Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Bit of History

As well all know by now, David Aaronovitch is running in the London Marathon. Apart from cutting his weight, this will give him fallback columns until after April. For those days when even Galloway=Hitler won't do.

Will he, I wonder, choose to follow Norm's example and note the Lahore Marathon in Pakistan.

Now, I'm not going to deny that the prevention of women's participation in sports is a bad thing. But it's hardly limited to militant Islam. When Roberta Louise Gibb "wrote for [her] application for the Boston Marathon" she "received a curt reply that women were not physiologically able to run such distances and furthermore were not allowed to do so." That was in 1966, and she did run without entering. The following year Kathrine Switzer entered using only her initials and surname:

Now, the reason I signed K.V. Switzer instead of Kathrine is because I always signed my name that way. Ever since I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer and K.V. was going to be my signature name. It seemed to my young mind then that all the good writers used their initials like J.D. Salinger, E.E.Cummings, T.S. Elliot, W.B. Yeats -- so ever since I was twelve I signed all my papers K.V. Switzer, thinking I was totally cool. It was my signature.

But she also made American history:

Every time a female runner enters a marathon, a small offering should be made to Kathrine Switzer. Through her tenacity, stubbornness and belief that women can too run 26.2, she scaled the male bastion of the Boston Marathon that barred women from its race and helped to open its doors to women, which it officially did in 1972.

Ms Switzer ran at college in Virginia:

The media hype made me nervous and I knew I had to do well to uphold my athletic honor. I finished the mile in 5:58 and was pleased. But I wasn't thrilled with some of the hate mail I received over the incident, telling me God will strike me dead for running with men. I learned a valuable lesson that day.

When she ran the marathon, one of the co-race directors, Jock Semple, tried to pull her out.

The New York Times reported the story but inadvertently said I didn't finish.

So, no change there. That's humanity for you -- same curious admixture of honourable husbands and boyfriends and religious nutjobs.

But "Islam catches up with Western freedom" fits the Decents' mindset so much better.

whoo, a bit of parody

Dave’s latest lumbers a bit – it’s a lot like one of those grand setpiece blog pieces that are meant to show everyone just exactly how it is with wit, parody and sparkling satire, but trips over its own shoelaces.

The basic problem is the precept, namely that George equals Adolf. This is taken as a given for Dave but it only really works if there’s a general appreciation that this is in fact the case, which there isn’t. And as I say, the piece lumbers too much in the execution to be persuasive (too many fake Cherman names, made up characters that don’t do anything or have any relevance, a generally cluttered scenario, etc).

Hey, I’ve got one for you: Imagine George Galloway stamping on a human face forever. Now that’s funny.

I’ll refer Dave to the absolute classic in this genre, namely Alexander Cockburn’s spoof interview of Adolf by Andy Warhol. I can’t find the whole thing online, but there’s an excerpt here, in an article by non other than our favourite uber decent, Christopher Hitchens.

Of course, if you’re going to accuse Galloway of being a Nazi, you’d best do so in a non-suable manner. The interesting contrast here with Nick is in the ending. Dave takes the ameliorative view that George and the boys will just fade away of their own accord. Nick, on the other hand is – what’s the phrase – chewing the carpet? Whoops, metaphor!

rioja kid

Near Misses

We'll do anything to move those bloody lizard pics off the front page, so here's another largely spurious post. Let's look again at those Friday predictions. (We need to take note that DA writes in the Times twice weekly now.)

In order we actually had:

Nick Cohen in the Statesman: no show (unless he's in the print version, and someone's bothered to buy it). So 1 point to me.

David Aaronovitch in the Times on Saturday: London Marathon training. Well, I did mention that, but it was the third of my choices.

NC in the Observer: Christ knows really. Rule of law and equality before same turns out to be a good thing, despite Nick's earlier doubts about our wig-wearing friends. (See him in November: "Since coming to power in 1997, Labour politicians have tried to govern Britain from the enemy territory of plutocratic London. All around them have been the City financiers, the CEOs in the corporate headquarters along the Thames, the polished lawyers in the Inns of Court and the media celebs at Wapping, Television Centre and Canary Wharf." (Farringdon Road, still the correspondence address of tehgrauniad and the Observer isn't included, and it's in that dreadful no man's land between Islington proper and the Square Mile. Enemy territory indeed.) Also Fascists and Freemasons. Is he right? I have really no idea. He missed a topical reference: Wolfgang Theophilius was one of the buggers. The only other thing I know about masons are that Tolstoy thought they were all fools (he read up on the secret funny-handshake business in a library while researching "War and Peace") and I once played a grand wizard or whatever-they're-called in a S4C drama, which I never saw on the box. (Anyway, I was an extra.) And all I can say about Masonic Halls is: never trust a straight man with interior decoration. And conspiracy theories. Matthew did predict that -- just the wrong columnist.

DA today. Galloway again. Evil BB, you should have stuck with your first guess. I haven't summoned the courage to read it yet, but it seems like a rerun or a rehash or a vaguely familiar piece.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Speaking of book reviews

I am finding it hard to like this piece of Wal-Mart apologia, which is really quite pointless. Sub-Economist mitherings about "well, on the one hand Wal-Mart are union-busters and pay terrible wages, but on the other hand you can get gherkins really cheap", we gottem. Of course, any criticism of Wallyworld is basically motivated by anti-Americanism. Or if you're American, Bush-hatred. And in turn, therefore snobbery. So, rather like one of those modern feminists you can see with their tits out on page 3, Aaro appears to be shuffling toward the position that buying Wal-Mart stock and providing political cover for its assault on labor[1] standards and zoning laws is the progressive, even the slightly radical thing to do.

Oh, and we British have always hated the retail trade because we're anti-Semites. I wish they'd given these books to Nick to review to be honest.

[1]It's like "Labour" but it doesn't have a party.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Oi! Aaronovitch! No!

Dave has seen a book review in the Guardian he didn't like. Someone has used the occasion of a few historical novels about wars in the USA to have a few unrelated digs at the septics today. Dave has a go back at him, on the general topic of "they saved our asses in World War 2". But then he promises "more on this anon".

Please no, Dave, the world already has more than enough pieces of "this represents a tendency on the left" journalism and they are all terrible (read the last few months of Nick Cohen in the Staggers if you don't believe me, or for that matter Oliver Kamm's book). The vast current of the "anti-war left" do not oppose all wars ever, we didn't oppose the Iraq War because we hate Americans and we don't agree with your premis that democracy is being promoted. We can tell from the blog post what the general theme of "more anon" is going to be, so why not just take it as read, we will consider ourselves sternly admonished and there is no need to write the bloody thing, eh?

Groundhog masons

Poor Nick is clearly running out of material, since this week's Observer column has some egregious recycling concerning Freemasonry.

This week under the headline "Fascists are on the march again" Nick tells us:

It was Masons, not Jews, who were the target of the original conspiracy theory of the far right. What would end up as fascism began as a reaction against the American and French revolutions. The counter-revolutionaries had to explain why people were proclaiming heretical ideas about the rights of man. They couldn't admit that the French and Americans were embracing Enlightenment values of their own free will. There had to be a conspiracy. Europe's Jews were in the ghetto in the 1790s, and it was preposterous to pretend that they were secret rulers of the world. So the far right decided that the conspirators were the Freemasons.

No doubt, no doubt. But hasn't Nick told us this before? In the New Statesman on the 10th of October last:

The template was set by the reaction against the American and French revolutions. How could Americans proclaim such insane ideas as the rights of man, the counter-revolutionaries asked. How could the French overthrow the king who loved them and Holy Mother Church which succoured them? They couldn’t admit that the Americans and the French wanted to do what they had done. Their consent had to have been manufactured by the new rulers of the world. Originally these were the Freemasons, who were damned for peddling enlightened ideas. Only after Jewish emancipation opened the ghettos were the Jews press-ganged into the plot.

And back to April 2004 under the headline "Is Fascism behind the Terror" (NS again):

Islamist extremists believe in a worldwide conspiracy not just of Jews, but also of Freemasons. They thus echo the rantings of Europe's extreme right in the 19th and 20th centuries.

That column is now behind a paywall, but you can find the full text at some Islamic site (scroll down).

The April 04 column is, I think, the Ur-column (though there may be yet earlier versions). Nick there accorded great significance to the Google results for "Masons and Islam". This prompted a response on the Staggers letter page concerning the use of Google to research obsessions and conspiracies:

After reading Nick Cohen's tirade against Islam's paranoia about the Masons ("Is fascism behind the terror?", 12 April) and noting the significance he attaches to Google giving 14,000 hits when you type in "Masons and Islam", I did a little research. First, Google gave me only 12,000 hits for "Masons and Islam" - but what's a few thousand here and there? "Masons and Jews" got 20,000. Maybe Abdullah el-Faisal, whom Cohen quotes ranting about "cabals of Jews and Freemasons", reached his conclusions after messing around with Google in the same way.

Here are some more results. "Nick Cohen and Masons" gave me 445 hits, "Nick Cohen and Jews" 10,000, "Nick Cohen and Islam" 12,000. It's such a mystery, isn't it? But venturing into the more exotic may help us truly to understand the nature of internet searches. "Mickey Mouse and Jews" got 9,550 hits, "Mickey Mouse and Islam" 12,700. "Nick Cohen and Mickey Mouse" got a startling 5,190. But I do agree with Cohen that Islam is wasting its time bothering about the Masons. With the Project for the New American Century, Israel and the Bush administration plus cronies on the loose, I think it's got more than enough to worry about.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Voodoo Lagoon

In-almost-certainly-unrelated Nick Cohen news, this, from IMDB on Voodoo Lagoon, currently "in production" by a director of that same name:

A group of college students book a bargain dream holiday to a remote tropical island, little knowing that they have been lured there by the island's evil owner to fulfill an ancient voodoo prophecy. Soon, what appears to be paradise is transformed as friends and siblings are pitched against each other in a desperate fight for survival. Doubt, suspicion and panic splinter the group as each member begins to fall victim to the terrifying reality of their own worst nightmares. Can those who are left find the strength to confront and overcome the fear that will otherwise be their end, or will the voodoo curse win out?

Is Voodoo Lagoon code for the Seychelles? Are the students a metaphor for the left? Is Saddam the island's evil owner? Will an intrepid few be decent enough to find an escape route? Or are the decents themselves the group thrown into confusion?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Aaro on being stitched by Simon Hughes

Here. Quite a good article really, with no real Decent angle to it, and even the entirely understandable pique at Hughes for allowing the Sun to scoop them is pretty understated.

Friday forecasts, anyone? We have been on a roll this last two weeks.

Nick C: "The real hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats is not their sex scandals but their opposition to the Iraq War". It has that sickening air of inevitability to it, doesn't it? For the Observer. For the Standard ... dunno, nothing obvious. But Ken Livingstone has apparently shelled out a few quid to the organisers of the Tour de France in order to get a stage held in London, and that must surely rate a joke item. NAPO (hey a blog!) appear to be all about pensions at the moment, so I am guessing that.

Dave in the Times ... I find myself saying Galloway, but his blog posts don't really suggest all that much enthusiasm. So I will go for G0ogle in China; maybe this is the week for "Dave plugs his blog".

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Heads up for our Scottish readers!

Twas in the year 2006 and the month of January,
When it was announced that renowned columnist David Aaronovitch would go to Bonnie Dundee.
To deliver a lecture on "Conspiracy Theories: from JFK to Princess Diana",
In his usual thoughtful and erudite manner.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Nick Cohen Is Away

Just in case anyone's thinking we were slacking, the Wednesday NC column didn't appear and the above message did. Anyone know? Brunei? The Maldives? Iraq? The Big Brother house? Anyway, it didn't appear and because his blog isn't a real blog we don't know why. Last time it happened he was having eye trouble so maybe that has flared up again.

To be honest I wouldn't have bothered with this post if those horrible lizard photos weren't still on the front page.

From the Archives

Responding to BB's call to "post more material so we can drive those photos off the front page" (see below), I'll fill up space at the top of the page with a new quotation from Aaro's magnum opus, Paddling to Jerusalem, from page 13:

"When I was twenty-one, in the Brecon Beacons, I wore the same underpants for a week, and had to cut them off with a clasp-knife."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Lizard King?

Thanks a lot to the anonymous commentor who pointed us in the direction of the Wikipedia page on David Icke, in which it was claimed until recently that Icke believes that Decent Dave is a "high order reptilian" (ie a member of the hidden race of Annunaki lizards from the fourth dimension who have imprisoned our higher selves in a cage of negative vibrations in order to feed on our fear and hate. God it's frightening how much of this stuff comes back even three years after I last read an Icke book). It appears that this claim has been removed from the Wikipedia by an administrator called SlimVirgin (probably therefore not a pseudonym for Dave), but here is the version with the claim in it.

I have done a bit of research on the net and it is true, however. That is, it is true that Icke does claim it, you silly bastards. I am not linking to any pages on which the claim is made because all of them appear in the context of quite lurid and disgusting wild accusations made against a variety of people including Aaro and I am not in the business of linking to things like that (for the curious but not curious enough to do your own research, among Icke's conspiracy theories is that he's a believer in Satanic ritual abuse, and it appears that Dave crossed his radar screen a few years ago by writing something slightly sceptical about its existence). It is not exactly difficult to reproduce my results if you are feeling sceptical and have access to google and a brain.

In my opinion, Icke has gone long past the point at which he should be given the benefit of the doubt over whether his "lizards" are anti-Semitic code talk; either they are or he is being absolutely culpably negligent. If you don't believe me, look in "Tales from the Time Loop" in which it is much more blatant than his earlier books. And he is not actually insane; he just believes a lot of stupid things (which is of course not even a disqualification for winning the George Orwell prize). He's a bastard right enough.

So it is doubly, triply irresponsible of me to reproduce these pictures and invite readers to speculate on whether they can sort of see what Icke means:

Oooh gosh it's making my skin crawl. I am told by a friend in the psychology trade that it is not particularly uncommon to have hallucinations of animal faces in human beings, and lizards have always been among the most common animals to hallucinate. It has only happened to me once (with respect to BBC news presenter Gavin Esler, who I maintain does fucking look like a lizard even on a stone cold sober Sunday lunchtime) and it was really scary. Quick lads, post more material so we can drive those photos off the front page.

Dave is currently asking for suggestions for music to jog to. I have suggested the obvious Doors track but without any high hopes of surviving the moderation process.

The winner of the 2001 George Orwell prize writes ...

In his latest col (btw Dave, your jokes are like anchovy paste; they're not bad but a little goes a long way), the following sentence:

Mr Blair wants new schools to be set up more easily, good schools to be able to expand, most schools to be more self-sufficient and independent, for good practice to be developed and spread through formal and informal contacts, and for social entrepreneurs of various kinds to get stuck in.

Jesus fucking Christ, Dave, did that one not stick in your throat as it came out? (Professor Jacques Derrida writes from beyond the grave: eet is 'ardly, 'ow you say, un coincidence that ze last trois werdes of zees sentence are "get stuck in"). It's the most woeful piece of buzzword bingo I've seen in the Times this week.

More to come (note that the first couple of paragraphs are full of the Henry Jekyll invocation: "I am an unreconstructed old leftie ..." The Guardian's Norman Johnson column is spot on with respect to this one)

update here's more. Fellow contributors, do feel free to chip in.

update update Congratulations to Matthew! "Aaro - Government education reforms, how the left made similar complaints about tuition fees which proved groundless.". No actual mention of tuition fees but a lot of banging on about why The Left are all hung up on shibboleths and totems, so I think this is spot on. Matthew is now on a two week winning streak with respect to Aaro columns and must surely be the bookies' favourite for Aaronovologist Of The Year. I think I got NC on Fathers4Justice too so we are really cooking with gas at the moment.

It's real Aaro benefit-of-the-doubt stuff on a lot of issues; apparently selection would be bad, but it's OK because this proposal isn't really about selection. All right, it has a bit of selection in it, but not much selection. Well, maybe quite a bit of selection, but look, selection's not the important thing all right? The important thing is that it's going to benefit the very poorest children and stop the ghettoisation of education. Well, all right, as it stands it will probably make that worse, but there are "all sorts of incentives" that can be put in at a later date to sort that out. The important thing is that it's new, and it will therefore unleash all sorts of creative energy and beneficial change, because everybody knows how much teachers like regular wholesale reorganizations of the education system. The idea is that individual schools will all spontaneously organize into a Hayekian order to co-operate on commissioning big projects that span different education authorities. And more fabulously still, this administrative miracle will all happen without any actual paid administrators, so there will be a substantial cash saving that can be reinvested into the system! At least Aaro has got the message about dabbling in amateur economics, so we are spared the homilies about "the market" and "the benefits of competition" which usually festoon this kind of article on education policy.

The fact is that there is really no evidence that this sort of thing works. There are encouraging bits and pieces from American voucher experiments (albeit that the UK is not actually proposing anything like a voucher scheme), but they tend to melt away when exposed to the glare of rigorous statistics, and to be driven more by self-selection by articulate and committed parents rather than anything else. It's pretty clear that what this White Paper is actually proposing is a return to the system of Grant Maintained schools, which did not exactly cause the sky to fall in when they were brought in in the 1980s, but on the other hand nor were they such a rousing success that anyone thought they were worth defending against abolishment in the next round of bungee policies. As Aaro more or less admits, the central goal of New Labour education policy is to take the advantages currently enjoyed by the richest and most articulate parents (let's call them "Daves") and extend them to the slightly less rich and slightly less articulate (let's call them "Nicks"). Pupils whose parents are poor and not articulate are obviously the source of funds for this scheme, but it's OK because there are plenty of people who are poor but articulate to provide political cover by working the system like Ma Boswell from Bread and then appearing on TV to explain that this proves the system works.

And of course, it is all a definitive answer to a question nobody asked. There is, in fact, no crisis in British education; it's actually pretty good and steadily improving by all the metrics we have. The reason that it has been targeted for another round of bungee policies is that Aaro and his political equivalents have detected a deficiency of newness and thus declared that a "step change" should have happened and hasn't. "The status quo is no longer an option", the leper's bell of the modern managerialist idiot; if you don't recognise the governing aesthetic strand of Aaro's politics, go back and have a look at the David Cameron articles.

Social entrepreneurs, ye gods. I believe that these are the people who were formerly branded "busybodies", "well-meaning reformers", or "pains in the arse". And presumably still are, when their entrepreneurship leads them in the direction of something one doesn't approve of. And this is what it has come to? (Yes. And note the subtle dig at Nick where Aaro endorses faith schools). Blood and bloater paste sandwiches. It is perhaps a tribute to Aaro's skill as a journalist that he does, in fact, identify all the important issues with respect to education policy in this article. It is a tribute to something else that he talks such a fearful stack of bollocks (the SI unit of bollocks is the stack) about all of them.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Aaro in the Jewish Chronicle

From the blog, Aaro has a go at the exclusionist tendency in the Jewish community (for completists, one might note that Aaro has good reason to be interested in this argument as his father, Sam Aaronovitch, was Jewish but his mother wasn't, according to someone I know who went to school with him. I think that means that a lot of people would say that he isn't Jewish but I am nobody's idea of an expert). I am sure there are all sorts of arguments on both sides of this issue but I must say Aaro's point of view seems reasonable to me. I am not a regular reader of the Jewish Chronicle, and my own equivalent newspaper, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle stopped publishing quite a while ago.

Bad stuff happens, nothing can be done

Bad stuff happens when people hate one another, and there's not much the state can do about it. That's the take-home message from Nick's treatment of Fathers for Justice, the Leo Blair non-kidnap plot, and related matters in his Observer column. Aside from Nick's fatalism there's not much of substance to take issue with: good separated dads should continue to get to seek their kids, violent nasty ones shouldn't. Harry Fletcher on the probation officer's union gets a mention, seems like he's up there with Gorgeous George and Saddam in the Nick-nameckeck ratings. He should worry about that. Much to quibble with in the detail, though: "The 'plot' to kidnap the PM's son may have been pub talk, but far away from Downing Street, there has been a genuine low-level terror campaign." So what does this mean? Perhaps Nick wants to suggest the F4J didn't want to kidnap Leo but they have been attacking and harassing court officials? Well maybe. Nick doesn't say so however, but moves effortlessly from wild talk in internet chatrooms to a particular attack on a solicitor. "No one knows who was responsible." Including you then Nick. Elsewhere there's some unhelpful use of statistics, with Nick telling us that in the "most intractable cases" allegations by women that their partners beat them up are "upheld in one-third of ... cases". Nick introduces this as the "tip of the iceberg" of male violence during family breakup. It may well be, but F4J would no doubt take solace in a claim that in "the most intractable cases" two-thirds of such allegations are rejected. Surely Nick could have come up with a better factoid merely by using google for half-an-hour?

The rest of the column is padded out with a swipe at the Blairites for not being keen on finding out exactly what the US is up to in the way of torture and extraordinary rendition and a retelling of Ariel Dorfman's address to the Modern Language Association of America. This was widely covered by the usual blogs in the middle of last week. I should therefore have seen it coming but went for "Chirac's nuclear threats" instead on the basis that there was bound to be something lifted from HP Sauce or Normblog. So my guess was right about type but wrong about token. I don't suppose that counts. Is Nick paying Norm and Harry commission?

Bruschettaboy adds: Harry Fletcher, Harry Fletcher, Fletcher Fletcher, Rama Rama, Hare Hare? The man is in every week. Bloody well done to him for singlehandedly eradicating the problem of violent Fathers 4 Justice, as well as all the other major government policies he's reshaped in recent weeks. Perhaps we could persuade him to have a look at Northern Ireland where things are not going as quickly as we had hoped? Or maybe even Iraq? (Is the National Association of Probation Officers affiliated to the Stop the War Coalition ... no surely not, that would be too easy ... but yes they are)

I think Cap Cab has a real point here about Nick's sourcing of material from blogs. I am not accusing anyone of plagiarism or anything, but it is clear to me that the Harry's Place and Normblog blogs have been at least as significant in generating ideas and leads for Nick as Harry Fletcher has, and they have AFAICT not once been given so much as a shout-out (Harry's Place got mentioned in the Standard column once if I remember correctly and both have been mentioned in the Staggers, but in the Observer which is Nick's highest profile gig, nada). It seems a bit poor.

The Ariel Dorfman bit is interesting. I suspect that if we look back at the last few weeks of Nick's columns, it will be blindingly obvious in retrospect that he has been hoaxing us. The "Liberal left" have ensured that the case for war in Iraq has been systematically censored? George Galloway always gets an easy ride from the BBC? Nobody in the government knew about extraordinary rendition? Of course Nick couldn't really have been claiming that in a national newspaper. Christ, how did we fall for those? I blame Zizek.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday forecast ...

Welcome to new member Captain Cabernet, by the way, who as you see below has already opened his account. Stay tuned our loyal readers for an upcoming Big Feature which might involve yet another Radical New Direction ...

Friday forecasts, come on, let's see if we can turn this into a winning streak.

I'm still not betting on "Aaro plugs his blog". It seems to me as if I wrong to assume it couldn't handle the traffic (typepad appears to be hosting a load of Times blogs), but I think he is still too savvy to bring the burden of moderating a huge flood of comments from "disgusted of Tunbridge Wells".

Soooooo ... Ruth Kelly will be last week's news. I suspect so will Fathers 4 Justice by Tuesday which is a pity since it's archetypal Aaro material, combining doses of "the vulnerability, the fallibility" and an opp. for Asbo advocacy. Actually I think I will put that one down for Nick in the Observer.

The Menezes report might be out next week and is a racing certainty for Nick in the Standard, but my crystal ball is really cloudy for Aaro. I think I'm going to go for cannabis remaining a category C drug, but without any real idea why. Better ideas in the comments thread please ... Simon I will roll over your China prediction until you state otherwise because I agree with Matthew that it is bound to happen someday.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Primal screaming and the dialectic

Dialectics and the housing crisis are the subject of Nick's latest Staggers piece, and, suitably enough it is full of contradictions and the transformation of things into their opposites. The story seems to go something like this:

Once upon a time, there was revolution in the air and a housing shortage in the cities. So hippies, in between having lots of sex and engaging in primal scream therapy, had the great idea of taking over vacant property. We should draw on their legacy today by building homes with gardens in the countryside so that the unemployed can afford to live in the cities where the job vacancies are but where no human being would want to bring up a family. High property prices -- brought about by OPEC -- have caused a disastrous decline in both literary criticism and the birth rate and some people have had to abandon their ambitions and settle for their second-choice career (as newspaper columnists?). The only people opposed to keeping bulldozing the countryside (and thereby keeping faith with the hippie legacy!) are toffs, although some toffs, notably Old Etonian squatters and Old Etonian Ferdinand Mount are OK. Much has changed since the 1970s, but some things remain the same: whilst the hippies were climbing into bed with one another, the far left was getting under the duvet with .... wait for it ... Saddam Hussein!

It isn't clear whether there's a coherent theme running through this column at all, but insofar as there is it appears to be the thesis that Britain's declining birthrate has to do with the fact that our house prices have risen faster than the European average. Since the birthrate has also fallen -- often further and faster -- in those other countries over the same period, there's something missing in Nick's explanation. Or perhaps I'd understand if I only had Nick's firm grasp of the dialectic.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Use Yer Blog

I can't speak for my colleagues, but I'm impressed that Aaro is actually using his blog in a blog-like manner, and not just posting up articles which have appeared elsewhere on The Times's site. Admittedly, copying-and-pasting abusive emails isn't original -- I've done it: practically every political blogger has done it. Oliver Kamm did something very similar at the beginning of the month.

I'm aware that Dave writes for money, so he has to be cautious about what he makes available for nowt, but he's showing signs of getting the blogging thing. Which is more than Nick is. Though the way Nick is going, I can almost see his blog being given to posts consisting of one paragraph by someone he doesn't like or about an enemy de jour followed by "WTF?" Though that works for lots of bloggers.

I'm pleased that this post is the one which has generated the most comments, although someone should have a word with whoever moderates them. (Your mission: find the spam comment. DON'T click on the link.)

I'm not going to speculate as to whether Decent Dave's correspondent is a Muslim anti-semite, someone pretending to be a Muslim anti-semite, or just a common or garden nutter, other than to note that he (or she) is deranged. And wrong about everything.

Except the cactus, of course.

Faint Praise Watch

Stephen Glover on the press, a phrase that feels as if the rules of grammar require it to have "as if anyone gives a fuck" appended to it.

And yet, although [the new Berliner Observer] has spirited columnists such as Nick Cohen, and well-informed ones such as Andrew Rawnsley, one looks in vain to its heart for that old voice of principle and conviction, as well as intellectual distinction.

I am currently looking up "spirited" in the Dictionary of English Euphemism

Gallowaygallowaygalloway, have you noticed how if you repeat a word often enough it loses all meaning?

Cohen in the Standard Watch ... Ooh, it's a stinker this week! It really is. Most notably, an otherwise pretty sane (if rather dull and worthy, plus it repeats that hackneyed Keynes quote that we had in the Observer a couple of weeks ago again) column about the PFI and hospitals in the East End, suddenly turns into a rant about Galloway two sentences from the end. Apparently Nick's friends who work in hospitals can't stand him either.

About the writeup of Nick's visit to the Fabian Society, perhaps least said soonest mended. All I can really say is "well. If everything really did happen exactly in the way you described it, then surely you won a famous victory and your enemies behaved shamefully".

The hack quotient is really quite high this week; we have the Keynes quote, the excerpt from the Lonely Planet Guide and the bit about George Clooney which is the journalistic equivalent of shouting at the television. Even the Michael Marmot factoid about life expectancy on the Central Line is getting a bit well used (btw, of course the rule only works east of Liverpool Street; oddly enough, life expectancy is not lower in Holland Park than Acton). Somehow I don't think Nick finished this one and thought "well I can be proud of that one, it will certainly feature in a collection of the year's best columns".

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Aaro the Vanguard

Unfortunately, Couscous Kid will not be commenting here any more due to a flagrant breach of the party line. Only kidding of course, we're a broad church here and his assessment of this week's Aaro is excellent. But I do disagree, a little bit, on the subject of this week's col; it is all right in itself, but as with all Aaro columns, it needs to be fitted into a wider context which is a little bit less neutral. NB here that I am the evil bruschettaboy and I suspect that the nice one and RK might and probably will be closer to CCK's point of view than mine.

Hang on though, the most important thing to note is that this week marks a clean sweep for the AW Friday Forecast team!!! Nick and Dave both on Celebrity Big Brother, Nick on Sir Iqbal Sacranie on gays and Aaro on pervert teachers; all of them successfully predicted on last week's forecasts. The only thing we missed was the weird Lord Winston thing and I don't think anyone could have caught that. If Iran or China show up in the Standard tomorrow then we will be cooking with gas. Either it was an extraordinarily predictable week this week (which I suppose with Gorgeous George in the news it was) or we're getting much better. Congratulations and bragging rights to everybody.

But anyway, back to Aaro. As I say, it's not that objectionable itself. However, it isn't just the Daily Mail that is worked up about this one and it's a bit of a lazy stereotype to pretend it is. The fact of the matter here is that a lot of the "paedo panic" is actually a very long overdue indeed recognition that this is actually very serious crime, devastating to its victims and altogether too difficult to prosecute. It should be recognized more often that the other side of the occasional howling mob chasing after a paediatrician, is the fact that the guilt is these days placed fairly and squarely where it belongs in child abuse cases, whereas for a large part of the twentieth century and before, it wasn't, with predictably horrible consequences for the mental health of child abuse victims. Tom Utley in the Telegraph earlier this week was trying to pretend that child sex abuse in schools was a joking matter about funny old men; if the Daily Mail has really gone mad, then there are quite a couple of journos out there I wish they would bite.

But what I really want to comment on, the "context" advertised in the opening paragraph is how this all fits into the wider scheme of Aaroism. First up, note that this is the "don't worry, be happy" version of the more common "the vulnerability, the fallibility" thesis that we usually see in Aaro columns. They are quite obviously two different sides of the same coin; the central theme is quietism, because we are but frail human beings who cannot really do anything to ameliorate our condition in the chaos of modern life. You get the shiny happy version when it is a government minister in power who really ought to be doing something but isn't (like bird flu or pervert teachers) and the dark fearful version when a government minister really ought not to be doing something but is (like identity cards and Asbos), but what they have in common is that us lot are right out of order in complaining about our political masters; either nothing can be done, or exactly what is being done, must be done. Of course, the original intellectual source for this thesis – that humanity is shaped by historical forces outside its control, but that certain political entities embody these forces and should thus be trusted more or less without question – is fairly and squarely the theory of the vanguard party, originally from Lenin. I am not sure whether it is the entirety of the decent project that comes from this part of the intellectual tradition of Bolshevism or whether it reflect's Aaro's own intellectual heritage, but it is there.

And the entirely uneasy (in my opinion, psychologically completely self-contradictory) relationship with political power which is at the heart of Stalinist politics, permeates the whole column. Aaro really does on many occasions appear to operate a separate, more lenient standard by which to judge the actions of authority figures. They get the benefit of the doubt. Most famously, we have to assume that Blair wasn't lying about WMDs, but on the other hand the anti-war movement is assumed friends of Al-Zarqawi unless it has specifically denounced them. But the double standard operates across the board. The Department of Health can't be blamed for not having an avian flu contingency plan because our health is our own responsbility, but on the other hand Kenneth Clark is to be castigated for selling cigarettes. And so on. In this column, it operates twice:

First, the fact that it is extremely difficult to plough through the files to quickly and easily find out whether there are dangerous sex offenders in our schools is not the fault of Ruth Kelly (because it's a difficult job), but on the other hand the Daily Mail is to be mocked for not having come up with a complete list by lunchtime. The fact that government files and policies on this important issue are in such a complete two-and-eight that nobody has a clue what is going on is a genuine scandal of failure in public administration; it's exactly the sort of thing that the press ought to be reporting on. Rough old luck for Ruth Kelly, but this is the principle of ministerial responsibility and since we are not able to sell the government's shares or stop buying its product, it is pretty much the only sanction we have.

And second, it appears that the news pages of the Times have let him down quite substantially with respect to Mr William Gibson, the star of the joke about Darryl getting pregnant. The Guardian has another detail about the chap's "more detailed history".

Gibson is also a convicted fraudster, having been jailed five years ago after fleecing almost £60,000 from elderly clients while working as a financial adviser. One victim was an 80-year-old widow who handed over £18,000, which Gibson spent on a BMW. When she told him she had lost her home as a result, he wrote out a £100 cheque, which bounced.

I think this pretty much sums up the problem with assuming that the only way teachers can be dangerous to children is by sexually abusing them. If a man is working as a teacher and decides to start a sexual relationship with one of his pupils, then he is someone who has got a totally inappropriate way of relating to people over whom he has influence and authority. Such a man is, to coin a phrase, a wrong 'un. He might not have tried to shag the boys if he had spent the period 1980-2000 teaching in a boys' school, but the fact that he ended up cheating old people out of their lives' savings suggests that there are all sorts of other ways in which this man could have been a baleful influence on their lives. He certainly was not "no kind of threat to adolescent boys". He probably wasn't a sexual threat to them, but he was clearly a damaged personality with insufficient scruples and a systematic abuser of people's trust, and people like that are really great at finding new ways of being a bad person to know. And I think that this point generalizes; people who are in a position of power over others don't get the benefit of the doubt. "Innocent till proven guilty" is an excellent principle of justice for a court system in which people are on trial for their liberty, but a really bad way to choose an accountant. Or an MP, or a teacher.

Shami Chakrabarti, where are you when we need you indeed? In any situation where someone puts themselves forward for a role in which they have a relationship of power over people who are not free to discontinue that relationship, the correct attitude to take to those people is one of mistrust and suspicion. And the greater the power, the more vital this is; other ways of organizing society have been tried but they tend to end up badly. As CCK notes below, there is actually a lot of sense in this week's column, but the overall attitude appears to me to be one of complacency about power, and a dangerous complacency about the abuse of power appears to me to be the main product of the weekly Aaronovitch column. In the link above on the words "don't worry be happy", Aaro notes that (in the context of junk food marketing) "sometimes the old Bolshevik in me comes out". It does indeed, but not on the occasions he thinks and not in the way he thinks.

The Paedoph-Isles

There's not a great deal to say about paedophilia scares either silly or sensible in the wake of Chris Morris's instant-classic Brass Eye special on the subject, but Aaro says good things in this week's column, and I'm happy to start my professional career as an Aaronovitch Watcher by saying that this is one of the best columns I've seen from him, and the best I've read on this particular subject. It's better than Polly Toynbee's column in today's Graun, for example, as there's more about the matter of sex offenders in schools, and a bit less about the beastly hounding of Ruth Kelly, and it's the former that is the issue that matters. Toynbee commendably manages to work in a mention of the former Chief Inspector of Schoolgirls into her column, but Aaro's is comfortably the stronger piece.

It wouldn't be an Aaro column without its irritating moments, of course. Understatement trumps overstatement, and it'd be a more quietly impressive column without the Aaro-bombast at the start about just how brave he is to be writing it. I'm not sure it was worth throwing in a dig at Shami Chakrabarti towards the end, who has quite enough on her plate at the moment; and I really didn't want the mental image of Aaro ogling the waitress while drinking my morning coffee.

But the good things far outnumber the clunky. Aaro rightly stresses the distinction between looking and doing, reminds us that sex offenders come in more or less troubling varieties, and points out that "the decisions of the successive secretaries of state, tribunals and officials seem to have been broadly right. There is no crisis." Pretty straightforward observations, indeed, but not ones we're encountering often enough in the frenzy of the last few days. And he takes us one by one through the list of nine sex offenders who have been permitted to teach in schools, to consider their records, and the decisions that were made about them, elegantly to puncture the crazy, crazy claims of the Daily Mail about the "“chilling roll call" of paedophiles in schools. "In fact", Aaro writes, "before the weekend, the only cited case of a sex offender coming back into teaching and committing a crime was that of Steven Taylor, who was on the sex offender’s list, and who subsequently raped an 11-year-old girl student in 2001." One offence too many, of course, and we all hope the background to the case has been thoroughly investigated; but the singular of "episode" isn't usually "systemic crisis", and not many people are willing to be pointing this out. David "vulnerability, fallibility" Aaronovitch is just the man to do it. And even on this delicate territory, he can still be funny, especially on the subject of little Darryl, and that's good, too.

In short, this is probably as good a column as you can write on the subject without heading into fullblown feminism (for which, see here). I'll probably be sacked by my fellow Aaro-watchers for starting off with quite so much praise, but this week, I think, he deserves it.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

nice try Nick

but no chance:

George Galloway and his backers in the Socialist Workers Party are finished now. The alliance they organised between the Trotskyist far left and the Islamic far right, which produced the most disgraceful protest movement since the Thirties, can no longer count on the indulgence of polite society.

Now, the prevailing consensus about George amongst the public at large was that he was a bit of a dick, with a nice line in annoying the right people. Over time, the definition of “the right people” came to include “those annoyed by him to the extent that they claimed him as the ‘leader of the antiwar movement’ and generally made him the chief Beelzebub in their political demonology.” I recall him being so described in a column by a certain Nick Cohen last week. Otherwise, the bit of a dick line was shared not only amongst the public at large but, I guess, by many of his electors and backers.

It’s obviously a line whose correctness is confirmed by George’s appearance in Big Brother. If Nick believes that this is the cause of his renunciation by the big dinner party in his head, it would have been nice to have seen evidence of this. Instead, we have a four year old comment by Martin Amis coupled with some hot internal poop from the Socialist Workers’ Party. If the “lieberal media” have really turned on George over this, I’m surprised that Nick couldn’t give us chapter and verse from this week’s coverage.

I’d say it’s the people who found out that their chief enemy turned out to be a pantomime villain who are really looking like fools on this one. And I suspect the rest of us are going to be indulging George for a while longer, certainly in the sense of “not taking him seriously.”


Behind them came many decent people who were against war for good reasons. Unfortunately, their hatred of Bush was such they couldn't bring themselves to back democracy once it was over.

Opposition to the war = Bush hatred isn’t exactly a seal of Dacre, though it’s certainly a “burble of Phillips”. But it’s evidence of further assimilation of extreme right talking points. The purpose of any event is to blame the liberals.

Rioja Kid

update by bruschettaboy. RK has basically said it all, but I particularly love the bit where the "insurgents" are taunting Nick's imaginary friends in the democratic Iraqi government by saying "hah! infidel dogs! the Guardian publishes opinion pieces by Gary Younge and Radio 4 rarely carries out close analysis of the Liberal Democrats' opportunistic foreign policy! the caliphate will surely prevail!". I also note that Nick is not without his own flaws when it comes to failing to support Iraqi democrats; there is one guy in particular who is a middle ranking member of the Cabinet and who has a record of campaigning for democracy in Iraq almost as long as that of Kanan Makiya. He's put his own life on the line for the cause, and Nick certainly knows all about him because he wrote quite a lot of pieces about him a couple of years ago. He's called Ahmed Chalabi; why aren't you sticking up for him, Nick?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday forecasts ...

here we go ...

I would advise against putting money on the heavily backed favourite "Dave plugs his blog". It is AFAICS a Typepad dooberry rather than running on the same big iron as timesonline.com and Dave does not want it to collapse under the traffic.

Nick Cohen is a racing certainty to give it some on this Sir Iqbbal Sacranie story I think.

Aaro ... pervert PE teachers. The vulnerability, the fallibility of our children.

place yer bets!

Welcome to Cous Cous Kid

We have a new member! Cous Cous Kid will be covering the Aaronovitch beat and occasionally providing thoughts about the wider project of Decentism. I will get his name put in the sidebar as soon as I remember how (actually I think it happens automatically). He has already come up with the goods in the form of our new "Quote of the Month", which is from Aaro's book "Paddling to Jerusalem". There is still one vacancy, which would probably best suit a Nick Cohen obsessive as we are trying to retain some form of editorial balance.

update well maybe it is spelt "couscous" then.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Aaro blog! Aaaro blgo! I'm incoherent with joy!

You better believe it baby. Thanks to Simon in the comments for the spot. (update: I really must check my email more often. Thanks to all ninety of the rest of you, too.) It even has comments for the time being (pleeease, everyone, be nice so that they don't get shut down. Medialens.com comment board regulars, this means you. Even if you have a legitimate internet-related grievance like the whole "Baruch Spinoza" thing, the place to piss and moan about it is here on AW).

He has all the Times cols up, plus he is going to be putting up bits and pieces from the Jewish Chronicle (I knew he wrote for it, but they have a draconian content management policy so I haven't been linking to them) and there are going to be little bits and pieces of posts in between (I realise that Nick started off similarly ambitiously, but Aaro isn't holding down two jobs and so it might be more realistic to hope that he will maintain something recongnisable as a blog).

This certainly means an expanded Watching workload, so we are now once more recruiting. I believe that there are a Captain Cabernet and a Cous Cous Kid out there; the address is "aaronovitchwatch@gmail.com"

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Nick, in the Standard, in a bit more depth

And so I find myself with a spare twenty minutes at the end of the day and a copy of the Standard, so I am in the mood to really have a go at this week's column; I realise that for the last few weeks I've just been screaming "god it's crap", but from time to time it's worth doing chapter and verse. This week's is, shall we say, an example of the genre, or perhaps a little worse.

A general remark to start with is that Nick really is being quite lazy with his Islington stereotypes; a casual reader of this column might get a vision of people in Barbours and hoodies buying crack and chutney from a farmer's market. I don't think he's making it up or anything; Islington is a geographically small and socially diverse borough and there are loads of bits of it where you can be five minutes from a sink estate and five minutes the other way from millionaires' row. It's just that the fact that Islington is Islington is not really a source of endless fascination to people who read the Standard; almost all of its copies are sold in Zone 1 and although you can probably still raise a small laugh by saying that a lot of posh lefties live in Islington it's a small and cheap one; I think it was Miles Kingston who wanked this joke dry in the late 1980s when the place was originally gentrifying.

Anyway, it appears that jammy bastard Harry Fletcher from the probation workers' union managed to be the lucky seventh caller this week, as Nick segues from talking about ASBOs and civil liberties to the need to hire a load of social workers with all the grace of a trucker's gear change. It really is extraordinarily incoherent; it starts off as a Tesco Metro version of Aaronovitch's "The Left's Mister Asbo" trope but then gets completely lost. By the way, I think that the belief that the government is systematically falsifying the crime statistics has to be considered a Seal of Dacre; Nick has now by my count broken four of the seals (house prices will plummet, middle class liberals are anti-Semites, we need grammar schools) and there are only seven, so we need to worry. No wonder he calls himself "an unreconstructed leftie" twice in the next paragraph; Robert Louis Stevenson often had his hero repeat to himself "I am Henry Jekyll". There is a column to be written about the balance between civil liberties and antisocial behaviour, but Nick has rather annoyingly not written it and instead gone for the easy journalistic gotcha.

I am all about taking the filler joke items seriously because they give away so much, so here goes. The Ming the Merciless bit is just dreadful beyond dreadful. Three points:

1. What kind of "support as they struggled to build democracy in Iraq" might anyone have been looking for from the Liberal Democrats? Seriously?

2. Presumably the answer to the above is not "men and materiel" or "the use of their massive political influence to swing world opinion in favour of sending more troops" but "a bland 'on your side' statement of no practical use whatsoever, rather like the Unite Against Terror petition". In which case here's the first Google result for "menzies campbell iraq speech"
Between now and the constitutional referendum, all efforts must be made to incorporate Sunni Arabs into the political process. The priority must be to repair sectarian divides and to arrest the slide towards civil war. We must improve the effectiveness of measures to train and equip Iraqi forces; redouble efforts to deliver public services; and strengthen the sovereignty of the Iraqi government.

Did Nick really think that Ming wouldn't have made some bland boilerplate statement of support like this? What the hey? He appears to be in the grip of a dangerous obsession with the view that nobody (or at least nobody where it really matters, in the Guardian or on the Today programme and Newsnight) has ever made the case for war. He wants Paxman to come out sneering saying "you loved Saddam, you cunt, didn't you? You opposed the war because you wank off night and day to mental images of people in shredders, don't you?" And it's never going to happen and it's tearing him up. Rioja Kid has written a lot of good stuff on the weird Alex Ferguson bunker complex of the Decent Left; a political position which is in fact the policy of the United States of America and the United Kingdom has managed to convince itself that it is a small unregarded sect of iconoclasts.

3. You could not ask for clearer evidence than this col that Nick's journalism is shrinking to the size of his Rolodex. Kanan Makiya has done a lot of good work and did indeed "first expose Saddam's Terror", in 1989, but he is currently fighting to build Iraqi democracy from Brandeis University, where he has been teaching for several years; his main activity over the last decade has been having fights with Edward Said over whether or not Makiya mistranslates Arab intellectuals to make them look more hostile and fundamentalist than they are. I am sure that Iraq expat dissidents are lovely brave people, but Nick is materially over-representing the extent to which he speaks for Iraqis here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Jogging on the bog-eyed jog

(alternative title "What do you do with a drunken LibDem, earlie in the morning")

Update Congratulations to Matthew for correctly forecasting this column!

One of the great things about having a blog is that you don't have to pretend to give a fuck about the Liberal Democrats and one of the crap things about being a high-profile Times columnist is that you probably do. So I will forgive Aaro most of the laboured jokes which provide the necessary quota of sawdust in this week's sausage; it must have been a real fag to write the thing to deadline. And Aaro does appear to have nailed the purpose of Sir Menzies Campbell's candidature; politics as Lifetime (non)-Achievement Award, now fuck off and die with dignity grandad, and we will arrange for Simon Hughes' career to be buried alongside you. At sea.

So anyway, I will just confine myself this week to making moronic and unpleasant jokes at the expense of the major figures in this political human tragedy of our times (by the way, Sir Ming must presumably be a Campbell of that ilk, which is as good an excuse as any to suggest that it's a tatifilarious day to take a bus trip to out to Culloden Glencoe, rub your growling stomach and say "I could murder a McDonalds").

I do think it's a bit rich of Aaro to whine about how everyone covered up Wee Charlie's drink problem; he presumably knew about it too, so he could have told us himself, couldn't he? (I am assuming Aaro knew about it; I certainly did, and if I am "in the loop" whereas Dave is "out of the loop" then we both need to have a word with Professor Moebius about a sequel). I'll also note that while Charlie might have been "too drunk or post-drunk" to attend all sorts of important political events, I saw him on the stage in Hyde Park in March 2003 and he was standing up just fucking fine, thank you very much.

Anyway, the thing that amuses me is that, as Aaro pointed out with his encomium for Lord Pantsdown (fresh from "doing an excellent job to promote stable democracy", if that's how you spell "Preparing the ground for the Kosovar Albanians to start filming Srebenica 2: Payback's A Bitch" update I take this back, a bit, in comments), the Lib Dems have got quite the little local history with respect to humanitarian interventions. From Lord Owen of Split to Paddy, to Ming's own ghastly chunterings about international law, the LibDems have always been very, very overweight in Happy Shopper Talleyrands.

Which raises an idea in my mind; free for the asking if Nick wants it for a joke item. Just as the Americans tend to reward the architects of their military disasters with the Presidency of the World Bank (cf MacNamara, Wolfowitz), the Brits tend to reward third party leaders for long and pointless service with a tour of duty banging heads together in support of a comprehensively fucked up humanitarian intervention. And luckily, we have one just in time for Charlie's resignation. Lord Kennedy of Glenmorangie's Peace Plan for the Sunnis, anyone? It would even have the advantage that if we based him in Basrah or a similar town dominated by Sadr and the local branch of the Taliban, he wouldn't be able to get a drink.

Christ I'm a malicious little shitbubble this evening.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Congratulations to Backword Dave

Everyone else on the Friday Forecast thread thought that "Galloway on Celebrity Big Brother" would be too corny and obvious, but Dave said no, Nick will do it, and he was right; this week's bragging rights have been won.

Busy busy can't stop for the moment; I'll do the summary later but do have a read of this week's. It is vintage Cohen-in-the-Observer, by which I mean it is shit. It's the perfect reminder that while Aaro's main trope is the politics of middle-aged angst, Nick's is pure and simple middle-class self-flagellation. There are so many references to "liberals", "middle classes", "media types", "people who are always travellers, never tourists" (Jasper Carrott, 1988, I believe) and so on that I practically expected the byline photo to be of Nicko in a leather basque, holding a riding crop and saying "you've been a very naughty boy".

In related news, apparently Nick wonders when the liberal media will start to scrutinise George Galloway. Perhaps this week's col has been ghostwritten by someone recently recovered from a four year coma?

Friday, January 06, 2006

friday forecast

An outlier this, but I thought I'd take a pop at Nick's column containing mention of Abdel-Halim Khaddam, the last best hope of democracy in Syria and the blindness of the liberal left in refusing to rally round, etc, etc.

Rioja Kid

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Nick in "Rather Sensible" Shock

Not a great deal to say about NC's latest PC World, except to give him extra points for picking on Civitas and Anthony Browne in the Evening Standard which is noticably less liberal than either the Observer or the New Statesman. In short, he could have tailored his targets to his readers; he didn't, so good for him. Should you wish to read Browne for yourself before Nick ruins it for you, you can download the Civitas pamphlet in pdf format.

Nick is less funny than Chris Brooke (same as the "Anthony Browne" link above; I just want to make that clear), and he does attempt to be fair:

They're [Browne and Civitas] on stronger ground when they argue there are uncomfortable facts which celebs and liberals [sic] broadcasters don't want to face – the effects of thieving African tyrants, the views of far-Right wing mullahs and the racist murders of whites by blacks being prominent among them. I was stunned at the time of the Live8 concert by the Africans who rounded on Bob Geldoff [sic] and Oxfam and said the last thing they wanted to see was Western governments rewarding their oppressors with debt relief. It was not an argument I had heard often on the BBC, to put it mildly.

It's not an argument I think I've heard much anywhere -- and if readers can think of examples, especially in publications which Nick writes for, I'd like to hear them. (I have heard similar arguments, but they're usually made by people with some connection to debt recovery.) We quote him when he's wrong, so let's quote him when he's right.

But is this political correctness. It’s more like a bias or a lack of curiosity about the world or a stupidity. And does this bias make Britain a modern version of Stalin’s Russia? To pretend that it is, conservatives have to ignore the existence of a robust Tory press whose main reason for getting out of bed in the morning is the joyous prospect of exposing liberal double standards.
In these circumstances, for comfortable Englishmen to compare themselves to Soviet dissidents is whingeing at a demented remove from reality. Rather cleverly, David Cameron and the new Conservative leadership have stopped doing it. They at least have realised that many voters find the moaners profoundly unattractive as well as ludicrously overdone.

update, by the other bruschettaboy (the nasty one)

One hopes that the Decent Left will learn the same lesson about moaners and whingers, as Nick has not exactly been backward in coming forward in bemoaning the way in which Decentism is censored by the PC element in the Guardian, Observer, BBC and New Statesman; perhaps he is preparing the ground for a move to a more permanent commitment to Associated Newspapers (where resides his other former colleague from the Hutton-era Observer, Melanie Phillips). As BB notes, this is all pretty sensible stuff although there is perhaps an element of professional rivalry here since "Our Friends on the Left, an examination of agonies, idiocies and compromises of mainstream liberal thought will be published by 4th Estate in 2006". I suspect that the material on "African tyrants" might be there because Nick has just discovered while polishing off the closing chapters that the Liberal Left is just crazy about Robert Mugabe. But this is churlish - there is actually enough common sense in here to provide a distinct sense of hope, and the growing realisation on Nick's part that his taste in art is not widely shared is also hopeful, as we may be spared the theatre reviews in 2006.

update, by the first bruschettaboy (the nice one)
Listen very carefully, because I will say this only once: Harry of the Place is rather good here.
Being the nice one, I thought of balancing the link to Harry with a link to a Browne approver -- Stephen Pollard who exerpts the best bit of the book, or at least Browne's strongest case. But having read it again, I note that he says:

Unlike many attacks on political correctness, it doesn't trivialise the issue with reference to silly examples, but deals with the real damage that the pc mindset and consequent lack of thinking does.

I mentioned him earlier, but Chris Brooke really is superb here and this post in particular may help you decide whether Browne uses "silly examples" or not.

update by the other bruschettaboy. gosh this is civilised isn't it? I quite like doing these updates, they're much more fun than proper blogging.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I am king of the Aaronovitch nerds

If we were doing a Christmas quiz, I am sure I could get a great question out of this; brief mention of Aaro's radio 4 series on the Romans half way down.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

the glass is misty...

Those favouring the Iraq war generally respond to particular crises in the course of the occupation with a wait and see formulation. Never mind this week’s head chopping/ city razing/ car bombing extravaganza. Let’s take the long view, stand in solidarity with, make the necessary sacrifices..etc, etc, etc. It’s the process that matters.

Nick appears to have reversed that formula this week.

Tetlock finished his work during the Iraq crisis in which intelligence agencies failed to predict that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction worthy of the name. Liberal doves would have had every reason to be satisfied had not they completely failed to predict the success of the Iraqi elections.

Pray tell, Nick. Successful at what? Would he consider an election anywhere else a success if it confirmed the power of a party that spent its previous time in office running torture jails and official death squads? Or was the point of the whole exercise simply to run a head count? This as part of an article on the impossibility of predicting future events. It looks like decentism has entered its dice man phase.

What’s the significance of this? I suppose that if you’re response to Iraq is basically “more of the same” then there has to be a point at which you detach yourself from the ongoing debacle, and preferably a point which doesn’t underline what a miserable folly the whole thing was. It looks to me as if the election was the point at which Nick has decided to bail out of Iraq and look to cheerlead for conquests new.

Of course, in basing his piece round the assertion that most predictions prove to be false, he’s lesft a few hostages in print. No doubt we’ll get round to shooting them directly.

Rioja Kid

minor update, by bruschettaboy

The phrase "liberal doves" probably requires gloss here too; in Nick Cohen's columns, it is often used with the non-obvious meaning of "George Galloway and RESPECT" and I think it might be that meaning which is intended this week too as I don't remember any sense in which "liberal doves" predicted a failure of the Iraqi elections and in which they were a success.

Note a small example of the Decent TARDIS at work (a device possessed by Nick, Dave, Norman Geras and others which allows small but crucial adjustments to be made to history when Decent politics requires it). "Intelligence agencies" fucked up the Iraqi WMD estimates? Not quite sure of that. Seem to remember that the intelligence agencies presented a quite balanced case which was then presented with an entirely misleading spin by the politicians. Seem to remember that Lord Butler did not find otherwise, not that it would have mattered if he did since the evidence is in plain sight.