Thursday, November 29, 2007

Garton Ash Responds

Update 2/12/2007. Darius Jedburgh asked, quite reasonably, in the comments for supporting evidence for my rhetorical question at the end of this piece. Honestly, I find myself unable to understand Nick's position with sufficient clarity to say what he believes - or even paraphrase what he says. He does seem to treat Ms Hirsi Ali as a 'heroine' to use Timothy Garton Ash's term: Ms Hirsi Ali is clear that she believes that Islam [needs to be] defeated. I can't see how Nick's formula "those who would subjugate women, kill Jews and homosexuals, place the dictates of a seventh-century holy book above the parliaments of free peoples" is not a reference to Islam per se rather than radical Islam.

Timothy Garton Ash doesn't name Nick Cohen in his latest CiF post, but I he should be read as refuting everything Nick says about him. NC:

And if, like Garton Ash, they turned away from democrats and insisted on treating European Muslims as children who can only be spoken to in the baby language of gobbledegook, what right did they have to be surprised if European Muslims reacted with childish petulance rather than the broad-mindedness of full adult citizens?


When a Muslim letter-writer in yesterday's Guardian tells us, with the aid of Qur'anic references, that Islam, properly understood, supports "the vital principle of freedom of speech", what possible interest have we non-Muslim liberals in arguing against him?

"[B]aby language of gobbledegook" anyone? (I can't find the letter in question; the Guardian site seems committed to hiding readers' opinion after one day.) Update 2/12/2007 Fallhammer in the comments found it.

While I in no way condone the repellent fascism and bigotry of Nick Griffin and David Irving, they are entitled to voice their obnoxious bile according to Islam's transcendent text. The Qur'an makes it incontrovertible that all people have the right to choose their own path and perspectives in life (2:256; 10:99; 18:29; 109:6;etc). It is therefore a fallacy that Islam denies the vital principle of freedom of speech. Our progressive Oxford organisation has always endorsed the concept of undiluted free speech. Either there is free speech for everyone or there is free speech for no one. Today abhorrent rightwing racists are targeted. Who will be proscribed tomorrow?

Dr Taj Hargey. Now, like Timothy Garton Ash, I think that arguing a proposition because some book says it is so is gobbledegook: but Dr Hargey's position is an admirable one. I don't care why he holds it, but I would like to see more support for that kind of liberalism. Dr Hargey appears not only not to be a 'rightist' - he is also clearly a good guy.


Garton Ash wrote in the New York Review of Books that journalists were more interested in her beauty than her ideas. 'If she had been short, squat, and squinting, her story and views might not be so closely attended to.' She was an 'Enlightenment fundamentalist', he continued, as bigoted in her way as the Muslim Brotherhood she opposed. On this reading, there is no moral difference between those who would subjugate women, kill Jews and homosexuals, place the dictates of a seventh-century holy book above the parliaments of free peoples... and those who wouldn't. Liberal intellectuals have no obligation to make a choice between religious fundamentalists and 'Enlightenment fundamentalists', and indeed could devote their energies to condemning the latter rather than the former.

BTW, I see nothing in there preceding "On this reading" which inclines me to believe that Garton Ash believes any of the things ascribed to him.

That distinction would, of course, no longer hold if being a devout Muslim were in fact incompatible with being a full citizen of a free society. I feel this is what quite a few participants in the current debate, both atheist and Christian, really believe, while seldom spelling it out so clearly. Yet the thought keeps peeping through, for example in the formula "Islam is incompatible with democracy".

"Islam is incompatible with democracy" is exactly what Nick's saying isn't it?

Ask A Silly Question

Nick's had almost two days now to update/fix this 'post'. Perhaps AW readers can help.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nick sums up what's wrong with him

"I looked at the heckler at the Labour meeting and imagined his life in an instant."

We could just leave it there, I suppose, but "The-Stopper-from-Decent-Central-Casting" (presumably too grubby to get an invitation to one of those Islington dinner parties) does (allegedly) have this to say:

Only rich Iranians wanted democracy, he declared. The true voice of the masses, the tribune of the people we must attend to and negotiate with, was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iranian democracy is pretty imperfect, with all kinds of "liberal" candidates being barred by the clerics before the elections even happen, but there are elections, and those elections pitted Ahmadinejad against more liberal candidates. And Ahmadinejad won. Because more people voted for him. On the basis of the last election, Ahmadinejad's claim to be the "voice of the masses" looks disturbingly secure. Maybe it is Nick who isn't so keen on democracy?

(Of course the Decents might think that the only reasons ordinary Iranians would vote for an extreme over a moderate conservative would be the unavailablity of secular liberal candidates ....)

The rest of the column is boilerplate "Ayaan Hirsi Ali isn't the nutter libruls lyingly claim she is."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Arse Full Of Armies

Yup, Aaro is once more back on the full-mental-jacket Scoopie tendency of Decency - the pulling of armies out of one's arse. Many objections to this:

1. 84 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan, compared to 55 casualties of 7/7. More American soldiers have died in Iraq than the total casualties of 9/11. Even if the "Aaronovitch Doctrine" (constant intervention everywhere, because otherwise there will be terrorist attacks here) could protect us perfectly from terrorist attacks, it would still be a bad trade for anyone who doesn't regard military casualties as free.

2. Iraq, always, as an afterthought to a general record of success, rather than a trillion dollar disaster. Effect of Iraq on terrorist motivation constantly downplayed (neither the 7/7 nor 21/7 bombers were Iraqis, but the Glasgow Airport attackers were. Also, whatever Mohammed Siddique Khan's contacts with Punjabi radicals, he in fact made a video recording about his motives, in which Iraq was rather prominent).

3. The actual rectal extraction of the military units in question appears here:

Suppose General Petraeus had been there in Baghdad in surge numbers in 2003. Or suppose that, from the start, all our Nato partners had provided the promised support — without conditions — in Afghanistan. Suppose, too, that we had spent the years since 1989 building up our military and civil interventionist capacities rather than running them down.

What Aaro is saying here is "Suppose that conscription was reintroduced", and it is rather worrying that he doesn't seem to understand that this is what he's saying.

4. In any case, let's grant all these suppositions. Give Aaro as much manpower as he wants. Commit us for the long term. Give us a local government that, while corrupt and inefficient, enjoys reasonable amounts of popular support, particularly among the majority political and religious community around the capital. At what point am I allowed to bring up the Vietnam analogies? From Decentpedia:



1. South-East Asian nation with a chequered military history that is of no relevance whatever to any modern conflict.

If something can't be done, it can't be done, Aaro.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Aaro interviews Blair, heads up

It's on tonight at 2215. Mark Lawson reckons it's petty dull, but we might not. Aaro believes that the Hutton Report proves Blair didn't lie, so Frost/Nixon this will not be. Consider this an open thread on the subject. I may "liveblog" it, but probably not.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Alphabet of Decency: B is for Bolivarian Socialism

This week, the Spanish courts have found two cartoonists guilty of mocking the Spanish royal family and fined them EUR3000 each. FFS. This isn't really just a quirky local custom - the Spanish royal family has an important constitutional role, and yet is protected by exactly the kind of lese-majeste laws which are apparently a stumbling block to Turkish membership of the EU. And yet nobody seems to care all that much.

Obviously, we are not big fans of "the shameful silence" style of argument, but it does seem a bit rum, given that it was not eighteen months ago that the Decentsphere was absolutely as hot as chilli-and-wasabi bruschetta for defending the inalienable rights of cartoonists. If I were them I'd have put up a couple of lines on "those Spanish eh? bloody hell. defend the cartoonists, that's what I say", just for the sake of appearances.

But the reason this has been impossible is that the embarrassment of doing so is greater than that of not doing so, because practically every Decent blog on the web has already got a great big "ATTABOY THE SPANISH ROYALS!" post up. Why? Because King Juan Carlos told Hugo Chavez to "shut up". Chavez' offence was to call former Spanish Prime Minister Aznar a "fascist". Which isn't technically true, by the way, but I dare say that if someone who had been a member of the Falange's youth organisation were to go around the world trying to drum up support for a coup against me, I too would stretch a point. Nonetheless, "shut up!" said King Juan Carlos, bravely speaking truth to power. And Chavez is a fucking fascist, because ... well, among other things, not so long ago he passed a law preventing people from insulting the Presidency, not unlike the Spanish lese-majeste laws.

What is it with the Decents and Chavez? The question about why so many people on the Left are so bloody, bloody single-minded about Israel is actually quite a good one and rather embarrassing in the cases of a lot of anti-Zionists. But at least there are some reasonable answers: "I'm Jewish and have family there", "It's always on the front of my newspaper", "I have some vague idea that it's within the US sphere of influence". Even people for whom the true answer is "It's a fashionable cause and I will join anything going, me" make a reasonable stab at explaining why they've prioritised Israel's human rights abuses over undeniably worse atrocities elsewhere in the world.

But Venezuela? None of the Decents are Venezuelans. None of them have any reason at all that I can see to be so mad for Chavez to fall on fundamental grounds. The only reason that you ever see (ref, Nick Cohen, among others) is that he "acts friendly with people like Mugabe and Ahmadinejad". Not does anything much in concert with them, mind. Just shakes their hand. It's so unserious that it's not even worth my while listing all the mucky paws that George Bush and Tony Blair have shaken while in office; I'm not going to dignify that posture with a tu quoque.

And there's "failing to separate yourself from Fascists, Islamonazis, homophobes, etc", and there's actually campaigning for actual fascists to win. Fact: Harry's Place campaigned aggressively for a "no" vote in the last Chavez referendum. Fact: in doing so, they regularly cited and provided publicity for a campaign that included Carlos Andres Perez. Fact: Carlos Andres Perez ordered troops to fire on unarmed demonstrators, killing 2,000 of them, and ordered the bodies buried in unmarked graves. It was referred to as the "Caracazo" and it's the defining event in Venezuelan politics.

Now Chavez ain't all that and a bag of chips. He's a developing world strongman out of central casting. Many of his laws against the press are indefensible. Maybe he does want to rule forever, although he has always been scrupulous in standing for re-election and allowing popular votes of confidence to be held against him. It's ludicrous to call him a "despot", an "authoritarian" or a "dictator". His economic policies are indeed dependent on high oil prices, but they are nevertheless developmental. And, most importantly there is no progressive alternative to him. The Venezuelan opposition does not contain any major figures who can be reasonably identified as democrats or liberals (no, not Teodoro Petkoff). It is 100% made up of rightwingers, many of whom were identified with the Peres government. Practically, a vote against Chavez is a vote for the Vestey family (I know at least one of our readers regards this post as the nadir of Decency, where Harry's Place actually defends, from the left, the Vesteys, against land reform in Venezuela).

So what is it with them and Chavez? Is it really only that he insults the Americans? I rather think it is.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Not This Tide

If I were ITV (hat tip Nick Cohen), I'd say bloody well done or something like that to David Haig. ITV's My Boy Jack "handle[d] the complexity of war" better that certain journalists we know. I'd take Nick's criticism of the play as a "pleasingly simple morality tale" if a) he'd seen it in any form or b) he'd ever written anything other than simple 'moral superiority' tales himself. Haig and Radcliffe were particularly good.

He Who Hesitates Is Lost ...

... that would be me, then. I thought about an entry on Nick's latest earlier today, but at the same time I thought I might just do it by quoting Conor Foley's comments. Then I hesitated. Conor may regret the language and the sentiment (so far he hasn't) and I didn't want to be the one responsible for repeating his emotional response. The moderators have removed that comment and others which refer to it. This may be a good thing as the comments were degenerating (not that they start from a particularly high point) into a stupid discussion about whether violence against journalists is ever justified.
Anyway, this is part of Conor's response to the response to his (now deleted) comment.

Since this particular article is on the threats of physical danger facing those working in conflict zones, I think that the views of one such person about its author are 'on topic' and make a relevant contribution to a 'hearty debate'. Let me also, again, extend an invitation to Nick to discuss this topic with me directly here, something he has, so far, been rather reluctant to do.

I'll note that Nick fails to ever bother that we're still "defeating" the Taliban more than three years after the elections which were supposed to mark their defeat.

Anecdotes abound of how fear of breaching the Foreign Office and Department of International Development's 'duty of care' is making reconstruction next to impossible. A colonel in the Territorial Army seconded to the Foreign Office could only work in Helmand with security guards charging $5,000 a day. He didn't want them because, as a soldier, he could look after himself. But the FO insisted and burnt money that could have been better spent on relief workers.

Note that this is all anecdotal. Nick doesn't have a name for the colonel, a reliable source for the security guards remuneration, or any information from the FO.

I was told about a finance officer whose job it was to decide how much compensation to give Afghans whose homes or livestock were destroyed in the fighting. Recognising that it was vital to win the approval of the civilian population, she asked to be moved closer to the front line. On no account could she take that risk, she was told. We have a duty of care, you cannot jeopardise your safety, even if you want to and even if you would do your job better if you did.

No names, no pack drill again. Nick was told. By whom? This isn't what the MoD say about this sort of posting.

One officer told me that on many days, you could count the number of British reconstruction workers working in Helmand on the fingers of one hand.

Ah, typical Brits. They take weekends off. That's 104 days in the year. Plus Christmas -- and New Year for the Scots. Or perhaps there were local reconstruction workers. I'm sure readers can think of other objections (even assuming that the officer is genuine and his account is correct).

The rules for civilians contained in the MoD's guide 'Preparing to Visit an Operational Theatre' support his account. 'The primary consideration is risk,' it declares on the opening page. 'The MoD does everything possible to mitigate risk to civilians who enter an operational theatre, but if it deems that risk unacceptable, it will not allow staff to go to individual locations or will consider withdrawing them altogether.'

I think every army in history has kept civilians out of war zones (which is what I understand by 'Operational Theatre'). That's being pragmatic. And anyway that clearly refers to MoD civilian staff not aid workers like Conor Foley.

When will Nick debate Conor Foley? Only one of them seems to have any facts.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Sort of Personal Statement

This isn't the anonymous authors of Aaro Watch. This is I, Dave Weeden/Backword Dave/Chardonnay Chap. This is me. These are my opinions.
Actually, they aren't even that. Th-they're a s-sort of stammering response of the "You asked an interesting question, now let me faff a bit while I try to think on my feet" sort.
Fortunately for me, I can prevaricate a bit. I've just started James Fenton's All the Wrong Places: Adrift in the Politics of the Pacific Rim. (Tedious explanatory notes: Fenton is one my favourite poets. He's also the not-so-famous-one of the Amis-Hitchens-Fenton triumvirate (as they style themselves). Finally, as I remember from the cover of his first book of poems, he is (or was) a member of the Socialist Party. I can't remember where the Socialist Party were on a putative chart of left/right conviction, but I strongly suspect that membership (rather than of the Labour Party) suggests something like the following:

Yet where I feel an affinity with left-wing radicalism, and a lack of affinity with the politics of the mainstream left represented by Labour or the European Social Democrats, is in the fundamental interest the former puts on ideals, issues and causes, in contrast to the necessary but 'humdrum' business of building a parliamentary party and winning elections, with all the compromising of principles and de-emphasising of ideas that this involves. It is not that I do not respect and appreciate the work of the mainstream parliamentary left; it is simply a different world from my own.

That's our new friend Marco Attila Hoare. (Bruschetta Boy is too decent to make jokes about his name so I will: why does he think being a foul-mouthed Michelin starred celebrity chef entitles him to political opinions anyway?) Since this is a personal statement, I'll chuck in my view. If you've ever lived in a goddam nuclear family, you'll know that just rubbing along requires compromise. This is a damp little island of 60 million people. Of course getting along requires compromise. Even if we can agree on what 'working class' means (and we probably won't), the working class in London may have different and exclusive interests from the working class in Liverpool (assuming either is homogenous). Besides, Marxism is about material things rather than ideas and such: or, as Brecht put it, "Bread first, then ethics." Anyway, Fenton is, or was, pretty big on "ideals, issues and causes" rather than politicking in the pejorative sense.) OK, I could have written all this in a footnote, but none of you would have read it.
This is Fenton writing in 1988 about 1973:
Although I had a few journalistic commissions, I was not going [to Cambodia] primarily as a journalist. I wanted time and solitude to write, and knew that travel would make me fall back on my own company. I wanted to see a communist victory because, as did many people, I believed the Americans had not the slightest justification for their interference in Indochina. I admired the Vietcong and, by extension, the Khmer Rouge, but I subscribed to a philosophy that prided itself on taking a cool, critical look at the liberation movements of the Third World. We supported them against the ambitions of American foreign policy. We supported them as nationalist movements. We did not support their political character, which we perceived as Stalinist in the case of the Vietnamese, and in the case of teh Cambodians ... I don't know. The theory was, and is, that where a genuine movement of national liberation was fighting against imperialism, it received our unconditional support. When such a movement had won, it might then take its place among the governments that we execrated -- those who ruled by sophisticated tyranny in the name of socialism.
... The broadest support for the antiwar movement came from disgust at what the Americans were doing. But the movement itself brought into being, all over the world, political groups that took the lessons of Indochina a stage further. In Britain, the Communist Party made precious few gains during this period. The tradition to which the students looked was broadly or narrowly Trotskyist, a fact which no doubt intrigued the Vietnamese communists, who had taken care to bump off their own Trotskyists a long time before. The Trotskyist emphasis -- the general emphasis -- was on opposition to American imperialism. Very few people idolized the Vietcong, or the North Vietnamese, or Uncle Ho in quite the same way that, for instance, the French Left did. Indeed, it might fairly be said that the Left in Britain was not terribly curious about or enamored of the movement it was supporting.
... At the [Indochina Solidarity Group] conference itself, I remember two speeches of interest. One was by I.F. Stone, who was hissed by the audience (which included an unusually large number of Maoists) when he attacked Chairman Mao for shaking hands with a murderer like Nixon. The other was by Noam Chomsky, who warned against the assumption that the war was over, and that direct U.S. intervention in Vietnam would cease. Chomsky also argued that members of the Left were wrong to dismiss the domino theory out of hand. As stated by Cold Warriors it might not measure up to the facts, but there was another formulation which did indeed make sense: that it was U.S. foreign policy, rather than Russian expansionism, that had knocked over the dominoes.

Pages 4-5. To start from the end, that's not a bad characterization of Chomsky, in my opinion. To begin with, he's a scientist, and he's not afraid to turn definitions upside down. That account reminds me of the story in one of Richard Feynman's books about Murray Gell-Mann: Gell-Mann came up with an explanation as to why all electrons are the same mass and charge - they're all the same electron. (Positrons, like all anti-matter, may be matter traveling back in time - whatever that may mean.) Gell-Mann may not always have been right; he may have been, on occasion, a nut - but he was always fertile. Chomsky is much the same. Arguing against him is an education.
The real purpose of this post - and why it's a personal statement - is to challenge Marco on this
You cannot oppose the genocide in Sudan, or the Islamists in Iraq, if you oppose 'Western intervention'....

Never mind that others have noted that 'Islamists' are more visible (and probably more numerous) in Iraq than they were under Saddam (ie - before 'Western intervention'), I wish to say that I don't oppose 'Western intervention' as simply as that. This is the sort of thing my simple mind can only approach crab-wise by analogy. This is my best effort (so far). Generally, I'm against violence. I don't think anyone should hit anyone else unless they were hit first. But that doesn't mean I don't support the police if they forcibly detain a (supposed) rapist (say). Interventions, in certain circumstances, may be for the best. As to Iraq, I presently think the following (among other stuff): America has oil interests, Iraq has oil, I don't believe the invasion was altruistic at all; the invasion looked like payback or revenge for Gulf War I - and I regard revenge as a very bad reason in itself; an intervention should have an end in view - bad as I agree Saddam was, the Iraq fiasco looks worse to me.
In short, I don't oppose 'Western intervention' as a rule. Most of the time, I think it's craven or silly or driven by the sort of idiot who ordered the Charge of the Light Brigade. But I won't say that it's wrong in principle. I believe (as I think Robin Cook did) in the UN. I also believe in consensus. If you can convince the UN (where the representatives are well educated and independently minded people, mostly) of a case, it's fairly likely to be right. If you have to lie, spin, or whatever, and then ignore the verdict ... you're on your own. (Daniel Davies made this point very well.) BTW, not supporting the Invasion in 2003 does not mean not supporting Western intervention. The West (as represented by Bill Clinton) was intervening in Iraq.

If the cap fits, YOU'RE A GENOCIDAL BASTARD!!!

The Decent Left are, as I've bored on about endlessly, the children of the Labour Atlanticists, who are in turn the ideological counterparts of the Cold War Liberals. This isn't me being snarky; it's the specific and self-acknowledged intellectual pedigree, which is why the Henry Jackson Society is named after Henry Jackson. It is a shame, however, that a) the Decents decided to go down the road of cold war liberals fraktion Jackson, rather than tendence Galbraith (basically, this distinction boils down to which is more important to you - ideology or facts?). It is also a shame that they picked up one of the more irritating habits of the Cold War liberal - what might be called "macho anti-Communism".

Most of the "anti-totalitarian left" apparently believe that Senator McCarthy was a bad guy, but it's very difficult to see why they think so, given that they still, nearly twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, feel that it's vitally important to be constantly on the attack for any suspicions of sympathy with Soviet Russia. We're all familiar with Oliver Kamm's charming habit of writing spiteful things about old Commies shortly after their death notices, but Marko Attila Hoareblog's inaugaral post has the same kind of "my God I hate the Commies more than you do, Horatio" bollo to it.

It is entirely true, that totalitarian socialism as represented by Stalinists, Maoists and most Marxist-Leninists represents an incomparably greater evil than just about anything the world of conservatism has ever produced.

He actually mentions slavery, the genocide of the native Americans, the British Empire and the Potato Famine in the next paragraph (ommitting the Belgian Congo and the genocide of the Aborigines among other things), so he presumably knows this isn't true (or for some reason thinks that none of these historical crimes can be pinned on modern Tories, even though people like Niall Ferguson will actually say in so many words that they think the Empire wasn't all that bad). But of course that sentence wasn't made as a factual claim, it's just a piece of tribal chest-beating. The claim:

"The Finnish Whites under the aristocratic Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim crushed the Reds and the revolutionary workers, thanks to which the Finnish working class today is among the most prosperous in the world"

is also perhaps a fairly controversial piece of economic history too.

But anyway ...

Of course, for the Cold War Liberals, with McCarthyism a fairly close memory, they were usually quite careful to make a distinction between principled social democrats and Soviet Russia. They didn't as a matter of course use "anti-Communism" as an excuse for randomly kicking off on anyone to the left of them. Wouldn't it be nice to think that the Decents had inherited this tradition?

I'm taking the piss of course. The Cold War Liberals were just as bad as the Decents in this regard. Marko says in comments to the post below that:

I'm sorry that you construe my critique of leftists who support dictators and murderers as an attack on 'us lot'. If you don't support dictators and murderers, then the post wasn't criticising you

and starts off by talking about the "totalitarian socialism", its defenders and opponents, but by para. 7, we're on to:

"As a renegade Trotskyist who has spent ten years moving closer to the political centre-ground, I shall readily admit that, so far as policies are concerned, I feel much closer to Blair, and even to David Cameron’s Conservatives, than I do to ’radical’ leftists such as Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore or George Galloway"

Michael Moore? Presumably this is because he put that scene of a kid flying a kite in pre-Saddam Iraq in his film, but I would have thought that we were talking at a level higher than wingnut talking points here. (Update apparently it's because he made a joke on page 190 of "Stupid White Men" about people from the Balkans being addicted to violence, see comments. As the blog this post was written on is called "Greater Surbiton", which is a joke about expansionist Serb nationalism, I must say I find that hard to take seriously).

and a few paras down, we have reached:

"the progressive left is left-wing, because while it rejects all the horrors of totalitarianism and extremism, and is politically much closer to the mainstream, parliamentary left, it retains an emphasis on ideas and activism. Its starting point is its desire to make the world a better place and to fight for the liberation of the oppressed, the exploited and the marginalised. In this respect, it agrees in principle with its enemies from the ranks of the anti-capitalist, anti-Western left"

so now "the enemy" includes people who are merely "anti-Capitalist" or "anti-Western". Why's that? Can't you be anticapitalist without being a sympathiser of totalitarianism?


"You cannot oppose the genocide in Sudan, or the Islamists in Iraq, if you oppose ‘Western intervention"

"you cannot support women’s rights in the Middle East if you ally with Muslim fundamentalists on an ’anti-imperialist’ basis"

yup, you're either with us or against us. Curiously, however, the Decents are always able to support 'Western intervention' in the abstract; the horrific charnel house which was the actual invasion of Iraq was the result of "errors of post war planning", nothing to do with us, guv and anyway, let's not "pick over the rubble". I am not sure why this means that being opposed to the WTO Agreement (for example, to take the most obvious "anticapitalist" cause) puts you on the side of the enemy, but there you go.

Malky Muscular was asking for some hope of a definition of "support" for his Decentpedia. He ain't gonna get it. "Support" is a Decent term which doesn't translate into English, rather like "saudade" in Portugese. It looks like it might mean "support", but clearly it doesn't, because in the ordinary language meaning of the term the Euston Manifesto Group supports the Iraq War and Michael Moore doesn't support Saddam Hussein, but in the Decent sense it does. Similarly "express solidarity", "refuse to condemn", "allow yourself to be led by", "assert our values" - rather as the Eskimoes have 53 different words for snow[1], the Decent Left has about a zillion words for different varieties of empty political more-sensible-liberal-than-thou-you-commie-bastard posturing.

[1] I know, I know, they don't

Thursday, November 08, 2007

New Blog launched!

Marko Attila Hoare, familiar to AW comments section readers as "that angry bloke", has a new blog. Its slogan is "The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good" (which in the context of humanitarian interventions can presumably be extended to "The Sane is the Enemy of the Terrible"). At present he only has one post up, and it is on the familiar theme of a) us lot never criticising dictators and murderers, despite regularly having done so and b) his lot being very critical of George W Bush, despite having signed a manifesto saying that they wouldn't. It's not a theme that I agree with, and it's not exactly new material for the Decency debate. However, MAH does have other themes and the blog might be worth reading if he writes on them.

The temptation to make some sort of joke regarding his surname is at all times overpowering, but it just seems so cheap (and the pseudonymity of this blog would mean that he couldn't respond in kind), so I won't bother.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Don't Know. I've Never Kipled

The irregular blogger makes a return today.
IT MAY be PR, but ITV is saying it's braced for complaints after deciding to show a "tough" anti-war drama, My Boy Jack, on Remembrance Sunday. If I were one of its executives, I wouldn't worry about knee-jerk protests but about whether my dramatists can handle the complexity of war in the first place.

[Rubs eyes dramatically] Did Nick say "my dramatists" meaning ITVs? Why yes he did. Now, my first thought was, "Why not get a preview tape and find out rather than just going for nudge-nudge insinuation?" But it's better than that. Or worse, depending on whether you still harbour unrealistic expectations of Nick's abilities. My Boy Jack was not written for ITV. The script is available on Amazon. There was a press screening in Imperial War Museum in London. But Nick hasn't seen it.
On the face of it, the life of Rudyard Kipling’s son makes a pleasingly simple morality tale. Kipling schooled him to fight for king and country.

Then there's nothing on the play itself: only guff on what it might be about and what it should have been about.
It "will cetainly resonante with people serving in Iraq or Afghanistan," said Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Jack. He didn't seem to know that Kipling's reactions didn't always resonate with polite modern sentiments.

Let me take an example even Nick should be able to understand. Oliver Kamm didn't care for Paul Foot, and he said so several times. He does however think that Foot's book on Enoch Powell was very good. Daniel Radcliffe may or may not know about Kipling and critical reaction to his later poetry and prose. It doesn't matter. He says this story, the one about Kipling, not the one by him will resonate. Pointing out that Kipling had some off days after a grievous loss does not alter that.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

We Can't Handle The Truth

Oh yeah, you thought Martin Kettle had written a really lousy piece of apologia for Sir Ian Blair? Well I'll see your Martin Kettle and raise you a David Aaronovitch.

Again the message is "the vulnerability, the fallibility", the projection onto the British public of a cowardice we really don't possess. We must ignore people being shot on our trains, because deep down in our hearts, we want the rough men with guns to protect us from the deadly Islamissses terror within. We're all contradictory about this, because we are too soft to face up to the hard realities that Aaro and Kettle (and Ian Blair) deal with every day. Christ, am I really going to have to dig up that Jack Nicholson clip from YouTube?[1]

There is no tradeoff between security and security. Reducing the rate of false positive does not by any means necessary imply increasing the rate of false negatives. You cannot correct for a mistake in letting someone get onto the Tube by increasing the level of violence you authorise once he is down there (by the way, Aaro is dead wrong to say that the Operation Kratos guidelines authorise shooting on suspicion). Finally, of course, I cannot help noting that on not one single instance during the last two years has there been a "true positive" - empirically, the record of Operation Kratos is innocents killed, 1, actual suicide bombers killed zero. The police have saved us from a couple of suicide bomb plots but they haven't done it by shooting people in the head.

Meanwhile, Aaro shows distinct signs of going down the Nick Cohen route of demanding that every film ever made portray the Decent view of the world, and also denying that British jihadism has any cause other than the well-known "miasma of pure evil drifting out from the pages of Sayyid Qutb". Even MI5 itself believes that anti-terrorist legislation runs the risk of contributing to the alienation and radicalisation of Muslim teenagers. I didn't watch "Britz", so it might have been just as bad as he says, but his track record on these things isn't great.

Of course, the man I really blame for this column is Simon Jenkins. If he hadn't gone into semi-retirement at the Guardian, there wouldn't be a space on the Times op-ed page for Aaro in the first place.

[1]Note, by the way, that Nicholson's character in "A Few Good Men" is full of shit too. For one thing, the action in the film took place in Guantanamo Bay, pre-9/11 but after the collapse of Communism. The idea that the Nicholson's garrison was the only thing standing between the US civilian population and totalitarianism was ludicrous. For another, the actual charge that Nicholson is facing in this court-martial is that he allowed one of his own men to be beaten to death in a bullying episode that went wrong. It just isn't true that bullying your own recruits to death is necessary in order to safeguard a free society, which is kind of why he was being court martialled in the first place - Nicholson's character actually claims that "Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives", but he obviously doesn't explain how the hell this might be, because it's utter bullshit. I don't know if it's a tribute to Nicholson as an actor or to the filmgoing public as morons that nobody seems to notice this.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Competition Time!

OK, this is really one of those silly posts where I try to link a few interesting things and pretend that they're really connected.

I don't know if you've noticed but the hot new publishing genre for 2007 was 'liberals are bad'. Nick Cohen published the first edition of "What's Left?" (has anyone read the second edition and compared the two?), Andrew Anthony threw in a whiney effort (with some revisionism of his earlier descriptions of his schooling). Now, or sometime this century, Jonah Goldberg will be credited as the author of a book which may be called "Liberal Fascism" and which may have a subtitle like "The Totalitarian Temptation from Hegel to Whole Foods". (He's had other, equally silly subtitles.) Now this is interesting because I've just joined the Facebook group for Raj Patel's excellent new book about the politics of the world's food system, Stuffed and Starved so I think I'm exactly the sort of liberal Jonah has in his sights. Also today, Chris Brooke has a Rivers of Blood: Links Round-Up post which I highly recommend. Where these ideas collide is that I wrote a post about Jonah Goldberg's mind boggling lack of knowledge about Enoch Powell ("British scholar and -- briefly -- politician" I ask you) which didn't stop him endorsing that speech as a prediction of 9/11 or something. Nick Cohen's latest in the Observer sees him getting worried about immigration - not immigration per se but the amount of immigration, and these new immigrants, they're not the immigrants we grew up with, they're different, they're like foreign foreigners.

So, your task should you choose to accept it, is to review Jonah Goldberg's unwritten opus in the style of Nick "Seals of Dacre" Cohen. I believe someone round here has a 'Simply Red' CD no one else wants. Don't say we don't spoil you. We may throw in a guest post on AaroWatch. Second prize: two guest posts.

Oh, and vote for Jon Swift in those award things. Don't listen to Alex Ranting in Yorkshire who's backing Sadly, No! Jon Swift is one of my Facebook friends. That should count for something.

Profiles in Decency: Martin Kettle

This post at the Yorkshire Ranter (SPOILER WARNING: if you hover over the link you can see what his conclusion is), in the process of having a go at Kettle's ludicrous apologia for Sir Ian "Don't call me Tony ... oh go on then" Blair, brings up a theme that we haven't done nearly enough Watching of in recent months - the Aaronovitchite tendency to indulge in the soft bigotry of low expectations with respect to people in positions of power.

Kettle is obviously the past master of this Decent rhetorical technique (the Martin Kettle drinking game has a heavy tariff on the phrase "there are no easy answers"), but Aaro does it too, and it's not pure courtierdom. As I intimate (not very clearly) in Alex's comments, there's a sort of psychological desire to see horrible things happen in a way that isn't our fault. A lot of it must come from the oppositional nature of Decency (I seem to remember Dan Hind making this point to me once). These people's whole careers have been shaped by being in opposition. That must certainly account for a lot of their frivolousness with respect to the consequences of their utopian projects, but there's also a darker side to it - I actually detect in Kettle's post a sort of nostalgia for the days of the Birmingham Six and the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, when all the "bad lads" would be dealt with in dark corners, and the bien-pensant left could be comfortably outraged by it all. It's the appeal of being mates with the Kray twins, or watching "Life on Mars" on the telly.

So far Aaro has managed to avoid this particular slip - his authoritarianism comes from the paternalist tick in his intellectual politics, not from the id, and he is quite well-armoured against it because of his dislike of populism[1]. I do hope the line will hold.

[1]Although, of course, this is more apparent than real; Aaro is always prepared to stand up against the populist current in order to promote unpopular policies which are actually the official line of the government of the day and most often actually invented in focus groups.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

City of Foreigners

Hmmmm. I believe CP Scott, editor of The Manchester Guardian for more than 50 years said "comment is free, but facts are sacred".

All right, all right, I know a storyteller is under no obligation to accept the constraints of a documentary maker. I wouldn't have mentioned Eastern Promises if the critics hadn't treated his fantasy as realism. 'This is the kerb-crawling reality. This is London,' declared the man from the Times. Cronenberg shows London as a 'magnet for hucksters, desperadoes and fortune-seekers; a militarised, relentlessly surveillanced police state in the making,' said the Telegraph. Our own Philip French was more restrained, but still saw it as a picture 'about the dark underside of globalisation and multiculturalism'.

But, Nick, they didn't. Philip French said "Eastern Promises is an exciting story about hypocrisy, decency and different kinds of honour, and about the dark underside of globalisation and multiculturalism." Story, Nick. That word alters the sentence. As for the Telegraph:

More than that, London is swelling -- furiously, fantastically. Its skyline is increasingly engorged, its climate heating up, its economy blasting on all furnaces, its population growing all the time. It's a Wild West of obscene wealth and desperate struggles; a magnet for hucksters, desperadoes and fortune-seekers; a militarised, relentlessly surveillanced police state in the making.

But that's given in preamble, Sukhdev Sandhu[1] doesn't say 'Cronenberg shows' this at all; he says it's the case. What he says about Cronenberg is quite different.

Strangely, Cronenberg and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, who made very good use of the capital's canals, gas works and terraced streets in their previous London-set drama Spider (2002), seem less interested - or at least are less successful at - evoking the feel or mood of its secret geographies here. But it's not clear that they really know what they do want to evoke.

Neither reviewer sees the film as a documentary nor do they say anything about London being "a city of foreigners." (Nick treated the film of Brick Lane as a documentary not so long ago. London is too big to be any one thing.)

The shorter Cohen is something like 'the middle classes are finally waking up to the country being swamped by foreigners. And they're right.' "You couldn't make it up", as Nick's new friend Richard Littlejohn says in his personal, humourless, version of the Fast Show. (A catchphrase every 30 seconds. A laugh a century, if you're lucky.) Beyond that, what is the point of today's piece? It's scaremongering with all mongering and no scare. "The trouble is the government doesn't know who they are, where they are, how long they will stay or when they will go." The government gets something right at last, say I.

[1]Sukhdev Sandhu is qualified to give an opinion on London as "a city of foreigners." He's written two books on the city: Night Haunts: A Journey Through Nocturnal London and London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City. He's also Nick's colleague on the New Statesman. Yes, he writes for the Torygraph, but 'said the Telegraph' gives Observer readers the impression of a 90-year-old colonel in Twickenham, not a Sikh from Hounslow with a PhD.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Wooooah, Oooooah, the Israelites

Trawling through the infrequently checked AW mailbox turns up this, from the Jewish Chronicle, thanks to a tipoff from its subject, Mark Elf, who regarded himself as having been treated quite badly by it - he points out that his "obsession" with writing letters to the JC about Aaro had generated a grand total of one letter at the time. Raises a few thoughts in retrospect, particularly after the highly interesting divergence of opinion between the "Israel Lobby" and yer actual Israel.

I would guess that no more than half of the Decents actually give a lazy shit about Israel, and if you bracket out the ones who have family or similar connections there, that might fall below ten per cent. Politically, Israel is popular as a Decent cause because they're tight with the USA, they don't like Muslims and they can usually be relied upon to be on the side of the most insane and belligerent possible policy. Psychologically, the appeal of Israel is that they too have a dimly remembered Socialist past, and a present which is not wholly but substantially driven by violence, fear and a dash of bigotry. The Israel Defence Forces are the embodiment of the Decent id, crushing the Other beneath their feet, but regretfully, because they are forced into it by the innate corruption of their enemies. You don't have a Freudian to see what kind of urges are being played out here.

The actual country called Israel is obviously absent from this picture; you could bust a blood vessel straining your eyes to see any hint of recognition that it has a number of different political parties who don't agree on much. I honestly believe that the majority of Decents care no more about the actual Israelis[1] than they do about the Darfurians, Iraqis or whatever other minority is being wheeled on this week as scenery for the Shameful Silence Of The Left Pageant. When Israel looks after its own interests, as opposed to those of Decent politics, they've got no time for it. Decency[2] is the problem; Zionism-in-the-pejorative-sense is a symptom.

Aaro is at the upper end of the scale of Decency in terms of general thoughtfulness and decency-not-in-the-pejorative-sense, and he has actually spent quite a lot of time and effort (in "Paddling to Jerusalem", for example), thinking about the social and historical context of the paternal side of his family tree. But even in Aaro, there's a lot of strange things going on - I think we all remember the disaster area of his Lebanon invasion columns, which frankly got much closer to actual apologia for war crimes than anything I'd be comfortable with. And. the atmosphere of tu quoque around this particular piece is extraordinary. We are treated to the sight of Aaro (who is not Jewish) lecturing Mark Elf (who is), on behalf of "the Jewish community", about his tiresome obsession with, and simplistic one-dimensional view of, the territory located around 31 30 N, 34 45 E.

[1] (sorry, always "the Jews" in Decent discussion for some reason; I was always told that careful writers avoid that phrase these days but I think Decent use of it carries the ghost of a long-gone satirical intent)
[2] or at least, the War Party, of which Decency is just one expression.