorry, Tory readers. The FCS, now…) Nick is describing a scene which he clearly wasn’t present at, in terms I doubt Harriet Harman used (if she told him the story at all). That should be worth several points on Nick’s journalistic licence. That goes for “wallow” as well, which should only be used for the bathing habits of hippopotami.
Oh yes, can’t we have a points system where journalists are banned from publication for, say, six months, for using “separation of church and state”? Nick is all for it, I’m all for it, but it happens not to be the case in Dear Old Blighty. Hizb ut-Tahrir may be agin it, but so are the Queen and Norman St-John Stevas.
Yet here were totalitarians and misogynists going to a woman democratic politician and begging her to persuade Tony Blair not to take authoritarian measures against their authoritarian sect. The scene could have been bettered only if Harman had been a Jewish lesbian.

Nick has, as he often does, a good point here. It’s just that, he’s chosen to describe what happened with the same authorial talent that William McGonagle would have brought to the tragedy of Hamlet. How does he know Ms Harman was “startled” or “despairing”?
I defer to Chris Brooke’s knowledge of Augustine, but I suspect that St A’s response to authoritarian measures would have been, shall be say, stoical. There is something rather pathetic about Hizb ut-Tahrir, with their iron edicts and flexible principles.
Nick can still write the funny lines.
On the website Huda Jawad writes of being badgered by young men at her university.

So sadly can most young women. Young men are like that, but it helps with the preservation of the species, in the end.
What is he thinking of here?
Shiv Malik of the New Statesman found a Hizb recruiter who described how he followed the tactics of a Moonie or Scientologist when seducing a convert. ‘Say for example that you’re having a marriage breakdown. I’ll use that: “Your wife is leaving you because of problems that stem from the fact that Islam isn’t present in the world today”. ’
All of which seems to show that Hizb is an uncomplicated promoter of extremism.

No, it seems to show that Hizb are cultish promoters of wingnuttery. I don’t pretend to be a student of Islamic extremism: all I know is what I see on “Spooks.” But I can’t grasp how:
The Islamists regarded it as sinful to stand in elections or even vote.

Can be true at the same time as:
[Hizb’s] draft constitution imagines a caliphate in which only Muslims can elect the caliph …

I’d love to know how they manage to do that without someone standing in an election and others voting.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Aaro continues to wank off over David Cameron

Well how else would you put it?. Aaro is developing a minor line in "hurray for education vouchers" I notice; will this soon become Decent policy? Cameron is a good bloke apparently because he doesn't like the jihadis (presumably Aaro has discovered that Fox, Davis and Clarke were secretly in favour of bombing London). Dismal, absolutely dismal Dave. You're better than this.

Update: Oh yeh, Friday forecasts. I'm in Devon this weekend; they might have newspapers, I don't really know much about the place though. My guesses: Aaro must surely be running dry on the Tory leadership, so I think faith schools after that Ham & High debate. Cohen, I'm not sure; he hasn't said anything about David Cameron yet so I'll go with that. Have fun.

The benefits to a young journalist of owning a Filofax

Not much to report about NC in the Standard, by the way, and I have mislaid my copy so I can't do extracts from it either. However, he was writing about the Saddam trial (and various other guff I can't remember) and had to execute a rather embarrassing volte-face. If you remember, during a recent Reach Out To The Left Week, Nick waxed lyrical on "Our Criminal Barristers, God Bless 'Em" and "No Matter How Bad The Crime, A Cornerstone Of A Decent Society Is A Fair Trial". This was a bit awkward to square with the need to write a column excoriating Geoffrey Robertson QC for asking that the Saddam trial be moved to the Hague. To be honest I probably agree with Nick that Saddam ought to be tried in an Iraqi court (although I do think it's a bit scandalous that the charges have been so carefully selected so as to ensure that nothing embarrassing to the US and UK comes up during cross-examination), but it was absolutely visible in the Standard column that he was wishing he hadn't gone in so aggressively on the barristers one.

A Filofax could have prevented this minor embarrassment; you can write down important coming dates in them. I suspect that Nick doesn't own one though because they have connotations of the Thatcher era.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Pritikin Institute is taking bookings for Spring 2006!

What the hell? "The vulnerability, the fallibility" Aaro is now turning into "Don't Worry, Be Happy" Aaro! Bird flu? My arse. SARS wasn't a pandemic, nor was Ebola and therefore by induction we are immortal. Or in any case, there's nothing we can do about it anyway so gather ye rosebuds while ye may. As Nietszche said, what does not kill me, I will probably get 400 words out of for my Tuesday column in the Times.

No, no, that was just the characteristic Aaro introductory toccata. Nasty and pointless little jibe at the Today programme, I notice; do not think for one single minute that this was unintentional or just by-the-by. Every little bit of crap you can chuck at the BBC helps, particularly if you work for Murdoch and are shilling for New Labour. Aaronovitch certainly does know the difference between 200,000 people dying at an actuarially predictable rate as part of the normal consequence of events and 50,000 people dying suddenly and in a short period of time, and I for one am not going to waste precious Watching energy in lame "fiskings" of him by pretending he doesn't.

The meat and drink of this column is, of course, the fact that Aaro has tamed his belly, and so you lot ought to too, because heart disease is a bigger killer than bird flu. I am, to be honest, surprised that the Pritikin Institute doesn't get a plug by name, particularly since Times readers are quite likely to have missed the Guardian "fat camp" story and thus might not necessarily realise that when Aaro exhorts them to change their lifestyles and diets with a bit of willpower, that's not exactly how he did it himself. Possibly the Times has a sort of Blue Peter self-denying ordinance when it comes to plugging brands by name, but I doubt it. However, I wouldn't go so far as to say that this is an intentional deception being practised by Fat Camp Freddy on his readers, because the whole spiel of the Pritikin Institute (most famous alumnus: David Aaronovitch Michael Moore) is precisely that their miracle formula is just common sense and willpower. But even so, it's worth pointing out.

But anyway, the real point of this column for me is the exercise in (presumably?) unintentional irony. Given that Aaronovitch is on record as having said that "I have a feeling (and I could be wrong) that [the Lancet report on Iraqi casualties] may be a dud", and his quite disgraceful browbeating of the author's report on the Newsnight special on Iraq, can anyone see this paragraph as anything other than a subconscious cry for help (by the way, Nick, this bit is what's called "deconstructionism" by we the effete pomo liberal left)?

I am a late convert to many of the marvels of capitalism, but when it comes to the food industry the old Bolshevik emerges again. These companies lie and dissemble in their packaging, dispute until they can dispute no longer every bit of research that links their horrible products with modern ill-health, and they suborn or browbeat government and agencies. Take the Advertising Association and its attitude to the marketing of junk food — food which is high in sodium and fats, low in nutrition and which, together with our sedentary lifestyles, is killing us. The Director-General of the AA recently described as “unproven” the idea that junk food advertising contributed to ill-health. Only if it is “unproven” that advertising leads to sales — a proposition that would bankrupt the entire ads industry.

Meanwhile, Decent Dave continues to regard the case as "unproven" that That Bloody War might possibly have been a horrible great disaster. When it comes to scientific opinions on politically sensitive matters, I suppose that one of the many marvels of capitalism, is that you pays your money and you takes your choice.

Monday, October 17, 2005

I Don't Know How He Does It

Nick Cohen’s latest (; Observer) manages his too-frequent trick of making an essentially sound point after an incredibly irritating opening.

A week ago, at a reception in one of London’s dowdier hotels, Maryam Namazie received a cheque and a certificate stating that she was Secularist of the Year 2005. The audience from the National Secular Society cheered, but no one else noticed.

This story was of course reported on the NSS site, Maryam Namazie Named “Secularist of The Year" which has the benefits of greater exactitude — and photographs.

The happy crowd who arrived at the Montcalm Hotel on Saturday were also joined by Honorary Associates Dr Evan Harris MP, Joan Smith, Martin Rowson and Jonathan Meades. The hilarious entertainment was provided by top notch comedian Stewart Lee, who is co-author of Jerry Springer — The Opera. His joke about what happens if you lick a lollipop with the face of the pope on it doesn’t bear repeating in a family e-letter.

That would be the Montcalm which may, for all I know, be the dowdiest 4-star hotel in the world.
Not quite no one else, Nick. It’s true that readers of tehgrauniad group newspapers, wouldn’t. Here’s the tehgrauniad’s site search for Maryam Namazie. Clearly, apart from Nick’s article, her only way to get into the paper is to write letters to the editor. Nick’s worked there how long, and he’s mentioned her how often?

For all that, Maryam Namazie’s obscurity remains baffling. She ought to be a liberal poster girl. Her life has been that of a feminist militant who fights the oppression of women wherever she finds it.

I’m baffled Nick and the monstrous legion of his colleagues haven’t mentioned her.
Others have noticed her before. Ophelia Benson (there’s a Butterflies and Wheels email every Monday if you’re interested) — Google found 46 references to Ms Namazie (some may be duplicates). The press didn’t cover it all, with the exception of Reuters.The NSS links to the limited coverage elsewhere, which manages to get everything wrong: here and here.
Coda: The one reaction everyone, including Nick, has missed is the one on Islamophobia Watch. (IW has a prominent copyright notice, which says in part, “All material remains copyright of original author and publisher, as cited in documents. Copyright material is posted on this website for the purposes of criticism or review.” I’ll note here that I’m posting their copyright material “for the purposes of criticism.")

This would be the same Mayam Namazie who offered the following thoughtful comment on the issue of the hijab: “I suppose if it were to be compared with anyone’s clothing it would be comparable to the Star of David pinned on Jews by the Nazis to segregate, control, repress and to commit genocide.” So perhaps it’s just as well they didn’t get her started on Islamophobia.

This is entirely argument by innuendo. Her point is entirely reasonable. (I think there’s a difference between, say, a BNP candidate saying that, and someone who’s lived in a Muslim country saying it. The difference isn’t in the words themselves, but the speaker’s purpose and his/her views on women.)
Update: I mentioned Islamophobia Watch, and should have guessed that they’d post on our boy.

The Ontario proposal [for “right to faith-based civil arbitration"] provoked a racist backlash throughout Canada against Muslims and their supposed barbaric religious practices, which it was claimed had no place in a civilised Western society. And it was another WPI central committee member, Homa Arjomand, who played a leading role in encouraging this upsurge of Islamophobia. For her trouble, she became the “poster girl” of the most hardline right-wingers, receiving plaudits from the likes of Front Page Magazine.
It can’t be long before Cohen and the WPI go the whole hog and join their friends in GALHA — with whom they have co-operated closely in the anti-Qaradawi campaign — in promoting an anti-Muslim agenda that is indistinguishable from the vile propaganda of the racist Right.

Nick doesn’t need me to defend him here, but I will anyway. I don’t think he’s anti-Muslim in any sense which he isn’t also anti-Jew (he is militantly secular, so he is anti-Muslim in a sense). I do think that his intention ("agenda” is such a loaded word) is distinguishable from the straightforward racists. Just as taking sound bites from George Orwell can make his anti-Communism sound indistinguishable from old-style Tories who stood for many things he hated, of course, Cohen and Namazie’s writings can be cherry-picked. If Nick agrees with FrontPage, it may be because, like a stopped clock, FrontPage is right every so often. (I could have put this in so many other ways, almost all of them better, including citing Goebbels on propaganda having to contain truth, but this will have to do.)
Update 2: I’ve had an email which says that the Guardian search above doesn’t work. It did for me, but I found four articles, one was the Nick Cohen piece under discussion and these: 2004; 2003; 2002. Ms Namazie was also mentioned by name by Kenan Malik in January this year. It’s still not much a platform to attack Woman’s Hour from.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Notes and Queries

Q: Did the Guardian "run a web debate entitled: "David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen are enough to make a good man anti-Semitic'"?

A: No. Some troll started a thread of that title on their "talk" boards and it was deleted as soon as noticed.

Q: Why did Nick claim that they did in his New Statesman article?

A: Charitably, he doesn't really understand this interweb thing. Less charitable explanations are certainly possible.

Q: Isn't some apology in order?

A: If you don't think I'm cute you can go and fuck yourself

Jesus Christ, it's Saturday night!

blah blah forecast bollocks. I think:

NC: Left anti-Semitism is too soon after appearing in the Staggers. Iraq is not providing much material at present (interestingly, not too many words about that Constitution, are there?) and we've already had Reach Out To The Left Week. So, I'm guessing Darfur, which is always there whenever you need a pint of crocodile tears and a bag of shit to pour over the UN. No, hang on, earthquake in South Asia. We've provided them with loads of aid, so the bastards can stop bombing us.

DA: Earthquake too. The vulnerability, the fallibility. Mother Nature is a far greater force than the terrorrisses.

Update: Actually on reflection one or other of them is bound to have a go at Harold Pinter.

Update Update: Faith schools?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Journalists and Bloggers

Now that Nick Cohen has his own site, it's worth asking what the difference between joggers and blournalists is. Johann Hari is another decent leftist, a Harry's Place reader, and he only publishes his print journalism on his blog. For me, that's not "getting it." (I think that's © Instapundit, but I don't recall for certain.) Some smart blogger called his postings "velleities and lemmas". Now if I knew what velleities were and I knew what lemmas were too I'd probably agree with that. It sounds good. And a lot of heavyweight journalism seems to be wielding a thesaurus at the right time.

Nick's site looks like a blog, and it [insert 3rd person present participle verb here] like a blog and it [insert 3rd person present participle verb here] like a blog. But like Johann's, it only covers his print pieces. Now if you write for money, why write for free? Andrew Sullivan does it, but I suspect that he's found that a blog is a way of getting in touch with his audience (which is somewhat different from the readership of the publications he writes for), and a way of being the first contact for some eyewitness accounts. But what's in it for Nick? Johann -- to me -- is an over-rated columnist (if that isn't a tautology). I've never been sure if he's a token rightist for the Independent or a token gay or if they just think he's great. (I know Harry's Place do; my taste may not be reliable.) Nick Cohen gets about more. There's the Standard, the Observer, the Staggers, and perhaps FrontPage (I think that was Horowitz trying it on, however). Now, if columnists sell papers, and columnists can also been found free, and as they say gratis, not forgetting for nowt, on the interwebs, where does that leave Nick's school fees? I think journalists having blogs is a very good thing. Just not like this.

What I think I'm leading to is that I think Nick is to be congratulated for having a site. (And getting WordPress to work half well. I never could.) But I think he's cutting his own throat by publishing content freely when the Staggers charges. Copyright may protect his right to do that, but if I were a publisher, I'd refer to my freedom not to print his stuff. I just think he's putting up the wrong stuff. If I were him (and it's clever double-bluff time. ... No, I'm not) I'd blog the first drafts. Get feedback. (Blog comments pick up factual errors.) Make the blog entries to the Observer column like Dorothy Wordsworth's letters to William's pomes. They say that with texts and phone calls, the art of letter-writing is dying. But if it weren't for blogging, I'd write more letters. There are plenty of professional writers, poets, novelist, biographers, historians, philosophers honoured by the publication of a thumping volume of their laundry lists and billet-doux.

But if everyone does what Nick and Johann presently do, isn't this going to kill their newspapers? Aren't they union members? See, I don't believe that blogs can take on journalism, but they can take on commentary. Because any idiot can do that. And blogs by professionals can rot sales to the point where papers cease to be influential. And then they close. That makes it seem like the mortgages and pensions and health care of printers, reporters, and lots of others are somehow in Nick's hands.

Perhaps they are.

Update 16/10. First, thanks to Tom, the webmaster of, for his positive comments. I meant to add an update earlier, disagreeing to some extent with what I wrote last night, but reading Tom stopped me. I have revised some of what I thought. Perhaps it's a good thing that commentary becomes free, because then the unique selling point left to the "old media" (or the "main stream media") is reportage. But, then, I also thought that Napster would kill phoney commercial music, killing off royalties and making only graft and live performance pay, and you can see how right that predicition was. And thinking about it, Nick only puts up columns which you can't buy in the shops. That may be the sensible compromise. There's always a premium for the new. (See the queues for the publication of a Harry Potter as a for instance.) This gets up the noses of us bloggers, but we're wrong about this: journalism can't be free. We need newspapers, that is real newspapers. They're more than a way of avoiding eye contact on public transport, they also offer serendipitous discovery of stories in a way the structured search of the web avoids.

Finally, I seem to have excited some defences of Johann. I did say that my taste was unreliable. I think Nick is a better writer (although he could work on conscious humour, as dark sarcasm doesn't go very far), and his books and the range of publications which he writes for bear me out. I'm prejudiced against the Indy which I used to read, because it just carries too much commentary. And I'm not convinced by Johann, though I'm aware that, generally, his heart is in the right place (I use this too often). I do have a prejudice against the under 30s. I'll try to explain. I like Harold Pinter for example and he wrote some very good plays before he was 30. Eliot wrote the Wasteland, which I think is one of the most profound works of the last century, at 32. But those are, as it were, home games. Someone who writes every week in a paper should be used to playing away. She should have a very broad experience, preferably (IMO) either through intellect (as in university, I'm thinking of Conor Cruise O'Brien, a real heavyweight who wrote for the Observer) or as a reporter (I'd name Bill Deedes, no university, but seen the world). People like Johann were selected as columnists because they can write. I don't want to read an account of an ascent of Everest by Andrew Motion. I want the account by the idiots who did it. Likewise I don't care then Andy McNab's prose may not butter many parsnips at the High Table. He's been shot at and tortured. Beat those! If you're going to comment on current events, you're going to have to have seen a few. As I said, any idiot can write commentary. Perhaps (and this isn't a hopeful perhaps) because everyone does do it, we get quality back. Of course, I also think that by the time you're old and experienced enough to write commentary, you're also a used-up backward-looking reactionary old fool. But then, life's unfair.

Thursday, October 13, 2005


Christ you can get good work done by an Indian call centre for cheap these days.

Update: by the by, we were having trouble getting hold of the most recent New Statesman column recently, but here it is, unprotected by password walls or any such. Have things really got so desperate at the Staggers that they've started flogging their content on to David Horowitz? Is Nick on a residuals deal? (Similarly, given the unwise goatee/black suit/red shirt combo that Dave was wearing on Newsnight, is he auditioning for a slot on a celebrity poker show? Watch your fucking cards if he is, that's my advice to our celebrity readers).

The reverse-twisting double-Gilligan with half somersault

AW is on reduced service at the moment I'm afraid, due to staff illness (mine). But the glaring, watchworthy bit of Dave's little outpouring of crocodile tears for the BBC is right there in front of us in cold print:

It is, in essence, the Gilligan defence again. Never mind the facts, the story fits the preconceptions, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not.

No, Dave. That's not "The Gilligan defence". Andrew Gilligan's defence was specifically that David Kelly had said to Gilligan that the dossier had been fucked around with, and that he had used the specific phrase "one word: Campbell". Gilligan's defence was one of justification on the specifics of the Kelly story, and of fair comment on the rest of his five-minute piece. Lord Hutton found otherwise, but that was the defence.

Dave may be confusing this episode with the claim "SADDAM COULD STRIKE IN 45 MINUTES". That was a story which was not true, but which fit the preconceptions and so was allowed to stand uncorrected. In fact, the general defence that it was OK to tell flat out lies in the service of a noble cause is specifically the central plank of Decentism (viz: "am I sorry about the WMD claims? I am not sorry that we got rid of a brutal dictator, who was brutal"). Aaro himself was actually on Newsnight last night helping Jack Straw rubbish the Lancet body count by saying "nobody can deny that things are better with Saddam gone". The claim that the true body count is 8,000 is untrue, but it fits with the preconceptions, so never mind the facts.

So I repeat, those weapons had better be there.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Harry's broadcast.

Harry has a link to a radio interview he gave in September on HP today. Interesting listening.

We have a winner!!!!

Congratulations to commenter "redpesto" for this prediction in the Friday Forecast Thread:

DA on the Tory party conference; NC on the News Statesman story about John Humphreys.


Meanwhile... Salon's Gary Kamiya reviews a pro-war liberal's book on the Iraq war. (Day Pass Required: link here) Worth it for the NC-related stuff on Paul Berman

As it turned out, right predictions, wrong columnists; Nick did a bit of warmed-over Bermanism about "when the Islamists strike Paris" and Dave has done a bit on the Staggers story on John Humphrys. But this is much closer to the mark than anyone's managed in recent weeks and deserves the prize. Well done fella.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Socialism 2005

I wouldn't advise buying a ticket specially, but if any of our readers are thinking of going to the annual beanfeast of the Socialist Party (don't ask me which grouplet they are cos I dunno), Aaro is apparently appearing there.

this is mainly a heads-up for the "Friday Forecast" contest some few Fridays hence after November 12-13, since Aaro is bound to write about it. If anyone cares to surmise about how this grouplet rather than any other landed Aaro as a speaker (are they successor grouplet to the CPGB??) comments are open.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

great lungs, Eddie

To which last I can only add this:

Avoidance of what al-Qaeda stands for began in 9/11 and has become endemic since. My favourite piece of victim blaming was after the Madrid bombings. For a few hours, there was a rumour that they were the work of ETA and Eddie Mair, the presenter of Radio 4's PM news show, duly had a go at a representative of the Spanish government, alleging that Madrid's refusal to talk to Basque nationalists was the root cause of the atrocity.

By the next day, it was clear that Islamists, not Basques, had attacked Madrid. Without pausing for breath, Mair duly wanted to know if the presence of Spanish troops in Iraq was the root cause of the atrocity. The identity of the bombers was irrelevant. The Spanish had to be the cause of their own suffering.

I like the idea that Eddie Mair went for 24 hours “Without pausing for breath”. Great lungs, Eddie.

Now Nick, as you very well know, the reason journalists believed that ETA might have been involved was because they fell for the disinformation put out by the Spanish government to that effect – disinformation the government put out at least partly for fear that the population might make a connection between an Islamist bombing and Spain’s presence in Iraq at that time.

Well, never mind. Let's leave Aznar and co out of this. Let's just say it was all a Liberal plot to "blame the victims." Revolutionary truth, how are ya?

Of course, the real perpetrators of the bombings were rapidly identified and the appropriate connections were made. So, by Nick’s logic, the subsequent election of the Socialists in Spain was down to the Spanish people blaming themselves for the Madrid bombings. Well, that was Mark Steyn's postition so I guess Nick won't be too far behind.

rioja kid

They get letters

... very good spot this one (scroll down)

I found myself in broad agreement with Nick Cohen ('Hands off the NHS', Comment, last week), until the barbed final sentence, where he comments that the NHS might not be able to cope, 'the next time the Islamists come'. Does he believe the NHS would cope better if the Irish republicans returned, or there's a fire in a tube station or, probably most likely, a bog-standard privatisation-fuelled train crash? It is a sign of bigotry to hitch a pet hate onto an otherwise sensible point.

"Simon Joyce" is not currently a member of the Aaronovitch Watch team (at least I don't think he is, I've certainly lost track of which Bruschetta Boy is which these days) but if he wants to be, there's certainly a place here for him; the email address is in the right hand column.

It's nothing to do with Iraq you bastards

... as proved by the bomb which exploded in hypothetical Paris this week.

I wonder if Nick has visited Brisbane recently?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Scary Money and Super Columnists

Dear reader, I ask you, can it be true that there is a caste, a claque, a clique (hold on while I turn the page) of journalists who form the top, the tip, the peak, the apex, and the very cream of those of us slaving at word processors like so many Aleksei Stakhanovs among the rest of the stunted emphysemic toilers. Is there really an immiscible fast-track for the stars?

I (moi, myself, ego) ask because there are doubters who do not understand the difference between Harry Hatchet (ne Steele, but I believe that suggested the nom de guerre of a certain unperson among the Decent Left) and Decent Dave. The I's, let me tell you, have it.

Big Dave's former employers may print a rather onanistic column slagging off the great man (and I mean "great": when he goes round the house, he goes round the house). But they also with tehgrauniad pluralism (aka "the left ring finger doesn't know what the left middle finger is doing") call him a supercolumnist. Cristina Odone talks a lot of wank, but this is like the dark matter of wank: there's far more where this came from than there is matter in the observable universe. Did tehgrauniad really pay "well north of a 1/4 million a year for the total package" for Sir Simon Jenkins as Tim Worstall claims? I'd do it for a few pints; I'm sure decent writers cost a bit more, but well inside a grand a week. (And the saving? can you really fix cataracts in the Third World for a tenner as Grauniad ads used to claim? and those $100 dollar wind-up Linux laptops? I make the difference well north of 10,000 of the former or 2,000 of latter. Just making Grauniad-reader type points.)

Why do these big mouths earn so much? Do newspaper proprietors really cower lest they go on strike again? (Sorry.) Ms Odone says:

In an era when, thanks to Google and Wikipedia, facts are no longer sacred and are free, comment has become the big draw. When Veronica Wadley, editor of the London Evening Standard, decided to give her paper a "new look", she did not change the size or adopt a new masthead: she introduced a roster of new columnists. The New York Times also recognises the hegemony of the columnist. It has just introduced a fee-paying scheme for its online edition, whereby access to the rest of the paper remains free but columnists' writings can only be read at a price.

This is barking. Comment is free. Don't ask me. Or C.P. Scott, read all those teenage girls writing online journals insiders call "weblogs" and the truly hip simply "blogs." Facts? Feh. I'll write about it here, thanks. All I know is what I read in the New York Times -- and that it's biased.

Columnists row, adopt extreme positions and probe taboos in a way our elected representatives and disaffected citizenry fail to do.

I see Cristina missed the Tory party conference and indeed Michael Howard's election campaign. Probe taboos? Don't comedians get a vote? Clearly Ms Odone has never taken a taxi cab or visited a public house.

For this, Suzanne Moore, a Mail on Sunday columnist, says, the writer has to "have a sustaining, identifiable position, a recognisable ideology that may even become an obsession".

Failing those, "fuck-me boots" will do. (© Dr Germaine Greer.)

Where broadcasters fear being attacked as biased and politicians as bigoted, the columnist will happily weigh in with unpalatable opinions - spiced, if a heavyweight is writing, with an obscure fact or two - about everything from gay rights to immigrant quotas.

How dare you! Dave looks quite svelte these days. If he keeps the diet up, he'll be able to use the revolving doors when he visits the BBC -- by 2020 at the outside.

Today, they [columnists] readily switch titles, in pursuit of bigger bucks or a higher profile - Simon Jenkins, David Aaronovitch, Simon Heffer and Richard Littlejohn have all recently played this game of musical chairs.

How can I say this? Newspaper = news, sport, crossword, tv listings. Not fat pontificating bastards. Does anyone give a shit?

A Plea

Ok, can anyone actually read the Nick Cohen piece in the New Statesman? I've tried following links from Harry and Norm, but every time I hit this firewall they have which thinks I've read more than my ration of one piece per day.

Look, the Statesman's restrictions are just about the silliest on the interwebs. tehgrauniad got where it is today by being free. Anyway, the Staggers hasn't made any money since long before I abandoned it in the early 80s (and in those days, Martin Amis was literary editor, so it had something going for it). It's just a modern folly, an overt show of a rich man's largesse. "Big Issue, mate?" "No chance, I have Nick Cohen and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to support." There's some old left (dread words!) phrase spinning round my head. Something about "property" and "theft."

Bloody Frogs.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Friday Forecast [Alternative Universe Edition]

The Friday forecast may have a problem. Suppose either Nick or Dave actually read our humble corner of the interwebs? (Both read Harry's Place.) So suppose they read the Friday forecast -- and change what they write? Just to spite us, because spite feels good. Well, let us hope so.

As I've said earlier this week (not in so many words), I think Nick Cohen is a bit of a headbanger, but as I also said (this time in those words), his heart is in the right place. Now I think Nick's Modus Operandi goes like this: find a story (say, on the interwebs, like Harry's Place) which passed under the radar of tehgraunaid and The Observer, and then get worked up about it. As my colleague observered of Nick's last column, he prefers to get worked up about the public sector, as if the BBC and the Tate were the centre of power in this country. So, my bet goes for the Dudley Council story covered as Ungulates Unwelcome on Harry's Place. Coverage has been nugatory in the press, but blog interest (which often fixates on the trivial) has been considerable.

Somewhere in between (but more blog) is the ever-paranoid FrontPageMag. Robert Spencer adds some background, but he doesn't find anything out not in the original Express and Star report. Nor, of course, does Mark Steyn. At least neither reproduce this glorious non-sequitur:

Muslims are forbidden from eating pork in the Koran and staff were asked to remove the items.

I want Nick not to go there. For his own sake. It's the sort of thing he can precis well, and then come to some deflating conclusion. The story is, rather obviously, bollocks. I mean, it's in all likelihood true, as reported, just that none of the conclusions drawn follow any more than "staff were asked to remove the items" follows from "Muslims are forbidden from eating pork in the Koran." True, it is a council -- but it's one office in the council, so it seems unlikely that this went to any kind of vote. Mark Steyn gets:

Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (Tory-controlled) has now announced that, following a complaint by a Muslim employee, all work pictures and knick-knacks of novelty pigs and "pig-related items" will be banned.


Novelty pig calendars and toys have been banned by bosses at Dudley Council in case Muslim staff are offended.
Workers in the council's benefits department have been told to remove or cover up all pig products including toys, porcelain, calendars and even a tissue box featuring Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.

There's a difference (emphases added for clarity), and it's one Nick is more than likely to be deaf to. I worked for a short time in a dole office, and they're the most miserable places on earth. Siberia, salt mines, and starvation are all better options. This story just tells you about the sort of people who work in them. There are some sensible comments on HP (out of 309, there should be at least a few), Luke says:

[I]n my experience no Muslims I know would be so petty and ridiculous. So who are these ridiculous individuals? What is their game? And why are they being catered to?
Much stupidity abounds in town halls, I think.

Dudley Council may be Tory-controlled, but the only councillor quoted, Mahbubur Rahman, is Labour. I've no idea why he'd say such a stupid thing, or why the union didn't object.

There's also been some excitement and cage-rattling over the banning of prison officers from wearing St George Cross badges as reported on CNN. Put the stories together and you start to get something about "Muslims, come here, ban pigs, object to the flag, ... and their cooking smells funny." Except the Muslim/Crusades angle was entirely in the mind of the CNN reporter (I'm sure there are Muslims who object to the Crusades, but they're the 101st jihadi keyboarders or the Pajamahajeen, and like their warblogger equivalents, don't leave their bedrooms often enough to get arrested) and nothing to do with the report on Wakefield Prison.

What will Nick write about? I haven't a clue, mate.

And Uncle Aaron (I think that's an "Uncle Joe" reference, not a nod to this humble blog's calling him "Aaro")? I guess bloggers. All useless bastards, except the Decent Left. I have a poor record at this game, however, so the smart money is doubtless elsewhere.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Satire As It Should Be Done

The Guardian, where David Aaronovitch used to work, runs a column on Saturdays by "Norman Johnson" who is a very unsubtle parody of DA. (Sometimes the prose style is so close to Aaronovitch's own, and the jokes similarly flat, that I wonder if it's not the man himself. But that would be ... odd.) Part of the joke -- perhaps the whole of the joke -- is that it takes people in. Gene of Harry's Place fell for it, and there was much rejoicing when two of the UK left's most prominent veteran letter writers proved similarly gullible. Indeed, to get the joke at all, you have to twig who is being parodied. Tim Worstall thought the target was Harry's Place, and I'm sure most Guardian readers draw a blank as well.

If you're going to do a take-off of a (reasonably) well-known moulder-of-popular-opinion, there is only one man to call. The great thing about Craig Brown's parodies is that you don't have to be familiar with who he's sending up: the rhythm tells you it's funny. I don't know what his politics are exactly, but this reads like a poke at a sort of right-wing snob.

When first I put my head around the door in the mid-1960s (dread decade!) I found myself transported back in time to another world in which delightfully old-fashioned, stately world in which aristocrats (the Duchess of Argyll; Lord Boothby; Lucky Lucan; Lord Rockingham's XI) could let their hair down in the company of high-flying socialites (Diana Dors; Jack "The Hat" McVitie; Taki Theodoracopoulos; Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion).
And somehow Annabel's has managed to retain something of that exclusive, cultivated air ever since. The great joy of the club is that one can tuck into a delicious prawn cocktail on a red velvet banquette while indulging in lively discussion with a leading commentator (the estimable Littlejohn or the wry and witty Heffer) while tapping one's toes to a catchy number from the hit parade such as my own favourite, Knock Three Times by the redoubtable Tony Orlando and Dawn.

(For the ankle-biters among you, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion was a lion in a children's TV programme in the 60s or possibly the 70s; Taki is the Spectator's gossip columnist and a convicted cocaine smuggler.) Given the first paragraph, "the estimable [Richard] Littlejohn or the wry and witty [Simon] Heffer" is laugh-out-loud funny. There's a class of middle-aged men paid handsomely to harrumph at youth, declining standards, policemen not calling them "sir' often enough, and so on, which I'm afraid Comrades Cohen and Aaronovitch seem to have joined. And this kind of thing pops their pomposity a lot better than Norman Johnson. That was good, but this is genius.

Rough justice, you may say, but it is only with a bit of harmless ragging that these types can ever be made to see sense. When Peter Hain ventured into Annabel's in a floral cravat and a pair of fawn slacks in the mid-1980s for instance, he began spouting all sorts of nonsense about helping the poor and the needy and other tiresome elements.
Need I go on? At a given signal from General Pinochet, who was Entertainments Secretary at the time, a nippy group of younger members hurled a grubby sheet over the wretched Hain, placed him in leg irons and frog-marched him to the Re-education Room behind the artificial book-case, there to be dosed-up with drugs and permitted to repent at his leisure. Result? Not a Lefty squeak from the fellow since, in fact quite the opposite.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Cohen in the Standard, week whatever it is

Not much to report from the NC column, now putting him on a page with Tristram Hunt's 200 words of "comparisons between today and history" (to the tune of the Postman Pat theme tune everyone: 'Tristram Hunt, Tristram Hunt, Tristram Hunt is an ignorant ...').

The main bit is quite good; a few cutting remarks about the fact that firemen appearing at 7/7 memorial services have been told to shut up about the fact that their stations are being closed down. Nick is showing a few signs of paranoia and repeating material from the Sunday Obs column about how lucky we were, pubic services etc, but it has a decent local slant and in any case the Sunday Observer column was pretty good.

The filler items are typically dire though; guvnor, those bloody great literary novels, mate, they're a bit boring to read. I prefer John Grisham meself, or the Da Vinci wotsit. Cohen also actually lifts a joke from the Daily Mail (apparently the Mail once phoned up Booker judges who'd praised Midnight's Children to ask them what happens at the end, which is a really clever idea, but reminiscing about it in the Standard years later isn't).

And then he starts giving David Mamet advice on how to write plays. Apparently, the "reinvigorated" world of political theatre is crap because it's dodging the important questions like "the moral ambiguity of their demand that a fascist dictator be left in power". Nick has temporarily forgot that his small band of Decent Leftists consist of him, Aaro, two men and a dog. And one of the men and the dog only write pseudonymously on a weblog. Nope, Nick, if you want Decentism to be recognised as a cultural force as well as a political one, you're gonna have to write the plays yourself. Come on, we know you've got a play in you. If you're stuck for a title, how about A Few Decent Men? The Good, The Bad and the Decent? All's Well That Ends With An Election In The Non-Sunni Provinces?

Further suggestions invited.

Kiss Me Quick

Interesting ... from the Evening Standard "Londoner's Diary".

FLEET Street's liberal grandees have been remarkably absent from the Tory conference in Blackpool. Where is Polly Toynbee of The Guardian? David Aaronovitch and runny-nosed Tom Baldwin of The Times? These high-minded Olympians seldom miss the chance to attend any party conderence at Bournemouth or Brighton, yet there has been no sign of them on the windswept shores of Lancashire, even though the Tories' get-together has been a lively event, ripe with news stories. Is it possible that the great minds of the Left find Blackpool a little too, well, working-class?

Dio mio Aaro! I seem to remember writing something not so long ago suggesting that the Decent Left needed to get out more. Now he's up in Las Vegas UK, and he's been so invisible in the fleshpots, bars and drinking dens that his fellow hacks think he's not there at all? Come on Dave, let your hair down. What happens in Blackpool, stays in Blackpool. We won't tell the missus, let alone the Pritkin Institute. Have some chips.


The time is twenty three years ago. The venue is a flat in North Kensington. The person trying to have a drunken slash without pissing all over the floor is me. The thing is that besides being generally fuddled, I’m also baffled by the fact that there appears to be an election leaflet taped to the cistern. It’s a leaflet on behalf of a person whom my gracious hostess obviously disapproves of. The name is…aarroonn, uh, aaaaarrroooo ,…uurrghhhh. Oh fuck. It keeps swimming in and out of focus. Anyway, he’s standing in the Communist Party interest for the presidency of the National Union of Students.

Meanwhile, a few miles to the East and a world away from the ratpit of student politics, the Conservative Party, glowing and bellicose from a splendid little war, is settling in for a long, luxurious bout of hegemony.

Them times ain't no more. It’s the Tory party now that is about as relevant as the National Union of Students. And as they convene to look for a new messiah, why look who it is who walks among them smiling benignly. It’s uurrgggghhh! It’s aarrghhhhh!. It’s Dave! By dint of extensive lunching and mighty labours on behalf of conventional wisdom he’s risen from cistern decoration to Murdoch monsignor, at large amongst an errant flock.

Do I detect a hint of vengeance in Dave’s opinions? Not at all. All is right with the world. Dave can walk amongst the Tories in the guise of Uncle Aaron, bestowing a casual blessing here, wagging a warning finger there. His gaze alights on David Cameron, a person not too dissimilar to Dave himself. A Tory perhaps, but safely wet. The kind of person you could chat to at the PTA about the wonders of Polish plumbers, full of bright ideas about this and that. A glow of recognition ensues.

A boring column for us, perhaps. But for Dave, something of an apotheosis. After all this time he has met the enemy on favourable terms, and some of them are his.

Rioja Kid

For people who don't like Tony Blair, could I suggest Tony Blair?

I think that Aaro might be a reader of this blog. There are a couple of subtle, under-the-radar hints in the latest missive (and what other type would good old Dave be in the business of giving?). First, referring to himself as "Uncle Aaron"; this is close enough to "Aaro" as you need. Second, I think that the reference to " the side of untaxed millionaires, heartless garage owners and Chris Woodhead" is a coded shout-out. We've been going on a little bit on this blog (or at least I have) about Ms Melanie Phillips and her strange journey from the bruschetta-munching Left to the odder bit of the Right. Now people with fewer grey hairs and trimmer waistlines than the AW posse would be forgiven for thinking that Mel went Mad over issues of Middle East policy, because the general theme that soft-left voters in the UK are the most anti-Semitic people in the world is her main theme these days. However, that ain't so. Melanie's journey began with the book "All Must Have Prizes", which was a heartfelt rant about egalitarianism in education policy which came about as the result of a friendship she'd developed with the then Chief Inspector of Schools, Chris Woodhead (a friendship which, IIRC, survived revelations about the unusual circumstances of Mr Woodhead's departure from full-time teaching, circumstances which could have caused a cynic to suspect he'd been shagging a sixth-former). We've (by which I mean, I've) been suggesting that Nick Cohen is heading down the same route with his screeds about grammar schools, and I think that with this otherwise inexplicable jibe, Decent Dave is providing "Uncle Aaron's Advice Column" to his younger and more headstrong ex-colleague, reminding Nasty Nick that he is indeed getting himself on the same side as the unspeakable cunt Woodhead.

Any road up, enough of this bollocks, Bruschettaboy, what was the Tuesday Aaronovitch col like? Well … it was an example of the genre. To be honest, my heart sank with the opening paragraphs and I moaned to myself "oh fuck no, he's doing funnies this week". But in fairness, not all of the jokes are as bad as the first one and Aaro actually does remind us that when he wants to be he's a good writer; Sir Simon Jenkins would certainly sell a bollock to be able to write a sentence like "He has the accent of his class, and when he talked about the poor his eyebrows created the shallow V of toff earnestness, often seen when Royalty visited bombed-out Cockneys during the war". As an example of the columnist's art I would classify this week's as better than workmanlike. As an example of Aaronovitchism, however, it's a perfect example; it's got all of the characteristic twitches in it which lead him infallibly in the wrong political direction.

We've got the trademark DA insouciance about honesty in politicians:

" He didn’t say much, being for the moment constrained by collective
responsibility … It was what happened after he sat down that was so interesting
[Michael Gove got up on his hind legs and spoke, so this is presumably
"interesting" meaning "boring", like rappers saying "bad" when they mean "good"
–BB ] … And the implication was that these were all Cameronian policies that
David was not yet in a position to advocate".
This is "liberal optimism" all over again. Vote for the guy who says he's going to do X on the basis that you really like the idea of Y and he might be lying. The terrible thing is that I don't think Aaro realises that this is ridiculous.

We've got the innocence about economics that marked last week's col, too. If you think about it, Michael Gove's apparent proposal for a " system of school vouchers, 'weighted emphatically in favour of the poorest'" doesn't make any sense at all if you interpret it in the way in which Aaro wants to. Either you're going to transfer a lot of resources from the middle-class and the rich into educating the poor, or you're not. The Conservative Party aren't, and Aaro knows it. So, therefore, the "system of school vouchers", if and when it arrives, won't be "weighted emphatically in favour of the poorest" in any meaningful way at all. What has happened here, as with the fanfaraw about globalisation last week and a few other bits and pieces in past Aaro columns on economic policy, is that he's heard someone talking about "markets" and immediately his eyes have glazed over and his critical facilities have deserted him. There is a facial expression which is characteristic of a lifelong socialist listening credulously to miraculous claims about the power of markets, but I'm not as good a writer as Aaro so I can't describe it for you. As with Cohen's fixation on "cultural power", I think that this inferiority complex of the modern Left when faced with ideas that were known by Thatcherites to be stupid in the Thatcher years dates back to the Hutton-era Observer, "The State We're In" and thence back to Giddens' Third Way and the birth of New Labour itself. Maybe for a Christmas special I'll dig back into the archives and write a piece on the sociology of Hutton's Observer, because I suspect that there we will find the roots of Decentism. For the minute, I will remind readers disposed to give the benefit of the doubt in the same way that Aaro did that the Conservative Party was in power for eighteen years between 1979-1997 and dominated by free-marketeers for almost all that period. If there was a single Adam Smith Institute idea that wasn't implemented then, it's because it was absolutely unworkable.

And finally we've got what I regard as the psychological core of Aaronovitchism; rampant neophilia. Dave says it in practically as many words; he's not endorsing David Cameron for any reason to do with British politics; he's endorsing him because he's young. The vital forces, the relentless urge to action rather than inaction, all those nebulous things that Tony Blair exemplified in his speech about the "Forces Of Conservatism" (given Dave's own status as liberal journalism's Mr Asbo, by the way, it is a bit rich of him to take the piss out of anyone else for "wanting to go back to a time when nice young women didn't drink"). We've banged on in the past about the plain fact that this is opinion journalism as midlife crisis by proxy, but it's interesting to see what sort of policies it has led Dave to.

And the answer to that is that Aaronovitchist Decentism, unlike the Cohenist strand, is fundamentally an aesthetic politics. The Britain that he wants to live in doesn't have any particular strong politics to it; it's just a country at the Northern end of Europe with booming house prices and a youngish, slightly pushy, slightly posh chap with a few kids in nappies, forcing law after law after new law through Parliament like a sausage factory, constantly remaking the Constitution but always leaving it the same. In other words, it's the politics of Britpop. The trouble with this is that we are boats against the current, and the attractive green light of 1998 recedes further into the past every year. One day hooded tops will be as ridiculous as crinolines, but it's not obvious that Dave's vision will have changed. The forces of conservatism, like middle aged spread, have a way of catching up on you.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Reach Out To The Left Week OMG!!!

Well indeed, it had to happen and there it is in cold newsprint! Reach Out To The Left Week! Admittedly, last week was also kindasorta ROTTLW for Nicko, because it was talking about giving more money to criminal defence barristers, among whom bien-pensant bruschettamunchers are pretty well represented (by the way, why was Nicko so wound up about barristers? Most of the criminal defence work in the UK is dealt with in magistrates' courts and done by solicitors. Next time you're in the cells for drunk 'n' disorderly, ask the constable to bring you a barrister and see how far you get). But any road up, this week there is clear blue water between Tweedledumb and Tweedledangerous; while Aaro is crying havoc for the new global economy and fuck you lot, Nick is thumping the table for the public sector ethos and redistribution of wealth. Stone the crows. Are we satisfied now? Not really.

The thing is (and in my opinion, the little filler-cum-joke piece is actually a lot more interesting than the big "hands off the NHS"; in a man's unconsidered afterthoughts you see his true opinions), as my colleague below says, Nick's heart is in the right place. His head, however, is in a quite strange place, and in my opinion it is heading down a trail already blazed by a previous incumbent of the inside back page opinion col of the Observer, one Ms Melanie Phillips.

The tell tale sign is that the old lefty rage against injustice is still alive and well, but the selection of targets to direct it against is bizarre. Have a close read of the class structure bit. It builds and builds until the true villain is revealed ... it's the BBC and the British Museum! They're the ones holding the brother man down. What the hell? While browsing through the Business section looking for the Harry's Place obituary, Nick might notice that there are lots of people named in there who are hardly ever metioned on blogs, but who are none the less considered important enough to have a whole section of the newspaper written about them. Funny that, you might almost think that there were a few members of the power elite who didn't buy the Guardian on a Wednesday for the recruitment ads.

The obvious explanation here is that this is columnism as sado-masochism, the pleasurable frisson of telling a group of people that they, themselves, despite appearances, are responsible for all the troubles of the world. But that's not really plausible. Even in a filler article, for a man to write the sentence "They fail to notice that the best protection for elites is to pretend they don't exist", and then walk away from his keyboard content in the knowledge that he's fingered the guilty men at the BBC and the British Museum, is something that requires explanation. And I think that the explanation lies in the phrase "cultural power" in the last paragraph.

Back in the Will Hutton days, the Observer used to be quite keen on publishing a list called the "Power 500". It was a sort of lineal descendant of Anthony Sampson's "Who Runs Britain" and it was wildly eccentric. I used to have a fair old laugh every year it came out when Eddie George was ranked twenty places below Ginger Spice, or the chief exec of Shell was neck and neck with Gazza. And the reason for these strange assessments was that everyone's ranking was set on the basis of a mark out of 20, which was in turn made up of marks out of five for political power, economic power, cultural power and media power (christ I can remember this shit off the top of my head ten years later). Astute readers will notice that the last two categories are a) exactly the same thing and b) bollocks. But this is the thing; the Observer newspaper, where Nick Cohen has spent the majority of his working life, has a long tradition of reifying something called "cultural power" and believing it to be as important as the real kind.

There is of course a possible reading of this piece in which the cultural elite (and I presume that Nick would include a wider variety of media organisations among the possessors of "cultural power", though the fact he only mentions the BBC and the British Museum is as they say, no coincidence) are only guilty of covering up for the real conspirators and I suppose that it is to this saner interpretation that he would retreat if challenged. But then why not write a column naming the guilty men and relegate their toadies in the media to a sidebar? Why focus on publicly owned media rather than, say, Rupert Murdoch? The priorities are all skewed. This piece makes a lot more sense on the assumption that Nick really does believe that the problems of the world are being caused by the fact that the culturemakers are making the wrong culture.

It all fits. Iraq is to hell because the indecent left is giving publicity and succour to Zarqawi. The Tube got bombed because the newspapers give too much of a hearing to al-Qaradawi. Education is all to hell because the liberals won't let councils bring back grammar schools. This is a version of things in which a small group of people in for the most part underpaid jobs in the public sector or in a public service broadcaster, subscribing to a single newspaper with an audited circulation of less than three hundred thousand, control the world.

There is real clear blue water here and I don't know whether Decentism will survive as a political movement. While some of their cadres, like Aaro are returning to strict party-line Blairism, Nick (and a few years on from him, Mel) appear to be on the road to reinventing a twentyfirst century version of the socialism of fools.

Harry's Place RIP

I see from the Observer business section that Harry's Place is no more. Shame. I also note that neither Dave nor Nick have mentioned Iraq recently. Maybe Harry Dave and Nick feel that the chaos resulting from the "liberal intervention" is now such that their optimistic take on the war would sound increasingly offensive.

Norman Johnson

I know that Norm is not a watchee but I had to alert non Guardian readers to his Saturday column. He used the whole piece in a bizarre attempt at character asassination of Walter Wolfgang. Read it it's on the web. Norm needs help.

Update, by bruschettaboy: Do try to keep up, double-o seven. The "Norman (as in Geras)" "Johnson (as in Alan)" column is a piss-take of the Decent Left by the Guardian staff. I suspect that they actually wanted to call it "David Cohen", but that is actually the name of a rather good journalist who works for the Standard.

Aaro on the Sofa

Dave did the papers thing on Sunday AM (or Breakfast with Marr) BBC1 this morning. He has lost a lot of weight, and actually looks quite healthy.

The papers review can be fun if the guests have any sparkle, but poor Dave (representing, I think, 'the left') was beached next to "royal biographer" Sarah somebody (representing, I think, 'the right') who didn't have much at all to say, apart from some very old story about someone you've never heard of, who is flogging some letters on eBay which reveal something about Camilla Horse-Face (except that everyone involved, the recipient(s) of the letters and the bloke selling them all knew, so not much to reveal really). David sat very still while she wittered about how interesting this was, but I was crying out for him to interject with something on the lines of "It's not interesting at all."

Everyone seems to sit very still on the programme; it's like they put something in the coffee, like whatever neurochemical it is which keeps you semi-paralysed when you dream. But perhaps that's just in comparison with Andrew Marr, who makes hummingbirds look narcoleptic.

But that's not why I brought you here. I don't think Dave's performance was bad exactly. He seemed awake and articulate enough, and the time slot meant he only discussed three stories, but for a supposed "heavyweight" he didn't do well either. True, Marr sort of upset the pattern by starting with Bali, and instead of asking an open question, delivered a short essay on how newspaper editors (he edited the Indy for a time) deal with big stories and no real information with a question mark at the end. Dave handled this rather well, noting that the photos did all the work in all the papers, and the background was somewhere between exiguous and non-existent, and that journalists had obviously flown from Jakarta to Bali just for the purposes of being on the spot. (That may be true for today's editions; for the rest of the week being there might count for more than just the dateline.) He had to end, as anyone would, by saying "You're exactly right."

His next contribution marked precisely what it is that annoys me about him. Not that he's a bad lad in any sense, but he does have a talent for misdirection which would make Paul Daniels proud. On David Blunkett, raised by the royal woman, because he's covered in the Sunday Times and the News of the Screws, he said, quite rightly, that an unmarried man having sex is not a story. (He said the opposite, sarcastically, but that doesn't work on a blog.) Like most points he makes in his columns, this is correct -- or, at least, I agree with it. David Blunkett's -- or anyone's private life -- is no one else's business. Usually. But Blunkett in this case is different. First, he may have given an interview to the Mirror about his new relationship. (I say "may" because he denies that he did, but see his biographer Stephen Pollard's blog for other occasions when David Blunkett denied saying things). If you tell a newspaper that you're shagging (correction: have a platonic thing with) someone, can you be surprised when others take an interest? Second, Blunkett resigned over the story that he "fast-tracked" a visa application for his then lover's nanny (whose charge was his own child), and to pursue his paternity claim over the baby she was then pregnant with -- which turned out not to be his.

Then there are the stories themselves. Blunkett wants baby with his new girlfriend in the ST. Not really of much interest, as DA says. But the Murdoch stablemate, the NoTW has BLUNKETT BLONDE'S SECRET LOVER (the pictures of "secret passionate dates" show a couple coming out of Tesco). In itself, trivial. In contrast, well, something.

I've forgotten the third thing now, and the video of the programme isn't up yet. But this seems to be typical DA to me. The art is the obvious truth in the service of a lie.

Sense and nonsense in Nick Cohen

Aargh! I kind of like Nick Cohen. I sense that he's often abrasive in company, but so am I. And, not for the last time, the point he's arguing for is both valid and self-consistent. It's just that ... Aargh!

Take today's Hands off the NHS. I didn't read the title originally; I just plunged into the text. He seems to be going somewhere about luck and the July bombings. Is he going to do the atheist thing? Or about the solidity of British society and the feebleness of fanaticism against it? No. In sum, he says, the NHS handled the bomb victims very well.

But the strongest impression I got was of a sense of the unity of the NHS; how, when the chips are down, everyone is on the same side and shares the same public-service ethic.
It is this unity which the political class is trying to destroy.

It's not that that's wrong. Both sentences are true. The problem is that on 11 September, 2001, everyone behaved very well in New York. And most of their healthcare is private. Doctors in any sector have to obey the Hippocratic oath. Everyone "was on the same side" after the Twin Towers fell, whether or not they'd worked for rival companies. I think reforms of the NHS may very well be a bad thing; but I doubt that they will impede the unconscious decency of the vast majority of citizens.

It's a good rule never to trust a consensus. Unanimity takes years to form, and by the time everyone who is anyone is in agreement, the world they think they are confronting has moved on.

Again, Nick has a general truth -- "the world they think they are confronting has moved on" -- but this is true of every situation. It's a cliche in war, for example, that you always prepare to fight the last one. He does miss the fact that the consensus among "everyone who is anyone" is more a product of selective promotion that persuasion.

Still, Nick can produce an explosive paragraph.

If you go for half-measures, you end up with monstrosities such as John Birt's BBC, whose administrative costs shot up by £140 million as accountants tried to create an artificial price mechanism for his phoney internal market; or Railtrack, where shareholders' expectations that they could suck on the public teat forever became so ingrained they sued the government when it belatedly stopped the milking of the taxpayers.

His damning of the "assorted modernisers" "at the Labour conference in Brighton" is neat as well, but his conclusion just happens to be incorrect.

The smart business move for everyone will be to concentrate on simple surgery with guaranteed income flows, and keep away from complicated and unpredictable areas of medicine -- geriatrics, mental health and, indeed, accident and emergency.

But these things exist in the private sector in the US. I think the government will screw up massively, but these particular predictions will not come about.

Nick tries sarcasm in his second (filler?) piece -- It's good to see that the old class structure is alive and flourishing, but like everyone else who's written on this misses two possibly non-trivial factors.

1) Social class may be related to intelligence (we don't need a definition of intelligence, such as IQ for this). Before the 50s, there were bright people locked in the working class. In the 50s and 60s they went to university and got middle class jobs. They had smart children (just as their parents had). These didn't change class because they started middle class. There still is some social mobility, but there's less, because those who would move because of talent, largely have. (I'm not saying I believe this, merely that it's a possible explanation.)

2) The working class is now smaller than the middle class: in the pre-war years, there were far more blue-collar workers. Now there is a slight majority of white-collar workers. So in the old days, there was a large population who could move: and it only took a small percentage of them to make a difference to the middle classes. This is no longer the case.

His heart is in the right place, though.