Saturday, June 27, 2009

Whacking Jacko

Whew. Readers deserve to know that I nearly wrote a post last night concerning the current issue of Standpoint. Nick Cohen was not listed among the contributors. However, he seems to have become one of Standpoint's bloggers, so he hasn't fallen off that perch yet.

The thing about Nick, he doesn't seem to get out much, so complaining about Radio 4's Today programme has become a staple. Entirely predictably, he thinks that too much coverage was given to Michael Jackson. (BTW, what other news stories are there? What else is actually new?) Of course, he links to Oliver Kamm whose post consists of a link to and plug for Nick's new gig; a two sentence quote from same; and a complaint that the news blog of the Times has asked readers for their favourite Jackson song. Not really any 'more' there, Nick. He also links to the Drink-soaked Trots who seem to be complaining that there's more of that advertising about these days, and things were better when they were young.

Fun stuff: Oliver Kamm's colleague has managed to wring two posts out of Jackson's death: 1; 2. (The second is more substantive, and the sort of thing blogs do better than journalism.) There is an Amazon ad to the right of Nick's post: for 'Thriller' "the biggest selling album of all time." Nick still doesn't see why MJ's death was story at all. How has he survived in journalism this long?

Commenter Organic Cheeseboard has claimed that the Times blog has "hosted a chat between Finkelstein and Kamm about their favourite pop stars." I can't find this. Pity, because I can't imagine who Kamm's favourite pop stars could be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Coming soon to a shopping centre near you!

Actually they're almost certainly all about Internet distribution these days, plus modern shopping centres are notoriously closed retail environments that for the most part no longer allow any sort of public activity like selling political newspapers. But nonetheless, AW is plugged in Socialist Worker today, thanks to comments section regular Mr Kitty's review of "Voodoo Histories", which is well worth a read.

What is this, the missing chapter of "Voodoo Histories"?

Longtime readers will recall how annoyed and appalled I was that Voodoo Histories (£17.99! in all good bookshops, somewhat cheaper on Amazon, Alan Beattie's "False Economy" is probably a better read for the money) didn't deal with the Iraq War, and specifically didn't deal with how it fits into Dave's worldview about government dodgy-dealing, general non-existence of. Here we get the Happy Shopper version.

Apparently opponents of the war are "implacable in their interior knowledge of the wrongness of the conflict". Oh Dave. Oh Dave, Dave. At this late date, are you really hoping to convince anyone that the Iraq War wasn't a bloody horrible mistake? The bed is shat, it cannot be unshat, and in five minutes the hotel manager will be here and there will be no reasoning with him that shitting the bed actually represented a better outcome than the alternative possibilities.

Fair do's for mentioning the very obvious point about the fact that there was a conspiracy (under any reasonable meaning of the term) to trick up the war into happening (credited to Jon Snow at the Hay Festival, although it was also the key point of Johann Hari's review). But having set the hare running, Aaro signally fails to catch it. He waffles about the Hutton and Butler inquiries, and then sets out as his main argument ... that everyone believed what the government said in 2002, so they couldn't have been lying? I really don't get it here and suspect that the copy has in some way got mangled.

What clearly went on in 2002 was either that there was intentional deception, or that the government believed that Saddam had WMDs, and therefore because it believed this, thought it was a gamble worth taking to portray the evidence as much more conclusive than it was. That's the sort of thing that people go to jail for if they do it in a set of accounts; if this isn't "lying", then there were no liars in the executive suite at Enron.

Aaro himself, notoriously, was persuaded by the government case to make a massive investment of credibility points into a decidedly subprime vehicle (the parallels between the September dossier, in which poor quality underlying material was layered, structured and given the imprimateur of a supposedly neutral agency to create the illusion of AAA status, and the CDO market, are perhaps fertile ground for someone more desperate for a column than myself). Unlike the investors in Bernard Madoff's funds, however, he seems determined to defend the very people who swindled him. Nice one.

And then we end up with the old chestnut, "errors of postwar planning". As if any inquiry into the Decent doctrine of "war first, plan later" is going to come out looking good for the reputations of those people and pundits who kept telling us that the Iraqis were crying out to be invaded?

Basically, my point here is that Thomas Friedman already wrote this column, three years ago.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lucky 13

Thanks very much to BenSix in the comments, for the heads up on Dave's appearance at the Editorial Intelligence blogging debate thing, in which he gives us a shout-out! Big up yourself Dave man!

One of the other comments DA makes is that his main problem with the blogosphere is not so much the criticism it makes of the commentariat as the fact that, to quote "in one single comment thread at Guido Fawkes, I was called a c**t 25 times" (the asterisks are the typographic equivalent of the bleep inserted by EI's web editors). With this in mind, I thought I'd see how we score on that metric:

Pretty well! We called Nick Cohen a c##t once (by allusion), Rod Liddle a c##t once (directly) and Chris Woodhead an "unspeakable c##t" once. We've also upbraided Nick Cohen for "calling everyone who disagrees with you a crpyto-fascist and a c##t" (perhaps hypocritically in context) and suggested that he would only be happy with Newsnight if Jeremy Paxman were to call Ming Campbell a Saddam-loving c##t.

We suggested that Niccolo Machiavelli's advice could be summed up in part as "be a total c##t" (I think fair enough, although political philosophers might suggest there's more to it than that) and adapted a Peter Cook sketch in order to put the C-word in the mouth of a personalised "Euston". We also reported on Rod Liddle having, possibly (quoted in a Guido Fawkes post on the Spectator party) called Dave "that c##t Aaronovich[sic]". I think this might have been the comments thread he was talking about. I suggested that "the project of being a c##t about the war" was a part of Decency that Aaro didn't take part in, and we suggested that a picture of Norman Finkelstein could be found in the Dictionary of British Colloquialism under the heading "do you have to be quite such a c##t about it?".

Unnaccountably, we described AA Gill as "the noted drama critic and c##t" (untrue - he is a restaurant and TV critic; we apologise unreservedly) and suggested that Tom Conti "called Aaro, at length, a c##t", in what I maintain is a reasonable summary of the relevant Ham & High interview, but where our Readers' Editor found that Conti did not actually use that word and so censured us.

That's it. I'm surprised that I've haven't used the word in the context of the Prime Directive and suspect that this is because the site search only picks up front page posts rather than comments.

Update: Mindful of our younger readers (and also to avoid having to change the post title to "Lucky 25"), I have redacted the relevant words from this post. Readers wishing to enjoy the original unexpurgated version can copy it into word and do CTRL-H to replace "##" with "un". Apple users, you're on your own.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Like a Wolfowitz Upon the Fold

Really just an excuse to link to Dave Noon of Lawyers, Guns And Money:

As if to affirm its utter worthlessness, the Post follows up the canning of Dan Froomkin by publishing a stream of effluent from Paul Wolfowitz, who seems to believe that Obama's ability to shape events in Iran is roughly on par with the Reagan administration's ability to shape events in the Philippines 23 years ago. Never mind, of course, the fact that one's ability to usher someone like Ferdinand Marcos from power is correlated in a non-trivial way with the fact that Marcos presided over a client state that the US once literally owned, and over which it continued to assert significant military, political and economic power. Which is so totally like what's happening in Iran, I'm not sure why the comparison failed to strike me before now.

So far, I haven't seen Wolfowitz cited by any Decents. Who will get there first? Hitchens or Nick Cohen?

Bonus links: Who is IOZ? (one of the very few truly radical bloggers anywhere). John Cole on Wolfowitz vs Obama. (BTW, isn't Wolfowitz a registered Democrat, for what that's worth?) Cole again on a distinction I consider very important: blowhards on democracy in the abstract (yay!) against democracy in the real world (the people's choice is not actually liberal or nice or even particularly able, so, er, boo to him and his supporters).

Consider this an open thread on Iran and anything else. Also, if anyone finished DA's latest, you're welcome to give your opinion at length. I don't think I made half-way. "I don't think there is much wrong with the [Labour] party's view of say, climate change, the security-liberty balance, public investment or international engagement."
Can anyone tell me what these views (as voted on at conference) actually are? My current (possibly cynical) view is that the Labour party's view of all of these (as expressed by the relevant ministers) is ad hoc and opportunist. I'd be glad to be wrong.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

post mortem

The Encyclopedia of Decency calls it a day:

Well, that gap in the market is now closed, and in the end it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the horrible personality flaws of Decency's chief players, the woeful failure of the political causes they spun for and the military bloodbaths they wanted.

Harry's Place has long since been called out for the nasty, wingnut toilet that it is, and now even the reasonable posts they put up are so tainted by the lying bullshit the Saucers proliferate that no sane person would take them seriously. Professor Norm spends his evenings grousing and bitching like an aging drag queen; David Aaronovitch can't publish a recipe for beans on toast without attracting four thousand comments calling him a paid mouthpiece for the status quo.

Meanwhile, the Euston Manifesto continues to languish in obscurity and Ollie Kamm's output is recognised as the tepid, right wing bumfluff it is.

Tragedy in the classical hubris/nemesis form has struck HP mentalist David T., who increasingly resembles a late-period Richard Nixon, large scotch in hand, presiding over a party of hateful wingnuts from a darkened Oval Office while feverishly scribbling new names onto his enemies list. Nick Cohen - the only one of them who struck me as being a really unpleasant and probably deranged person - is surely only weeks away from dismissal from The Observer for submitting a column scrawled in his own faeces.

Comrade Flying Rodent, Presente!

While the project as a whole has managed to crater before it even gained much in the way of internal coherence, the progress of the individuals concerned with it still provide valuable sources of amusement.

Nick's conspiracy conspiracy

A sinister, behind-the-scenes cabal involving Al Qaeda, American Nazis, Gilad Atzmon, the SWP, and "literary ladies in their floral dresses", is bent on promoting sinister conspiracy theories. Or something like that, anyway.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Guest Post: A Review of "Voodoo Histories" by Robin Ramsay

Thanks very much to Dan Hind for sorting out for us this review of Aaro's book by Robin Ramsay. Robin is cited in the index to "Voodoo Histories" and mildly slagged off in the concluding chapter for suggesting that there are sensible and silly versions of conspiracy theories, although I am not sure why as Aaro's argument became incoherent at this point.

Aaronovitch Watch endorses the following products: The Threat to Reason, Politics & Paranoia and Lobster Magazine. Update: Also Dan's latest project.

Voodoo Histories
The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

David Aaronovitch

In his introduction Aaronovitch tells us he became interested in conspiracy theories when someone he was working with introduced him to the 'they-didn’t-go-to-the-moon' theory; and this offended his 'sense of plausibility'. He's right: we all have a kind of plausibility threshold, beyond which a proposition about the world has to get before our brains will take it seriously. And thus, he tells us, about the moon theory: 'Given the imbalance in probabilities I was therefore sure, without even scrutinising it, that [his] evidence was wrong.' (emphasis added)

The moon theory is implausible – and for the reasons offered by Aaronovitch: an awful lot of people would have to know and keep quiet about it. But we should go a little way beyond that. Firstly, very large scale secrets have been kept. Most obvious is the Ultra secret, the British breaking of the German Enigma machine, an enormous secret, which was kept by hundreds and perhaps thousands of people between 1941 and J.C. Masterman's book which revealed it in 1972. So let us not be too certain about these things.

Secondly, had he thought to look at the photographs which are at the base of the moon theory he might have seen that there does appear to be deception involved in some of the pictures. He might then have realised that the mistake the moon theorists make is thinking that fake pictures entail fake moon landing. No, they don't. And a little thought about the position of NASA, qua federally-funded bureaucracy, might suggest why some nice studio shots may have been dummied-up just in case Armstrong and co. returned from the moon without decent pictures to give to the world's media. (I seem to remember that there was some doubt about photographic film surviving the transit of the Van Allen belts.)

What is wrong with most conspiracy theorists is not what they think but the way they think. The basic premise of conspiracy theorists is the bastards are lying to us. This is not only demonstrably true sometimes, since 1945 and the wartime experience of disinforming the Germans, lying to the population became an official policy of this state, as well as the normal behaviour of the British ruling class and its civil servants who had been in power for most of the preceding centuries.

Aaronovitch's 'plausibility threshold' is set too high and does not correspond with reality. Because his knowledge of recent history is limited, his 'plausibility threshold' falsely categories events as beyond plausibility – 'conspiracy theories'. There's no mystery here: he hasn't read the evidence. Nor, as a mainstream journalist and broadcaster, can he afford to do so. And so his account of the Kennedy assassination (and other assassinations) here is inadequate; as is his account of the Israeli assault on the USS Liberty in 1967, as is his account of America's entry into World War 2, as is.... I can't be bothered going through the whole thing in that kind of detail.

So what we have is a series of chapters in which Aaronovitch gives us his opinions of some high profile conspiracy theories: the aforementioned, plus 9/11, Princess Diana, David Kelly, Hilda Murrell, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, etc., in all of which the conspiracy theorists get it wrong in his opinion. As it happens I agree with his assessments in most of these. But that isn't the point. Aaronovitch wants these examples he has chosen to represent the wider world: these theories are wrong and thus all such theories are wrong. But since he doesn't know the subject matter in the big areas (assassinations, 9/11) well enough, his opinions on these are really of no interest. (The chapters on the smaller items are more convincing.) Nor is his mockery of the more incompetent end of the conspiracy theorist world amusing enough to be worth the read.

What is worth reading are the first two chapters, on the history and use of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and his account of some of the anti-war movement in America before World War 2. But even in the latter he gets it wrong. He discusses the American isolationist movement by concentrating on the career of John Flynn (whom I hadn't come across before) and quotes Flynn as saying (absurdly, in his view) at a meeting in December 1940: 'The plain and terrifying fact is that this great and peaceful nation is in the grip of one of the most subtle and successful embroil us in a foreign war.'

But, unknown to Aaronovitch, there was such a conspiracy (though not the one Flynn had in mind) – and it involved not just Flynn's hate figure, Roosevelt, but the British government. Part of the conspiracy was a series of covert operations in America run by the British secret state (as British Security Co-ordination) which sought to neutralise/seduce the isolationists in Congress and persuade the American population to support US entry. This rather large conspiracy – a secret that was kept for almost half a century – was the subject of a 1994 PhD thesis by Thomas Mahl, 48 Land, which became his 1999 book, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States 1939-44.(US: Brassey's, 1999).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nice one Conor

Conor Foley on UTV News:

I have worked in a dozen or so war zones and I am constantly struck by the total divergence between how the situations get debated in British politics and what I see with my own eyes. I am not a huge fan of George Orwell, but one thing he got right is that the liberal-left intelligentsia simply does not understand what war, with all its attendant horrors and hypocrisies, entails. They are prepared to accept even the most outrageous propaganda and exaggerations if it helps them to build emotional superstructures around their own myths.

In Afghanistan, for example, Nick Cohen first warned, in October 2001, that military intervention would lead to a death toll somewhere between the 25,000 who died in Dresden and the 300,000 killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Six years later, in November 2007, he claimed that the Taliban was being "beaten on the battlefield" and lambasted aid workers for their "risk-averse culture".

Cohen had changed his mind about the conflict and re-fixed the facts accordingly. As Orwell observed, history gets written "not according to what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various party lines".

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

They Don't Get It. Do You?

Aaro today. In some ways such a perfect David Aaronovitch piece that it might have been written by a sub. In others - well, the subs among you may be offended by that suggestion.

People don't yet know what needs to be done, because they don't know what is wrong, because they don't really yet understand how things have changed, because they don't get it. Except me. And now, you.

Read the whole thing. Do you think you know what is wrong? Do you now understand how things have changed? I don't think DA tells us about either. A Level mark circa 1984: C-. A level mark 2009: A.