Saturday, February 25, 2006

I haven’t the faintest idea

Nick's got a new blog post up: They die for your right to snort. It's a reprint of an NS article from last year, but he introduces it thus:
A couple of readers have emailed about a pargagraph that appeared in a media diary, the Indpendent’s I think, saying words to the effect of ‘ooh er missus, isn’t it odd that an Observer journalist should condemn cocaine’ and asked what on earth the writer was talking about. I haven’t the faintest idea. It read to me like a typical media in-joke that makes the commerically fatal mistake of leaving the readers out in the cold. In response to my correspondents and for what it is worth, here’s a piece from the archives which explains what I think and why.

What was the writer on about? How about The Right to be Left Alone? (Posted on the blog on "Thursday, February 16th, 2006" and I think from the London Evening Standard of two days earlier.)
IT WAS GOOD to see Bod Geldoff coming out so strongly against cocaine. On the rare occasions I’ve been to fashionable clubs, I’ve always been astonished by the hypocrisy of London’s media elite. Their drug of choice fund gangsters who terrorise Latin America. In Colombia alone, a civil war that is mainly about control of the cocaine trade has produced 400,000 refugees.

Why is it odd for an Observer journalist? Because surely he is one of "London’s media elite."
Now can we expect Nick to take the pledge against media in-jokes which make the "commerically fatal mistake of leaving the readers out in the cold"?
Anyone know what the diary entry said?
Update 12:25: after the first two comments*. Oh God, I've read the bloody thing now. I only skimmed it previously.
It’s rare for a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers to raise a moral issue that disconcerts London’s vaguely leftish upper middle class. But Sir Ian Blair, the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has managed it. He suggested that he may one day send the drug squad into the Groucho Club to arrest cocaine-raddled members and implied that cocaine use was equivalent to buying oranges from apartheid South Africa or taking a holiday in Burma.

That sounds like Ian Blair. Neither buying South African oranges or holidaying in Burma was ever a crime. If they had been, instead of reading the labels on apples, I'd be a Barclays customer, and probably a Tory by now. Cocaine use is illegal, however, so he would be within his rights to raid a place where he thinks its ingestion is going on. And, BTW, I do think Nick has a point about the means of production. Because of our current repressive laws, any drug consumption supports criminals. Legalise the lot, I say, and then we can pick and choose.
No reasonable person can doubt that the sooner Sir Ian leads a Swat team into Soho the better. Since Julie Burchill abandoned the Groucho for Brighton, the danger that the cops might haul away a writer whose work would be missed has passed.

Working this out is like converting from degrees to radians using your fingers. Is he saying that Julie B takes cocaine or not? Does he think that police raids on clubs just arrest everyone? I can't believe he thinks that. Ergo, he's saying Julie Burchill snorts coke. (I've no idea whether she does or not, of course. But I have read Tony Parson's really really bad first novel. No longer in print, thankfully.) Else why haul her away?
The most recent figures from the British Crime Survey showed 624,000 people in England and Wales had admitted taking it within the previous year, and 275,000 had admitted taking it in the previous month. The real figures are probably higher.

Love that "probably." (Didn't hear Nick use it with reference to Iraq War casualties.) Actually, I know a bit about the British Crime Survey. One clue: it's a survey. Maybe I should say that again. It asked a sample of people questions and projected their answers onto the general population. "Showed" is not the right word, Nick. It's probably a good guess, but it's a guess.
Go back to the Groucho Club and look at what can and can’t be done. You can guarantee that the customers would be appalled to find genetically modified vegetables on the menu. GM is taboo, though nobody can prove that a single consumer has suffered an untimely death -- or even an upset stomach -- after eating a GM dinner. US corporations can argue, with a great deal of hypocrisy and just a smidgen of justice, that GM’s potential to increase crop yields for the world’s growing population is being hindered by the faddism of the wealthy.

Blimey, he's single-handedly contributing to the great EU "Straw Man" mountain here. I've never been to the Groucho (they wouldn't have me; so I didn't want to join), but I've met a few creatives -- and I wouldn't guarantee anything about them. Christ, I left Greenpeace over their take on the GM thing, which I don't agree with. But "nobody can prove that a single consumer has suffered an untimely death -- or even an upset stomach -- after eating a GM dinner" is shameful misrepresentaion of the objections. I also don't smoke, and I object to others smoking while I eat, so I support the trend against smoking at dinner parties. Nick seems to confuse two things here:
Yet it is social death to put a cigarette in your mouth, not to stuff cocaine up your nose.

That's because smoking while I eat affects me, and I mind very much. Otherwise, you can stick and orange in your mouth and hang yourself from the ceiling for all I care. Nick has a couple of answers for libertarians like me.
In short, mass consumer boycotts are all very well but they rather depend on the quality of the consumer.

Yeah, bloody democracy. When the people don't deliver, dissolve them, and elect a new heroic revolutionary populace!
Easy to say, yet it’s hard for even the victims to accept full-scale legalisation. In 2003, the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez condemned the US intervention in his country’s civil war, which is as much about drugs as politics, as “imperial voracity”. He was quoted as saying that the only way out for the 400,000 refugees the conflict had produced was for the Americans to accept that they were wrong and legalise drugs. But he hastily issued a clarification. He didn’t to see criminals rewarded. “What I said is that the Colombian drama is such that, to be exact, it is not possible to imagine that an end will be put to drug-trafficking without consumption being legalised. That is the enormity of the tragedy . . . Colombians are having to suffer.”
For now, you can shrug and say that tragedy is the way of the world. But when western consumers buy fair trade Colombian coffee and follow it with a sniff of foul-trade Colombian cocaine, tragedy topples into farce. If they still want to pose as ethical consumers, they should look for the remarkably few reports in the western media that link the suffering in the poor world to the fashions of the rich.

Er, didn't he say earlier:
At £40 a gram and falling, it still is not cheap but it hardly fits Robin Williams’s old definition that “cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you make too much money” any longer. This is a drug for the many.

So is cocaine is or is cocaine isn't a drug for the rich?
I think you can smoke in the Groucho ...

Times are tight for columnists. One phone call: "Hello Groucho club? I'm Christopher Hitchens and I can no more stop smoking than bears can relieve themselves in your porcelain lavatories. I've had a few nominations to join your august institution, but really, my dear, should you prohibit me from enjoying my cigarette habit, I should say that I'd have to refuse." That would ensure a definitive answer, wouldn't it? Oh Nick thinks... well, that's good enough for me.
After that, it rather falls apart. There are two possible targets. One is consumers. But Nick doesn't seem to think that New Statesman readers are likely offenders. The other is the government. It's very simple. The more the laws, the more corrupt the state. Legalise all drugs.
Thanks to a recent Nick column, I realise that he was at Oxford in the early 80s. That makes him the same age as me. And Irvine Welsh.
Now read or see Trainspotting and tell me that heroin is the drug of the rich. Oh, say can this be Nick's own paper? Friend or foe? UK forces enter Afganistan's dark zone.
Distinguishing friend from foe can be difficult in Helmand, the lawless Afghan province that will soon be home to one of Britain's most ambitious -- and perilous -- deployments to Afghanistan since colonial times.
By next May more than 3,300 British paratroopers, backed by Apache helicopters, Harrier warplanes and a phalanx of hi-tech artillery, will start pouring in. Their mission is to impose order and facilitate development in a lost province where violence, crime and bitter tribal rivalries are part of everyday life.
Helmand has concentrated doses of Afghanistan's most worrying problems: a corrupt local government and police; vast swaths of territory under the control of the Taliban; and a fast-growing drug industry. Last year Helmand produced more poppies, the plant used to make heroin, than any other Afghan province. This year the crop is expected to double.

What's that? They increased heroin production after we invaded? The bastards!
Nothing he has written says anything other than we should legalise the lot. Then whether the police harass London dinner parties or not, they might leave smackheads in Pilton and Muirhouse alone.

*Always assuming of course that there ever will be any more.


Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

It was Ian Burrell's media diary column in the Independent, which used to be here, and which, if memory serves, suggested that Nick's recent anti-cocaine piece was run in the Standard after the Observer spiked it.

I think the implication of the piece was either that lots of people at the Observer use cocaine, or that the editors at the Observer thought that running an anti-cocaine piece wouldn't go down well with the Observer's cocaine-snorting readership. Not sure which really, and it's behind the Indy's paywall these days, anyway.

2/25/2006 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

I'm not sure how that counts as 'commercially fatal'. How many readers of the Independent will have abandoned the paper as a consequence of their media diarist's failure to explain an in-joke?

2/25/2006 10:32:00 PM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

Trivia item: the phrase "social death", which became a recurring theme of Nick's columns for the next year, made its first appearance in this col, I think.

2/26/2006 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Third week in a row of his Chris Huhne tiff, and from a man who says that writing about 'in' media jokes is commercially fatal.

Anyway couscous kid's take is how I read it first, but perhaps Nick's seeing it as saying he himself censored it? It was nice about him too.


HATS OFF TO THE Standard, however, for running Nick Cohen's outspoken attack on the sniffing, tooting, snorting and bugling double standards of the "media elite" ("A Hypocrite's Drug of Choice", 15 February). Readers of The Observer, for whom Cohen also writes, nearly benefited from a similar polemic, but - alas - an attack on the evils of cocaine inhalation was not seen as a good fit for the shiny, new-look Obs

2/26/2006 05:20:00 PM  
Anonymous rioja kid said...

My take on it was that it was a bit of sarcasm at Nick's expense, and that maybe the Observer were a bit tired of his endless vendetta against his fellow hacks.

2/27/2006 02:41:00 PM  

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