Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Aaro the estate agent?

Just a quick hit and run, I will only get time to read the full piece this afternoon so if anyone else fancies a go, go for it, but I simply cannot let this one lie:

THE APOTHEOSIS of Nimbyism appeared in our local paper in the autumn. Some residents of Primrose Hill in London objected to the building of a new Jewish community centre and synagogue on a patch of disused land by the side of the railway. Their objections failing, they deployed the ultimate argument. Pointing out that nuclear waste is occasionally transported by rail, the residents speculated that terrorists might find the momentary proximity of nukes to Jews irresistible, and that the entire area risked being destroyed by way of collateral damage.

"bruschettaboy, your chosen specialist subject is planning applications in the London Borough of Camden, your questions start now".

Primrose Hill? Makes a better story, because there is a "Primrose Hill set" (in fact there are two; the one centred around one of the Millibands and the one centred around Kate Moss. I don't think that there is much interbreeding between the two) and waving the whiff of anti-Semitism next to it certainly pricked my ears up. Just to make it clear I am not accusing Aaro of throwing around anti-Semitic accusations as it was actually a synagogue rather than a Sainsbury's, but I bet a lot of his readers take it that way.

On the other hand, the actual location for the planned synagogue was Adelaide Road. As you can see from these listings, there is one estate agent who is bold or desperate enough to call this location "Primrose Hill" but it is actually Swiss Cottage; the minutes of the planning committee show that the actual proposed location of the synagogue is on the border of Belsize and Haverstock wards, not the "Camden Town with Primrose Hill ward" (you can see from this site that nowhere on Adelaide Road is in Primrose Hill for local government purposes). Oddly enough, North London's most exclusive and fashionable neighbourhood does not have a lot of "waste ground next to the railway tracks" in it.

On the actual question of someone having chucked in an objection to the synagogue on the basis of it being a magnet for nuclear terrorism, I'm afraid they did (I note that the Ham&High, which is Dave's local paper, actually referred to the location as Chalk Farm, which I think is a bit too downmarket for where it is, but it ain't Primrose Hill). But I seem to remember that the real motivation for the objections was parking. Most things in North London are about parking; I only realised that the War on Terror was being pursued seriously when two residents' parking spaces were removed outside the Jewish Museum on Albert Street to guard against suicide bombers (presumably suicide bombers with residents' permits but you can't be too careful).

All in all I take from this the lesson that the combination of the Jewish religion, parking disputes and nuclear terrorism is an explosive one and best avoided, even by estate agents. I think that the intifada may have started as a parking dispute that got totally out of hand. I also suspect that even now there is an estate agent somewhere trying to suggest that a flat in Gaza is "basically West Tel Aviv".

Update: gosh what a disappointment. The opening bit is really interesting and snappily written but the rest of it is partly a rambling response to a pamphlet nobody will ever read and partly a piece of boilerplate Aaro "pipe down and listen to your betters, they're much more dynamic and young than you and the status quo is no longer an option" toytown authoritarianism. I half suspect that there was some accident and Dave sent the wrong piece to the Times this week as the article is basically a blog post.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Enlightenment Values Watch

So, we now have the position that the pastime of the urban middle class (cocaine) is morally unacceptable because, through a very convoluted causal chain indeed, it leads to pain and misery overseas. But the pastime of the rural middle classes (fox-hunting) is A-OK, because although it involves the tearing apart of small animals, it would probably happen anyway and so it's basically a victimless crime.

This is genuinely "Enlightenment Values" in action, because as far as I can see the only way it could possibly make sense is if you believed Descartes' theory that non-human animals were automata without the capacity for feeling.


So, we were close. He's gone for the country.
Lord knows, I find the class hatred behind the hunting of the hunters easy to understand. Britain is the only rich country not to have had a modern revolution.

Someone remind me of Japan's revolution? South Korea's? Switzerland's? Come to think of it, did Germany ever have one? (Hitler was elected, after all.) And I wouldn't call Russia rich.
The typical continental smallholding, with a few acres on which the owner can do as he or she pleases, is a rarity here. This land is not our land but the property of great families or the Forestry Commission and the National Trust.

[Slams head into desk repeatedly, until it bleeds.] Er yes, Nick. The Forestry Commission and the National Trust took lots of land off private landowners, not unlike the Russian revolution. (Now he's defending the peasants -- in the name of the revolution! Thank Christ I never went to Oxenford also.)
In the past decade, the league has lost two chief executives, two chairmen, one treasurer and one regional head. All of them concluded that an effective ban would lead to the slaughter of foxes by farmers with guns who no longer wanted to keep them alive for the hunts to chase. I cannot think of another protest group that has seen so many of its officers go over to the other side. It is as if senior staff of Greenpeace regularly joined the board of Texaco.

Oh God, I've been saying this for so long. Good for Nick.
The people who are at the league, for the time being at any rate, told me they expected the police to collect evidence that the hunts are intentionally breaking the law and bring prosecutions soon. If they don't, their ban will join Margaret Thatcher's prohibition of the promotion of homosexuality and Jack Straw's curfews for children in that list of fatuous legislation that was designed to make vocal minorities feel good and succeeded only in bringing the law into disrepute.

Good for Nick. I don't know who you've been talking to, but keep the anti-New Labour stuff up at all costs, man.
Hey, I said he'd go for BMWs and Chris Huhne. This is like winning the lottery. Without the money part, obviously.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

I haven’t the faintest idea

Nick's got a new blog post up: They die for your right to snort. It's a reprint of an NS article from last year, but he introduces it thus:
A couple of readers have emailed about a pargagraph that appeared in a media diary, the Indpendent’s I think, saying words to the effect of ‘ooh er missus, isn’t it odd that an Observer journalist should condemn cocaine’ and asked what on earth the writer was talking about. I haven’t the faintest idea. It read to me like a typical media in-joke that makes the commerically fatal mistake of leaving the readers out in the cold. In response to my correspondents and for what it is worth, here’s a piece from the archives which explains what I think and why.

What was the writer on about? How about The Right to be Left Alone? (Posted on the blog on "Thursday, February 16th, 2006" and I think from the London Evening Standard of two days earlier.)
IT WAS GOOD to see Bod Geldoff coming out so strongly against cocaine. On the rare occasions I’ve been to fashionable clubs, I’ve always been astonished by the hypocrisy of London’s media elite. Their drug of choice fund gangsters who terrorise Latin America. In Colombia alone, a civil war that is mainly about control of the cocaine trade has produced 400,000 refugees.

Why is it odd for an Observer journalist? Because surely he is one of "London’s media elite."
Now can we expect Nick to take the pledge against media in-jokes which make the "commerically fatal mistake of leaving the readers out in the cold"?
Anyone know what the diary entry said?
Update 12:25: after the first two comments*. Oh God, I've read the bloody thing now. I only skimmed it previously.
It’s rare for a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers to raise a moral issue that disconcerts London’s vaguely leftish upper middle class. But Sir Ian Blair, the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has managed it. He suggested that he may one day send the drug squad into the Groucho Club to arrest cocaine-raddled members and implied that cocaine use was equivalent to buying oranges from apartheid South Africa or taking a holiday in Burma.

That sounds like Ian Blair. Neither buying South African oranges or holidaying in Burma was ever a crime. If they had been, instead of reading the labels on apples, I'd be a Barclays customer, and probably a Tory by now. Cocaine use is illegal, however, so he would be within his rights to raid a place where he thinks its ingestion is going on. And, BTW, I do think Nick has a point about the means of production. Because of our current repressive laws, any drug consumption supports criminals. Legalise the lot, I say, and then we can pick and choose.
No reasonable person can doubt that the sooner Sir Ian leads a Swat team into Soho the better. Since Julie Burchill abandoned the Groucho for Brighton, the danger that the cops might haul away a writer whose work would be missed has passed.

Working this out is like converting from degrees to radians using your fingers. Is he saying that Julie B takes cocaine or not? Does he think that police raids on clubs just arrest everyone? I can't believe he thinks that. Ergo, he's saying Julie Burchill snorts coke. (I've no idea whether she does or not, of course. But I have read Tony Parson's really really bad first novel. No longer in print, thankfully.) Else why haul her away?
The most recent figures from the British Crime Survey showed 624,000 people in England and Wales had admitted taking it within the previous year, and 275,000 had admitted taking it in the previous month. The real figures are probably higher.

Love that "probably." (Didn't hear Nick use it with reference to Iraq War casualties.) Actually, I know a bit about the British Crime Survey. One clue: it's a survey. Maybe I should say that again. It asked a sample of people questions and projected their answers onto the general population. "Showed" is not the right word, Nick. It's probably a good guess, but it's a guess.
Go back to the Groucho Club and look at what can and can’t be done. You can guarantee that the customers would be appalled to find genetically modified vegetables on the menu. GM is taboo, though nobody can prove that a single consumer has suffered an untimely death -- or even an upset stomach -- after eating a GM dinner. US corporations can argue, with a great deal of hypocrisy and just a smidgen of justice, that GM’s potential to increase crop yields for the world’s growing population is being hindered by the faddism of the wealthy.

Blimey, he's single-handedly contributing to the great EU "Straw Man" mountain here. I've never been to the Groucho (they wouldn't have me; so I didn't want to join), but I've met a few creatives -- and I wouldn't guarantee anything about them. Christ, I left Greenpeace over their take on the GM thing, which I don't agree with. But "nobody can prove that a single consumer has suffered an untimely death -- or even an upset stomach -- after eating a GM dinner" is shameful misrepresentaion of the objections. I also don't smoke, and I object to others smoking while I eat, so I support the trend against smoking at dinner parties. Nick seems to confuse two things here:
Yet it is social death to put a cigarette in your mouth, not to stuff cocaine up your nose.

That's because smoking while I eat affects me, and I mind very much. Otherwise, you can stick and orange in your mouth and hang yourself from the ceiling for all I care. Nick has a couple of answers for libertarians like me.
In short, mass consumer boycotts are all very well but they rather depend on the quality of the consumer.

Yeah, bloody democracy. When the people don't deliver, dissolve them, and elect a new heroic revolutionary populace!
Easy to say, yet it’s hard for even the victims to accept full-scale legalisation. In 2003, the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez condemned the US intervention in his country’s civil war, which is as much about drugs as politics, as “imperial voracity”. He was quoted as saying that the only way out for the 400,000 refugees the conflict had produced was for the Americans to accept that they were wrong and legalise drugs. But he hastily issued a clarification. He didn’t to see criminals rewarded. “What I said is that the Colombian drama is such that, to be exact, it is not possible to imagine that an end will be put to drug-trafficking without consumption being legalised. That is the enormity of the tragedy . . . Colombians are having to suffer.”
For now, you can shrug and say that tragedy is the way of the world. But when western consumers buy fair trade Colombian coffee and follow it with a sniff of foul-trade Colombian cocaine, tragedy topples into farce. If they still want to pose as ethical consumers, they should look for the remarkably few reports in the western media that link the suffering in the poor world to the fashions of the rich.

Er, didn't he say earlier:
At £40 a gram and falling, it still is not cheap but it hardly fits Robin Williams’s old definition that “cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you make too much money” any longer. This is a drug for the many.

So is cocaine is or is cocaine isn't a drug for the rich?
I think you can smoke in the Groucho ...

Times are tight for columnists. One phone call: "Hello Groucho club? I'm Christopher Hitchens and I can no more stop smoking than bears can relieve themselves in your porcelain lavatories. I've had a few nominations to join your august institution, but really, my dear, should you prohibit me from enjoying my cigarette habit, I should say that I'd have to refuse." That would ensure a definitive answer, wouldn't it? Oh Nick thinks... well, that's good enough for me.
After that, it rather falls apart. There are two possible targets. One is consumers. But Nick doesn't seem to think that New Statesman readers are likely offenders. The other is the government. It's very simple. The more the laws, the more corrupt the state. Legalise all drugs.
Thanks to a recent Nick column, I realise that he was at Oxford in the early 80s. That makes him the same age as me. And Irvine Welsh.
Now read or see Trainspotting and tell me that heroin is the drug of the rich. Oh, say can this be Nick's own paper? Friend or foe? UK forces enter Afganistan's dark zone.
Distinguishing friend from foe can be difficult in Helmand, the lawless Afghan province that will soon be home to one of Britain's most ambitious -- and perilous -- deployments to Afghanistan since colonial times.
By next May more than 3,300 British paratroopers, backed by Apache helicopters, Harrier warplanes and a phalanx of hi-tech artillery, will start pouring in. Their mission is to impose order and facilitate development in a lost province where violence, crime and bitter tribal rivalries are part of everyday life.
Helmand has concentrated doses of Afghanistan's most worrying problems: a corrupt local government and police; vast swaths of territory under the control of the Taliban; and a fast-growing drug industry. Last year Helmand produced more poppies, the plant used to make heroin, than any other Afghan province. This year the crop is expected to double.

What's that? They increased heroin production after we invaded? The bastards!
Nothing he has written says anything other than we should legalise the lot. Then whether the police harass London dinner parties or not, they might leave smackheads in Pilton and Muirhouse alone.

*Always assuming of course that there ever will be any more.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Fleet Street Nostradamus

A welcome return to form for Nick in the Staggers. That's form as in "good", not as in "something we can all laugh at."
I’m the last pundit on the planet with the right to offer an answer. Before the Conservative leadership election, I dismissed him in the New Statesman as a hopeless Blair clone - “Blameron”, the headline writer called him - who was stuck in the Nineties parroting the exhausted soundbites of Peter Mandelson and Philip Gould. He would disappear without trace, I assured you. The impact of my piece was electrifying. Within weeks, Cameron had won the Tory leadership by a landslide and taken the party to its first consistent opinion-poll lead since Black Wednesday. It is not for nothing that I am known as the Fleet Street Nostradamus.

There are first shoots of something like humour that we've seen for a while. He even spells "Geldof" correctly in the next paragraph. (What would Nick do if Bob Geldof had never existed?) I don't think the conceit (a story about a friend from Oxford, James Lyle, who is now "funding David Cameron") works particularly well. But then I don't trust the New Statesman to offer staggering insights into the Tories.
Yet however wrong I was before Cameron’s election, I still wonder whether it is possible for a Conservative leader to imitate Tony Blair. The first doubt comes from the great ideological convulsion of our time: the defeat of the old left. It is far harder to run an ideologically light Conservative Party in 2006 than an ideologically light Labour Party. Those on left and right who maintain that Tony Blair took control of Labour in a Leninist coup and then forced cowed backbenchers to do his bidding fail to take account of the death of socialism. If in 1997 Jeremy Corbyn had been PM, and the Campaign Group had taken every seat in the cabinet, they still wouldn’t have nationalised the banks and the top 100 companies because the belief that public ownership of the means of production was a viable method of running an economy had just gone.

There's quite a lot wrong with this, as I'm sure the other BB will explain. Two paragraphs earlier, Nick wrote "After the terrible defeat in 1945, the Conservatives promptly accepted Labour's welfare state and were back in office in 1951." That seems to be the epitome of ideological lightness to me.
If you were to take a random selection of today’s Conservative MPs, let alone a selection from the right of the party, and give them a huge majority, however, they would slash taxes and regulation and clamp down on crime and immigration because they genuinely believe in market economics and a strong state.

Except that Margaret Thatcher had huge majorities in 1979 and 1983. Her clamping down on crime initiative flopped. Not all Tories believe in blocking immigration of course: Enoch Powell was sacked by Ted Heath for suggesting such a thing. George Bush hasn't slashed taxes. Regulation they may well get rid of. For some reason, defence is left out.
In 1945, Labour didn't seriously consider nationalising the banks. It didn't even go all the way with the health service. If Labour had won in 1983, it still wouldn't have nationalised the top 100 companies, because the Labour Party has never subscribed to that sort of socialism.
The other trick Nick misses is that Labour, as he well knows, having written books about the Party, would be different in many important ways if the leadership had been different. This "they're all the same really" position doesn't convince me, and I doubt that Nick really believes it himself.
Sadly, he's probably right about authoritarian conservatives voting Labour. Blair has what they want.

Friday forecast thread

A lot of people have made predictions in other threads this week; you can let 'em stand or make new ones in this thread.

If you're going along to the "Support for the Danish" protests that Hitchens and Kamm are thinking of organising, btw, make sure to wear your Fightersandlovers.com t-shirt, because this way you get four for the price of one: a) protest against censorship of the Danish b) protest against censorship by the Danish c) show support for FARC or the PFLP (not an unalloyed benefit this one I grant you) and d) demonstrate your belief that the world and the censorship issue are substantially more complicated than a lot of people would like to believe.

Meanwhile, currently Watching Dave in the Jewish Chronicle being pretty reasonable about the CoE boycotting Caterpillar shares, although he does rather lose the plot about half way through and just round off having a pop at obscure figures on the Left for being anti-Semites, something which I would personally have left to a specialist anti-Semite spotter. This Neil Berry character certainly seems a bit slimy if everything Aaro says about him is true and there is no mitigating context, but I have no reason to believe that is the case (see comments by Mark below) and so I reserve judgement.

And Nick, in the Staggers. This latest one is at least well written, which is a blessed relief after some of the stuff he has been shovelling our way of late. But the conclusions don't seem to make any sense at all; is Nick proposing to speak for the "Authoritarian Tories" now? Having promoted himself from chippy working class grammar school boy to middle class bien-pensant midweek in the Standard, has he now elevated himself to the gentry? It's like a Trollope novel.

In all seriousness I do not like this new authoritarian version of Nick at all; although it is always nice to have a go at Berlusconi, the meat of the Standard column was simply that the proles need to be sneered at and told not to be so feckless by their betters, or they will gamble their rent away. And now it's "huge lead on national security", and Cameron is a fool to oppose assaults on civil liberties. Oh yeh and a pointless sneer at Brokeback Mountain.

I've just had a minor epiphany. Of course it's not a "pointless sneer"; the sneer is the point, as it is in ninety per cent of NC's journalism at the moment; the man increasingly defines the term "contrary for the sake of it". Nick is engaged in the journalism of punk rock; "Whatever you hate, that's what I am". He's passed the point of diminishing returns when it comes to flagellating the middle class for their bourgeois tendencies, so now he has to become petit-bourgeois himself, lest the well of self-loathing run dry. Give yourself a break, Nick, you really aren't all that bad!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Nick's column in the Standard

It's a peach. Ooh it's a pudding. It's not that it ... no, I can't bear to spoil the surprise. You'll have to wait till it comes up on the blog. But it really is a stunner. I'm chortling right now. Cyber chutney arse ducks. It really is a quite flabbergasting column. No more clues. Sorry, I'm quite overwrought with columnar intoxication.

From the other side of the hill

Being outside London I don't see Nick in the Standard, and his latest hasn't been put uip on his site yet. So while we're waiting, a curiosity.

This is a translation by the Jamestown Foundation of an article posted at an Islamist website. Take a look and tell me if you don't see some generic similarities with a certain passionate idealist engaged in the greatest intellectual struggle of our time.

"Where is the support for jihad in the manifestos of Islamic [political] movements?…Where is the Muslim funding for those who fight while these [individuals] spend thousands on elections, festivals and conferences, which contain naught but empty words? Where is the support for jihad in the media [statements] of these movements?"

Oh, those pseudo-leftists...

Rioja Kid

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Oh God, he's doing jokes again

Martin Jacques: "you know, Europe hasn't exactly always covered itself in glory in these things over the last 200 years". [emphasis added - bb]

David Aaronovitch: "well, it's hardly as if the Catholic Church has tried to censor literature! The Catholic Church! Censoring free expression! The very idea! This is the very essence of comedy!"

World: "what the fuck?"

I have always been told in the business world that the iron rule is that you don't slag off the competition because 1) what goes around comes around, 2) it makes you look insecure 3) it gives them free publicity. Either Aaro never got the message, or in his heart he's still at the Grauniad. Either way, the message of this column is quite simåply mocking poor ignorant people in the third world for being poor and ignorant, and that to be frank is what we call "racism" when Richard Littlejohn does it.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Our Enemies on the Left

Recent posts have noted Nick Cohen's strange dislike of Rory Bremner and Chris Huhne. While political wonks in the know dissected Michael Crick's Huhne investigation on Newsnight, Nick went -- again -- for the "He used to drive a BMW! Truly the transportation of a bounder!" Most of us, confronted with someone we don't like who's got a big car would mutter about "compensating for something" and move on.

But not Nick. The "Beemer" story is big enough news to make the Observer two weeks running. (Obviously, I'm using the word "news" loosely here.)

So why these two? And is there a third man? Or a fourth? Commenter Tim P finds the fatal flaw in Nick's criticism of Bremner:
Ah yes, the smiles of recognition in the studio audience as Rory Bremner launches into an impression of Mohammed Khatami, perfectly capturing all his verbal tics and idiosyncratic gestures! Hear the guffaws break out as he lampoons Khatami's over cautious push to reform Iran!

I suppose you could argue that if the audience didn't laugh, it's because their self-hating middle-class mores mean that they'd sit po-faced through any performance featuring someone with a towel on his head and speaking in a funny voice. And it's the last word in hip comedy too!

As for Chris Huhne, there may be some substantive issues which a political commentator with a column in a broadsheet, I mean serious, national paper could analyse.

I've listened to part of Nick's Little Atoms (isn't that a tautology?) interview. In it he mentions sending an email to Ian McEwan (not that he meant to name drop) citing the old "truth is stranger than fiction" thing with reference to Gorgeous George on Big Brother. That reminded me of Mark Twain's "The reason why truth is stranger than fiction is that there is no requirement for it to be consistent." (Obvious Mr Twain can be excused for not having read or seen "Fight Club" when he said that.) Why does anyone say "Truth is stranger than fiction?" Especially someone who should know better and whose Wikipedia entry compares him to Orwell?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Harry's Place.

This is the last time I'll bother everyone with my views on HP in this specifically DA/NC blog. I'll stick to solely Aaro/Cohen related rants here. I have however set up a new blog to monitor the activities of the nutters at http://harrysplacewatch.blogspot.com/ because I feel it is important to record and monitor their increasingly bizarre worldview. I think that these guys are just this side of dangerous but I wouldn't bet the rent on it. Comments appreciated.

Otherwise intelligent people are saying loony things about Muslims

Only one piece of colour commentary to add to CapCab's excellent summary of Sunday Nick below.

A passing observer of the Observer might think it odd that in a week when the government passed a law against "glorifying terrorism", a law which they presumably intend to enforce using violence because they are a state, Nick has no mention of the fact in his comment on free speech. One might even say that it rather looks like Nick is less keen on free speech per se than he is on randomly having a go at the Muslims.

It looks this way because it is this way, to put it bluntly. Nick does, in fact, probably believe that free speech which is critical of Islam is more important than free speech which isn't. He probably believes this because it is very definitely part of the message of Paul Berman's "Terror and Liberalism", which we know is a book that makes up a large part of Nick's current worldview. It is specifically a big part of T'n'L that the Islamists are as much of a threat to us as the Nazis (andthecommunistsbutletsnottalktoomuchaboutthem) and that therefore our normal virtues of intellectual tolerance are now vices when that tolerance is expressed toward Islamists.

Just saying, that's all; the last few months of Nick make a lot more sense when you bear in mind that a certain degree of Islamophobia is, in fact, there; it's not just the result of incautious expression.

Full review of T'n'L forthcoming this week; sorry it's been awhile but I've had a hell of a couple of weeks.


Today's offering is characteristic Nick. It is an example of fantasy Islington dinner-party syndrome. At last night's party the guests -- the "average member of the educated bourgeoisie" -- seem to have left their cocaine at home (or perhaps they were shamed by earlier Nick columns into abandoning it until they can guarantee that is organically produced in sustainable forests). Now the topic of conversation is modern art, and the typical guest is a passionate fan of Gilbert and George. Having ascribed such enthusiasms to his fantasy diners, Nick now moves in to berate them for their hypocrisy. How can the Islingtonians both love G&G for their transgressiveness" and refuse to shout "pigfucker" at passing Muslims? What appalling hypocrites Nick's fantasy people are!

There's a point lurking in Nick's fantasy. It is this, that people on the liberal left really are more willing to attack Christianity than they are Islam. Nick's explanation for this, hypocrisy, needs to be set against some other possibilities that Nick doesn't seem to have considered. It is one thing to ridicule the icons of one's own culture (though doing so as art is getting a bit lame and tired) it is another to set out deliberately to offend members of abused and despised ethnic minorities. In a culture where issue after issue of the Spectator, the Times and the Telegraph contain pages of abuse directed at Muslims by the likes of Rod Liddle,
Mark Steyn and Anthony Browne, perhaps liberals and leftists are right to doubt the "transgressive" possibilities of joining in.

The central section is an attack on the Bush administration's use of torture and a defence of Mr Justice Collins for saying so. Good for you, Nick! But the opening section contains the bizarre proposition that no-one should criticize British troops for beating the crap out of Iraqis who has not acquired a licence to offend by being willing to attack Islam. Nick is presumably in the clear himself since, being willing to offend Muslims, he is now entitled to offend the relatives of those who abuse Iraqis. The principle that it is hypocritical to criticize Western governments for maltreating their prisoners unless one is willing to go around offending the sensibilities of all religions is a novel one. Perhaps Nick ought to wonder about whether he really means it.

And then on to another attack on Chris Huhne and his former love of the car. This time, Nick reveals the Huhne once had personalized number plates. Now I agree with Nick that this is pretty damaging. But then so is the fact that Nick has now obsessed about Huhne and his car two weeks running. What did Huhne do? Did he tell some humiliating joke about Nick at the Indie Christmas party years ago? Did he snitch on Nick at school? Did he run off with Nick's lover?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Competition: Name The Remaining Seals of Dacre!

As well as our Friday Forecast competition, I would like to launch a new competition on Aaronovitch Watch. It probably bears some explanation for new readers.

For a while now, we've had a running joke on AW that Nick Cohen is in the process of gradually turning into Melanie Phillips. We have motivated this joke by claiming that he is breaking, one by one, the Seven Seals of the Vaults of Dacre. The idea is that every time you adopt a bizarre and counterfactual view which is also believed by Melanie Phillips, a seal breaks open, and when all seven are broken, the Vaults open and an army of ghouls rush out and drag you off to write a column in the Daily Mail. At present, we believe that the following four Seals have been broken:

1. The return of grammar schools is both a socially egalitarian policy and vital to the economic future of our nation.
2. House prices are about to crash due to the economic mismanagement of this government.
3. Liberal middle class English people are among the most anti-Semitic bigots in the world.
4. The government systematically falsifies crime statistics in order to cover up a rising tide of violence and lawlessness.

However, we've identified each of these ex post facto after seeing it in a column, which is not really a very satisfactory way to proceed. So the competition we have is to name the remaining three, so we have an objective standard by which to judge Nick's future rightward drift. We're looking for a set of three beliefs which are a) bizarrely counterfactual b) actually held by Melanie Phillips or, at a pinch, any other Mail columnist of the barking rightwing variety and c) likely to be uttered nonironically by Nick in the next twelve months. Submissions in order of preposterousness in the comments please. (Looking at some of Nick's stuff around the Handsworth riots and on faith schools, I think "Brown-skinned immigrants are given systematically favoured treatment by the government compared to native-born whites" is alarmingly close to being a bookie's favourite, for example).

The winning prize will be to have a Seal adopted in your name at the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, unless there is somewhere else on the Internet doing seal adoptions even cheaper.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

In your face, literally ...

I'm one of those annoying people who gets upset about the ubiquitous use of "literally". A man trying to sell me a bathroom used the word 26 times in the course of a 5-minute conversation the other day. Still, I expect better from one of the heirs of George Orwell, greatest essayists of our time, yadda yadda yadda ...

"From 2008, the state will be in your face – literally in your face. If you want a new passport, you will have to go one of 70 centres and a technician will point a machine at your eyes to scan your irises."

Maybe if the state embedded a microchip under my nose or something I'd concede the "literally" but this looks pretty metaphorical to me.

Other than that, Nick's latest reveals him to be in tune with what people are grumbling about down the Dog and Duck:

"I sense a change of mood. Something snapped when the police allowed the supporters of suicide bombers to parade through London while abusing and threatening to arrest the passers-by who protested. Everywhere I got I meet people who are fed up with being told what they can and cannot say, read or do."

Mind you, there are limits! Nick had that Bob Geldof in the back of his cab once and he was deploring the use of cocaine in "fashionable clubs". Too right! You don't get that kind of nonsense in the Dog and Duck. There outta be a law! Oh, there is. (But we're fed up with being told what we can and cannot do.)

Tack on the ritual moan about Ken Livingstone and some middle-aged anxiety about memory loss (which no doubt explains why he can't get A.J.P. Taylor's book title right) and he's all done.

George Orwell? Hilary Winshaw more like.

Cui Bono

Our man is blogging from Miami, so he's clearly keeping up with the politics of this damp little island over teh interwebs. I'm not surprised at his position on smoking, and I've added a comment (which has passed the moderation process), but I'd like to say some more.

The things Dave and I agree are: smoking is an accepted health risk by medical authorities the world over now; others' smoke and smoky environments are unpleasant; equal opportunities in major religions would be a good thing. The things we disagree about are: everything else.
The smoking decision has the same kind of feeling about it as the hunting business. Despite the obvious and predictable stuff about nanny governments (ironic, since this wasn't a decision that the government originally wanted), it is something else -- another consequence of social change.

It is a consquence of social change, though I think that bears much more examination. (I think Kristallnacht could be described as a consequence of social change. Many things are consequences of social change.) Dave is on holiday, so it's only fair to assume that he knocked this out quickly, between exercise sessions and seminars. In other circumstances, I'd find "... nanny governments (ironic, since this wasn't a decision that the government ..." lazy and perhaps intentionally obtuse. The usual term, I believe, is ""nanny state" (732,000 Google results) not "nanny government" (18,300). The first use of 'government' means "the state, laws, etc." the second use of 'government' means "Tony Blair and company". No irony involved.
In a way it is astonishing that it has taken this long for smoking to be banned in restaurants; there are still places so foul from the stench and that make your eyes water so much, that I only have to enter the bloody door to know that this is not the joint for me.

Well, exactly, and not the joint (was that a pune, or play on words?) for me either. I share Tim Ireland's reflexive distaste for The Sun: it's not the paper for me. But lots of other people like it, and its existence means that its readers don't write letters to the ones I do buy and their shopping habits don't influence the ads I see. The problem with the cartoon affair, IMO, was that Muslims in Syria and Saudi Arabia took it upon themselves to get upset at events in a far away country of which they knew little and published in a paper with a small circulation. Life is altogether much easier if one minds one's own business.
Someone else should comment on the third paragraph -- it's over my head. The last is either confused, as I tried to suggest in the comments, or deeply disingenuous. I'm really not sure which.
Now the ban is here, though, I find it hard to regret it. Seat belts, crash helmets, bike lights -- all this is stuff that we have decided to impose on others for their own (and their families' good), and it hasn't made Swiss out of us yet. Just so long as we unban something at the same time -- like permitting women bishops or gay imams.

Banning smoking wasn't the government's plan -- it wasn't in the manifesto in this form (see Michael White; the Labour Manifesto actually says, "We will legislate to ensure that all enclosed public places and workplaces other than licensed premises will be smoke-free" (p66). Who is this "we" whom Dave refers to?) I believe that Dave's logic comes down to "We'll tell one minority [smokers] what to do and this will be fair if we tell other minorities [the C of E, Muslims] what to do as well."
Just because I share his prejudices does not mean that I endorse his reasoning.

Monday, February 13, 2006

L'Affaire Benjamin

Dear Mr Aaronovitch,
This is a reluctant post. I had hoped one of the other chaps who post here would do this one, but they've all very sensibly taken a step back and found better things to do.
I've been shamed into this by Mike Power.
Now, you have been better than most at handling comments. You've been better than any other professional journalist at handling comments. Andrew Sullivan blogs professionally* and his pieces look like extracts from one email after another (anonymously cited, of course). The plebs contribute to the gay Gary Bushell lookalike's blog, but only on his terms.
So I rather admire your attitude so far. Mike quotes you:

I'll tolerate dispute, some kinds of abuse, violent disagreement, people proving that I am wrong -- anything that adds to the life of this blog.

And you actually "got blogs" in an early post -- Welcome to my slightly extended world.

Them's me reasons, and the big question concerns keeping the thing going -- and that's about reading. There's a comments facility, which I hope will be a kind of debating area. But I will kill trolls -- there is something dispiriting in having a good discussion hijacked by a people of ill-will. Otherwise it's be Liberty Hall.

you also moderates comments yourself:

Just so that you know, I do it myself. I try not to delete posts just because they are critical or even a bit weird. What I can't stand, though, is a kind of deliberate sabotaging of discussion. But I haven't had much of that yet (said Pollyanna).

Censorship is always going to be a difficult area. The best I can say is that, IMO, this is not censorship. If someone who is a guest in your home takes it upon themselves to denounce you, asking them to leave is not censorship. If you edit a newspaper and a correspondent questions the sexual proclivities and dietary preferences of your staff, tossing the letter in the bin is not censorship. And you used to be active in the NUS (according to your Wikipedia profile; I'm sure you were President). I remember the tactics of certain far-left groups at the time. They basically consisted of "Debate is a discredited practice of the running dogs of the bourgeoisie (as we know; the're our mums and dads). If we make enough noise, and throw things if necessary, we will wreck your middle-class ways. All together now, Tarquin, Petronella. For the working class!" This is an embarrassing admission, but Oliver Kamm has a particularly trenchant comment on one such party at Harry's Place and David T of H'sP has some sharp comments on another.
In short, I understand your position. And if you stuck to the letter of it, I'd support you.
I'll let Mike Power speak next:

Benji's achievement is to be someone slightly more irritating than the average Harry's Place commenter, which is no mean feat in my opinion ...

Now Wikipedia defines Internet troll as:

In Internet terminology, a troll is a person who posts rude or offensive messages on the Internet, such as on online discussion forums, to disrupt discussion or to upset its participants.

I find Benjamin borderline in this. His comments are not rude (beyond the odd "Up yours too" type thing) and they're not offensively phrased. They lean to "You're wrong ..." I also don't think that his intention is to "disrupt discussion or to upset [other] participants." On the other hand, I won't argue with H'sP's Brownie:

He treats other people's blogs like his own personal graffiti wall.

As Mike says:

Benji may be irritating but I don't understand what has he done to upset Aaronovitch quite so much:

Meaning this bit:
In centre-left circles the most ubiquitous troll is Benjamin. He works in Hong Kong, I think. God knows what as, since he has the mentality of a moderately clever, but destructive, nine-year old. Here are his first (and last) contributions to this blog, posted simultaneously.

Mike wonders what he missed. The first comment:

1. Subject: My Dad was a Communist
Post: Thankfully my dad was never a communist.

is simply inane to me. The second

2. Subject: Iran
Post: "Anyone know of a good, broad-based solidarity group?" Guffaw. This is said like a man looking for pasta at Sainsburys.

is actually witty. OK, not that witty, but certainly falls inside "I try not to delete posts just because they are critical or even a bit weird." (Unless that "or" precludes "and".)
Mike quotes a couple of other commenters, including a namesake:

I would like to commend David Aaronovitch for taking the very courageous and sensible decision not to allow Benjamin to comment on this blog.

Why is it "courageous"? Because I'm about to get stuck in, as expected. It doesn't really matter what I say here, any possible critics stopped reading some time ago. So I won't bother saying very much.
If you moderate comments, that's fine. If you turn those comments into the Politburo, that's cool too: it's your blog. But you'll find the useful corrections of intelligent critics stop showing up, and the opinions expressed become uglier. And I don't care if you find Benjamin stupid, inane, irrelevant, malicious, or whatever would cause you to ignore his contributions. He won't be the only one, especially if you post on subjects like race and religion as I hope you continue to do.
Like Mike, I think "Benjamin, fairly obviously, is a waste of psychic space" is just a step too far. Yes, you scored many supportive comments, and, yes, his emails to you and your editor (in this post) which, among other things, made him identifiable not as "Benjamin" but as "Benjamin Mackie" were ill-considered. But who is the former President of the NUS, the former leader writer, the supposedly-sensible bloke here?
I think you've made an error of taste. And if you really are a decent person, you'll apologise for the personal abuse.

we use pseudonyms here, but this post is my opinion, and my opinion only,
Dave Weeden

PS Apologies for any solecisms in this post. It was originally written in the third person and moved itself into the second. I've tried to catch grammatical changes, but I've found one error always slips through.
Update 11pm. I forgot to mention Bloggers4Labour's contribution, which I find intelligent and wise.
*Now there's a thing. Typing that felt like writing "And people pay to watch you pick your nose?"
Update 2: Tuesday, 5pm. Evil BB asked in the comments to this post why there were no recent comments on DA's blog. The answer is, as previously advertised, our man has gone "back to Pritikin for another waist shave" and he's blogging from Miami. He has allowed another comment through, so he's clearly not giving up on that just yet. Sigh, it's this one. I'm lost for words.

the antecedents of Nick: a further enquiry

Thgis is response to benignbruschetta's modets inquiry into Nick's antecedents. it's a bit long so I thought I'd shove it on the front page:

There's a strain of American left-wing journalism, and my ignorance is so deep that I can't even begin to name names properly, which seeks out conspiracies in government, is reflexively cynical about politicians, and equally nauseated by the facile pieties of both Republicans and Democrats, and Nick is closer to that than any British or Continental writing.

I think we’re actually talking about Bermanism here. There’s a particular New York-centric tradition of splits in very small left wing circles causing ripples because the members of those circles happened to be well connected in the wider worlds of media and academia. And from that you get the kind of well worn apostasy narrative, where various people declare that their party has left them and that they won’t sacrifice their principles to left conformity, etc, etc – this has been going on since the 1930’s and as has been remarked is one strain in the history of neo-conservatism.

Now there’s obviously a native strain of that with people like Kingsley Amis and Paul Johnson, but these folks tend to go all the way over, loudly, with drums and flags. Nick’s “I stand for the real principles of the left” schtick shows the American influence. This isn't like Orwell, by the way. His trick was Commissar as Democrat.

So I’d agree that the particular frame of reference is American, but I don’t think Nick’s an independent left journalist in the American style. We’re talking here about people like Murray Kempton and IF Stone, who maintained a sympathetic approach to left wing causes and concerns while maintaining their own eccentric orbit around them. I’d say that tradition’s been inherited by people like Matt Taibi these days, or Mark Ames (though I’ve seen him described as the last Gonzo, as well, and maybe more accurately). The Brit who conforms most closely to the independent US left tradition in journalism is probably Alex Cockburn.

I think a basic problem with Nick is that he’s trying to operate a style that just doesn’t work here. The sound of a door being slammed at a dinner party in the Upper East Side of New York may go round the world, but it just looks petulant in England. Aspiring to be Trotsky, he ends up as Pooter…and starts grumbling about grammar schools.

Incidentally, since we seem to be Doing Some Reading this week, I can recommend Murray Kempton’s Part of Our Time, which goes into the political background of this stuff in a lot more detail. I can recommend it to Nick too, if he happens to be passing.

Rioja Kid

We Get Noticed

This is probably old news to everybody but me, but this blog gets links from Wikipedia's entries on David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen. (I looked Nick up because his latest Observer piece on falling standards in schools and universities seemed so unselfconsciously crusty that I wanted to find out old he is. Wikipedia doesn't know.) I'm a fan of Wikipedia, I check just about every hunch or half-remembered factlet against it. It's usually very fair, and on my first reading of Nick's entry I thought that was objectively-written too. But this grates:

Cohen is known for the promotion of an independent, enlightened, democratic left-wing secular humanism. As such, he is regarded by supporters as belonging to an intellectual tradition that includes radical writers such as George Orwell and Albert Camus.

The first sentence is OK -- though I'd place commas after "democratic" and "left-wing" -- apart from the words "enlightened" and "independent". "Enlightened" really means nothing at all; "independent" may mean something, if we knew what Nick's humanism was supposed to be independent of. I do think Nick can be placed in "an intellectual tradition that includes radical writers". No problem there. And I do think that tradition could be said to include Orwell and Camus. (Though I find the comparison, thus stated, somewhat overly-flattering.) But not for the secular humanism bit, which is one of Nick's most salient assets. If it were that, he's closer to Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins (though again not in their league). Rather he does have something of Orwell's phrase for himself -- "libertarian socialist". He used to be more concerned for both the underdog and civil liberties than is common among hacks and muckrakers. But the radical writer he most resembles to me, and I mean this with as little prejudice as possible, is Christopher Hitchens (the Hitchens of up to the late 90s, anyway).
There's a strain of American left-wing journalism, and my ignorance is so deep that I can't even begin to name names properly, which seeks out conspiracies in government, is reflexively cynical about politicians, and equally nauseated by the facile pieties of both Republicans and Democrats, and Nick is closer to that than any British or Continental writing.
This is really just an open thread, which I'd have been better off calling "How would you describe Nick Cohen?" So go for it in the comments. The Aaro entry is near-faultless (apart from the clumsy, "He became involved in print journalism in 1995 ..." as if print journalism's eyes and his met across a crowded room or something).

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Warmed up HP Sauce

Here we go again with a straightforward Harry's Place warmover from Nick who covers the striking Iranian bus workers. I've no doubt that their cause is a very worthy one, but one suspects that it isn't the intrinsic merits of the case that secure the Decents' attention. If a strike with similar features was taking place in Manchester, Manaus or Mobile, Al. it wouldn't get covered with HP Sauce and then appear in the Observer on Sunday. In this respect there's a parallel with Darfur. Don't get me wrong, terrible things are happening there which ought to command our attention. But the adoption of Darfur as a "cause" by the Decents is at least partly down to its function as not-Israel, as in "You people go on about human rights abuses in Israel, but why don't you talk about Darfur where Muslims are doing far worse things? Eh? Eh?" If it was the objective badness that was driving things we'd expect the Decents to talk about DR Congo, but since that does nothing to illustrate the general tenets of Decency, they aren't interested. As with Darfur, so it is with the Iranian bus workers too. (Oh, and it enables Nick to mention those cartoons too.) Among those that Nick cites as being in support of Iranian trade unions is "George W Bush's State Department". Nick may want to check on this but I'm pretty sure that Bush hasn't been a consistent supporter of workers' rights to unionize.

I'm curious about Nick's little dig at Chris Huhne. First of all, I'm not sure I understand why someone who wanted a big car in the late 1980s is a hypocrite for having acquired doubts about them by 2006. It isn't as if Nick hasn't changed his mind about things over the same period, and even over much much shorter ones. There's also the strange mention of Ian Jack as a figure of exemplary moral judgement. That I can't understand either. Clearly there's some personal history involving the three, but unless you know the back story it is impossible to work out what Nick is going on about or why.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Place Your Bets, Please

The other BB hasn't started this Friday's Forecast Thread, so it's fallen to me.

I have problems with Nick. He writes in the Standard, but those pieces don't find their way on to the blog. I'm not sure why anyone does buy the Standard, but I'm pretty sure it's not for a weekly token lefty column. He writes (or wrote) for the Staggers (currently the website is graced with a "subscribe now" which shows the still used on the poster and the book of All The President's Men -- but Woodward and Bernstein actually investigated stuff, rather than sitting around on their fat arses [asses for American readers]; I so hope that's under copyright). But it seems we have to wait two years for those.

Dave writes for the Times on Tuesdays and sometimes Saturdays. To make the rules clear, predictions apply to the next column on the Times main site, not the blog posts. (The other BB can change this if he wishes.)

My prediction is simple: neither will mention Dunfermline. When Lefties Were Good, or the book on Rock Against Racism (aka How Taking Drugs Stopped Facsism In Its Tracks) by Dave Renton seems like a good bet from both Decents.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I have purchased a copy of "Terror and Liberalism"

I've bought a copy of Paul Berman's book that was responsible for Nick's epiphany of Decency. I have taken a sneaky look at the end and he prefers liberalism. I will be writing a review of it in these pages quite soon now. Or alternatively, I may be convinced and dismantle the site weeping bitter tears of regret for my wasted years of Indecency. But somehow I doubt it.

In related news, the NC column did appear in the Standard yesterday; I saw it over someone's shoulder on the Tube. But I didn't buy a copy because I was reading Terror and Liberalism and it's not on the blog yet. So now I am scuffling round trying to find a copy of yesterday's Standard. I hate the internets.

PS: I am running short of book storage space so I will happily put it in the post to any other contributor who fancies a look once I have finished it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

In Which We Expand

This may, of course, be a one off. But let's cover Stephen Pollard, and let's not ask "What with?" Something I agree with him about -- some of the following is "spectacularly offensive so don't read any more of this post if that bothers you". There's another thing I agree on: at least he gives links so you can read the pieces he cites.

Now this is a rum thing. Today's Guardian has a piece bv Simon Hattenstone in which he recounts a chant by Spurs fans at Sunday's game, ...

Now this is right .... except that Simon Hattenstone recounts someone else's observations at the game, and the basis of his whole article, as I understand it is homophobia among a) football supporters and b) the press.

The only problem with the story is that I was at the game, as I am at all home games, and heard no such chant. Nadda. Nuffink. Now it may be, of course, that there were a few people who did indeed sing it, but the clear implication of the piece is that the chant was sung audibly by, at the very least, a large section of the the crowd. And that is -- since this post already has its share of vile words, another swear word won't hurt -- total, utter bollocks.

Now, Stephen, I'd trust you if I didn't think that you were in a soundproofed box drinking (or, as decent bloggers and all journalists would say, 'quaffing' as in I quaff, you drink, he/she necks) champagne (or vin blanc avec CO2 as we cynics call it) and you wouldn't have heard anything.

And would it be reading too much into it to find it odd that, the day after publishing Chris McGreal's piece of anti-Israel distortions, the Guardian then has a go at the White Hart Lane crowd, given that Spurs are widely known as the Jewish team? Almost certainly it would indeed be reading too much into it. But almost is the operative word.

The thing is, Stephen has arguments on his side, and they're good, or at least not bad, arguments. Simon Hattenstone (as not quoted by SP):

What disturbs me almost as much as the chanting is media silence, which then becomes collusion. Why didn't newspapers mention it in the match reports? Some would say that to even refer to it is giving the bigots what they want, and serves as a form of "outing".

No media reports. This could be, as Mr Hattenstone points out, tacit collusion. It could also be because there was nothing to report. Mr Hattenstone's leg may have been pulled.
But no! Brave Pollard sniffs anti-semitism!
If you read the first two paragraphs of Simon Hattenstone, you'll be pushed to crowbar in anti-Semitism. Here they are:

Bob is a big lad with a history of headbutting - though to be fair, he is the Robin Hood of headbutts, only redistributing violence in the name of justice. He has followed Spurs for 34 years, heard all sorts of nasty chants over the decades, and probably sung a few himself in his time. In short, he's no delicate flower.
On Monday he came into work, distraught. He'd been at White Hart Lane on Sunday and said he'd never heard anything like it.

I must quote Cameron Nob-Cheddar from Matthew Turner's comments:

Fucking Hell. Run on steel belted corsets not expected. Don't give up the day jobs lad -- if you've got them.

Our man discovers Danish humour. Affix steel corset now. You have been warned.
No, really. Put it on. Clunk-Click.
They're your ribs. You don't get another set.

Danish exports to the muslim countries have suffered severely, due to the controversy surrounding the Muhammad cartoons. Un the up-side, sales of the Danish flag in Gaza have never been higher.

Thank god for the NHS. We hope American readers were insured.
I've posted this because I was asked, via email, to comment on this, and specifically:

Other than the desire to drop a nuclear weapon on Israel, there appears to be not a cigarette paper between McGreal and President Ahmadinejad.

And I can't. I've tried things like "Other than being a strutting volcano of wit, his cigar twitching with the audience's laughter which a master comedian must learn not to respond to, much less echo, a one-man thesaurus of quips and put-downs, of witty repartee, from whom asking for the time of day is like dipping into Shakespeare's Best Bits, there is not a half-mile of lead wall between Groucho Marx and Stephen Pollard" but my heart wasn't in it.

Offtopic is the new ontopic

As part of our new wider remit, a crossword clue
Is there another hatred that might be called 'the liberalism of fools'? The progressivism of fools? The libertarianism of fools? If anti-semitism is, in an important aspect, a rage against the machine, against progress, is there an opposite rage: a rage against reaction, a fury at the recalcitrance of the concrete and the stubbornness of tradition? A rage against what is sacred and refuses to be profaned, against what is solid and doesn't melt into air, against ways of life that resist commodification, against use-value that refuses to become exchange-value?

Nine letters, D - C - - T - - M. Answers by email to the Times sudoku competition before noon, please.

Masons again

Nick's got a new post up. I haven't the time to think about it properly, but here's a few questions.

This is an old Staggers article, repeated because "A poll in this morning's Times suggests ...". Anthony Wells has the details of the poll of which there should be more today (8/2/2006. I'm interested in this Freemason question. Anthony:

Populus then asked some questions about attitudes towards Jews and Israel. A bare majority of British Muslims (52%) did support the right of the state of Israel to exist, 30% did not. 31% thought that the Muslim Community should participate in Holocaust Memorial day, while 56% said they should not (21% said they shouldn’t because of Israeli treatment of Palestine, 12% because it ignored Muslim suffering, 20% for unspecified other reasons, 4% said they didn’t believe the Holocause happened).

Personally, I find that more interesting (and hopeful) than a conspiracy theory about a semi-secret organisation.
There is some coverage of the attack on the Agonist and Pravda. Responsibility seems even confused than usual. The Agonist:

It is not clear who the author is, or if he belongs to the group, but in the article, he states the the IBDA group [local a-Qaeda] neither accepted nor outright rejected responsibility for the attacks. He speculates that the attacks might have been carried out by "Kemalist/leftist" groups, who are uncomfortable with the current government, and who threaten with a coup d'etat.

All very odd.


So much so, we should have bet on when. Today's post:

Gene of Harry's Place has it right ...

I believe proper blog parlance goes for "hits the nail on the head" or "nails it" but maybe some recollection of Decent George (Orwell, not Galloway) steered him from the iceberg of cliche at the last minute.
Sadly, our man continues:

The best way to build democracy in countries like Iran is to show solidarity and support for local democrats. There needs to be a proper campaign. Anyone know of a good, broad-based solidarity group?

All of this can be filed under "Oh dear." Look, democracy is generally a good thing, or as Winston Churchill pointed out, not as much of a bad thing as the alternatives (and that is how excited I get over the word 'democracy'). But this is silly. Wasn't it the Harry's Placers who satirised Lenin (the blogger, not the dead Bolshevik) as "student waving placard"? This is blogging as OCD. First you blog on some real stuff, they you find other things to blog about as you read other people. It's an illness when you think of starting campaigns so you can write about them. And write is all they (Aaro, Gene, etc) intend to do.
Let's see. Iran is currently boycotting all Danish produce over the Cartoons [which are, apparently] 'part of Zionist plot'. It's defying the EU, the US, and the UN over nuclear plants. It sent assassins after translators of "The Satanic Verses." Of course it will be swayed by another Alan "Not the Minister" Johnson campaign.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cease and desist

I have nothing to add to the rest of the crew's Watching other than a small linguistic point:

"Mr Bongo-Brains"
"another red herring, in a sea full of scarlet fish"
"out into their squares and plazas huzza-ing for confrontation"
"a chap with a huge hooter"

Yaroo! Fossilized fish-hooks! Coming on the heels of the "trip to Bonkers Island" a few weeks ago, I surely detect the influence of Just William here?

No harm has been done yet from the incursion of storytime into the column, but like truffle oil in pommes mousseline, a little bit of this language goes a long way and too much stinks. Cease forthwith and henceforth desist, please.

More on Those Bloody Cartoons

I'm once again going to bare my neck on the chopping board that is the Aaronovitch Watch (incorporating Nick Cohen Watch) and say that - a dodgy prediction notwithstanding (see Cap Cab's post below) - David A talks some sense in today's column. The Friday Forecast comp was suspended as it was multiply overdetermined that Dave would choose to write about Those Wretched Cartoons, but a glance at his recent columns on adjacent topics, as well as his recent short blogpost, pointed towards the likelihood that he wouldn't go mad and start foaming, as have so many.

Dave's Decent, of course. He wouldn't be Decent Dave if he weren't. But whereas some Decentists are smashing through the Seals of Dacre on the inexorable conveyor belt that takes you on a one-way journey to the Land of Mel, Dave seems to have developed effective defence mechanisms against the Crazy Ranting Tendency to which so many succumb when they start talking about The Muslims.

So, rewind back to November 2004. Theo Van Gogh's been killed. What does Dave say? Dave says this, in a column for the paper not yet known as tehgrauniad, titled "All Muslims are not the same", about T van G's notorious film :
Imagine a similar film being made here featuring Lubavitcher Jews and suggesting the plight, say, of a child in a closed community. The child might talk about paedophilia in one of the many unregulated weekend classes, about the code of silence, all set against the background of a seven-branched candlestick, with the words of the Torah passing across her body. Then suppose it was made, not by a Lubavitcher, but by a rightwing member of the Conservative party, who had once called a Jew, a "Christ-killer", as Van Gogh once described a Muslim as a "goat-fucker.
He notes the way that in some public discussion the crazy, criminal actions of one Muslim become, "in a blink of a cursor", symptomatic of something that might have to do with all Muslims. And he ended this bit of his column with words that quite a lot of bloggers would do well to ponder:
The story of Muslims is of a backward, super-sensitive religion which mistreats women and suppresses dissent. It is as true and as useful as the story of Jews, and, if we keep on telling it, leads to a similar place.
Fast forward now to January 2005, and to the fuss over the BBC's broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera and to the controversy over the play Bezhti. Here's Aaro, writing in The Observer:
Could we imagine a Prophet in diapers?

The Bezhti affair gives this question real salience. The editor of Granta, Ian Jack, writing following the Sikh demonstrations that forced the play's closure, seemed to suggest that some lines were unlikely to crossed, and crystallised the argument: 'The state has no law forbidding a pictorial representation of the Prophet,' he wrote, 'but I never expect to see such a picture...'

Back came a furious Salman Rushdie, pointing out that there was a tradition of depictions of the Prophet, and then asking, 'should we now censor ourselves because the current potentates of the Islamic faith are more repressive than their predecessors? Do we have no principles of our own?'

This seems to be one of the biggest questions of the moment, given additional topicality because of the proposed 'incitement to religious hatred' law. And it will get bigger because Jack is, I think wrong in his prediction. At the moment most of us don't have a Mohamed. Yet. Soon there will be hundreds of British writers and playwrights who were brought up as Muslims or with personal knowledge of Islam. And they will write about the Prophet, their Prophet, and they will depict him and his religion as seems appropriate to them.

What happens then?
Aaro was imagining cartoons of the Prophet, say, drawn by Muslims, just as he was earlier interested in how a film like TVG's might have been a different kind of work of art had it been made by a Muslim rather than by a Muslim-baiter. So his prophetic antennae weren't operating at 100%. Still, I dare say he came closer to anticipating the current spat than anyone else managed to do.

Now we move forward again, to the era of Aaro as Times columnist, and into the era during which Aaro has been Watched. There were two columns on the riots in France, here and here. In these columns Aaro said things like this:
Nor, given our own experience, does piling the blame on Muslims seem very credible. These riots would, I’d suggest, be happening even if every Arab and African youth in the suburbs had been brought up Catholic or Wiccan.
Or this:
Last Tuesday my e-mail box declared itself full after a small deluge of readers wrote in, most declaring that, although they weren’t French and hadn’t been there for a while, they knew — absolutely knew — that Islam was behind it all.
Or this:
I do try not to believe things for which there is no evidence, and there is no evidence for Muslim qua Muslim involvement in the ritual car-burnings françaises.
Or, ripping the piss out of Rod Liddle, which is always a sound strategy, this:
"These youths mention “jihad” three times in a brief conversation, and that’s it. This is the hard evidence for “The Crescent of Fear”. It seems to me that there is only one state of ignorance more complete than total lack of knowledge, and that is the one engendered by sending Rod Liddle somewhere for a couple of hours."
And then this:
"Constantly you can hear good, sensible people beginning to say stupid things about Muslims."
We might quibble about the words "good" and "sensible", but, moving on, there's also this:
"The vast majority of Muslims are not Islamists. They aren’t militant and they aren’t zealots. They are not anything really, any more than the rest of us."
Right: that's the context I think you need for understanding this week's Aaro column. Perhaps one of the other guys can take us through what that column actually says...

Oh, and finally: The phrase "Bongo-brains" intrigued me: where does that come from? I see Aaro's used it before, in the guise of Lynton Charles, which also suggests that it's been around for the better part of a decade. But it's passed me by.

Near-impossibility watch

I'll leave it to others to do the full analysis, but would like to note this:

Aaro, the Times, Tuesday morning:

The police may well know what everyone else keeps forgetting, which is the near-impossibility of getting modern juries to convict people for speech-crimes such as incitement.

Times website, later that same day:

Abu Hamza guilty of inciting murder and racial hatred.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Liberty if it means anything blah blah blah.

Hope nobody minds this non-Aaro/Cohen post, but it's sort of relevent in a Decentist-hypocrisy kind of way. I used to comment on postings at "Harry's Place" when they really pissed me off (and was astonished at the virulence of HP regulars' reactions to my comments). When General Sir Michael Rose made his statements the other week and HP had no mention of this, to me, major development, I placed comments in the stories they did cover saying "yeah but what about General Sir Michael Rose?". Now I am barred from putting comments on HP.

No Fun on Sunday :(

No Nick in the Staggers. (Has he left?)

No Aaro in the Times. (Busy blogging? Training? And they could change this photo for the blog one.)

No Nick in the Observer.


Friday, February 03, 2006

Friday forecast thread cancelled this week

Friday forecast competition is cancelled this week. This is partly because everyone wanted to bet on the Danish cartoons and partly because the management would instead like you all to contribute to the discussion on the post below on the future of this site. Should we stay focused like a laser on Nick and Dave? Should we broaden out into a multilevel portal for the "World Of Decency?" Or something else? I don't know how to not have comments on this thread so I suppose there is nothing to do to stop people making predictions regardless, but no winner will be recognised by Wisden this week.

at play in the fields of decency

While it’s been fun chronicling the ins and outs of Nick and Dave and their small part in the general business of opinion formation in this land of ours, it’s occurred to some amongst the management here that there’s a hell of a lot of decency out there that’s going unappreciated.

Think, for instance, of our very own Henry Jackson Society, otherwise known as the Jive Bunny Project For a New American Century. And while it’s always fun giving our Nick a back rub, what grounds are there for ignoring his occult master, Paul Berman? Decency has its stars, like Christopher Hitchens, and its Pooters, like Michael Totten. Yes, so much to enjoy.

So it’s time, perhaps, to be indecent in a wider field, maybe with a new name.

To underline our commitment to the universal values of liberal democratic societies, we thought we’d throw the idea open to readers and commenters. In accordance with how those principles worked out in relation to a recent war, we may then ignore what you have to say, but don’t let that stop you. Should we be indecent on a larger scale? To whom should we direct our indecency? And what should we call ourselves while we’re doing it? Let's have some answers.

I quite like gross indecency, or maybe indecent assault. And I can’t see the phrase “the greatest intellectual struggle of our time” without laughing, but maybe that’s better as a tagline rather than a title.

Anyway, chuck your suggestions for names and possible target acquisitions in the comments box.

rioja kid

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dave on the via media

Children children, calm down, they're only pictures. Actually Aaro is pretty reasonable here (or to put it another way, his view happens to coincide with mine) although:

a) I am as suspicious as a man on a raisins-only diet in a house full of rabbits about any attempts by Dave to say "both sides appear to be as silly as each other" because they are almost certainly trying to pave the way for some Decent policy or other, presumably in this case the incitement to religious hatred bill.

b) If you characterise an issue as being "as much about civility and tolerance as about rights and blasphemy" then we can note that out of the four member set [civility, tolerance, rights, blasphemy], only the third, rights, is something which is properly to do with the relationship between the individual and the state.

But anyhoo. Aaro's commenters are correct to note that online Decentism has got itself in a hell of a twist over this one; they have failed to follow the party line which Aaro correctly picked out and have been led down a blind alley into self-contradiction and confusion by their American first-amendmenting mates. Islamophobia makes strange bedfellows and despite what I think is the implicit "Oi! Cohen! No!" warning in this blog post I am slavering to see what Nick will do to this issue on Sunday. Rather like watching a Ming vase in the hands of a chimpanzee, if you are window-smashing drunk and aware that the vase is insured for three times its market value. Cyber Chutney Arse Ducks!

PS: Is it just me, or is it impossible to select text from Dave's blog posts to cut and paste it? I can select text in the comments but the post itself selects as a big block as if it were a graphic. DRM-tastic?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Cyber Chutney Arse Ducks

(see Captain Cab's nice Bruschettaboy's post below). There is no point to this post and it doesn't even have anything to do with Aaro or NC; I simply wanted to type "Cyber Chutney Arse Ducks". Try it in the comments below, I guarantee it will lift your mood. Cyber Chutney Arse Ducks.

Note to Self: Must Reread "Pretty Straight Guys"

I see the Kid's beaten me to the new Nick. But I'm not going to let that stop me having my own dig. I assume that this is an Evening Standard piece, though his blog has an Evening Standard category and this isn't in it. Could he be trying to do an Aaro and float ideas on the blog? But this is too polished (well, polished for Nick) for that.
Nick still does his non-sequiturs:

The iron law of the 21st century was that the more often public figures performed for the media the more the public resented them.
There’s a hypocrisy at work here as the media doesn’t apply the same sneering standards to themselves.

There's no hypocrisy at all in a journalist sneering at the media of course. But surely Anthony Sampson's observation says nothing about the media or media attitudes. The important point is in "performed for the media". Some politicians do, and some don't. In the 70s, Tony Benn was regarded sceptically by much of the Labour Party, precisely because he was so good at getting attention. Well that and other things. And the "media's sneering standards" (ooh was that a Freudain slip there?) existed long before Tony Blair entered politics and worked against those politicoes who didn't play to the media. Who remembers I don't think other people in the world would share the view [that] there is mounting chaos"?

When Jeremy Paxman behaves stupidly, the clip isn’t shown thousands of times. When politicians do the same, the incriminating footage follows them to their graves.

There are 645 MPs. At least 600 of them managed not to behave stupidly in the last Parliament: that or the papers ignored them when they did. (According to Nick, this second option is impossible,) There is only one Jeremy Paxman. What are the odds? And if Nick does have a Jeremy Paxman behaving stupidly story, perhaps he'd care to break the media's duck in this regard. Come on, come on. I haven't got all day, you know.

Politicians complain about the duplicity but plead that they have to play the game to reach the voters.

Not Comrade Galloway, if you bothered watching Big Brother, Nick. As he said to Michael Barrymore (back when they were friends), quoting Enoch Powell:

"For a politician to complain about the press is like a ship's captain complaining about the sea”

There is a sunburst of honesty -- of sorts:

After I’ve been on, I always find myself in front of the bathroom mirror the next morning narcissistically studying my dumpy profile as I mouth opinions on subjects I know absolutely nothing about.

How do you study your own profile? (Has Nick fallen into the classic thesaurus trap of looking up synonyms for "face" and unluckily picked the wrong one?)
I don't really have much to say about the rest of the articles. He's getting increasingly bothered by this Reptilian thing isn't he? Oh Evil BB what have you done? Hang on, wasn't he moaning about being on the media in his first essay and celebrating same in his second? I want, nay need, to know -- was he more popular than Cyber Chutney Arse Ducks?

Update 1:10 pm. I've found the website of the show which investigates UFOs. Apparently Alex Jones, who got named-checked in the post with the lizards and is best known for the "turd in a punchbowl" comment about David Icke to Jon Ronson is a guest in three weeks. Can't wait. Synchronicity or what? That's far out. Spoiler: Alex Jones believes there are no reptilians. Hmmph.

hostage to fortune watch


If Brown or any other leader is going to try to discover if there’s a market for reticence, they must understand that seeing your face on television can be an addiction that has to be fought. After I’ve been on, I always find myself in front of the bathroom mirror the next morning narcissistically studying my dumpy profile as I mouth opinions on subjects I know absolutely nothing about.

That way madness lies.

Swiftly moving on, a couple of interesting pointers to Nick’s ongoing political evolution in this week’s lucky bag. From the top: the nasty hypocritical media have made our politicians look bad. From the bottom: Our poor kiddies won’t get to be astronomers because there aren’t any grammar schools.

And from the first piece:

The smart move when he becomes PM would be to counter the stunts of David Cameron by restoring decorum and a touch of mystery to Downing Street.

Jesus wept. Our Nick’s turning into Norman StJohn Stevas.

rioja kid