Tuesday, October 31, 2006

oh yes, David Aaronovitch, didn't we used to Watch him in the old days?

Yes, welcome to "Nick Cohen Watch", featuring the occasional word about David Aaronovitch. Aaro is putting in his hard yards at the pundit coal-face on the subject of global warning[1], and having much fun with Nick Stern's surname.

Can this be the same guy who wrote this bit about a month ago? Back then, this global warming malarkey was all a bit Neil from the Young Ones, like pour me another cup of organic tofu maaaaan. All very worthy, and probably even factually correct but come on, that's not what politics is about.

But now it has the imprimateur of someone who is both an economist and a Lord, and it's izzy whizzy let's get busy! Suddenly global warming is the political issue of the day and one that everyone must pay attention to! Not only that, but having been generally hazy about the subject a month ago, Aaro is now seized with certainty about the facts of the matter, and indeed in a position to judge the credibility of everyone else's policy proposals (it will surprise nobody to learn that the LibDems come off worst).

I think that Aaro is currently playing the "gatekeeper" role with respect to the conventional wisdom, similar to how you used to have to beat Trevor Berbick to be taken seriously as a contender for the heavyweight title. Global warming has clearly now passed the threshold. It's interesting to see how far things have come since Rioja Kid wrote Aaros in the mist> back in November of last year – our Dave certainly appears to be finding his feet in Timesland now. Good for him, although it makes him slightly less interesting to Watch, and gives added impetus to "At Play In The Fields Of Decency", our project to expand the remit to all facets of the Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Time.

Meanwhile, watchie watchie watch. Cameron is "astute and far sighted", the love affair continues. "Market mechanisms" are no longer a panacea – good to see Aaro is taking a slightly more healthy scepticism here. And Aaro does identify, in the penultimate para, a genuine flaw in the George Osborne "tax back" proposal. But we end up back at the Beethoven's Ninth of managerialism.

"And this is the message we must absorb from Stern — that the only option that should be ruled out is doing nothing"


[1]If you're short of a pun next week, Aaro, have this one on me, and perhaps chuck in a quick "suffice to say" as a shout-out?


Nick does book reviews. Surely this is further down the food chain than being a named columnist in the Staggers, the Observer, and the London Evening Standard. He hasn't been in the Staggers for a bit, and his space on the Observer has been halved. So now he's a critic. Well, he always was, in a way.
He's got a gig on the New Humanist reviewing Debating Humanism. Like David T of Harry's Place and like me, Nick thinks that the Spiked online crew are *still* the RCP - in the sense that Sellafield is still Windscale. Once you know this you realise that despite two words in the title (out of two) being close to the New Humanist's raison d'etre, the book isn't worth reviewing at all. But Nick tries

Who can deny that the Enlightenment needs defending? Islamists who reject everything it believe [sic], want to kill us and suppress about 1.5 billion people. Postmodernists denigrate its values and hold democracy and human rights in contempt. All recruits to the fight back must surely be welcomed.

I'm close to denying that the Enlightenment needs defending. I don't quite understand what Nick means by the term. It's not a fixed thing; arguably we're living in it. But if he thinks that it was a historical event, one which is now over, then presumably it's over for a reason, and that reason ought to be worth examining. The Enlightenment, if it was a short-lived event in the Eighteenth Century, did not give us the democracy we recognise today. Women's and workers' suffrage came much later; if Nick wants to consider this country as historically secular, he'll need to explain why there are Bishops in the House of Lords. Islamists probably do reject everything it believes (in the you know what I mean sense of that clause), but tell us Nick, what of the Church? Does the Pope reject it? Does Prince Charles who aspires to be 'defender of the faiths'? Didn't post-Enlightenment Britain subjugate and suppress millions of people? Can Nick tell us who these postmodernists are?

Nick is dead on in one criticism:

Instead of looking at what menaces us in the here and now, two of the essayists concentrate their fire on the perennial liberal enemy. Dylan Evans and Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn denounce secular fundamentalists, whose narrowly anti-religious version of humanism mirrors the intolerance of the religious.

Nick has not time for people who argue like that, and quite right too. Far from needing defending, Dawkins is a best-seller. For a sensible consideration of Dawkins you could do a lot worse than Sean at Cosmic Variance.
Nick's conclusion is approved by David T (not that they 'move as a disciplined unit' or anything).

It's easier for Furedi and his comrades to carry on as before and get in the way of people with serious work to do.

The people with serious work to do being, presumably, a certain Islington based hack and friends.
Nick also reviews in the New Statesman.

The authors of two of the most original 9/11 books hit a nerve because they had that rare ability to describe a fact we didn’t want to see even though it was in front of our noses. To put it bluntly, Paul Berman’s Terror and Liberalism and Ian Buruma’s Occidentalism (co-written with Avishai Margalit) said we were up against fascism. The cults of death, contempt for soft and mediocre democracies, fear of women and Jewish conspiracy theories of Islamism and Ba’athism continued the traditions of the European ultra right. What they wrote was indisputable - if you look on the internet at the Hamas constitution you will find paragraphs that Adolf Hitler might have written - but remains unsayable in polite society to this day.

I don't think this is a brilliant insight at all. Cults of death, contempt for peace, misogyny are the foundations of every empire in history. Put like that, it fits Rush Limbaugh as well as Napoleon. Sure it's true of fascism. And it's Nick who called democracies 'mediocre'.
One day we should do a 'bizarre Nick' post - just his strangest passages. This is surely a contender.

This insight gets to the heart of our current dilemma. Suppose there had been one million Germans in Britain in the 1930s, most of them at the bottom of the heap and all of them the potential victims of racism. Suppose only a few were actual Nazis, but many others either sympathised vaguely with Hitler’s demands that the punitive conditions of the Treaty of Versailles be lifted or were pushed back into a German identity by the constant harping of the rest of society on the Nazi menace. The liberal left of the day would have feared inciting racism if they joined the chorus, and found it far harder to oppose Hitler consistently.

But the liberal left today, like Bono do speak out against Islamic intolerance. Bono, who Nick hates by the way, dragged Salman Rushdie onto the stage with U2. Did the audience protest? No ... I don't know a single liberal who approves of the way Saudi Arabia or Libya or Iran conduct themselves. That is what Nick means, isn't it?

For all his subtlety and seriousness, Buruma falls into the trap and is uncomfortable with brown-skinned people who take ideas of human freedom too literally. When Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose film for van Gogh on the treatment of Muslim women provoked his murder, tells him that there can be no colour bar on feminist freedoms, Buruma says that “one can’t help sensing that in her battle for secularism, there are hints of zealousness, echoes perhaps of her earlier enthusiasm for the Muslim Brotherhood”. There is a revealing slipperiness in that sentence: the use of “one can’t help sensing” instead of “I think”; and the deft deployment of a “perhaps” to slip in the slur that those who believe in the emancipation of women are the moral equivalents of those who would keep them subjugated. Murder in Amsterdam is well written, well researched and often wise, but a faint whiff of intellectual cowardice rises from its pages none the less.

Nick is good at spotting evasion in others - I think a decent editor would have objected to one can’t help sensing. But for some reason Nick misses the ad hominem brick thrown at Ms Ali - the allegation that she once was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (she was); and that once an extremist, always an extremist. I am sure that Ms Ali is a zealot. You can take that as an insult or a compliment; I mean it neutrally; she may after all be right to be one.
After accusing Ian Buruma of intellecual cowardice, he goes on to praise Paul Berman.

The failure of [Joschka] Fischer and so many other 1968 radicals to challenge the neo-conservatives with a left-wing argument that included solidarity with the victims of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda astonishes him [Berman], and rightly so: it was astonishing

Why it is uniquely Joschka Fischer's fault that the neo-conservatives were not challenged is beyond me. I thought Norman Geras and Harry's Place and Nick himself were doing that. Apparently entirely ineffectually if Nick is to be believed. But as with Con Coughlin in the Torygraph, the failures of the war are the failures of the neo-conservatives, not Bush and Blair. Nice to have scapegoats, I suppose.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

changing pages

Adding to BB's observations below, I’m also wondering whether we’re in the process of losing a watchee. Now, I got the Observer print edition this morning and noted certain changes.

Nick usually has all of page 14, with a main article, sidebar and hamper. He’s on the right hand side of a double page spread, generally considered the best position. He also gets his own strapline, which is important because it’s his brand: Nick, of course, writes without prejudice.

This week Nick’s got half of the left hand side of the page. There’s no sidebar or hamper, just the main piece. He’s also lost his strapline. The changes endow the piece – which BB has already Watched better than I could – with a forlorn, slapped together at the last minute, almost blog posty feel.

Meanwhile, his old roost is occupied by some posh fellow discussing pretty things. So far as I’m aware, Nick’s general position enjoys a fair amount of editorial backing at the Observer. But he does go on about the same few things relentlessly. So maybe it’s a dinner party thing: “Shall we invite Nick?” “Must we, he’ll just go ranting on.” “Well, let’s stick him down the far end of the table while we discuss pretty things.”

rioja kid

In which Nick does not get away with murder

This week's Sunday Nick is a bit shorter than normal - dunno why. It's also a more or less straightforward Harry's Place knockoff - again, dunno why. As far as I can see, the reaction of the Decent Left to the collapse of the Iraqi project has been to redouble the effort on the "shameful silence of the Left" in Darfur. Have they become any less belligerent or any more inclined to think of the consequences of their actions as a result? That would be a no, and for this reason I for one am going to point out that the 650,000 deaths (and counting) which resulted from the Iraq invasion are their fault, in a very important sense. Bush couldn't have fought the war he fought without support from Blair, and Blair couldn't have provided that support in the entirely unconditional way in which he provided it if there hadn't been constructed a substantial block of left-wing support within the Labour party. Them's the facts.

And now we have to put up with Brian Brivati calling the view that intervention will make things worse rather than better a "shameful moral evasion" and Nick Cohen calling Jan Pronk an "accessory to mass murder" while simultaneously using him as a stick to beat Kofi Annan with. Well, lads, why don't you come in, sit down next to the fire, take your boots off, and I'll put the kettle on and we can all have a nice warm cup of shut the fuck up. You failed the exam. You don't get to have an opinion on the next disaster before you can explain why you got the last one so badly wrong and how you're going to avoid repeating your mistake.

Anyway ... on with the CohenWatch. He has one really bad factual error in there (email duly sent to Readers' Editor). Jan Pronk was not thrown out of Sudan "because he had been 'abusive' about human rights abuses". He was thrown out because he had said, on his weblog, that the Sudanese Army was losing major battles and suffering from serious morale problems in North Darfur (the military issue appears to be that they can't use their helicopter gunships, because the National Redemption Front has got access to some very nifty little shoulder-launched missiles, probably via al-Qaeda in Eritrea). There is a rather important difference, obviously.

There is also one characteristic Decent error of analysis. The UN has, of course, been sponsoring peace talks for the last six months. They have a major humanitarian relief effort going on. The International Criminal Court has been gathering evidence for the last year. But of course, the UN has "done nothing", because they haven't sent an army. Nothing except war counts as "doing something".

And of course, the whole story of Darfur is a Decent fairy tale - the ethnic and economic conflicts, the civil war, all reduced to a single story of racist Muzzie Arabs killing poor lickle helpless "Black Africans" (NB: all of the Sudanese are Africans and all of them are black. "Dar-al-Sudan" is Arabic for "Land of the black people") But the most important thing is the miasma of bad faith hanging over the whole thing. So the UN doesn't throw people out for war crimes, doesn't make the distinction between victim and aggressor and doesn't hold people to account, Nick? How do you think your favourite war would score on those categories? The Decent obsession with saying that the UN is useless is the very definition of chutzpah - it was them and their mates that broke it, and if it hadn't been broken then the prisons of the Hague would be overflowing with Decent icons.

Monday, October 23, 2006

single standards

So Nick only has a go at the Lib Dems because they exhibit double standards on human rights, eh? To wit:

I go on about the Lib Dems under Sir Menzies because they reflect, albeit in an extreme form, a hypocritical relativism which is endemic in mainstream European opinion. They think they are being liberal when they imply it is an act of cultural imperialism to demand that the same human rights standards should apply in the poor world as the rich world.

Now that would be all very well if Nick stuck a single standard on the issue. Here’s Tony Blair on Britain’s relationship with China.

"...once again I would like to say how strong the co-operation between our two countries is now, the healthy state of our bilateral relationship, and across a whole range of issues, not just economic but political also, Britain and China are working closely and well together, and long may that continue."

Now whether Iran is a rogue nation or not, it’s certainly has more in the way of national elections than China and it would be difficult to argue that the political systems of either country would found acceptable to someone inclined to judge them on the basis of human rights.

Tell us Nick, is it also an act of cultural imperialism to demand that the same human rights standards should apply in a country where the UK has $12 billion invested as in one where it does not? I presume Nick doesn’t think so, but surprisingly enough I haven’t seen any sort of discussion by him on the matter. After all, such double standards are the only reason he keeps having a go at poor old Ming the Merciful...

Aarovitch - the Inquisitor!

And not just any old inquisitor, but a key inquisitor.

Emulating the best of TV and radio, the Battle of Ideas brings together broadcasters, journalists and columnists to continue their invaluable role as key inquisitors of current affairs. Additionally we challenge panels of pundits to become more than talking heads, and instead interact with the audience and engage with their ideas. The IoI seeks to gather those who want to look behind the headlines and who are no longer prepared to be patronised with simplistic sound bites.

Aaronovitch, David is one of these. Via, of all people David T, who lists other big names: Madeleine Bunting, Conor Gearty, Ted Honderich, and Bernard Crick. (I wouldn't have thought David T would have thought Madeleine Bunting was a big name, still it's five syllables, so bigger than most.)

A quick skim of the names suggests than none are Euston signatories. As advertised above, none are elected (MPs councillors, mayors, that sort of thing).

Actually David T is right about the cultishness. RCP bods seem to chair everything. Sounds like a weekend of fun.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Since no one else seems prepared to do this, this is a rush job.

First, good on Aaro. I'm absoultely against faith schools, as this story from last week's Observer should make clear. (I meant to blog it elsewhere, but it made me just too angry. Anyway, I couldn't hate Blair and Kelly more than I do already.)

Oh, Nick, Nick, Nick. Quick quiz, who I wonder wrote this?

When it comes to freedom of speech about religion, however, it's a very different matter. At the height of The Satanic Verses affair in 1988, [Iqbal] Sacranie said that 'death was perhaps too easy' for Salman Rushdie. This did not stop New Labour almost tripping over its feet as it rushed to embrace the MCB when it came to power in 1997. As well as knighting Sacranie, it responded to his lobbying by putting before parliament a law against incitement of religious hatred. In their attempts to keep this unelected homophobe in their big tent, New Labour is prepared to ignore its more liberal supporters - and the conclusively argued opposition of the House of Lords - and force the bill through.

Yes, Nick Cohen!

Let us take a trip in Time.

One of the best moments in Step Across This Line , Salman Rushdie's provocatively named book of essays (Jonathan Cape; 454 pages), comes when the author is invited on stage at a U2 concert in 1993 by his friend Bono. At the time, Rushdie was in hiding from Muslim assassins after Iran's Ayatullah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him for his allegedly blasphemous novel, The Satanic Verses . Bono, ever the good guy, meant the invitation as a gesture of support. To Rushdie, the moment was a revelation. He suddenly felt what it's like to have 80,000 fans cheering you on. The audience at the average book reading is a little smaller. Girls tend not to climb on to their boyfriends' shoulders during them, and stage-diving is discouraged.

I'm not a Bono fan. I thought he was a collosal wanker when I saw him in the Edinburgh Playhouse in 1983. (They'd been better the first time I saw them, before even 'Boy' was released.) But still Nick, there are reasons why the rest of the world continues to take Bono seriously and why that isn't washed away by stinginess with taxes. (After all, a lot of my tax money goes to things I don't support, like Trident, as well as things I do.) But the other 'Bruschetta Boy' is far more qualified than I in these matters. Nick's conclusion seems deeply silly.

Ominously, the Tories may win the next election. If they do, U2 would be rank ingrates if they didn't perform at the celebration party.

U2 have never paid taxes in the UK, and I doubt that they plan to. I cannot see the relevance of this. Does he realise that Eire is a separate country?
At least Nick explains one fixture in his columns:

I go on about the Lib Dems under Sir Menzies because they reflect, albeit in an extreme form, a hypocritical relativism which is endemic in mainstream European opinion. They think they are being liberal when they imply it is an act of cultural imperialism to demand that the same human rights standards should apply in the poor world as the rich world.

If it is endemic, would it be so hard for him to find some examples? Last week, his Lib Dem slot mentioned Charlie Kennedy's alcoholism and party donations. Both veritable hits, but nothing to do with the poor world.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Aaro gets is

Rather a good Tuesday Aaro in my opinion. Making the entirely sensible point that constantly having a go at the Muzzies is bound to be counterproductive. Michael Gove appears to believe that you can win the "Battle of Ideas" at the dispatch box of the Oxford Union, Nick Cohen apparently believes that John Humphreys is falling down on his appointed job as lead platoon in the "Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Time", and Melanie Phillips appears to believe that you catch fewer flies with honey than with undiluted hydrochloric acid. At least Aaro is borderline sane on this issue (it is really quite likely that 1930s Munich contained one or two dishonest Jewish moneylenders and even a couple of Jewish butchers who put sawdust in the workers' sausage. But Der Sturmer was still a bad newspaper, and nor does it make any sense to drag up every single bit of Muslim badness that we can find).

Check out the reaction of Aaroblog's commenters by the way ...

Monday, October 16, 2006

And Your Point Is?

Captain Cabernet wrote of Nick's disappointment in Michael Billington and Charles Spencer. He won't be any happier with them today.
Despite Nick's frequent visits to the West End (Islington has some perfectly good theatres), I've not yet formed an idea of what sort of play Nick enjoys. I think the Captain is right: it should be ruthlessly didactic, and at the same time uplifting. Gee Willikins, Momma, we'll pull through, all we need is hope1. Somehow, I can't see Nick sharing Michael Billington's praise:

But this is a performance, not an exercise in self-revelation. And what is striking is the accommodating nature of Beckett's text. One of the most famous of all Krapps, the German actor Martin Held, implied the character's earlier vitality. Pinter, however, brings out the black nihilism of a Krapp for whom the planet is simply "this old muckball". And the final irony of an unsparingly honest performance is that, even when Krapp talks of "the fire in me now", it is followed by a long, agonised silence as a death-bell distantly tolls.

Charles Spencer agrees:

Once notorious for his outbursts in real life, there is a savage fury even in the way he turns the tape recorder on and off, while those dark hooded eyes seem to burn with impotent ire. Pinter may be physically fragile, but the menacing power that has always been present in his writing is still there in the actor. What we are witnessing in this performance isn't so much rage against the dying of the light – Krapp actually admits that he is burning to be gone – but rage against a life the character has come to recognise as squandered. There's an especially poignant moment when Krapp tries to record his last tape and bitterly remarks: Nothing to say, not a squeak and one remembers Pinter's own painful struggles with writer's block.

Billington doesn't mention his poetry. And won't Telegraph readers in Tunbridge Wells and Cheltenham be disappointed that they aren't reminded of Nick's 2003 Christmas Quiz - the one where Nick asked:

Which playwright, who wept buckets for the victims of a genocidal regime when Saddam was a de facto ally of Britain and America in the 1980s, wrote in 2003?
Dear President Bush,
I’m sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood, with my compliments.

Oh yes, I am curious now. What was your point there? That Harold Pinter was against Saddam long before you were? Before it was fashionable in government? Or that he called Bush a 'war criminal' just when you thought Bush was the great anti-Fascist who'd bring peace to all mankind? Yet the most eloquent expression of Blair's legacy is the image of him washing cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood.
1. I don't actually recommend that you follow this link, or, if you do, that you read all of it. Just imagine you were writing a novel and wanted a not very bright vicar character (perhaps to satirise Tony Blair), this is the sort of comic sermon you might compose to convey vapidity and intellectual lassitude.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Osama, the musical

Sandwiched between some worthy reflections on homelessness, and Nick's disgust, inter alia, at a self-deceiving heavy drinker, come his reflections on a new production of Cabaret. Nick complains that reviewers, such as the Guardian's Michael Billington and the Telegraph's Charles Spencer, describe the production as "political" whereas Nick found in merely titillating.

I haven't seen the production, and so I can only go by my own reading of the reviews in question. The central point pushed by Billington is that the show is a brilliant depiction of a society "dancing on the edge of an abyss". Much the same is true of Spencer, though he is more explicit than Billington in explaining how the musical makes its point, focusing on the shocking scene which is also the focus of the movie:

As well as catching the seediness of the Berlin cabaret scene, with far from glamorous designs that owe a debt to Thirties' expressionism and the cartoons of Grosz and Dix, Norris powerfully captures the rise of Nazism. The hauntingly beautiful melody of Tomorrow Belongs to Me suddenly turns sinister when we realise that the blond who is singing it is wearing a swastika, while the show's shocking final image graphically illuminates the ultimate destination of the Nazi experiment.

I've put in bold the only words from that paragraph that are quoted by Nick. Is he truthful, honest? You be the judge.

Nick is good enough to let us know what he thinks such a musical ought to be doing:

if the show truly did make the audience think about totalitarian movements old and new which want to abolish democracy, oppress women, kill Jews and gays and establish a global empire, the critics' swoons would be justified.

In other words, Nick wants an very didactic production of "Osama, the musical" in which the true horror of AQ plans for a global Caliphate are explained through song and dance: a sort of Brechtian Eustonism or Eustonite Brechtian theatre. How fortunate for the dramatic arts that Nick decided to become a journalist.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Guess Who Came To Dinner?

Readers who have been following Aaro Watch over the past year and a bit will have noticed that Nick Cohen goes to dinner parties (usually in Islington - though 'Islington' may be a borough of the mind and wherever the enemies of the moment happen to be). He hasn't - yet - gone as far as this:

Fine, now that I know that, to you, medical ethics are nothing, you've told me all I need to know. I'm not trying to persuade you. Do you think I care whether you agree with me? No. I'm telling you why I disagree with you. That I do care about. I have no further interest in any of your opinions. There's nothing you wouldn't make an excuse for. You know what? I wouldn't want you on my side. I was telling you why I knew that Howard Dean was a psycho and a fraud , and you say 'That's O.K.' Fuck off. No, I mean it: fuck off. I'm telling you what I think are standards and you say, 'What standards? It's fine, he's against the Iraq War.' Fuck. Off. You're MoveOn.org. Any liar will do. He's anti-Bush. Fuck off...Save it sweetie, for someone who cares. It will not be me. You love it, you suck on it. I now know what your standards are, and now you know what mine are, and that's all the difference -- I hope -- in the world.

That, of course, was Christopher Hitchens courtesy of Ezra Klein. Ezra continues:

It explains, too, why Hitchens and so many like him are quick to inflate the dangers posed by Islamic extremists, to make threats out of enemies and existential dangers out of garden variety terrorists. If they don't, if they allow al Qaeda to remain a degraded organization with limited operational capacity that should be mopped up through diligent law enforcement strategies, then where does that leave them in the eyes of history? Orwell battled against Communism, Hitchens is going to take a brave posture against 27 bearded nuts who want white men to leave their lands?

Does this explain Nick's conversion? I'm firmly in the camp which says that there are Islamic extremists, and they're very nasty, but there also aren't very many of them. They're a threat, sure, but not an 'existential' one, nor is there a 'clash of civilisations'.

In a 2003 interview, Hitchens said the events of September 11th filled him with exhiliration. His friend Ian Buruma, the writer, told me, I don't quite see Christopher as a 'man of action,' but he's always looking for our defining moments--as it were, our Spanish Civil War, where you put yourself on the right side and stand up to the enemy. Hitchens foresaw a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Here was a question on which history would judge him; and just as Orwell had (in his view) got it right on the great questions of the 20th century -- Communism, Fascism, and imperialism -- so Hitchens wanted a future student to see that he had been similarly clear-eyed (He once wrote, I have tried for much of my life to write as if I was composing my sentences posthumously.)

Nick also has similarities to Orwell. I don't think he writes as well, but he is motivated by a broadly compassionate socialism (more noticeably directed at the proletariat in abstract) as well as an at times perversely mercurial individualism, and a pronounced contempt for anyone on his side for too long.
But at least he composes his sentences while still alive.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Blaming the 'Cultural Left' Now

This is a departure from the usual Aaro Watch stuff, but I believe it fits. One of our themes is the spread of 'blame the left for everything' among former leftists. I don't know enough about Dinesh D'Souza to know if he fits that category, but his forthcoming book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 (advance copy review by James Wolcott) fits the pattern of Nick's (also forthcoming) effort.

In this book I make a claim that will seem startling at the outset. The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11.

I'm looking forward to Decent praise already.
UPDATE: 15/10/2006. As 'badmatthew' notes in the comments, Dinesh D'Souza never was any kind of lefty. I should have looked him up. I lazily assumed that anyone as vicious about the left had to be a recent convert to the right. That was unforgivable of me, and I apologize. (And apologies for originally adding this to the wrong post as well. D'oh!)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

They have the conventional weapons, but we have the conventional wisdom

Always the sting at the end, eh Aaro? North Korea has exploded a nuclear weapon, so the United Nations is irrelevant. There's a massacre in Darfur, which shows that the United Nations is irrelevant. I had a cheese sandwich yesterday which surely demonstrates that the United Nations is irrelevant. The factoid that "the UN is irrelevant" is now the mouldiest of conventional wisdom among the Decent set; as far as I can tell, this is the combination of a) the Yanks don't like it, and b) a feeling of having been jilted when it turned out that there was actually very little enthusiasm for sending blue-helmeted myrmidons on a global rampage against regimes which offended against decent norms (or more accurately, against regimes which offended Decent Norm).

Is there anything which doesn't prove the UN is irrelevant? Of course, the UN World Food Programme (currently on the ground in, gasp, Darfur) might be thought a bit relevant, as might the ICC. But of course, these things don't count in the Decent world, because in the world of Decency, "foreign policy" means the proper, tough kind, where you send working class people out to kill foreigners. And they have the nerve to call us stupid cynics?

In place of the UN, what, Dave? Aaro doesn't actually believe that the USA had any better idea for dealing with North Korea. Apparently he wants China to put the economic squeeze on them. What's in it for the Chinese, Dave? And how would we go about promising it to them, if not through multilateral institutions? And while we're on about it, why would anyone in the world who did not have the maintenance of a specialised blog as one of their hobbies give a fuck about Dave's views on the subject, given that he so transparently and admittedly doesn't understand what's going on? The naïve economic realist explanation that he gives for the Korean nuke actually explains less than the competing explanations he dismisses; the Koreans were actually offered the aid-for-nukes deal that he claims is their aim, on several occasions in the past.

Meanwhile, echoes of Iraq continue to resound – Dave continues to talk about "this obsession with Iraq" as if the whole mess had nothing to do with him, and to make use of the Decent TARDIS[1]. The invasion of Iraq obviously couldn't have had anything to do with Korean nukes, because they announced the start of the plan in October 2002. Do you get that, Stoppers?! 2002. Nobody was even thinking about invading Iraq in 2002! (In actual fact, Dave is perhaps forgetting that North Korea was explicitly named by George W Bush as part of the "Axis of Evil" in January of that year). Furthermore, apparently "North Korean defectors have told Western experts that many sufferers under the juche regime might welcome a second Korean war that put some kind of an end to their miseries". Defectors? Really? Did they say you'd be welcomed with sweets, flowers and rather curious mass displays holding up coloured pieces of paper? As I have said before, Dave, did you really have such good luck with this one last time round that you thought you'd try it again. You'll be trying the "what if he gives one to a terrorist" line again soon … nope, too late.

Additional hack points: the pun "Korea advice". And the slight at Andy Kershaw for apparently disagreeing with Dave, apparently on the mere basis of having gone there, which we all know is no substitute for the might combination of Google, ideology and Decent intuition.

[1] See AW passim. The Decent Tardis is a transdimensional vehicle possessed by Dave, Nick and Norman Geras, among others, which allows small but crucial adjustments to be made to history when Decent politics requires it. In this case, obviously, every possible evidence of American belligerence has to be pushed either into the "safe space" of the aftermath of 9/11, or to a point after March 2003.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nick gets a chance to use that delicious "Mooreonification" joke!

Here ye are. God it's wretched. Even the Golden Groundhog couldn't be bothered to stick his head out of the hole when he heard that Nick's theme this week was "Menzies Campbell is given a pretty easy ride on the Today programme" again. For crying out loud. Is Nick trying to bore us into submission? It's certainly working on me.

Look, when commentators with a bit of fire in their belly decide to have a go about "media bias", they at least try to produce some evidence, suggesting that some parts of the story are simply not presented. Nick is content to let his case rest on a completely subjective and entirely arguable view that BBC presenters aren't tough enough on his own favourite bugbears, and that (ridiculously) being in favour of British foreign policy is a view wildly out of the mainstream. I think we have reached an important crossover point here, in that Nick's views on the role of media in politics are now less accurate and more boring than those of Noam Chomsky, which is a pretty bad state of affairs.

A further nudge toward Dacre-land, by the way; does anyone at all think that the example of anti-abortion lobbyists not being given a fair enough crack was chosen at random? Meanwhile, talented working class athletes tend to turn their talents in the direction of football, rather than athletics. Who Da Thunkit?

Anyone for polo chaps?

Jane Ashworth of Street Games said that you can blame everything from the cost of going to swimming pools to the inability of single mothers to find the time to take children to training for the class imbalance. But if the bias isn't tackled, then Britain will do as dismally as ever in the London Olympics.

A bit of an odd one, this, as Jane Ashworth, previously known as an expert on left-infighting and a leading light of the anti-Stopper jihad, appears in her day-job guise as an sports administrator. Given the breadth of employment represented by Eustonite signatories can we expect others to pop up as experts on pharmaceuticals or academia?

Anyway, it seems to me that Jane's Marxist roots are showing here. There are many reasons why different sports exhibit different class composition, and they often don't have to do with access being restricted because of lack of financial means. Participation in sport, as participation in other cultural activities, is something people use as a class marker. Croquet would be relatively cheap and easy for the workers to engage in, but they don't. And is anyone going to say that Britain's international show jumping performance is dismal because of the disproportionate representation of the Windsors and their cronies?

The fact is, that Jane, like lobbyists for other areas (theatre, ballet, opera, gardening?) is using the access questions to try to wring more money out of government. Of course, unlike some other areas of culture, she can also play the patriotism card. (Is patriotism the last refuge of Euston?)

Class and inequality do scar British life. This Nick knows. The solution -- if there is one -- isn't to direct government resources to improving "access" to those areas of life with the best lobbyists: it is to give those "from the bottom of the heap" more resources to spend on sport, opera, or critical criticism, just as they have a mind.

Friday, October 06, 2006


As Nick isn't in the Staggers today (or I can't find him) and his ES pieces make his blog only intermittently, and Aaro is down to one Times comment a week, things are going to be quiet here.

So ... flashback time! Remember Aaro's famous prediction? Well, he wasn't the only one caught out.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A glib managerialist wanker? You say that like it's a bad thing

Well, here's my go at answering the other BB's question ... I agree that it's not at all clear what DA is on about.

I don't think Dave does hate Cameron, not deep down. He wants Labour to win because he has a bit of cash on them and blah blah single mothers minimum wage (not that the individual parts of the Denis MacShane "if you could see my constituency" litany are bad things, but the big picture of Britain under Labour is that it has got more unequal, not less). But he doesn't hate David Cameron with anything like the passion that he hates Old Labour.

BB notes that Dave is accusing Dave of tokenism and being patronising to the population. I think that this is actually praise. Remember that Dave holds to the "right brain/left brain" theory of politics, a kind of Birtspeak Straussianism in which politicians have to be lying and hypocritical simply because the public are so venial that we won't drink our cod liver oil unless they tell us it's Coca Cola. Cameron is, after all, "the best asset his party has" and is opposed to all the horrible knee jerk instincts of his party. In other words, he's for the only party that Dave is really committed to – the party of radical, directionless reform. Aaronovitch's politics is basically aesthetic (I think that this is AW's main contribution to the literature) and you have to admit that Cameron is easy on the eye.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

An Urgent Request

Can someone explain just what the hell Aaro is on about.

I'm in two minds regarding the Foley scandal. Naturally, I'm very pleased that this is a tabloid-simple scandal which is going to harm the Republican Party and may ... no, I can't say it. I'm not superstitious exactly, but I'll write about it when it happens. But there's another side to the revelations: one which would concern DA if he stopped to think about it. Senator Foley's concern about nudist camps was comically over the top, but child protection is a worthy aim. The next politician who proposed a bill which has anything to do with child abuse will face a lot of interest in their private life. I'm not at all sure that it will be a good thing if journalists start writing things like "A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat" or "the bigger the front the bigger the back" or "you know what they say about child abuse campaigners, don't you, don't you, eh?"

Anyway, the interesting legacy of Foley is not that he once wrote to Jeb Bush about fiddle playing teen naturists but that Federal authorities say such messages could result in Foley's prosecution, under some of the same laws he helped to enact. Now that's what I call self-destructive! (Source: Wikipedia.)

Now if someone else had written Dave's third paragraph, rather than PC Aaronovitch, might one detect a whiff of homophobia? And I don't know what to make of He [Cameron]’s probably already casting around for Somali boys for his daughter to marry when she’s old enough. I think he's accusing the Tory leader of faux-tokenism and underlying racism, and a very old-fashioned approach to bringing up daughters. But it's also possible that he's suggesting that Cameron will cozy up to anyone - even the most horrible reactionaries on the planet: Muslim men.

That said, I don't understand the rest of the piece at all. It's clearly thrown Dave's dedicated commenter Nick (South Africa) who took it to mean that Cameron is a clone of Blair. But DA admires Blair, and he plainly hates Cameron, so that can't be what he means. But it would be easier if DA actually quoted Cameron rather than making up the speeches he doesn't like. Easier for me, as a reader, that is.

Monday, October 02, 2006

what constitutions allow

From yesterday

To be told that it is easier for creationists to get at children in Britain than the US is as shockingly incongruous as opening a paper and reading that more prisoners are executed in Devon than Texas. Yet British scientists trying to uphold basic intellectual standards are starting to believe just that.

This in reference to the Establishment Clause of the US constitution. No British scientist is actually quoted as believing "just that"; just someone from the British Humanist Association. Nick also undermines himself somewhat by pointing out that the creationist habitat in the UK tends to be the nearest streetcorner. On the other hand, there's this from today’s Washington Post:

With little public attention or even notice, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that undermines enforcement of the First Amendment's separation of church and state. The Public Expression of Religion Act - H.R. 2679 - provides that attorneys who successfully challenge government actions as violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment shall not be entitled to recover attorneys fees. The bill has only one purpose: to prevent suits challenging unconstitutional government actions advancing religion.

So the struggle goes on. Now the folks trying to keep ickle baby Jeebus out of America’s schools surely deserve ours and Nick’s support. However, it seems to be just a hook on which to attack European “condescension” with regard to the United States.

But not a topical hook. I thought at first he was going to take a crack at Dawkins, who’s got a new book out and who as an opponent of US foreign policy is a prime candidate for Nick’s shitlist – everyone who opposed the war in Iraq from whatever perspective gets a dig from him, in whatever context presents itself. It’s Nick’s version of original sin.

There’s no material point made here either about the superiority of a written constitution, US style, as opposed to the UK’s more informal procedures. Nor is there anything about the government's rather alarming fondness for having science classes devoted to discussion of why God wants men to have nipples, something which would back his formal argument up. There’s just this promotion of the idea that criticism of the US involves emitting a kind of intellectual flatulence, embarrassing to folk with proper manners.

So, what’s the point then? It seems to me that the most salient news about what the US constitution allows right now is the fact that it apparently allows secret, indefinite detention and torture at the say so of the President. Hard on that, Nick gives us a piece whose main import is to establish the notion that criticism of the United States is unjustified in fact and founded in bad faith. This looks rather like propaganda by misdirection. Nick, you old hack you.

rioja kid

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Campaign for Real Nick

A few remarks concerning Nick on "The Demise of the Canonbury Tavern, And How The Liberal-Left Are Probably To Blame" (this is the equivalent of Stan Boardman never getting over the bombing of his favourite chip shop).

1. As Captain Cab (or it might have been Matthew) pointed out to me in email, perhaps the problem with the modern boozer is that it is full of people taking up space drafting political manifestoes and not ordering beers.

2. Nick implictly contrasts the welcoming, friendly efficient service at the Canonbury with the snobbish and slow staff at Guardian local The Eagle. In fact, a glance at the reviews suggests that the appalling quality of the staff and management are what knocked the Canonbury over into insolvency in the first place; it is one of the few pubs in North London to have a beer garden, but has been complacently trading off this fact for far too long.

3. The implication that it is a characteristic of the Great British Boozer that it has lots of boisterous children running around is perhaps curious.

4. Also suggested to me by email is the frightening prospect that Nick is a) in the habit of meeting "interesting strangers" in pubs and talking to them and b) on the lookout for a new local. Nick if you are reading this I entreat you to stay out of the NW1 and NW3 postcodes, nothing of interest awaits you therein. None of the beerintheevening.com reviews actually say "my evening was ruined by a nutter who kept on ranting about the Muslims and George Galloway" but you get the feeling that they might have done.

By the way, the Sunday col is just dreadful. Lotsa boilerplate "ooh you Europeans think you're much better than the Americans but you're not" stuff, presumably left over from the Standard col in midweek (Watching of this was outsourced to Blood & Treasure, btw), attached to a barely coherent rant about creation scientists sending out a couple of publicity packs.

The theme that links the two is "Nick not really bothering to do the research". The Canonbury is "probably" going to open up as a gastropub. The creation science packs are "likely" to appeal to trendy BBC-guardian types who want to teach both sides. Maybe they are, maybe they ain't, but Nick is going to continue to rant as if the point had been established by a dozen New Yorker fact checkers. There's a quite popular newspaper in which this kind of journalism is rife, produced by Associated Newspapers.

Oh yes, and that David Cameron? He doesn't have any policies! Yes that's right ladies and gentlemen, no policies! Golden Groundhog duly awarded.