Thursday, January 29, 2009

A primrose path of error

I've said before that I read the Spectator blogs. (RSS here.) Both Clive Davis and Alex Massie are excellent bloggers. I was thinking of linking to Clive Davis's post on Stephen Walt anyway. Now, he's received an email from David T "criticizing my posts on Israel, Hamas and Walt-Mearsheimer."

Since I'm here, Alex Massie's response to neo-con Bill Kristol's departure from the NYT was good too.

Update Fri 30 5:00 pm. The point I'm trying to make here is this: the Spectator publishes blogs by Clive Davis and Melanie Phillips. If you subscribe to the RSS feed, you get both. I can't see what David T is complaining about. It's not like the Speccy can be accused of one-sided Israel-bashing. The perfect example of this has arrived. Mad Mel, last Thursday on Geert Wilders: "So the inevitable has now come about in the teetering civilisation of Europe, and it has happened first in the Netherlands. One of the supposedly most liberal societies on the planet wants to criminalise someone for telling the truth." (She quotes the Beeb too; presumably they can be trusted ... sometimes.) Clive Davis is more of a link blogger; his Geert Wilders post today is just a link to and quote from Ian Buruma:

Whether Mr. Wilders has deliberately insulted Muslim people is for the judges to decide. But for a man who calls for a ban on the Koran to act as the champion of free speech is a bit rich...
The lawsuit against Mr. Wilders has been hailed in the Netherlands as a good thing for democracy. I am not so sure. It makes him look more important than he should be. In fact, the response of Dutch Muslims to his film last year was exemplary: most said nothing at all. And when a small Dutch Muslim TV station offered to broadcast the film, after all other stations had refused, the grand champion of free speech resolutely turned the offer down.

I think Buruma understands civilisation and democracy a lot better than Phillips does. We've discussed Buruma before. He has good enemies: Paul Berman and Nick Cohen. Nick hates Buruma for actually trying to engage Ayaan Hirsi Ali in debate as if she were a public intellectual or something rather than a figurehead.

Whistle a Happy Tune

Another (ho hum) attack on the media, especially the BBC (but not The Times) from our man on Tuesday. It's all affable enough, as Dave lets us in on his extended family and his reactions to Spurs' matches.

But DA is rather too fond of using 'we' (in the collective rather than the royal sense).

So we might also believe that we too have danced, holidayed and texted on our iPhones along the capacious path to Hell. ...

One problem with this is that, excepting icons of overpayment such as Sir Fred Goodwin and Jonathan Ross, we haven't actually been orgiastically greedy, or particularly personally profligate. At least, I haven't. My money's gone on a mortgage on a house I love, on theatre tickets and on books, not on wenching or roistering. As Anatole Kaletsky has often told us, the large rise in debt in the last two decades has been overwhelmingly due to the operations of the financial sector, and not down to ordinary people or businesses. Most of us have just tried to live a little better, helped by many of things that we like, such as computers and mobile phones, being far cheaper than ten years ago.

But we won't have it. Things may be bad, but we won't be satisfied until they're worse.

"[We] have just tried to live a little better" but we also enjoy moral self-flagellation.

Not until United had replied with two quick goals could I regain my equilibrium. The chance of success was far worse than the certainty of failure. In the same way we seem to be easier with the idea that, however bad things are, they must in fact be worse.

Our man seems dangerously close to attributing his own emotional masochism to Times readers at large. But his real target is the BBC and the librul media.

Robert Peston on the BBC opined that perhaps they [Barclays presumably, though I can't find where he said this] had "protested too much". Any optimism is impermissible ...

So despite the Eeyore-ish tendencies of the British public, they still need the BBC thought-control machine to keep cheerfulness levels down. (OK, I concede that it's possible that "Any optimism is impermissible" refers to the zeitgeist or something, but if so, what is the line about Peston doing in there?)

I think DA is trying for a big argument: he actually has a sort of vision of a good society. However, I don't think he's convinced that the British public are really worthy of it. He doesn't make enough effort at actually arguing his case; Barclays shares rising on one day after a long fall shows nothing; you might as well peruse the entrails of chickens. The thing about Peston is - yet again - that Peston actually reports stuff. And this is Peston writing on the 23rd of this month The long and short of banks:

The short-sellers are the convenient whipping boys, not the prime malefactors (if you think it's a crime that the share prices have fallen, which is moot).

As of now, no irredeemable damage appears to have been done. And although it may jar to say so, shares can rise as well as fall - even bank shares.

The difference is that Peston said it before Barclays share price rose.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Big Laffs at Harry's Place

There are reasons that "bloggers" are often confined to inverted commas by pretty much everyone who can read who isn't a blogger. One of them is that many bloggers' idea of the re-invention of lively, Age-of-Enlightenment, debate-igniting scurrility is others' idea of puerile vituperation.

There's a long rant in my head over the reactions to David Miliband's Guardian piece. I read the Spectator's blogs via RSS (for reasons I don't understand, they share a feed) and three of their bloggers[1] had reacted before I even saw the thing.

Meanwhile, over on the left[2], we have dear old Harry's Place's David T.

Sons are, mercifully, not necessarily like their parents.
David Miliband’s mother is a member of Deborah Fink’s JFJFJFJFJFJFJFJP organisation.
David Miliband’s father was a “Marxist intellectual” who railed against the ousting of Pol Pot and Idi Amin.

Well, I'm sure that no other "intellectuals" have ever backed the wrong horses or made regrettable statements in the past. I don't know much about David T, but I'm just certain that if his parents were at all leftists, they were the sort of leftists who only supported causes that came out smelling of roses in the early 21st century.

I'm not particularly fond of Miliband, but that's pretty low, isn't it? It's a good candidate for the all time "Lay, Lady, Lay" having-cake-and-eating award, though.

* Because I may come back to this:

Mad Mel really hates David Miliband at the moment. I'm warming to him as a result.

[2] Irony. Good, innit?

Update, by bruschettaboy Oh jeepers pleepers. What Milliband did and didn't say about Idi Amin and Pol Pot. The Decent Recycling Machine really is tiresome sometimes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Disillusion Blues

A lot of people are over-excited ... But on the crashing bore scale they are minnows compared to the people who seem to think they are imparting great wisdom in telling us that the highest expectations won't be met.

Matthew Turner.

Oh damn. I've just given away all of Big Dave's Tuesday column, haven't I?

Well, not quite. He does say, "It is now a cliché to say that he [Obama] must inevitably disappoint...", but then he sets out to manage expectations. In some respects this is a B+ Aaro column. It's lucid, researched, knowledgeable, non-shrill. But our Dave, like too many columnists, thinks his brief is to tell us what to do. And this week our task is to take up the US voters' burden.

I've also always thought that Kennedy's "Ask not" spiel was really just the most frightful buck-passing bullshit. DA implicitly buys into everyone around the world being American whether they like it or not. Note that he quotes two 20th century US Presidents. Woodrow Wilson may seem like a smart pick when most journalists don't recall further back than Reagan, but Wilson took America into WW1 and Kennedy started the Vietnam War. Heroes of armchair generals everywhere.

What I like about Obama is that Israel timed its exit from Gaza to coincide with Bush's departure from the White House. I'm impressed also by his prompt action on Guantanamo. (But won't we, the not-yet-murdered, have to worry about being slaughtered in our beds now?) It would be nice if Obama followed the example of a different President and said, "Mr Olmert, tear down this wall." We shall see.

See also Medium Large. And Tim Worstall understands me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Conflicts of Interest

I went to see Baader Meinhof Complex last night, and very good it was too. However, I had earlier been surprised to read a favourable notice of the film by Oliver Kamm. Kamm, some may recall, writing under the title "Conflicts of Interest", recently made a big fuss about Owen Hatherley having reviewed a book by Richard Seymour for the New Statesman: journalistic ethics, non-disclosure etc. Kamm went so far as to write,

he is a contributor to the newspaper of a Leninist organisation, which is not a normal democratic party even of the radical Left, and in which he urges "a foundation for genuine class politics". This is a material point in evaluating his review, and as such I consider he ought to have disclosed it both in his piece and in his comment on this blog.

When I got home last night I got online and ordered from Amazon Stefan Aust's The Baader-Meinhof Complex, the reissue of his Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF on which the film is based. How surprised I was by the translator's name: Anthea Bell. Anthea Bell is, of course, Oliver Kamm's mother.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Definition!

BBC: The end of the neocons?:

  • a tendency to see the world in binary good/evil terms

  • low tolerance for diplomacy

  • readiness to use military force

  • emphasis on US unilateral action

  • disdain for multilateral organisations

  • focus on the Middle East

Decency? Yep.


Frankly, Mr Field ...

If I say Aaro is good today, you lot are bound to quibble. So quibble.

He means the time when the Kenyan and Ugandan Asians were expelled, and arrived in a Britain for which they had passports, where they were called “Paki”, and where they became some of the most successful and dynamic citizens this nation has possessed. And this is used by a Labour minister, a Labour minister, to attack past Conservative governments for softness on immigration! I wanted to throw up.

Nick's skull

From today's Independent:

It's one in the eye for 'Observer' columnist Nick Cohen, who has been refused permission by Damien Hirst to use an image of the diamond- encrusted skull on the cover of his book, 'Waiting for the Etonians: Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England'. Hirst was doubtless wise to Cohen's motives – in the book he uses the skull as "a symbol of the money worship and vacuity of the bubble years".

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Aaro Back on the Couch

Our eponymous commentator was on the Andrew Marr show this morning. (Update: Now on iPlayer.) That's twice in a not very long interval. Perhaps they like him. He is quite good on camera, as he demonstrated when the live link to Marr interviewing David Cameron went down and he briefly explained Cameron's dilemma with talking down the recession.

He did get quite a speech in about the letter in the Observer today. (It's addressed to 'To the government of Israel' but for some reason they put the wrong address on the envelope. Saved an airmail stamp, I suppose.) I think it's as confused a letter as you'd expect when signed by no fewer than four professional god-botherers. They want both "the complete and permanent lifting of the blockade of Gaza" "as well as the prevention of weapons smuggling into Gaza." One suspects that these are people who do not dirty their hands with practicalities, ever. One of the other signatories, Professor Shalom Lappin is a contributor to Decentiya and Professor David Cesarani has been cited there a few times. They still forget to mention that Hamas was democratically elected. But at least they acknowledge that "an immediate ceasefire is not only a humanitarian necessity but also a strategic priority for the future security of Israelis, Palestinians and people of the region." I suspect that our Dave will return to this on Tuesday. He talked of 'agonising' and, IIRC, the violence "being too much for some people." I would be surprised if one of those "some people" were not our favourite Times columnist. My very rough prediction: it's still all Hamas' fault, but Israel must stop this.

And the programme ended with Richard Thompson singing Britney Spears, something I suspect that Captain Cabernet would like.

Update: Norman Geras reproduces the letter without comment, though as he chooses 'Humanitarian necessity and strategic priority' as his title, I assume that he supports an 'immediate ceasefire'. He also makes one grammatical correction. Good for him.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Walzer on Gaza

Ueber-decent Michael Walzer opines, no, pontificates, on Gaza:

Asking the hard questions and worrying about the right answers--these are the moral obligations of commentators and critics, who are supposed to enlighten us about the moral obligations of soldiers. There hasn't been much enlightenment these last days.

Such self-awareness, such willingness to confront the hard questions, such moral courage. Oh, if only everyone were as brave.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Aaro on Hitler statistics

In today's column, Aaro suggests a rule of thumb:

A year earlier in this place that was, pace Livingstone, “exactly” a ghetto in the same way as Gaza, the death rate from starvation and disease was more than 4,000 a month - the equivalent of 12,000 in the Gazan “ghetto”. On these grounds alone, never mind any others (rockets, Hamas, etc), we may conclude that Gaza 2009 and Warsaw 1943 have very little in common.

so, implicitly, a difference in death rates of around 25 times would mean that comparisons between different atrocities are meaningless.

On this basis, he will presumably be receiving offers of employment from the public relations agencies of Saddam Hussein (=Hitler), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe is Bosnia), Slobodan Milosevic (Srebenica was Munich) and David Davis (=Hitler).

Otherwise, it's basically blah, IMO. We should carefully consider the circumstances before concluding that it's all Hamas' fault, due to their Nazi propaganda. They're not black and white, they're black.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Criminal aspect

In comments on his blog today, Oliver Kamm expresses his agreement with a Times leader on Gaza. Did Kamm actually write the leader in question? I don't suppose we'll ever know, but it does have a certain Kammite ring about it. Here's how it begins:

Conor Cruise O'Brien, the Irish statesman and historian, once wrote: “The best way for a democracy to deal with what is called political violence is to set aside its supposedly political character and concentrate on its criminal aspect as an armed conspiracy.” O'Brien, who died this month, had particular sympathies with the security dilemmas faced by Israel. And in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza this week, Israeli politicians are plainly adopting a similar diagnosis to his.

Now forgive me for my naivety, but if what we're talking about is law enforcement aimed at a violent criminal conspiracy, the Israelis seem to be going about it in a odd way. Even when dealing with armed gangs, the police don't usually drop high explosives in densely populated urban areas, with predictable consequences for passers-by. If Sir Ian Blair had contemplated such tactics, he might have been out of a job even faster than he was.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Report Both Figures

Earlier in the week, I considered writing a brief post to note how good Doonesbury has been lately. (Monday; Tuesday; Wednesday; Thursday; Friday; Saturday.) I'm a bit of a Trudeau fan, but he's on good form at the moment. The last couple of days have been exceptional, and now there's an unexpected frisson with Harry's Place.

(As briefly as I can make this: in Doonesbury, Fox reporter Roland Hedley dismisses an Iraqi refugee's claim that 600,000 Iraqi Christians have fled, and claims, because 'no one knows' that it 'could just as easily be 600' and decides to 'report both figures - and let [his] audience decide.' In H'sP Prof. Moshe Zuckermann of Tel Aviv University may have claimed in a German radio interview that there have been 400,000 casualties in Gaza rather than 400. The usual fun then ensues. The Professor is an "Israel-hating Israeli". How dare he love Israel less than the US-based Gene Zitver or the post's author, "Karl Pfeifer, a veteran anti-fascist and journalist based in Vienna." From the same post on Z-word. H'sP claims he a Z-word member; Z-word claim he is a guest.)

It's fairly easy to see who's wrong in both instances. I know how I like my journalists, but I think that's a matter of taste, rather than an objective, eternal standard.

I only checked Harry's Place to see whether they'd gone into orbit yet over the BBC video: Annie Lennox, Alexei Sayle, Ken Livingstone, Bianca Jagger and George Galloway spoke at a press conference organised by the British Muslim Initiative. So many enemies in one place. Wouldn't a 'surgical strike' set back the cause of Islamism? They haven't, but surely it can only be a matter of time.

Other good stuff elsewhere: Andrew Sullivan on Glenn Reynolds. And Aaro colleague-rival Matthew Parris seems to understand the US rather better than recent cheerleaders like David Aaronovitch or Norman Geras ever did.

And when I visited America, first as a boy then as a postgraduate student (in the 1970s), what struck me was not the modernity of modern America, but its inefficiency and old-fashionedness. The bureaucracy was Stone Age, the postal service unreliable, medical and dental treatment twice the cost of private treatment in England, and government officials treated you like serfs. People lived richly and worked hard - that was undeniable - but in a parallel universe clumsily and wastefully managed, and beset with internal friction. You couldn't even get a bank account that worked properly outside your state; and, for all the ostentatious vigour of retail competition, there was a curious lack of diversity in product choice. Though infinitely more successful and politically free, it was in some indefinable way more like the Soviet Union than either country would have wished to acknowledge.