Monday, May 11, 2009

I have bought Aaro's book

So far I note ...

Citations, per my bet with PPhil in comments below: I would score it a win to me. The original bet was two out of three of Peter Dale Scott, Paul Thompson and Robin Ramsay. Of these, only Ramsay is mentioned, in a reasonably material discussion of his views. ("Little Atoms" said in the same comments that Peter Dale Scott appeared in the bibliography of the prepublication version he'd seen, but he isn't there - no reference in the bibliog, and the only reference in the index is to Paul Scott, author of the Raj Quartet, unrelated). I added Nafeez Ahmed as a "bonus ball", and his "London Bombings" book appears in the biblio but I don't understand why - the book isn't discussed and the only reference to Ahmed himself is that David Ray Griffin apparently got interested in conspiracy theory after reading a different book by Nafeez Ahmed. On the JFK and related assassinations literature, Aaro's main source is Gerald Posner, who cites Peter Dale Scott quite a lot and has debated him publicly on a number of occasions (they disagree on nearly everything), so I don't understand why Aaro didn't follow up the reference.

Other guesses from my review:

"Also inevitable is at least one reference to David Icke": or perhaps not. Not in the index or biblio - might be a throwaway line in the text, but if so I haven't found it yet. Surely an open goal missed here Aaro!

There's also surely at least a 50/50 chance that he'll libel Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.: also, apparently not.

Diana theories get in there, of course, as do lunar landing conspiracists,: and how; 20 opages on Diana and 2 on "Apollo moon landings".

Iran Contra will be tossed off in a couple of pages, Watergate in few more and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident most likely not mentioned at all: if anything, I overestimated Aaro here.

Iran-Contra gets mentioned on one page, in the para:

"Not countering Watergate, which was a rather pitiful botched conspiracy to cover up an attempt at political espionage [and firebombing, and burglary - BB], the Iran-Contra affair of 1985-6 is the closest the US has come to a full-blown conspiracy. Here, senior members of the Reagan administration sought to thwart a congressional prohibition on financial support to anti-Communist Nicaraguan insurgents (the Contras) by procuring weapons and selling them to America's sworn enemy Iran. The entire business unravelled; there were two inquiries; and two National Security Council employees were found guilty of minor felonies, their convictions being overturned on appeal on the grounds that they had been promised immunity from prosecution through testifying to Congress"

Oliver North not mentioned by name at all. Watergate gets two mentions, one in the paragraph above and one in a sentence quoting someone as saying it wouldn't have happened if Robert Kennedy had lived.

The Gulf of Tonkin also gets two mentions. Weirdly, both are in contexts where it's more or less admitted that there was a real conspiracy here (although this is by no means proved and probably never will be given that the most important documents are still classified. On p8:

"An individual theory will seem less improbable if an entire history of similar cases can be cited. These can be as ancient as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, and today may incldue references to Pearl Harbor, the Reichstag fire and the 1965 Gulf of Tonkin incident".

On p220 "Then she cites 1941 and Pearl Harbor [...] followed by the 1965 Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which President Lyndon Johnson used an alleged attack on a US destroyer as a pretext to begin the bombing of North Vietnam, thus providing much fodder for conspiracy theorists."

I said:

Oliver Stone's film is likely to get treated as if it were the definitive summary of assassinology : not entirely true, but close as.

(and I bet he gets the official line wrong, repeating the Warren Commission's "lone nut" conclusion and ommitting the House Committee on Assassinations): he does. Fair enough if one thinks the HSCA got it wrong, but not to even mention it (except once in a quoted passage on an unrelated topic)?

I suspect that on at least one occasion, our man will use as a punchline the ridiculousness of suspecting that the military and security infrastructure of a G7 country might have been co-opted by a single Masonic lodge (something which has definitely happened). The Freemasons! Controlling the secret police! Carrying out acts of domestic terrorism as a pretext for jailing their political enemies!

Weirdly, Freemasonry is mentioned on pages 20, 23, 25, 26, 34, 36, 37, 82, 199, 208, 209 and 215 (also on p280 which is not in the index), but Propaganda Due not at all. Brown, Dan is on pp 5, 187-8, 190, 205, 216-17, 302, but Allende and Pinochet none each, plus Patrice Lumumba, zero.

I'll get stuck in and read the thing asap. My hopes are not high. I peeked at the end, and it does all end up in having a go at "relativism" as the cause of it all; this is surely crazy - conspiracy theorists are, as I mentioned in comments before, the least relativist people in the world, as they are by definition specifically obsessed with the literal truth of one specific narrative account of history and the literal falsity of another.

Final note:

Then in March 2003 American and British forces[sic] invaded Iraq in what was to prove the most controversial and divisive foreign-policy decision for both countries of the post-Cold War era. There were huge protests, followed by a widespread belief that somehow the American and British people had been lied to. Many books have covered and will cover that territory, but one consequences was a flood of conspiracy theories covering almost every aspect of Western (here defined as American, British, Israeli, and, if you have less parochial tastes, Australian) foreign and counter-terrorist policy."

That's it. That's the sum fucking total of the discussion of Iraq, except in so far as it relates to the death of Dr David Kelly. The real conspiracy here is the conspiracy to separate me from £17.99 of my money for a book that doesn't discuss the single most relevant point that its author might have had to discuss. Fuck, I'm annoyed.

89 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have had a bit of a flick through, and his discussion of both the Zinoviev letter and the Iraq war are both bizarre.
The Zinoviev letter was a conspiracy theory - it said there was a conspiracy between the Bolsheviks and the Labour Party, a crazy untrue idea.
The UK and US government line on the ,and the line of much of the UK and US press on Iraq were conspiracy theories. They said Iraq and Al Qaeda were secretly friends, that Saddam was secretly arming Al Qaeda, training plane hijackers at Salman Pak, his agents meeting Mohammed Atta in Prague, developing Anthrax in underground labs to give to Al Qaeda terrorists to post around the US - all a crazy conspiracy theory.
but Aaro does not even consider these highly succesful conspiracy theories as conspiracy theories.
Instead, he denounces as conspiracy theorists those that (a) said the Zinoviev letter was made by Mi6 (he says it was made by White Russians then passed by some Mi6 agents to the Daily Mail - not such a big difference ) and (b) thought we were "somehow lied to". Er , as in somehow the newspapers and government dossiers were full of lies.

5/11/2009 05:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Craig Murray's review:
http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2009/05/brutus_acted_al.html

5/11/2009 06:28:00 PM  
Anonymous orgainc cheeseboard said...

I'll be very interested to hear more about the relativism part. As you say, conspiracy theorists aren't relativists - I'm guessing relativism is being blamed for conpiracy theories being taken seriously but as aaro's book shows, one man's truth is another man's conspiracy theory, and Aaro is not even a historian...

I tried to find a copy to flick through but on Friday not a single bookshop on Charing Cross road had a copy...

5/11/2009 06:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the Craig Murray link, anonymous. I particularly liked the commenter who began: "This Zionist apologist, whose career as a keyboard mercenary has spanned many years, is a known tub of lard, lying sack of shit, propagandist for the cause of Jewish Supremacy."
Phil D' Bap

5/11/2009 07:40:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Quite right Philp we should disregard what Craig Murray wrote because of what someone said in the comment boxes.

Actually I have pretty mixed feelings about CM but this extremely vitriolic attack on the "obnoxious Michael Gove" is undeniably amusing

5/11/2009 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Phil, the phrase you're looking for is "Well done, Bruschettaboy, the better man won". Since the subject of our original bet was "shameless nutpicking", I have to take the citation of the Craig Murray(!) comments section(!) as being really rather churlish in context.

5/11/2009 08:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/11/2009 08:33:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Try again, Phil, this time without the racial epithet. You're not in the Craig Murray comments section now you know.

5/11/2009 08:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remarkable. Truly. "Jewish Supremacy" when used in earnest - fine, the n word when used obviously satirically - censored as being a racial epithet. Your blog, your choice. That's the point - your choice.
Phil D'Bap

5/11/2009 08:54:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

This is not exactly difficult, Phil'D. You're just about borderline allowed to repaste nutpicked comments from other sites here (once per thread only, please) for the purpose of alerting us to the hitherto unknown fact that there are silly people on the internet. You're even allowed to throw a hissy fit when we don't react with sufficient condemnathonatory outrage. What you're not allowed to do is use racial epithets, satirically or otherwise.

Actually, I would even have probably allowed you the epithet, if it was in quoted speech - viz somebody on a comments thread a couple of days ago quoting David Toube using one. But that wasn't how you used it; you were specifically trying to accuse people on this thread of being bigots or blind to bigotry, and while you're allowed to do that, you're not allowed to use such inflammatory language; quite apart from anything else, there are quite a few n-words and y-words who post here and I am committed to maintaining this as a safe space for them.

In any response you care to make (and please don't feel you have to make one at all), please be aware that running this remedial netiquette class seems to me to be a disproportionate amount of trouble relative to the quality of your posts (and you haven't even admitted I won my fucking bet yet!), and I really am considering banning you for the benefit of everyone else.

5/11/2009 09:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually BB, I think I'm something of an adornment to your blog, and you'll lose more from banning me than I will. But enough of that.
Phil D'Bap

5/11/2009 09:16:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Philip. Nobody said the phrase 'Jewish Supremecy' was 'fine' but I think even you must recognise that using the n-word is completely different league from using the term 'Jewish Supremecy'.

Or maybe not?

5/11/2009 09:44:00 PM  
Blogger YDUE! said...

Sorry to respond slightly off-topic to a comment that was left over three years ago, but the article described in comments here would appear to be Nick Griffin's delightful "Who are the Mind-benders?". I've never really given Icke much of the benefit of the doubt - it's hard to believe that stuff like the Protocols could ever be resuscitated as anything other than anti-Semitic given their history - but I think this would represent (if it appeared as an article on his website as described) the last scintilla of doubt in my mind regarding his being aware of exactly what he's dealing with riding rather quickly out of town.

My first reaction to Aaronovitch putting in so little Iraq commentary was to put it down to pure psychological coping but, then again, no.

5/11/2009 10:10:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

Relativism can't possibly be an explanation for conspiracy theories, because such theories existed long before any ideas of relativistic truth. In fourteenth century France, for example, where there was a theory that Jews and lepers were conspiring to poison wells.

Relativistic views of truth may make people who don't believe in a particular conspiracy theory less likely to condemn those who do as absolute idiots, but it doesn't affect how many people do believe in a particular theory. I think that has far more to do with your feelings towards the general trustworthiness of authority. If you have governments that routinely deceive people, it's easier to believe that they may have done worse things.

I suspect Aaronovitch just wants to get at relativism because Decents disapprove of it anyhow. Moral relativists allegedly go round claiming that there's no meaningful difference between democracy and Saddam, although a lot of anti-war protestors were making the non-relativistic point that brown people don't enjoy foreign occupations any more than white people do.

5/12/2009 06:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

Why does Aaro say that the Iran-Contra affair was the 'closest thing' in the US to a 'full-blown' conspiracy? How was it not a conspiracy?

His argument seems to be that a conspiracy ceases to be 'real' once it is exposed, because real conspiracies are by definition undetectable. This is literal relativism, isn't it, in the Schrödinger's Cat sense?

5/12/2009 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

His actual criteria for a conspiracy theory is that it is an explanation of an event which seems unlikely to him, David Aaronovitch. I am not joking.

5/12/2009 09:03:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I suspect Aaronovitch just wants to get at relativism because Decents disapprove of it anyhow..
That's it really. Just like Cohen's attempt to blame the credit crunch on the 'liberal media intelligentsia' or whatever, this is based on stock Decent fallguys than anything apprpoaching the objective truth. The fact that it's in there rather undermines Aaro's entire approach - he claims to want history written by non-relativist historians, but he's not a historian, he's a columnist who has all-too-evident prejudices which have clearly tainted his objectivity, and his governing philosophy (most of these things are unlikely to have happened because aaro thinks they'd be too difficult to do) is based in a purely relative and unprovable idea of humanity.

I guess you can kind of have a go at (imaginary) 'relativists' for taking conspiracy theories seriously, but the problem is that the term 'conspiracy theory' is relative - one man's conspiracy theory truly is another man's truth - as you say, just look at aaro's hamfisted approach to Iran-contra, which presumably isn't a conspiracy because it was uncovered.

I don't think that all conspiracy theories should be taken seriously, but that the term is, as an earlier commenter said, pretty much entirely redundant, because it's all in the eye of the beholder, it's yet another term designed to limit debate and paint their opponents as 'unserious'. That's before we get to the question of folk history, which from all the reviews so far I don't think Aaro has touched on, and not only is that an emerging area of interest but it also rather complicates matters both of historical study and also of current affairs (a case in point being, say, the rather differing Israeli and Palestinian 'official accounts' of 1946, which are both based more in folk history, personal experience, and prejudice than anything historically accurate).

He actually proves that a moderate form of relativism (accepting that historians are unlikely ever to provide a total, comprehensive, unconstestable 'truth') is pretty much the only way to view the world - otherwise history wouldn't really exist as an academic subject, because there'd be no progress either in research or ideas, as everything would be decided as true or false based on one non-historian's idea of what common sense tells him - and he's hardly got an unblemished record in that. as usual, Decent commitment to objective truth comes unstuck when it's actually put into practice.

A shame - there is a good history book waiting to be written on these narratives. But Aaro clearly isn't up to the job, and he'd probably take serious umbrage at any book which tried to look at this stuff objectively, because he might disagree with its definitions. His good reviews are probably because (a) he has a lot of friends in the media, (b) there's enough amusing sutff to paraphrase for an entertaining review, and (c) it's unlikely to attract any real attention from genuine historians.

By the way, Evening Standard relaunched yesterday, and no sign of Nick Cohen in it for two weeks now...

5/12/2009 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Twenty pages on the death of Diana Spencer???? I've never met anyone who has serious doubts about the official story, mainly because the State has spent a lot of money on inquests and inquiries and it is difficult to find fault with them. As far as I am aware, the Indecent Left and "moral relativists" and Aaro's other usual targets don't doubt the official story. The only people who have doubts seem to be
- the Daily Express, which needs a lead story for a Monday morning without paying for journalists to work over the weekend
- Mr Fayed, who seems to have difficulty in coping with the fact that Diana Spencer died in his car, going from his hotel to his flat, with his son and two of his employees.

Aaro would seem to be using a bizarre story to try cast doubts on other unoffical versions of history for which there is better evidence. The full story of what Oliver North did is on the record, but top people in the US administration stepped up to the late and said that he was a patriot. There is however little doubt that the "conspiracy theorists" were right.

Guano

5/12/2009 09:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A widespread belief that somehow we were lied to" (about Iraq). Is Aaro trying to imply there is no good reason why people believe that the Government (and the opposition too) lied to us?

Guano

5/12/2009 09:58:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

"as you say, just look at aaro's hamfisted approach to Iran-contra"

his treatment of the Gulf of Tonkin incident is even weirder. In actual fact, that's a really quite ambiguous event - there's certainly a respectable case to be made that it was a genuine mistake, and even lots of people who think the intelligence was deliberately distorted by the NSA believe that LBJ didn't know this. But in Aaro's book it appears twice, basically as a gimme for the conspiracists both times.

(FWIW, the bruschettaboy view on G of T - NSA almost certainly knew they were providing a misleading picture. There's no real evidence that LBJ had asked them for a misleading picture, but he definitely got the result he wanted. More generally, the deployment of the US Navy at the time was pretty much based on the objective of creating an incident like the G of T, so it's unsurprising that they eventually got one. This links into my view about Pearl Harbour - there's no real evidence that FDR knew about it ahead of time, but it can't seriously be argued that he wasn't trying to provoke an incident that could be used as a pretext for the USA entering the war. This is where the relativist perspective makes a lot more sense than Aaro's - if you take the Aaro "common sense" view, then you are AFAICS committed to the belief that Pearl Harbour was totally unexpected and unambiguously an unwanted event, which seems to me to be a really poor starting point for trying to understand what happened as a consequence.

5/12/2009 10:50:00 AM  
Anonymous Simon said...

"By the way, Evening Standard relaunched yesterday, and no sign of Nick Cohen in it for two weeks now..."

It was being given away free yesterday. They've signed up a couple of new columnists, so maybe Nick is being phased out.

5/12/2009 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

BTW, Aaro's piece in the the Times today is an absolute stinker, but at the same time a classic of its kind. The subject is MPs' expenses - I think anyone who hasn't read it can guess the rest.

5/12/2009 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

[aaronovitch] claims to want history written by non-relativist historiansThere's no such thing. What people normally mean when they ask for this is historians who agree with them (usually establishment ones), and who pretend that there is little doubt about events as laid out.
Also know as bad historians.
Relativist historians, if they're any good, are historians who acknowledge doubt, biases (including their own), express fairly objective skepticism and admit uncertainty. Its really what the enlightenment approach should be.

5/12/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aaro's column on MPs' expenses is, indeed, classic Aaro: the public is suffering from some strange disease that makes them angry about MPs' expenses claims. Perhaps this disease is related to the one that makes people angry on hearing the word "Blair" or the one that makes people look for conspiracy theories. Aaro will probably be suggesting soon that the public today is getting very sick and we'll have to elect another one!

Anyway, the tone of his column suggests that he got some talking points from MPs who are very rattled. Good!

Guano

5/12/2009 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger Little Atoms said...

"but this isn't true" is a bit much! Peter Dale Scott is definitely in the biblio of my version. Although as you mention yourself, mine was a pre-publication copy. Wonder why it gone from the published version? Mine doesn't have an index, so couldn't check there.. It also has Aaronovitch spelt with one 'a' on the title page. Hope they've corrected that!!

5/12/2009 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

sorry, I didn't mean anything by that other than "it isn't true that Peter Dale Scott is in the bibliography" - yes, I also wonder why it changed in the published version - it can't be because the book's not mentioned in the text because nor is Nafeez Ahmed's book on the London bombings.

5/12/2009 03:03:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

And I have now edited the post such that the exchange above does not make sense ...

5/12/2009 03:05:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

On Aaro's piece today, unless he's spoke to the show's producer or it is online somewhere else, it seems to me that when he refers to what a 'viewer texts in' he makes two mistakes [it's here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/politics_show/7653445.stm]

First, it could be an email.

Second, and rather more importantly, it seems to lack the CAPS of Aaro's version and the double exclamation mark.

There's no way a careful researcher such as Aaro would make that mistake, so I can only assume he's done it to make the (perfectly sensible comment) woman seem a bit crazy.

5/12/2009 03:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Shabby, Aaro, shabby. But full marks for taking the defence precisely where the charges are strongest (the unbelievable Moran), even if he doesn't actually try to make a case for her.

I think the whole thing is an object lesson in how quantity changes quality. People's reactions seem to vary according to how they'd react to unexpectedly gaining or losing £10,000. There are those who would think "how nice, I'm £10,000 up" or "oh dear, £10,000 down" (most MPs, Aaro, Stephen Fry) - and then there's the rest of us.

5/12/2009 04:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Twenty pages on the death of Diana Spencer???? I've never met anyone who has serious doubts about the official story"What rarified circles do you move in?

5/12/2009 08:13:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I know I am not going to make myself very popular here but I am really drawn to playing devil's advocate over this one. It feels particularly uncomfortable doing this because I really dislike Aaro for being such a horrible toady to the political classes.

Nevertheless whilst some of the practices, particularly 'flipping' are pretty shabby and deserve all the condemnation they get, isn't Aaro at least correct in saying that the media and public reaction has been rather OTT. MPs earn a basic salary of 65K which puts them in the top 5-7% of the workforce. Maybe they trouser an extra 30-40K per annum through expenses and various other perks which puts them at around the 100K mark.

But this is only what an average GP earns, probably half to a third of what a good consultant earns and a tiny fraction of what a CEO or hedgie picks up.

Is this really so outrageous?

Isn't it a bit rich for newspaper columnists who probably earn two or three times that to fulminate so loudly on the subject?
I mean really its a drop in the ocean in terms of public spending. Recently the Guardian estimated that the Treasury loses £100 billion per annum in tax avoidance. MPs pay and expenses represents less than 0.1% of this yet where's the moral outrage over tax avoidance which is a vastly more serious problem.

MPs are copping it particularly badly because 1) there's a deep recession on and people are feeling angry and let down by the mess the economy is in and looking for someone to blame, and the Government is to partly to blame for this, and 2) politicians have partly dug their own grave by conniving in a culture of spin, deception and PR which has badly damaged trust in their probity.

But still getting all aerated over a claim for a bathplug or a bit of gardening is a bit ridiculous isn't it?

( hunkers down and waits for the brickbats )

5/12/2009 11:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic but has anyone seen this little gem from David's favourite web site?

http://www.hurryupharry.org/2009/05/11/give-it-a-rest/#comments

Sonic

5/13/2009 01:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I think that's outrageously anti-semitic. The facts of the case are quite clear - the guy was employed in one capacity then transferred to other duties, which he couldn't carry out effectively without transgressing religious prohibitions. He's absolutely right - no employer should put a Jew in that position. Let's face it, Jewish dietary laws aren't exactly news. This is just another -

oh, wait. He's a Muslim. Never mind.

(Heavy-handed sarcasm OFF.)

Bubby: I think the problem with MPs' expenses is that many seem to have claimed
a) for the kind of thing that you or I would never dream of claiming on expenses
b) for the kind of sums that you or I would never dream of claiming
c) in many cases with the evident intent of making a bit on the deal (where 'a bit' means 'several grand'; see also point b))
d) from the government
e) more specifically, from a government that's urging the rest of us to tighten our belts and demonstratively cracking down on greedy fraudsters at the very bottom of the heap.

Really not a good look.

On point a), there has been a bit of confusion on the whole 'second home' front; it could reasonably be argued that a London base, for someone who may only need it for five years, is a legitimate working expense. But the system is obviously wide open to abuse. Put 'em in serviced flats, I say (that's 'barracks' in Aaro-ese).

5/13/2009 07:15:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

In general, I tend to agree with Bubby that it's all a bit ridiculous. If the MPs had just voted themselves salary increases over the last ten years, there would probably be much less of a problem. But ohhhhh no, they had to be all virtuous and say "no, we're giving up our pay rises because we're so public spirited!", all the while nodding and winking at the expenses scheme. It was a silly wheeze and it's unsurprising that it came unstuck.

I'm not sure about some of those statistics btw; £65k is £1250 per week, and the wages statistics only go up to £800/wk - apparently 9% of medical practitioners make less than £800/wk, though I don't see how.

The GP average earnings figure is not really comparable as GPs are small businessmen rather than employees - I don't actually agree that management consultants below director level are making multiples of an MP's salary either. I'd compare an MP's salary to a full professor at a British university or a Head of Division in the civil service (ie, someone doing pretty well, as they should be).

5/13/2009 07:30:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

+1 for Phil's reply re MP's expenses, but also a tip of the hat to the opposition. The media are playing to populism. Mostly I hate these kind of saloon bar reactions, but they're bang to rights this time.

What's so pathetic is that it confirms several enduring "qualities" of the English managerial class: failure to designing working systems (and it's consequence - fudge and muddling-through); running away from decisions that could prove unpopular; failure to make a case for improvement; private-clubism, secrecy and nod-and-a-wink; detachment from ordinary mortals.

5/13/2009 08:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, while we throw ordure at the shysters who have plundered millions from us, thanks to the short attention span of their mates in the press, the coupon-clippers who took us for _billions_ are getting away scot-free. The Party of Ownership must be breaking out the booze right now.

Chris Williams

5/13/2009 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

"apparently 9% of medical practitioners make less than £800/wk, though I don't see how."

Inner city GPs in deprived areas don't do particularly well. And I guess that would also include doctors in medical training?

"I'd compare an MP's salary to a full professor at a British university or a Head of Division in the civil service (ie, someone doing pretty well, as they shouldbe)."

It is, and there's a case for saying even that's quite high. An ordinary MP does not have particularly onerous responsibilities (such as line management), nor do they have the experience that those two roles (theoretically) require. You could make a case for London weighting if they didn't get their homes provided for free, as it is 65K sounds pretty damn good. They also get a very nice pension, so there's that...

There's also an argument about how exactly can we expect the political classes to represent the average man, when they earn multiples of the median salary (which is, what, 16-17K?). I think its really damaging when you have any large class of people earning such huge sums, but particularly so when you're talking about representative politicians who love to crack down on the undeserving poor.

On a related note. Will it soon be Alan "not the leader of the Labour Party" Johnson?

5/13/2009 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Will it soon be Alan "not the leader of the Labour Party" Johnson?

Potentially, but I still think that meltdown might be avoided to the extent of Alan "not the Leader Of the Opposition" Johnson.

5/13/2009 09:42:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I think Phil makes a very good point regarding the hypocricy of MPs who have milked the system geting all self-righteous about benefit fraud.

The point about comparability to professors is interesting. Professors generally earn in the 60-100K range so that's roughly where the MPs are sitting now.

Cian's case that MPs need to be not too far removed from the life experiences of the people they represent is well made though I'm not sure an MP who survives primarily on a MP's salary is necessarily that far removed. A better case can be made for those MPs who pick up vast sums, often five or more times their MP's salary in outside consultancies, William Hague being a case in point. Perhaps rather than getting so excited about MP's picking up 60K or 100K we should be demanding that they are not allowed to moonlight and must devote all their time to their constituents.

I still have to come back to the point that the public is getting terribly excited about a drain on the public purse which is very, very, very small in comparison to the real villains of the piece. MPs cost us less than £100 million a year, tax avoidance costs us tens of billions, the costs of rescusing a financial system destroyed by rampant greed will be hundreds of billions, and those who have fucked us over will walk away scott free. Where is the sense of proportion in that?

5/13/2009 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

For fans of intellectual train disasters, Harry's Place does Marx (inter alia, accusing David Hirsh's ENGAGE of being soft on antisemitism!).

Secondly, it is not accident that Marx’s critique of capitalism mirrors an antisemitic conspiracy theory. It is, in effect, a reworking of the Protocols of the Elders of ZionNutpicking? No, I am not nutpicking (unless one considers the whole of Harry's Place to be a nutpick). The sentence above comes from the works of Mr David T, the site's editor.

It is pointed out by one commentator that the Protocols actually first entered circulation in 1905, based on (as I learn from Aaro's actually quite interesting potted history of them, albeit one that makes fairly clear that they came into circulation as the result of a conspiracy) original material from anti-Semitic tracts of the late 1860s. To not much avail.

5/13/2009 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

I'd compare an MP's salary to a full professor at a British university or a Head of Division in the civil service (ie, someone doing pretty well, as they should be).Median age of recently-appointed full professors vs. median age of recently-elected MPs would be an interesting comparison. In terms of career paths, being an MP is a lot closer to old-school rocker* than old-school civil servant**; professor, vice versa.

*Pay your dues, up and down the A1 in the tranny van, get that all-important Blodwyn Pig support slot and you're away.

**Work hard, keep your nose clean and in only three years you could be in the running for *Higher* Executive Officer.

5/13/2009 11:22:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

"Full professor" is an Americanism btw, isn't it? British professors only come in varieties normal and emeritus.

5/13/2009 11:25:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I move in "rarified" circles, but the people I meet don't speculate about the death of Diana: it's just not that important and only Mr Fayed seems to thik that there has been a cover-up. However we get into wars is important, though: it can have a lot of important implications.

It would appear that Aaro spends 20pages on the death of Diana, says that some of the speculation about it is obsessive (and he has a point) then makes passing references to the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the invasion of Iraq. We will be feeling the effects of escalating the Vietnam War and of invading Iraq for years to come, and the official narratives of these events are so embarrasing that no-one in authority likes to spell them out. Aaro would seem to be using his conclusion from one event (that people can be a bit odd at times speculating about these unimportant events) and trying to have them applied to others.

Guano

5/13/2009 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

In relation our the discussion on MP's expenses Bryan Gould in an excellent article makes the point that whilst we are not surprised that the Tories have their snouts in the trough, after all self-interest is their guiding principle, it really isn't supposed to be what Labour is all about...

5/13/2009 12:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard J said...

It is pointed out by one commentator that the Protocols actually first entered circulation in 1905, based on (as I learn from Aaro's actually quite interesting potted history of them, albeit one that makes fairly clear that they came into circulation as the result of a conspiracy) original material from anti-Semitic tracts of the late 1860sThe really unexpected thing, of course, is that the base material was a tract against Napoleon III...

(Norman 'Dad of Nik' Cohn wrote a very good book on them once that I suspect forms much of Aaronovitch's research.)

5/13/2009 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard J said...

This suspicion is based on experience of the depth of research carried out by journalists writing pop history books, not on having read, or even seen a copy of, the thing, of course.

5/13/2009 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Aaro does have a copy of the English translation of the Protocols - he discusses its provenance in a footnote. He cites two books by Cohn in the bibliog, of which I think "Warrant for Genocide" is the one you mention. In general though, the chapter on the Protocols is pretty good and I do think he did some reasonably original research; there's some stuff about Bosie Douglas' later life as a fascist that I didn't know despite owning three books about the Maud Allan Affair.

5/13/2009 01:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Chuck said...

Did Aaronvitch discuss the success of the surge that won the Iraq war? If he didn't i will be very annoyed.

5/13/2009 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I'm afraid he didn't.

5/13/2009 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Bubby, the median salary for UK professors is between 50-65K based upon a very rough guestimate based upon periodically glancing at the Times Higher. I'm sure a few professors do earn 100K, but lets face it those guys/gals could have any job they wanted in the US and are hardly comparable to the right hon anonymous, back bench. Also professors have far more in the way of managerial responsibilities than an MP, and have a fairly specific (and rarish) skill set (as I suppose do doctors, though I'm loathe to admit it sometimes).

Cian's case that MPs need to be not too far removed from the life experiences of the people they represent is well made though I'm not sure an MP who survives primarily on a MP's salary is necessarily that far removed.Survives? SURVIVES? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING! The median salary is around 17-18K (possibly less), so WTF are they doing?
The mean salary is only 25K and the average household income is also quite a bit less than MPs salaries. If you're making above 50K you're in roughly the top 10% of incomes. So if MPs are only surviving, what does that make the other 90%? And how exactly is a salary that is multiples of the average person's "not far removed".
Now I'm not arguing that MPs should earn the median salary, but I can't say I'm terribly sympathetic to the idea that they're hard done by. Nor am I terribly sympathetic to the idea that they feel hard done by because their friends earn more than them. And?

A better case can be made for those MPs who pick up vast sums, often five or more times their MP's salary in outside consultancies, William Hague being a case in point. Perhaps rather than getting so excited about MP's picking up 60K or 100K we should be demanding that they are not allowed to moonlight and must devote all their time to their constituents.Here's an idea. How about doing something about both. Why does this have to be an either/or?

MPs cost us less than £100 million a year, tax avoidance costs us tens of billions, the costs of rescusing a financial system destroyed by rampant greed will be hundreds of billions, and those who have fucked us over will walk away scott free. Where is the sense of proportion in that?I think the point is behaviour, which you're rather missing here. The point is not the cost, its the fact that they are our representatives and we hold them to a minimal standard which many clearly (and astonishingly in some cases) failed to meet. Maybe if MPs did not consider it their god given right to fiddle the system (which many clearly did not, and I think they should be singled out for more praise than they're getting), then they'd be less likely to turn a blind eye to corruption elsewhere.

5/13/2009 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Random thoughts and feel free to blast away.

I was initially intrigued by what his angle was gonna be on this book generally; particularly with regards the sub-title. “The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History”, assuming he would be suggesting that some of these theories had serious repercussions (whatever their basis in fact) and, if that is the case, that there are two types of CT.
The first type, that probably has no effect in shaping history other than to sell books/films etc Diana & MI5, fake moon landings, Magdalene/Christ etc (I’d tentatively suggest there is nothing more conspiratorial then the positing that Christ actually existed btw).
The second type, (JFK, the Zionist conspiracy) the belief in which has effected, considerably, historical events.


Comments above from OC and Marc Mulholland pretty much pin it for me, in terms of questions I'd like to ask DA. And these are my words not theirs.
Is "relativism" (DA's use) a misconstrued attack on cultural history?
Who controls history? So, in other words, have the "left" or "right" hijacked history?
Does one "version of events" subsume and/or override another?
At the end of the day I don’t like that DA is consumed with anti-intellectualism and in a “real discussion” (my quotes) BB’s initial guesstimate of a review was bang on.

5/13/2009 02:55:00 PM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

bubby makes a good point, though, that this has become a very convenient distraction from the fact that the City seems to have achieved a massive expropriation of public money with barely a whimper. Brown et al are busy proclaiming "business-as-usual" (has there been a more complacent report than Myners'?) while the good public will be paying for the disaster for decades with reduced public services. Meanwhile Barclays becomes more of a tax-embezzlement centre than a bank - opening new tax havens as others are closed. Where is the public ire over this?

5/13/2009 03:21:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

Bubby, the median salary for UK professors is between 50-65K based upon a very rough guestimate based upon periodically glancing at the Times Higher. I'm sure a few professors do earn 100K, but lets face it those guys/gals could have any job they wanted in the US and are hardly comparable to the right hon anonymous, back bench. Also professors have far more in the way of managerial responsibilities than an MP, and have a fairly specific (and rarish) skill set (as I suppose do doctors, though I'm loathe to admit it sometimes). The median salary for Profs is way above 50K. Senior lecturers at the top of the pay scale earn more than 50K. I would also take issue with the idea that most professors have more in way of manergerial responsibilities than MPs or that they necessarily have a particularly special skill set. A lot of academics reach that level by playing the publications game and pumping out some pretty mediocre stuff.

Also when I said survive I didn't mean it in the sense that they were close to the breadline but just in the sense that they had to live on that sum. As for the comment about 'not far removed' what I was trying to point out was that if you are on £200-300K or even more as are many Tory MPs are then you are fundamentally removed from the bulk of society's experiences in a way that you are not if you are on 60K. You are highly unlikely to use the NHS and many other parts of the publc sector. You can insulate yourself from most people's life experiences in a way that it utterly different from what someone can do on 60K, especially in London. To be honest I am not terribly exercised about people earning 60K or even a bit more as long as they are doing an important job (IMHO MPs fall in this catergory) and you have a progressive tax system (which we don't!). I am more concerned about the antics of the rich and super-rich who have hoovered up all the cash from Britain's growth over the last twelve years and have left us all with a large tab.

5/13/2009 03:29:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

A random careers site that I have no reason whatever to treat as reliable reckons c60k for professors.

In general I agree with Bubby here though; if the MPs had just come out and voted themselves a hundred grand, I don't think anyone would really have objected that much - it is an important job and constituency work is pretty similar to managerial responsibility. The thing that everyone objects to is the "conscious attempt to reduce accountability" (which, back on topic, was Peter Dale Scott's original definition of "parapolitics")

I'd like to put them on some sort of performance related pay; perhaps at the local govt elections in the middle of a parliamentary term, every voter could tick a box to allocate five quid either to a bonus for his MP, or to reducing the national debt. This could add up to a tidy sum for a good constituency bod.

5/13/2009 04:01:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I thought maybe you could do performance-related pay by giving MPs who achieved a better than average swing (than their party) in votes more money, and ditto those with a worse swing. This is probably not very scientific though (I think every MP can get a better than average swing), and might it (and any PRP) not lead to more corruption?

5/13/2009 05:00:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I am now three chapter's into Aaro's book, and my considered view is that it's ... really rather good, once you get past the introduction.

5/13/2009 06:39:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

by the way, although his comments section is a shithouse which he ought to do something about, I (and anyone else who paid twelve quid for "Celsius 7/7" in hardback) will forgive Murray several of his own peccadilloes for this beautiful summation:

Gove is important to them because he is what passes for an intellectual in the modern Tory Party. He has written books. They are very slim books indeed, despite a large and well-spaced font, but nonetheless they are books.

5/13/2009 06:42:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Bruschetta: 100K seems very high to me (it would certainly be high for Europe as a whole). But the solution is a pretty simple one. Peg MPs salaries to some pay grade in the civil service, and then the whole problem of voting in pay rises would go away.

I would also pay back benchers on select committees more rising to ministerial salaries for chairs of select committees (which I would also give more power to scrutinise). Again, that probably wouldn't be terribly controversial. And constituency bonuses? Sure, why not. Anything to incentivise a non-ministerial career.

As for expenses. Well it would be a start if MPs couldn't profit from selling their second homes. That should never have been allowed.

5/14/2009 08:23:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

The median salary for Profs is way above 50K. Senior lecturers at the top of the pay scale earn more than 50K.Bloody hell, what university are you at? From (not terribly interested to be honest) memory I think Readers at my (internationally respectable red brick) top out at around 55.
Also, please note the use of the word median. There is also considerable overlap between the two pay scales.

I would also take issue with the idea that most professors have more in way of manergerial responsibilities than MPs or that they necessarily have a particularly special skill set.Most MPs have very little managerial responsibility. They have a small office and that's about it. I had more managerial responsibility in my late 20s, as did many of my friends. Professors normally have quite significant administrative and staff responsibilities, and spend an awful lot of time on committees. They would, particularly in the sciences/engineering, run a lab, have to seek funding, direct research fellows/doctorate students and junior academics on their team. They would probably also have quite a bit of responsibility for teaching in their department (who does what), as well as hiring and financial decisions. The head of a department will have even more responsibilities. There's also all the other usual stuff of academia (conference organising, editing journals, etc, etc).

A lot of academics reach that level by playing the publications game and pumping out some pretty mediocre stuff.A few, maybe. Hardly a lot. And no academic on 80-100K is going to fall into that category (they'll be on that because other universities, particularly in the US, would happily hire them). I don't like academia and no intention of staying in it and, but in my experience most academics are pretty serious about their research and work pretty damn hard (teaching is another matter, but then they're not actually paid to teach in most universities).

Also when I said survive I didn't mean it in the sense that they were close to the breadline but just in the sense that they had to live on that sum. Well yes, that's true of most of us. Except most of us have to live on far less than MPs. I really don't see what your point is supposed to be here. I don't particularly begrudge MPs salaries, but I do begrudge the special pleading as if its impossible to survive on such a salary. It isn't - its just that MPs are unable to live the upper-middle class lifestyle they feel should be available to them (see also Nick Cohen). Well tough. The fact that some Tory MPs (and also Labour MPs) earn far more on the side is of course wrong and should be stopped. But is a different issue.

You can insulate yourself from most people's life experiences in a way that it utterly different from what someone can do on 60K, especially in London.Actually you can quite easily. If you're single you can easily pay for private health on such a sum, and if you have a family and your wife works on a salary of say half that you can easily pay for private schooling for two kids. As indeed quite a few MPs do (and more Labour MPs would like to I suspect). Particularly if you don't have to pay for London housing. Once you strip out housing, living in London is not particularly expensive.

5/14/2009 08:50:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Well travel in london adds a fair amount onto the monthly household outgoings...

I think that in practice it would be very difficult to stop MPs from doing work outside of their main day job. There's a well-established history of MPs 'writing' (more likely ghosting, but still) books and journalism, and it's not like (to stick with the example) professors wouldn't be allowed by their univserities to write journalism if they felt like it, especially if they were historians or literature people. Though I do think the amount some of them write (such as Tristram Hunt) is a bit of a pisstake.

That's not to say that it doesn't royally piss me off how much MPs get away with in doing extracurricular work - I still can't quite work out how Boris johnson is allowed to continue to (ghost)write his ridiculously lucrative Telegraph column when he should have a 7-day-a-week job as Mayor, nor how Michael Gove honestly thinks he is doing his best as an MP while 'writing' so much rubbish for the times and in 'celsius 7/7' - but that I don't think it'd ever be possible to come up with a set of workable and fair guidelines on this.

cian's idea of pegging MPs' pay to a civil service grade seems a good idea (though it'd probably lead to this civil service grade rising exponentially).

One other thing - though I think the reaction to this all is totally over the top and ultimately a bit silly, it's destroyed the career of Hazel Blears (just recently promoted to the rank of Decent Poster Girl and Head Labour Anti-Fascist), which is a good thing, and Gove is tarnished too which is also good in the grand scheme of things.

5/14/2009 09:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

in my experience most academics are pretty serious about their research and work pretty damn hard (teaching is another matter, but then they're not actually paid to teach in most universities).Some of us work pretty damn hard at teaching, particularly lower down the scale. Research? A chance - or rather a grant - would be a fine thing.

5/14/2009 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

[Professors] "not actually paid to teach in most universities"

Largely untrue in the UK, though some of them _think_ that this is true, much to the detriment of us junior saps who have to tidy up after them.

Chris Williams

PS - is ending HB's career a fair trade for the hundred billion quid rip-off? No.

5/14/2009 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

"Particularly if you don't have to pay for London housing."

This is a very good point. I was thinking £60k would be hard (not impossible) to afford private schooling, but if the second-home allowance goes up to £20k tax-free then it's really another £30k or so, which would easily pay for good private schools.

So is it tax-free, and is it £20k? I should probably know these things.

5/14/2009 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Chris,
Well the billion dollar rip off is mirrored by MPs expenses at a smaller scale, and I think they're linked indirectly. Its all part of the pattern of people in positions of power having this sense of entitlement, which is what I objected to in Bubby's post.

well it is true in practice, which is what I meant. Senior academics (particularly in science and engineering) are incentivised on research, and tend not to do much teaching in practice. Nor does it seem to harm them particularly if they do a bad job. Now whether that should be true...

Phil: Oh totally. Junior academics are paid poorly and have a shit job.

5/14/2009 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Matthew: Also bear in mind that its the norm for both parents to work in most families. If the other partner earns even 20K, they could probably manage it for two kids.

5/14/2009 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

I'd also add another point. If we believe in the market, then surely salaries should reflect the amount required to attract employees. Well, there's not exactly a shortage of prospective MPs...

5/14/2009 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Well I don't think much of that line of argument because it heads down the not paying them at all route, which I think is silly.

5/14/2009 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

There's an obvious efficiency wage argument here - there would be applicants for the post of customs inspector even at zero salary, but you wouldn't necessarily want to staff a customs post with people who'd taken the job at zero salary.

5/14/2009 10:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

I think that a lot of people will see the connection - even though the press seems reluctant to make it - between the entrenched culture of expenses in Westminster and the entrenched culture of bonuses in the City. Working minimum wage and reading countless stories about fathomlessly rich people who seem to regard themselves as being hard-done-by and impoverished tends to breed a general view of those at the top of the tree as self-centred, greedy and corrupt, something that, thanks to thirty straight years of right-wing economics, is basically true now.

Of course, David T has just made it clear that he regards the statement "Rich people are rich" as being completely unacceptable anti-Semitism, but he seems to view it as his mission in life to defend the indefensible.

5/14/2009 10:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Richard J said...

there would be applicants for the post of customs inspector even at zero salaryIndeed, in most states before the 19th century, the post of tax inspector/farmer was one you had to pay for...

5/14/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous bubby said...

I'd also add another point. If we believe in the market, then surely salaries should reflect the amount required to attract employees. Well, there's not exactly a shortage of prospective MPs... This seems an odd arguement from someone on the left. Surely the whole point about those of us on the left is that we don't think someone's marketability should be the only determinant of how much they earn. Other factors and in particular the social value of the job is also surely important. It is these sorts of considerations which make me very angry at how little hospital porters and care workers earn because their renumeration doesn't reflect in any sense the importance of their job. Its also why I am rather less outraged by an MP or doctor earning 100K than I am by an accountant who devising tax-avoidance schemes or a brilliant maths graduate who creates complex financial instruments for an investment house, earning the same salary.

I also think Cian that you have misunderstood my point about the outrage at MPs expenses. I am offended as the next person at practices like flipping and the sight of Tory's grandees claiming expenses for moats, which is both absurd and obscene. But when you look at the level of outrage and the impact that it is going to have on people's trust in the political process it is utterly out of proportion to the relatively piffling sums (in relation to total public spending) involved.

MP's milking the system is not going to lead to cuts in public services for the most vulnerable which is certainly going to the outcome of the costs of bailing out the financial sector and turning a blind eye to tax avoidance on a vast scale.

5/14/2009 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Sorry, I should have made it clearer that I was being tongue in cheek.
The argument has been made in some quarters (often by MPs) that the salary needs to be sufficiently high to attract high calibre people. I think there are better arguments.

But I guess my general argument is that I don't think MPs are particularly hard done by, and I think perhaps its a sign of how out of touch they have become that they think otherwise. Its quite possible that MPs peers from university have outstripped them in certain professions, but do we really want MPs gaining financially from increased inequality?

5/14/2009 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Bubby,
MPs milking the system while attacking "benefits scroungers" - do you perhaps not see a problem there? MPs milking the system while attacking "waste" in government - do you perhaps not see a problem there? Its not the money that I think is a problem, its the culture and blinkers that go with it. I think we should expect our representatives to be, what's the word, honest. I mean I'd be pretty pissed off if my MP was caught shoplifting at Asda, regardless of the trifling amount involved. Sometimes the principal does matter.

Also, I think you're making the mistake of thinking that newspapers represent public opinion. Generally they don't. Most people I talk to are pretty pissed off about tax avoidance and huge give aways to the city, they just feel powerless to do anything about it. But they're angry, and that's likely to grow I suspect when the Tories do their IMF thing in a couple of years.

5/14/2009 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Yeah, it's the principle rather than the amount of money itself which is the issue.

5/14/2009 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

[an accountant who devising tax-avoidance schemes or a brilliant maths graduate who creates complex financial instruments for an investment house]

just to note that these two are not moral equivalents - there are actually plenty of very useful things which can't be done without complex financial instruments. A fixed rate mortgage is a *very* complex financial instrument.

5/14/2009 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard J said...

And, out of a wounded self-love, the consequences of cocking up tax can be remarkably expensive for a business, which is why most tax advice involves in the main giving negative assurance that doing X won't inadvertantly cost you a fortune in tax, rather than coming up with ever more intricate avoidance schemes... Outside of the mind of certain HMRC inspectors, there's no clear-cut line between sensible tax planning and outright avoidance at the other. It's like the (Russian?) folk tale about the convict who escaped beheading because nobody could point out the exact point at which the head became the neck and then in turn the shoulders.

And cynically speaking, reading VAT and duty tribunal reports (one of my stranger hobbies) can give you a rather jaundiced view of the idea that avoiding/evading tax is viewed with abhorrence by most of the country.

But back to the topic of the original post - has anyone else noticed that what purports to be minutes of several Bildersburg Group meetings have cropped up on Wikileaks?

5/14/2009 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Offshore financial havens will do for a start, Richard. Most people seem pretty annoyed by those.

5/14/2009 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

They look potentially genuine enough although it's impossible to be sure, and it's about what you'd expect - a lot of conventional wisdom, a lot of airy generalities and fondly expressed hopes, basically Davos for non-wannabes. The more I see of the G8 summit infrastructure with its concommitant mountain of waffle and horrendous expense, the more I like the idea of the Bilderberg Group, frankly.

5/14/2009 01:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard J said...

It's a balancing thing really? Is the damage done by them worse than the damage caused by the required interference in national sovereignty? I'm honestly not sure. I notice, for example, that few people ever call the UAE a tax haven, despite the absence of income taxes there. For avoidance of doubt, I'm referring to the tax rate issue, not the banking secrecy one, which is an outrage. (That said, there was a big flurry of case reports yesterday on the HMRC requesting details of about eight bank's offshore customer accounts - this round of the offshore disclosure facility might be interesting, especially with the proposal to publish details of those subject to tax penalties over £25k.)

(As a practical and revealing aside, the usual reason, in my experience, for using a Jersey company rather than one in Luxembourg or the Netherlands was because the set-up and running costs in the latter two were heftier, not because of you'd end up paying more taxes.)

5/14/2009 01:55:00 PM  
Anonymous bubby said...

there are actually plenty of very useful things which can't be done without complex financial instruments. A fixed rate mortgage is a *very* complex financial instrument. That may be so but you can't deny a lot is realted purely to speculation. The point that I am trying to make is - is it a good idea for many of our most brilliant young graduates to be going into the business of specualtion? Isn't there more economically or socially useful pastimes they could persue?

5/14/2009 02:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Last week while I uncharacteristically waited at some traffic lights in the City, I realised I was being shouted at by a man in a green country jacket and cords. I heard him saying "Go on, cycle through the red light. Get yourself arrested!" I thought this was a random heckle till I realised it was my friend David T of Harry's Place who'd read my blog earlier.'

http://gutshot.com/bforum/blog.php?b=440

5/14/2009 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I notice, for example, that few people ever call the UAE a tax haven, despite the absence of income taxes there.Is Dubai no longer part of the UAE then? I mean that's kind of like saying nobody ever calls the Cayman Islands a tax haven... Actually I have less of a problem with the Cayman Islands.

For avoidance of doubt, I'm referring to the tax rate issue, not the banking secrecy one, which is an outrage.These are hardly seperate issues; the secrecy faciliates tax fraud, and much else besides. Its amazing how many US companies lose money importing goods, for example. One almost wonders why they bother. And the number of wealthy individuals who seem to borrow large sums from mysterious corporations in tax havens. I'm sure there's a perfectly valid explanation.

5/14/2009 04:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard J said...

Its amazing how many US companies lose money importing goods, for example. One almost wonders why they bother.Surprisingly often, politics, both internal and external, though I don't think it's a controversial statement that when you're trying to assign a specific price to something intrinsically unvaluable, the opinion of the taxpayer and the tax authorities will be at opposite ends of the spectrum of possible (and usually upportable) answers.

5/14/2009 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger Gregor said...

Notice that Johann Hari (who seems to be a recovering Decent) reviewed Aaronovitch’s book.

http://johannhari.com/index.php

Hari has at least a moral and ethical standard far above most of chickenhawks. But whilst he is a fairly good foreign correspondent, he also hilariously sees himself as a hard-nosed mega-brained sceptic, but in fact has very little grasp of logic and is very poor at articulating arguments or making predictions. It is a largely positive review and most of it is crap. He writes:

‘Yet real conspiracies are, he notes, “dogged by failure and discovery.”’

By ‘real’ he seems to mean conspiracies which have been revealed. It also shows his trademark bad writing:

‘Even now, a thousand facts later, the anti-Semitic smears refuse to die’

Smears that don’t die? Furthermore, he praises anything that sounds credible or assiduous, but is really rubbish:

‘He defines a conspiracy theory – as opposed to a real conspiracy – neatly: it is “the attribution of deliberate agency to something that is more likely to be accidental or unintended.”

With little concept of irony, he then goes on to mention the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But isn’t the propagation of this text in itself a hugely successful conspiracy which was not unintended? Isn’t it the case that the difference between the anti-Semitic conspiracy and the alleged Jewish conspiracy the fact that one existed and the other did not, rather than anything about intention?

Also:

‘The Bolsheviks couldn’t accept that their way of running a society produced famine and catastrophe – so they preferred to believe in a vast conspiracy of Trotskyist “wreckers” plotting to bring it down from within, and they tortured their comrades into “confessing” to it.’

So the Show Trials would not have happened were it not for the famines? As if Bolshevism was not built on cruelty and violence.

‘John Kennedy really was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone.’

Really? Maybe it is the most credible possibility, but I hardly think it is a verifiable fact.

Whilst Hari, to his credit mentions that Aaronovitch fell for a ‘conspiracy theory’, it ends with Hari’s trademark simplicity:

‘Aaronovitch returns to form in his conclusion. He argues that we keep returning so obsessively to conspiracy theories because they are, paradoxically, reassuring. “Paranoia”, he writes, “is actually the sticking plaster we fix to an altogether more painful wound”: the knowledge that life is chaotic and random and nobody is in charge.’

Is that a fact? Isn’t it pretty open to question? Couldn’t it be because it gives people excitement? It is odd how people use words like ‘morbid’ as if describing deviance when writers like Stephen King are always in the bestseller lists and books on Hitler/ Stalin always dwarf the Ghandi/ Luther King sections? Maybe people just expect governments to be wicked. Or, as Borges wrote in Tlon, Uqubar. Orbis Tertius: ‘any symmetry with a semblance of order’ will appeal to people.

But Hari has little interest in rhetorical questions. He uses words like ‘fact’ and ‘evidence’ without seeming to realise what they mean in logical terms and seems to think that making assertions about the truth of suppositions makes him a sceptic.

5/14/2009 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

But isn’t the propagation of this text in itself a hugely successful conspiracy which was not unintended?

Yes, and this chapter is followed by the show trials one, another massive conspiracy and, hilariously, one in which Aaro documents the way in which the British and American left managed to convince themselves the victims had to be guilty because, well, how likely would it be that such a huge number of meetings and confessions could be faked?

One thing that does strike me is that in most cases, Aaro and Johann Hari seem to use a very high standard of success for conspiracies - they are judged to be a "failure" if they are eventually found out long after the original conspirators are dead having lived out their careers without ever suffering any consequences. This seems like requiring a ludicrous over-engineering of the security on the part of conspirators; why would they be assumed to care about posterity? IMO, in as much as the perfectly designed Formula 1 car is the one that wins by half a length and then falls to pieces, the perfect conspiracy was Iran/Contra, which was discovered the moment that it ceased to be needed, with all the major conspirators acquitted or caught on minor charges.

5/14/2009 05:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Life is chaotic and random and no-one is in charge." So is Aaro saying that it was a complete accident that there were no WMD in Iraq. Were those of us who felt, even quite early in 2002, that some weak scraps of evidence were being asked to do a lot of heavy lifting suffering from a kind of paranoia?

Guano

5/14/2009 06:36:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Funny what happens when you write books like What's Left, isn't it? Bonus points for Nick again arbitratily deciding what his book is about...

5/15/2009 08:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

Ha!

Funny how, just a few months after slobbering all over Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, he's gone back to classifying neo-Nazis as "far right". The whole purpose of that repellent book was to try and persuade people that fascism is a left-wing ideology because they didn't instigate free-market policies and, er, Hitler was a vegetarian. Did he actually understand it, or does he just automatically give a shamefully sycophantic review to anything that strokes his biases?

5/15/2009 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

BTW, Aaro is on Newsnight Review tonight - pretty grim fare: a C4 play about an abused child; a theatre production on the abduction and murder of Jamie Bulger; Angels and Demons, a film of a Dan Brown book; and a book about "the building of the Aswan Dam in Egypt and the flooding of the St Lawrence Seaway in Canada".

Alex Massie does our job on Aaro. He's called Mad Mel on her BS (as D2 puts it) and now accuses our man Dave of "just a fancy way of being stupid." How many legions does Harry's Place have anyway? And will Alex find out the hard way?

5/15/2009 08:03:00 PM  

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