Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Two ferrets in a sack

We sometimes email each other behind the scenes at Aaro and Cohen Watch, and divvy up the shifts. Evil BB suggested that we do a proper watch of Nick's interview of Ted Honderich and Captain Cabernet begged off with the beautifully succinct:

I've already done my bit of Honderich-watching, as I was forced to endure his ghastly programme. Two ferrets in a sack if you ask me.

Yes, here at Aaro and Cohen Watch we have our disagreements, but none of us, I can assure you, wants to carry water for Honderich.
The Cohen-Honderich dialogue is a piece of work, and it gives me the opportunity to float one of my how-blogs-can-make-life-better ideas. Despite the rather odd title (Time Out with Nick Cohen: This week: Ted Honderich) Nick's piece is just an interview of Honderich, written up by Cohen. The interviewer here holds all the cards: he or she can decide what's relevant and what's not, what to cut, and what to dwell on. It's not a debate because the parties certainly are not equals. The old democrat in Nick would have realised this at one time. It's only human to press an advantage. And perhaps Nick does a long time before he signs off with a bit of psycho-hackery.

It's a poor consequentialist who can't think about consequences. Honderich can't because, I think, the emotional consequences of admitting that not all the darkness of the world is the fault of the west would be too great for him to endure.

I want to impress upon you that, though Nick wishes to see the encounter as a meeting of fine minds, one of whom just happens to have a commission to transcribe the meeting, this is an interview with Honderich. To use a sporting metaphor: Nick has elected to bowl, and that means that he can't score runs while he does so. He doesn't seem to appreciate this. He doesn't seem to have done the other thing that interviewers are supposed to do: research. Steven Poole is quite scathing, but it was only just before I decided to write this that I realised why. Nick:

Our meeting began badly and got worse. I had arranged to talk to him at a conference at the Royal College of Art in London's museum district: a bland, modernist building overshadowed by the exuberantly gothic Natural History and Victoria and Albert museums. The college is an anonymous place where it is easy to miss people, but there was no missing Professor Honderich. Six foot five inches and 73 years old, he was all flowing grey hair and dramatic poses as he marched up to me and began to denounce a Channel 5 documentary by Times columnist David Aaronovitch. I hadn't the faintest idea what he was going on about, but so vigorous were his condemnations that I assumed he had been pilloried.
Only later did I learn that Honderich himself had made a documentary for the channel (which the Guardian described as a fatheaded attempt to blame Islamist terrorism on almost everyone but Islamist terrorists)


Honderich hasn't got a book/film/play/album out which is the usual pretext for the dance with the press. Nick, as a gentleman of the press of long standing now, should know that nothing drives an interview downhill like You haven't read it, have you? Steven Poole drips vitriolic scorn (which angers a commenter, which in turn led me to understand what was wrong with the original piece):

One can hardly doubt that if the Guardian describes something in such august terms of disapprobation as fatheaded, then it is assuredly so. No need for the intrepid interviewer to watch the programme himself: a ready-made Guardian opinion will do.

Here's the thing. Nick Cohen interviews Ted Honderich - and he doesn't know that Honderich made a (fairly heavily trailed, I understand) TV programme on one of Nick's pet subjects. Not only that, he didn't get hold of a tape or disc and spend an hour (minus ads) watching the thing. Now, I sympathise with the good captain's position: but Nick does this for money. His disregard of basic professionalism reflects badly on the Staggers.
I agree with Honderich regarding fascism. I think it's possible that al-Qaeda is a bad thing, and Ayatollah Khomeni's Rushdie fatwa is a bad thing (to give just two examples) with either being 'fascist'. Not everything bad is fascist. It's true that Nazism oppressed women; but Maoism (which I'd also call fascist) protested women's equality. Jewish conspiracy theories (or, rather, theories of Jewish conspiracies) were not invented by Hitler any more than the blood libel was; Nick does the old shortarse too much credit. Abolish democracy? I know I've stuck my toe (up to the thigh) in here before: but surely Nick means bourgeois democracy - the sort we have here and in the US, and I really wouldn't bet that Karl Marx (who Nick thinks was a harmless old guy) wouldn't (updateoop - negative added) have chucked it if he could. Kill homosexuals - I take it Nick is aware that Winston Churchill said that the Bletchley Park shortened WWII by three years, and that war hero Alan Turing was driven to suicide by the British state within ten years of Germany's unconditional surrender.
Anyway, here's my how-blogs-can-make-life-better idea. Nick is old enough to have learned shorthand as a hack (I don't know whether he did or not), but the interview is obviously recorded. It can't be beyond the skills of a newspapers IT department to convert a tape or disc to MP3 format and plonk it in a public directory. I'll quote Norman Geras here:

First, because in criticizing your letter to the LRB I followed the normal blogging convention of linking to the text of what I was taking issue with, so giving my readers access to what you imply I may have been wanting to hide from them.

It's true that in the confusion of Aaro Watch we'd exchange frantic emails: I thought you read it No, you said you would Well what about evil BB, then? etc. See, with the web, a hack can interview someone - and publish twice. He (or she) can write up the interview, as is the case now, or she (or he) can broadcast it, just like John Humphreys. Nick says he tried to calm him [Honderich] down, but how uncalm was Honderich? I'd like to be able to hear the bits Nick left out.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Fallhammer said...

"...the Iranian ayatollahs, al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, organisations which had incorporated parts of classical fascist tradition?"

What on earth is the classical fascist tradition? Is he talking about the imperialist politics of Ancient Rome? Or is he just trying to weasel round the fact that none of those he mentions have anything remotely resembling complete control of the power of a modern industrial state, which is what fascism really requires? (And whatever Iran may be, it's not a fascist state.)

I've been biting my tongue on the word 'fascism' since I was a teenager in the days of the coal strike, and now all these cons and neocons and pseudocons are throwing it around with gay abandon. Don't they realise how nebbish they sound? Grrr.

11/22/2006 02:34:00 AM  
Anonymous evil bruschettaboy said...

I think this might be a mishearing of "clerical fascist", which is a term that is occasionally used to describe Khomeinism and (at a stretch) al-Qaeda. Plus the fact that some Islamist political parties wear uniforms and are fans of Mein Kampf. You are right that "classical" modifies "fascist" into a form where Nick is saying something that cannot possibly be true.

I don't agree that you need a state to be a fascist - it's not a literal contradiction in terms to have a fascist opposition party. But Nick isn't being serious here; he just wants to push his idea that "the Left" (by which he means liberals, who are and alweays have been his real enemy) are in bed with "the Right".

11/22/2006 07:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Backword Dave said...

If it's a mishearing, it's Nick mishearing *himself*, which I find hard to believe. I think what Nick means by *classical fascism* is more easily understood as *authoritarianism* - which doesn't require a state, and existed before Hitler and Mussolini.

11/22/2006 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Callan said...

Honderich's somewhat ponderous account of the events in question can be found at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/CohenWithReply.html

11/22/2006 01:13:00 PM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

Time Out with Nick Cohen

Dear God, don't let him near that magazine... < joke >

As for Honderich's dramatic poses as he 'marched' up to Nick, was Ted Vogueing a la Madonna?

11/22/2006 02:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

he just wants to push his idea that "the Left" (by which he means liberals, who are and alweays have been his real enemy) are in bed with "the Right"

I dunno, he seems pretty obsessed with far left sects as well (Respect et al). Presumably Nick's actual political position is left of liberals, and right of Trotskyists. Though given that I can't think of a single positive political position that Nick holds, its hard to imagine what Nick's politics might be. neo-hitchen-contrarianism perhaps.

11/22/2006 06:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"time out with nick cohen" is The NEw Statesman's new branding for uncle nick (it even has a new phot of him walking about - he looks rough) - and it seems to revolve around interviews - last time he spoke to Jonathan Franzen . I think Kampfner must have been sick of him writing rants drawn entirely from the internet. "get out a bit Nick, talk to people" - hopin ghe would not come up with the same shrill rant (oops, the strategy failed)

11/22/2006 06:41:00 PM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

The NEw Statesman's new branding for uncle nick (it even has a new phot of him walking about - he looks rough) - and it seems to revolve around interviews - last time he spoke to Jonathan Franzen . I think Kampfner must have been sick of him writing rants drawn entirely from the internet. "get out a bit Nick, talk to people" - hopin ghe would not come up with the same shrill rant (oops, the strategy failed)

Well, if Kampfner's going to let Nick pick his own figh-- sorry, interviewees...we'll just have to hope Nick doesn't become a stalker of unDecent left-wingers for his interview subjects. (On the other hand, don't be surprised if he has a go at some hapless academic for their use of postmodern theory)

11/23/2006 10:42:00 AM  
Anonymous bruschettaboy said...

fantastic idea for a television program "Nobody Expects Nick" - arrange a normal interview for some political figure of the day, and then when they show up bang! It's Nick Cohen wearing a pair of shoes two sizes too small and shouting the odds about "classical fascism".

11/23/2006 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous redpesto said...

fantastic idea for a television program "Nobody Expects Nick" - arrange a normal interview for some political figure of the day, and then when they show up bang! It's Nick Cohen wearing a pair of shoes two sizes too small and shouting the odds about "classical fascism".

Noooobody expects Nick! His main weapon is surprise! Surprise, a ritual denunciation of all that is unDecent, and an obsession with traffic ward-- His three weapons are surprise, denunciation of all that is un Decent, an obsession with traffic wardens, and a hostility to Ming Campb-- His four weapons are...

[Nick goes out for a moment, and returns]

Cardinal Aaro, we must extricate the truth from this post-modernist unbeliever - sorry, foreign terrorist suspect - on pain of torture. Fetch...Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction!

11/23/2006 06:27:00 PM  

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