Monday, March 31, 2008

Aaro: Nail, Head

Fish, barrel. Well done.

Slightly longer version - it's about time someone said it. Aaro sticks up for common sense. Sometimes this watching lark is a pleasure.

OK, one pedantic qualm (I wouldn't be me otherwise):

Somehow we have overcome the genuine feeling of disgust at the prospect of even touching a prawn, just as we have more recently learned to cope with homosexual acts and racially mixed marriages.

I don't know who the 'we' is here. Nor am I sure about the 'coping' with homosexual acts (practice makes perfect, you know): there have been gay people as long as there have been people; homosexuality may have been illegal, but people got on with it. Oscar Wilde, Death in Venice, Britten and Pears. Some people didn't accept it; others did. As for racially mixed marriages, surely Times readers have come across Anthony and Cleopatra, Othello and Desdemona, Madame Butterfly and Lieutenant Pinkerton? However, he's right with where he's going.

But then, I think there's only one sane good (just re-read it, and it's mad as anything, better than the rest though) book in the Bible - Ch1 v 10: "Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us."

The egg of truth

Comment on this work of staggering genius by Marko Attila Hoare really would be superfluous, but I bet that some of you will have a go.

Update 1/4/2008 @ 6:30 by Chardonnay Chap. The Encyclopedia of Decency has a guest post which is well worth a read. Also, perhaps Marko meant to post his theory today.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Nick Shortlisted for the Orwell Prize

Thanks to Dan Hind in the comments to a previous post, we learn that "Libruls? We hatez em" has been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. I usually think prizes are a lot of navel-gazing bollocks and I doubt that this one is any different.

I think everyone knows that David Aaronovitch won the journalism award in 2001. Other winners include HP and Normblog favourite Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (2002); Dave's colleague at the Times, Matthew Parris (2005); Timothy Garton-Ash (2006) - for being mean to Ayaan Hirsi Ali?; and my personal favourite, Brian Sewell (no, I can't see how he is a political writer either).

Unlike Dan, I can't see Nick's book as a favourite - the judges are quite impressive for one thing, for another, Ed Hussain's "The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left" looks like a natural compromise vote to me. Nick bashes liberals, which will upset liberals (and rightly). Bashing terrorists after having met them is going to be acceptable to everyone though.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Definitions and Stuff

Note: I owe the 'stuff' part of the title to the one and only Oliver Kamm.

Oliver has an interesting approach to common political terms. In his most recent post he says:

The author Geoffrey Wheatcroft, writing in The Guardian about the now concluded presidential campaign of Ron Paul, comes up with non sequitur of the day: "Anyone dismissing him as rightwing should look at his unflinching opposition to the Iraq war, and more generally to the foreign policy of George Bush and previous presidents."
And anyone dismissing Charles Lindbergh as rightwing should look at his unflinching opposition to ... well, you can fill in the rest.

I sort of concede this point - I don't think that being pro-war is necessarily 'rightwing' but mostly because I don't think 'rightwing' means very much beyond 'a person I usually agree/disagree with'.

But less than a couple of weeks ago, Oliver wrote:

Two points about McCain stand out. He's not a conservative and he's been right all along about Iraq. These are the reasons I favoured him from the outset for the Republican nomination. Indeed McCain has been more right than anyone on Iraq.

Now a Google search of McCain's own site (the site search there doesn't work) yields about 1,940 from for conservative which includes this press release (dated February 1 - 6 weeks before Oliver's post):

U.S. Senator John McCain's presidential campaign today released a new television ad to air across the nation in the run-up to Super Tuesday. The ad, entitled "True Conservative," focuses on John McCain's commitment to conservative principles on economic, social and national security issues as well as his readiness to lead as commander in chief on day one.

I'm an ignoramus, but if there is any possibility than a) John McCain is a conservative or b) John McCain is a liar, I'd be very interested to hear it. (Thought: there is c) John McCain is a moron and does not possess a dictionary - but like b that suggests that his demerits outweigh his merits.)

Again, I may be missing something, but I don't see how that BBC story on McCain's support for the 'surge' suggests that he has been 'right all along'.

Finally, as a sort of twisted proof that 'rightwing' now means bugger all, via The Poor Man, the mostly unlikely link of all - the Daily Mail: How war hero John McCain betrayed the Vietnamese peasant who saved his life.

In all the tales of wartime courage peppering John McCain's presidential campaign trail, perhaps the most outstanding example of selfless heroism involves not the candidate but a humble Vietnamese peasant.
On October 26, 1967, Mai Van On ran from the safety of a bomb shelter at the height of an air raid and swam out into the lake where Lieutenant Commander McCain was drowning, tangled in his parachute cord after ejecting when his Skyhawk bomber was hit by a missile.
In an extraordinary act of compassion at a time when Vietnamese citizens were being killed by US aerial bombardments, he pulled a barely conscious McCain to the lake surface and, with the help of a neighbour, dragged him towards the shore.
And when a furious mob at the water's edge began to beat and stab the captured pilot, Mr On drove them back.
Nearly three decades later, a Vietnamese government commission confirmed he was indeed the rescuer and, in a 1996 meeting in Hanoi, McCain embraced and thanked Mr On and presented him with a Senate memento.
From that brief encounter to his death at the age of 88 two years ago, Mr On never heard from the senator again, and three years after their meeting, McCain published an autobiography that makes no mention of his apparent debt to Mr On.
It is a snub Mr On took to his death.

It's nice to know that John McCain (the Republican endorsed by Oliver Kamm no less) continues the fine tradition from the Eisenhower era as recorded by the great Eddie Cochrane: "I wrote to my Congressman and he said quote/I'd like to help you son, but you're too young to vote."

The week in Decency: Harry's Place

Strolling down to Harry's Place while my weekend Scotch Egg warms up in the oven, I see that a new phrase has been coined:

"the genocidal "One State Solution" policy"

As I understand it, the "one state solution" involves giving Israeli citizenship to the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, plus the refugees. This would, under sensible demographic assumptions, mean that the state thus constructed probably would not have a majority of ethnic-Jewish citizens. It would thus no longer be a specifically Jewish state, and I can sort of see how one might progress from this to saying that the Jewish state would be forced out of existence by a one-state solution, and thus by something of a rhetorical pole-vault to the idea that it was "genocidal". But the rate of inflation here would make a Zimbabwean counterfeiter weep. Quite apart from anything, if hypothetically depriving the Jews of a single-ethnic state of their own is going to count as "genocide", it is going to take quite a feat of tapdancing to come up with a form of words to describe the state of affairs in Gaza, Jordan and the refugee camps which doesn't get the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism hopping mad. Justin has a really good statement of the essence of Decency in comments to the post below (which I will hoist up and post if he's cool with that), and this use of "genocidal" is clearly of a piece with it; one of the central tenets of Decency is the negation of the proposition "no need to be an ass about it".

Sauntering on downblog, a ringing endorsement of Dean Godson, who as we recall, comes to the question of "handing out state money to political organisations in the interest of counterterrorism" from, shall we say, a rather unusual background.

Meanwhile, poor old Gene is apparently "furious" at the nest of rat shit that Iraq has become, although obviously not to the point of "picking over the rubble", as that would be bad. His final paragraph in which he concludes "What can we do? Stand in support of Iraqi trade unionists" is one for the ages.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Another bulletin from Decency's second most prominent theorist!

It almost seems like intruding on private grief to link to this ... this ... item by Alan "Not The Minister" Johnson, which lumps together Noam Chomsky, "postmodernism", Black nationalism, Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all into a new category called "post-left", with the general meaning of "as opposed to the Decent Left, which is the real Left". He gets the most horrific monstering in the comments and pretty deservedly so; the article is quite shockingly incoherent.

I have noticed that Oliver Kamm and Nick Cohen have also developed this tendency to repeatedly say "sections of the Left have become part of the far right", the idea presumably being that the Decents want to drop the "Decent" tag and claim the word "Left" for people who favour laissez-faire economics and bellicose foreign policy and who vote Republican (McCain) and Conservative (Boris), defining everyone outside their rather small clique into this new category of the "post-Left".

I have a suspicion that one of them has bought that dreadful book about "framing". The one that Daniel Finkelstein read when he was at Conservative Central Office and which accounted for the extraordinary success of William Hague's campaign to become a national laughing-stock and political nonentity.

Thanks, if that's the right word, to "Bubby" in the comments.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Blessed are the peacemakers

Nick is big with nutters, nutters are big with Nick. We're talking Hassan Butt here, people. Although Aaronovitch Watch has something of a constitutional hostility to Sunday School conversion tales and has therefore tended in the past to be rather sceptical of the celebrity ex-jihadi movement (particularly in the aftermath of the Haymarket and Glasgow attacks last year, when they hopped onto the airwaves to explain that their experience as young British Islamists gave them a unique insight into the psychology of non-British forty-year-olds, and this insight told them that the behaviour of refugees from the Iraq War had nothing to do with the Iraq War), one has to have a certain regard for Ed Husain, since he is capable of putting a sentence together and has clearly thought about the matters he's talking about.

Hassan Butt, on the other hand, is a nutter pure and simple. When I saw him on telly giving it the Allah-and-hellfire routine the day after the 7/7 bombings, my honest reaction at the time was that it was totally irresponsible of the BBC to be giving television exposure to someone who was so clearly mentally ill. It turns out that Butt wasn't schizophrenic as I'd suspected, just very, very stupid and at the time all fired up for jihad. He then apparently made a trip to one of the Pakistani "boot camps" where (quel surprise) they decided that his role in life was not so much "conquering hero of Islam" as "cannon fodder", and then he rather quickly fell out of love with jihadism and then he came home and then it is now.

He is still the same Walter Mitty character that he was when he was a jihadi, and I would no more trust his view on anything important(or his claims to have been incredibly effective in converting British jihadis to the paths of Decency) than I would invest in a company manufacturing postmen's trousers from mince. Once more, the instinct that guided Nick to Ahmed Chalabi (the Mandela of the Tigris) rather than Kanan Makiya (who is a bit of a Decent bullshitter but clearly much less of an embarrassment) has drawn him unerringly to the wrong guy to lionise.

So anyway, is it a bit of a scandal that Shiv Malik's had his notes stolen and that Hasan Butt has been arrested and harassed? Probably yes, but hang on a bit Nicko, wasn't it not so long ago that you were talking out of both sides of your mouth on the subject of torture and rendition? Yes it was And again. Well guess what Nick, if you hand over arbitrary power to the police force, then they have arbitrary power. You don't then get to say how this power should be used.

I mean seriously. Nick is wholly in favour of harassing Hizb-ut-Tahrir through the security system, so he's not in general against police harassment. Shiv Malik and Hassan Butt are clearly involved with the fringes of the jihadi movement - they claim to be working on the side of the angels, but they aren't actually part of the UK's law enforcement or intelligence communities and so it's pretty obvious that they were not going to have their claims taken at face value and they were going to get harassed. Nick seems to have forgotten that the British police force are the same bunch that they were when he was always attacking them - they're not always very competent, and they're often very heavy handed, because that's what state forces are like. They didn't turn into the tribunes of Decency overnight when Nick did.

Of course, this is only an apparent contradiction, comrades, not a real one. The cornerstone of Decent philosophy is that nothing matters except in as much as it is an occasion for the expression of Decency). The police can do what they like, so long as Nick has roundly condemned some of their actions and written a blank cheque of endorsement for others; the word is the act.

Bonus points to Nick for implying that Shiv Malik is a Muslim, by the way (he isn't - he's a secular BBC journalist with a Hindi name. Would have thought Nick might be a bit more careful about this sort of thing since people are always mistakenly referring to him as Jewish).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

How Hitchens Sees Himself ... And Us

Via Harry (the sensible one), Hitchens on Spitzer's Lust.

"You wouldn't be doing any of this if one of the objectives was not to increase the amount of pussy that was available to you. That is what you do," Hitch says. "You don't do it to be, ah, the most approval-rated governor of New York, for fuck's sake."

Actually you do, pretty much. Approval of others is enormously important for mammals and primates in particular. We're very big on stroking and attention. We'd have a very hard time making it on our own. Having group approval, having just friends, means you can share a meal with someone when you'd otherwise go without, and that alone means making it to next week, which in itself raises the chances of getting some more pussy. But Hitchen's amateur evolutionary psychology doesn't explain gay politicians or gay anyone or female ditto. Franklin D Roosevelt served more terms than any other President of the US. How much legover do you think he got from that? There was an article in today's Torygraph on Chelsea Clinton - apparently at 28 she earns $100,000 per annum. Assuming a working life of 40 years, she'd earn $4M or £2M. Paul McCartney offered Heather Mills more than 10 times that for four years of marriage. Mrs Merton's famous question to Debbie McGee "What first attracted you to millionaire Paul Daniels" seems inconsequential to Lady Mucca. How much pussy was available to Macca? I believe he enjoyed the 1960s and men can stay fertile until their 80s. Is amount the only calculation? Or is Paul McCartney (and John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr) some kind of cloistered freak? According to 'the Dude', Macca should still spend his spare time impregnating groupies and have hundreds of kids. He hasn't; either the theory is wrong or the facts are.

I'm a really passionate supporter of Richard Dawkins, but as Einstein (may have) said "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler." Hitchens oversimplifies.

See also sexual dimorphism.


Swings and roundabout, Jeeves, swings and roundabouts.
Indeed, sir.

B2 hasn't got round to the exchange of views between our Dave and Matthew Parris. Some bright spark in the employ of Rupert Murdoch decided that letters between Thunderer comment writers over Iraq would be a good idea. Thus we have an exchange titled "The Great Divide: Times writers present the arguments over the conflict that are still splitting the country". (If the arguments are 'still splitting the country' who are they being 'presented' for? Martians? Sun readers?)

Using the Times own search facility, this seems to be the order of exchange Parris: We have damaged ourselves (MP1 from now); Aaro: The sanctions were failing, people were dying (DA1); Parris: Neocons and their supporters have lost the argument (MP2); Aaro: The future is where all the judgments must be made (DA2). Note that DA2 contains a link to MP1 when it is actually a reply to MP2. I'm sure this is some techy's or subed's fault, but it doesn't make for clarity.

I don't intend to review all four missives thoroughly. I've given links so commenters can add insights (or correct my prejudices) if they wish.

I'll start by quoting MP1's opening paragraphs, because the tone of the exchange is set here.

I was wrong about Iraq. Though undeviatingly opposed to the invasion I believed it might succeed within its own terms. In February 2003 I wrote in The Times:-
"I am not afraid that this war will fail. I am afraid it will succeed. I am afraid it will prove the first in an indefinite series of American interventions. I am afraid it is the beginning of a new empire that I am afraid Britain may have little choice but to join."

Later, in 2005, your defence of the war in The Times was anchored in your claim that in that column I had said that “I'm against war because it will antagonise moderate Arab opinion.” I had said the opposite: that such a view was wrongheaded.
An honest misreading, no doubt; not least among the collateral damage caused by this conflict has been a media rancour born of intense feeling on both sides.

By 'sets the tone' I mean this: although MP allows DA a getout with 'an honest misreading', DA does not mention this - he does not defend it or apologise for it. He ignores it. MP1 contains a really great paragraph:

The damage we did ourselves, however, was avoidable. The casualties have been heartbreaking. Domestic trust in our political class has haemorrhaged. Good faith has been questioned. A premiership has been ruined. Billions have been squandered. Our Armed Forces have been put on the rack in an unpopular war. Afghanistan has been neglected. European relations have been soured.

I agree with every sentence - the 'billions' referred to are British money, which is considerably less than the trillions of dollars the US has spent.

Before I get to Aaro's response, a fact: David Aaronovitch studied History at Oxford then Manchester. You may wish to keep this in mind.

Isn't it exhausting -- this merry-go-round of argument, always in motion, but never going anywhere? I sighed to see ancient quotes, long repudiated, pressed into weary service yet again.

"Ancient quotes" does he mean his misunderstanding of Matthew Parris? Long repudiated by whom? How? Were they written by Times subeds and published under our man's name? What does he mean? And doesn't that opening sentence sound just like an apologist for Stalin attacking British or American democracy, What we need, comrades, is action, all this so-called democracy gives is hot air.

Let me repeat: had I known, at the beginning of 2003, when I took my own decision to support an Iraq invasion if it happened -- that the human cost was going to be 150,000 dead Iraqis and that the political cost would be the discrediting of the doctrine of interdependence -- then I would have argued hard against it. I would have said then that it wasn't worth it. It had little to do with weapons of mass destruction (WMD), though dangers seemed to me always to be attendant on tolerating genocidal dictatorships (there, I know, we differ).

I believe there is a study by the Lancet (PDF ) which suggested half a million more Iraqi casualties. Now we have to ask, what did our Dave study during his Oxford and Manchester years? Feminism and the rise of agriculture? Pottery making and the development of monotheism? It doesn't seem to have be wars or any of that brutal stuff which history is mostly about - power sloshing from one thug to another.

In that bloody prediction in his former paper, the Guardian, Dave wrote:

I was never in favour of this war mainly because of the threats of terrorism or WMDs. Getting rid of Saddam (and therefore the myriad afflictions of the Iraqi people) was enough. But the weapons were the pretext on which the invasion was sold to a lot of people in this country, and was attempted to be sold to the people of the world.

I'm now curious to know when our Dave abandoned Marxist history ('myriad afflictions of the ... people' come from class war surely) for the 'great man' of Carlyle. And why, if 'getting rid of Saddam ... was enough' was it not simpler to break international law with an assassination rather than with an illegal war? Dave went on:

These claims cannot be wished away in the light of a successful war. If nothing is eventually found, I - as a supporter of the war - will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again. And, more to the point, neither will anyone else. Those weapons had better be there somewhere.

Maybe it was unfair of me to expect one man to know about all the slaughter in history. Perhaps his family's ideology protected him from all the nastiness, and concentrated on knitting circles in the Ukraine rather than the tanks in the streets of Czechoslovakia. But Dave is an intelligent man: he should know his own mind at least, and he remains as credulous as ever.

Here I'm going to sign off for now. I've written enough and it's starting to bore me. But I'll say one thing: David Aaronovitch supported the illegal war against Iraq. 2003 was 12 years after the Gulf War. A second resolution was possible. Saddam could have been deposed legally and without the 'discrediting of the doctrine of interdependence'.

Update just after hitting 'post'. See also: Jim Henley via Jamie and Crooked Timber. Short DA: "Wow, war seems to be a lot like hell." Gosh, it's not like anyone ever made that observation before.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Decent consistency watch

Norman Geras, who doesn't support an Olympic boycott, explaining why one wouldn't be a case of "singling out":

It's also not a case of 'singling out' China for unfavourable treatment amongst other regimes with bad human rights records. On the contrary, the argument for a boycott is implicitly based, I assume, on the thought that, by being chosen to host the 2008 event, China has in fact been singled out (from amongst other countries with much better human rights records) - but singled out for specially favourable treatment, since the Olympics bring with them a form of prestige and this can be used by the regime for internal and external political advantage.

Right, so the next time someone proposes a boycott of some prestigious event in Israel, Geras won't employ the "singling out" move. Of course.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Keeping Quiet About Racism

At the risk of making a total fool of myself, I refer the gentle reader to Nick in the Observer.

Trevor Phillips is wary [of Barack Obama] for good reasons. He suspects Obama is 'helping to postpone the arrival of a post-racial America' by offering white Americans a deal: vote for me and I'll stop you feeling guilty by keeping quiet about racism.

Whatever you say, Trev and Nick.

Via John Cole.

Dave the Contrarian

(First an apology; my last piece here was pretty much shit. Captain Cabernet did a much better job. My bad for writing in anger on one cup of tea. I'll keep the SWP jibes. I meant those. And will expand some other time.)

You better watch out, because Aaro is back. You may think that the columnists on a modern newspaper are a random bunch of free thinkers, selected for their clarity of prose (or who their fathers are), but on the Times I detect a sort of structure. Columnists have roles, like members of a football team. Metaphors don't really work here (but try telling any professional journalist that!) and I suppose you could portray our eponymous scribe as a striker, boldly leading with new ideas. I prefer to see him as a sort of goalie though, deflecting the risky sallies of the opposing team.

On the positives, this is one of his better written columns - he writes from experience and with insight and humour, so he's earned his paycheck as far as I'm concerned. On the other hand, he doesn't really believe a word of it, does he?

Let's look at the flaws.

It hardly brushed their consciousness on the way to rejection, as far as I could tell, that Lord Goldsmith had been trying to solve a genuine problem - the difficulty of consolidating a national, British identity, in a time of unprecedented demographic change.

Since 'they' refers to "every section of British expressed opinion, from the termini of the League of Empire Loyalists to the New Communist Party and all stops in between" this is mind reading on a galactic scale. I've downloaded the PDF of Goldsmith's report (which is available through this page), but I haven't read it yet. That's partly because it looks long, and partly because Chris Brooke gave it a good kicking. In the comments, Chris says I've been looking at chapter two this morning, on the history of citizenship law in the UK, and it's difficult to escape the feeling that Goldsmith uses the word "complicated" as a synonym for "racist". Our Dave doesn't discuss what Lord Goldsmith proposes, instead he sticks to his own rebellions in Oxford (almost as childish as answering 'Marx', 'Engels', etc to every question on 'University Challenge' it seems) and the prejudices every other commentator brings to their commentary.

It's ironic then then that the 'Land of No' (oh very good, that man) seems to be where Dave himself lives. Rather than address what Goldsmith says and evaluate its strengths - yes, Goldsmith meant well, and was trying to address a problem he believed existed - but that's not enough is it? Is there a genuine problem of 'British identity'? (If so, has it been exacerbated by the governments since 1997 which pledged devolution-lite?) Do Goldsmith's proposals make sense? (I think the BBC coverage suggested some sort of reduced fees for university students who pledged allegiance; that's a bribe. What good does that do, other than feed cynism? Cordelia would refuse; Regan and Goneril would pledge. Wonderful idea, Dave, just wonderful.) It's here:

Council tax and student fee rebates are suggested for people who volunteer - as well as a "Britishness" public holiday.

Instead, Dave gives us this:

Now, I don't want my kids to swear an oath particularly, but if it helps national cohesion, I am eccentric enough to prefer that to having them troll around a modern British city forcibly dressed as medieval monks.

There's no evidence that national cohesion needs help. There's no evidence that a pledge would help it. Americans have a pledge and it seems to me that people on the coasts (generally better educated and better off) despise those in the middle of the country and vice versa, plus there's a fair bit of invective passing over the Mason-Dixon line at all hours of the day. Never mind all the squabbling over who's the most put upon. And there isn't a choice between having a pledge and wearing a gown in Oxford. Saying 'no' to both is possible.

Update. This is a bit off-topic, but this is sort of me whenever I read Aaro:

AR: I blame the government.
JS: What's the government got to do with it?
AR: I hate the bastard.

RIP Anthony Mingella.

Monday, March 17, 2008

HP Sauce in the twilight zone

I guess I ought not to be surprised by Harry's Place. After all, it's a bit strange to think of the site that brought us "anti-semitic pizza" jumping the shark. But even so, I was a bit shocked to see that they are now featuring guest posts by Paul Bogdanor. Did they have a browse around Bogdanor's site first?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Nick on class discrimination

Nick's latest ought to confirm what many of us have long suspected, that he is too lazy to do the basic research for his columns. Instead, what he gives us is an impressionistic ramble through (and against) what he takes to be the Zeitgeist. Usually it isn't, of course, it is his idea of what "librul orthodoxy" involves, as derived from conversations he's had with his mates and other journalists' opinion columns. The whole mess is then worsened by a few off-the-cuff swipes at his current obsessions.

There's no doubt a good piece to be written about how New Labour's equalities agenda is silent on class. There's definitely something right about that. But anyone who works in a university -- as I do -- will know that there is endless emphasis on "widening participation", which is precisely about class. Moreover this is a policy that is backed by an elaborate scheme of financial incentives and penalties. So far, however, this drive hasn't got very far, partly because of the failures in the school system and partly because of determined and effective resistance from middle-class parents. But this is New Labour and it is about class. Has he forgotten Gordon Brown's ludicrous championing of Laura Spence? University access is just one example, of course. In fact many NL policies have been aimed at overcoming class disadvantage - a bit of googling "New Labour" and "under fives" could establish the point.

Nick's lack of basic research lets him down further when he writes:

the orthodoxy is that it's right to discriminate in favour of an Indian steel magnate's daughter at the expense of the son of a white single mother and feel proud of yourself while you do it.

I don't know what Nick's evidence for the content of "the orthodoxy" is, but I do know that if he had any experience of hiring people (and hence of employment law) he'd know that to discriminate in the way he suggests is illegal.

(There's a sub-text to Nick's piece that it really quite whiffy. When he contrasts the fate of poor white people with rich brown people he's tuning in to the same channel of resentment that informed the BBC's recent "White" series.)

What The Hell Is Nick On About Now? Part 89

Nick has mentioned Trevor Phillips before when discussing Obama in his Pajamas Media piece.

From personal experience I can say that black Britons are moved by Obama's success, but Trevor Phillips, the most prominent black public official and a clear-eyed thinker, warned them that Obama may be "helping to postpone the arrival of a post-racial America and I think he knows it." The deal with white America runs like this, he argued. Obama promises not to make a fuss about racism and the hundreds of thousands of blacks in jail. Whites are grateful to have their guilt absolved and vote for him. Their support rebounds "to Obama's political advantage without having any impact on racial inequality."

He repeats this point in today's Sunday Grauniad, made even less clear by some periphrasis. It makes sense to call Trevor Phillips "the most prominent black public official"; it makes none to call him "Britain's most prominent opponent of racism". I thought "Britain's most prominent opponent[s] of racism" were the signatories of the Euston Manifesto. No really.

Suffice to say, I still don't understand the argument. I don't know if Obama has "promise[d] not to make a fuss about racism" or will do so in the future. It seems to me that just by his running, a fuss is being made about racism.

Via Lawyers, Guns and Money.

So, according to Phillips, Obama doesn't run, we have a choice of McCain and Clinton, and the prisons don't empty. This is good how? Oh, I get it - it's the old SWP trick; keep the status quo until the revolution comes. Well, I can't see any other justification for the "it's better to do nothing than something" position. I also note that Nick's term "gross injustice" may play into the hands of those 'anti-Americans' (all conservatives no doubt) who may sometimes voice the suspicion that the US of A is not in fact Utopia.

I never quite understand how the Clintons' initial exploitation of racism was overlooked the first time around and has been airbrushed from the record since. After falling behind in the New Hampshire primary in 1992, and after being caught lying about the affair with Gennifer Flowers to which he later confessed under oath, Clinton left the campaign trail and flew home to Arkansas to give the maximum publicity to his decision to sign a death warrant for Ricky Ray Rector. Rector was a black inmate on death row who had shot himself in the head after committing a double murder and, instead of dying as a result, had achieved the same effect as a lobotomy would have done. He never understood the charge against him or the sentence. After being served his last meal, he left the pecan pie on the side of the tray, as he told the guards who came to take him to the execution chamber, "for later." Several police and prison-officer witnesses expressed extreme queasiness at this execution of a gravely impaired man, and the prison chaplain, Dennis Pigman, later resigned from the prison service. The whole dismal and cruel and pathetic story was told by Marshall Frady in a long essay in The New Yorker in 1993 and is also recounted in a chapter titled "Chameleon in Black and White" by your humble servant in his book No One Left To Lie To.For now, I just ask you to imagine what would have been said if a Republican governor, falling in the polls, had gone out of his way to execute a mentally incompetent African-American prisoner.

That was 'the finest leftist writer of his generation' (according to our favourite comment leaver, Justin) aka Christopher Hitchens. Shorter me: however bad Obama may be on this issue, he couldn't possibly be any worse than his opponents.

Back to our boy. One paragraph after mentioning Trevor Phillips, Nick assures that British "bureaucrats across the public sector assure us that they are moving us towards Martin Luther King's dream of a country where the colour of a man's skin matters less than the content of his character." He does realise that Trevor Phillips as chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is the bureaucrat he's talking about. Doesn't he?

In Whitehall, the Civil Service says it will tackle the under-representation of women and members of ethnic minorities among its upper ranks. If the radical mandarins are serious about eliminating inequality, shouldn't they be more specific? Which women and which blacks and Asians do they want to recruit in the name of social justice? Rich or poor? State educated or private?

I've applied for entry into the Civil Service twice; there is an exam. I passed it both times and failed the interview both times. An exam seems about as fair and class-blind of recruiting the smart and rejecting the stupid. They've been doing this for decades.

Meanwhile, the NHS announces that its ambition isn't merely to care for the sick. It wants 'a fairer society in which everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential'. Again, its mission statement seems admirable, but again it does not mention the people who most need the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

No, those blinkered people in the NHS never think about middle-classes scraping by on 6 figure salaries and wondering which schools to send their kids to, like Nick.

One of ten children, [he] did poorly at school and his academic performance was so bad that his headmaster made him repeat a year. At the age of thirteen [he] left school and began working in the local Tytryst Colliery. [His father] had been a supporter of the Liberal Party in his youth, but was converted to socialism by the writings of Robert Blatchford in the Clarion and joined the Independent Labour Party.

Damnit, why did no one ever tell the founder of the NHS about class?

I mean, are 'the BBC, Civil Service and NHS' really run by the privately educated? Maybe I get a different picture, stuck in the provinces as I am, where the BBC gives jobs to the Comprehensively educated and then bury their programmes at seven pm on Christmas Day. It's a conspiracy, clearly. And the best thing on radio 4 went to a grammar school. Oh curses, the privilege. He left at 15.

There was no fuss about Labour's leadership betraying the people their party was founded to represent because the interests of the working class no longer feature in debate.

Oh, I don't know. I left the People's Party ages ago. I think it was when this stopped being a fairy story.

The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

There was less fuss than there ought to have been in the Grauniad, but that's because entry to journalism is a hell of a lot less egalitarian than entry to the Civil Service, the NHS, or the BBC.

I don't think we're there yet, but we're going in the right direction. I honestly think the UK has one of the best societies on the planet. We've had two working class PMs (Major, Callaghan), a woman (Thatcher) and confirmed bachelor (Heath). And all but one of those are Tories. No wonder I left Labour.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rock and Roll

Or, the continuing misadventures of Oliver the Serious Pundit. Oliver Kamm has an entire post around a video of Christopher Hitchens making some morning-after comments on a US breakfast news show. (Three things here: first, why do people take Hitchens so seriously? Second, he says that he's been up all night, and in my experience that's an impediment to clear thinking; third, this is the worst kind of news coverage - journalists interviewing other journalists.) Oliver says he found the link from Martin [sic; he blogs as 'Marty'] Peretz. This is the whole thing:

Christopher Hitchens says that Hillary Clinton would run with George Wallace if doing so could snag her the nomination.

My query to her is: how can she be agreeable to taking on as her vice president Barack Obama, whom she has so dishonorably trashed?

Now, I believe Ms Clinton's campaign team have trashed Mr Obama, and dishonourably so too. But one cannot derive that fact from something Christopher Hitchens says that he thinks she might do in his head. This is not serious political coverage. Hitchens other point against her - mendacity - is perfectly fair as clearly supported by facts (which, almost to rub in that his Wallace jibe wasn't, he's allowed to demonstrate).

As for Mr Obama:

Here Christopher refers to Barack Obama as "a very shallow and flaky candidate" who is a member of a "dumb, nasty, ethnic rock 'n' roll racist church".

"Shallow and flaky" (which just happens to be Oliver's post's title) is not serious analysis either. As I've said before, I've read "God is Not Great." Like me, Hitchens regards a "dumb, nasty ... church" as a tautology. But 'ethnic'? But for clearer analysis, let me hand you over to John Cole. "Who gives a shit what Obama’s minister thinks? He is just another bullshit artist." Heh. Indeed. (Oh, one final dig, John quotes one of the Powertools "But it’s unusual for a thinking person to retain an affiliation with a church whose leader attacks his country unless, at a minimum, that person considers those attacks not 'particularly controversial.'" I refer you to Carl Schurz (1829–1906).)

By "rock and roll" could Christopher Hichens possibly mean this? The best joke on the intertrons this decade if you ask me, and with a video of two white old farts* camping it up for Live Aid.

*Both were younger than I am now. The horror.

Update 8:58 pm. IOZ (one of my favourite bloggers these days) has a couple of videos of Obama's preacher. In the first, he says, "we have a few white people here today". He's not such a racist then, that he keeps people of other skin hues out. (Also, if you didn't know who he was, really, his skin tone is pretty much my dad's. You've never met my dad, obviously. Oliver Kamm's then, going by his mugshot.) I second IOZ, "Barack Obama is a little bitch, but I would vote for his preacher in a second." There are a few whites in the audience; also in fairness, Bill Clinton was raised in a one-parent family. The second video is idiot commentary. I despair. Someone comes along and tells it how it is, and all the pundits just huddle and tut.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Aaro on Lee Jasper

I suspect that this one got past the fact-checkers:

Ken and his absurd hangers-on, like the ridiculous Lee Jasper, soi-disant (and soixante-huitard) spokesperson for London's unconsulted “black community”.

I suppose it is just about possible that Jasper (who was 49 years old at the time of this profile and was therefore born no earlier than 16 February 1958) was the world's most streetwise and cosmopolitan nine-year-old, and managed to leave his home in Oldham and travel to Paris to join in the protests of that year, but I would have thought that such a fact would have been mentioned at least somewhere else on the internet other than in Aaro's column.

Otherwise, there seems to have been a decidedly uncritical inhalation of the Evening Standard line here. Jasper is clearly a pretty divisive figure, of the rather unattractive kind that ethnic politics tends to throw up in big cities - I personally, if I was a subeditor, would not have allowed the description of him as "a street hustler" (as the Standard had it) to go out in a serious newspaper, but as a saloon bar (or blog) description of the man it's not far off. But facts are sacred, so to speak, and the facts are that Jasper's real claim to fame was Operation Trident, he was the guy who was directly given the job of delivering "the black community", and he delivered the goods. Getting a reputation for that thing tends to be quite good for a chap's political career. Since London is not going to stop having ethnic politics, and "delivering" ethnic groups in this manner is not going to stop being a matter of greasing the right palms, whoever succeeds Ken is going to end up employing Lee Jasper or his equivalent. Aaro's famous instinct for political realism ("let's recognise that politicians are people too, compromises have to be made, it's a dirty business") always seems to desert him when the subject is anyone scruffier than, say, Denis MacShane.

I dunno. I think it's because I'm Welsh that I am perhaps not taking this City Hall corruption scandal seriously enough. Apparently Development Agency funds were used to provide "jobs for the boys" for political contacts, as general slush funds, and pissed up the wall on vanity projects. I was literally unaware that Development Agencies had any other function.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Intellectual Consistency

From The Euston Manifesto:

The violation of basic human rights standards at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, and by the practice of "rendition", must be roundly condemned for what it is: a departure from universal principles, for the establishment of which the democratic countries themselves, and in particular the United States of America, bear the greater part of the historical credit.

OK, that sentence after "principles" is pure baloney (perhaps Geras passed the pen to Johnson or vice versa). The import is clear enough: "... the practice of "rendition" ... must be roundly condemned..." I suppose there is a loophole - rendition which does not violate basic human rights standards does not need to be condemned, but I can't see how kidnapping can be in accordance with the human rights of the kidnapee.

There's a helpful list of "Eustonian Blogs". Guess what? Go on try. No really. Oliver Kamm's is among them. This Oliver Kamm:

Rendition is justifiable because it interdicts terrorists, and terrorism is not merely a problem of law enforcement.

I had to look up a word in ter dictionary, and for the life of me, I think interdict can only be used in the sense of 'restrain' when followed by an action. (Shorter OED, definition 2.) Ie '... it interdicts terrorists from eating deep-fried Mars bars'. A simpler word like 'arrest' is out of course, because rendition does not arrest anyone. Perhaps Mr Kamm means 'Rendition [of terrorists] is justifiable because it renders terrorists ...'

Update First, I should admit that I can't remember if Oliver Kamm signed the EM or not; and the page which listed signatories seems to have disappeared.

Second, via Matthew Turner, I see that Norman Geras has posted at length on this and moved Oliver Kamm to reply. I think Norman Geras's case is convincing. Matthew considers Oliver's defence to be 'powerful'. I don't. I could spend all night thinking of appropriate adjectives, but 'powerful' is not among them.

Norman might counter that French justice is a case apart from states where human rights violations and even torture occur. But that surely supports my argument: the proper objection is to abuses of rendition, and the role of European governments is to anticipate and prevent them.

Norman has already countered with "[Eichmann was] made subject to due legal process in a country [Israel] that took seriously its obligation to afford him this." And he was clear about this: Eichmann was put on trial; Islamist terrorism suspects have been denied trials whether they were taken to Cuba or sent to god-knows-where like Syria or Saudi Arabia. Oliver then goes on to change the subject: he raises the usual idiots who comment on CiF as if being attacked by a looney is some kind of justification. And he concludes with a weak and unconvincing argument (which still ignores Norman Geras's righteous indignation):

In my view, the most powerful argument against renditions is that, because they require a lower standard of evidence than a criminal court, then abuses - against the guilty, never mind the innocent - are much more likely to occur.

*If* we were talking about renditions such as those of Carlos the Jackal and Eichmann, then the rendees (or whatever the term is) would end up in court. I may be wrong here, but I think there's a parallel with arrest, which in civilised countries (such as ours) also requires a lower standard of evidence than a court does for a jail sentence. If abuses happen, they can be ameliorated with compensation and the abusers tried themselves. This isn't the argument against the renditions Oliver seemed to be defending. Those renditions are entirely in bad faith: the suspects won't be put before a court, although they're accused of a serious crime. I think renditions are dodgy anyway, but I think I've written enough for now here, and I'd need to prepare a better researched argument for why I think the whole idea stinks besides the very good arguments that Norman Geras gives.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Nick asks "Isn't it wonderful he's black?"

Chris Bertram of Crooked Timber has a post up on Nick Cohen's Nick Cohen's latest.

I'll just add a few of the faults as I see them which Chris doesn't mention.


Die Welt gazed at his manly physique, listened to his honeyed words and dashed off a love letter.
"He shows what can happen if a republic is viewed not as an organizational chart of officials and a producer of party agendas, but as a living and common whole," it swooned. "Obama's goal appears to be to awaken ideals and enthusiasm for freedom, to change something and to steer politics onto a new track."

That looks like a political argument to me and it doesn't mention Obama's body.

Belittling opposing views

British journalists and politicians are as interested in Obama as politicians and journalists everywhere. However, although a few have lost their heads, there's no general mania.

Supporting a mainstream candidate in a democracy does not count as insanity. I think McCain has courted some very odd friends, but I don't think it true or necessary or politic to say that anyone who supports him is evidencing mania.

There's a word for this, but I'm not going to use it

Instead of hard thought about the future, there’s a tingling glowing feeling that under the leadership of a black politician -- and isn't it wonderful he's black? -- everything beastly about Bush's America will go, and the United States will turn into an eco-friendly, peace-loving nation, respectful of the views of foreign countries which won't risk their troops in the war against the Taliban or say a harsh word about Vladimir Putin.

You notice the colour of the man's skin; I look at the content of his character (and that goes for Farrakhan too). Dear me, has the House of Saud sent troops (not that it gives a shit about the lives of its subjects anyway) to the war against the Taliban? And is the White House any less respectful? No, and no, I believe are the correct answers.

More mindreading

Our political class would still like to see Clinton in the White House.

Some Tories do apparently (though I can't believe that they'd declare support for a candidate who hasn't won her party's nomination yet). So that's our political class spoken for.

Excuse me a moment while I do my Richard Littlejohn impression

I won't bore you with the details, just remind you that Britain is not a very democratic country.

If you don't like it here mate, you're welcome to fuck off.

Lastly, what the nice man at the end of this short video says. (It was good politics then, and it's good politics now.)

Update 4:39 pm. If any readers are in the dark about Pajamas Media you can find some useful information from Dennis the Peasant. Also from Dennis Atlas Juggs on Barack Obama. Next to Pammy, Nick is Einstein.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Nick: the Antiques Roadshow special edition

I suppose we ought to be relieved that Nick has decided to write about something different! I hadn't noticed antique prices falling much though. I think it rather depends on what you're into. If Nick had been looking at Arts and Crafts furniture or turn of the century art pottery, he'd have seen a different picture. Anyway, Nick writes:

About a mile away from The Observer's London offices is Camden Passage. It was the home for 60 or so antique shops selling everything from expensive Art Deco jewellery to battered books. They are closing almost monthly. In their place come the stores and restaurants for the modern moneyed classes: gastropubs, delicatessens and a FrostFrench boutique. The dealers talk of a plot to force them out. But if their antiques were selling they wouldn't be in trouble. They're not making enough money because of a decisive global shift in favour of the modern style in the early Nineties.

Nick hasn't heard of eBay? Didn't he think that many dealers, noticing that their shops are expensive and account for a small proportion of their sales, prefer not to shell out for rents in expensive locations? Has he thought that the weakness of the dollar might have hit demand from Americans?

No, these rather obvious points seem to have passed him by.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Because I Can

Let me refer to a post of mine from last year. "FWIW, I think David Miliband is the closest thing to a Decent in Parliament ..." Jeers all round in the comments. Oh, what have we here?

Has anyone read the whole thing? I got as far as far as "supporting movements for democracy" and it reminded me of I need an election.

And boy, do I wish I'd written this -

If Bush had spent that $3,000,000,000,000 on shoes, no American child would ever have to wear the same shoes more than once. Or he could have bought everyone in Iraq an Aston Martin. Those would be the actions of a madman, of course, yet still more sensible than what he actually did do.

Update: straight after hitting the publish post button. David Miliband: "We must not be glib about what democracy means - it is far more than a five year ballot. We cannot be self satisfied about the state of our own democracy."

MPs reject referendum on EU treaty:

However, several Labour MPs rebelled, saying the party should stick by its 2005 manifesto commitment to a public poll on the proposed constitution.

Damn right, it's more than a five year ballot: it at least means the elected party sticks to their manifesto promises. (That's not an anti-EU point, BTW, or a pro-Cameron one. It's a "you made a promise and people supposedly voted for you on the entirety of your manifesto" point.) Aye, aye?

Update 20:15. Labour Manifesto 2005 (no link - I saved a copy for future reference), p110:

Labour remains committed to reviewing the experience of the new electoral systems – introduced for the devolved administrations,the European Parliament and the London Assembly. A referendum remains the right way to agree any change for Westminster.

OK, before anyone comments, that is not an entirely unambiguous promise. Still, changes to the EU must mean changes to Westminster - therefore a referendum was implicitly promised was it not?

More gems from Decentiya

"the halcyon days of early 2003".

- Robin Simcox of the Jacksonauts.

I really can't think of anything else to say about his review. I do think it's terrible, but any further comment from me would not be as damning as the phrase "the halcyon days of early 2003" and would thus dilute this unfavourable review. If you ever wondered what Oliver Kamm's id would sound like, this is it. We did the right thing in Vietnam by the way (this is on the watch list for me because I am sure it is about to take off in Decent conventional wisdom).

Simcox is clearly an idiot to watch. He's also the Scoop Jackson society's "Britain in the World Section Director", which holds out the tantalising possibility that there are other section directors responsible for Britain's extraterrestrial policy.

Liberalssesss, we hates em

For the sake of keeping up appearances, I'm having a look at the new Decentiya (didn't you know? There's a new one out. You can join their £100 club if you like). The first article in it is a review of Andrew Anthony's book. Good god almighty.

The thing that strikes me (and I know this point has been made before) is that it's all about liberals this and liberals that, but look at this bloke's biography - he wasn't a liberal, any more than Nick Cohen or David Aaronovitch were. As Matthew has pointed out on several occasions, the one constant in a lot of Decent commentators' political lives has been a hatred of liberals; they used to hate them from the left and now they hate them from the right. Which is particularly embarrassing because on nearly all important geopolitical and intellectual questions of the last fifty years, liberals have been right and they've been wrong.

Look, a lot of us thought that the Contras were a bunch of bastards, and the general view that US policy in Latin America was morally wrong and practically all over the place was pretty widespread across all but the arch-Thatcherites. But if you actually went to go and live in Nicaragua, work alongside the Sandinistas and take a considerable personal risk of being murdered by a US proxy, then you were not a liberal my friend; you were a left-winger and I think most people would agree that this was the action of an extreme left-winger by the standards of UK politics.

The same is true of most of Anthony's juvenile political beliefs. Wherever there was a choice between a liberal view and a view that was identifiably and materially to the left of the liberal view, he took the one that wasn't "liberal". Liberals didn't believe that "Israel was the source of most of the troubles in the Middle East", that "America was always the bad guy" or that "all social ills stemmed from inequality and racism", and if Andrew Anthony did believe those things, he wasn't a liberal.

And this confusion continues to dog Anthony after his departure from the ranks of what he believed to be "the liberal-left" but was actually the sectarian far left. Today, he thinks that George Galloway, Howard Zinn and Seumas Milne are liberals. This is basically the Jonah "Liberal Fascism" Goldberg analysis; find someone somewhere who has ever had a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon connection to world socialism, and you can attribute all of their views to "the liberal left".

As I say, I'm sorry not to be more original, and this has been rather a theme of AW for the last few years. The distinctive feature of the "liberal left" as far as I can see is that it's capable of entertaining two sides of a question. The common feature of the old-fashioned "far left", the current Decent Left and the Right is that they basically aren't. The real, deep ideological difference here is on the concept of a trade-off, Manicheanism versus ambiguity (by the way, scroll through that book review for the most hellish misunderstanding of the Frankfurt School you'll ever see. Apparently they stood for simple, universal truth as an "essential tool for unmasking relations of domination and exploitation". All that stuff about dialectic was for the birds, I guess).

Aaronovitch is the only one of them who even understands how it's possible that someone else might think about political issues as having two sides - of course, he tends to place this understanding in the service of the wider political project of Birtism. The rest of them - well, the review claims that " for all his moral certainty, Anthony lacks the self-righteousness and bombast that afflicts some of his fellow travellers in left apostasy", and this is frighteningly quite possibly true; he accuses us all of "gulag denial", but this might not lift him into the top quartile of bombastic Decent arseholes.

Oh yeah, and every single person on the left is absolutely and forever on the hook for every single word they said while the world was traumatized by 9/11. But Martin Amis, five years after the fact ... well, we have to make allowances, don't we?

Monday, March 03, 2008

Interesting to read

I don't know if you've heard, but there's a thing called the interwhathaveyou, which can be accessed by a home computer. It's very simple. Ok, it's not very simple, it's rather complicated as a matter of fact, but an awful lot of human knowledge, dictionaries, Shakespeare's plays, the Bible, etc, etc, has ended up being accessible by pretty much anyone.

You may know this already. If so, I suspect you're not a journalist by profession, because they seem to be behind the times on this.

Authoritarians seeking to extend repression have always drawn innocents into manufactured crises. None was more innocent than Jacques Barrot, who, in 2005, helped trigger a wave of death when he entered France's annual pig squealing contest at the Pyrenean village of Trie-sur-Baïse.
Barrot didn't win: that honour went to Yohann and Olivier Roussel for delivering an impressive impersonation of pigs mating. However, history remembers Barrot rather than the Roussels because an Associated Press photographer snapped him wearing a plastic snout standing at the microphone and put it on the news wires.
The next time it appeared, someone had doctored the picture and added the caption: 'Here is the real image of Mohammed.' Two radical imams, whom Denmark had foolishly welcomed as asylum seekers, included it in a dossier they were hawking round the dictatorships of the Middle East, on how Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten had insulted Muslims.

There's so much wrong with this rubbish that I left it a day and hoped someone else would go for it. Also I meant to concentrate on a few things, but, well, really. I think the first sentence is plain wrong. As for the second, if M Barrot had 'helped trigger a wave of death' he wouldn't be innocent, but he didn't. I'm not sure what "it" refers to in the last sentence of the second paragraph and the first sentence of the third. I think it's "the image of M Barrot" but that's not entirely clear. If I were unaware of journalistic licence, I'd understand 'it' to refer to the microphone. But if I were that pedantic, I'd also worry that the news wires have gone the way of the I-speak-your-weight-machine. And the next time the imagine appeared should have been when whichever French papers chose to print the pig-squealing story.

The reader can see the image here. The first thing that strikes me is that it does not look remotely like a cartoon. It looks like a grainy black-and-white photo. Interestingly, according to the Wikipedia article linked above, it fooled the BBC. Since the Beeb epitomizes liberal thought, that's a free dig I can't see our Nick passing up if he'd even read the article.

Anyway, I did a bit of searching. One of the imams Nick talks about was called (he's dead) Ahmad Abu Laban. He was a remarkably unpleasant person. I've done some searching on him too. I found all the charges mentioned on Wikipedia (short version: he was a nut). I have not, and if any reader can set me right on this, I will update this post as soon as possible, found any reference by him to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I am sure he was a misogynist, a bigot, a shit-stirrer and generally nasty piece of work. The one person I don't believe he attacked (probably through his own ignorance) was Ms Hirsi Ali.

After at least 100 deaths and the storming of Danish embassies in Syria and Iran, journalists pointed out that the newspaper hadn't included a picture of M Barrot among the innocuous cartoons it had run to uphold the right to mock religion. The clerics then said an anonymous poison pen writer had sent the wounding picture to a Danish Muslim. It was, they added, an insult to their faith as great as Ayaan Hirsi Ali's championing of the rights of Muslim women.

The thing is, I believe they said an almighty number of self-serving, implausible, and stupid things, but I don't believe they said that.

If you can shoot me down, please do.

There are areas Nick and I agree - humanism, secularism, the general stupidity of religion is a major one. I recently read Christopher Hitchens' "God is not Great" and enjoyed it too.

The OIC is pushing it to approve a super-blasphemy law that would make it an offence to 'defame' any religion. Keith Porteous Wood of the National Secular Society said attending the discussions was an Orwellian experience, with speakers using the language of liberalism to justify oppression. 'Anyone seeking to draw attention to the capital offence of apostasy in Islamic countries will be lucky to be heard,' he reported. 'Anything deemed the slightest bit critical of Islam is immediately jumped upon.'

That's Nick, not Hitchens. I'd have thought that we - Nick, Hitch, and I - would agree that all religions defame other religions all the time. If the Dalai Lama asserts that he's the reincarnation of previous Lamas, then that's a slap in the face for the whole heaven/purgatory/limbo/hell thing isn't it? Ian Paisley (either of them) waxes rather Anglo-Saxon about the Pontiff in the Vatican. But Nick's point here seems to be that Islam and Islam alone is intolerant. Let me put it this way, if you have multiculturalism (a good thing by me), you can't have blasphemy laws.

This was a column written by a brain in neutral. "But what unites dictatorships is more important than what divides them ..." more important to whom? Iran and Iraq were united by quite a bit (oil-producing enemies of the United States whose names began with 'Ira' for example) but they fought a bloody and pointless and winnerless war over the differences. You may think that China and the old Soviet Union were both communist dictatorships with one-party states who hated the west, etc, etc. But they had massive armies on their joint border and argued about just about everything.

Gripe of the week

Just be glad it's not gripe of the day. I can do that too, you know. Only tangentially related to this blog, but Nick recommends his mate Martin Bright here. I don't mind Martin Bright, as a rule, but this annoyed me.

Martin Bright began his journalistic career writing in very simple English for a magazine aimed at French school children. This experience has informed his style ever since.

Then why start a piece with a sentence without a transitive verb?

Interesting to read the full text of the "Unite for Ken" letter that appeared in the Guardian earlier this week with 100 prominent signatories giving their support to the mayor.

Yes, I know "Interesting" is short for "[It is] interesting", but isn't it more honest to drop the fake objectivity and write "I was interested"? And then to think "show, don't tell" and drop the perspective thing? If it's interesting, really interesting, we'll work it out for ourselves. Just start 'in media res' [in the middle of things, eg the action]. I think Martin is making two points: first he doesn't like the letter itself, and secondly, that a lot of people he doesn't like signed it.

It strikes me as somewhat defeatist of Livingstone's supporters to suggest that the work of left-wing opponents of Livingstone like me "will" lead to Johnson's victory.

From what I've read of the polls, there are two possible outcomes: Ken will win, or Boris will. That's it. There's no provision for a draw and it's unlikely the Lib Dems or the Greens will win. If Ken loses (which I believe Martin Bright wants) then Boris has to win. Martin Bright is (to use a hackneyed phrase) 'objectively pro-Johnson'.

Dammit you lefties, why!!! do you hate the working class so fucking much?!?!?!?

Yes, it's "Clothes for Chaps" again, though not mentioning his granny this time, thank God. But you fucking middle class lefties, really, you all ought to be ashamed of yourselves! Portraying the working class as hopeless and awful and racists and all that![1] I saw this documentary about Enoch Powell on the telly - that's the sort of vision of the white working class we ought to be presenting ... sorry, lost my thread a bit. What the chuff is he on about?

(bonus whining from Anthony in the comments section as usual. We really aren't taking him seriously enough, he thinks).

[1] A purist might suggest that not everyone works in the media industry, but I'm sure that, for example, chartered accountants and middle managers in steel fabrication companies are also out there stereotyping the white working class in their own subtle ways. Or at least, they are if they're liberals.