Friday, March 31, 2006

Anyone up for a Friday Forecast?

Does the peerages scandal have another week's worth in it? Will Dave finally plug his blog? Is it not past time for Nick to be gravitationally drawn back to the subject of Ken Livingstone? Can we all agree to forget about the embarrassment that was the "March for Free Expression"? Is the world ready for a long hymn of praise to Tony Blair's foreign policy vision? Or is it the week for "NHS in Crisis"?

These questions and fewer, answered in our Friday Forecast competition!

Aaro in the Jewish Chronicle

A little whimsy on the decline of the Jewish community in Sunderland and its flourishing in Hertfordshire. It is quite funny although a lot of it goes right over my head. Something makes me think that Aaro might not be so resolutely po-faced as Nick on the subject of faith schools.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Get a life ...

Some oddity in Nick's Standard col this week; does he read AW, do you think? [Update BD: now online The Queen’s Party. I know I'm the world's most tedious pedant, but why O why write "monarchical country" rather than "monarchy"? Arrgh!]

I CAN'T vouch for the truth of Belle de Jour: The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl (we might have cared about this a year ago when it came out - BB) but the rise of the "blook" (you wot? - BB) - books which come out of weblogs - should make conventional authors worry about our accuracy.

For blogs have one huge advantage over dead tree publishing. Make a mistake in a book and you have to wait until the next edition to correct it - if there is one, that is. Make a mistake on a well-read website and dozens of busybodies with nothing better to do will point it out. It's not a plesant experience, but in the end it produces better writing.

This is a common jibe launched at we Watchers; that we have no life and nothing else to do. It isn't true. Right at this very moment my beautiful wife is handing me a glass of wine and I am working on a couple of research projects for a biggish chunk of business. But I have stopped doing these things in order to pick nits with Nick Cohen's Evening Standard column. This is because I am a vain, petty man with a massive inferiority complex. I'm a Watcher because of my personality problems, not because I don't have a life.

Glad that's cleared up.

Anyway, as a professional busybody, it falls to me to point out a rather strange error in Nick's central piece (link to come when it's up on the blog; it's a bit about "poor old Cherie").

[...] From her point of view, she's burned her boats, or rather Tony has burned them for her. She was a brilliant lawyer who might have gone to the House of Lords. But the English law has no place for celebrity judges and I can't see her picking up much of a legal career once Blair's gone (emphasis added - BB)

What the hell? Ms Cherie Booth QC, head of Matrix Chambers, the most prominent human rights and employment lawyer in the UK, a Recorder in the County Court and Crown Court (ie a judge, albeit on a part time basis so as not to conflict with her legal career), can't expect to pick up many crumbs after hubby retires? Has Nick been confused by the fact that she uses her maiden name in professional life?

[...] It shouldn't be that way. We should be a mature enough country to accept that the PM's wife or husband can have a career of his or her own. But we aren't and I can't see Cherie telling Tony to give up what he and the media have given her for the sake of little or nothing in return.

Is this an elaborate joke that I'm missing, or has Nick got confused between Ms Cherie Booth QC (or for that matter Sir Denis Thatcher) and Camilla Parker Bowles?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Cheers Dave!

I'm with Dave on the substance of the smoking ban. I expect others aren't and that there'll be no Aarowatch party line. Whatever view you take on this, there should be dancing in the streets of Auchtermuchtie tonight over this:

Such people [officious coffee-bar managers] are, recognisably, the descendants of that lost — and now romanticised — breed, the little Hitlers who used to tell you that whatever it was you were doing was infringing a bylaw and that you should now get off the grass, off your bike, off the bus, off the train and generally cease to be.

Why? Certainly not because of the truth or falsity of what Dave says, but rather because he rehabilitates the use of the phrase "little Hitlers". It has become a standard trope of Decent blogging that any Nazi or Hitler comparisons are off-limits. Indeed, in possibly the worst ever argument put by a decent on the internet, one of Geras's mates once argued at Normblog that Hitler-comparisons are a species of Holocaust denial. I may not like it when my teenage kids call me a "fucking Nazi" for asking them to clean their bedrooms, but against the Decents I'll defend to the death their right to say it!

Elsewhere, Dave reminds us why the proper use of the word "incontinent" should be restricted to professional philosophers discussing Aristotle:

My bet would be on the opposite happening; smokers, like Hockney, are incontinent and often choose to have no idea of how much non-smokers dislike their habit. Who, after all, is going to tell the nation’s most celebrated painter that he stinks

Pass the colostomy bag!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Oh there were days when we were lots and lots ...

Nick's Observer latest hardly seems worth the bother. But just for completeness sake I might as well note his nasty endorsement of the British Army's griping about Norman Kember's alleged failure to thank the soldiers who rescued him. I don't know what state Nick would be in if held hostage in Baghdad for three months, but I'm not sure I'd want to be held responsible for anything I might say (or fail to) immediately after such a frightening experience. Still, Nick tells us

They may have done no good, they may have put better and braver men in danger, yet they strike me as preferable to the majority of European liberals who have sat out the conflict.

I wonder how many "better and braver men" (and women) the 101st Keyboard Division have put in danger through their endorsement of the Iraq war? Probably none, since their actual impact on decisions is zero. I'm not sure what Nick had in mind that European liberals should have done instead of "sitting out" the conflict anyway. Written letters to the Guardian? Demonstrated in Trafalgar Square?

Speaking of which, Nick doesn't appear on any of the photos I've seen of the demonstration for "freedom of expression". Was he there? Will he report next week? At least he had the good sense not to say, as Peter Tatchell did, that he would be joining "thousands", since there seem to have been even fewer than even one thousand (300 by some reports). I'm guessing that 300 splits evenly three ways: 100 decents; 100 libertarian nutters; and 100 UKIP members and far-rightists.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Labour Movement's Long, Withdrawing Roar

DA has a new post up: Twenty years after Wapping. (Apparently it's for Society Today, but their website only gives error messages; even when you try the homepage.) I did suggest that one of my co-bloggers take this as it strays toward his field. So far, however, he hasn't come back.

I think this piece is symptomatic of something. The prose, that is, the construction, the grammar, the allusions, the confidence of the jokes, is courtesy of Dave the "egghead producer". I've doubted him in the past, but that self-description was tongue-in-cheek (if perhaps a little self-inflating at the same time) and Dave can write. Take:
Two decades later, walking as a Times columnist into the same streets where the shouts echoed and the Kurosawa-like battles were enacted between lines of police and pickets, I have little sense of the politics that seemed so dominant in the mid-80s.

Although the brave, blind pickets remained outside Wapping for a full year, not only did they not stop the revolution, they failed even to slow it.

But Dave slowly descends into farce. I don't know (opinions in the comments please) if this is magnificently percipient or self-absolving wank:
The irony is, as Andrew Neill, a prime mover in the events of 1986 said recently, without the Murdoch revolution, excoriated at the time by papers such as The Guardian, the recent change in format by that paper would not have been possible. And for me the irony was that I could walk into Wapping as an employee of News International, and not feel even the slightest twinge of residual guilt. It's a different world now.

I think Neill is both right and wrong. Right in that the unions were extremely change-averse. Wrong in the assumption that there were no other ways. In the 80s, Britain and the US went through the Thatcher/Reagan economic 'revolutions'/'paradigm shifts'. Does anyone disagree with that? DA:
It was to be understood as the shifting of balance from producers to consumers and from labour to management; it was a new chapter in the class struggle.

Quite a bit of Europe (or Old Europe as Donald Rumsfeld would call it) did not. Does anyone disagree with that?
We have comments if you do.
Now look at mobile telephone services. One of the largest growth industries in the past two decades. Does anyone disagree with that? Across Europe, mobile calls and texts are incredibly cheap, and even the poorest people have mobiles now. Not so in the US. Does anyone disagree with that?
The point I hope to make is that I agree with Dave that there have been large changes, but they weren't occasioned solely by the events at Wapping and elsewhere (though these may have helped). Across Europe, and much of the world, newspapers have modernised in the wake of the Guardian. If Dave's thesis were right, Thatcherist/Reaganite countries would be ahead of the rest in the technology sectors which required the overthrow of "outmoded" methods. I contend that this is demonstrably untrue. The technical revolutions would have happened anyway (except where there are powerful interests against their doing so, as in the US).
So far, Dave's written four paragraphs of fluent, intelligent prose (though I disagree with his thesis). He then must have taken a tea break or something, because he drops from an A/A+ essay to a B.
My children regard my description of the media world of my own childhood as being like the famous Yorkshiremen comedy skit of the 60s - an exaggeration of cultural deprivation.

This is both poorer writing (instead of the concrete: the Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen sketch; we have the above) and a mis-representation -- the joke isn't reducible to "cultural deprivation": it's as much about pathetic male one-upmanship.
The following paragraph is such a mess that I don't know where to begin. He was writing about 1986; now he feels free to zip back and forth between any well-known media events of the first two Thatcher governments.
The newspaper world was slightly different, with the triumphant Sun proclaiming "Gotcha!", breasts on page three and the same old gently declining broadsheets.

"Gotcha" was of course 1982. Breasts had been on page three since 1968 IIRC (but I'm happy to be corrected on this; certainly "barely legal" 16-year-old Samantha Fox was on display around this time; wouldn't happen now: they've got morality).
Radio was the BBC and a few commercial stations, TV was three terrestrial channels (just about to become four), and the new Video Tape Recorder allowed us to rewatch episodes of Brideshead Revisited. Cassettes were edging out vinyl; the Walkman was two years old, the first brick-sized mobile phones were still a year or so away. There was no such word as Internet and our Search Engines had names like Gerry and Cathy.

Channel 4 was 1982. The Walkman was 1981 or 2. I remember I had a friend who could drive at that time who'd had a job for an early mobile company. He'd drive to an allocated point and they'd ring. When they didn't, he'd ring them. Some shouting on the now well-known format "I can't hear you ... what!? ..." followed. He concluded cell phones were doomed. How we laughed.
What year is Dave talking about? It seems to be 1982, the year he left the NUS, but what's his point?
I can't quote the next para. The temptation to vomit is just too much. Dave quotes John Birt who described the late 80s as "by far the most extraordinarily creative period ever in UK broadcasting, ..." Readers who want a clue as to when the real creative period was may choose to follow the link.
And then he's on to writing rubbish. He thinks CNN was a success: I favour the alternative hypothesis that it peaked too soon. The Gulf War destroyed it. It's a relic now. People visit it like the pyramids, at least partly out of pity. DA thinks "rolling news" is great. I have BBC 24 on my (very basic) NTL package. The only time I've watched it (after the first day's experimenting) was in September 2001. Sometime in the evening I discovered that everything I'd seen had been on BBC1 the whole time.
Those values themselves, are far from immutable. Where once you couldn't say "fuck" in print or on television, but you could say "coon", now - as Jerry Springer, the Opera proved, taboos that seemed almost eternal have been broken within a generation.

Oh, so it wasn't Ken Tynan then?
In the paragraph before that, Dave asked rhetorically:
If everyone can create their own personalised broadcasting or media world, how do you bring that sort of society together, and hope that it can share values?

And after:
In a cursor's click the seeker after sensation can find an assortment of paraphilias that would have once taken a lifetime of trawling pornographic bookshops to locate.Technology changes society.

Technology changes society. How? If I understand this, there was always "an assortment of paraphilias" at the same time, technology has created "an assortment of paraphilias". I'm no Freudian (though Dave may be one), but I do like the idea of the "polymorphously perverse" (though if I had to use polysyllabic Greek words, I'd go for "polyvalence".)
I think Dave's asking the wrong questions. If a group of people meet some criterion for a "society" they don't need to be brought together. The Decents (certainly Norman Geras) seem to believe that some values are transcendental, and perhaps self-evident to boot. How can we not share these? If Norm is right, Dave has no need to worry.
Hold on. [Counts on fingers.] Nah, that can't be right.

March for Free Expression Weekend Friday Forecast Thread

Actually I haven't got a clue what the boys will say. Nick is likely to mention public schools, BMWs, Islington, and and the sad decline of public toilets, but I can't begin to guess what he'll write about. DA's done defending the government, so he needs a change of pace. Possible: that new blog thing on tehgrauniad is a nest of anti-Semites. Out of several hundred posts so far (and some by people not called Daniel Davies*), one or two are by George Galloway. Quel horreur! Quel horreur!

Odds are the title of this post won't get a mention.

*I'm just jealous. Really really jealous.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It is clearly recycling day in Islington

I'll add the link when it goes up on the blog, but there are a lot of "old friends" in Nick's column in the paper Standard this week. Supercasinos, BritArt is offensive and doesn't appeal to me, and over-zealous traffic wardens (I think that "over-zealous traffic wardens" might be close to some sort of long service award if it appears many more times). The main bit is on loans for lordships and how it's absolutely ludicrous for people to demand a forensic standard of proof before we start saying "there's something a bit dodgy there". Which is obviously the AW party line too (unless one of you guys disagrees), so fair enough. However there is a bit of a Seal O' Dacre alert, because the way that Nick phrases this is to say:
"[...] as soon as we start asking why it was that Bernie Ecclestone, Enron, Lakshmi Mittal and all the rest of the crew gave gifts then got rewards, some buck-toothed, empty-headed public-school boy from the BBC pops up and sneers: "Where's your smoking gun? Where's your proof beyond reasonable doubt?""

This is a bit weird; the BBC has done a perfectly fine job on these stories although some people in the media (coughAarocough) haven't. The only BBC employee who I can think of who is buck-toothed and public school is Michael Crick and he certainly doesn't deserve this charge.

Why the hell is it that the BBC is, in Nick's mind, the perfect synecdoche for the upper middle class, the media, and a whole lot of other strange little psychological complexes? Surely this is not just about Gilligan and the war, is it? Who at the BBC has pissed in Nick's cornflakes recently? Own up in comments if it was you.

Update BD 11:49 pm 24/3/06. Here's the link: An Inspector Calls. Nick's spent some time in the clippings library, or more likely on Google, though we shouldn't discount the possibility that his Oxford education is repeating on him like an ill-advised late night vindaloo. Here's Nick on the 81 years since the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act of 1925 which "made the buying and selling of honours a criminal offence that should carry a maximum punishment of two years in prison."

It has been left to the press to blow the whistle ever since.

Nick doesn't say who has left this duty to the press, or who else may have blown the whistle before the act. If anyone has, that person is Chai Patel (though not intentionally), which torpedoes Nick's statement. A later paragraph is just weird.

Independently minded MPs who want to do what MPs are meant to do and hold the executive to account are just as feeble. If your refuse to answer the questions of the US Congress, you can go to jail for contempt. If there’s a whiff of corruption about you in Italy, prosecutors and magistrates will storm in – as Tessa Jowell’s dumped husband has learned to his cost.

Nick doesn't say why the "[i]ndependently minded MPs... are just as feeble." He just asserts it and drops it into a paragraph where it seems to be followed by two more concrete facts. Except these aren't. Anyone remember anyone in the past 80 or so years who was held in contempt by Congress? Or any cases where this power actually led to someone answering incriminating questions? And if "prosecutors and magistrates" in Italy have "stormed in" anywhere, that's a use of storm as in a "storm in a marmite jar". They've been pursuing David Mills since around 1990. Blitzkreig it ain't.

Do we even need to do this any more

AW has now almost reached critical mass; all I really need to say about this is to include by citation everything we've ever said about Dave's habit of giving the politically powerful the benefit of the doubt. This week, of course, it reaches ludicrous extent, as it appears that even actual corruption is just "one of those things" and it's a tough old world out there. I seem to remember that it was not long ago that Dave was castigating the "realists" who did not see that the project of bringing democracy to the Muslim world was not something that could be sacrificed to the grubby business of mere practicality; perhaps some of this high-minded sentiment could be worthwhile at home?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wow, Christopher Hitchens has really lost it these days

As part of the brand extension, we will occasionally be looking at other Decentists as well as Dave and Nick. Although I have to say that if they are all like the state of Christopher Hitchens these days we will not be doing it very often. Didn't this guy used to be at least the intellectual equal of Aaronovitch? Regular commentor Sonic and The Poor Man Institute have the goods. I am presuming that Aaro does not endorse Hitchens' conclusion that "the last phony pacifist should be strangled with the guts of the last suicide bomber", Nick I am less sure about.

Monday, March 20, 2006

He hath laboured as though to give birth to a Camel, but hath brought forth not much more than a Fart

Dave's Epistle to the Guardians is out. As one might have expected from a joint venture between Aaro, the internet's biggest bore, and the fifth funniest panelist on the News Quiz, it is voluminous and makes heavy reading, so I summarise it below. It's pretty weak beer to be honest. I have read the thing and they are trying to have it much stronger than the evidence supports. As far as I can see, the facts are that if you asked Chomsky "hey Noam, was there a massacre in Srebenica?", he would answer "yes but ...". Which is a damn stupid answer, and he should be damned twelve ways to Tuesday for saying "but", but it is not the same thing as "no".

The charge sheet that A,K & W (by the way, which of them is the one that hasn't written for the Guardian? Kamm, I suppose, but I could have sworn I'd seen the occasional bit and piece by him) put together is more or less as follows:

1. Diane Johnstone quibbles in an unsavoury manner about body counts.

STATUS: true as far as I can see, but AKW are not exactly innocent of this themselves on occasions when it is convenient to them; only last week Aaronovitch was trying to pretend that the Lancet survey of Iraq was dodgy.

2. Diane Johnstone is a partisan of the Bosnian Serb cause and thinks the Muslims have it coming

STATUS: not really proven; they assemble a load of evidence of her providing context for the massacre but not enough to convince me she's an apologist. And after all, even if the Bosnian Muslims were the very incarnation of Al-Qaeda it would still not be OK to massacre thousands of them.

3. Diane Johnstone doesn't call something "genocide" when according to specific international law standards it was one.

STATUS: correct but irrelevant. Nobody deserves to be accused of the equivalent of Holocaust denial on the basis of a linguistic quibble and it is clear that the less inclusive definition of genocide that Johnstone uses is not in any way bizarre or perverse.

4. Chomsky defends Johnstone on the specifics of her argument rather than on general free speech grounds.

STATUS: much weaker than you would think given that this is the whole point of the letter. Exhibit A is simply Chomsky arguing against something similar to point 3 above in a letter. From this, AK&W go on to argue he must therefore be implicitly endorsing her whole bill of goods, which is just absurd.

Exhibit B is Chomsky saying that Johnstone's book wasn't a piece of worthless hack scholarship of the sort that David Irving has put out in recent years. Again, this is a very thin reed on which to support the assumption that Chomsky buys the whole bill of goods. If we were operating on this basis, I could take my pick of the Frontpage Magazine litany of lunacy and claim that Oliver Kamm endorses it, which would be fun if true but sadly isn't.

5. Chomsky "meanwhiles" about Srebenica by banging on about East Timor.

STATUS: This is true, and it is one of the reasons I don't like Chomsky is that there is some gravitational force which brings him to say "well what about East Timor" at some stage in any conversation, usually when his back is up against the wall about some other idiot thing he has said. But the Guardian didn't write a headline saying "Chomsky is full of it about East Timor", it wrote one saying "Chomsky denies Srebenica".

The trouble appears to me that AK&W are actually writing a defence of Oliver Kamm's own article about Chomsky which appeared in Prospect, not Emma Brockes' article which appeared in the Guardian. If Emma Brockes had made all the points that she made, without making very specific claims about what Chomsky said in an interview, there would have been no problem. Chomsky is, in fact, full of it on the subject of Bosnia and is, in fact, far more of a supporter of Slobodan Milosevic than there is any sense at all in being (this is not to say that AK&W's version of things is the whole truth either, but we can deal with that when someone writes a stitch-up interview with one of them). But the Guardian readers' editor has the responsibility to make sure that interviews published in the Guardian have at least a family resemblance to the interview that took place, and he appears to have done his job very well in the case of this one. I don't understand why Aaro lent his name to this piece of special pleading and Chomsky obsession; presumably Emma Brockes is a mate or protege of his. Let's have a few anecdotes from the Guardian editorial conferences, Dave?

(PS: this is largely reproduced at the Harry's Place comments, which is why it seems familiar if it does).

Sunday, March 19, 2006

There will be a demonstration this week, in favour of free speech

Such things are not particularly unusual, and previous generations (who lived through the years of the Lord Chancellor's pen and the Lady Chatterley trial) would not be astonished at all. In fact there was specifically one or two of them in Parliament Square not so long ago where people were arrested for protesting against the government ban on demonstrators there, which Nick didn't cover at all IIRC because it was organised by the anti-war crowd.

The far right are out of the picture, but apparently it is not really going to be a demonstration "in favour of free speech" at all; it's going to be all about solidarity with an anti-immigrant Danish newspaper, and having a go at the Muslims (sorry, the "brown far right", like the "hook-nosed far right" who as we know are the only people who wouldn't show up at a demonstration of solidarity with David Irving. For fuck's sake Nick, that remark is purely and simply racist).

So, if you care about free speech on Saturday, you have a bugger's bargain; stay at home and be called "against free speech", or stand shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of arseholes who are trying to resurrect a pretty nasty piece of sectarian conflict that looked like it had died down four weeks ago. I personally will be taking the course of action which keeps me closest to my kitchen. Bruschetta, I surmise, will not be served.

By the way, if you think that "free speech" includes the right to spend your money how you like (whether that involves having a flutter or donating to political parties), you can fuck off.

Friday, March 17, 2006

No Apparent Way Out

I have considered commending Dave for his continued good humour under fire but The Great War of Words makes me wonder.
Ever since the Allies attacked Iraq exactly three years ago, the experts have continued to blaze away with salvoes of analysis.

Is DA disassociating himself from the "experts" here? Dave goes on to lament that there have been many analyses of the war published.
Everything, in fact, except a proper history.

I can think of two explanations: 1) the war is too close, and the relevant files on both sides have yet to be examined; 2) it exists and it's by right-wing historian and war-supporter John Keegan. I own this, I haven't started it yet.
The nearest to that, and probably the most valuable book about the lead-up to the war, and the period before the Iraqi election of January 2005, is The Assassins’ Gate, written by George Packer, of The New Yorker magazine. And Packer, who spent a lot of time before the invasion talking to policymakers, and much time afterwards dangerously unembedded inside Iraq, begins by asking himself the question, why did the war happen, and answering the question with a laconic: “It still isn’t possible to be sure.” His ambivalence is like clear, cold water in a landscape parched by certainty -- too many books concerning Iraq are either essentially justificatory, or else a bizarre psychological attempt to undo the decision to go to war, to turn the world backwards -- as Superman does -- so that time is reversed, and the war (and, by implication, everything leading up to it) somehow doesn’t happen.

As so often with Dave, there's quite a bit here. Yes, ambivalence and doubt are good qualities. I suffer from the memory of a tutorial where another student started with something like "[Set topic] is difficult and there's more than one point of view ..." and was horrified to be met with "Of course there's more than one view and the topic is difficult; you're at university, these are givens!" and quite a few insults I won't repeat. Ambivalence may be honest, but it's also a hand-wringing get-out. "Well, some people say Santa Claus exists, and others don't, and me, I haven't decided yet." I had a short and bitter email exchange with Oliver Kamm, in which I remember quoting Hollywood maxim "Show, don't tell" [William Goldman] at him. The Aaronovitch dichotomy is false: there's more than a choice between justifying the war, and wanting to turn the world back.

The issue I am hung up on is the "case [for regime change] that the United States and the President’s own father had not prosecuted at the end of the Gulf War in 1991." At the time, as a Gulf War I supporter, this seemed its natural climax. I don't want to seem like one of David's imaginary supermen and putting a girdle round the world, but WTF?

DA simplifies the case for regime change in Iraq. I'm a "Stopper" (©H'sP) but I've thought Saddam was a bastard for years. I think that Fred Barras was a burglar and a wrong 'un if you must. I think that he should be in prison or borstal. I don't think that he should have been shot by a vigilante. (That's a criticism both of Tony Martin and the police, BTW.) Saddam wasn't a nice guy, but I'm a fan of the Apprentice, and a huge fan of Sir Alan Sugar, and he's "the most belligerent man you'll ever meet". What of the 54 above him on the rich list? Shorter Macchiavelli: you don't get nowhere by being nice, kid. Read some of Shakespeare. If you want to get anywhere in this life, be a total cunt. Suck up until you get noticed, and then stab your boss in the back, and repeat until there's no one left. Everyone in power is a bastard. Most just ain't been found out. That's a criticism of the press.

Pictures of David

This is a low post. I thought about this earlier in the week, and decided that we were better than this. This is partly a reaction to Harry's Place and partly because I happened to see two pictures of DA on consecutive days, and thought, "Hmmm. That's almost mildly interesting."

See here we go. I forget how I found this one: NUS Presidents across history pictured left to right: Sue Slipman, Trevor Phillips, and David Aaronovitch (in very bright tank top). He was very thin in those days. And this is him in the Hastings Half Marathon. (It's an intentionally low-quality preview pic, the print image for sale is presumably of far better quality.) He's lost a lot of weight from the time last year that the Guardian sent him to Florida, and looks a lot better for it. He favours black now too.

Comments comparing our man to either Hinge or Bracket will be frowned upon.

Notes from Chingford

How does Dostoevsky start Notes from the Underground?

I am a sick man .... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man....

But enough of great literature. Let's see what Nick has been on about.

Middle class ressentiment. It's the fuel the powers the Daily Mail (now as in the 1930s) and Nick is clearly pitching for a job. Life is just fine if you are a single mother on a council estate with ten different children by ten different fathers. Similarly if you are part of the mediocracy that controls Channel 4 or the BBC. And what about those fat cat managers that preside over the public sector? (Overpaid and idle! String em up!) No, the really deprived are the children of the middle class whose lives have turned out to be just a little bit disappointing and who can't afford the things they read about in the colour supplements and who might, just might, have to take jobs as ... teachers or accountants [the shame of it!] rather than as producers at the beeb.

[Actually the teachers and accountants bit might be a quote from James Hawes, but since Nick's webmaster can't be bothered to indent or otherwise distinguish quotations, it is hard to tell.]

One sentence I puzzled over:

Part of her grievance is due, no doubt, to the selfishness of the consumer society that writers for the New Statesman denounce so regularly.

Does that mean that she really has a grievance? Or is Nick saying that her sense of grievance has been artificially nurtured? And does he approve, or not?

And note the dig at the greens:

Conservationists act from the highest of motives when they defend the green belt and don’t think for a moment that they are denying families affordable homes.

Other than that, there's much to commend: public sector child execs do get paid to much, Seumas and Kirsty Milne might not be where they are today if their dad hadn't been DG of the BBC, houses cost money, and balancing careers and kids is hard. What a shame Nick can't communicate those things any more without giving off the nasty smell of middle-class self-pity.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Nick and "Syriana".

The reviews of "Syriana" all mentioned the complexity of the plot, however many also noted that to an audience with some knowledge of Middle Eastern history and current affairs it is by no means impossible to follow - the bits in Teheran and Beirut Shia involved Sunni/Shia issues for example, one of the SAM's sold in Teheran was to a non-farsi speaker - that kind of thing. The plot was however "incomprehensible" to Nick, his only understanding was that "Clooney" "was trying to say that the US policy in the Middle East was "all about oil". What a guy! The film does not mention Iraq, Israel, or US foreign policy so what's Nick's beef here? It's because "Clooney" is a well known liberal, I don't think Nick has seen the film, he clearly has no idea what it's about, this is just knee jerk stuff. As for his suggestion that a brave film maker would make a film supporting US policy, the mind boggles and a new parlour game appears. "Pitch Nick's movie to a studio". Mel Gibson IS Donald Rumsfeld etc etc.

On a lighter note, nice to see Deborah Ross in The Indie namechecking Dave in her column. He appears as an example of someone whose spurious moral indignation returns to haunt them, and to quote D Ross ". . . he now realises he has been a bit of a Silly Billy"

Wanted: One Spellchecker

Nicko's Standard col is The Concerned Parents Guide to Sectairainism. Yep, that's what it's called. I just copied and pasted. (I also think an apostrophe after 'Parents' would be good; but the sort of self-help book he's parodying wouldn't have it.)
It's not the parents who hussle to get their children into faith schools who are the nightmare: most simply want the best for their children.

"Hussle"? Is that like hustle and hassle?
But as faith schools expand, Catholic, Anglican and Jewish schools will be matched by Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools. The case for them is unarguable as long as faith schools persist unchallenged. Yet when they come, we will have the nightmare of children divided by race and religion – the two most noxious sources of conflict on the planet. They will grow up without friends from other religions and with different coloured skins.

So now you know. Send your child to a faith school, and their pigmentation changes.
I'm all for secular schools. I don't think Nick is the best advocate we have.
To the cinema. Here's Scott Adams on oil. And here are links to 163 reviews of Syriana.
Then he's on about public toilets.

JERRY: Anywhere in the city?
GEORGE: Anywhere in the city - I'll tell you the best public toilet.
JERRY: Okay.. Fifty-fourth and Sixth?
GEORGE: Sperry Rand Building. 14th floor, Morgan Apparel. Mention my name - she'll give you the key.
JERRY: Alright.. Sixty-fifth and Tenth.
GEORGE: (Scoffs) Are you kidding? Lincoln Center. Alice Tully Hall, the Met. Magnificent facilities.

Finally, because he's got four things to say this week, he opines that PhDs are worthless. Well, I always thought the academics among my co-bloggers were overqualified blowhards. Mind you, his examination thesis is a bit tough on the sciences, medicine, architecture, and possibly a few other disciplines too.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The imaginary history of decentism

In the light of Milosevic's death, Dave is offering the world his thoughts on the genealogy of decentism today. For him there's a key moment when the sheep were divided from the goats, the neo-Orwellians from the Chomskybots (and Marcus has now posted at HP Sauce to endorse Dave's account). Well speak for yourself Dave. In Act 1 of the great saga of decency Dave places his trust in David Owen, Douglas Hurd and Misha Glenny. (More fule you, say I, since it was pretty obvious by the time of the siege of Dubrovnik, let alone the siege of Sarajevo, that Milosevic, Mladic and co were up no good.) When Ratko Mladic and his chums then slaughtered thousands of Muslim men in Srebrenica, Dave suddenly woke up and declared "never again!" and decentism sprang, fully formed, into life and with its trusty sword confronted the crazed ranks of anti-American nutters.

The trouble with this story is that it is miles from the facts. Let's do a Captain Cabernet/Nick comparison to illustrate:

CCB: backed the Bosnian republic from the start and was pleased and relieved when NATO intervened in Kosovo (though not with some of the bombing in Serbia), thought the US was within its rights to intervene in Afghanistan against Osama, and if the Taliban fell that was all to the good, thought Saddam was a murdering evil bastard but that more harm than good was going to come out of the Iraq war, so opposed it (after a lot of hand-wringing).

Nick: Opposed intervention in Kosovo, opposed intervention in Afghanistan, supported the Iraq war. Now a paragon of decency.

In short, Dave's imaginary history of decency is simply a legitimating fantasy.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I have added "Sudan Watch" to our sidebar

Nick and Dave please read it. Sudan Watch is an excellent portal for news headlines from Sudan. The author is basically Decent in orientation but currently believes that a reinforced African Union force could be sufficient to restore peace to Darfur. The blog is pretty much free of editorial spin though and is entirely worth reading for anyone who is planning on talking a lot about Darfur in their column.

The flat-pack columnist

If I were in the habit of taking prefabricated themes from a small number of blogs and reconstructing small variations on them week after week in three different publications, I doubt I'd have the chutzpah to write the following:

A passing respect for your mother tongue is enough to make you wince when Dan Brown takes a chainsaw to the old girl and slices her into clichés and easy-to-assemble sentences. Why millions of people have bought the literary equivalent of an Ikea flatpack is a riddle beyond Brown's power to solve. It is a page-turner, to be fair, with a mystery that pushes you past the arthritic dialogue of the stock characters.

And who would those stock characters be? Surely not the Islington "left" intelligensia enthusing about Gilbert and George Galloway in between lines of coke? The Archbish perhaps? He now seems to have a walk-on part in every Nick column, and is at it again in this one too. Indeed Nick is promising us more:

While we wait for the predictable consequences, this column will have a new feature: What the Archbishop of Canterbury Won't Discuss.

In the section on Darfur (page 17 in the instructions, where did I put that allen key?) there are worrying signs that Nick is morphing into a clone of Anthony Browne of the Times:

We cannot bolt the gates of Fortress Europe and pretend the crisis has nothing to do with us. We ought to have learned by now that the people smugglers will bring in asylum seekers and, with them, new racial tensions.

A seal of Dacre?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Moderating Comments

No, not ours. Aaro's. He was asked here:
If these comments are moderated can someone please tell me what definition of moderate the moderator is using?

Dave, to his credit, has still kept comments open and has replied.
Well clearly by "moderating" I don't mean taking, say, a pro-Galloway comment and turning it into support for Ming Campbell. Even if I think that's what some people will do over the next few months. I have cut out a rather explicit joke, but I left in two Anti-Semitic comments from a "GK", simply to remind us of what's out there, and because it represents one small strain of e.mail that I do receive pretty constantly.

I don't GK is the only nutter whose comments are racist and inflammatory. Going by the example of H'sP, it seems that once you let one crazy rant, you just attract more.

What do you think? Appropriately, this is an open thread for DA (and NC related) stuff. I'd also be pleased if someone can explain the Galloway/Ming Campbell reference.

Update2:15 pm. I forgot to mention DA's other post: on Gary Younge. I've written a comment (let's see if it gets through the moderation process), but I'd like to add something here, because I can use links. Mike, who has commented here, speculates on Muslims attacking Gary Younge, despite his admiration for DA's courage over the cartoons things, and the lack of any actual violence toward DA as a result.

If attacking Muslims is, as Mike seems to believe, life-endangering, Charles Johnson is in remarkably fine health. You can read Dennis the Peasant's view's on Charles Johnson's racism and another post on a visit to a mosque in Ohio. There are plenty of Muslims in the US. Guns are legal. Charles Johnson is still walking about. Dangerous? My ass.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday forecast

I think everyone's a bit demoralised and enervated after that "Road to Guantanamo" fiasco, so chomp down a couple of bruschetta, take a few swigs of your favourite Oddbins special and restore courage with the Friday Forecast competition!

My guesses:

Nick, Obs: Elizabeth Cheney broadcasting to Iranians and how the Left hate it because they're ani-Semites or something.

Aaro: Dubai Ports World, basically a rewrite of Gerard Baker's piece in the same newspaper, but not so bloody boring.

Nick, Standard: Same as the Observer. Freddie Flintoff's new baby.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Under the Spreading Rowan Tree

Well, I've just seen The Road to Guantánamo (IMDb link; Channel 4 link) and I thought it was bloody good.

If you're really quick, you can watch (again) DA's performance on Newsnight Review (Warning contains scenes of Mark Kermode!). I don't think I have the stomach for that right now, but I thought at the time that he'd at least got the art of the bottled review and hit a few salient faults with the work. Now, I'm furious. Mostly with the vacuity of everyone else, as it happens. It is possible of course to gainsay a whole film (there are plenty of precedents for a work of art misrepresenting history: a certain English playwright who shall remain nameless invented a disability for a deceased monarch, translated Gaius Julius Caesar's last words from Greek, and misrepresented a harmless Scottish nobleman, to name but three), though Dave's footling about over dates isn't the way to do it. The film admits that the decision to cross into Afghanistan took time, and that the situation was very confused. Mark Kermode's "defence" that Michael Winterbottom makes films with unreliable narrators is, in retrospect, even more offensive than his dandy Teddy Boy barnet, and that's saying something. They were lied to and exploited, as tends to happen to naive young men in times of crisis.

DA's attack (which seemed plausible to me last week, because I tend to view awards ceremonies as bullshit) that the film only won awards because of the subject matter is even more bullshit. There was a lot going for the production values: the number of cast with speaking parts; the filming in Pakistan and Afghanistan; the realism of Camps X-Ray and Delta; the glimpses of humanity in the Americans (who acted very very well; baddy roles are usually given to the best actors: which is why the villains in American films were trained at RADA). Besides the political message, it was a well-made film. Aaro's criticism looks like a sort of envy. Why Michael Winterbottom can make films of his political viewpoint, and I'm ... I'm only a Times columnist! Will evil bruschetta-eating liberals stop at nothing to gag David Aaronovitch? That's David Aaronovitch, erstwhile TV producer and editor (Wikipedia entry). So that's David Aaronovitch, whose day job is defending the present government, capitalism, and the status quo, is somewhat pissed off to find that the latter two (the first, thankfully, doesn't run the press yet) sign cheques to brighter, younger talents. It's a cruel world.

What is Nick on? His Standard column isn't on his blog as I write, so the Islamophobia site's version with have to do. The bold enemy of the Taliban starts thus, adjectives fail:

When Radio 4 invited the exeditor of the Erotic Review to analyse The Road to Guantanamo, a vague notion that had been bubbling in my mind for months became a certainty. Liberal London has gone mad.

There's nowt so parochial as London hack as we used to say at the ferret-stuffing legion in Brixton. Liberal Birmingham would never allow a woman to edit a dirty mag, still less wag her chops on the radio. Er, isn't that what he meant? Actually there's so much wrong with those two sentences, I don't know where to start.

There is a strange mood among the metropolitan intelligentsia at the moment. It has become a kind of class betrayal to do anything other than blame Blair and Bush for the woes of the world.

"Do" isn't used in a kind of George-Orwell-spoke-plain way, it's just a very dull verb passed off like last week's celery. Good job that Nick, like Oswald Mosley before him, isn't addressing this limp decadent "metropolitan intelligentsia" but the bright new boot boys of TOMORROW.

Who does Nick see as emblem of this "metropolitan intelligentsia"? None other than Rowan Pelling "exeditor of the Erotic Review" (a classicist writes, ex-editrix surely?) and "former purveyor of genteel pornography". Before I go on, I'd like to remind you that we're talking of The Road to Guantánamo -- a film about four lads from Tipton, who were accused of membership of the Taliban and/or al Qaeda. Got that? Nick continues:

On Sunday we had a spectacle more obscene than anything Rowan Pelling has published.

Has Rowan Pelling published anything obscene? Waterstone's used to display The Erotic Review with the other literary mags. That is, without alluring brown paper covers, and the masses still streamed past to JK Rowling and Dan Brown.

There were even organizations such as the Junior Anti-Sex League, which advocated complete celibacy for both sexes. All children were to be begotten by artificial insemination (artsem, it was called in Newspeak) and brought up in public institutions. This, Winston was aware, was not meant altogether seriously, but somehow it fitted in with the general ideology of the Party. The Party was trying to kill the sex instinct, or, if it could not be killed, then to distort it and dirty it.

Government Policy Manual, Chapter 6.

The Archbishop of Canterbury stood in the Sudan, a country filled with the mass graves the Islamists have dug, and failed to register a squeak of protest.

This is an article ostensibly about Michael Winterbottom's film, which also mentions mass graves -- dug by the Northern Alliance. Nick: "While crimes against humanity stared him in the face ..." Er, does he really think that just by being in a country, you cannot fail to miss injustices? Does the man own a passport?

I was going to post earlier this evening wishing Aaro good luck in the Hastings Half Marathon, because I'm sure I speak for all who post here, that just because I disagree with what you say, it doesn't mean that I hope you curl up and die horribly. This separates me from Nick who has really got on my bad side tonight.

Nick, please try reading Politics and the English Language and think what "stared him in the face" might actually mean.

I had a brilliant title while I watched the film, and I immediately forgot it. At least the one I've got now will give Nick the vapours.

Stop All The Clocks

This is a sorta tangential post, inserted here, because I want us to be up with the news. The title is a nod to John Hannah's reading of Auden which was the only good bit in that bloody Richard Curtis film, and which the Evil BB cited in the last post.

Both our watchees have been writing about Guantanamo Bay and essentially finding reasons for justifying it. Now comes news from another direction: US says to close Abu Ghraib prison.

Thousands of people are held on suspicion of guerrilla activity for many months. The United Nations and Iraqi ministers have complained that the system is an abuse of human rights.
The U.S. military cites its powers under a United Nations Security Council resolution to provide security in Iraq and says its facilities and procedures meet international standards.

IIRC that last paragraph applies to the US administration's defence of Guantanamo too. Are they finally conceding that they may have fouled everything up?

Here's looking forward to our boys' reactions.

As a side bet, what are the chances, now that both are bloggers, of their being Normblog profiled? And if either is, what *would* he do with the UN? Nuke it from space for questioning George Jnr?

A candidate for the Tin Ear award 2006?

I am beginning to understand why it is that Nick's theatre and arts reviews make so little sense if he is capable of getting the wrong end of the stick on quite this epic scale (from the joke items in the Standard column)

In a sentence you have why John Hannah never worked as ITV's Rebus. An actor from Four Weddings and a Funeral was always going to look too perky.

Indeed. I think we all remember John Hannah's perky reading of WH Auden's perky "Stop All The Clocks" in the perky graveyard scene of "Four Weddings and a Jolly Good Knees-Up".

FS: one "pre-owned" column

Has Nick no shame? His Evening Standard column (helpfully reproduced at Islamophobia Watch) is merely a pathetic recycling of his Observer latest. Archbish, Tipton three or four, etc. Pretty much everything has therefore already been said by the rest of the gang. I was slightly taken with this para though:

There is a strange mood among the metropolitan intelligentsia at the moment. It has become a kind of class betrayal to do anything other than blame Blair and Bush for the woes of the world. On Sunday we had a spectacle more obscene than anything Rowan Pelling has published. The Archbishop of Canterbury stood in the Sudan, a country filled with the mass graves the Islamists have dug, and failed to register a squeak of protest. While crimes against humanity stared him in the face he chose to burble to David Frost about Guantanamo, inevitably, and – may his god forgive him – gay vicars.

Now does this mean that Nick believes that the Archbish is a member of the "metropolitan intelligensia"? That may not be the logical implication, but it is certainly the conversational one. I look forward to the future Nick column is which Rowan Williams is exposed as a hypocritical cocaine snorter and Gilbert and George fan. Never mind the Sudan, is it really fitting that the Archbishop spends his time hanging out at those fashionable Islington parties to which Nick isn't invited?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Subtle innuendoes follow; must be something inside

Obviously an apology to both our long-suffering readers and RK and CCK for posting the third comment on Dave's col today, but I really have to get this off my chest or I'll explode. I almost felt as if I needed a shower after reading this week's; I thought it was one of the most disgraceful and slimy pieces he's ever written. Broadly speaking, I think it's fair to say I didn't like it. The way I see it, Dave has a go at four targets this week (fair do's to the guy, it's an economic use of words) and unfairly maligns all four of them.

1. The Archbishop of Canterbury. As Aaro says, "Presumably good manners dictated that his critique of the Sudanese neogenocide in Darfur will have to wait until he visits, say, America" Ahahahaha, Dave you crack me up. Well it's a little bit more fucking serious than that actually. As it happens, the situation in Darfur is balanced on a knife edge at present. The Janjaweed massacres have currently abated in what can only be described as an "uneasy truce", and the government is negotiating the entry of a UN peacekeeping force. These negotiations are somewhat complicated by the fact that the Darfurian rebel group (which had a nasty tendency to break all previous ceasefires and to fire on the African Union troops who were meant to be protecting them) has just split into two rival factions, each of which is accusing the other of trying to undermine the ceasefire. As Dave has noted in recent weeks, our mates the Muslims are really quite sensitive to criticism from outsiders; it is entirely possible that any fiery speech from the pulpit would have been seen by the Sudanese government as an attempt to reignite the civil war in the South of Sudan and used as a pretext to throw out the UN negotiators and kick off in Darfur again.

In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that the Archbishop of Canterbury, who would quite certainly have been briefed on the horribly delicate situation in Sudan, chose not to stick his size nines into the matter. To do so would have been much more irresponsible than doing a big number about the Israelis during the Camp David peace talks. The trouble here is that the Archbishop is actually going out into the world, and has to keep in touch with the civil war in Sudan as what it is, a war, where things change from moment to moment. For Dave and Nick, it is frankly just a piece of scenery to be wheeled on stage when a distraction is needed from how bloody awful things are in Iraq. Rowan Williams deserves a hell of a lot of sympathy for the crap he is taking from people who understand the situation in Sudan a hell of a lot worse than he does, and who think that words don't have consequences. There is simply no excuse for not keeping up to date with the latest information about a war if you are going to shoot your mouth off about it.

2. Michael Winterbottom: So, the winning forecast would have been "Dave recycles his Newsnight Review piece. And to be honest, of that piece, I am not a fan. Winterbottom's crime is that he "banishes ambivalence" (I think Dave means ambiguity but it's not clear). For crying out loud. It is not possible to simultaneously show someone in a narrative film arriving before and after a bombing, or to show them simultaneously attending and not attending jihai training classes. It is hardly new news that one of the limitations of the docudrama format is that it necessarily involves taking specific versions of contested facts, and it is utterly unfair to Winterbottom to suggest that the fact he has made a docudrama is in some way evidence of evil intent on Winterbottom's part. It is not hard to guess who Dave has been standing too close to when he makes this point; there is one member of the Newsnight Review crew for whom the practice of taking a feature of a genre and pretending it is a terrible creative flaw in a piece from that genre is practically a trademark, and now a puppet representing him will make a guest appearance on Aaronovitch Watch:

Hullo, everybody, my name's Mark Commode, pronounced Kermode! You may remember me from such shows as "Newsnight Review" and "Southern Area Regional Heats of the Billy Fury Lookalike Competition 1998"! I would just like to say "Oh God this romantic comedy is so trite and superficial!". And "Oh God this animal weepie is so emotionally manipulative!" Wait, I've got another one, "Oh God this Dogme arthouse movie is so self-consciously highbrow!" Thank you, I will be here all week assuming nobody punches my smug fucking face in!

Anyway ...

3.The Tipton Three. Or as they used to be called, "The Tipton Four", before one of them disappeared somewhere between their capture by the American troops and Guantanamo, and is presumably dead, a fact that Aaro rather glosses over (I wouldn't have mentioned this, but it was him that started this business of punctiliousness over the facts when he had a go at Winterbottom). As RK and CCK have already noted, the "I emphatically don't make this accusation that I am actually quite clearly making" locution is a genuinely dishonourable piece of lawyerly slipperiness. Aaro would certainly not have tried to get away with this sort of shit with respect to the Birmingham Six or Guildford Four, against whom it was also possible to build a case full of circumstantial hints and innuendoes.

Aaro's actual rap sheet is really very thin as well; I wonder what the source was? In particular, I cannot be the only one who finds it ironic that the winner of the George Orwell Prize for political journalism, can't understand how a young man at a loose end can suddenly find himself at the front line of a war; in Homage to Catalonia he practically admits that if he'd zigged instead of zagging as he went over the Pyrenees, we'd be quoting his pithy homilies to Stalinism today. Dave appears to place a very great deal of reliance indeed on the Tipton lads having understood that the beginning of the bombing was the prelude to a full ground invasion they could get caught up in (rather than the beginning of a humanitarian crisis they could get involved in) and not very much reliance at all on the fact that the Yanks had two years to have a go at them and ended up with nish, clish, nada. Also, his "those who have claimed that by September 2001 they had already become religiously zealous" seem in my view to be short on an explanation of why zealous religious Muslims attending a jihadi mosque in a country where Western toiletries are difficult to get hold of, would nevertheless have been clean-shaven all the time they were there. I'm not saying they were definitely innocent; just that this is a partial smear job and really very nasty.

4."The liberal left". Of course, we always get it in the neck. Guess what? The theme for this week is the same as that of Jack Nicholson's closing speech in A Few Good Men; that we poor civilians can afford to bleat about "civil liberties" and "due process", because rough armed men stand ready with dogs, electrodes, waterboards and Polaroid cameras to guard us while we sleep, so who are we to criticise them? And guess what? It was crap when Jack Nicholson said it too.

The motto of evil bruschettaboy is "keep it blunt and keep it personal", so I will. Because the IRA was by no means the biggest threat that the UK faced in the 1970s, you know. There was also this thing called Soviet Russia, which was still killing people in their thousands, and which was from time to time threatening to destroy us all in a nuclear holocaust. The Soviet Union was motivated by an ideology called Communism, which had a lot of supporters in the UK, many of whom belonged to something called the Communist Party of Great Britain. Some of those supporters claimed to be "Eurocommunists" and not in league with the Soviets, but there were a lot of troublemakers among them, including a small group who disrupted the popular television programme University Challenge. They might have claimed to be innocent of any plans to destabilise the British state or pass on our secrets to the enemy which threatened us with destruction but hell, who wants to take that risk? On the standard that Aaro appears to be pushing-without-pushing here, it appears to me that the case against the Tipton Three is far weaker than the case for rounding him up and accidentally-on-purpose allowing him to suffer the fate of the Tipton Fourth, some time between leaving the NUS and showing up on Weekend World.

I've written about this in the past; I know enough about the anni di piombo to not want my country to go even a little way in that direction, or to want good journalists to carry water for this project. I am no keener on seeing "Accidental Death of an Islamist" in thirty years time than "Accidental Death of an Aaronovitch".

(this is not a death threat by the way)

A second, largely concurring opinion

I see the Rioja Kid got in there first... Not sure there's too much duplication, though, so here goes:

“When in Sudan, criticise the Yanks.” So begins Aaro’s latest column. The Archbish didn’t go to Sudan, though, to criticise the Yanks. He criticised the Yanks because Sir David Frost asked him whether he thought that Guantanamo Bay was a “breach of international law and a blight on the conscience of America”, and he said what he said in reply to that question. Perhaps Aaro thinks that he should have refused to answer, or said something different. I don’t know.

Does Aaro agree with the Archbish? He starts by saying that “the unfortunate location for his critique doesn’t make the Archbishop wrong”, and leaves the question hanging for a bit. Eight paragraphs later, he comes back to the earlier discussion and says that he’s right. The result of the Bush people playing fast and loose with torture memos and whatnot has been “precisely as Dr Williams has argued: comfort to every tyrant, encouragement to every zealot.” Well, Dr Williams didn’t say anything about encouraging zealots, so Aaro’s account of what Dr Williams has argued isn’t as precise as the word “precisely” might suggest that it is. But this is by the by, and I suppose it’s also the case that since Aaro’s recent piece in the JC we don’t really expect precision from him, which is a pity.

The headline says that “I need answers to a couple of questions on Guantanamo”, but only one question is clearly articulated in the column. Aaro describes the way in which Michael Winterbottom’s film makes the Tipton Three out to be innocent of any wrongdoing (as well as being lovable rogues, etc.), and he says this: “But if that was really the case — if it was so damn simple — why would we need our Tiptonites to be so very innocent in order to make our case [for closing Guantanamo]? Surely the argument would stand whether they were jihadis or not.”

Indeed. We don’t need the Tipton Three to be innocent in order to be able to make the case for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, no. Of course we don’t. And if Michael Winterbottom suggests otherwise, he’s wrong. In fact, the case for whether Guantanamo Bay should be closed or not is entirely independent of the question of whether the Tipton Three were fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

(Does Aaro believe that the Tipton Three were so fighting? He just says that he isn’t saying that he believes this, indeed, he is emphatically not saying that he believes this. It’s a comically careful, carefully comic choice of words.)

That wasn’t hard. Now, can I find another question in this column? I’m not sure I can, apart from ones about the choices Winterbottom made when making his film, perhaps, questions which don’t seem especially interesting.

What else is there? Oh, right. There’s a bit at the end about the trade-off between liberty and security (though Aaro doesn’t quite use these words). He says that he thinks that “Winterbottom and all too many Britons... obliterate the dilemma so that the problem becomes entirely one for the authorities and not for us,” which isn’t an especially clearly expressed thought. And he ends by saying that “Guantanamo is a bad reaction to something real, but none of us quite knows what the good reaction looks like.”

People don’t agree on the specifics on how anti-terrorist police and intelligence work should be conducted, or on the precise detail of the legal framework that should regulate such work, true enough. But this kind of disagreement is often taken to be a fairly good sign of a functioning parliamentary liberal democracy, and almost all the participants in political debate in this country accept something like the logic of the trade-off that Aaro’s described, but which apparently quite a few of us (and Michael Winterbottom, or so I’m told) want to deny. And however much “we” may disagree on the permissibility of 14-, 28- or 90-days detention-without-charge, there’s a reasonable degree of consensus that the rule of law’s a good idea, that torture’s a bad idea, and that, for these and other reasons, Gitmo’s an absolute fucking disgrace. I think that’s probably enough of a good reaction to be getting along with, at least for now.

two types of ambiguity

This is a very sly bit of work by Dave, relying as it does on generating false dilemmas. Two main points stick out. Firstly, Dave runs the rule over What We Were Not Told by the Tipton Three film, ending with:

I am emphatically not saying here that I believe that the Tipton Three took up arms in Afghanistan and fought for the Taleban. Their story may be implausible, but it isn’t impossible. What I am noting here is the way in which Winterbottom banishes ambivalence. His Guantanamo detainees are innocent, even if the facts have to be selected carefully so as to reinforce that impression.

Well one fact that Dave fails to mention is that the three were subject to detention and torture for three years, with the intelligence resources of the US and presumably British state on their case, and absolutely no evidence was found that they were connected to terrorism. This is why they were released. I suppose this militates against the ambiguity that Aaro believes is appropriate.

Dave goes on to give Guantanamo the treatment. He then adds:

Not all of us are such hypocrites. I have heard, in the past week, an eminent progressive lawyer argue that the threat from jihadis is no greater than that we faced from the IRA. On that basis (conveniently forgetting the extra-legal actions that actually were taken back then), you may argue that we can afford to take the risk that a few bombers escape the net, in order to safeguard our legal integrity.

What you can’t do is what, I think, Winterbottom and all too many Britons now do, which is to obliterate the dilemma, so that the problem becomes entirely one for the authorities and not for us. Guantanamo is a bad reaction to something real, but none of us quite knows what the good reaction looks like.

What the "eminent progressive lawyer" was arguing for was upholding the rule of law. Dave seems to think that this is a position at the opposite end of the spectrum from condoning torture. The two are presented as competing extremes. We are led to believe that an answer lies somewhere in the middle. Do we support the rule of law or condone torture? Simply to support the rule of law “obliterates the dilemma.”

Aaro circa 1932: There's no actual evidence that the Kulaks are wreckers, exploiters and saboteurs as a class, though individuals among them might be. On the other hand, Comrade Stalin has said that the undesirable classes do not liquidate themselves. Faced with these extremes, we must address the dilemma we are in.

What Dave is actually hinting at is something very radical, namely the end of the presumption of innocence and the restrictions this imposes on the actions of the state. By framing the issue in terms of debates, dilemmas and discussions, he expresses this recommendation in ostensibly moderate terms. This confusion of rhetorical means and political ends is the sign of a genuinely talented propagandist. Nick should take note.

Rioja Kid

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I am glad to see that Nick is standing up for difficult causes like being against genocide

Sigh. Well done to everyone who predicted the Tessa Jowell thing although it was not exactly rocket science. Also Nick has been on the phone to a dog handler about that cocaine on banknotes urban myth, though as far as I can tell he did not understand the response.

But the main piece on Rowan Williams is, shall we say, rather weak. Chunks of it seem to have been lifted from blogs (in particular I believe the fairly asinine "the Darfur massacre has killed thousands of Muslims, but the Muslim world is not up in arms about that, perhaps because both the killers and victims are Muslims, suggesting that this is not actually a religious conflict about Islam, some things aren't you know" line is a lift from Normblog), and Nick appears to be all over the place in trying to roll all the different civil wars and genocides currently going on into Sudan into one convenient package that can be blamed on the Left. I suspect that what is going on here is that this column is the result of about five or six people telling Nick "no, no, it's much more complicated to that" and him being too intellectually honest to just ignore them and go for his big theme, but too lazy or time and space-constrained to write a proper article about how ghastly and complicated the Sudanese situation is.

However, it is pretty clear from Nick's article that one of the things that would definitely not have helped any of the Sudanese crises would have been a bloody great speech from the Archbishop of Canterbury saying something along the lines of "can't you darkies get your act together? All of your problems are the fault of Islamism and I condemn you!". Or in other words, Williams' spokesman's point that his mission was a difficult diplomatic one is correct, and the Decent demands for ringing statements of "Carry On Up The Enlightenment" are simply stroking their own moral egos.

The belief that what actually happens in the world is less important than what view "the Left" takes of it is fairly and squarely there in Paul Berman (and I promise you, that review is going to hit this blog Real Soon Now). It's rather like the old joke that "I wear the trousers in my household. My wife makes the trivial decisions, like where we go on holiday and how to bring up the kids, but I make the important decisions, like whether we're going to support Japan's claim for a place on the Security Council". A joke which obviously would need to be adapted for the Jowell/Mills household but there you go.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Before Your Very Eyes

Last night, this very blog brought you Nick Cohen on BBC's Newsnight. Because we're liberals, the BBC gives us preferential treatment. We phone them up, give the secret liberal signal (yelling "Down with Israel"), and then they do whatever we want. Tonight, at the behest of Aaronovitch Watch, Newsnight brings you David Aaronovitch. Apparently he has a "nasty stye in his eye."

Just as well that it's Aaro and not Nick. They're discussing "The Road to Guantanamo, the new Jay McInerney novel, the Arthur Miller at the Old Vic, and the Triennial at Tate Britain." I know which of them I'd rather hear talk about the West End and modern art. Dave himself says, "Better than going out and having fun." And I'm not going to argue with that. Though Newsnight Review starts at 11 pm, when many pubs shut, and of course you could tape it.

Update. I've found Mark Lawson's overview, if you will, of Newsnight Review, in which he says, "In a Newsnight Review panellist, energy and eccentricity helps." The good thing about Mark Lawson's writing is that you can hear him reading it out in your head. (Well, I can anyway.) The obvious reason for this, however, is that he writes everything he says beforehand, and uses an autocue. I rather fear that Aaro lacks both qualities at a telegenic pitch. Of course he has some energy: most people who make it into a television studio have already trampled a fair-sized garrison of lesser talents, but he's not as obviously loopy as Germaine Greer or Tom Paulin (who needed, according to Mr Lawson, "a demilitarised zone between them while discussing a drama-documentary about Bloody Sunday").

I also fear that as he's a supporter of the government and of both adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, he'll be called on to defend Guantanamo. This would be unfair. I don't recollect him supporting torture or this arbitrary detention without trial of brown people. It would be a shame if they used him as a liberal bien-pensant punching bag.

One of the pieces up for consideration by the bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise I mean the Newsnight Review panel is a play by the late Arthur Miller. As I wrote a short post about Miller here, I'd like to see Dave's take on his final work.

a suggestion

I’m not going to make a prediction this week. Instead, I’m going to make a suggestion. This is from the weblog of Pat Lang, formerly of the CIA:

I have seen my country walk away from people who trusted it too many times. If the "American People" want to walk away from those who have sided with us in Iraq. then we should start preparing for refugee re-settlement. There will be no forgiveness for those who sided with us in a post US Iraq.

That was via Jim Henley, who adds:

This is what happens when a country plays with the lives of those far away. When, not if, we abandon the Glorious Work of beating the Middle East until morale improves, we need to be prepared to take care of these people.

OK. Now those on the left who supported the Iraq venture have always said that the important thing is to show solidarity to Iraqi secularists and democrats. Perhaps we’ve reached the point where that solidarity has to take the form of rescue, and specifically in offering refuge to anyone in Iraq likely to suffer because of their support for the overthrow of Saddam.

I think we’ve certainly reached the point where this has to be considered, and given the politically embarrassing nature of the issue it’s probably as well to raise the issue right now, if only to establish the responsibility of the government should such a move become necessary.

It might well be a good subject for a column, or part of a column. We know that Dave swings by here now and again because we’re on his blogroll. Maybe Nick does too.

I’m not raising this to score points. It just seems to me like a useful thing to do right now, and the cause is one which can be at least potentially supported by anyone who has taken an interest in Iraq over the past few years, whatever their views happen to be.

So, Dave and Nick. How about it?

rioja kid

Friday Forecasts!

Okeydoke roll up roll up.

Nick in the Observer: He didn't get anything like a fair crack in the Newsnight debate so I suspect that he will be boiling over with things to write about Tessa Jowell. Basically a retread of this one from the last time something like this happened and no worse for that.

Dave in the Times: I guess "Dave plugs his blog", incorporating "the internet is an unreliable place, you can't trust everything you read there". It would take balls of steel to do this after the Neil Berry fiasco, but I reckon Dave's got the stones.

Nick in the Standard: Bendy buses.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Right at this very minute

... Nick is on Newsnight, talking about the visceral horribleness of seeing Labour politicians so far up Berlusconi's arse and seemingly thinking it's just fine to be so. He is quite good actually, though not looking at all in the best of health compared to his byline photo.

Three points on a tedious column

Three brief points on Nick's latest Standard column:

1. Why does he mention matters constitutional and the "new localism" in the first part of his piece, but then use the fact that central government severely restricted the Mayor of London's powers as an occassion for cheap sniping at Ken in the second part?

2. I know from local government connections that councils everywhere are planning for avian flu, just as the planned for SARS and for foot and mouth. Why is it risible for the Mayor of London to mention avian flu? If there were to be a big avian flu outbreak and Ken hadn't mentioned it, would Nick later point this omission out as evidence of Ken's shortcomings?

3. I bet we did all know the comparative figures on conventional arms supplies to Iraq that Nick mentions in the third part. Wikipedia suggests that matters are a bit more complicated though, and that US support for Saddam may have increased substantially once the Iran-Iraq war started going badly. There's also the question of so-called "dual use" exports, which may give a different picture of US involvement than statistics for conventional arms exports do for a very long period. Why is a section of which the substance concerns conventional weapons sales preceded by a subheading about weapons of mass destruction? When did France cease to be part of the "West"?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Fact checking our arses, how are ye

Update: Self correcting blogosphere, how are ya. Aaro has put up a correction and removed the original JC piece. I must say I hope this doesn't mean the end of the JC pieces going on the blog because I liked them. Anyway, a fast correction was made and credit for that.

Good spot award and thanks very much to Matthew in the comments for this one ...

Harry's Place have made a bit of an error and got the wrong Neil Berry; the writer of anti-Semitic articles[1] and the treasurer of Christian CND are different people. This matters to Aaro because he repeated the Harry's Place claim in his latest bit for the Jewish Chronicle. As Matthew says in comments to the post below, HP is almost certainly Aaro's (uncredited) source because the accusation of anti-Semitism aimed at treasurer Berry hasn't appeared anywhere else that we can find. I suspect that the reason Aaro didn't check it is that he was already aware of journalist Berry who has feuded with Nick Cohen in the last couple of years, and it didn't occur to him that there were two Neil Berries (three if you count the bloke who was in Heartbeat, although he is actually Nick Berry).

This one looked a bit too Decent to be true to me too at the time (a rabid anti-Semite as chairman of Christian CND? does this really make a lick of sense outside the Decent world in which the sandal-wearing middle class are the true heirs of Julius Streicher?), though I can't really claim any moral superiority as I actually suspected that the claims of anti-Semitism had been exaggerated rather than it being a case of mistaken identity:

This Neil Berry character certainly seems a bit slimy if everything Aaro says about him is true and there is no mitigating context, but I have no reason to believe that is the case (see comments by Mark below) and so I reserve judgement.

I guess Aaro will be putting the wheels in motion to sort out a correction when he reads it on HP, but if it doesn't happen in the next few days I suppose one of us ought to give Christian CND the heads-up that it's appeared in the Jewish Chronicle too, because once this sort of thing starts to spread it is the very devil of a job to stop it and obviously an accusation of anti-Semitism appearing in the JC is about the most damaging place for it to appear.

Well done Matthew, who wins an Aaronovitch-related prize of his choosing. Which reminds me I need to sort out that "Seals of Dacre" competition too so if you have any last suggestions to make, make 'em.

[1] I suppose that should read "allegedly anti-Semitic articles"; I have not read them myself and in the circumstances probably should not take it on trust. The excerpts that "David T" and Aaro printed were certainly quite dodgy but there might have been some context missing.