Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stand In The Place Where You Are

As spotted in the comments, new political magazine Standpoint has come out.

Standpoint has already tested my vocabulary. I need a better description than "unremittingly dire". But it's at least that.[1]


Standpoint’s core mission is to celebrate our civilization, its arts and its values – in particular democracy, debate and freedom of speech – at a time when they are under threat. Standpoint is an antidote to the parochialism of British political magazines. It will introduce British readers to brilliant writers and thinkers from across the Atlantic, across the Channel and around the world.


These great wags from overseas turn out to be Michael Young "opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut" and Jay Nordlinger "a senior editor of National Review magazine in New York". Yanks 2; Frogs Nil. Rest of the world - not even on the pitch.

The pre-publicity (such as it was) indicated a conservative bent. No mention of this on the About us page. A pity that; I actually want to know why a charity is publishing a pro-freemarket rag. Standpoint is certainly a platform for right-wing economics. Tim Congdon accuses the FT of having "positioned itself as a critic of the financial structures found in free-market societies." (But all Western democracies have mixed economies; the US has plenty of state interventions. Arguing for more of either side in a given state is not criticising the structure at all.)

Before I go on too long. The look: awful. Utterly uninspired choice of font and look for the title. Who would have thought that one of those old phrenology heads could be used ever again? It doesn't look like there's any separate arts coverage - and no book reviews. I hoped for a science column and got Michael Hanlon (who is the Daily Mail's science editor) who wants us all to know that science is a good thing. He's also wrong about just about everything: I'll concede that Darwin was pretty polymathic, but Einstein wasn't: physics, pacifism, playing the fiddle and patenting a fridge - that was his life.


It is probably a coincidence that some of the last great physics breakthroughs were made in the era of Richard Feynman, a wonderful polymath of the old school, a lover of the bongo drums and nude dancing bars as much as of quantum electrodynamics.


He could sing too; he patented the nuclear plant, the nuclear submarine, the nuclear rocket, and the nuclear plane (and sold the lot to the government for a dollar); his lectures are models of clarity; his books were funny and he was undoubtedly one of the greatest geniuses ever, but he still wasn't a polymath. The above sentence comes after a complaint about "ultra-specialisation" - strange, given that the breakthrough in question was probably the Manhattan project, which Feynman worked on.

Standpoint seems to be written by idiots, for idiots.

Oh, I tried to read the Nick Cohen thing, but I gave up half way. Just about everything he asserts (with some very selective history) is questionable. I'm sure Head Cases was rubbish. Did he need so many words to say that?

They're even wrong about Bond. Fleming was admired by Kingsley Amis and Roland Barthes - both proper intellectuals who knew about literature.


Flippancy, ubiquitous in the films, plays no part in the books ...


Bond receives a basket of fruit in Dr No:


Bond could see M's face as he read the signal. He saw him press down the lever on the intercom: 'Chief of Staff, 007's gone round the bend. Says someone's been trying to feed him a poisoned banana. Fellow's lost his nerve. Been in hospital too long. Better call him home.'


M briefs Bond in From Russia With Love:


'She said you particularly appealed to her because you reminded her of the hero of a book by some Russian fellow called Lermontov. Apparently it was her favourite book. This hero chap likes gambling and spent his whole time getting in and out of scraps. Anyway, you reminded her of him. ...'


[1] OK, Torygraph regulars Craig Brown and Charles Spencer contribute, so it is only "remittingly dire". Spencer is particularly good; Brown is pretty much sleepwalking, but I greatly prefer his 'serious' stuff.

6 = Martin Amis and Terry Eagleton. The extraordinary success of their touring show, An Audience with Amis and Eagleton, brought the thrill of ineffectual debate to a whole new generation. In the first half of the programme, each one in turn sets out his personal abuse in a calm and logical manner; the second half is devoted largely to mud-wrestling.

40 Comments:

Anonymous Jonathan said...

I do wonder about their market research. By comparison I'm a predictable type who gets New Statesman every week but only occassionally glances at the Spectator. That said, a certain type of writer on the right does wit and style rather better than the earnestness that characterises so much left journalism. But this comes in no small measure from a bon viveur attitude, not taking things too seriously. If Standpoint is going to be endless articles on Islamism and the great intellectual struggle of our time, how all non-science academics are post-modernists who don't believe in truth, how terrible the Chinese and Russian govts are then, in much the same way as there are only so many NS articles about human rights abuses I can plough through, are the potential readership here not going to get tired of the same tread, unlevened by much wit or levity? Doesn't even look like they have a wine critic.
It's too obvious to go on about the incoherence of trying to claim enlightenment values whilst trumpeting the opinions of a community faith leader. Prediction - the Sokal hoax will be cited soon, like it's news. Sokal's more recent view that Bush on Iraq is an example of the consequences of policy driven by faith and ideology instead of rational evaluation of evidence will be overlooked.

5/29/2008 09:29:00 PM  
Anonymous BenSix said...

Heh.

I was a little disappointed by the 'reputations' page. As I clicked on it, I was attempting to predict the obscure Marxist philosophers that would be ruthlessly savaged.

5/29/2008 10:25:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

I like the 'Standpoint' definition of a polymath: being able to play a muscial instrument and being a keen consumer of the sex industry AS WELL as being a professional [whatever].

5/30/2008 08:26:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Hyland said...

Is basing their logo on a phrenology diagram supposed to be ironic?

5/30/2008 09:09:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

standpoint: because you must want your bumps feeling

5/30/2008 10:26:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Didn't they say they wanted to be a right wing version of Prospect? Though you'd think that Prospect was right wing enough for most people. Can the market really support another indescribably boring, pseudo-intellectual, magazine? I guess we'll see.

5/30/2008 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I've finally decided that the niche standpoint is aimed at is already occupied by Roger Scruton's magazine (the name of which I've been trying to remember since yesterday, and can't be bothered to Google) and Spiked. Spiked does all the "let's-be-controversial" stuff and Scruton has the highbrow and right-wing covered.

There are writers on the left who do wit and style. Quite a few bloggers in my opinion. Clive James used to. Is Jon Ronson left-wing? He's very funny and topical and a proper journalist (as in, he actually meets people; I bet there was more research in 'Them' than in the combined works of Mad Mel, Michael Gove, Martin Amis, and Andrew Anthony on Islamism under the bed).

As for witty and stylish writers on the right, I recently read Tom Wolfe's "Hooking Up". He can be annoyingly smug and reactionary as well as repetitive but he can't half write. He also covers neuroscience, Silicon valley, teenage mores, bad writing, and sculpture, which suggests a commendably broad mind. The essay about Intel should be regarded as a classic. I can't see a place for a writer like him among all the worthiness and hackery.

5/30/2008 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

There are writers on the left...Clive James

Some long time since that was true, if it ever was. I think James would always have called himself a liberal, and still does: fair enough, but if he used to be a left-of -centre liberal I don't think he would be any more.

5/30/2008 01:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Ames. He can write.

5/30/2008 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger Graham Day said...

I note the "Dialogue", where Jung Chang and Jon Halliday are described as "leading authorities on Mao"... I don't think that's a general view among China experts, e.g. Andrew Nathan.

5/30/2008 02:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Can the market really support another indescribably boring, pseudo-intellectual, magazine?"

It's being funded by a metals trader: likewise Prospect depends on the largesse of venture capitalists (personal: it's not a business proposition). The market is something everyone else is supposed to supply.

rioja kid

5/30/2008 03:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Dr Paul said...

It looks like a compilation of Daily Telegraph editorials and (as our US friends would put it) op-eds. I suppose it saves us the need to peruse the DT every day (not that I do).

5/30/2008 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Griffin said...

It's being funded by a metals trader

A metal trader who made a lot of money in Russia in the 1990s, so the anti-Putin piece is perhaps not a surprise.

5/30/2008 08:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's out of the Social Affairs Unit, so, yes, it is at least vaguely right wing. The Reputations page is really lame; surprise, surprise, they don't like John le Carre. The About Us page is full of the usual guff. It's got David Hockney on its advisory board: great artist, but when he opens his mouth about politics he sounds really silly. The presence of Michael Gove and Frank Field there too is hardly inspiring.

The interview with Chang and Halliday was interesting though.

5/31/2008 12:23:00 AM  
Anonymous BenSix said...

There should really be a sweepstake on whose reputation will be the next to be muddied.

Going on pure probability I'd say Hobsbawm or Chomsky, but they might spread their wings and go for Harold Pinter.

Oh, and there'll be at least three digs at George Monbiot.

5/31/2008 01:27:00 AM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

Well Halliday wasn't much involved in the interview. 1 response only.

5/31/2008 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Best I can work out Jung Chang's book on Mao is really bad history. Her sloppy footnoting is at best bad scholarship, at worst trying to hide the flimsiness of her argument. And given she's the daughter of senior Chinese communist officials who backed the wrong side, she's hardly an impartial commentator.

Is Montefiore's book any good? I'm very suspicious of books that are 100% condemnation.

5/31/2008 10:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Is Montefiore's book any good? I'm very suspicious of books that are 100% condemnation."

It is very good precisely because it doesn't do that: drawing out the individual qualities of Stalin and the people around him makes the atrocities they committed hit home all the harder. Obviously, it's very "court centred", which seems to be a sensible way to approach the regime concerned.

rioja kid

5/31/2008 04:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>Some long time since that was true, if it ever was. I think Clive James would always have called himself a liberal, and still does: fair enough, but if he used to be a left-of -centre liberal I don't think he would be any more.

I can remember him at a symposium at the Cambridge Union in '68 about the events of '68 chuntering on endlessly and pointlessly about his knowledge of John Paul Sartre and making essentially the point that "I'm a Marxist and I know a lot more about marxism than any of you other marxists." Myself, a non-marxist, stood up and told him to shut the fuck up up without any success.

I agree on Tom Wolfe, but have never really thought of him as a rightist. Maybe as an old-fashioned broad coalitioned 40's Democrat (southern non-racist) who celebrated the culture of the ordinary man and was so appalled by the yahoos and poseurs of the New York left post '68 that he posed as a Rightist just to irritate them.

But I remember him being part of a group of artists and writers in the 80's I also belonged to which included both left and right wing members and he got on perfectly OK with the leftists.

johnf

5/31/2008 05:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" Roger Scruton's magazine (the name of which I've been trying to remember since yesterday, and can't be bothered to Google)"

salisbury review

6/01/2008 08:31:00 AM  
Anonymous donpaskini said...

Nick's column today was all about how the police should be allowed to get on with their job and not have all these targets from managers.

By happy coincidence, today's News of the World carried a lengthy piece from an anonymous police officer making many of the same points, though more about the human rights act.

Compare and contrast:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jun/01/police.justice

and

http://www.newsoftheworld.co.uk/0106_save_our_streets.shtml

6/01/2008 08:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry Lamb said...

and the GBS pro-genocide quote from "the turn of the 2oth century" is from 1933 and, of course, is satire.

Next: "The evil 19th century cleric who wanted the Irish to eat their own children"

6/01/2008 09:32:00 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

It's being funded by a metals trader

A metal trader who made a lot of money in Russia in the 1990s, so the anti-Putin piece is perhaps not a surprise.


Tim...?

6/01/2008 09:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny how this return of police discretion has been wrapped up as "Revolt against bureaucracy" rather than "Failure of zero tolerance".

Chris Williams

6/01/2008 10:11:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Alex, people who have 'a lot of money' don't spend their days writing spam.

6/02/2008 07:45:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Last week, Phil Collins, an occasional speechwriter for James Purnell, suggested to the Brownites that Labour could find a way out of its crisis by listening to the Fabians' liberal opponents.

Didn't Nick spend last week's column castigating liberals?

Funny how this return of police discretion has been wrapped up as "Revolt against bureaucracy" rather than "Failure of zero tolerance".

Quite, especially as the lead article is about the failure of New Labour's approach to youth crime. Their response - "we can't do anything different because it might be unpopular". That's all right, then.

6/02/2008 08:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought Nick's Sunday Observer piece was one of his better written, more coherent columns - although it really did show how far Nick has drifted on issues outside The War Against Terror. He had a few pops at old targets - New Labour's Thatcherism, love of management consultants. But his new solution - Phil Collins and his new "liberalism" is very right wing form of Blairism. While the Fabians were once seen as the centre right wing of Labour,Collins, in his Prospect piece, attacks them from the right. He wants to break up the NHS into "individual accounts" and stop taxing income, as that 40% tax band is such a burden on people with salaries like - er, Phil collins & Nick Cohen.
(incidentally, as one of the journalistic homes of Decency, did anyone notice Prospect's long article defending the loons who still think Saddam had WMD in 2003 , which he hid/shipped to Syria just before the war ?)
Ann On

6/02/2008 08:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ann On: Phil Collins and his new "liberalism" is very right wing form of Blairism.

I spy a tautology and claim my five pounds.

[redpesto]

6/02/2008 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

The NHS individual account idea is risible. Wasn't there some stupid example in the papers last week about asthmatics choosing to use it to buy double-glazing if they wanted to? A boon for Everest, but not much use for the health service who'll have to treat them anyway.

Purnell (and Collins) are fast rising new Blairite careerists. Expect the worst.

6/02/2008 09:46:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Ah, yes.

http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/article_details.php?id=10177

Passing control to individuals means they can spend their NHS entitlement on double glazing if they think it a better treatment for their asthma. Such a service is designed to produce good outcomes, because individuals are granted as much control as possible

So choice, by definition, always produces a good outcome. LOL.

6/02/2008 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

I like the way that his main source of information for policing conditions and outcomes is Inspector Morse. I would be sceptical of this source, since notoriously, Morse was in charge of murder investigations in Oxford during a horrific period when its murder rate was far and away the highest in the country.

6/02/2008 11:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, the Oxford murder rate for the thirteen century is even worse than the Morse years: it's been buggering up attempts to draw graphs about the decline of homicide for decades.

Not a lot of people know that.

Chris Williams

6/02/2008 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Morse was in charge of murder investigations in Oxford during a horrific period when its murder rate was far and away the highest in the country.

No wonder it's improved since he was replaced, since he was never once able to arrest the right man before two or three further killings had taken place.

6/02/2008 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew Bartlett said...

Given that, more often than not, Morse seemed to be on some sort of social terms with the murderer - certainly by the end of the investigation - I'd wager that he was at the heart of a ring of political and police corruption.

6/02/2008 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Brooke said...

I'm not sure if things are so different post-Morse. I am one of the small number of people who subscribes to the BBC Oxfordshire RSS feed, and a large number of the headlines on that service read just like the start of an Inspector Morse episode. Particularly frequent are variations on the "Body found in lock / canal / river" theme.

6/02/2008 03:03:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

he was never once able to arrest the right man before two or three further killings had taken place.

I think that the idea here is that they'd set him a target of four or five and his behaviour had been skewed by this artificial managerial incentive.

6/02/2008 04:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

"Revolt against bureaucracy" rather than "Failure of zero tolerance"

But ZT hasn't failed - it works. George Kelling told us it works, Bill Bratton told us it works (and he should know!), Norman Dennis told us it works and David Blunkett [pdf] told us it works. So it works, OK?

Must be something else that's not working.

6/03/2008 09:03:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

It works as a slogan, and that's what matters.

6/03/2008 09:17:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

It works as a slogan, and that's what matters.

Quite. Which is why we have a new report on the failure of the youth crime system, and the response is "we can't do anything different because it would be unpopular".

6/03/2008 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I note in passing that if the UK did, in fact, have "zero tolerance", then David Blunkett ought to have done a little bird for fraudulent use of MPs' railway passes.

6/03/2008 09:34:00 AM  

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