Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Fish in a barrel part deux

I've just realised that the "serious analysis" I was proposing of Tuesday's Aaro basically consisted of pasting the final paragraph:

"In this situation, to ask the State to solve these problems is to ask it to bring order into our most private chaos, to intervene in a million mini-Balkans. It can try, but it will never look good. "

and going "hahahaha, I'll take 'words that begin with I' for £50 please Bob". C'mon, Aaro, it really is looking like we're going to get out pretty soon. Do the big mea-culpa-but-you-a-culpa-much-worse piece and you won't have to bother with these circumlocutions. "mini-Balkans" indeed for shame.

There is the making of a political philosophy here; Aaro is heading toward a sort of Aaro Agonistes version of small-state neoliberalism. The vulnerability, the fallibility, the human condition is tragic and fat, so we mustn't blame the government for its fuckups we must just lower our own expectations. Actually when you put it that way it's clearly got nothing to do with libertarianism; it's just the soft bigotry of low expectations applied to sufficiently aesthetically appealing governments.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Fish in a barrel, I tell you

More on the actual analysis of the (quite substantial and IMO quite obvious) subtext of this one later but I couldn't resist this. Aaro gets didactic and decides to patronise us all by showing us how to deal with numbers in news stories:

Five-sixths of all the men who felt strongly enough about the possible paternity of their children that they went for tests found out that their suspicions were unfounded. That is 84 per cent.

Five divided by six is 0.8333. That's 83 per cent, not 84. The actual figure (based on 3034 successful challenges out of 15909 tests) is 81%. I suspect that what Aaro has done is pick up the factoid "nearly one-sixth", convert 1/6 to a decimal on his calculator (0.166667) and subtract 16 from 100 to get 84. Sloppy work, D minus, see me after class. As Dave sez:

THERE IS AN iron rule for big stories involving percentages: always reverse them

That's the "iron rule". The "golden rule" is get the fucking numbers right first, softlad.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Dave's mentor was Brian Walden apparently. Not sure what this means, really; just a piece of nerdy completism and an excuse to mock the way Walden talks.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Business supplement

RK has Aaro nailed on this week's; I was ironically, overseas as part of the global spherical flat world economy, but I had time to jot down these supplementary notes.

1. Fill in the missing words in this sentence “David -------, the young, vital, vivacious pushy chap who Aaro has been shilling for like a carnival barker for the last three weeks, was the author of the 2004 Tory manifesto which called for a withdrawal from the UN Convention on Refugees and for ‘controlled immigration’ and as recently as two weeks ago on Newsnight said he still believed in both.

2. Nurses are not “semi-skilled workers”. Aaro twice (in paragraphs 5 and 6) sets up a rhetorical question about “semi-skilled labour” and gives a rhetorical answer about nurses. Good luck at your next arse checkup, Dave.

3. I am guessing that the “Any Questions-type session in a local cinema” where Dave had a “fantastic revelation” a few weeks ago was “Socialism 2005”?

4. “Globalisation”, “Outsourcing” and “Immigration” are not synonyms. Nor is "importation of cheap labour" synonymous with any of the three of them.

5. Call me Mr. Pedantic, but while it is true that the TUC was against Jewish immigration in 1905, it is not against immigration now. They are against outsourcing, but that is not the same thing. In fact, the TUC (which last time I checked was on "the left") has precisely the same policy as the RSA report Dave endorses, which is "in favour of immigration, with safeguards against the exploitation of migrant labour".

6. Moldova has always had a very high proportion of its population working abroad (pre-1990, mainly in other USSR Republics). It is famous for exporting "its wine and its women", so everything you suspect about this factoid is quite likely true (actually most of the overseas workforce are builders and such working in Romania and the Ukraine, but they are not likely to be sending many hard-currency remittances home).

7. Oh yeh, Moldova does not have a growth rate of "7% per annum". It was 7.2% in 2002, but 6.3% for 2003, 6.8% for 2004. Neighbouring Romania grew at 8.1% in the same period. Moldova has 80% of its population below the poverty line. In general, the sonorous phrase "per annum" is not used when discussing GDP growth figures because they change from year to year.

Dave really should fucking give up on his attempts to do economics, and particularly to try and tar people as racists for understanding the issues better than he does. The TUC is against "imported cheap labour" because it's cheap, not because it's imported, and a simple phone call could have confirmed this. Similarly, The Blessed Polly has done enough hard time and hard work to deserve better than Aaro's snidey little cheapshot, and her point that we're trying to build an Olympic village on the cheap and losing about half of the regional stimulus effect that helped sell it to the locals is a good one.

It's not even the case that he's learning. In fact the opposite is true; as time passes, Dave knows less. When he was in the CPGB he could presumably have quoted you chapter and verse about Marx's own rather subtle views on free trade (basically that it is both a way in which the bourgeoisie make different parts of the working class compete against each other, which is bad, and a progressive, revolutionary force which breaks up national boundaries, which is good). Even six months ago he was aware that there was something a bit wrong with asking the citizens of a democratic country to compete on average labour costs with the People's Republic of China, though I notice it took a bit of whining by the British Chamber of Commerce to make him notice it even then. But the current incarnation is just silly, warmed-over "the globe is becoming more global, therefore global capital is kind" neoliberalism of a vintage that even The Economist would be embarrassed by. The implications of the current Cameronite incarnation of Decent Dave are that the world is changing, and the working class must bear the entire cost of this change (possibly to have it handed back to them in the form of tax-funded "public services", thanks a fucking million). Before he starts out on any unholy alliance with "neoliberals of the market kind", Dave ought to learn a couple of things about them because to be honest their views on such things as health and safety, protection from unfair dismissal, collective wage bargaining and so on, are not very "socially progressive", which is what Dave hopes he is. The LSE does a pretty good summer school.

Murray Kempton watch

Or not. There wouldn't be much point, since he's dead. But he did do quite a bit of watching oin his time. This is from his book Part of our Time and may have some relevance to this little project we've got going here.

The night before the feast of St Valentine, 1953, his friends tendered JB Matthews a dinner at the Sert Room of the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria…There came Ben Mandel, former business manager of the Daily Worker; Max Eastmann of the old Masses; George Sokolsky, flame of the anarchist segment of the Columbia University student body before World War 1; Eugene Lyons, rapt biographer of first Sacco and Vanzetti and then of Herbert Hoover; Harvey Matusow, former social activities director of the Communist Camp Unity; Fred J Schlink, co-author of Partners in Plunder, and a dozen others who had lost the way and found it again. Howard Rushmore, who learned about entertainment at the Daily Worker, handled the arrangements…

And there came, as chief among them, United States Senator Joseph R McCarthy.

If you leave the left because the left leaves you, where does that leave you? This is more for Nick's benefit than Dave's. Aaro's far too smart to let his enthusiasms and discouragements blow him into dubious harbours.

Rioja Kid

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Aaro in the mist

Who reads the Times? I don’t have an image of a typical Times reader, in the sense that I have one of a Guardianista or Telegraph reader. These might be caricatures, but at least they give the eager columnist a sense of an audience out there. I think Dave’s struggling too.

THESE ARE THE strangest of times. Liberal interventionists lie down with neoconservatives, hardline Marxists make awkward love to religious fundamentalists, the Tory best hope is a Blairite and Ariel Sharon founds his own centre party. It reminds me of those TV home video shows, full of cheeky mice playing with tolerant cats. This is what globalisation really does, it changes the arguments.

Globalisation caused the war in Iraq and led Ariel Sharon to found his own party? How’d that work, exactly? I think Dave’s having the same trouble I have with defining his readers. Let’s take a hack at it. A Times reader is…no, it’s foggy…hang on…something to do with process management, maybe? Anyway, I’m pretty sure he just takes a half hour prêt a manger break to scan the op ed pages. “The conventional wisdom” he asks himself nervously. “Is it still wise?...why, yes, so it is. Phew!” And then it’s back to value engineering the project.

Now this is just fine in theory. Aaro’s right where he should be in his long waddle through the institutions. But there’s no give in this audience, no laughs and no heckling. They just sit there, waiting to be told that all’s basically right with their world.

This tends to leave Aaro a bit hesitant. He needs something big and general – a kind of ASDA variation on Timothy Garton Ash (as someone here once commented). Right, you can hear him saying to himself. Globalisation. That’s a good thing. Let’s start with how globalization is a good thing. It changes things. It changes everything. It changes any old thing. It changes arguments.

OK, sorted. We’re part of the cool kids club. We know that the arguments have changed. From what, to what and by what agency? Hey, if you have to ask, you’ll never know. Anyway, I’d better tell them I’m not a social democrat type anymore.

And this is the next weird alliance — that of neoliberals of the market kind, and social progressives, which is what I hope I am.

See? I’m on your side. I mean I think it’s your side. Hey it’s our side. And I’ll just go ahead and prove it. Those old fashioned social democrats are just Daily Mail style reverse racists. They don’t like foreigners taking their jobs. I’ll prove it by padding the whole of the rest of my column out with copious quotes from a report by an obscure group in favour of migration. As market neoliberals, you might approve of labour arbitrage reducing the cost of your goods and services. As a social progressive, I think cheap au pairs and Moldovan women enslaved into prostitution are cool, funky and just show how open and tolerant we all are. Will this do? Is there anyone out there?

Rioja Kid

Friday, November 18, 2005

get well soon

Nick is sick (presumably it's something quite nasty as the Standard col didn't appear this week), and rerunning things from the archives. The fact that he's ill doesn't make his piece in the New Humanist about Paul Berman any better, but we actually quite like the old curmudgeon and he has our best wishes for a speedy recovery.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The future belongs to the editors of anthologies

Not much to say about this week's; opinions differ (see comments below), but I find it hard to read it other than as a missive from Dave to his younger, more hot-headed protege and erstwhile deskmate, Nick. Sort of like Luke and Obi-Wan in the Decent version of "The Empire Strikes Back". Exhibit One would obviously be "good, sensible people are beginning to say stupid things about Islam" (which NC backed up with this slightly incoherent outburst, directed at one of the bruschettaboys), although it is hardly the only example of the genre. Exhibit Two is that no sane man could refer to Rod Liddle as someone "who I esteem as a companion"; either the Times subs have misspelt "cunt" or this is a coded reference to Nick. Dave has noticed that the Spectator is heading damnably close to outright fascism with respect to nos amis les Muslims; Nick is approvingly quoting Theodore Dalrymple. While it might be possible to argue that Nick's vision (in the Handsworth article linked above) of a Britain divided into warring ethnic camps by the Blair/Liberuls axis of "faith schools", is saner than Bat Ye'Or's Eurabia, it isn't and Dave is clever enough to see that it isn't. All in all I think that the circumstantial evidence is quite strong here.

But that isn't what struck me. I ended up taking most note of one of the asides, toward the end, after Dave had written his column, made his point and had nothing else to do for 100 words than to hang around like a chav in a hoodie, throwing bits of litter at passing liberals. So we have:

the relativism of sections of the intelligentsia on the one hand, who cannot say the words “Western democracy” without a sneer

"Cannot say the words 'Western democracy' without a sneer". It's a lift from Orwell of course; I can't be bothered to do the heavy work of finding the exact reference, and maybe those exact words don't appear in that exact order in any of Saint George's pubished output, but the sentiment is definitely from that source, so it's a lift just like "play it again, Sam" is a lift from Casablanca. I'm sure any reasonably well-educated reader will have picked up the reference and it's a nice turn of phrase, except ...

... except that it's not really representative at all. As we know, Aaro came to Orwell late in life, and thus almost certainly through the Penguin Collected Essays. Which is not a criticism of Aaro; how the hell else would one read Orwell these days? Except that ...

Well except that, because of long hours in a reference library with a copy of the unabridged complete works by my elbow to break the tedium, I happen to know that the Penguin edition is really very unrepresentative of Orwell's politics. The most famous collection of Orwell's writings, it contains two or three references to the kind of people who can't say "western democracy" without a sneer. If it was all you read, you'd find it hard to understand why Orwell was, actually a Communist. In actual fact, he spent a lot more of his time, effort and written work talking about the much greater danger posed by the kind of people who can't say "Western democracy" with a sneer. By chance (or rather, not by chance; this sort of thing kept happening to Orwell and he complained about it throughout his life and of course, it's the main theme of 1984), these bits didn't end up in the mass market paperback that got sold to American schools.

It just makes me think, what will history make of us? If someone puts together a Collected Columns of David Aaronovitch in fifty years time, will any of us recognise the Aaro of 2005 in it? Or conversely, if we were operating George Orwell Watch back in the 1930s and 40s, what kind of a Watch would it be?

.... anyway, enough of that. Did anyone manage to listen to Aaro on Resonance FM? Did he mention our blog? I was planning to listen, but they were playing Morton Feldman's string quartet and I nodded off during the quiet bit before the interval (joke).

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Dave on Tony Blair

As you can see here, Dave has done a bit on how Blair ought to resign. To be frank, it was too damnably depressing to write about, which is why I have just linked to this (excellent) discussion of it in our comments threads. (there is also a good anonymous comment here). I would just add that Dave, as I have mentioned before, can't do economics, not even a little bit. His entire thesis is that "there will be no extra money for public services because Gordon has fucked the economy, so more reform is the only way to get things to improve". This would only be the case if it were true that the PFI and its cognates were a cheaper way of getting things done than government provision. Notoriously, the opposite is the case.

I am very worried indeed that Dave is getting his economics advice from Mr Oliver Kamm (the other clue is that OK is the only other person in the world who cares about the 1983 Labour Manifesto as if it were a political force alive and well in the world today). Kamm acts like he knows what he's talking about, but, it shall suffice to say, he doesn't.

Ken Livingstone, poisoner of youth

I don’t know if you could properly call it a "seal of Dacre". Maybe a "chamber of Phillips" is better. Either way, when you start making grandiloquent predictions that such and such a measure can’t go forward because the middle classes simply won’t stand for it you’re certainly entering a dank and cavernous realm of some sort:

As new Labour ought to know, there is no force on earth as determined as the British middle class when its blood is up. It has the power to pummel this government and, indeed, the London Olympics.

Threatening but meaningless. What specifically are the middle classes going to do if junk food companies sponsor the Olympics? “I’m not voting for political party X because company y is involved in a pharmaceutical product trial?” Don’t see it somehow.

But perhaps I’m looking through the wrong end of the telescope here. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that Nick’s subjects are pretexts from which to hang his current obsessions, to wit:

The liberal left is: anti-semitic, writes bad plays, disagrees with me, wallows in a general state of intellectual treachery.

Segregation is bad. All public services should be for everyone.

Ken Livingstone is friendly with a Muslim cleric of whom I disapprove. All his works are therefore of the devil and he must be condemned at every opportunity.

For a standard Nick column, perm any two from the above three. Aside from a brief hack at the segregation business, it’s item number three that gets an extended outing here. Let’s imagine the genesis of the column as follows. This week, I wish to write about how Ken Livingston is a terrible man. He hasn’t actually associated with any bearded religious reactionaries this week, so I can’t go at it directly. But he is behind the Olympic bid. And the Olympics is probably going to get sponsored by junk food companies. Therefore Ken Livingstone is poisoning your children. Isn’t that just typical of a chum of the fiendish al-Qaradawi? See how it all fits together.

Columnist purses lips and nods significantly, convinced that he’s managed to manipulate woolly minded liberals to get behind his jihad. Readers who don’t share his obsessions wonder vaguely what the point of column was.

Rioja Kid

Thursday, November 10, 2005

time for a periodic "nice one fella" award

Aaro, on the French riots. Commendably, Aaro resists the urge to hitch an old hobby-horse to the latest thing in the news (*cough*nickcohen*cough*) and gets the issue more or less right.

One minor point; someone really ought to tell Dave that he can't do economics. I've mentioned this before. He really gets out of his depth, and just copies sonorous, deep-sounding soft-right platitudes (*cough*oliverkamm*cough*).

This is not the place for a discussion of how France might cure itself of its economic malaise. It could be a coincidence that French companies pay the equivalent of 28 per cent of the average salary in payroll taxes, compared with 9 per cent in Britain, but one doubts it

Bollocks. In 1981, Britain had the riots and we had the unemployment, including levels of "twice the national average" and "up to forty per cent" in "poor areas" (unemployment is often highest in the poor areas; economists and statisticians have proved to their own satisfaction that being poor makes you more likely to be unemployed). Many of which were "ethnic ghettoes". In a recession, people are unemployed. Unemployment is rarely evenly distributed over the country; it is found in bunches.

There is no implied criticism of Aaro here as this is a widespread heap of bollocks which has been repeated in all sorts of other places. Just making the point because I'm irritated by it really.

Department of "if you say so"

Nick, from the Standard column (the funny thing about writing "we shouldn't appease China" columns is that half an hour after you've finished one, you feel like another)

"To me the liberties of this country are what make this country worth defending, so I oppose his plans to extend police detention powers.

But I do so modestly and without self-righteousness."

As ever Nick, as ever.

PS: is it me, or is Nick going to the theatre an awful lot? This week, "The trouble was the poor actors gave their all to rows of empty seats. The 7/7 bombings are still hurting the West End".

This is only funny if you are a dedicated Watcher and know that Nick has spent the last god knows how many columns claiming that "modern political theatre is moribund because it is written by Stoppers etc etc", while reviewing plays that have been packed to the gunnales.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Possibly OT Wednesday Forecast

I haven't a clue where Dave lives, though I suspect Hamstead (I don't know why), but Nick Cohen has mentioned Islington more than once. Assuming that columnists regard the truth as just as malleable as estate agents, that means somewhere north and perhaps east a bit of the Square Mile. Whatever, the odds should be good that his MP is listed here: Full list of Labour rebels. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) and Emily Thornberry (Islington South & Finsbury) being the most likely candidates, but Diane Abbott (Hackney North & Stoke Newington) and Frank Dobson (Holborn & St Pancras) are there too, which pretty much covers the bruschetta eating latitudes.

Can we expect a "Garn! my elected representative is an enemy of freedom!" This *is* Blair's first defeat -- so it is a real political story. It's over the response to terrorism which both our boys have covered extensively, and may be the issue which defines this parliamentary term and Blair's legacy. And as much as any of us are responsible for our MPs being in their seats, Nick is pretty much bound to have put his cross against one of those rebel's names back in May.

In other news, Galloway bunked off again. Right, prison's too good for him.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The truth has got its boots on, hip hip hip hip hurray

But sadly, the lie that "the Guardian ran a web debate saying 'Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch are enough to turn a good man anti-Semitic'" is already half way round the world. It still isn't true and Glover is just the latest sucker on the list.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

David Aaronovitch: A life.

From the "Sunday Independent" review item on Dave's "The Vikings": "all I know about David Aaronovitch is that he is an overweight ex-communist who was in favour of the Gulf war and until recently had a column in The Guardian". Sic transit gloria mundi.

PLUS! Moderately* amusing caption competition. Using your skill and judgement, see if you can find something funny to say about this. They're supposed to be dancing (according to the caption on the previous photo). I've seen more life and general "Wa-Hey!" at an Amish funeral. On the subject of "overweight" our man looks like a Kenyan athlete next to Einar Borgfjord, now there's a lad you wouldn't like to meet when he's wearing a horned helmet and carrying a two-headed axe.
* Possibly mildly amusing or unamusing caption competition, but I don't believe that the Trades Description Act applies to blogs. Anyway, this site is free, so you can't have your money back.

Blunkett was victim of "Gay Hussar crowd" shocker.

In his Observer column today Nick explains the Blunkett/Quinn farce as the result of demographics. Apparently London is comprised of poor people, suburban people, the New Labour Government and "plutocratic London". The last is further classified as "carnivores" (city financiers, CEO's and lawyers from the Inns of court") and herbivores (metropolitan liberals including the notorious "Gay Hussar crowd" and all employees of The Guardian/BBC/Independent/New Statesman). All the herbivores hate New Labour (Nick doesn't say why) and therefore MP's and Ministers rely on the carnivores for a social life and policy ideas (privatisation, deregulation and tax cuts). You can't blame them really can you. Oh and that Piers Morgan tried to buy drugs from Blunkett and Cherie Blair is insincere.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

So farewell then ...

So farewell then, to comments on Nick's blog. It appears to me that the comments are gone as a result of this little fiasco (also discussed in our own comments here). The situation at present is that Nick currently denies everything. I am not "tech savvy" enough to know whether this denial is credible; all I'll say for the minute is that it appears from Nick's site that shortly before comments closed down, somebody was spamming them with links to the original "Baruch Spinoza" story, which does not strike me as a particularly grown-up thing to do. I have a certain amount of sympathy here with Nick, as it is indeed one of the annoying things about having a blog that you have to maintain and provide a facility for people to disagree with you and question your integrity. I have often found that this problem can be ameliorated by not calling everyone who disagrees with you a crpyto-fascist and a cunt.

In related news, a new New Statesman column is up. Nick considers the issue of whether we should outsource torture. He concludes probably not, but hey what if there was a ticking timebomb? No wonder the Staggers loses money.

Update Saturday forecast thread! (I've just realised there is no particular reason to have the forecast thread on a Friday as Aaro no longer appears in the Guardian Weekend). I actually think that this blog fiasco will be referred to in Nick's column as it gives him a topical peg upon which to hang a load of recycled material from the Statesman column. Aaro will be appearing at Socialism 2005 next weekend, so maybe something about that? Or perhaps Galloway.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

This week's "Cohen in the Standard Watch" is brought to you by the letter "r"

There are two situations, I was always taught, when the letter r can help you avoid embarrassing yourself. First, if you're eating oysters, make sure there's an R in the month. Second, if you're using words like "safe", "wise" or "rich", try to make sure they end in an R and you're less likely to say something silly.

viz, from Nick's latest (in the context of claiming "it felt as if half the country [including, I think, David Aaronovitch - bb] was blaming Blair for the [7/7 -bb] murders. One family even refused to go to the memorial service because they believe the Iraq war led to the bombs", which Standard readers will know is basically having a go at an eleven-year-old) :

The trouble with this line of thinking is that it can swiftly slip into denial. We can forget about the strange motives that drive a cult of slaughter and self-slaughter. It's crimes aren't really our fault but the fault of our politicians. If only they were wiser, we would be safe."

Good catch on "wise", Nick but you dropped it with "safe". See:

If only our politicians were wiser, we would be safe = stupid

If only our politicians were wiser, we would be safer = sensible.

And of course, it's the second one that everyone believes. Continuing on:

I can see the appeal. With 20th century fascism and communism, as much as modern religious totalitarianism, you are dealing with psychopathic movements that are in the end beyond rational explanation

Leaving aside the fact that a rather famous chap who lived in Islington and is buried in Highgate had a good old go at "rationally explaining" communism, let's stick to Nazism, shall we? It's the perfect example of what I mean.

Why did Nazism start? Buggered if I know. Psychopathic irrationalism. On the other hand, a long time before it got going in earnest, John Maynard Keynes wrote that the Versailles Treaty in particular, and the Allied compulsion to rub the Germans' noses in it in general, were going to lead to pretty fucking serious problems in Germany. For his pains, he got called a limp-wristed sympathiser by plenty of people both stupider and more intelligent than Nick, but he was neither. This is, of course, the long term side-effects of far-left student politics. It's the hatred of the partial explanation, the lack of a big single cause that explains everything, which shows itself in the fact that Nick would rather say that there was no cause at all rather than admit that part of it was under his nose. It takes some gumption to go from saying that Stalinism was an inevitable consequence of the relations of production to saying that it can't be explained at all, but I guess that if you're on the Decent Left, gumption is what makes you

the rest? Blah blah Routemasters, blah blah Ken Livingstone blah blah grammer schools. The grammar schools bit is particularly spiteful (in fairness, this may have just been hasty writing but it does look quite mean)

I know I keep banging on about this, but Labour MPs need to learn that their refusal to allow competition from selective state schools is letting the children of the rich continue to get all the gravy

As a comprehensive bruschettaboy myself, I say spare us the fucking whingeing, you grammar school toff. It is precisely because I'm in favour of a politics that kicks away greasy poles, not attempts to scamper up them and kick away the ladder, that I am not yet prepared to accept Nick's new political categories under which I am a "pseudo-leftist" and he is not.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Have you heard? Dave's not up for Iran!

Hum it would be churlish to dwell overlong on the silly name-calling (Oh Dave, we all say silly things about nasty states when we're being diplomatic, do we have to remind you "a beautiful country perfect for a short break or longer visit"?) given that, apparently, thank God, Dave has drawn back from the brink of insanity when it comes to taking our uniquely successful gift for humanitarian war on the road to Baghdad. There is more joy in heaven at a single sinner who repents etc etc.

Although, actually, he says "I can tell readers that in my contacts with US and British officials and politicians, off the record, hush-hush and all that, I have found zero appetite for an Iranian adventure and zero expectation that the position will change". Guardian readers don't need reminding, though Times readers might, that Dave's mates in high places have sold him the occasional pup and this is not actually a guarantee that Aaro won't drop the diplomatic strategy as soon as the wind changes. But for the time being at least, let us salute the prescience of Matthew Norman's Media Diary:

AS FOR PETSY'S colleague Mark Steyn, he is now quoted by Coral as even-money favourite to be the last columnist insisting that occupying Iraq was a spiffing idea, and that it's all going too rippingly for words. A week ago, Mark and David Aaronovitch were bracketed at 7-4 joint favourites, but the odds have been changed in response to Mark's latest piece, about the scandal of White House personnel leaking the name of a CIA agent.

These are people far away of which we know nothing, seems to be Mark's argument, and let's not bother our pretty little heads with trivia such as President Bush's senior staff endangering a woman's life to punish her husband for dismissing the confection about Saddam buying uranium in Niger for the laughable cobblers it was.

It is now accepted that, whereas David might wobble slightly if the Pentagon deployed tactical nuclear weapons in the suburbs of Baghdad, Mark would not buckle in his support for Mr Bush if he took out Des Moines, Iowa with a 100 megaton warhead. A worthy favourite, and still good value if and when he goes odds-on.

It is a fact worth occasionally remembering about Aaro that he is, at heart, sane. Now how about a similar negative pledge from Nick? C'mon Nick, are you in favour of the diplomatic option in Iran? Would you agree that Iranian culture is a bit more complicated than Sharia and (worse) liberal leftism? Are you going to take another contrarian turn against the war this time? Let's be 'aving you!