Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Aaro on proliferation

Here. The book under review looks interesting and the final sentence of Aaro's review is a pearl of concentrated Decency. Langewiesche carries out a thorough and comprehensive analysis of proliferation. The Decent alternative? "Intervene". I've heard of the "intention of the commander" theory of military tactics but it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Aaro also doesn't really seem to understand the logistics of nuclear proliferation either if he thinks that "expensive missile defence systems" are the key to defence of the rich countries. Getting hold of ICBMs (or long range missiles in general) and engineering them to take nuclear warheads is not a trivial task in itself; North Korea might possibly be on the very fringes of developing a missile that might possibly with a following win be able to reach the west coast of Alaska, but that's about it in terms of poor countries firing missiles at rich countries; a few US think tanks have suggested that Iran might develop something that could attack Southern Europe by 2010, but to be honest US thinktanks come up with the oddest things, and anyone further down the proliferation league table is going to be even further out of the game. It's no accident that Israel, India, Pakistan and South Africa all had enemies in mind that were a lot nearer. Nuclear war in the proliferation age is going to be poor country against poor country, but not because of missile defence.

(Also note that there is only one rich country that has a working missile defence capability - the USA. This shield does not protect Europe and the USA is really not very keen on anyone else developing a missile defence system. A lot of non-American USA fans make this sort of mistake, as it's part and parcel of believing that the USA is unique among countries in having no national interests but only wanting what's best for the whole world).

Friday, June 22, 2007

Have this one on us, Nick

Heads up!

(I promise you, I learned about that story from the FT and only linked to the Mail one because it wasn't paywalled. Do you think I'm lying or something?)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Oh what very hell, to zig when you ought to be zagging

Hmmmm well. Julian Baggini is the acceptable face of Decency in many respects, and Nick's article on his life among the plebs and how their simple merry ways were so preferable to the effete metropolitans was not so bad. However, it may not be the raspberry road to the Daily Mail column that we had thought it was. I somehow trust Paul Dacre's instinct for the zeitgeist more than I trust Nick's.

(there ought to be an article here about how in general, the direction of political and cultural life is very much moving away from the Decents, and their self-image as an embattled minority appears to be becoming self-fulfilling, but I am too busy to write it).

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A kind of harmonic convergence of complete tools

Opinion is divided on the future career trajectory of Nick Cohen round here. Some of us think he's on his way to the Daily Mail. Others think he's showing worrying signs of Furediism. Here's an article where the twain meet, showing that there is apparently a niche on the bookshelf just the size and shape of an impassioned and not terribly well-informed diatribe on how New Labour and the leftisses have ganged together to betray anyone on £100,000 a year. God help us all, but particularly the publishing industry.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nick has made quite a fool of himself this week, but only a few Observer readers will realise it

The UK government's litigation against Arthur Andersen was about the quality of AA's audit work on De Lorean Motor Company (specifically, their failure to spot John De Lorean's fraud). It was not about "management consultancy". Arthur Andersen did not provide management consulting services to either De Lorean Motor or the UK government. Audit is not the same thing as management consultancy. Nick appears to be recommending to the UK government that in future, projects like the De Lorean plant should not be audited at all.

Whatever the merits of the case against government use of management consultants (and they may be many and substantial), that case would probably better be made by someone who has even a vague idea of what a management consultant is.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Don Paskini aarowatches, so we don't have to.

Monday, June 11, 2007

One for the ABTA?

Consumer Advisory to AW's American readers - be careful, there are some dodgy travel agents out there. If you are offered the trip of a lifetime to Annabel's nightclub to meet the cream of London society, ask to see a guest list beforehand as there is a distinct risk of your getting fobbed off with a crowd of Decent usual suspects instead:

when Paul Wolfowitz asked to meet some of Britain's leading journalists, The Observer's Nick Cohen found himself sitting next to John Lloyd and Charles Moore, drinking champagne

and Wolfie was probably buying the drinks, too.

ay oop, it's Alan Dershowitz!

"Teaming up" with leading British Decent Anthony Julius, in order to bankrupt, isolate and destroy British Academia, as just retribution for passing that "I Can't Believe It's Not A Boycott"[1] resolution. I hope that they have found some way in which this goal can be achieved without suppressing legitimate debate, because that would be bad.

In all seriousness, what the hell is Julius doing "teaming up with" Alan Dershowitz? Dershowitz has, in the past five years, written a defence of torture (no, guys, he did not just publish an academic speculation about a legal framework, he suggested that we should put needles under people's fingernails). He's in favour of weakening the protections given to civilians (and doing so in a way, btw, that Omar al-Bashir would find very congenial indeed for use in Darfur). He's in favour of the destruction of villages as a means of collective punishment, an outright war crime (note as well that this gives the lie to any claim that the problem with Dershowitz is that he is "pro-Israel" - this policy was widely regarded as insane and barbaric in Israel too. One might as well reserve the term "pro-Britain" for the sympathisers of Enoch Powell). He also has a nasty way with books and people he doesn't like.

Alan Dershowitz is the absolutely unacceptable face of the American pro-war left. He does, definitely and visibly, attempt to stifle criticism of the State of Israel, in exactly the way that plenty of people (Aaro included) say doesn't happen in the UK. Why is Anthony Julius associating with him, to what extent are the political organisations of which Julius is a board member (ENGAGE, Democratiya and the Euston Manifesto) signed up to "Project Dershowitz" and is it really a good idea to import Dershowtiz's personal brand of adversarial politics across the Atlantic?

PS, breaking news, Finkelstein got screwed. A picture of Norman Finkelstein does, of course, appear in the Dictionary of British Colloquialism under the entry for "do you have to be quite such a cunt about it?", but nevertheless this seems to me to be totally unjust. Also note that the Washington Post article misrepresents his book in the very first sentence of the article; the entire thesis of "The Holocaust Industry" relates to the behaviour of self-appointed organisations like the WJC, and how they've abused the legitimate compensation claims of Holocaust survivors.

[1] "I Can't Believe Bruschettaboy Is Still Using That Joke". The great thing about it is that "I Can't Believe It's Not Lazily Adaptable To More Or Less Any Story". I would be interested in any readers who have citations to this joke earlier than Patrick Kielty's description of the post-Good-Friday-Agreement terrorists as "I Can't Believe They're Not The IRA", because it really sticks in my craw to credit the awful Kielty with anything.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Nick on the HPV vaccine

Nick is probably broadly right in his Observer column today. The NHS has been dragging its feet over NHS vaccination and there are some big worries about the fact the so much of the increased spending on health under NuLab has gone to increasing doctors' salaries, on PFI and on management consultants. But, as usual, Nick can't write a straight column without including a dig at some pet hat figure:

A few doctors imitated John le Carre and warned that the evil tycoons of Big Pharma were behind the demands for vaccination. Undoubtedly, drugs companies would benefit, but as doctors, Department of Heath civil servants and, indeed, ageing thriller writers turn to Big Pharma's products when they need them, the attempt to justify inaction as an anti-corporate pose also got nowhere.

Apologies to Nick [did I write that?] if someone can find an argument from Le Carre saying that the NHS shouldn't funds HPV vaccination in the UK. I know that Le Carre has been a fierce critic of the way the pharmaceutical industry has operated in Africa. Maybe he's wrong in some of the particulars (I don't know). But there's a whole series of issues where LC seems to be a force for good (patenting and generic medicines). Is Nick bashing LC because of unrelated post-9/11 remarks by the novelist? Or because LC has been speaking about the Palestinians for decades? Answers in comments please.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size

Today, on the other hand, although Dave is once more writing about "The Little State You Love To Hate", I am not so much a fan. The official line of Aaronovitch Watch[1] is that we are "tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism", but that doesn't mean that we can't spot a bit of crocodile-tears imperialism when it gets going.

My view of all Aaro columns on the subject of Israel is very much jaundiced by the fact that when shite came to bust in Lebanon last year, he was an apologist for war crimes. Bombing those tower blocks was a clear and simple act of collective punishment of a civilian population and anyone with eyes in their head knew it. Norman Geras saw it and said so. Aaro had the chance to say so and with a brief pause for "yes but", he staked out a position well to the right of the debate. This has caused me to view everything he's written on the subject with suspicion; although we rather like Decent Dave on this blog, we do have to remember that it was started for a reason, and that reason was that Aaro supports the regular and largely unconstrained use of state violence to promote his political views.[2]

Any road up, as you can tell I am still pissed off about that episode, but on to the actual column. If the Times were truncated by about three inches, there would be nothing to object to and we would be driving our readers mad again by saying it was an all right Aaro column. His summary of what happened in the Six Day War and how its aftermath has poisoned regional politics for the last forty years is more or less OK. I might even give him his cheap shot at the academic boycott, given that the alternative would have been to have written a whole column about that subject, which I think we can agree would have been a lose/lose situation all round.

But the sting's in the last paragraph, as it so often is. It's the thing that you so often have to watch out for in "reasonable liberal" commentary; once we have recited our paternosters about the two-state solution, the peace process, blah di blah, all too often comes the Great Lamentation:

"But Alack and Allay! Misere! There is Nobody On The Other Side To Negotiate With! Cruel Fate! To Be So Near To A Solution And Yet So Far! Lament! Lament!

This ritual utterance is probably not even made in bad faith most of the time, but its practical effect is horrible. It's a form of words that allows a well-meaning liberal to recognise the clear facts of the matter and the justice of the case, but to then walk away from any political consequences of those facts, by simply constructing a set of reasons to declare one side unfit to negotiate with, and therefore to implicitly endorse the status quo. You then round it off with a pious hope for a Palestinian Gandhi figure to appear at some point in the future beyond Scott Fitzgerald's ever-receding green light, and it's back to the bulldozers and tanks guys. Aaro's last two sentences in the column linked above are actually laughable.

Look, who the hell do you have peace talks with, if not your deadly enemies? There's not much point in having peace talks with your friends. There is simply no excuse for not supporting (or even demanding, since we have apparently just got into the business of putting a cardboard box on our heads and pretending to be Henry Kissinger) good faith negotiations, based on what Aaro is correct to point out has been the obvious solution that everyone's known about for years. And the activity of finding excuses for not having those negotiations is unworthy and bad, no matter how reasoned and reasonable the argument that precedes it might be.

[1] Note that I am not in a position to announce official lines on anything and nor are any other AW writers. So far from forming a coherent group, many of the AW team do not form coherent individuals. Don't go looking for consistency here.
[2] Actually it was started in a fit of pique over a joke about bruschetta, but look at the fucking big picture here will you?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Saving Darfur from "Save Darfur"

I am still working on a piece on Nick's trip to Oxfam, which I think is quite important in the overall development of Decency. In the meantime, via Lenin's Tomb, this excellent piece from the New York Times, detailing things from the other side, and giving some flavour of the exasperation felt in the aid community when self-appointed advocacy groups start sticking their great big Decent boots in. I'm going to sit down and eat a nice nourishing bowl of solidarity, as they don't say in the IDP camps.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Name of this Blog is Aaronovitch Watch

(With apologies to David Byrne and Talking Heads.)

For the record, I think Aaro is rather good today.

Shorter Aaro: the Zionist lobby does not stifle debate. Roughly, I agree: but there is a Zionist lobby, and it's very good at getting funds from the US Congress, which matters a lot more than what some windy journo (not you, Dave; I mean the lot of you in the abstract) thinks.

I recommend that you read Charles Moore in the Torygraph on the obverse argument: the anti-Zionist/pro-Palestinian lobby hogs the media. I'm not keen on Moore, he practices a species of bloodless patrician Toryism which winds me up even when I agree with him, as I do for some of his article.

Alan Johnston, under terrorist orders, spoke of the "absolute despair" of the Palestinians and attributed it to 40 years of Israeli occupation, "supported by the West". That is how it is presented, night after night, by the BBC.

The other side is almost unexamined. There is little to explain the internecine strife in the Arab world, particularly in Gaza, or the cynical motivations of Arab leaders for whom Palestinian miseries are politically convenient.

You get precious little investigation of the networks and mentalities of Islamist extremism - the methods and money of Hamas or Hizbollah and comparable groups - which produce acts of pure evil like that in which Mr Johnston is involuntarily complicit.

The spotlight is not shone on how the "militants" (the BBC does not even permit the word "terrorist" in the Middle East context) and the warlords maintain their corruption and rule of fear, persecuting, among others, the Palestinians.


It is not mad, of course, to criticise Israeli policy. In some respects, indeed, it would be mad not to. It is not mad - though I think it is mistaken - to see the presence of Israel as the main reason for the lack of peace in the region.

But it is mad or, perhaps one should rather say, bad to try to raid Western culture's reserves of moral indignation and expend them on a country that is part of that culture in favour of surrounding countries that aren't. How can we have got ourselves into a situation in which we half-excuse turbaned torturers for kidnapping our fellow-citizens while trying to exclude Jewish biochemists from lecturing to our students?

I think I can speak for all the Aaro Watchers when I say that we wish for Alan Johnson's immediate and unconditional release. I don't believe we do "half-excuse turbaned torturers".

Aaro's and Moore's pieces together present a very good reason for staying out of Middle Eastern debates: both sides believe the other lot controls the media, and there's not a lot good in arguing with them.

Our Dave debated Norman Finkelstein and observed

Dr Finkelstein, who blames his lack of academic preferment on the activities of the Israeli lobby in the US, was probably the most intense man I have ever encountered. His website bears testimony to the volume of abuse that he suffers from various people — often Jewish — who loathe him for his writings about what he sees as the Zionist exploitation of the Holocaust. I noted his genuine suffering while wondering what he expected when he decided so uncompromisingly to tell people what they least wanted to hear.

That would be his letters page.

Hey shit:

If you so care about your "poor palestinian" islamist brethren, why don't you go to Lebanon and join them in their refugee camps and fight alongside with them. It's about time you show your solidarity and do something about it. Help them fight the Lebanese army if you're so brave. I only hope that one of those bullets will find your ugly face and blow it up into pieces. Not much of a loss for the humankind that would be. But look at the bright side of it - maybe, after you croak DePaul will feel sorry for you and finally grant you with your tenure... post mortem, of course.

Honestly, no one deserves that.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Where's The Outrage?

OK, I'll say upfront that this is something of a dirty tactic - 'this' being asking why my ideological enemies (in this case the Decents) didn't bark in the night. I'd usually agree that what bloggers post on is entirely up to them, and what they don't post on is of no concern to anyone.


I've looked a few Decent blogs: The Euston Manifesto, Oliver Kamm, Engage, Norman Geras and Nick Cohen. Now this lot are generally sensitive to anti-semitism - and they also (mostly) support the Iraq War and Tony Blair's foreign policies. So Tony Blair goes to visit Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, and do they mention it? Nope. One thing the Decents and I (and I think all who blog here) agree on is that national leaders with military titles (let alone self-appointed ones) are bad eggs. Also, the Decents have plenty of outrage and have no problem expressing it - though mostly in the direction of charities which won't bite back, minority parties, lone ideologues (I'm not crazy about Neil Clarke either), etc. Not a great deal at incumbent politicians, however. Bush and Blair tend to get free passes.

Do me a favour: read this. Then tell me if you don't believe that Col Gadaffi is not at least as big an anti-Semite as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. I can understand the temptation to rehabilitate Gadaffi, but the Decents uniformly regarded such a policy a complete waste with regard to Saddam and Ahmadinejad. What's different about Gadaffi? He's sponsored terrorism. He's unrepentant. He's a nasty piece of work from any angle. So - where are the attacks?

The topsy turvy worlds of Decency

There's no particular reason to expect one Decent's arguments and attitudes to be consistent with another's, but I am struck by the contrasts between a recent piece by Nick Cohen and another by Julian Baggini, and especially by the way in which they play the imperialism card. According to Cohen, Oxfam has a neocolonialist mentality that assumes that the world is the white man's to dictate:

Even at the peak of Make Poverty History's campaign, you didn't have to be a Telegraph-reading Tory to think the aid movement was taking a wrong turn. It presented a picture of a world as much the white man's to direct as it was at the apogee of the European empires. No one told the audience at Live 8 that Africa had nepotistic dictators in power or kleptomaniac families in office. They stayed silent about genocidal movements and spy-ridden regimes. All that was needed to rescue Africa from poverty was for the developed world to agree more aid, fairer trade and debt relief and - poof! -the suffering would end. Two years on, the neocolonialist view hasn't been shaken. A recent Oxfam study of global warming says, truthfully, that pollution from the rich world will hurt the poor world, but fails to ask how Africa can develop without increasing its output of greenhouse gases.

Baggini, on the other hand, in an especially silly article claiming that supporting military intervention springs from the same moral sources as buying fair trade coffee, rejects the notion of that intervention is latter-day imperialism and can't consistently believe that Oxfam is meddling by white people:

Intervention is dismissed as imperialism by stealth, control from a distance now that we cannot control in situ. It is also portrayed as a misguided response to a racist white western guilt which cannot accept that anywhere in the world is better off without us. ....

If you are really opposed to interventionism, then at least be consistent. Cancel your direct debit to Oxfam, because that too is the rich world "meddling" with Africa. Boycott fairtrade coffee, which imposes "our" ethical standards and social programmes on producers. Tell Bill Gates to stop lavishing his millions on tackling HIV/Aids in Africa and leave it to the continent's own people to take care of themselves. Stop complaining about how appalling it is that we are ignoring the plight of people in Darfur and Western New Guinea, because you know to get involved will only make things worse.

So is the Decent line that contributing to famine relief is a dangerous diversion from the battle against kleptocratic African dictators (Cohen) or is giving a few quid to Oxfam (or CAFOD) morally continuous with sending in the Marines?

Actually, maybe that expresses things badly. Both Cohen and Baggini seem to believe that Oxfam is morally on a par with sending in the gunboats, but there's Victorian gunboating and nuLab-gunboating. Cohen thinks Oxfam is like Victorian gunboating and therefore a bad thing; Baggini thinks that nuLab gunboating is like Oxfam and therefore a good thing. Confused?