Monday, September 01, 2008

Piffle

Piffle, it's such a Johnsonian word.[1] I'm probably betraying my non-U background in admitting that it's not a term I'd consider using; I like something weightier, like 'bullshit.' I'll throw out to readers that I originally thought that The Editors had Christopher Hitchens dead wrong. Then I read him. And now I'm not sure. He can't mean what he seems to mean, can he?

If any readers know good words for "corkscrew-like", I'd be happy to use their contributions in the next David Aaronovitch watching post. I don't think the English language has words for the abuse of logic as practiced by Hitchens.

BTW, if I knew that Aaro's Tuesday column went to press on Monday evening, I'd stick my neck out and say that he has to respond to his old nemesis Jackie Ashley.

[1] I wish I'd read that before reading David Aaronovitch on Boris Johnson and the Broken Society. I especially like the last paragraph which covertly notes that when Tony Blair was where David Cameron is now - two years from a general election the incumbent party was going hell for leather to lose - he also used the phrase "broken society." Sometimes the parallels are frankly eerie.

24 Comments:

Anonymous bubby said...

I think I'm prepared to give the Hitch the benefit of the doubt on this one and assume that what he means is that it is piffle for the Clintons to get up and make a hoo-hah about poverty, and for them to get a positive crowd reaction, when they partly bear responsibility for gutting the welfare system in the 1990s. It must of course be remembered that he really, really dislikes the Clintons and this leads me to take anything he says about them with a big pinch of salt.

9/01/2008 05:40:00 PM  
OpenID hardindr said...

I don't get The Editor's problem with the column. For a long time, the elite media in the US has been focused on non-issues in important political races like whether or not a candidate knows the current price of milk and eggs (more recently gasoline), how much wealth they have (which ties into charges of "elitism"), or what their recreational activities are (whether or not they prefer to windsurf or clear brush on their ranch in their off-time). How many houses the McCains own is pretty irrelevent to whether or not John McCain would make a good president of whether he is an "elitist", so Hitchens is right to deride the question as stupid.

9/01/2008 06:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

Christ, what a sickening apologist Hitchens is. And that contemptible suggestion that McCain is just too elevated to notice that the class he married into and faithfully represents is drenched in wealth;

It didn't even occur to them that John McCain might actually not know the full extent of his joint property and that this could conceivably have been for the decent reason that he didn't care that much.

McCain was lucky, perhaps, that he didn't inadvertently marry a bag lady, so lost is he in concern for the toiling masses?

Worst is Hitchens' preposterous radical chic, preening himself over over fine-tuned decipherments of the springs of working-class anger. What a git.

Hitchens is a sight to behold. Do Decent Lefts who still think themselves as actually Left really still identify with the 'Dude'? How on earth could they?

9/01/2008 06:52:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

How many houses the McCains own is pretty irrelevent to whether or not John McCain would make a good president of whether he is an "elitist", so Hitchens is right to deride the question as stupid.

There are a couple of counter-arguments against this. Some might say the fact that so many of the candidates are drawn from a minute class of plutocratic elites is a problem.

There is also the fact that the US has just been through the mother of all property bubbles and is now in a deep slump. Its perhaps rather fitting that both the Blairs and McCain made a ton of cash speculating in the property market.

9/01/2008 08:43:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

"Helical?"

9/01/2008 09:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting how, in the press, going after John Prescott for having two Jags in the garage is treated as fair comment while referring to 7-houses-at-least-McCain is utterly contemptible and destructive of Western values.

9/01/2008 09:44:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

The new Democratiya is out. I had a quick flick through.

To no great surprise there is an article on Tariq Ramadan. And guess what? Its says that although he's smart, suave, silver-tongued and charismatic he's also a VERY BAD MAN.

Of more interest and more intellectual worth are two bits by Martin Shaw. Yeah I know I was giving him a plug last week but his stuff is good dammit. There's a nice concise piece on Georgia which deviates from the journal's habitual windbaggery and takes aim at many tenets of Decentism. But the real treat is a dingdong with David Hirsh where he takes on Hirsh's argument that the boycott and wider criticism of Israel is consequentially anti-semitic. By the end Hirsh is blustering badly. Credit to Shaw for actually making the arguments. It was long overdue that someone took on the claims of anti-semitism that are tossed about so lightly.

9/01/2008 11:28:00 PM  
Anonymous fallhammer said...

What's wrong with good old "tortuous" and a picturesque intensifier?

As to John McCain, I think the problem is less the number of houses than the demonstration of general cluelessness about what to most people would be the most basic self-knowledge. Some might argue that the POTUS job should be more about lofty breadth of understanding than attention to quantitative detail, but the more I see and hear of him, the more he strikes me as just being basically _stupid_.

9/02/2008 01:33:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

Shaw versus Hirsh is indeed fantastic, but I think David Clarke's "Georgia: The Meaning of the Conflict" is my favourite thing ever published in Decentiya

9/02/2008 06:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Andrew Adams said...

The exchange between Shaw and Hirsh is great - Shaw keeps picking away at Hirsh's arguments and Hirsh's only response is to keep saying the same things over again.
I tried to look at the Clarke article but oddly it just says "Review to follow".

Also, I see that HP has now outed Jenna Delich as a 9/11 "troofer". Is there no end to the threat posed by this woman? I am having increasing trouble sleeping at night wondering what she might be up to next.

9/02/2008 07:14:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

I tried to look at the Clarke article but oddly it just says "Review to follow".

yes, that's what I meant; it's possibly the best thing Decentiya's ever published. There are also a couple of editor's notes which have been left in the Slaughter piece.

9/02/2008 07:40:00 AM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

Shaw is rather good, isn't he? I know he blows hot and cold, but when he's on form he really does hit the nail on the head.

Maybe not quite wise, though, for Shaw and Hirsh to stick the boot into Croatian ethnic cleansing. I can see a 5000-word riposte from Mr Angry on the horizon...

9/02/2008 07:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

Martin Shaw has his points certainly. But Israel as a state with genocidal origins? C'mon. I know that the strict definition of genocide is pretty encompassing, and that is the one Shaw uses in his academic IR stuff, but there's a common sense usage of the term that stands up well and shouldn't be pinned so casually on any but the most horrendous cases if we're to retain any kind of capacity for perspective and discrimination. Chucking around 'genocide' so promiscuously is a very Decent technique, even if its application to Israel is unusual in that milieu.

9/02/2008 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Up to a point, perhaps, but given who he's talking to and where, it's not unreasonable for him to feel that the "common sense usage of the term" is not the one that is in force.

9/02/2008 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In an otherwise excellent piece, Shaw does a Surbiton Segue with 'genocide' - he introduces the word as a subjective impression, then puts it in quote marks, then slips it in unmodified. Bad Martin. Aside from that (and using 'Jewish-Nationalist' at one point, where 'Likudnik', or 'supporters of some 'pro-Zionist' lobby groups' would have been better), he's skewered Hirsch good 'n' proper.

Kudos to Decentiya to printing it: perhaps it's not such a conduit as I thought. On the other hand, perhaps they expected Hirsch to win to the argument.

Chris Williams

9/02/2008 12:32:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I have to disagree with you regarding of use of genocide here, because of the context of the debate. Shaw is a genocide expert debating with a fellow academic in a (supposedly) academic journal. Why should he use the 'common sense' usage of term here, rather than the legalistic definition set down in the genocide convention?

Would you expect a expert in international law to debate 'self-defence' from a 'common sense' point of view or would you expect them to employ a precise legal definition.

Shaw is very big on international law and using exact definitions which have their basis in international law.

Surely this is exactly the opposite approach to that typically used by Decents?

9/02/2008 01:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

Apologies: I should have said, “I know that the strict definition of genocide is pretty encompassing, and presumably that is the one Shaw uses in his academic IR stuff”. I’m afraid I haven’t read Martin Shaw’s scholarly work, so can’t pronounce on this.

I don’t think we should give a free pass to such a wide definition of genocide that would include al-Nakba even if one can extract it from Raphael Lemkin’s authority. “Killing members of the group” with “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” can be construed as casting the net very wide indeed. But, after all, his was a politico-legal definition, not an academic one. It was intended to be wide enough to include any peculiarities attendant on future outrages; it was closing off loop-holes insofar as it could. Nevertheless, ‘genocide’ clearly designated as an egregious outrage that, to the chap on the Clapham omnibus, would be redolent of the Holocaust. I don’t think there is a good warrant for an academic variant of ‘genocide’ so at odds with common understanding. Nor do I think that genocide is used this way in academia, with the exception of those Decent niches that argue for armed interventions as nearly the first recourse of Western foreign policy.

And anyway, linguistic precision can be perverse even in academic contexts. It’s well understood, for example, that ‘myth’ means a story that structures social understanding, and its truth or falsity is neither here nor there. It would not be shocking to read an article on ‘The Myth of Dunkirk’, say; but would an editor not reasonably look askance at an article entitled, ‘The Myth of the Holocaust?’

Similarly in this case. If someone were to refer to ‘the genocide that gave impetus to the birth of Israel’, I think it would be in pretty poor taste to respond archly by saying, ‘Ah! You must mean the genocide of the Palestinians!’

9/02/2008 02:42:00 PM  
Anonymous dsquared said...

Leafing through Decentiya, I've lost count of the number of times they use "discourse" or talk about a "governing narrative" - usually in order to accuse somebody of doing something they haven't actually done, or making a claim stronger than the one they've actually made. Aren't these meant to be the good guys who don't go in for all that terrible pomo relativissess stuff?

Currently winning the "most pointless" contest is Eric Lee; it isn't even a review of anything. Seems that the Decent Bat-Signal has gone out with respect to "plucky little Georgia", by the way.

9/02/2008 02:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

Is Eric Lee the only one who thinks that Marx's Russophobic writings - as pickled by cold warriors - represent his finest legacy? Would he recommend mass distribution of David Urquhart too?

Decentiya should rev up the Decent Tardis and run exposures on that wicked Russkie loving Lord Palmerston

9/02/2008 03:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Biz said...

Thought this may amuse Re: the 'Dude' - someone's brother has been googling their name again...:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2008/08/the-rape-of-rea.html

Ignore the right-wing nonsense - about 7 paras down Hitch throws a mini hissy-fit re '(Chris) Hitchens Watch - choice quote:

"Its authors like me even less than they like him because I am a right-wing monster who deserted the Left when they were presumably at play-school or yet unborn. They cannot really cope with the fact that their former hero is (for instance) in favour of the Iraq war, whereas I am (for instance) against it. I am right, yet I am bad."

Poor mite...

Biz

9/02/2008 03:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, Urquartism. There's a trend which has yet to find its historian. I'm afraid, though, that when I've been reminded of it in the past few years, it's been more often by idiot fellow-stoppers than by the Decents. Perhaps the recrudescence of the Russia Bear will even the score a little.

Either way, it's evidence of a very British 'paranoid style' in foreign policy-chat: another nail in the coffin of American exceptionalism.

9/02/2008 03:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PS - the above anon was Chris Williams, honest.

9/02/2008 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

Hmm, the Decent bat-signal re Georgia may be getting some interference. Fred Halliday (to who Geras often defers) has a very un-Marko-like treatment at OpenDemocracy:

http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-miscalculation-of-small-nations

9/02/2008 05:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wentletrappist?

9/02/2008 05:56:00 PM  

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