Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Aaro connects dot 1 to dot 1

Aaro, on privacy, after two weeks' worth of columns pushing the very opposite line:

The implications are unpleasant. Such an outcome would mean that there was an organised scam, probably involving one or more public servants, based on the calculation that there existed a lucrative market for this kind of stolen information

Well yes, Dave. Now, does this possibility of corrupt public servants, connect up at all in any way to your desire to see a central government database with all of our DNA on it, or for anti-terrorist surveillance powers to be available to every local government officer in Britain who wants to check up on primary school applications?

Nope, the lesson learned is that we the plebs must get rid of our rotten prurience about the morals of our betters. Und so weiter.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Robbing the Grave of Poor Orwell

The story so far ... As I noted in the update to an earlier post, Martin Bright has come out for Nick Cohen. Prior to that, Harry's Place may have had a scoop with Did Gordon Brown Try to get Martin Bright Sacked? (Answer: it's not impossible. I find Chris Mullin's allegations regarding GB's state of mind really quite plausible.)

Nick's own blog promoted his appearance at the Orwell prize debate.

And now (thanks to an anonymous commentator), Chaos on the Animal Farm reports Londoner's Diary in the Evening Standard.

"This evening is a disgrace," Cohen railed, accusing Gordon Brown of getting the New Statesman's former political editor Martin Bright, who was on the longlist, sacked. "To say that Martin Bright, who has been fired by the government, is not worthy of making the shortlist! The PM sacks Martin Bright for doing a programme about Ken Livingstone - exposing his links to a fascist organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood. How dare Peter Hitchens be nominated for the Orwell Prize by all these scummy, useless old people? Don't rob the grave of poor Orwell."

Bright was longlisted for his journalism, which included the Dispatches programme. I feel a twinge of sympathy, but this is all horribly entertaining stuff.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Aaro blah blah databases

Totally out of his depth here. The UK's National DNA Database has been ruled to be illegal by the European Court. The NO2ID/Liberty report says it "has to be redesigned or scrapped". Because it does. Aaro thinks there's something fishy about this ...

Aaro's point is asinine. We know that there's an imposition on the liberty of people who are convicted of crimes, but if you can't handle that, you have the option of avoiding it by the simple expedient of not doing any crimes. Not doing crimes also has the advantage of keeping your fingerprints out of the police files, not giving you a criminal record, and indeed keeping you out of jail. It's a simple and easy method of maintaining your privacy.

If you do decide to do crimes, though, then there are consequences for this. Society has decided that one of the tradeoffs between security and liberty that it's prepared to make involves keeping records of the DNA of guilty, but not innocent people, and there really doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm for revisiting this compromise. Because although a national DNA database would indeed make the police's job easier, it would also be entirely open to abuse, as the European Court noted in its ruling saying the damn thing was illegal. Which is why nobody wants one.

Aaro's argument appears to be that those cccccrazeee civil liberties fundamentalists are guilty of "discrimination", but the discrimination in this case is against people who have been convicted of a crime

"Some of our judges have long believed that treating the convicted as though they were automatically more guilty of a future offence than the unconvicted, was unsustainable."

Name me one, Aaro. Name me one. (I am sure he can do - judges often believe the most unbelievably fucking stupid things. But to assert that there is something obviously dodgy with believing that those convicted in the past are more likely to be guilty of a future offence - which is both unbelievably obviously empirically true, and the basis for the entire current system of criminal record keeping - is very obviously a freaky minority belief, and thus it's not surprising that sensible mainstream organisations like Liberty and No2ID don't hold it).

Monday, March 23, 2009

A comradely call on Nick Cohen to stop shouting

Observer letters yesterday. Via Nick Cohen who says:

If you are tempted into going along with their complacent belief that all is well with the liberal consensus check out the case I present to the contrary in Waiting for the Etonians available here at the ridiculously cheap price of £7.19!

But... WftE is a collection of columns and the letter starts with "Nick Cohen needs to find a new column to write." And it continued:

Yet again last Sunday, he declaimed that the liberal-left has failed to engage or support liberal Muslims, asserting that leading voices and institutions refuse to challenge Islamist extremism as well as opposing the BNP. But this is nonsense. It can be easily disproved by what we have all said and done.

Sunder Katwala et al allege that Nick Cohen misrepresents them. Nick's response is - "find out what they're really like, from me." Nick, give Norman Geras a call. He understands logic.

Update March 26 6:30 am. Ooh. Support for NC from Martin Bright. "But this is just bullying isn't it?" No, it isn't.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A sort of wind tunnel effect...

Some light relief fresh from the Wide World of Decency: the picaresque adventures of Bernard Henri Levy:

It was a pure BHL production, one-third fiction, one-third self-promotion, one-third reality. BHL chartered his own jet to get to Georgia. He headquartered at a five-star hotel in the capital, and stayed all of two and half days before flying to Nice. He taxied to Gori, which had been occupied by the Russians, and made his way past checkpoints to the center of town. He reported devastation. “Gori does not belong to the Ossetia which the Russians claim they have come to ‘liberate.’ It is a Georgian town. And they have burned it down, pillaged it, reduced it to a ghost town.” But this was not true. A careful study of BHL’s trip concludes he never reached the town; and witnesses agree that Gori was attacked, but hardly burned down.

With gusto the critics took BHL’s reporting apart. An English newspaper commented, “The Americans have sent blankets and the Estonians doctors, but it is the French, surely, who have come to the rescue of South Ossetia’s people, with their offer to send nouveau philosophe Bernard-Henri Lévy.” The paper noted that BHL was staying at the Tbilisi Marriott with a personal photographer, publicist, and bodyguard. The entourage is easy to spot, reported a guest. “They are all loafing around in the foyer puffing clouds of smoke, and gesticulating meaningfully. BHL is in his element going around in a crumpled white shirt, hair coiffed into a sort of wind tunnel effect, and reeking of perfume.”

Plenty more where that came from, though the author assures all good lefties that they must nonetheless take him seriously. I disagree. Someone should give the bouffant blowhard his own television series. I was thinking of reality TV, though somehow that doesn’t seem quite right.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"But he is simply unwilling to let his favourite rant risk contamination by anything resembling a fact"

Sunder Katwala, general secretary of the Fabian Society, points out at some length that Nick has been talking out of his arse.

OK, so Hazel Blears isn't Hitler ... so what?


I am not saying anything as crass as that it doesn't matter what the government does, as long as you live in a liberal democracy. What I am saying is that, if you don't have a liberal democracy, everything else goes to hell. And it does strike me that, right now, we are in a nasty phase of attacking democratic politics and its inevitable representatives, the politicians, for their deficiencies and taking refuge either in populism, legalism or magical thinking.

I wish I had more time to discuss this, but I'll just note that it is false to say that "if you don't have a liberal democracy, everything else goes to hell". Lots of interesting intellectual developments and social movements have taken place in non-liberal societies where the cracks and spaces where the state doesn't look provide places for people to write, think, discuss etc. Where did Aaro's precious Enlightenment happen? Not in a liberal democracy, that's for sure. And how about in Teheran and Beijing today, is everyone just marching in step with the official line or is there writing, film-making etc going on that's actually quite interesting? On the other hand, what New Labour has in common with the only dystopian modernism that Aaro can imagine is a panoptical aspiration to see and control everything, to meddle with every detail of private life and to impose a supposedly benign managerial normalisation on everyone.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Nick Gets A Deserved Kicking

Sarah Ditum posted a comment on an earlier thread, and I found an excellent post on Nick Cohen on her site. (If anything disproves Oliver Kamm's rather paranoid contention that there is a "concatenation" of Cohen critics, I hope this is it.)

She hits a lot of buttons for me. First, Cohen is not a careful writer. Modifiers which should be tweaked pre-publication, aren't. Detail really isn't a Cohen thing. Broad-brush anger (and moral superiority) is.

Then again, I’m not one of the “determined, if scientifically illiterate, middle-class mothers with easy access to lawyers”. But hang on! Nor is Nick - he might be scientifically illiterate, bar the odd happy guess, but he is absolutely, definitely a father. So that “large section of the supposedly adult population” from whom Cohen distinguishes himself, even though he partook of their terrors? That would be the women. Cohen might have had doubts, but it’s the mothers who were in a “raving panic”. Covert misogyny alert!

I think I'm a liberal (that is, one of the dreaded left-liberals Nick is so astringent about). And I think the thing about being a liberal is this: it's much more cold-blooded than it's presented by the press. I read about some terrible atrocity, and part of me wants to eviscerate the persons responsible. And then something kicks in that says: "Hold on, that doesn't work. It's in your memory banks, go check." Being a liberal means (and yes, this is sort of smug) trying to rise above simple emotionalism (where Melanie Phillips seems to live) and having an editor. Nick doesn't seem to have an editor.

I sort of think that the Observer subs take his stuff because 'it hits your guts'. Shorter me: if it hits you in the gut, it's probably wrong. Perhaps I've been hanging out with the 'Enlightenment Values' crowd too long.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A brief pause from not watching Nick Cohen

A new slang term: "Standarded, a British expression for a newspaper that costs 50p and whose main selling point over free alternatives is the presence of columnists one would pay money to avoid. As in "I bought this newspaper because the billboard said that the Circle line was shutting down, then found myself Standarded into some godawful rant by Nick Cohen".

He is right, however, that London is a city in which there are many excellent free alternatives. Thelondonpaper, London Lite, Metro - Nick doesn't write for any of them.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

"Call for": considered harmful

Alex Harrowell goes to the theatre to see David Hare, leading to a number of thoughts relevant to our subject ...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"Too many of these pieces are ill-considered, illogical and repetitive rants that will convince only those already converted"

A review of Nick's new book, in, of all places, Democratiya.

Classic from Oliver Kamm

The noted obituarist and music critic writes:

One minor aspect of Hobsbawm's allegiance to British Communism that I have never understood is his authorship of the notorious Cambridge pamphlet supporting the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939-40. Hobsbawm wrote this with Raymond Williams, who later recorded (Politics and Letters, 1981, p. 43): "We were given the job as people who could write quickly, from historical materials supplied for us. You were often in there writing about topics you did not know very much about, as a professional with words."

A bit like a leader-writer for the Times then?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Good blog post, Aaro.

Fair do's to the lad, good spot albeit that it's not exactly breaking news (and that link is the fifth result from a search for cctv 300 times a day uk). Did the chasing down of this factoid really rate an entire Times col? It's certainly less central to the case of No2ID than various other dodgy claims were to other pressure groups.

It's just a bit of handwaving and "ooh, silly conspiracy nutters", of the sort that we have Watched in the past. Fact is, there's a lot of surveillance in this country. Someone who had access to all the information that is generated about you, could quite easily make your life a misery. At present, the powers granted under the most recent terrorism act have been used to freeze Icelandic bank accounts, to spy on parents who might be lying about school catchment area and to check up on the correct use of dustbins. Powers that can be used for these sorts of purposes can clearly be used for any purpose at all. So the current state of the debate has nothing to do with scary old MI6 (ooh!). It's simply to do with the question of; do you trust every single low-ranking local government officer in this country not to abuse these powers? If you do, frankly you're an idiot. When the powers of surveillance are restricted to proper intelligence agencies, using them in pursuit of actual objectives, and with good-quality auditing to make sure they're only used for specific purpose, then we can have a big old debate about the balance of civil liberties. Until then, what trade-off?