Friday, December 28, 2007

Spot the Difference

Introductory train-spotting note: when I looked up Amanda Cox on Google News, the first 10 results come from only three sources. Seattle Post-Intelligencer[1] (Ms Knox is from Seattle) {5}, FOX news {1}, and the Times {4}.

Ostensibly, David raises an interesting comparison with his opening:

Yesterday, the day on which the former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer of Thoroton effectively killed the Government's 42-day detention plan, was also the 43rd day that Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito spent in custody in Italy in connection with the Meredith Kercher case.
I mention Knox and Sollecito, neither of whom have been charged, because their situation casts some light on the way the debate on detention has been conducted in Britain. Readers may remember that Liberty recently released a report "carried out by lawyers and academics in 15 countries" claiming that Britain had, in effect, the most draconian detention laws in the Western world. Using the hyperbole routinely deployed on these occasions, Liberty claimed that its report "exploded self-serving assertions about extended detention in inquisitorial Europe", and made "embarrassing reading for all of us in the land that gave Magna Carta to the world".

I can't, BTW, find anything, not even in David's own paper, The Times, to corroborate the claim that neither have been charged. David is, I'm sure, a diligent researcher so he'd have read the Liberty report, especially the section on Liberty's site labeled "Notes to editors":

2.Recent reports of the Meredith Kercher investigation in Italy confused pre-charge detention with detention pending trial. The four day maximum is protected by article 13(2) of the Italian constitution and the Italian criminal code (articles 386-390)
3.There can be no doubt about the international nature of the threat from Al-Qaida-inspired terrorism. Like the United Kingdom, Spain, the US and Turkey have all suffered from terrorist attacks in recent years. Police in these countries must also face the same investigative challenges cited in support of longer pre-charge detention - the greater complexity of terror plots, their international dimension and the need to intervene and arrest suspects earlier. Despite this, the legal limit imposed on the pre-charge detention of terror suspects in these countries is much shorter than in the UK.

The important difference seems to be that Knox and Sollecito are going to end up in court. (Can anyone see the police dropping the case now?) Suspects held under the proposed 42-day legislation would have no such rights. Big difference, surely?

[1] Owned by the Hearst Corporation. We cover the conspiracy theories here, you know.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Rubble barney

The Euston Manifesto (April 2006):

We are also united in the view that, since the day on which this occurred, the proper concern of genuine liberals and members of the Left should have been the battle to put in place in Iraq a democratic political order and to rebuild the country's infrastructure, to create after decades of the most brutal oppression a life for Iraqis which those living in democratic countries take for granted—rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention.

Norman Geras (December 2007):

All the wise souls, so many liberals amongst them, who wilfully misconstrue what Blair has said on this score reveal only their own failure to accept that there might have been reasons on the other side from the one they took.

A useful project for insomniacs or obsessives might be to count the number of posts on Normblog devoted to "picking through the rubble" in the time since the good Professor injuncted the world that this was not a "proper concern".

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Blair Years:

The show was billed as David Aaronovitch interviewing Tony Blair. I didn't see the first episode, but Dave's involvement in parts 2 and 3 was hardly noticeable. Anyone know what happenned?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Nick Davies's "Flat Earth News"

Thanks to an anonymous commenter for the link to Nick Davies' talk to "Media Workers Against the War" on the subject of his coming book (it's the one that goes into the links between the Observer, MI6 spooks and the general bullshit industry). It certainly looks like an interesting book.

Item of interest to us is that he claims that the Iraq National Congress was an astroturf organisation set up by PR firms in the USA. Not sure about this; I have no reason to doubt Nick's analysis of how the organisation was set up, but the implication is that there's something bogus about the status of Kanan Makiya and Ahmed Chalabi[1] as Iraqi political figures and I don't think this is right. Both Makiya and Chalabi were proper opposition activists in Iraq, and both of them fled Iraq because they were about to be murdered by Saddam Hussein (Update: this has been challenged in the comments at least in the case of Chalabi). It is true that Chalabi is a chancer with some very murky business interests, but people like that will always be there in political movements so I don't think that's per se a reason to suspect the bona fides of INC.

Providing logistical and administrative support to groups like INC is a lot of what the CIA do, and there is a really interesting question about whether they should do it or not - in less bloodthirsty moments, something like this (usually illustrated with examples from Ukraine or Lebanon or Belarus) is thrown up by some of the more thoughtful Decents as a way of turning "solidarity with democrats" into a practical policy proposal. What do readers think about this sort of soft-imperialism?

The big advantage is of course that it isn't war. The disadvantages as I see them are 1) the local democracy movement may end up being compromised by the agenda of the Western intelligence services backing it, 2) the Western intelligence services may end up being compromised by the agenda of the local democracy movement - both of these seem to have happened at least a bit with respect to the INC and 3) it looks like the sort of policy that would be counterproductive if carried out openly, and there are surely a lot of general principles against making systematic use of policies that have to be carried out in secret, because they're deceitful.

So any way, without defending the actual activities of the INC (which I regard as wildly destructive), I don't think they can really be called a 100% artificial organisation. More to come on this, hopefully in the context of a discussion of Nick Davies' book when it gets published.

[1] Aaronovitch Watch, alone among media organisations with the possible and infrequent exception of Christopher Hitchens, refuses to take part in the airbrushing of Ahmed Chalabi out of the history of the INC. This was of course most scandalously done in "What's Left?" by Nick Cohen, which repeatedly mentions Kanan Makiya as if the INC was entirely his show, despite the fact that, before the war, several citations from Cohen's journalism demonstrate that his main contact was with Chalabi. I'd further note that Hitchens is right when he points out that the charges of being an Iranian intelligence assset have never been substantiated at all (he is wrong about the Jordanian bank fraud charges though). Chalabi has been dropped by the Decent Left simply because of political embarrassment and I think that's rather bad - unlike Makiya (who remains at Brandeis University), Chalabi has actually walked the talk and gone back to serve in the Iraqi government - he remains a popular figure there. I really need to do the Chalabi post don't I?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A taxi-driver writes

I had that Karlheinz Stockhausen in the back of my cab once. Talked a load of nonsense, and his music, what a fearful racket. Give me a nice tune, anyday. Gor blimey.

Update, by Bruschettaboy: Stockhausen and Boulez "the most advanced practitioners of serialism"? The "9/11 bombings"? In the past, Oliver has expressed a fair degree of contempt for the general quality of blogging on Comment is Free; I am reminded of the joke about Republicans, who run on a ticket of saying that the government is incompetent, win, then proceed to prove it.

Conor Foley on things tangentially related to Decency

Here. Good to see that the Cohen article in question (a particularly awful one) is being systematically destroyed. In comments, various other Decent characters raise the only argument that they've got left in favour of the policy of "all belligerent stupidity, all the time" - that the jihadisses have no motivations whatever other than the establishment of an international Caliphate, and nothing that anyone else does is relevant at all to the lust for destruction which dwells in their hearts. Question for our Decent readers (and I know we have a few) do you really believe this crap?

Cum On Feel Tha Moralz Owtrage!

Ahhhh, can you dig it, nobody does a "Will-you-condemn-athon" quite like Marko "Slightly more inclined to support an aggressive foreign policy than"[1] Attila Hoare.

I am pretty sure that the government of West Bengal are bastards and that this is more important than whatever warmed-over I-can't-believe-it's-not-Marxism they claim to believe in. But hey guess what? The US Army has killed and raped people in Iraq! It's true. I believe that the accepted euphemism is "errors of postwar planning" for the killing and "regrettable lapses" for the rapes. Certainly, anyone applying the epithets "brutal" or "criminal" to the actions of the US Army in Iraq would be "picking over the rubble" and excommunicating themselves from the Euston Manifesto. Half of the Decent Left didn't even bother with a token harrumph about Israel using cluster bombs in the last week of the Lebanese invasion. But seriously, nearly a million people have died in Iraq. If the Decent Left were consistent in applying these sorts of standards, then Harry's Place would be all-Bush-bashing, all the time, rather than occasionally having Gene stick up a "heyIdidn'tvoteforhimmmkay! Look, some bus drivers!" post once a fortnight.

As far as I can tell, the tendency in modern vanity politics to not only demand that your enemies "condemn" the contents of your email inbox every morning, but to specify the form of words in which they do it, originates from Peter Tatchell. It's pretty juvenile to be honest. I think that it's pretty clear that Noam Chomsky isn't in favour of murdering and raping protestors in West Bengal (evidence: he's said so), and equally clear that Marko doesn't think that Abu Ghraib was OK (although actually the worst he could find to say about it was "our enemies will always highlight our errors[3]") so what does anyone really gain by trying to pretend otherwise, on no better evidence than if I was writing about your political allies, I'd be a lot more outspoken in condemning their crimes? Nothing. Aaronovitch Watch officially deprecates this moronic debating tactic; for anyone who disagrees with us, here is a list of people who have probably failed to condemn the atrocities in West Bengal; if you start right now, you'll probably reach "Aaronovitch, D" by afternoon tea.

[1] I realise that when "Greater Surbiton"[2] was launched, we said in high moral tones that we were not going to make cheap jokes about Marko Attila Hoare's name, but realistically that was never going to last.
[2] Which we would like to remind readers is in no way a joke about Serbs being aggressive, along the lines of "greater Serbia", because that would be bad.
[3] "Errors!" "Errors!" Innocent prisoners beaten to death! "Errors"! Hold me upright, I think I'm fainting at the sheer insufficiency of this condemnation! No hang on, I'm OK, it was just a fart.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Shall we say that I do not regard this Aaro article as a particularly good piece of analysis?

Yes, I think we shall. More to come, hopefully, later today.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Martin Amis' reckless relish

There's a good piece in today's Sunday Telegraph on Martin Amis. Jenny McCartney stops short of the R-word, but the following is pretty clear (after quoting the "don't you have it?" Amis spiel):

I do not, however - and I don't mean this piously - wish at any point to retaliate against the pleasant Pakistani man who works all hours in our local dry-cleaners, or the Turkish bank teller down the road. To do so would clearly be obscene. Yet the lingering notion of an entire community's culpability sporadically crops up among Amis's "urges", like a loutish youth who is regularly booted out of the debating hall but can't quite keep away.
The tentacled concept of communal culpability was precisely what plunged us in Northern Ireland into sectarian squalor for nearly 30 years. Individuals found themselves reinterpreted, frequently against their will, as crude symbols of their community. ...
Contentious religious and political ideas are like live explosives: you have an obligation to handle them responsibly. Amis correctly and passionately deplores the atrocities of Islamism, and yet there is also a hint of reckless relish in the way that anger has reignited his capacity to feel. At the moment he insouciantly defends the novelist's freedom simply to float a dark thought as lightly as a dandelion seed. If he is to be taken seriously as a political thinker, however, he will need to be rigorous and honest enough to dig much deeper in the dank, dangerous places where those seeds sprout roots.

I think Amis' writings on Islamism (and perhaps everything) are better understood as a sort of poetry. Hence the 10 dollar words which don't really add anything, the laboured allusions ('Medusa raft' anyone?) which don't clarify. Specifically, I think Amis should be taken the way 'Wonderwall' is: you can sort of know what Liam Gallagher means by "And after all/You're my wonderwall" without knowing why. Another example might be "I'm A Celebrity ..."s Cerys Matthews: "It's all over the front page [No, it's not]/You give me road rage [No, he doesn't]." It's all about the sound and the rhythm, not about any ostensible meanings those words have in dictionaries. No one takes Oasis seriously on political matters. Martin Amis in a jungle with Ant and Dec might be worth watching however. The horrorism, the horrorism.
Nick on the Turner Prize:

I wonder whether the Turner judges blustered because they knew in their hearts that in the current climate in liberal England Wallinger would have made a 'bold political statement' if he had put a piece defending the government in the Tate. As it was, he produced lifeless propaganda that even the converted found preachy. His State Britain is merely a reproduction of Haw's protest - the Tate's equivalent of an Airfix model - and an aesthetically and politically inferior reproduction at that. Even after the police cut back their number, Haw's tattered banners stained with mud and rain are far more powerful, not least because of their location opposite the Parliament whose politicians he despises. Wallinger's clean-cut copy, by contrast, sits in a gallery where it runs no risks; a deodorised protest that will never worry the authorities.

Of course if Wallinger had done a conventional statue in the classical style of soldiers in heroic poses, or of Tony Blair declaiming in the House, that would have made a powerful statement. Just not the once Nick is hoping for. One imagines that the ironic impact of such a creation wouldn't have been lost even on Nick, and we'd then have had a column denouncing Wallinger's cynicism.

That art criticism isn't Nick's thing gets underlined with his contrast between the powerful original and the less powerful work of art. "Your picture of a racehorse, Mr Stubbs", thunders Nick, "doesn't have the power of an actual racehorse. It merely sits in a gallery where it runs no risks!" The thought that Wallinger might be making some point about representation, reality, galleries and art prizes doesn't seem to have occurred to Nick, who can only see agitprop with a different message to the agitprop he'd like to see.

The rest of the column is just Galloway blah blah blah, liberal intelligensia blah blah blah, as one might expect.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A short miscellany

Nick Cohen on Decentiya:

"There’s much more, and, as always, it’s worth reading the whole thing. Alan Johnson edits this extraordinary magazine from a study in Kendal. He has no budget and no staff, just an irrepressible willingness to fight the battle of ideas. There’s a ‘donate’ icon in the top right hand corner of the home page. If you are in need of a good cause this Christmas, give it a click. "

alternatively, polar bears are pretty cute.

In related news, not online yet but Nick's most recent Standard column is a peach. He details how at the Christmas party of Policy Exchange, along with the champagne-quaffing Tories were a load of policy wonks, thinktankers etc all nominally allied to Labour, and surmises that they are waiting to see if the wind is changing before going over to Cameron. Which of course raises the question - what were you doing there, Nick?

Could someone watch this, please, and send us a review in by email. Thankyouverymuch.

Oh yeah, "Aaronovitch Watch"! We used to do that, didn't we? More blah about how we can't judge our betters, except now that it's Brown rather than Blair, yes we can.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

When the facts change, sir, I change my thinly veiled rationalisation - what do you do?

Now that the National Intelligence Estimate has told us the good news[1] about Iran, a lot of people have been faced with the need to reconsider their policy recommendations in the light of the information. And, after careful consideration (by which I mean, unseemly haste), they have concluded that despite being rather surprised by the NIE, and despite having been making the point right up until yesterday that Iran had an ongoing nuclear weapons program, in a way that certainly made it look as if they thought it was important, the fact that this point is untrue does not necessitate any changes at all in their world view.

Kamm and Finkelstein unsurprisingly take the Libyan Gambit, taking the Decent TARDIS for a spin and suggesting that this shows that "TOUGHNESS WORKS GODDAMMIT!!!!", with Pollard me-tooing enthusiastically. Harry's Place go for "well, properly interpreted I was never really in favour of all this terrible sabre rattling - hey look! some bus drivers!". Norm, ANTMJ and Denis MacShamehe'sthebesttheycouldcomeupwith are yet to comment, but it can hardly be long, can it?

[1]"News" in the same sense that it was "news" that Iraq didn't have WMD - ie, it's not news, it has been available for years, the international inspectors who know what they're doing and publish their results have been giving exactly this message, but now some sekrit American intelligences have said the same thing, it is no longer possible to pretend otherwise (unless you are Melanie Phillips, in which case you can fall back on supa dupa double sekrit Mossads who apparently know that it's all wrong and have told Melanie Phillips about Iran's nuke program, although not by the usual method of publishing something).

Update: By the way, what the fuck must the Iranians think of this? First we think they've got nukes, so we must threaten them with bombing. Then we say they've got no nukes, so we must threaten them all the more! You can sort of see how, divorced from the calm air of rationality which of course pervades all Decent discourse, this might make us look like madmen who cannot be deterred.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

God help us, a new Decentiya is out

Anyone noticing any gems, post them in the comments as we did last time. I note that they're publishing Fred Siegal, who IIRC believes that France is currently going through an intifada. In general, flicking through it, this looks like "Decentiya: The Long March Away From Reality". Tariq Ramadan's "associations" with terrorists is now an established fact that can be used as a premis for other conclusions, apparently. There's a couple of reviews of what look like books of "Islamics Do The Awfullest Thangs!" porn. Irfan Khawaja is apparently having another bite of the cherry at pretending there's a special annex to the Geneva Conventions that lets you do what you like if you declare yourself to be a Good Guy. There's an essay on the ever-popular subject of "Edward Said Was A Bastard", which frankly looks so long it's bound to be full of it (short hatchet jobs are the only convincing ones - the book length numbers are always padded out to conceal the weakness of the material, and end up coming on like those "and another thing" conversations one has in the pub with a chap who feels aggrieved about the location of his neighbour's fence. cf Kamm/Aaro/Wheen on Chomsky). There's an article about the World Bank which uses "Leftist" as a pejorative[1]. And about nine utterly interchangeable articles about various aspects of military matters, all apparently discussed in purely abstract and political terms.

Only interesting (and I don't mean "interesting" in a good way) item - check out this fawning interview between Not The Minister and Josh Muravchik. Sample quote:

Now, I'm not sure that it was a good idea to attack Iraq. I supported it and I oppose drawing down US forces at this point. I enthusiastically supported the idea of a war against terror with military and political components. But it was not obvious to me that Iraq should have been our second target after Afghanistan – it's possible we would have been wiser to focus our attention on Iran, rather than Iraq

No stop laughing you bastards. We need to engage with their ideas.

update: oop, another one:

It's nigh on impossible to have a grown up conversation about neoconservatism in Europe. Let's talk about three typical kinds of 'criticism' of the neoconservatives: that you are warmongers, lying Straussians, and a Jewish cabal.

That's actually A'NTM'J talking, not Muravchik. But nonetheless, it is apparently incumbent on me to take him seriously and respond to him in measured tones. Fuck a bunch of that.

Oh yeh, and Nick Cohen contributes his "afterword" from "What's Left You Bastards?". Summary: liberals think that they deserve to be blown up by terrorists, and they do.

[1] and I note, describes a proposal for excluding the World Bank from the World Social Forum as "raping the settler's wife". This is the sort of peculiarity that seems to pervade the whole of Decentiya this issue - nobody seems to really believe that any of their words might describe anything outside the purely abstract realm of ideas.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Derek Pasquill

I came by Nick's latest by an unusual link. I'm a member of the Facebook group Drop The Derek Pasquill Prosecution whose founder, Martin Bright, sent an email which says "Nick Cohen's piece" [title] is "An excellent defence of Derek that sums up the issues in the case very well." I think Nick plays down the 'extraordinary rendition' part of the story; Martin Bright's summary on Facebook is better:

"Extraordinary rendition" (better described as state-sanctioned kidnapping) had become a matter of deep shame for the British government. After the NS reported that ministers knew such actions would be illegal, this indefensible policy of tacit support for the US was quietly dropped.

Martin Bright is also clearer on whom to blame:

As for the government's original approach to radical Islam, much of it was formulated under Jack Straw, first as home secretary and then as foreign secretary. He put the Muslim Council of Britain at the heart of consultation, almost to the exclusion of other, more moderate groups. This caused disquiet across Whitehall, as did Britain's policy of covert engagement with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

In the light of that, I don't know if "New Labour changed its mind" as Nicks says:

This is an official secrets case like no other because while he was wondering whether he would end up in jail, New Labour changed its mind. The leaks and protests from liberal-minded British Muslims persuaded Ruth Kelly, David Miliband and Jacqui Smith to stop engaging with Islamists.

I also can't tell who these 'Islamists' are: David Miliband appears to be negotiating with the Sudanese government.[2] This change of mind didn't stop Gordon Brown meeting the Saudi king. (I know, the Saudis and Sunnis and the Iranians are Shias - and Nick uses Islamist for both, despite their differences.)
Still, heart in the right place.

On an unrelated matter, I can't believe I'm alone in finding the following paragraph from the Mail on Sunday extraordinarily anti-Semitic.
"Whatever Jerome had said stopped David in his tracks. I can only assume it was a warning from the 'Jewish mafia' that if he had married me he would be shunned because I was a gentile and he was throwing everything away for me.

I wonder what Mail columnist Mad Mel will say? I've yet to see anything from the left as risible as the suggestion of a 'Jewish mafia' which kept out Gentiles. That's simply shameful.

[1] Other members include Nick Cohen, Harry Hatchet (of the eponymous Place), David T (of the same), Marko Attila Hoare, Toby Young (I assume the 'How to Lose Friends ...' one), Sam Leith of the Torygraph, and Yvonne Ridley of Respect. Really: her profile photo shows her dressed in a headscarf at a microphone.
[2] Sudan is unquestionably ruled by Islamists: the BBC profile says "Arabic is the official language and Islam is the religion of the state, but the country has a large non-Arabic speaking and non-Muslim population which has rejected attempts by the government in Khartoum to impose Islamic Sharia law on the country as a whole."

"I think Martin has suffered terribly at the hands of the Guardian"

Thus speaks Mac, defending Mart. These interviews are heavily edited and condensed so it can't directly be blamed on McEwan, but the summary given there of l'affaire Amis is very, very misleading.

He is not fucking kidding on the other hand; here's Mart himself and he is pissed off. Apparently he didn't get the memo that if you shoot your gob off unthinkingly all the time, it tends to do a bit of damage to your reptuation as A Serious.

Is Martin Amis a racist? To be honest, I think that the evidence is better for him being an Arabophobe than an Islamophobe, but part of the problem is that he isn't really attuned to the difference, because he hasn't actually thought about this as much as he thinks he has. Just as with his totally unthinking Trotskyism, which then morphed into a totally unthinking anti-Communism, he's now read the Paul Berman book and believes that repeating it verbatim will render him a deep thinker. That's quite a nasty thing to say about a writer, and I only make the charge because it's clearly what happened when he read a volume of Robert Conquest, then regurgitated it as Koba the Dread. What happens with Amis, I think, is that he literally doesn't understand the difference between the analytic and literary thought processes; spends a whole day believing himself to be thinking about Communism, but he's actually just coming up with metaphors like "Comrade Horse-Yoghurt".

Martin apparently meets professional ex-jihadi Ed Husain tomorrow, and will perhaps be able to keep a civil tongue in his mouth. As a British-born Muslim of Pakistani descent, Ed doesn't look particularly like he comes from the Middle East so this may be possible - being polite to him was apparently more than Ayaan Hirsi Ali could manage but there you go. Keep this one in mind the next time that some Decent tries to convince you that AHA and Ed Husain (and Hassan Butt, of whom we seem to hear a lot less these days, perhaps because he is transparently a Walter Mitty character and loon) are two of a piece in the broader ex-Muslim movement.

Meanwhile, with the following sentence:

It's not simply that Saudi Arabia and Iran prove that the more Islamist a regime the more corrupt its officials but that McKee and his colleagues talked as if the 20th century had not happened

Nick Cohen proves conclusively that he doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about. Saudi Arabia an Islamist state?