Sunday, July 30, 2006

Non-barking dogs

So what do we get from Nick today? Political advertising, a bizarre speculation that donating to the Liberal Democrats might be a means of money-laundering, and some pro-forma chuntering about "authoritarian multiculturalism". And the biggest issue of the moment, the war in Lebanonon? Nothing. Not a word. Of course there was last week's odd complaint about how humanitarian intervention had been rendered impossible by the left, but on the merits and demerits of wrecking the civilian infrastructure of last year's poster child for Middle East democratization? Nothing.

The good ship Euston just hit an iceberg and is going down with all hands.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Hooray for Nick

Nick successfully revisits old themes for his Staggers effort today: large government computer systems (or at least the ones recent administrations have chosen to buy and run) don't work; old chum Harry Fletcher; New Labour ministers are, to use Chris Dillow term, 'managerialists", and for that matter poor managers.

A couple of parenthetical points here. I've worked in the civil service, as has the other BB. While I don't remember it with Housman-like nostalgia, neither do I regard it as a den of tea-drinking plotters working on their next scheme to mis-spend the hard-working taxpayer's hard-earned. Nick is pretty gentle on civil servants here; but then I think most Staggers readers are probably paid by the Treasury (ie they work in the civil service, or teaching, or the NHS), so if Nick wants to keep the wolf-door separation at the present level, he had better be nice to them.

Usual carping, now. Nick or the NS don't edit well. It's Judge Dredd. (It's a proper name, and proper names often deviate from conventional spelling -- eg Lady Dedlock in Bleak House, Benjamin Britten.)
Now perhaps someone can tell me what's good about this?

Violent offenders will serve longer sentences and their automatic discounts for guilty pleas will be removed.

This seems to remove the incentive for pleading guilty, thereby tying up the courts still further.

Reid's critics, such as Harry Fletcher of the probation officers' union, point out that Reid is tearing up a system that Labour itself introduced in 2003, and wonder where on earth Reid is going to house his prisoners.

It's good to see Harry back, a Nick column isn't the same without him. (There is about a year of columns in that sentence. One could write about nothing other than New Labour's ability to revise its aims and deprecate its own procedures and legislation and never want for material or inspiration.)

But here is what is odd. The civil servants who are meant to make their new master look tough and decisive have had their legs hacked from underneath them by Reid. No politician in British history has produced anything like his assault on the Immigration and Nationality Department. It was "not fit for purpose," he roared to MPs, "inadequate in scope, technology, leadership, management, systems and processes”. The former communist wasn't criticising a negligent official who deserved to be fired. Like a commissar demanding a purge, Reid launched his attack on everyone who was working for him.
If you think that I am being too kind to feather-bedded bureaucrats, consider this: you never hear private sector managers talking like Reid. Even when they take over an ailing rival, even when they are planning mass redundancies, they never say that all their employees are unfit for purpose, for the very simple reason that the good ones they want to keep will go if they do.

The other BB called a recent Nick column 'well-written.' I'll give him this: this one certainly is.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Nick Cohen and Political Correctness, Part III

Finally, a short post from me. I think I elided rather too much in my last post. So, to expand: Nick thinks that East Enders expected new rights after WWII. I agree, but I can't accept his position on attempts by blacks in the US to win at least the patina of respect as being evidence of 'the constant shifting of the linguistic goal posts.' These weren't a succession of Blitzkreigs on the standard English of decent white Americans (also Nick seems to posit the 'decent' and 'liberals' as not only separate but immiscible: this is not a perspective I share*). These were different groups trying different approaches, not the attention demanding whims of one mercurial and all-powerful organisation which represented all non-whites. (If they all look alike to you, that's your problem.)

But to give Nick his credit, he does have one good sentence.

The notorious trouble is that it uses authoritarianism to enforce tolerance.

I don't know if I fully agree with this, but it's broadly correct, certainly up to 'authoritarianism.' A much better piece on political correctness is Jesse Walker's Right-Wing P.C..

The prototypical P.C. leftist will pat himself on the back for being "subversive" while reciting opinions carefully calculated not to upset his career track. The prototypical P.C. conservative will pat herself on the back for being "politically incorrect" while reciting opinions that are just as safe and predictable. When Fox blowhard Bill O'Reilly declares that "it is politically incorrect to mention that immigration laws must be enforced and the borders effectively monitored," he obviously isn't describing what's risky to say on the channel that employs him, where calls to enforce our immigration laws are about as rare as ads for Hannity & Colmes.

See also The Water Buffalo Affair for an example of PC gone bad. Apart from examples like that, I'm pro PC as, to use Nick's own phrase, 'merely modern good manners', and fulminating against terms like "Down's Syndrome" or "African American" doesn't change that.

Stick a fork in it, I'm done here.

*In the 1950s, decent white Americans ... Doubtless, that will change too, but on the course of the journey American liberalism lost many supporters who concluded that they were caught up in a linguistic racket.
I think the way this is said is wrong: liberalism is not party with supporters who may vote elsewhere. Besides, for me anyway, 'liberal' and 'decent' are all but synonyms.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Nick Cohen and Political Correctness, Part II

At the risk of seeming like a crazy person, I feel the need to return to this rather trivial article. Matthew Turner's almost innocuous comment to my last post made me realise just how deeply silly this piece is. There are useful things to be against political correctness, but they've mostly been said, and "Mongolism" and "Nigger" are not terms I personally wish the language to keep. (That said, I was wrong to imply yesterday that the decent white folk Nick mentioned have never used the word. I seem to remember it's in the song "The Sun Has Got His Hat On", and of course it's in Mark Twain. And *of course* I object to anyone who censors literature. Don't be daft.)

Anyway, as I mentioned the risk of seeming like a crazy person, it's gone half past midnight, and my brain was churning over the things I objected to in Nick's piece, and I did a little late night surfing. Here's a good paragraph. (It's not particularly relevant, but it'll do for future reference, and it is sort of relevant, as you'll see.)

In this connextion it is well worth having a look at Mr (Clarence K.) Streit's much-discussed book, Union Now. Mr Streit, like the partisans of the ‘Peace Bloc’, wants the democracies to gang up against the dictatorships, but his book is outstanding for two reasons. To begin with he goes further than most of the others and offers a plan which, even if it is startling, is constructive. Secondly, in spite of a rather nineteen-twentyish American naiveté, he has an essentially decent cast of mind. He genuinely loathes the thought of war, and he does not sink to the hypocrisy of pretending that any country which can be bought or bullied into the British orbit instantly becomes a democracy. His book therefore presents a kind of test case. In it you are seeing the sheep-and-goats theory at its best. If you can't accept it in that form you will certainly never accept it in the form handed out by the Left Book Club.
It is worth noticing that this scheme is not so visionary as it sounds. Of course it is not going to happen, nothing advocated by well-meaning literary men ever happens ...

There are journalists, and there are journalists who can write. This passage is from the startlingly titled Not Counting Niggers. It ends splendidly, too.

Nothing is likely to save us except the emergence within the next two years of a real mass party whose first pledges are to refuse war and to right imperial injustice. But if any such party exists at present, it is only as a possibility, in a few tiny germs lying here and there in unwatered soil.

What I wanted to talk about was why Nick's attitude irritated me so much.

Now was the time for their prize. The welfare state was going to allow them [East Enders] to join the rest of Britain as full and equal citizens.

This is where I put on my hackneyed 'liberal' hat, because Nick also bangs on about 'constant shifting of the linguistic goal posts' and the effects of same on 'decent white Americans'. I believe, and I think I can make a strong case for believing, that American blacks had more right to complain that they were not treated as "full and equal citizens" in the 1950s (since that was the period Nick mentioned) than East Enders in London. Yes, people were poor in the East End, but there were poor people all over the country; there was nothing special about the East End. (I think you can say the same thing about "family networks dominated by matriarchs" about mining communities up to the Miner's Strike. And the pedant in me says that the East Enders survived the Blitz because the Luftwaffe didn't drop enough bombs. Unless someone can prove that lack of moral fibre contributed to the body count at, say, Nagasaki. Any takers?)

I find the whole East End passage terribly wooly. Everything that looks like a substantive isn't.

East Enders couldn't cope as they once did because the families which sustained them had evaporated and been replaced with isolated mothers who needed the state to help them bring up their children.

On the one hand, East Enders are a constant '[they] can't cope as they once did' on the other, they're an entirely different set of people.

There's no mention of changing employment, immigration, emigration, the rebuilding of much of the East End (arguably disastrously) or that this cohesion also sustained the Krays.

‘Mum has lost ground steadily and comprehensively’, said Young’s successors. ‘An army of social workers now organises her children’s and grand children’s lives, often around principles and child-rearing practices with which she profoundly disagrees … The welfare state which was designed to help her has in the event taken her children and her role away from her.’

This is a really bad passage.'Mum' isn't a person, but an archetype. Social workers don't go around in armies. In army trousers maybe (or at least my ex-girlfriend who was a social worker did). And maybe a lot of them do work in the old East End, but armies of them do not intrude upon individual families. And the people I know who use social workers say you can never get one when you want one. I'd also like to know what these "principles and child-rearing practices" are. "Well, I asked the teacher if my little Johnny could sit next to another white boy in class, I don't trust these darkies. And do you know what she said?" (Best read in a "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy" voice.)

The sad thing is that Nick's supposed to have been a Lefty since university, and he's only now noticed the down side. Every valid point he makes was made over 40 years ago.

All the evils and miseries we now suffer from have vanished. Ignorance, war, poverty, dirt, disease, frustration, hunger, fear, overwork, superstition all vanished. So expressed, it is impossible to deny that that is the kind of world we all hope for. We all want to abolish the things Wells wants to abolish. But is there anyone who actually wants to live in a Wellsian Utopia? On the contrary, not to live in a world like that, not to wake up in a hygenic garden suburb infested by naked schoolmarms, has actually become a conscious political motive. A book like Brave New World is an expression of the actual fear that modern man feels of the rationalised hedonistic society which it is within his power to create. A Catholic writer said recently that Utopias are now technically feasible and that in consequence how to avoid Utopia had become a serious problem. We cannot write this off as merely a silly remark. For one of the sources of the Fascist movement is the desire to avoid a too-rational and too-comfortable world.
The earlier parts of Gulliver's Travels are probably the most devastating attack on human society that has ever been written. Every word of them is relevant today; in places they contain quite detailed prophecies of the political horrors of our own time. Where Swift fails, however, is in trying to describe a race of beings whom he admires. In the last part, in contrast with disgusting Yahoos, we are shown the noble Houyhnhnms, intelligent horses who are free from human failings. Now these horses, for all their high character and unfailing common sense, are remarkably dreary creatures.
The inability of mankind to imagine happiness except in the form of relief, either from effort or pain, presents Socialists with a serious problem. Dickens can describe a poverty-stricken family tucking into a roast goose, and can make them appear happy; on the other hand, the inhabitants of perfect universes seem to have no spontaneous gaiety and are usually somewhat repulsive into the bargain.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Nick Cohen and Political Correctness

Just a short effort from me. This (updated: I forgot the link last night) is barely worth bothering with, but as Nick's a mate of Francis "Mumbo Jumbo" Wheen and apparently considers himself a rational person, I'm going to do it anyway. To be remorselessly anal, I really dislike

The remorseless workings of the same law of unintended consequences...

There isn't a *law* of unintended consequences, any more than there is a *law* of averages. It's a sentence which sounds meaningful and invokes a certain scientific locution, but so do the ramblings of Gillian McTeeth. Anyway:

A family I know with a severely disabled boy remembers when social workers and doctors stopped saying he was a 'mongol' and instead described him as suffering from 'Down's Syndrome'.

Really? Nick is much the same age as me (give or take a year either way), and I was born in 1962. I'm sure he does know this family (they could be his own), although 'boy' may be a patronising term here.

In 1961, a group of nineteen geneticists wrote to the editor of The Lancet suggesting that mongolian idiocy had "misleading connotations," had become "an embarrassing term" and should be changed.[8] The Lancet supported Down's Syndrome. The World Health Organization (WHO) officially dropped references to mongolism in 1965 after a request by the Mongolian delegate.[9]

Wikipedia entry on Down Syndrome. But it was more than just racial sensitivity which led to a change of name: you'll note that it was a group of *geneticists* who wrote to the Lancet; diagnosis and classification of Down's has moved on from one salient facial characteristic, and the change of language reflects that. (I think this is rational; just don't get me started on the whole 'brontosaurus'/'apatosaurus' deal. They want to steal my childhood!)

I don't think he's much better on the changing terms for skin pigmentation. Indeed the problem with those terms is that like 'Mongolism' they don't go beneath the surface. I don't think "decent white Americans" used the word "nigger" -- in the context of being 'decent' in books, journalism and broadcasting, the word was 'Negro' and that was the word which died out in polite society. The use of 'coloured' was slighty different. The NAACP were, according to the remarkably useful Wikipedia (you should try it Nick), using the term in 1909. But 'coloured' and 'black' and not synonymous. The use of 'coloured' implies a broader, more inclusive approach to race relations. 'Black' as used by say David Horowitz's old chums the Black Panthers was used exclude and classify (one could be blacker than another, more 'coloured' is harder to imagine). 'African-American' isn't a term I particularly like, but at least it tries to acknowledge that not all 'blacks' are of one skin tone. And I really must read this.

Another time, I may expound on whether social workers cause poverty, and where these armies of them roam.

everybody else's arses

Well, the Decents are commonly accused of pulling troops out of their arses with the aim of furthering various comically promiscuous projects for military interventions. Nick’s gone one better this week. He’s pulling troops out of everybody else’s arses:

Yet after Iraq, the phrase 'humanitarian intervention' dies on the lips. Who would do it? The British and Americans couldn't, their troops are committed in Iraq and Afghanistan and, in any case, the Americans are too tied to Israel. The European Union? The French just might, but overall the EU is deeply pacific as its disgraceful record in the former Yugoslavia showed.

Yes it does “die on the lips”, after Iraq, doesn’t it. Funny that. Somehow a war of choice followed by a long and grotesquely murderous period of insurgency and counter-insurgency has made people less enthusiastic about military intervention. You wouldn’t think it would have that effect, would you?

An international stabilization force doesn’t strike me as a bad idea. But instead of coming across all Billy Bumptious and blaming the Finns and Portuguese for not tooling up - not to mention the population at large from changing their minds about military intervention in response to the facts - Nick might like to consider the point that if you need to have military intervention in certain places, then it’s a bad idea occupying your troops in wars of choice elsewhere.

If Nick really wants to rebuild “an international consensus around military intervention” that idea might be a good place to start.

Ooooooh, a constructive suggestion. Is that a first for AW?

rioja kid

Blogs are parasitic off Old Media

I am ashamed to admit that despite our having Watched it at the time, I had forgotten until I read this week's Private Eye that Aaro's self-righteous fulminations at John Humphreys for intrusive questioning about scurrilous sexual rumours need to be seen in the context of this article, where he does the same thing to Simon Hughes.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Nick likes a glass of wine

Sorry to any readers expecting scurrilous revelations here; it's just that Nick has written a column in which he says he likes a glass of wine. (Currently on the front page of the blog, but with no permalink due to some glitch or other; if I remember, I'll sort it out when the glitch is remedied). He is right about the pace of drinking at Lord's btw (a small AW prize for anyone who can tell us who Nick's friend is who's an MCC member).

In the main piece, Nick is having a go at the Brick Lane community who don't want Monica Ali's novel filmed. Fair do's here; he avoids the Islamophobic angle and (IMO correctly) assesses that this is the same campanilismo that had the burghers of Limerick protesting the filming of "Angela's Ashes". On the other hand, this degenerates rather into a boilerplate rant about liberal values, Roy Hattersley wanting the paperback edition of Satanic Verses banned and how the multiculturalists want to control what we can and can't see (everybody used to enjoy the Black & White Minstrels! And did you know poor Jim Davidson has been driven into bankruptcy!). The "authoritarian version of multiculturalism" that he is talking about really does not exist, though I suppose that pretending it does is a good idea if you want a job on the Daily Mail.

Apparently it is only since the death of Diana that people have got angry about the Tube being unreliable by the way, who knew?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The question is rhetorical

Q: "A heavily armed militia attacks your territory. What are you meant to do?"

A: Blow up some cows, apparently.

Decidely not Aaro's finest hour; the article is just a piece of disingenuousness about the word "proportionate". Aaro has always tended toward the fallacy of Sir Humphrey Appleby's Politican's Syllogism ("something must be done - this is something - therefore we must do it") and this is the reductio ad absurdum. Inaction is intolerable in the face of Hezbollah's provocation, therefore we write a blank cheque and invite the current government of Israel to cash it.

(Parenthetically, I note that as Israeli politics has got more right-wing and more directed toward Bush's America since 2000, the conduct of its military has got stupider, more belligerent and less successful. If anyone can think of a version of "dogs get to look like their owners" that doesn't sound quite so anti-Semitic in analogy, I am in the market).

Meanwhile, Aaro manages to move in five breathlessly speculative passages from the observable fact that Israel does not have a workable strategy, to the contention that an international force could not play a useful role because "Hezbollah, Syria and Iran would not agree to it" (like they're agreeing to the current situation?) and thence on to a speculation about drone-planes carrying as yet unbuilt nuclear weapons (presumably with the drone having been fundamentally and thoroughly redesigned for this purpose somewhere) and then you'd all be sorry. Not wanting to take the piss here Dave, but do you really think that you had such good luck with wild speculation about WMD last time that you thought you'd try it again?

Not so very long ago, Dave famously told us that "If nothing is eventually found, I will never believe another thing I am told by our government or that of the US, ever again". I only wish that he'd mentioned at the time that upon doing this, he decided to shift his information sources to the wilder and nuttier kind of right-wing Israeli mailing lists. I am reminded of the quote attributed to GK Chesterton.

(sorry for the late Watch btw; evil bruschettaboy is in the market for good migraine remedies as the current diet of Nurofen and tomatoes on toast is becoming wearing.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Nick Cohen and the Curate's Egg

I really quite like Nick this week. This is to say, I think the cash for peerages scandal has legs, and I don't like ID cards. So at least I feel he's talking to me, rather than at me, and that's a great improvement.

It's not such a good column on closer examination. One of the purposes of columnists is to give you an idea of what might happen next, either by bringing to light research too detailed for the news pages, or through some combination or experience and training being better aware of the way, to use a cliche myself, the wind is blowing. Nick's main piece -- on peerages -- makes one prediction, and it's a prediction I'm convinced will prove wrong.

When he told MPs from other parties that donors to the SNP weren't recommended for honours, they looked at him with incredulity. We would never be able to raise enough money if we did that, they countered. (What they said is true, by the way, and means that the state funding of political parties is inevitable once this scandal has done its work.)

I'm not happy about state funded parties (I can't see why I shouldn't donate over and above the membership fee to a party); all I want is greater openness -- the openness I thought we were going to get in 1997, which seems to have been finessed away by tricky lawyers. I'm not sure how many other G8 countries have honours systems (clearly, I should have researched this) -- I suspect it's not many. I'm not going to pretend that the US system is admirable; but they don't have honours, and the parties seem to biff along with plenty of funding. (There's probably a scandal of two in there as well of course.)

In fact my main complaint is that Nick doesn't say anything not in elsewhere in the paper.

However, we do know that Tony Blair has been fantastically unwise. Instead of keeping party funding at a safe distance by leaving it with the party machine, he has made it the responsibility of his personal envoys.

Now, Nick's written two books on this government, and he's done a lot of background research into Tony Blair. He's right about the PM's unwisdom. But the key question is -- "why?" Sadly, Nick doesn't know.

Tony Blair is a lawyer, though he hides this pretty well these days, as he affects (at least) to hold the judiciary in contempt. Torygraph: Blair: Labour 'in the clear' over peerages. If the 1925 legislation is as "refreshingly straightforward" as Nick claims, he's been almost implausibly stupid.

Why would Blair be so sanguine? Wikipedia has the Relevant Sections, which read in part:

Any person guilty of a misdemeanour under this Act shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine not exceeding five hundred pounds, or to both such imprisonment and such fine ...

With the prisons as full as they are, and five hundred quid probably equating to restaurant bill and tip for a half dozen friends, I doubt Blair is much deterred.

As so often when I write on Nick's articles, I come away with a deflated feeling. Geoff Hoon may well be right about the non-groundswell of public anger. Perhaps Blair is really betting on that. There are other things to say, and while I'm with Nick on this, he hasn't said them. Is Blair deluded or astute? I despair of ever finding an answer to this: everyone you read tells you what they think; it's like getting the weather report from the prisoners in the cave in Plato. Secondly, does this really matter? It's not good practice, clearly the bribes that dare not speak their names are sleazy, but does it make any difference? Are we actually worse off, is our average food shopping bill higher than it might be because Lord Sainsbury passed the odd bung to the government? I don't know the answers to these questions. But someone should know if what is being bought and sold is venal influence or just the ultimate vanity accoutrement after the silly personalised number plates.

Nick's clearly given up on Gordon Brown as a moral alternative to Blair. (As have I.) But this is exceptional mind-reading:

He was against identity cards because they would cost a fortune, they wouldn’t work and finally - and I suspect most importantly - they were Tony Blair’s idea.

The first is probably true (although the government tried to spin this as much as possible). The second doesn't mean very much. The problem with identity cards "working" is what were they supposed to do? They were supposed to deter fraud by being wizardly techno, but the Pentagon computers were supposed to be secure and someone broke in. Fraudsters like people to feel secure -- especially as with ID cards where the Home Office thinks fraud is the banks' problem and the banks wonder what they pay taxes for. Foreigners wouldn't have to carry them, extant legislation means that neither would anyone else. (If I understand the 1952 law which repealed the last ones.) I've not heard that crime in France or Italy is lower as a consequence, and ID cards didn't stop the Madrid bombers.

I don't understand Nick's present Foreign Office obsession. I think he must be concealing some facts. I can't believe that the FO doesn't have ulterior motives, presumably infiltration and intelligence gathering. I'd like just a little more cause and effect than "Provide the religious justification for murder, and it will get you a five-star hotel." They've been massively wrong before, of course, and of course all the famous traitors like Philby were in the Intelligence services. But I find it a lot easier to understand sympathy with Communism (even under Stalin) than this clandestine working for the Caliphate or whatever it is Nick is alleging the spooks are doing. If MI5 collar Osama bin Laden, I'll crow about it. Though I can't see it happening any time soon.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Nick's forthcoming book

Bit of trivia: as we've all been tantalisingly reminded for some time, "Our Friends on the Left, an examination of agonies, idiocies and compromises of mainstream liberal thought will be published by 4th Estate in 2006."

This amazon listing suggests that it's been put back to next year and is now called "What's Left?". My guess is that Nick finished the text during that month off but the publisher thought (as I did) that it would be a bit weird to have a book by Nick Cohen about the agonies, idiocies and compromises of mainstream liberal thought which didn't mention the Euston Manifesto, and it thereby missed a window.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Supping with the devil

No time for extended commentary, but sometimes things speak for themselves. Norman Geras and Nick Cohen agreed to be interviewed by FrontPage Magazine, the outlet for the campaigns of US leftist-turned-rightist David Horowitz. The interview was conducted by Horowitz sidekick Jamie Glazov and the head wingnut himself. Geras and Cohen don't do a bad job of rebutting some of the FP insanity, but you have to ask yourself why they agreed to do it in the first place and whether they sometimes wonder why the Euston Manifesto gets generally approving attention from one particular pathological strand of the US right. Geras and Cohen are fond of alerting the world to any overlap between the ravings of David Duke and co and views of the Fisks and Pilgers, but they happily hang out with the Michelle Malkins and David Horowitzes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

That's another fine mess you've got me into

Yup, the much trailed result of the emails to the Today programme up on Dave's blog.

The first half of the piece – more or less totally unrelated to Aaro's actual theme – is very revealing of the kind of thinking that has gone into Aaro's analysis of the relationship between the media and the political system. Which is to say, not much. It looks like half-remembered John Birt and the "bias against understanding", tagged onto the whingeing pukery of John Lloyd and the "alternative establishment". But look what Aaro is actually saying. The Media became outraged because the Home Office was not monitoring dangerous felons. In response to the criticism it received, the Home Office decided to deport largely harmless immigrants. And this is the media's fault? If Monday at the Home Office is laxity, incompetence and media criticism but Tuesday at the Home Office is authoritarianism, incompetence and media criticism, then there are two common factors but the problem is the incompetence, not the media. Blaming the media for correctly pointing out what a dog's breakfast the Home Office has become is childish - it's like Stan Laurel whimpering "but you said when you nodded your head I had to hit it".

Moving on from there, it is not clear what Dave's point is. Is it that the BBC shouldn't talk about Prescott's sex life, or that if they do, the source shouldn't be blogs? It can't be the first; as Aaro admits, sex has always been on topic at least since the sleaze years. And there weren't many blogs around when Aaro was a lad, so I don't see why he rather than Ceri Thomas should have the last word on when it was that they became acceptable. It is certainly the case that politicians can be asked to comment on rumours.

I think Aaro is wrong on this one and Ceri Thomas is right. The whole point about Prescott is that, like Mellor, Tim Yeo and Charlie Kennedy before him, he is currently engaged in a death spiral. That is the story with respect to Prescott, it is the BBC's job to report it. Which answers Aaro's rhetorical question; the reason why it's Prescott who's getting monstered rather than John Humphreys, Ceri Thomas, Michael Grade or for that matter me, is that only one of us has, by his own behaviour, created grounds for suspicion. Prescott has repeatedly shown himself not to deserve the benefit of the doubt, and this is what happens when that benefit is absent. It was not the whim of fashion or capricious fairies who singled out Prescott for this pressure; it was the fact that everyone wants him to resign. The entire point is that politicians ought to be worried about what will happen if the media turns on them, because we are no longer able to have them shot since the Human Rights Act was passed.

The fundamental mistake that I think Aaro (and John Lloyd and Lord Birt) are making is to ignore the distinction between "media power" and the real kind. When Aaro says "the media cannot be criticised", all he means, all he can mean is "if you criticise the media, they will defend themselves". This is because the media only have the power to control what is printed in the media. Contrast this with the power that politicians have; if they think that you can't do something, they have the means to make it happen. It is not particularly edifying to see the BBC sniffing through John Prescott's underwear (haha made you think about that), but how else are we going to get the bugger to resign? In an earlier era, the only thing one would have had to print to get rid of him would have been the factual statement that his handling of the ODPM was shambolic and numerous appalling policy failures were his fault. The fact that we are no longer in such an era looks to me to be not so much the fault of the BBC and to a very great deal the fault of the Birt/Lloyd/Aaro axis.

Aaro trivia watch: His local paper is indeed the Ham & High; it is as far as I'm aware the only local paper which comes out on Friday. I am not sure what his point about parks and libraries is, since money is fungible.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Slight return to form

Well, I think rather a good week for Nick (or perhaps I am just in a sunny mood after returning from holiday). I don't agree with it and he is still worrying away at old themes, but the Wilberforce item is a very clever spot, and thank God somebody has said what needed to be said about the Telegraph - it is going down the toilet at an alarming rate, or at least its business section is. Even the main bit is a well-written and forceful statement of Decentism, so much so that I am prepared to forgive the blatant plug for the Staggers.

A few points of issue, however:

1. It is not correct to refer to "its clerics" when talking about the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is a political organisation, not an Islamic sect and it does not have clerics. A lot of clerics, like al-Qaradawi, are MB members or symnpathisers, but that's not the same thing. This is more or less a stylebook issue, but it is important.

2. Nick overemphasises the importance of Qaradawi; presumably this is part of the greatest intellectual struggle of our time, against Ken Livingstone (the reference to female circumcision, I think, is to Qaradawi via Harry's Place). Qaradawi is a celebrity imam, but he isn't really the MB's "favourite theologian"; he's a loudmouth with a website. And of course, he is a cleric, not a cadre; he has no real role in the actual activities of the Muslim Brotherhood or any of its subsidiaries. The two issues of the FCO's relationship with the MB, and the mainstreaming of Qaradawi (on both of which issues I disagree with Nick, btw) have been unhelpfully conflated here.

3. There is a really serious central confusion here which is quite important to understanding a lot of Decentism, in paragraph 9. It is our old friend, the "caliphate", a useful but fatally ambiguous term which does sterling work filling in the gaps in world-domination conspiracy theories.

The way that Nick (and Melanie Phillips and a lot of the rest of the Islamophobic[1] community; the error is in Berman's Terror and Liberalism and I suspect that this is the original source) use and understand the term, it refers to the ambition of some Islamist sects to see the kingdom of Allah created on earth, with Islamic law ruling from Melbourne to Machynlleth. In other words, Muslim world domination, as the end goal of Islamic terrorism.

However, this is not what the Muslim Brotherhood means by the same term. The specific point of doctrinal difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda - the point on which the FCO is right and Nick is wrong - is that the Muslim Brotherhood have never believed that it is permitted to use violence to promote Islam in non-Islamic countries. Their concept of the Caliphate refers to the governance of the Islamic world. Noncoincidentally, the fact that the entire aim of the MB is to revolutionise the government of the Islamic world has a lot to do with why it is in general banned there. In terms of achieving the goal of global Islam, the Brotherhood's strategy since the days of Qutb has been basically to hope that we will eventually be won over by the sheer logic and truth of the Koran. Good luck guys, obviously, but the specific point here is that the Decentist use of the term "Caliphate" is a real problem; it is an error which obscures an incredibly important distinction. Just to emphasise this point, Qaradawi's support for the Iraqi insurgents and for some Palestinian terrorism (his actual view is not, IIRC, accurately summarised as "murder any Jew in Israel") are specific political views of Qaradawi's and are not related to his Islamism.

4. We gave a knighthood to Ceausescu if you recall, during a period when we were going through a global cold war and greatest intellectual struggle of our time rather more serious than the present one. The FCO has always dealt with nasty foreigners in the hope of minimising the damage done to us at home; it's basically what it's there for. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong. It is in general good for the body politic to have awkward-squad journalists like Nick making them feel uncomfortable when they do slimy things - far better an honest polemic like this than the sort of snivelling our-masters-know-best drivel that John Lloyd and Aaro write on domestic issues. But please spare us the "they have betrayed the very values of democracy" bollocks, Nick. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office exists to betray the values of democracy five times before breakfast. The question is always, what are we getting in return?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Conspiracy Theories and Spin

I'm back too. I lost my blogger password -- I have more than one, and I trust my browser to remember these things, and it kept going for the wrong one. So it was only when I lost another password, and had to find it again (or risk, like, being sued or something) that I found out how to use the whole Keychain business on my Mac.

So I'm back, and without having to go through the humiliating business of writing to D2 to explain what a forgetful idiot I am.

Now it's true that both our watchees have posted in the past ten-or-whatever-it-is-now days, and we haven't watched them. But then, they haven't said very much. Nick is probably right about the Kurdish documentary business. Right in the sense that it would be good if the film were broadcast: he's not right in the rest. I don't see how British television has any moral duties, but that's another story. After a fairly sensible civil libertarian slant the week before, he's got his 'Mr Incredibly Angry About Everything' hat back on. I think he's confused on charities: I was brought up on the WWII song:

Cold as a frog in an icebound pool
Cold as the tip of an Eskimo's tool
Cold as charity, and that's bloody chilly ...

And I've always thought that large charitable donations (as in wills) were a means of not giving the money to either the revenue or children, so I'm not so keen on 'reading the psychology of the British' from these league tables. Also, Oxfam donors seem to be the same people Nick regularly hates -- "the Rory Bremner types."

People used to say that the British loved animals more than they loved children. Now it seems we love animals more than we love war veterans.

Two things: war veterans should not rely on charity. The state ought to take care of them, and I can't think of anyone in any major party who thinks otherwise. Of course, there are also a lot more animals in this country than there are war veterans as well, but neither of these facts seems to have any impact on Nick.

However, I've only raised Nick Cohen because of a rather good Matthew Turner post on his pre-blog rantings.

Right of Reply - Dec 30th, 1999
THE WHINGEING style as much as the meagre content of consensual pundits provides the best reason for believing that Blairism is a continuation of Thatcherism. Once again we hear the self-pity of received opinion as well-heeled columnists announce that they are persecuted dissidents; brave voices of truth who risk all to tell it like it is with only the Prime Minister, the BBC, big business and their editors standing between them and the gulag - or, at least, a snub at a dinner party. In the Christmas Eve edition of The Independent, David Aaronovitch shared the pain that I, the New Statesman and Private Eye had caused him when we implied that he was "a man who could be relied on to write as No 10 required". My "spiteful" crime - I cannot answer for others - was to mention his Osric role in the Millbank assault on the independent-minded Rhodri Morgan when he sought to become Labour leader in Wales...

This helps to explain the coolness between our subjects. I'm interested in this charge that David Aaronovitch is "a man who could be relied on to write as No 10 required" because I think DA may be being used more than he knows.

In the Torygraph yesterday, Andrew Gimson made two interesting observations.

But this [inheriting Thatcherism] left Mr Blair with the problem of how to show he had not deserted his party's working-class supporters. He was vulnerable to the charge that he was Tory Tony, an opportunist interloper who had seized control of the Labour Party and was now intent on betraying all that it held dear, or at least on taking its traditional voters for granted.
Mr Prescott provided living proof that this could not be so.


Over a year ago, during the general election campaign, he was hidden away on a bus and sent on a long and meaningless tour. Already he was seen as a liability rather than an asset. Some of us wanted to go and watch him campaigning, but we were told, ludicrously, that Mr Prescott's itinerary was only being released to the regional media. We asked our friends in the regional press to tell us when Mr Prescott would be honouring them with a visit, only to find that they themselves were only getting about 10 minutes' notice of an appearance on the other side of three counties.

I think he's right on both counts. Prescott used to have a definite symbolic role in the party (I think he reassured middle class Labour voters like me more than horny-handed sons of toil who've embraced sons of priviledge like Michael Foot or Tony Benn -- or even, on the Tory side, as Churchill or Enoch Powell without embarrassment), but that period has now passed. Someone in Millbank decided that he should keep a low profile in the election, and Prescott went along with it. Now that Gordon Brown is talking of replacing Trident, it seems to be that he's playing a different game to the one most of us expected. He's *trying* to alienate the left. Disapproval by Clare Short practically assures approval by Mondeo Man, who Brown is trying to convince to back him. The dropping of Prescott is part of this tactic.

However, Labour members value loyalty. Brown and the rest of the pretenders can't be seen to do Prescott in. But where, I wonder, are these internet rumours coming from? David Aaronovitch thinks it's a Tory-media plot. I think it's much more Macchiavellian than that.

Here we come to DA's role. If I'm right, and I am alleging a very complex conspiracy theory, where Labour jettisons even more of its past, Millbank can't be seen to be spinning this. So friendly journalists have to rage against it, giving credibility to the story that it is Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition behind this. Other insiders, say I, are being briefed to run Prescott down. With hacks penning columns pro- and anti- the story stays in the news. Labour loses a liability (who is anyway past retirement age), moves subtly to the right and the middle-classes and claims victimhood.

What say ye?

Oh, I should make a prediction so that my theory is sort of testable. I'm alleging that these rumours come from Labour insiders. OK -- when the story dies down, pictures will mysteriously emerge of some other compromising Prescott story. Perhaps one of his other lovers, with some evidence that she received some sort of favour. This would be an old story which until now has been kept quiet, but rather than speak when the casino story was on, she waited a bit. As you do.

Friday, July 07, 2006

slight return

Well, as commenters have pointed out we have been remiss in our watching duties. I guess scheduling holidays and such at the same time as the targets strays out of watching and goes over the border into stalking. One of us has been ill as well.

However, I’d just like to say that we’re not the only ones. Here, for instance, is a Today Programme alumni who also appears to have been doing a bit of Dave watching:

Rod Liddle loudly exclaimed at one point to a large crowd "Something's got to be done about that fucking cunt Aaronovich... he's a hundred times worse than al Qaeda".

Oh, dear. I suppose working for the Spectator does tend you bring the vulgarity out in a man.

Anyway, apologies for the lack of output recently, but I’d just like to point out that AW is still the place to go for quality Aaro and Nick watching, as opposed to the rather inferior reactionary competition which seems to be emerging. Just as soon as we get our arses back in gear, that is.

As a taster, I can offer this regarding Prescott’s appearance on the Today show:

I have sent an e.mail to Ceri Thomas, editor of the programme, to ask him whether this line of questioning was sanctioned at editorial level. When I was an editor in BBC News and Current Affairs such a question - based on gossip - would have been considered a disgraceful intrusion and a lowering of BBC journalistic standards. Prescott's answer, of course, should have been that it was none of Humphrys' bloody business.

Dave’s now threatening to do a full column on this, no doubt in defense of both the DPM and against the lowering of journalistic standards. Now this wouldn’t be the same Dave who used his bully pulpit to smear and entirely innocent person as a writer of anti-semitic articles following a bum steer from a partisan website, would it?

Rioja Kid