Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Unsupported by dignity of thought

rant: n high sounding language unsupported by dignity of thought

Johnson's Dictionary (BBC)

Editorial Intelligence (surely an oxymoron? -- Ed and no, I've not heard of it/them either) are somehow responsible for something called the "Comment Awards". Here are the nominees. Here are the judges. Can you spot a name on both lists? (Hint: it's Iain Dale.) I'm impressed by such impartiality!

Actually, the judges are a diverse lot, which makes the overwhelming middle-aged white maleness of the nominees even more depressing. Rachel Sylvester who appears alongside our Dave in today's Times seems to me a far more insightful "Political Commentator" than Daniel Finkelstein (who made the short list). Middle-aged white maleness is forgivable in the case of Chris Dillow - up for "Online Commentator (independent blogger)" against Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes - because he's actually smart. I'm not even going to waste time on the meaning of 'independent' here. Chris is IIRC still a Labour member so I imagine to some people he's just as non-independent as the two Tories.

But what of our Dave? He's on two shortlists. "Commentariat of the Year" (I'm not making that up) against Johann Hari of the Independent and Martin Wolf of the FT.

You may want to check your incredulity at this point. Bullshit detectors will not work as advertised when reading the following paragraph. You have been warned.

Dave's second nomination is for "Poison Pen: Polemicist of the Year, sponsored by Demos." (That's Demos the allegedly left wing think tank.) The opposition comes from Johann Hari (again!) and Richard Littlejohn of the Mail.

The Awards Nomination Criteria PDF state:

Judges will be looking for commentators whose style of writing is acerbic, witty, or even straightforward, but that has the desired effect of ruffling feathers. The awards will go to a writer in any media (online, offline, newspaper or magazine) who has managed to deliver an unexpected twist to their piece or writing. Judges will base their award on several pieces.

This isn't what a polemic is at all. Desiring to ruffle feathers has a much simpler definition. It's "being a cunt." And one of the shortlist meets that criterion admirably. I hope you can see why I chose to start with Dr Johnson, even if "high sounding language" is not exactly appropriate.

Well, all I can say is I hope Demos (which is a charity by the way) feels that its sponsorship money was wisely spent if the not-at-all-racist-apart-from-hating-Muslims-and-gypsies columnist takes the prize. Being associated with Richard Littlejohn in the public imagination for all time has got to be worth a few grand of anyone's money.

Anyone aware of "unexpected twists" in Dave's writing?

Update Thursday 10:26 am. Sarah Ditum (whom you should read, BTW) posts on this too, via which I've learned that Steven Poole is posting again and has a good post on Johann Hari. I don't imagine that the mockery of a few bloggers will mean anything to the sponsors or the recipients of these awards, but it won't hurt to try. If we get any further comments, I'll probably belabour this point again.


Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I always though that people had misunderstood 'polemic' when using that word to describe What's Left, too. There are very few columnists whose writing displays 'unexpected twists' - you know what you're getting, pretty much, with Hari, Aaro and Littlejohn.

Aaro did some online debate or other for 'Editorial Intelligence' a while back didn't he - I think it was the one where he boasted about who the times had got him to go and interview, and sneered that bloggers never get to do that.

9/15/2009 06:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Editorial Intelligence" is the most revolting invention of lobbyist Julia Hobsbawm. It sells the "commentariat" to corporations. For £500 big firms can buy dinners with "intellectuals". For just £500 our exec can join their "Club" which " brings smart people together to promote current thinking, stimulating ideas and good networking" - their "partners" include "Edelman, Sky News and Barclays". If corporate executives want to pay for breakfast with James Purnell, they go to Editorial Intelligence.

Everything about it is rotten and embarrassing, a self regarding , loathsome dating service /escort agency for "thought leaders" , "opinion formers" consultants, prs , lobbyists, newspaper whores and thinkers for hire. I hope Aaro wins , he deserves it.
Ann On

9/15/2009 06:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

RE: The online category. Chris Dillow deserves a nomination, but the other two are just crap blogs favoured by smug insiders.

9/15/2009 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Sorry, OT and OTT to boot!

I'm actually more annoyed by Daniel Finkelstein's nomination than anything else. Only because of his dalliance with game theory which he often uses to sketch out a scientific model for political theory.

That - and the fact he seems to occasionally adopt a Decent parvenu persona.

Or at the very least say this:

"The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again - again and again - the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don't want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews."

I'm probably being extremely harsh here.

9/15/2009 09:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I live in a world where a three-way tie between Littlejohn (hateful), Hari (scattershot) and Aaro (mendacious) is meant to be representative of great political writing. The world is a terrible, horrible place.

9/15/2009 11:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

"The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again - again and again - the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don't want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews."

Wow, that's some audacious bullshit!

9/15/2009 11:12:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

"Wow, that's some audacious bullshit!"

For the record it is here

I was narked at the time of reading it and remain narked.

9/16/2009 12:24:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

That's an extraordinary passage. Is it at all possible that the author actually believed it?

9/16/2009 07:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well it's "great political writing" as selected by the Comms directors of Jaguar, British Gas and Tesco, a load of tories and pr twerps. the shindig paid for by corporations These are people chosen for their ability to speak untruth to power. If J Hari had any of the principles he occasionally likes to brag about, he would refuse to attend.
Ann On

9/16/2009 07:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Marc Mulholland said...

Hey, a bit hard here on J. Hari, surely? He's a straight-forward, committed columnist who can admit mistakes. Always worth reading, I'd say. Aaro is also, of course, immeasurably superior to Littlejohn, as are most human beings.

9/16/2009 08:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marc - you accidentally wrote the word 'most' in yr last sentence. Hope you don't mind me pointing out that obvious typo.

Chris Williams

9/16/2009 09:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Chris Baldwin said...

Oh yeah, Hari's all right. He's a fair minded guy and I respect the way he admitted his mistakes over Iraq.

9/16/2009 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Martin Wisse said...

Being mistaken about Iraq in the first place is a strike against Hari forever in my book, no matter if he acknowledged it later. It's not as if it took great intelligence or insight to be against the war.

He's slightly better than the rest of that shower of shits nominated for this award, I'll grant you that.

9/16/2009 11:38:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I always thought that in Hari's case (as opposed to cohen, Aaro etc) the decision to support Iraq was motivated by exactly this:

managed to deliver an unexpected twist to their piece or writing

By the way, on the Cohen-blog-watch front, it's now just two days short of a month since he last posted anything up there. He is however posting his articles to his old website. If he's getting paid monthly by Standpoint he's pretty lucky...

9/16/2009 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think I am being to hard on Hari at all. He is going to an awards ceremony paid for by Jaguar/Landrover, awarded by an organisation run by a lobbyist, funded by Edelman, Sky and Barclays, an organisation dedicated to "networking" between "thought leaders" and corporations, for a hefty price. The same J Hari complained about "corporate hijacking" of US politics, writing " at European political conventions, we have debates. At American political conventions, they have fundraisers; money, money, everywhere. Want a lunch? Have one free, courtesy of Haliburton. Fancy a Broadway show? Here's one, courtesy of Pfizer. Corporate logos are everywhere twinned with the Stars and Stripes, and delegates worship them both." - yet when he is offered a corporate sponsored bauble 0- and don't imagine the awards ceremony will be free of sposnors logos, he turns up meekly to accept it.The J Hari who wrote "Corporations have directly, blatantly subverted advanced democracies like the United States by buying public policy" turns up to get an award from an organisation dedicated to giving corporations influence with the "commentariat" like himself - . I think this shows his principles disappear once somebody waves a trinket with his name on. I don't think George Monbiot would want an award sponsored by a car firm specialising in top end gas guzzlers and military vehicles.
Ann On

9/16/2009 02:47:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Steady on, Ann On. Johann Hari's been nominated for two awards. In all likelihood, he's going to heave along to the presentation and beanfeast, but neither of us know this for certain, and he's not said what he's doing either way. Me, I'll check his website over the next few days. I'll sure he'll have something to say about being up against Littlejohn.

We don't have many rules for commenters here. We're not fond of anonymity, as B2 had to say the other day we have an "either a name or a point, one or the other" policy. Likewise, I'll suggest you keep your predictions to the Derren Brown format: don't reveal them until after the event.

OC: very hard to see what's going on with Nick. One of his obvious probs seems to be that he's under-employed. He writes the odd piece for Standpoint as shown on his blog and he's still got the Observer gig, but he can't feel stretched by these.

He spent an entire Standpoint review on Mock the Week. I think he's good at spotting misogyny, and he's probably right about it here. (I've never watched the programme; I'm just not tickled by panel game things. Well, not unless Stephen Fry or David Mitchell are involved, and not always then.) But the pornography angle is rather bizarre.

9/16/2009 03:13:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

as Splintered sunrise said, Nick's been fairly busy at the Eye by the looks of things.

his Mock the Week piece is *ok*... i don't like the programme much but i do think he has misunderstood it - it's not meant to be a current affairs show, despite the title - almost every issue they discuss is at least a month out of date. really it's just somewhere for second-rate standups to showcase their wares and that's why there might be a fair bit of misogyny (though the 'loose women' example Cohen gives is, for my money, a poor one - LW is far more misogynist and mean-spirited a show than MTW). The piece also, of course, veers off piste wildly in suggesting that the programme's continuing success means that all its viewers are fascists, or some such - the target market is very obviously boys in their early teens, as is the case for most BBC midweek comedy. Maybe they are more likely to be part of a mob, but still. One of the things I find weirdest about nick on TV is his total lack of understanding of audiences.

The pornography thing is indeed really weird but Clothes For Chaps has talked about that recently, too - I think that's another aspect of the internet that these Decents don't really 'get' but one which perturbs them. Not to say that thw widespread availability of hardcore porn is necessarily a good thing for the world in general, but still.

the best of the recent english PEN free speech debates tacked online porn, if memory serves me correctly.

9/17/2009 08:20:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Re the internet and new paraphilias. I saw this joke and was reminded of Nick: "I’m no fan of tennis. If I wanted to see men in short shorts running around hitting balls with a paddle, I’d go on the internet" Stephen Colbert. Actually, they should hire Colbert on Standpoint: patriotic, right-wing American, and, like Nick, angry.

BTW, I tried to use this site from the library, but it's blocked. It's an OUTRAGE!

9/17/2009 12:46:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

How very odd. Did you ask why?

9/17/2009 06:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Martin wisse said...

A lot of things about Nick's Mock the Week article make sense if you realise he only watched one routine of one episode and based his rant on that.

9/18/2009 08:31:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Justin, no I didn't. I imagine it's probably a swearing related thing rather than a political judgement.

Martin: heh, indeed. The thing about Nick is that he seems to hate everything he reviews, and this seems bad aesthetically (there's no tension or surprise in his reviews), morally (hate isn't an admirable emotion, and it doesn't do the hater much good either), commercially (because there's so little fun in reading those reviews, I can't imagine they shift many copies of Standpoint), etc. The odd hatchet job can be a joy, but good notices are much better reading.

9/20/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I think he takes his cue from the literary reviews in the Eye which are unwaveringly critical (this is symptomatic of Decency - the hectoring tone of HP Sauce is obviously Eye-inspired too).

But it doesn't really work, because the literary review in the Eye takes that tone as a direct riposte to the chummy world of literary reviewing in this country where truthful reviews seem fairly rare.

And you also get the impression that DJ Taylor (who usually writes the bookworm column) genuinely does love the medium, he just hates the industry.

The same can't be said for TV reviewing, either in the Eye (where Remote Controller is often even-handed) or otherwise, in this country. Cohen exhibits no love at all for the medium (or, it must be said, the arts in general). and if he does have praise for anything it's usually part of a more general rant (witness his utterly bizarre review of the not-terribly-good Devil's Whore).

Fine if all you want is a monthly rant, but it's so predictable that as you say I can't imagine anyone looks forward to reading it in their copy of Standpoint. What's oddest is that he does genuinely seem to think that he's being witty in the pieces...

9/20/2009 12:33:00 PM  

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