Thursday, April 30, 2009

Talking About His Generation...

Something is going on in Nick Cohen's world, and if I knew what it was, well, any cunning foxes who are professors of cunning at Oxford University should look out!

I think our Nick may have written the perfect column. It's complete nonsense from start to finish. It doesn't get a fact right. And yet it's quite plausible.

One of the things Nick has mastered is vagueness. When exactly was 'early on' in the last US election? (The links in the article don't work on Nick's site or on the Evening Standard.) I thought that Barack Obama rose to national prominence with his 2004 Democratic Convention speech. The motto of US politics is, to paraphrase David Mamet and Alec Baldwin, 'Always be Campaigning.' It never stops.

But gosh, who would have thought that a speech delivered well would be an improvement on the written word?

If people talk of "rhetoric" these days, they mean it as an insult. "That's just rhetoric," they say, implying that the speaker is a snake-oil salesman.

I think that's a post-Enlightenment division between appeals to facts and appeals to emotion. (Actually, that's unfair to the Middle Ages. There's always been such a division.) And yes, appeals to emotion rather than facts should to treated carefully (or simply ignored).

The view that oratory is phoney is a thoroughly modern one...

Webster's definition of hypocrite: Middle English ypocrite, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin hypocrita, from Greek hypokritēs actor, hypocrite, from hypokrinesthai. A hypocrite is a phoney and an actor is an orator. No, Nick's right. It never occurred to Sophocles or Shakespeare that their characters may not be telling the truth. That started with ... ooh, Beckett, perhaps, Osbourne ... Pinter! Lying, in a made-up story, absolutely unheard of!

As I'm sure I've said before Nick and I have several things in common. We're much the same age; we're middle-class and had radical-ish parents. Where we really radically differ is that I believe there is nothing new under the sun (apart from my belief that pretty much everything is technologically determined, and technology throws up new freedoms) against Nick's seeming belief that societies change but through some internal political churning.

Sir Jim Rose, a former head of Ofsted who is reviewing language teaching for the Government, says that employers have told him of job applicants who cannot talk confidently on the telephone or hold a formal conversation.

Sir Jim Rose should read Anthony Powell; I can think of at least one character who went to Eton (unnamed in the series, but pretty obvious) and couldn't do either of those.

I'm of the generation that went to school in the 60s. There was a future Labour MSP in the year above me. We didn't do so badly.

He knows what the ancient Greeks knew, but our generation forgot: words are weapons, and if you deprive the young of the ability to use them, you leave them defenceless.

When I was at school, we were encouraged to ask and answer questions. I'm reasonably (hello commenters!) familiar with the history of education. Socrates: free drink (wine with water), open Q&A. Everything since to about 1940: teacher/lecturer talks, then walks. Pupils/students take notes, go home. Yes Nick, young Shakespeare, W who crawled so willingly to school was taught language just so he could overthrow the government, and kids in the 1960s weren't, lest they try. You nailed that one mate.

But there's something going on with Nick. Someone has been depriving the young of the ability to use words. But who? how? Did Fritzl really get about that much? Hasn't Nick read, say, George Orwell's essay (dare I say, "well known essay"?) Politics and the English Language, which specifically attacks university educated writers of not using words properly. Everything went wrong in the 60s. Except of course the things that didn't.

But why aren't you talking about Darfur?

Of massive interest to our readers I think, the Making Sense of Darfur blog is having a book event on Mahmood Mamdani's book "Saviors and Survivors", which is a pretty excoriating attack on the "Save Darfur" movement in the USA, for possessing all the characteristics that we have identified over here as constitutive of Decency. I am particularly taken with this essay by Alex de Waal. The MSOD contributors can't really be credibly written off as Douglas Hurd types or crypto-fascists, and it is quite startling to see what they really think of the liberal interventionists who have attempted to hijack someone else's tragedy for the benefit of their own politics.

Also found on the web: the "Save Darfur Accountability Project. I am in two minds about this - sneering at people for going to protests seems to me to be more or less intrinsically twattish, and there's quite a lot of it on the site. But on the other hand, it does at least appear to be aiming to get the message across that there are things going on in Darfur other than a generalised March of Evil which must be rebuffed by non-specific Action on the part of the USA. I'd rather have it than this piece of "diplomacy is appeasement" bollo from Nick Kristof, for example.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Picking nuts

An excerpt from Aaro's book, and I think that I am declaring victory on "shamelessly nutpicks" and "represents 9/11 with nuttiest fringes of thermite & holograms types".

The odd thing is that Aaro appears to have picked the single weakest argument in the anti-conspiracy arsenal. There are lots of reasons for not believing that 9/11 was "an inside job" (most particularly, the lack of any evidence at all, which was also an excellent reason for not believing Iraq had WMD, just sayin'). But the argument Aaro actually uses is the "oh, it would be much too difficult" one.

Look guys. Al Qaeda actually did it. Therefore, Al Qaeda did, actually, recruit 19 guys, get them pilot training, set them up with cover stories and send them off to hijack planes, and keep it secret that they were planning it. The government is a lot bigger and more competent than Al Qaeda. The only other element would have been the cover-up, and governments can do this too. It's certainly true that it's difficult to intimidate and bamboozle investigators and the media into silence on important subjects. It's also difficult to build a road across the Rockies or put a man on the moon, which is why there are special, well-resourced government agencies given the task of doing each of these.

The "argument from governmental incompetence" is, of course, not incidental to Aaro's underlying thesis. It's first cousin to the argument "nobody would bother to monitor my transactions or survey me on CCTV, my life is too boring".

Update: "Little Atoms" in the comments confirm that Peter Dale Scott, Nafeez Ahmed and Robin Ramsay are listed in the bibliography. I will still reserve judgement until I see the book (citing something in the bibliog isn't at all a guarantee that it's dealt with in the text, plus Ramsay has written a number of popular summaries and PDS is a default citation for inventing the term "parapolitics") but this is a good sign with respect to nutpicking. I notice by the way, that the Amazon summary of the book has Aaro arguing that conspiracy mad nutters "linked themselves to the supposed conspiracies of the past (it happened then so it can happen now)". Once more, this is weird - "it provably happened then, so it might have happened now" is a perfectly sound way to reason.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Pre-emptive review of "Voodoo Histories" by David Aaronovitch

So, Aaro's got a book coming out. Instead of waiting for the blessed thing to reach the bookshops, I thought I'd write my review ahead of time. Sort of get your retaliation in first; get it out there and let's get the debate moving - think how much time we wasted waiting for "What's Left", and it was just how we expected it to be. Some might object that this is something of an untraditional, nay avant-garde, nay even unethical book-reviewing practice, but I say pshaw. At the end of the day, this website has been going to five years now, and I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that I have read literally every single word Dave has published in that period, including several pieces on the subject at hand, as it evolved from the original lecture on "Conspiracy Theories from JFK to Princess Diana". What I'm saying here is that I'm as well placed as it's possible to be to guess what Aaro is going to write, and significantly better placed when it comes to writing a critical essay on this book than most of the reviewers will be when it comes out, even spotting them the advantage of having read it. My disagreement with what I think is going to be in "Voodoo Histories" reflects a wider and fundamental political disagreement with Aaro's view of the world. So here goes.

In terms of the content of the book, I think that it will be pretty much run of the mill tomfoolery and bashing - I doubt that the "tin foil hats" joke will be spurned and fear that even the aphorism about "attributing to malice what can be explained by incompetence" might get a run out. Also inevitable is at least one reference to David Icke. Just as all of the "Mumbo Jumbo", "Counterknowledge" crowd who are blurbing Aaro tend to be much keener on bashing the crystals-n-incense crowed than on telling us how it was that the "Sound Science Coalition" happened to be formed under the aegis of Phillip Morris' PR department, I would expect some pretty shameless nutpicking and dirty-fucking-hippie bashing in Aaro's book too. There are quite a few paranoid schizophrenics attracted to parapolitical research, and it is true that people who suffer from that illness often have quite a powerful desire to feel like they understand the world around them. But this is about as interesting as a discussion of the symptoms of anorexia nervosa might be to an article about the Pritikin Nutrition Institute; I hope Aaro will avoid the sort of lazy and hurtful references to mental illness that the Guardian stylebook warns against, but it's a hope rather than a certainty. There's also surely at least a 50/50 chance that he'll libel Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

The history, I suspect, will be scrappy and the selection of "typical" conspiracies almost comically partial. Diana theories get in there, of course, as do lunar landing conspiracists, but Iran Contra will be tossed off in a couple of pages, Watergate in few more and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident most likely not mentioned at all. Oliver Stone's film is likely to get treated as if it were the definitive summary of assassinology (and I bet he gets the official line wrong, repeating the Warren Commission's "lone nut" conclusion and ommitting the House Committee on Assassinations). The whole subject of the 9/11 attacks will get represented by the wackiest end of holograms & thermite trooferism, and so on.

I suspect that on at least one occasion, our man will use as a punchline the ridiculousness of suspecting that the military and security infrastructure of a G7 country might have been co-opted by a single Masonic lodge (something which has definitely happened). The Freemasons! Controlling the secret police! Carrying out acts of domestic terrorism as a pretext for jailing their political enemies! Well it happened, and thirty years later, a member of that same lodge was elected Head of State Government (thanks, anonymous commenter!) on an anti-corruption ticket. Kind of puts in perspective all the friend-of-a-friend-of-someone-who-spoke-at-a-conference-which-invited-someone-who-once-wrote-a-pamphlet-for-an-organisation-that-grew-out-of-another-organisation-which-later-sponsored-HAMAS! stuff, doesn't it?

Of course the reason why it will be such a slapdash job is that the history isn't the point - the point is to construct a suitably pejorative psychological theory of anyone who might object to being given a record of important events which doesn't make sense. And, of course, to pussyfoot round the very obvious reason why Aaro got interested in the subject in the first place; the conspiracy to mislead the public, the Cabinet and the House of Commons over the ussue of nuclear, chemical and/or biological weapons in Iraq. Aaro's line on this, recall, is that the Butler Review and Hutton Inquiry have shown that "Blair didn't lie", that this is all there is to it, and that anyone who objects that the absence of a "smoking gun memo" is hardly dispositive or that both inquiries were severely flawed in their terms of reference, is doing so out of pathological Blair Derangement Syndrome, or out of a wish to feel superior and knowing, or unwillingness to abandon that rhyming slogan, and so on.

But, of course, this is the whole question that this book ought to deal with and I bet it doesn't. We know that inquiries into matters of interest involving that nexus of politics, intelligence and crime which Peter Dale Scott christened "deep events", are almost always atrociously carried out. They're stacked (the stacking of commissions of inquiry through manipulation of their personnel is such a commonplace that it's quite literally a subject for situation comedy), they're crippled by their terms of reference and they're censored. If, per Aaro's thesis, the world is not so exciting and few major events have "conspiracies" at the bottom, then why not set everyone's mind at rest and do the inquiry properly?

Of course there's two reasons (at least). The one that's most congenial to Aaro's point of view is that there are some people who are never satisifed with anything because they just fundamentally don't like or trust the machinery of justice. A subset of this group are the paranoid schizophrenics, who are also attracted to the making of lists and the other accidentalia of conspiracy theory. But there are also plenty of plain and simple stroppy buggers, plus a fair number whose criticism is not in good faith. People like this are always there to keep a conspiracy theory on the go, even in the absence of any evidence, or in the presence of substantial contrary evidence. You don't necessarily want to throw this crowd bones in the form of the ambiguities and loose ends that a full inquiry will always generate.

But that's clearly not the real reason; after all, it's not exactly difficult to marginalise and ridicule the awkward squad out of mainstream public debate, as Aaro proves exhaustively. The main reason why so many inquries are, to use the technical term, "for shit", is that they usually need to be constructed painstakingly to gerrymander round that protean category "Things Which Everyone Agrees It Would Be Wiser Not To Look At Too Closely".

Lee Harvey Oswald, for example, was a walking Thing Which Everyone Agrees &C. He had connections to US and Russian intelligence, to Cuba, to anti-Castro Cubans, and all manner of other interesting folks. Given that the Cuban Missile Crisis was only a short while ago, anyone wanting to find out that Oswald was anything other than a "lone nut" would have been advised to tread very carefully indeed. LBJ actually recruited people to the Warren Commission by telling them that "we've got to be taking this out of the arena where they're testifying that Khrushchev and Castro did this and did that, and kicking us into a war that can kill 40 million Americans in an hour". Jack Ruby also shared this most useful property of an assassin, of being someone who had a powerful coalition of interests militating against ever investigating him properly.

That's an exceptionally obvious case, of course (and of course, none of this is inconsistent with the "lone nut" theory being actually true; to deny this is to fall into a characteristic logical fallacy of the genre, which Aaro will of cours epick up on). But it does seem to be worthwhile to ask a question; why are there so bloody many Damned Things Which Must Not Be Investigated, and doesn't their ubiquity say something rather worrying about our society?

Another interesting question to ask is why there are so bloody many opportunists hanging round the shop, waiting to attach their policy agenda to a massive and shocking event, practically before the bodies have cooled. This is a behavioural characteristic of policy entrepreneurs which is as ubiquitous as it is unattractive, and which is absolutely bound to attract uncharitable questions about whether they had advance notice to get their Powerpoint slides prepared. There is a structural tendency toward what might be called "bong session cui bono" in the conspiracy literature (as opposed to the sensible kind, where it's supported by evidence; in both the Iranian hostages case and the Tonkin Gulf, the people responsible for the conspiracy did in fact do it, and did it because of a benefit they hoped to get). But really, we should be asking no so much "who benefits?" as "who the fucking hell are you anyway, and how did you get yourself into a position where you were able to benefit from this?".

Example: the cui bono links between various PNAC groups, the companies Halliburton and Blackwater and the Bush administration, as unearthed by the 9/11 truthers, are pretty laughable if they're meant to serve as evidence of an "inside job". But, the fact is that within days of the attacks the USA was preparing to invade Iraq, there had been a massive expansion of the powers of the executive branch, and ungodly amounts of noncompetitive military supply contracts were being prepared. And in a number of cases, key stages in the decision processes had been convered up. How the heck that comes to happen, seems like an interesting question to be investigating, doesn't it?

Well, maybe not, not if you're Aaro. David Aaronovitch's consistent vice as a columnist, voluminously documented on our blog, is that he has much too much of a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to people in government. The underlying theory is sort of pop-Rousseauism - the "left lobe theory", under which we the people, if we were really thinking about things, rather than always being distracted by those horrible mediassess and rabble-rousers, would agree to all sorts of sensible-sounding technocratic policies which we don't actually want. And if that's your theory of government, then it would be perfectly natural for the poor beleaguered technocrats to use a crisis to clear out their bottom drawer of political desiderata, wouldn't it? For Dave, Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine" is pretty much an operations manual.

And this is the real dark psychological underbelly of "Voodoo Histories" - the portrait that this book keeps in its attic, to steal one of my co-author Chardonnay Chap's best lines. In acual fact, the "Voodoo Histories" view of the world is a pretty good description of how David Aaronovitch thinks things ought to operate. Recall that his thesis (which will be set out live! at the RSA on Thursday) is, per the Random House blurb, that conspiracy theories "elevated their believers to membership of an elite – a group of people able to see beyond lies to a higher reality". Hahaha those conspiracy loons.

But on the other hand, Aaro was a close colleague of John Birt and an alumnus of Weekend World and the "mission to explain". His entire philosophy of the media industry is that the public are, in fact, systematically ignorant of key policy debates, and that it is the job of a journalists to give them access to underlying reality - the famous "mission to explain". So Aaro does, in fact, believe that he is part of an elite, which is able to see beyond lies to a higher reality. It's just a matter of whose version of the truth you're going to pick. Aaro suggests that this choice ought to be made on the basis of " a thorough knowledge of history and a strong dose of common sense" (per the RSA blurb), but this bluff saloon-bar no-nonsense approach hasn't really done him very well in the single highest-profile piece of analysis in his columnistic career (listed under "That Bloody Prediction in our sidebar).

This is the trouble with nearly all of the modern "sceptic" movement - they are very selective indeed about who they're going to be sceptical about. Dan Hind wrote an entire (and very good) book about this strange failure to follow through on "Enlightenment Values" to their logical conclusion, and Aaronovitch's book is another fine example of the genre. In the final analysis, "Voodoo Histories" is the equivalent of a book on junk science which doesn't mention the tobacco/lung cancer or DDT/malaria scandals - it's a part of the problem disguised as part of the solution.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Friends of friends of friends

Time for a trail of the long-awaited and as yet not-even-outlined "Decent Racism" post. Great Moments in Decency meets Real Xenophobic Nutters of Genius. Uptown!

Bear with me, occasional readers, because this is a bit of a concatenated series of links, but the payoff is gold dust.

Via Matthew Yglesias, the semi-mainstream media have picked up on the split (noted at the time in AW comments, whoever spotted it speak up for a shout-out) between Charles "Little Green Footballs" Johnson and other right wing nutters, over the issue of support for Vlaams Belang.

This is mainly of interest to us on AW because one of the deeply involved participants in this blogspat was Andrew Bostom, "Anti-jihadi" blogger, supporter of Geert Wilders ... and, subject of a Democratiya interview, in which he was allowed to rant at length about the inherent evils of Islam, with occasional mild interruptions from Alan NTM of the form "Comrade Bostom, some might say X ... why are they wrong?". It is quite literally true that the Decent Left's theoretical journal is happily publishing people who are regarded as far-right nutters by Little Green Footballs. What a world.

Also worth a squint - Tom Griffin's (and now that I come to think of it, his was the original tip, thanks Tom) article at Liberal Conspiracy about how deep this all goes. These are the people, btw, who want us to believe that they're serious about a united "anti BNP, anti Islamofascist" movement which they are sadly too busy to organise themselves.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

That's him watched

Conor Foley unloads on Nick Cohen. Impressive: definitive, even.

No sign of Nick in the comments yet, but worth looking out for.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Collective guilt

Our comments section are correct to note that Aaro writes a rather good column on the occasion of Ian Tomlinson's death at the G20 protests. Context is required, however, as I think Aaro's column (particularly the last two paragraphs) surely has to be seen as a reply to this disgraceful piece of crap from Times comment editor Daniel Finkelstein's "Comment Central" blog on the 2nd itself:
What, then, of the protestors argument that the police were likely to be heavy handed, and so proved. Well, the demo on Saturday was legitimate and peaceful. Anybody who wanted to demonstrate was able to.

Everybody knew, everybody knew, that this was not the plan for yesterday. Yesterday there was scheduled to be a large violent element menacing people and property. The police were going to need to take tough action to prevent it.

Anybody who decided to join in would have been fully aware of this and would have chosen to go despite having had other chances to register their opinion.

In the four days subsequent, Finkelstein has not written a single word about Mr Tomlinson, and the "Comment Central" blog has been taken up with momentous matters such as the Beatles and transcendental meditation. What a fucking shower.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Perfect timing from Ollie

Kamm, on April 4th, taking advantage of the G20 summit to have a dig at Louise Christian:

"Someone who believes that the police are a toxic influence excludes herself from serious debate on the balance between freedom of assembly and public order."

Andy Hayman, former Assistant Commissioner Special Operations at the Metropolitan Police, in Ollie's newspaper, the Times, today

"What is also not known is whether the cause of death was natural or triggered by this apparent assault. Whatever the cause, the commissioner must ask serious questions about the style of policing. If left unchecked we have a more violent crowd in uniform than the crowd demonstrating. "

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ow, Ow, Ouch

Ouch, that's gotta smart, don't care who you are. (Thanks for the heads up, OC). Maybe Nick will decide to take this to the external ombudsman with the support of a letter written by Oliver Kamm and Francis Wheen, but I would advise not.

Although there has been more than a little NC-related content recently, despite our having stopped systematically Watching him, this is important, I think. It seems like the Decent tendency (often remarked here) to constantly attribute the worst motives to one's enemies, and to assume that you live in a world of consequence-free rhetoric, is beginning to cause a few problems (if I were in the predictions game, I'd suggest that David from Harry's Place's newly found habit of attributing the phrase "fuck the Yids" to people who didn't say it might be causing him some legal problems before the year is out, and can I say beforehand, include me out of that particular blogger support group). I detect in the air a more general reluctance to indulge Decents their quota of rage.

Could it be that the general sane non-blogging public are not disposed to believe that The Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Time (TGISOOT) is being waged? One can only hope.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

In The Same Sinking Ship As The Rest Of Us

I know that commenter 'Organic Cheeseboard' has got the idea that Nick's Standpoint tv columns are off-topic, but Nick himself treats his most recent as of a piece with his regular Observer gig, calling them part one and part two. This in itself deserves a mention, as it's unlikely that the target Standpoint reader takes the Observer and there being so many more Observer than Standpoint ones, many won't even have heard of the monthly. Not that this matters because the two pieces don't make a coherent whole. (Also surely the deadline for the magazine would have been some time ago.)

From Standpoint:

Second, although my newspaper colleagues may not realise it, BBC journalists are in the same sinking ship as the rest of us. We should feel no schadenfreude. Someone has to bring us the news, but I am damned if I can see who is going to do it.

The first comment comes from Francis Sedgemore (who used to write on Comment is Free and IIRC used to blog for the Drink Soaked Trots).

Nick – BBC journalists are indeed in the same sinking ship as the rest of us, but the quality of BBC journalism remains relatively high, and we should acknowledge this and be thankful for it. Elsewhere – and that, I'm afraid, includes the broadsheets for which you write – proper journalism is being replaced with often ill-informed opinion and expressions of middle-class neuroses. ... Local newspapers have been failing for some time now, and the rot set in long before the current economic crisis. One shouldn't damn the BBC for being creative. ...

This rather makes my main point. Nick damns the BBC management, but one of the reasons the BBC is such a large presence on the net (and, say, ITV isn't) is because they made several very good creative decisions. Specifically, they took their news-reporting which was largely delivered to tape and turned it into written content, and they've done it very well. BBC web coverage of regional stories is, IMO, considerably better than local papers provide. A commenter on Nick's site wrote:

They can’t help themselves telling viewers and listeners what to think. They shamelessly intertwine reporting and editorial.

I think the opposite is the case of the BBC on the web (it's truer of the broadcast news). Nick is worried about the effects of the web (Standpoint):

Editors have always built careers on claiming to know what their readers and viewers want. The Net creates the illusion that they can indeed discover with scientific precision that an urgent national mood is swelling, which they must satisfy.

It seems to me that editors are actually pretty good at sniffing out co-ordinated campaigns. The papers changed their lines on Jade Goody repeatedly, but not in response to the net specifically. I can't think of a paper which 'responded to the national mood' with respect to Gaza as a result of email or comment threads.

The national broadcaster, however, should be able to commit and affirm the national mood, which is almost impossible to gauge when new technology allows minorities, often very small minorities, to appear to be the authentic voice of the masses.

But there is no 'national mood' - as if, in the words of Belinda Carlyle, "we dream the same dreams, we want the same things" - all of us apart from some "very small minorities" who want to spoil everything. Even if there were such a thing, I don't see how a journalist in Canary Wharf or Broadcasting House would be any better placed to determine how feelings run in Dublin, Dundee, or Humberside without the impediment of the net. Unless, of course, he resorted to the time-honoured tactic of just making shit up and then throwing an epic strop if anyone dared call him on it. (I mean, dear me, look at all these comments calling Mike White wrong.)

And how's this for being patronising?

Soon, if [BBC] camera crews do not go to Nigeria, no one else’s will.

Yet in the same article, he'd written:

He [Clay Shirky] quotes the example of Alisara Chirapongse, a marvellous Thai student who blogged mainly about fashion. Her readership was tiny, until the 2006 Thai military coup. Chirapongse ignored a news blackout and described life in Bangkok. She posted photos of mutinous troops on her website and organised a campaign against the army’s attempts at censorship. When the crisis was over, international admirers left and she went back to sharing thoughts with her friends.

Newspaper correspondents in Thailand may have been censored by the military. If their editors had sent them in from London, they may not have known the language or understood Thai politics. It is possible that Alisara’s writing was not only equal to the work of her professional rivals but superior and more widely read.

He may already have shown that the BBC doesn't need to send camera crews to Nigeria - we may get better reporting if broadcasters and papers source local journalists: the ones already there. This will lead to job cuts, but it won't be the end of news. (It's not as if the media we have is unrelentingly realistic.)

An Observer subed gave Nick's "Part two" piece the title, Who would you rather trust - the BBC or a blogger? I'm writing this on a blog for an audience of blog-readers, so what I'm about to say may be self-indulgent. Suppose for a moment that being a blogger is harder than being a journalist. Many of the 'top bloggers' are academics or, like Andrew Sullivan, at least have PhDs. Journalists generally have an undergrad degree and perhaps a year's vocational training. Good bloggers are more educated than journalists. Comments on blogs call out factual errors; they're not just bearded minorities calling for the introduction of head lopping. Saucy Jack and Chris Williams tore my exiguous history to shreds in the comments to the last post but one. It's very hard to be credible unless you stick to what you know well as a blogger. Journalists, meanwhile, pump out all sorts of rubbish. Martin Bright wrote about Clay Shirky too. Bright doesn't get blogs either:

It's a long piece (so much for the web encouraging bite-sized chunks of information) and some of it is very technical.

Who suggested that the web would 'encourag[e] bite-sized chunks of information"? I think Marshall McLuhan made some observation about a small child in the 60s have little or no attention span, but nothing I've read in Shakespeare, Dickens, or Mark Twain has ever led me to believe that children were capable of feats of sustained concentration in ye olden days either. I can remember a story that Alastair Cooke told of his hosting half-hour documentaries in the US in the 1950s and they tried to cover Watson and Crick only to find that molecular biology was simply too complex to cover in the time they had. (They tried anyway.) Bite-sizing isn't new, and it's nothing to do with the web. In fact, the beauty of online writing is that it can be any length at all. Newspaper columns have to fit a page; blogs don't.

One final thing: Nick overlooks News International, which owns the most successful Sunday broadsheet, which buys the best journalists at rates rivals can't compete with, which has several tv channels and has a secure grip on the nation's viewing. There is a rival to the BBC. Don't tell me there aren't Sky dishes in Islington.

Nick likes to portray left-liberals as of one mind. But it's not so. Who would you rather trust? A generalist newspaperman on house prices or a Economics Nobel-winner with a blog?

This is a bit OT, but here are some talking heads taking issue with the government of the day. You have to admire the audacity of the guest who enters @ 5:10. Is this your urine sample?. When two guests disagree (on, of all inflammatory subjects, US policy in Afghanistan), they do so like adults. That's both brothers Hitchens looking good this week.

Via 3 Quarks Daily (itself an endorsement of Hitchens' argument - if we go back to Joyce rather than Murray Gell-Mann).