Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Aaro Ponders the Thunderpants* Bomber

I'm not ashamed as our man clearly thinks I should be. "You know who you are." He writes, darkly. Yes, I know who I am.

The trouble is that a pants bomb bringing down an airliner appears to be perfectly feasible. In late August of this year, strangely under-reported here (perhaps because of the holidays), a “repentant” al-Qaeda man managed to arrange a meeting with the Saudi anti-terrorist chief, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef in Jeddah. The former terrorist, Abdullah al-Asiri, successfully passed through security checks, including airline-style metal detectors, and spent more than a day with the Prince’s security men, before gaining an audience. Then, when in bin Nayef’s presence, al-Asiri detonated around a pound of high explosives hidden in his rectum, triggering the blast with a mobile phone signal.

I wonder what Aaro's sources were here. The most complete story I could find was on Saudi-US-relations.org.

The king asked Prince Muhammad why was the terrorist allowed in without proper checks, to which the prince replied, “It was a mistake.”

Aaro: bomber so cunning he sneaked through security. Prince: it was a cock-up.

"The wanted criminal exploded himself during security inspection," the royal court said, adding that the prince escaped the assassination attempt with minor injuries. The bomb had been fixed to his body and that was triggered when the terrorist received a call from outside, according to Al-Arabiya news channel.

"Nobody else suffered any injuries," the royal court said. The prince later left the hospital after undergoing necessary tests and treatment.

Note that Aaro says the bomber triggered it; that source says it was someone outside. (I'm inclined to go with DA here: if the assassin had to go through so much security which would take an unpredictable amount of time, how would his accomplice/controller know when to call?) I'm no expert in anal, er, stuffing, but a pound of materiel sounds like quite a lot (assuming Aaro is right, and since it exploded, I don't think anyone can be certain). So this may have been as big as a bomb hidden in a rectum can be, and it hurt no one but the bomber. It's a bit of a leap to assume that a similar device can bring down a plane, isn't it? Maybe as DA suggests, the bomb is detonated "at altitude and against the cabin wall", but then maybe not.

The whole article is really just the usual reasons to be scared. I'm not sure what he calls a "truly murderous ideology" - Islam? Islamism? terrorism? Bombing weddings is pretty murderous too.

It's a lazy, even complacent, ironically enough, article, with lazy, complacent mistakes.

There are no undiscriminating suicide bombers among the world’s many environmental activists, or among the Iranian opposition.

Does he think the Iranian opposition are secularists, or is this leading example of doublethink this century? Iran has suffered suicide bombs which clearly targeted the government. Or are suicide bombers who hate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard not pernicious? I suppose since that bomber wasn't officially with the opposition (he was probably part of a Sunni group; the Iranian resistance are Shi'ites, like the government) and because his target was the armed forces, you could say the bomber wasn't indiscriminate. But if you buy that, you also have to allow that hijacking a plane and flying it into the Pentagon isn't discriminate either.

It really is an exaggerated fuss. And here are some figures. And here is a real security expert: Bruce Schneier.

The way we live is open enough to make terrorists rare; we are observant enough to prevent most of the terrorist plots that exist, and indomitable enough to survive the even fewer terrorist plots that actually succeed. We don't need to pretend otherwise.

Like flies to shit, the comments are really ugly.

It wouldn't make any difference, have you been through Heathrow lately and seen who is on the security & Immigration desks.
I would like to know, who is guarding the guards???

148 people recommended the above. 227 recommended:

I don't like the BNP but if they are the only party willing to speak out against this growing problem then how can you ask British people not to vote for them?

Er, David, I think he called you "the BNP." I'd be offended by that, myself. Last word to Kevin Drum:

The relentless desire of conservatives to do al-Qaeda's PR for them never ceases to amaze me.

* Thanks to Twitter. The 'undabomber' is also a good name.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Need To Pretend That They Read Books

Malky Muscular has a splendid post on Nick Cohen's Standpoint articles: The Souls of Secret Policemen.

No novelist with any talent just deals with political themes, and readers who scour their books for ideological clues have the souls of secret policemen.

A Reader's Guide to Thatcherism. If you're in any doubt that Standpoint is a miserable publication desperately in need of content, Cohen's singularly pointless article makes the case for the prosecution wonderfully. What is Cohen's point? I really don't know. Clive James (a much better critic, as I'm sure even Justin would agree) appears in the same issue as a poet. James could have provided a much better appraisal of literary fiction during the Thatcher years.

What can I say about this? First that Nick's move to Standpoint consists of a sort of standing still: a conceit which ought to please him, as no doubt he wishes to think that the Left left him, rather than he them (or it). As readers of John Cole will have noticed by now, the new right in the US sees everything as political. As does Nick. He and his new allies "have the souls of secret policemen." Worse, unlike the rest of the British left, Nick has been denuded of irony: he really can't see that the rest of his piece consists of nothing but "scour[ing] books for ideological clues".

A couple of observations are in order. First, take a peek at Christopher Hitchens in the New Statesman (hat tip, as they say, to Jamie Kenny).

All these remain to be acted on, and as the situation grows more complicated Saddam Hussain will rise more clearly to the top. Make a note of the name. Iraq has been strengthened internally by the construction of a ‘strategic pipeline’ which connects the Gulf to the northern fields for the first time. She has been strengthened externally by her support for revolutionary causes and by the resources she can deploy. It may not be electrification plus Soviet power, but the combination of oil and ‘Arab socialism’ is hardly less powerful.

According to the Staggers, that accolade was published (in the Statesman) on 2 April 1976. Nick:

...I should explain to younger readers that the Left was against Ba'athist fascism in the 1980s...

Well, by the 1980s maybe. As Hitchens said, in a rare dip into the single verb sentence: "Relations with Iran are still far from cordial." Wasn't that the truth! While Oliver North and Donald Rumsfeld took sides in the Iran-Iraq war, the left, as I remember, remained consistent: it stayed against arms dealing and belligerence.

But this is a molehill compared to Nick's greater mistake.

Modern laments about the decline of deference notwithstanding, the English have always regarded their leaders as idiots or crooks, and nowhere more so than in their literature. Today's politicians do not feel the need to pretend that they read books. But in the 20th century, they had to put on a show of sophistication. When interviewers asked them to name their favourite novelist, they invariably picked Trollope -- the only great writer to respect their trade.

Off the top of my head, I could only think of one politician who named Trollope as his favourite novelist. That was John Major, who occasionally came across (with his fondness for cricket, his allusions to Orwell, his dated idioms) more like a comic immigrant who learned English from 1950s gramophone records and the Goons than as a Brixton lad and true-born Englishman. If I'm honest, the list of politicians who had favourite novelists whom I could name stretched to three. Major: see above. JFK: Ian Fleming. Margaret Thatcher: Frederick Forsythe (and that was typically disingenuous). I had a feeling that Denis Healey would have expressed a preference, and a bit of a Google found Geoffrey Wheatcroft.

When Tony Blair was asked recently to name his favourite book, he said The Lord of the Rings. Pausing only to stifle a low groan, and to recall the late Maurice Richardson reviewing Tolkien under the words "Adults of the world, unite!", I thought that this dispiriting choice was at least an improvement. As Sue Lawley's castaway, Blair had previously chosen for his desert island book Ivanhoe, the worst novel even Scott ever wrote.

Wheatcroft's piece is a joy. It demolishes Nick's "invariably" of course, but a moment's reflection would do that. His second paragraph begins (contra Nick 11 years later):

What is it with our politicians nowadays? In 1943 George Orwell complained that "the illiteracy of politicians is a special feature of our age".

Finally, I have no idea what Nick's point is. I think Jonathan Coe is wonderful, as Nick seems to. I enjoyed The Ploughman's Lunch. But there are so many names Nick doesn't even consider. What about Irvine Welsh? Can't he see that Trainspotting was angry and political? Or Zadie Smith? Or Monica Ali? Or Alan Hollinghurst? Why doesn't he mention the literati who voted Tory - like Kingsley Amis and Iris Murdoch?

Labour was not operating in a vacuum. Ordinary people may not have liked what they saw on Wall Street and in the City but the boom seemed to validate it and there were no popular protests. Nor were artists telling the government that the lesson of financial history was that speculative excess always leads to bust and that the fortunes earned by the winners would have to be paid for by ordinary taxpayers.

No, no artists at all. OK, from the 80s, but it cast a shadow: anyone who had a similar point would have suffered from the comparison.

I may get round to a discussion of Spooks and the Die Hard and Bond franchises, none of which Nick gets at all. (Because he wants them to be political, rather than entertainment. This is almost as silly as expecting Top Gear to review cars.)

In the meantime, best wishes for 2010.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Festivus Quiz

Who said the following in 2002?

Most people don't do anything on principle, and most people don't kick up a stink unless a) they're told to, or b) it's in their faces and it hurts them.
It's in their faces now. It's hurting. You know, this time last year, no one knew what a Muslim was. Now everyone is looking at people in the street: "where's he from?" "what's he doing?" they're starting to see things people never noticed before. Asylum seekers clogging up the hospitals. Shop assistant can't speak English. Black media corrupting our children. ... Everyone's crying out for a voice of reason. They're not alone, they're not on the extreme. That they are the majority, and it's all right to get angry.

I doubt a Google search will help and it's not a Decent, but it is relevant to this blog. Read Nick Cohen's recent writing (since we last followed him) for a hint.

Answer and some NC blogging when I feel like it.

Merry Christmas

I hope all our readers are safe and well, are warm and have plenty of food. Remember that others don't have these things.

Iraq's Christians face a difficult Christmas:

Before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, Judo said, his wife and children would attend Midnight Mass and then return for dinner. Now, Judo says, he doesn't feel that it is safe to go to Mass even in the late afternoon.
"Baghdad was always safe for us, but unfortunately times have changed," he said. "We wonder when we can live like normal people and joy can return to our hearts."

Just as well we invaded Iraq to look for WMD, rather than for some foolhardy notion of regime change and making the place better.

Monday, December 21, 2009

rock and roooollllll!

Coming soon to a Decent blog near you ... the soft rock stylings of "Globus". It gets good around 1:40

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oh Noes!

I agree with pretty much all of Nick Cohen on rape: up to the end, when he seems to blame the modern world.

On the one hand, juries are doing the job they have been doing for centuries. Drink, drugs and flirtations produce enough mixed signals to cause reasonable doubt in a defendant's favour when he says that he thought she consented and she says he raped her. On the other, they are sending an unforgiving message. You shouldn't generalise about generations. There are as many shy, sensible or cautious young women now as there have always been. But today's dominant style is for women to be bawdy and empowered: to try to drink as much as the men around them, talk as dirty and boast about their control of their lives. They are not enjoying the liberation that the feminists of the 1970s imagined, but a kind of social equality. If men can behave badly, women can too.

Then they provide a convincing account of rape backed up in my friend's case with DNA evidence and bruises, and too often they find that, far from being empowered, they are publicly dishonoured. The jury, a representative sample of the people who pass them in the street, takes their account of themselves literally and says that, if the defendant is really so brassy and sassy and in control of her life, then rape isn't the responsibility of the rapist and the victim must pay.

Now if this were true, rape convictions should have gone down, because juries are less sympathetic to women than they used to be. But this doesn't seem to be the case. Anyone got figures either way?

Julie Bindel, who can often seem the last principled feminist in England...

That seems a familiar phrase.

The last principled feminist in the British media...

Joan Smith, Political Blonde (by Nick Cohen). Organic cheeseboard spotted that one (even if he misquoted it slightly).

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The great and the good consult Aaro ...

One is a recollection from my own private meeting with Sir John Chilcot, some weeks ago, as part of his meticulous trawl through the people he thought might have something to add or suggest

we are suitably impressed.

another gem:

For example, was so much effort taken up in trying to get a second resolution at the UN that it detracted from planning for the invasion, occupation and postwar reconstruction?

oh so it's our fault! thanks.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Justice for Tony Blair

Links to the Times website don't seem to work on Opera 10 for the Mac, as I found out when I wanted to read the Oliver Kamm 'Pedant' article Steven Poole criticized yesterday. No matter, I found the Avatar piece I linked to (NB, Avatar was made by Fox, and is therefore pretty heavily hyped in the Times, etc), and today, before I found that Steve's link works fine in Safari, I searched Google News for 'Oliver Kamm', I found that he's been name checked by Quentin Letts of the Mail. Probably not coincidentally, Kamm delivered his Olympian verdict on Letts' vocabulary on Friday. Letts' reply is as follows:

Business is not exactly brisk at a pro-Tony Blair internet petition.

Called 'Justice For Tony Blair', it claims that Mr Blair is being 'baited by the dogs of anti-war' and argues that his opponents should desist from criticising him until he has appeared in front of the Iraq Inquiry.

Lord Foulkes, the WC Fields lookalike and sometime Labour minister, added his name to the petition this week, but yesterday there were just 195 signatures, even though it has been open for business since the summer.

The only other notable names on the list: John Burton (Mr Blair's former constituency agent) and journalists John Rentoul (Independent on Sunday) and Oliver Kamm (a leader writer on The Times).

Why had I not heard of the Ban Blair Baiting petition before? Thanks to Quentin Letts, the tally of signatures has swelled to 197. These include "Corrupt Lying-**sbag" (signature 3), Anonymous (9, 15, 16, 23, 26, 28, 42, 59, 87, 91, 98, 101, 106, 123, 124, 129, 133, 136, 144, 180, 197) BlairSupporter (aka NOT Norman Baker) (12), silent sinner (64), John Rentoul (85), Stephen Pollard[1] (109), Oliver Kamm (110), Trial ForThe WarCriminalTraitor (126), Innocent Until Proven Guilty (127), Justice Meanshesguilty (150), Justice for Tony Blair According to his Enemies (152), the one true god rob theboot (187), and Lord George Foulkes (194). Names missing include David Miliband, Geoff Hoon, Gordon Brown, etc. The Parliamentary Labour Party is conspicuously absent, either because they think this is for lightweights such as bloggers (eg Oliver Kamm) or because defending Blair is of no interest to them. Also missing: Nick Cohen, Norman Geras, David Aaronovitch, David Toube.

I'm impressed by the 21 (over 10%!) who signed as 'Anonymous' clearly petrified that when the anti-war party comes into office their front doors will be kicked in jack booted thugs before dawn the day after the polls close. Or else they're too stupid to remember their own names. The writer of the petition has a mind like a trap. Baldrick, watch and learn!

Bear-baiting, whereby a tethered bear was attacked by a pack of dogs, was outlawed in this country in 1835. It is now time to stop BLAIR-baiting, i.e. attacks on our former Prime Minister by the dogs of anti-war. Less metaphorically it can be defined as the constant incitement of hatred against Tony Blair for taking us to war in Iraq.
The organisers of this petition do not belong to any one party but are united in our belief in "innocent until proved guilty" and that Mr Blair should be given a fair hearing at the inquiry. To this end we demand that if the Blair-baiters want to turn the inquiry into a trial they should follow the same rules as a trial and not be allowed to make any public comment on the proceedings until they are over.

What would these nefarious anti-war people find Blair guilty of but "taking us to war in Iraq" - as already admitted above. D'oh! And do you see the similarity between torturing a tethered bear and analysing the evidence that the former Prime Minister (who does resemble a bear in that he possesses "very little brain") justified a war on the account of a taxi driver and a 10-year old student dissertation? If you do, please explain. I don't.

[1] Not a notable name, then.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Our survival relies on pre-emptive action

Stand by for some fun. According to the Times (Movie's blue-skinned aliens aim to open our eyes to War on Terror), 'a minor part' of James Cameron's Avatar "contains heavy implicit criticism of America’s conduct in the War on Terror."

In the background is the looming threat of the heavily armed human colony who want the minerals under the Na’vi’s land. This is where the politics comes in. The hero is with the Na’vi when the humans attack their homes. The fusillade of gas, incendiary bombs and guided missiles that wreck their ancient habitat is described as “shock and awe”, the term popularised by the US military assault on Baghdad that opened the Iraq war in 2003.

The humans’ military commander declares: “Our survival relies on pre-emptive action. We will fight terror, with terror.” One of the more sympathetic characters preparing to resist the human invasion bemoans the need for “martyrdom”.

Let the denouncing begin!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Aaro "Not a member of the Israeli Hasbara Committee"

This came up in comments so worth linking to the Indie correction - the IHC (which I am not at all sure what the fuck it is or what relationship it has to the Israeli government) includes Aaro on a list on its website, but the endorsement is apparently one-way - Aaro is not a member of their committee.

In general, I am not a fan of the use of the word "Hasbara" to refer to Israeli government propaganda, particularly by people who don't actually speak Hebrew.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the Swiss minaret ban

We haven't heard from Ayaan Hirsi Ali lately. I wonder what Nick Cohen, who accused Timothy Garton Ash and Ian Buruma of bigotry toward her, would make of Swiss ban on minarets was a vote for tolerance and inclusion? It's always useful to read the views of people one disagrees with, but Ms Ali merely revisits arguments we've heard before: people like us, that is, dear reader, you, are out of touch. She doesn't actually refer to us collectively as bruschetta-munchers, but the thought is there.

These two contrasting perspectives correspond to two quite distinct groups in Europe. The first are mainly the working class. The second are the classes that George Orwell described as "indeterminate." Cosmopolitan in outlook, they include diplomats, businesspeople, mainstream politicians, and journalists. They are well versed in globalization and tend to focus on the international image of their respective countries. With every conflict between Islam and the West, they emphasize the possible backlash from Muslim countries and how that will affect the image of their country.

I can't speak for the rest of you, but I've never considered the image of this country, nor worried about the 'backlash from Muslim countries.' The 'working class' are right, the other lot, wrong... I can't see where Ms Ali makes the case that minarets are a symbol of oppression, but I suppose I would say that. Readers are welcome to show me up.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Oh you activists! Oh you authors!

The Rowntree Trust produced a report (not linked to by Dave - here it is. It's fairly sensible. Dave doesn't like it. Apparently he can't find anything factually wrong with it, however, so he spends his column this week in some really quite sleazy ad hominem attacks on its authors.

Some of its authors, that is. Dave has the sense to realise that he's not going to get far in pretending that Ross Anderson isn't an expert on computer security, so Dave (a journalist and author) gets on with calling Terri Dowty a "self described musician and author" (which isn't really true - she might describe herself thus in other contexts, but in the introduction to this report she says "Director of Action on Rights for Children. She has many years’ experience in education and children’s human rights. She sits on the Advisory Council of the Foundation for
Information Policy Research".

Dave also uses the old political hack's trick of trying to dismiss a piece of research by claiming that its authors are "biased" and not "dispassionate" about the social evils they're writing about. And then a completely unrelated comment about questions in the census, a smear about civil liberties being something that only the rich care about ("The rich have themselves; the poor have only the government". He actually writes that). All in all, pretty sorry stuff.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Ah yes, "Targeted Sanctions", that sounds much more effective than "Nothing"

Aaro is on the witter with respect to the Iranians and their putative bomb. The throat-clear is unusually protracted at the start of this one, having a go at all those silly people who believed the NIE estimate of progress on Iran's weaponisation, because ... well because Iran hasn't really got any closer to a weapons program, but they are thoroughly nasty people! Who can't be trusted to co-operate with the IAEA! And the Revolutionary Guard is really in charge! Take this seriously damn you!

Here's a thought - Iran wants to maintain the option for a nuclear program, because it has two states which are its mortal enemies and which are nuclear powers. One of them is the only state to have ever used a nuclear weapon, while the other is a state that has launched several aggressive wars against its neighbours and has specifically and repeatedly threatened to use nuclear weapons against Iran. In those circumstances, what are the chances of persuading Iran that it doesn't need a nuclear bomb? Yup, there's two chances, and "Slim" just rode off to the Pritikin Institute.

So therefore in the circs, what can be hoped for is that Iran's option to weaponise its nuclear program remains just that - an option. In actual fact, moving from the "centrifuges" stage to the stage where you have something that goes bang is a very, very expensive process, very rarely carried out indeed by any economy that isn't on a war footing (the idea of Iran getting enough nuclear missiles to have a parade of them inspected by the Supreme Leader is very close to being an economic impossibility). The job of the Obama administration and anyone else with common sense is to keep them at the stage they're at for as long as possible, in the hope that something turns up (as Will Rogers said "diplomacy is the art of saying 'nice doggie' until you can find a rock").

Aaro knows this, doesn't he, which is why he ends up arguing himself into the entirely correct position that he incorrectly calls "doesn't matter". The logic of deterrence works, which means it works in Iran. But of course, just good old diplomacy and moreofthesameism will never do, because Douglas Hurd! And Uday and Qusay The Revolutionary Guard! They torture dissidents, don't you know! Nothing will keep us safe except ...

Except "targeted sanctions". Not even targeted at current decision makers. Targeted at unnamed officials of the Revolutionary Guard, on the basis of a very arguable intelligence analysis that there has in some way been a recent change on the part of the RG (who were not even responsible for the worst atrocities on pro-democracy or pro-Moussawi protestors, that was the bajlis, who are a bunch of armed Richard Littlejohn figures supporting Ahmadinejad not so much out of any ideology as for the simple reason that authoritarian wankers tend to recognise one of their own). Yeah, targeted sanctions. No skiing holiday for you, Mahmoud! And no Courvoisier either, unless you can smuggle some! To return to an old theme, this is simply politics as an act of aesthetics and self-expression.

PS: sorry, new contributors, I will send out the invites tonight, promise!!!