Sunday, August 13, 2006

What the Hell is Nick on about?

Nick has invented a new style of opinion column. It's based on the famous interrogation technique "Good cop, bad cop." In that, one interviewer harangues, insults, and threatens and the other interupts him with gentler conversation and acts sympathetic. They take turns at this. Nick has produced a column which mixes a degree of sense, percipience, and intelligence with one which could have been written by WC Fields after a week long lush but without the jokes or the sparkle.

He starts in 'bad cop' voice. Newspapers get emails from nutters. AFAIK, newspapers have always had letters from nutcases. They used to be in green ink and from Tunbridge Wells, and papers used to print them. Emails make the process easier. The ink never runs out, you never have to go to buy a stamp. Otherwise, this is not news.

But then Nick drops the 'we invited you in for a chat' pretence, and drops into nasty cop first act. "Since modern technology allows every fool with an internet connection to broadcast his or her ravings, I would be making too much of the emails if they didn't exemplify a wider culture of denial." Elsewhere on tehgrauniad CiF site is Sunny Hundal asks Why do newspapers hate us bloggers?. Not that you need that when Nick all but admits that, prior to Tim Berners-Lee, only certain privileged fools could broadcast their ravings. (I agree with Sunny's point 4 -- which Sunny doesn't -- that the glut of comment will cause Nick's Market value to fall.)

It holds that the threat is manufactured, and when exploding bombs or the arrest of alleged bombers shows that it is not, it insists that the 'root cause' must be the behaviour of Western governments rather than the logic of a fascistic ideology.

I am, I admit, in the band of people Nick is talking about, so I am somewhat partisan here. However, the threat may be manufactured by government or it may not. Are you with me so far? Exploding bombs (unless you go for the full conspiracy plate) would show that it is not. The 'arrest of alleged bombers' does no such thing. Ahem.

If you think our correspondents are isolated crackpots, consider how deep into the mainstream their ideology goes. In a shameful contrast to every mass leftish movement of the last two centuries, the wave of protest against George W Bush has not produced one new radical leader of moral and intellectual distinction. Its sole global figure is Michael Moore, a propagandist so lacking in scruple that he presented Saddam's Iraq as a happy land where blushing lovers got married and merry children flew kites.

I'd like a list of these "radical leader[s] of moral and intellectual distinction". As I'm more or less an anarchist, I'm not fond of leaders. Who is he thinking of? Josef Stalin? Mao? Neil Kinnock? Harold Wilson? Tony Benn? Arthur Scargill? Can you name the leaders of the draft card burners during Vietnam? The only one I can thing of is Abbie Hoffman. That's one of the differences between Nick and me. He sees people as these moral agents for good or bad; stalking the world in white hats or black. I just see a lot of blokes, and assume everyone is out for themselves. The thing is, Iraq was an is a "land where blushing lovers got married and merry children flew kites." So was Nazi Germany. So is Tibet under the Chinese boot. So is Zimbabwe. The point was they weren't being bombed, which can really ruin your day.

Iraq wasn't a happy land (the only one I know is far, far away, where they something something, something all day). But it didn't have this.

"This is how staggeringly pointless the killing in Iraq is getting: shepherds in the rural western Baghdad neighborhood of Gazalea have recently been murdered, according to locals, for failing to diaper their goats. Apparently the sexual tension is so high in regions where Sheikhs take a draconian view of Shariah law, that they feel the sight of naked goats poses an unacceptable temptation. They blame the goats.
I've spent nearly a year here, on more than a dozen visits since the early days of the war, and that seemed about as preposterous as Iraq could get until I heard about the grocery store in east Baghdad. The grocer and three others were shot to death and the store was firebombed because he suggestively arranged his vegetables.
I didn't believe it at first. Firebombings of liquor stores are common, and I figured there must've been one next door. But an Iraqi colleague explained matter-of-factly that Shiite clerics had recently distributed a flyer directing groceries how to display their food.
Standing up a celery stalk near a couple of tomatoes in a way that might - to the profoundly repressed - suggest an aroused male, is now a capital offense."

Well, they won't be broadcasting reruns of Ester Rantzen on That's Life. Saddam persecuted the Shi'tes. When I read things like that, I begin to know why.

Nevertheless, [The Power of Nightmares] was feted at the Cannes Film Festival and praised as 'intelligent and original' by the governors of the BBC, who proved in the process the truth of George Orwell's maxim: 'Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals can believe them.'

Naturally, Nick has never believed anything stupid in his life (like David Horowitz's Front Page magazine might be capable of an interview).

Then up pops nice cop.

Meanwhile, many politicians and civil servants will never forgive the law lord, Lord Hoffmann, ... [Hoffmann's] is a principled position that I believe in, but one which honourable people oppose for honest reasons.

We've gone from 'everyone who disagrees with me is a stupid twat' to "we know you're reasonable fellows, how about a nice cup of tea and we can sort this thing out?"

When even law lords sound as if they write their judgments in green ink, I think it is fair to say that a deep malaise has taken hold.

Oh, it's the bad cop again. What does he mean even? There's a malaise, and it's taken hold. "They're mad, mad I tell you, mad" said Nick, declaring his sanity. Of the lefties here, I'm the most conservative, with a view of history somewhere between Ecclesiastes' 'The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be' and 'plus ca change, plus ca meme chose' with a fair bit of "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" when I feel like it. Nick seems to think Law Lords are notable for lucidity, but in the words of the wise man "Everyone's crazy but me and thee, and I'm not sure about thee". (Just to continue the cop theme, that was Starsky. Or possibly Hutch.)

Now he loses it.

In part, it is popular because it corresponds with everyday life in the rich world. Al-Qaeda has killed thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan and an al-Qaeda style militia has taken power in a putsch in Somalia (a country, I suspect, we will soon be hearing a lot more from). But although there is an 'al-Qaeda in Iraq', there is no such organisation as 'al-Qaeda in Europe'. Since 2001, Europe's experience of Islamist violence has consisted of the Madrid and London bombings, both crimes against humanity, certainly, but not elements of a sustained campaign. There have been scares, but many of these have been false alarms - and a death knell in the case of Jean Charles de Menezes.

So the 'death knell' (the what? ask not who death knells for, it knells for thee) of Jean Charles de Menezes is al-Qaeda's fault. This isn't at all like the people Nick's criticising who allege that terrorist activity here is caused by Coalition forces doing something or other in Iraq. al-Qaeda simply isn't this great army that Nick alleges it is. I do like 'an al-Qaeda style militia' -- so *not* al-Qaeda then. al-Qaeda in Iraq still seems like nonsense. There are a lot of fundamentalist nutters in Iraq, but they're not being controlled by Osama bin Laden from his cave or undersea volcano or moonbase.

If they think about fascism at all, the majority of people in rich countries believe it died in the Forties.

Really?. That's a bit Fascist isn't it?

The idea that people will murder without limit for the impossible dream of an imperial caliphate still makes no sense to them.

True. It makes no sense to me. Nor does people murdering without limit trying to advance into or hold a line a few miles of mud wide which ran between the North Sea and the Alps in the second decade of the last century. "These Germans are crazy." (Obelix.) "Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." (Nietzsche.)

Within living memory, Europeans murdered without limit in the name of the equally impossible dreams of the 1,000-Year Reich and New Roman Empire, but modern Europeans can't see that the fevers they incubated have infected others.

No, I don't get this. There's much I find unpleasant about fundamentalist Islam. The sexism, the homophobia, the anti-Semitism. The Nazis had all these too. (So did the British Establishment at the time.) But all three are sanctioned in the Koran, and the first two in the Bible (as is the third in the bits of the New Testament Mel Gibson is familiar with). I don't think they were 'infected' by Fascism. (I also can't see how they could have been.) Nor can I see what's different about wanting to kill without limit for a caliphate rather than for Jesus (or whatever the Crusades were about) or whatever motives led to the genocide of Native Americans. People, en masse, are generally unpleasant fuckers. Ideology is an excuse. It's not a cause.

I should have something to say about "The arms lobby imperils are troops", but "WTF?" is all I can manage.

There's no Ming Campbell dig this week, and Nick missed Lembit's airline. (Come on Nick, planes, terrorists, Liberal Democrats. Join the dots, willya?) But there is one at David Cameron.

Last week, Cameron had the groovy idea of encouraging, but not forcing, firms to install showers so employees could chill after cycling to work. Unfortunately, last week also saw interest rate rises and the threat of mass murder over the Atlantic.

So ... interest rates rise, and firms can't install showers. There's the threat of mass murder over the Atlantic. So take the bus. Of course.

Hippy politics prospers in times of peace and plenty, when the quality of life matters more than making a living or staying alive. In hard times, it is as out of place as a clown at a funeral.

Hippy politics.


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