Friday, February 27, 2009

More violations of the Prime Directive ...

Just one addendum to the Watching of Aaro's Tuesday stinker - what's up with all this "Formerly Known As the War on Terror" bollocks? The incoming Obama administration decided, almost certainly correctly, that the stupid bellicose rhetoric was totally counterproductive and therefore dropped it forthwith. A very sensible decision, I think we can all agree. So why are Norman Geras and Aaro so keen to resurrect it? Is it:

a) more or less purely and simply, being an arse for the fun of doing so?

b) the Michael Goveite belief that any concessions in the direction of being sensible and not randomly irritating people constitute "weakness" and will be seen by Al Qaeda as such?

c) a form of Ostalgie for the Bush administration?

d) intentional disrespect for Obama, rather like those people who continued to call Muhammad Ali "Cassius Clay"?

e) "because it annoys liberals" as a positive reason for doing anything these days?

Whatever it is, a quick perusal of Normblog reveals that the author believes it to be really quite incredibly clever of him to be the only one to notice that the USA is still against terrorism.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Paul Berman on Gaza, at length

Oh good God, how very very serious and thoughtful he is. I was nearly overcome with the sensitivity, subtlety and erudition. Oh hang on, no, just a fart.

Berman's case is, rather strangely, based on a) holding Israel to a different standard from other nations and b) Holocaust analogies. If he's not careful, he could get ENGAGEonline down on his ass. Added to which, just read through those arguments and ask yourself - "couldn't these be used with only minor alteration by the current government of Sudan?"

Other than that, as a piece of Decent political analysis, it makes a rather pukey piece of nationalism. Outright libel against Walt & Mearsheimer, again, I notice; furthermore I also see that the tendency to simply assert as axiomatic that "The Israel Lobby" is a piece of sub-Protocols propaganda, and use any endorsement of same as a premis for smearing someone as an anti-Semite, has spread from Melanie Phillips into what might loosely be termed the mainstream. Berman is playing with fire here - unlike Mel, he has credibility to lose, and spouting obvious mendacious bullshit to an audience who will be aware of it, won't do him well in the long term (cf, The Republican Party).

More generally, AW(i'WoD') is entirely open to arguments to the effect "Israel does not get a fair shake in the British/American media", and will consider them on the merits. However, "The British/American media are anti-Semites and intentionally produce anti-Jewish propaganda" is not an equivalent claim, and if made, needs to be supported with extra evidence, specific to that accusation, not general points which might support the weaker claim. "The British and American middle classes hate Jews" is yet a further claim, which is not a logical consequence of the second, let alone the first. So Howard Jacobson (article not linked; I am 'boycotting' the Independent as a protest against the fact that its website crashes my browser) can fuck off and all.

Berman and Jacobson seem to think that they can just say "I didn't support that" about anything nasty and then move on. While the rest of us are on the hook for anything George Galloway says, whether we heard it or not. This is fringe Decentism admittedly, (although Aaro has certainly experimented with a milder form of the same opiate), but worth stamping on now before it spreads any further.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Torturing bad, but not that bad if the tortured can't prove they were wrongly detained

Aaro: "Binyam Mohamad is probably a terrorist, but we'll never know. It was bad to torture him, but, if he was a terrorist then it would be less bad. Meanwhile, bad people are doing bad things and we need to be vigilant."

Probably the most offensive thing about Aaro's latest is the sneering at Clive Stafford-Smith. This is pretty standard decent stuff. You can campaign all you like against injustice, you can actually be vindicated in your belief that (a) there was torture and (b) the US didn't have enought evidence to hold people and yet, for not agreeing that your clients are probably guilty, you get pissed on by a Times journalist (or some guy with a website).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Oh Goody, Goody

Back to our eponymous journalist.[1] From today's 'Newsnight' email:

As Jade Goody tries to secure her children's future, what does our interest in her tell us about ourselves? One of my guests on Review, writer and commentator David Aaronovitch will be discussing this before we both join Booker winner Ben Okri, and Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi to review Lenny Henry's dramatic stage debut (excepting panto) as Othello.

While I think the big man is very competent TV guest, I just don't believe that there is such a thing as 'ourselves.' Ms Goody tells us nothing because there isn't an ourselves to tell about. I mean, include me out. I'm aware of who she is (I did watch Big Brother 3), but I'm not interested so I don't contribute to 'our interest'.

I meant to post on Dave's latest anyway. Yet again, he's very good. (I think this is a point worth repeating - and I'm pretty sure[2] that I speak for the crew here - that we're not opposed to DA or MAH. We're all rather similar to them. Leftish backgrounds, leftish sympathies, "something must be done" instincts. As Captain Cabernet demonstrated in the last post, some of us can agree with our watchees at times. I don't think we'd do this if that wasn't the case. I wouldn't anyway. There are columnists, such as Melanie Phillips, Madeleine Bunting, or Richard Littlejohn, with whom we have nothing in common and criticism is superfluous.

David Aaronovitch is often very sensible. (He's free to quote that on the back of a collection of pieces if he wants.) He's pretty good here.

And so it has been with the reviewers. A Hermione opined that “this kind of show forces us to confront the depressing fundamentals of human nature. It isn't just that the children are horrid - they're horrid in such predictable ways.” A Serena complimented the “fascinating and enlightening” programmes that “showed how selfish, spoilt and mollycoddled most of these children were”. Which, I bet a hundred quid, is what friends of Serena had heard her say about modern youth months before she had watched a minute of these programmes.

And isn't it wonderful how these people don't get nature v nurture. "[F]undamentals of human nature" being one and "spoil[ing] and mollycoddl[ing]" being the other. "Selfish" always seems to be an irregular noun: I have self-interest; you/he/she/it/they have selfishness. And if sparing the rod spoils the child, more spoiling sounds good to me. Likewise hugging children. We're not again cuddling.

This isn't to say that our man doesn't spoil it. As here:

But my God, how some of us hate children to put them through this! It is astounding how people will moan on about CCTV and ID cards, when they are prepared to connive in the invasion of the privacy of minors in this way, simply to be entertained, or to have their prejudices about today's youngsters apparently confirmed.

Yes, "people" 'moan on about CCTV and ID cards' (he means commenter Alex and myself) and "people" (ie neither of us) "are prepared to connive etc". I'm not sure about the privacy of minors. There was a piece on Radio 4 today or yesterday about hospitals sharing data on children admitted. Now if I were an adult with an STD, I'd be upset if hospitals were trying to piece together my private sexual history - but I think it's different for abused minors. I think children have different legal freedoms and protections from adults and I think that's largely recognised as a good thing.

But, carping aside, good stuff from Dave.
[1] Does anyone know how to use 'eponymous' correctly? Apart of "their eponymous first album" (eg "The Clash" by "The Clash") all usages seem contrived.

[2] Nothing like 100% cast-iron certainty, and you won't get any of that here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

AW post in praise of decency shock

Marko Attila Hoare is an odd bloke. His espousal of the HJS worldview and his penchant for absurd diagrams sometimes invited ridicule. Likewise, his insistence on interpreting every event in world politics through the prism of the Balkans leads to bizarre conclusions: such as backing McCain over Obama. However, though highly-partisan, it is undeniable that he knows his stuff when it comes to the former Yugoslavia. I'm not sure that other writers at AW will agree with me about this, but I found his review (HP Sauce version) of a section of Richard Seymour's The Liberal Defence of Murder rather convincing. True, I think Marko (here and elsewhere) presents Seymour as being more pro-Milosevic than he really is. But Marko does establish that Seymour's sources are unreliable and that his emphases are perverse.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Slightly OT: Israel, Democracy, Geert Wilders

When I saw this on Tuesday (screenshot of the 'Evening Standard' website with headline "Israelis go to polls to choose between three warmongers"), I felt it was mildly amusing[1]. (The comments included "I'm beginning to agree with Melanie..." and "How anyone can agree or side with this kind of reporting is beyond me. The media coverage in this country has been positively anti-semitic and tantamount to insighting racial hatred.") Anyway, also via the Spectator, Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic[2] wrote:

The stunner, for me at least: The Labor Party is dead. More than that, the peace camp is dead, or comatose, at least. According to exit poll numbers I heard, Haifa and Tel Aviv went for Livni (who is no leftist, except in comparison to Netanyahu and Lieberman); the south went for the hard right. The rockets voted, in other words.

It's a good tight piece, rather than quote it all, I recommend the whole thing. Goldberg doesn't care for Avigdor Lieberman. ("Washington should prepare itself for the possibility of Avigdor Lieberman as Israel's foreign minister. ... This isn't as bad as it sounds, since Israel doesn't have a foreign policy, just a defense policy.") Glenn Greewald called Lieberman "extreme and repugnant" (nb on Monday, before the election). Spencer Ackerman says, "the right-wing shift in Israeli politics has large implications for President Obama's stated desire to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace." He quotes from the Washington Post though I think the best line from there is this:

"You are going to have a very wobbly, dysfunctional, survival-minded coalition in Israel," said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator.

The joker at the ES called it pretty well in other words. That should get commenter organic cheeseboard excited.

This brings me to something. I'm pretty conflicted over the Geert Wilders thing. I find freedom of speech arguments very convincing, but at the same time I feel that he's beyond the pale. David T wrote a post yesterday attacking Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne for his justification of the exclusion of Wilders. (But why pick on Huhne? He's not the Home Secretary. Very odd.) And I sort of agree with him:

Although these characters should, in my view, be prevented from entering Britain, it is important that we hear what they have to say, so as better to oppose it.

He's talking, of course, about the subjects of Wilders' film - "utterly vile Islamist politicians and preachers". I'm not sure about preventing them entering Britain (I'd be against granting them work permits or paying them benefits; I wouldn't let them live here). I'm not quite sure what David's point is.

What a travel ban does do, primarily, is to signal this Government’s rejection of Wilder’s politics.
But, even here, the Government has bungled the message.

As far as I can work out, Chris Huhne was wrong for justifying the ban, though it's the message which was 'bungled' rather than the ban being wrong.

But Chris Huhne not only mistakes the Wilders affair for a free speech issue. He then seeks to defend the exclusion on grounds that are unsupportable.

This suggests that there are supportable grounds for the exclusion, but David doesn't discuss them. He clearly thinks that neither the government nor Chris Huhne know what these grounds are. I though the law was about precedents: if the government can ban Wilders, it will be able to ban the people David doesn't like in future, won't it? (Again, I'm not certain that this would be a good thing.)

Speaking of banning, Glenn Greenwald (link above) remembered the US and world reaction to the election of Joerg Haider:

Israel has recalled its ambassador and has announced that Joerg Haider, the party's figurehead, will not be allowed into the country.

There are, I suppose, unpalatable far-rightists and palatable far-rightists. Haider had more of a mandate than Wilders, too.

[1] Actually, my first thought was "Firefox on a Mac. Cool." I need to get out more.

[2] It's not just the Standard which changed its headline. The Goldberg url, which presumably came from the title is 'a_stunning_and_depressing_isra.php': the title is merely 'A Stunning Israeli Election.'

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Who are your comrades????

Many long-time readers will remember this favourite punchline of Nick Cohen's from the early days of the Iraq War, back when the Iraqi National Congress hadn't become an embarrassment yet. The idea was quite common on the Eustonian left, that they were on the right side of history because they had "comrades" among "the Iraqi people" (actually, it turned out, a lot of US-connected expats with next to no popular support, but they didn't know that then[1]). And so, since they stood in "solidarity" with "the Iraqi opposition", the anti-war left were the bad guys who "abandoned the Iraqis".

All the terms in quotes above probably have listings on Decentpedia, but I'm too lazy to check them out. Anyway, Zimbabwe.

As we know, Decents, they love a bit of Zimbabwe intervention. But ... who are their comrades? There is a genuinely representative Zimbabwe opposition movement, and it is the Movement for Democratic Change[2]. And this movement has never been in favour of military or other intervention by external parties - they have asked for political support from South Africa and the SADC and occasionally found useful Decent allies when they weren't getting it, but they've never asked for an invasion. The middle initial of the MDC is not ornamental, and nor does it stand for "Decent"; although many armchair democrats are keen to slag off the Zimbabwean elections and call Mugabe a "dictator", the plain fact of the matter is that the MDC does not share this view and has consistently worked through the deomcratic process there.

Now, Morgan Tsvangirai has been sworn in as Prime Minister in a Government of National Unity. He does not (and indeed has never) want an economic boycott of Zimbabwe, nor does he want economic aid to be withheld from the government of which he is a part. This is not out of some innocent or unserious liberal-left inability to appreciate how bad Mugabe is; it's because he believes that the consequences for the Zimbabwean people would be bad enough to outweigh the potential political benefits. And I really don't see how, from the safety and comfort of the First World, we can possibly be in a position to gainsay him.

At present, Norman Geras (I think) does apparently recognise that this call is the MDC's to make (subject to some not unreasonable Monday morning quarterbacking (and albeit that he's happy to link to this insane piece of crap from Hitchens). All other main Decent outlets don't seem to have staked their claims here, but it's not really as if the swearing-in of Tsvangirai really changes the moral issue. The MDC has been entirely consistent in not wanting an external military intervention, economic sanctions or withholding of aid. The Decents (and indeed, the UK government) have for the most part been consistent in thinking they know better. Where do they get off? Who are their comrades?

[1] I state the fact that they didn't know it, as an empirical statement rather than a normative one - it certainly wasn't for want of us telling them.
[2] Actually it has two factions these days, but they both agree on the key point at issue here.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Martin Bright Blogs For The Spectator

Here. He only started today, and he's off at a cracking pace. He's at the We are names not numbers shindig in Portmeirion.

Portmeirion is a surreal place at the best of times. But it gets even stranger when you see Clarence Mitchell, the spokesman for the McCanns taking a stroll through this pink and green mini-utopia, shortly before bumping into Yasmin Alibhai-Brown from the Independent, the historian Simon Schama and Julia Hobsbawn, the mad genius behind this crazy trip.

Somehow, I don't think our Nick would enjoy that experience.

But wait, isn't this Aaronovitch Watch? Glad you asked.

A second session on “social entrepreteurship”- a cumbersome term for companies set up to do good - was pretty lively. David Aaronovitch of The Times chaired with typically drole scepticism. It was good to hear Suzanne Moore say that some people just don’t want to be entrepreneurs and that she had felt forced into it, both in her professional life and in fighting for decent school places for her children.

There, we even cover his columns before he writes them. (For all I know, Nick could be there, even though he's not listed as a speaker or panellist; neither are Aaro or Moore.)

We're Aaronovitch Watch. We're Watching Aaronovitch.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Another Unfortunate Victim of the Recession

Sorry D2, I know we're not watching N*** C***n, but from the comments to the last post, this review has to be seen to be believed. Or not. I've seen it and (Victor Meldrew voice) I don't believe it.

Our Nick's had a hard time of it. First there was the pay thing with the Staggers, then there was the continuing comedy disaster of Standpoint (now back online). Now, he's too poor to review hardbacks. Young Master Goldberg's opus came out ten months ago. Do Observer reviewers have to go to Waterstone's and pay cash themselves now? You do realise that if he'd fawned over the original publication, the paperback (in stores now!) would have a quote from the author of 'Waiting for the Etonians.' But now, not.

See also Dave Noon and of course Sadly, No! What passes for research in Jonah Goldberg land.

Update 12:07 pm. You know, I predicted that Nick would review 'Liberal Fascism.' And then I took it back. And here's me on Jonah Goldberg's praise for Enoch Powell.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

More Decent projection about "the left" etc.

"The programme seemed to attest to the view, popular among radical thinkers, that we must bear the guilt of centuries of oppression of darker-skinned races – and thus need repeated absolution by means of the worship of figures from Nelson Mandela to Barack Obama."

Also sprach John Lloyd in the Financial Times about a Nelson Mandela documentary. Hard to say how much of the view contained in the quoted sentence is supposed to be "popular among radical thinkers." Is it just the "we" (who?) must "bear the guilt" part, or is it the absolution by worship bit too? And who are the "radical thinkers" among whom such a view is popular? The present tense doesn't automatically imply that the thinkers are still amongst us .... so we could be even talking Fanon or Sartre here.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Universal principles

Norman Geras has finally got round to addressing the question of war crimes in Gaza. Except he doesn't examine any of the evidence about whether this happened or that happened. Instead, he directs his fire at the motives of Israel's critics, silent as they (allegedly) are about Hamas war crimes. Same old same old.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Decent trope bingo with ANTMJ

A dreadful CiF piece by Not-the-Minister, which ends up saying basically nothing about Obama, Guantanamo or anything else. Highlights:

Niebuhr, a son of German immigrants who became a Lutheran pastor to Detroit autoworkers,....

Strictly true, but rather a misleading description of a man who spent most of his life as a New York theology professor.

Some on the left have criticised Obama for not shutting Guantánamo immediately ...

Who on "the left" exactly? Ah, John Stewart cracked a joke on The Late Show.

Gitmo recidivism is currently running at 11%.

From the Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Sociology: "Recidivism refers to reoffending, or the repetition of criminal acts by a convicted offender."

See any difficulties there Alan?

The piece finishes off with an absurd Springsteen reference and a quote from Obama about how earlier generations confronted fascism and communism.