Thursday, February 25, 2010

Decenthead, part 2

47 Comments:

Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I meant to post this yesterday, heh.

What’s happening – people like Nick Cohen, he’s disillusioned with the left. I’ve been disillusioned with the left for years. There’s this thing about the luxury of making judgments about foreign policy from the left-wing liberal perspective – that terrible word liberal!

It just strikes me as intellectual catfighting amongst themselves and I find it deeply offensive. And I don’t, by any means, take everything that Chomsky says literally at all, and that’s surely the entire point. I don’t see Nick Cohen putting at the end of his essays, “If you don’t believe me, read it for yourself”. You know, he’s a polemicist, very much like Monbiot’s a polemicist, and I don’t necessarily believe everything that Monbiot writes, either.


I think it's odd just how many journalists assume that if you read someone - or even buy their books - you uncritically agree with everything they say.

2/25/2010 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

I am told that Thom Yorke gets his takeaways from my favourite local curryhouse. I need to be told this, as I'm sufficiently cut off from pop culture that I certainly wouldn't recognise him if I saw him there. But now I shall keep my eyes out for someone reading the literature of Decency or anti-Decency at the front end of Jee Saheb.

2/25/2010 11:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Asteri said...

"the thing with Monbiot is that he is polemical but he backs up what he says with rafts of facts… Nick Cohen makes sweeping generalizations without any evidence…"

I think that’s being rather generous to Monbiot, but its quite good about Nick.

"I think it's odd just how many journalists assume that if you read someone - or even buy their books - you uncritically agree with everything they say"

Its not that odd really, journalists need to give a short, simple and basic analysis to fit into an articles constrained by a limited word count or space on a page. The unfortunate affect of this is that it limit’s the scope and creates a very narrow view of the situation, thus only allowing for simple generalizations rather than the long, complicated and problematic ones which are the reality of life.

2/25/2010 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Can we return to DSquared's very useful term of "Opinion Journalist", or whatever it was. Nick Cohen is not for the most part a journalist, he's someone who writes opinion. It seems a little unfair on real journalists to tar them with the same branch as people like Debora Orr, Nick Cohen, etc. Different breed.

I think it's odd just how many journalists assume that if you read someone - or even buy their books - you uncritically agree with everything they say.

Probably because that's what they do. And to be fair, an awful lot of people do do this. Critical reading is depressingly rare in the general population. I'm always surprised by people who think because they disagree with one thing a writer says that discredits everything else they've written.

2/25/2010 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Off topic, and perhaps more relevant to a recent DSquared post, but Zoe Williams had a good column on homeopathy today. She's kind of the anti-Decent tendency not just in views, but also style. Her stuff always seems deceptively slight, but actually has considerable depth when you read it.

2/25/2010 03:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with Cohen is that his move to the opinion columns, away from telling us about actually existing things that he'd found out, co-incided with two other processes: his Berman-induced Decent Death Dive, and his discovery of Teh Internest. Thus it's quite hard to establish a hierarchy of causes in his shiift from asset to a liability.

Chris Williams

2/25/2010 05:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Brussels Dave said...

Her stuff always seems deceptively slight, but actually has considerable depth when you read it.

Fucking hell, I cannot agree with this. ZW's output has always been shallow, ill-thought out and frankly barely literate (and the "oooh looky I'm having a baby" columns are even worse). There are whole discussion threads agreeing with this position on theGraun's own website, when the moderators don't delete them.

2/25/2010 09:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Asteri said...

"Probably because that's what they do. And to be fair, an awful lot of people do do this. Critical reading is depressingly rare in the general population. I'm always surprised by people who think because they disagree with one thing a writer says that discredits everything else they've written."

Not to dismiss a writer's entire output because of some questionable things they support is one of the first things you learn when studying foreign affairs. For instance the book on Karl Marx, Francis Wheen wrote was excellent, despite him being a prat in my opinion.

2/25/2010 10:28:00 PM  
OpenID splinteredsunrise said...

Critical reading, indeed. Anyone who fancies themselves a critical thinker should make a point of reading things they don't agree with.

A quick scan of my own bookshelves reveals Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Norman Geras, Francis Wheen, Dude Hitchens, Paul Anderson, Branka Magas and Howard Jacobson, as well as rather a lot of Israeli authors. There's probably some Amis in storage, but I can't be bothered to look.

Am particularly amused to notice Norm Geras sandwiched between JV Stalin and Pat Buchanan. Rather proves the point I think.

2/26/2010 12:55:00 AM  
Anonymous hellblazer said...

I may just be having a brainfart at the moment, but is there a date given on that transcript you link to? As it's clearly a couple of years old, I'm slightly puzzled why it's come up now.

Though if anything NC's got worse, so I suppose if that was the relevant part it still stands.

2/26/2010 04:14:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

It's come up now because it popped up in my google alert now - yes I think it's two years old. The site it's on appears to be a place where journalists can clear out their bottom drawer of unpublished and/or unpublishable stuff which they nonetheless like too much to throw away, which I regard as a vv good idea.

2/26/2010 06:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

So the bassist thinks Chomsky's a nutter and the singer thinks RESPECT are Teh Extremistss. Do we know if the drummer's got any opinions?

2/26/2010 08:03:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

There are whole discussion threads agreeing with this position on theGraun's own website, when the moderators don't delete them.

Are you seriously suggesting we should pay any attention to the views of the mouth breathers on the Guardian's message boards think? I'm amused and ever so slightly terrified...

2/26/2010 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

A quick scan of my own bookshelves reveals Nick Cohen ditto, David Aaronovitch read, don't own, Norman Geras has he written actual books, Francis Wheen sadly yes, Dude Hitchens yes, but didn't finish, Paul Anderson, Branka Magas and Howard Jacobsongood grief no!!, as well as rather a lot of Israeli authors.

Have found, to my surprise that I own 'The Innocent' by Ian McEwan. No recollection of buying that at all. And one can take this too far: I don't agree with Melanie Phillips, but I also think she doesn't make arguments, merely raves. So I definitely draw a line there.

Have to agree with Cian; the people who post on Comment is Free would make Billy Graham doubt that humankind was created in the model of an omniscient creator.

2/26/2010 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Yeah, the only thing worse than some of the commenters at CiF is most of the commenters at CiFwatch.

2/26/2010 12:10:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Normski has written books about Marx, the Holocaust, the Ashes and Richard Rorty -- I skim-read what i assume were extracts or digests of or work towards the last one in New Left Review in the mid-90s; at the time it seemed like the usual point-missing frothblow about "relativism"; it certainly has a maximum facedesk of a title. But I wouldn't exactly pass a snap test on its contents today, or indeed on Rorty, so I may be being unfair.

2/26/2010 02:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Richard J said...

to the views of the mouth breathers on the Guardian's message boards think?

There are occasional pockets of sanity among the Guardian's message boards (and the Woe Zilliams haters are, in the main, among them), but Opinions are Like Arseholes is not the place to find them.

2/26/2010 02:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Asteri said...

One of the most bizarre moments of my life was when I attended a talk by the Chinese author Jung Chang at the British Library. Half way through the talk she was interrupted by a women accusing her of blackening the reputation Mao Zedong, really odd was that the women declared her self to be a member of Human Rights Watch!

I think she was ejected from the room.

2/26/2010 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I'd have gone for crimes against historical scholarship myself, but the principal's sound I guess.

Of course given she can't be honest about her own background, what can one expect. Her father was a high-up communist official who backed the wrong faction in an internal power struggle and was forced out. Not quite the principled stand she makes it out to be in her official biography.

Sorry, bit of a tangent, but really can't stand the woman.

2/26/2010 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'd have thought she'd have been most miffed if anybody thought she hadn't managed to blacken the Chairman's reputation.

Normski has written books about Marx

As I occasionally bore people by saying, I once decided not to thieve a copy of one long-unsold item on the grounds that it was so dust-encrusted it would have damaged my clothing.

2/26/2010 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Asteri said...

She was quite full of her self as I remember, actually it was an entertaining night, not only was there the HRW women but an Iraq war protester who must have gotten lost and just decided to make the protest there anyway. Jung Chang looked totally bemused.

2/26/2010 05:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Normski has written books about Marx"

Indeed he has, and to give credit where it's due, his 1983 effort "Marx and Human Nature: Refutation of a Legend" is really rather good. But it was also a bloody long time ago.

Sangiovese Fellow

2/26/2010 06:33:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

I quite liked How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World, even if there were a few parts of it I disagreed with. Francis Wheen's really quite witty, although I imagine he antagonises a lot of AW's clientele.

Plus, Money is a fantastic book and I'll defend it tooth and claw - London Fields, not so much, but probably worth the effort. I've been told that Pretty Straight Guys is good too, although I can't vouch for it myself.

2/27/2010 12:08:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I quite liked How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World...

I didn't.

Yes, Money was good, though when I flicked through my copy a couple of years ago, I was more taken with the music of Amis's prose than with what he was describing. A friend of mine once said that the opening chapter of 'Other People' was an extended Martian poem (with more words than the entire poetic output of Craig Raine and the rest of the Martians). I think that's about right.

'Pretty Straight Guys' is OK, though if I had to recommend one book on the early Labour years, I'd go for Andrew Rawnsley's 'Servants of the People'. I'm sure some AW readers would disagree with that choice though.

2/27/2010 12:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anyone care to comment on this?

http://www.namesnotnumbers.com/Document/Conference-Programme

2/27/2010 11:24:00 AM  
Anonymous bensix said...

Yes, Money's a fine book. I enjoyed bits of The Information, as well (other bits I didn't, but it was ponderous enough that I had fair warning of their arrival). Assume that you all loved Yellow Dog?

*Ducks*

2/27/2010 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Can't disagree with that critique of Wheen's book CC, and I suspect I'd find it a lot more objectionable on a reread. While I'm familiar with a lot of the subjects he raised now, I wasn't really back then. The sections on economics, quack remedies and various moral panics were largely news to me at the time.

Even so, I still remember that dig at Michael Moore as being a bit odd. I also think it's pretty damn weird that a book about stupid, popular ideas doesn't tackle the idea that the UK is always, always going to Hell in a handcart.

BenSix - Avoided Yellow Dog like the plague, myself. I tried both The Information and Other People and couldn't really get into them - they're now on the Still-To-Read shelf. Actually, make that "shelves".

2/27/2010 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous bensix said...

A wise course of action.

The conference that Anon links to, by the way, is utterly vomitous. I was straining to find a simile that would drive the point home, but how can one best "a new kind of media business"?

2/27/2010 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

You can avoid all these problems by not reading contemporary novels.

2/27/2010 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Re the conference thing. I did like the '8.30am London Breakfast at Kings Place... 9.45am - 4pm The Journey to Portmeirion' but, because anybody who is anybody would start from London of course. The rest of the country is shadowy and crepuscular and marked on all reliable maps with 'HEERE BE PLEBS' in large unfriendly letters. Bah.

That aside, there's someone for everyone; and someone for everyone to hate. The mention of Will Hutton, Peter York, Claire Fox, Alain de Botton would be met with a tactical retreat to the bar in my case. But I like Chris Patten, Stephen Frears, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Mrs Moneypenny of the FT, Annie Lennox, and Helena Kennedy. So definitely on the profit side of the ledger.

My heart goes out to Aaro having to give his 'Thought for the day' - all of 15 minutes (no Andy Warhol jokes please) at 9 am to a crew of fresh-air fiends and early risers. OTOH, probably a good weekend in return for very little work on his part.

I thought 'The Information' was actually painful. The best I can say is, if you like Amis's style try Saul Bellow. In terms of emotional intelligence, Bellow is Tony Blair to Amis's Gordon Brown. Off the top of my head, Amis likes unreliable narrators because he's inclined to solipsism himself.

2/27/2010 01:07:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Sensible post on Harry's Place. Consensus in the comments (v roughly): the Iraq War/Occupation failed because Stoppers didn't offer constructive post invasion strategy advice on blogs. So it's all your fault.

2/27/2010 01:55:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

On that point, there's a good review in the Times of Task Force Black: The Explosive True Story of the SAS and the Secret War in Iraq by Mark Urban.

Was this ruthless campaign and its sacrifice as decisive as Urban believes? Though his conclusions are quite strident, proving his point would take a much deeper look at the whole evolution of the anti-coalition rebellion. Certainly, interviews I conducted in the Baghdad neighbourhoods suggested that many US night-time special raids, at least in the early years, were based on such poor intelligence that innocents were often targeted. The overall effect of the dragnet and the way prisoners were treated also stirred up great hatred of the Americans.

Did the Coalition really need advice from blogs not to base raids on very poor intelligence? Targeting civilians makes people hate you. Really, someone should have told the Department of Defense this, rather than letting them find out the hard way.

Confronted by all the squabbling in Iraq, McChrystal forged a joined-up operation to confront the suicide bombers and jihadists. Instead of a patient approach of developing and then staking out targets, as used by the SAS in Northern Ireland, he demanded a blistering attack on the enemy. SAS squadrons, when they joined the fight, were told to launch raids every night.

Well again, let's blame the left and blogs that a fucking general didn't seem to know military history.

2/27/2010 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I've just dredged a connection between the bassist and Henry Scoop Jackson from the depths of my mind. Colin Greenwood was at Peterhouse (he was a college friend of an ex flatmate of mine, which is the only reason I know this).

I met him once, but I didn't know who he was, he didn't seem to expect me to and didn't make a point of it. I guess you get used to that as a bass player.

2/27/2010 07:16:00 PM  
Anonymous BenSix said...

Nick, today -

Britain and Argentina were "two bald men fighting over a comb", snapped Gabriel García Márquez.

Borges, Marquez - heck, they're both from Latin America!

2/28/2010 02:05:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Oh dear. and he's managed to rewrite his anti-obama piece after what, a month and a half?

In its extreme usage – not confined to political extremists – anyone who supports democracy and universal human rights is a neocon. [...] In 1982 most "neocons" did not support democracy.

oh dear god. Hes been taking material from Kamm again hasn't he?

and how the hell does he manage to make this about Chavez?

2/28/2010 11:32:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love his use of the word 'we'. As in, 'There will not be a second Falklands war this year because the Argentinians know we would defeat them.' Yes Nick, you and whose army?

2/28/2010 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

It's a strange column, isn't it? I'd like to leave it to The Couscous Kid or Captain Cabernet who are both stronger on history than I am. I was on the left at the time, and I was much more ambivalent. Michael Foot supported the Task Force.

If some supreme being could give British leftists of my generation the power to go back and stop one historical event, I have no doubt that we would rewind the tape and wipe out the Falklands war.

It's not a matter I've ever thought about, but my first thought as soon as I got to 'historical event' (and appended 'in my lifetime'[1]) I immediately thought, "The Miners' Strike": difficult to defend without a vote, strategically disastrous, ultimately destructive.

Before General Galtieri's fascistic junta invaded the islands Margaret Thatcher had no "-ism" after her name.

I'm glad to see that Wikiepedia, like me, considers Thatcherism to be an economic doctrine more than anything else. I'm not even sure Nick's correct about dating the word.

As it turned out, anti-war protesters were on "a hiding to nowhere". We could never answer the question, who was the real imperialist in the conflict?

Nick's vestigial leftism always seems to ask the wrong question: 'not who is right or wrong?' but 'who is an imperialist?' Does anyone care? Did anyone else ever think like this?

There will not be a second Falklands war this year because the Argentinians know we would defeat them.

Seriously? Can we afford a Task Force this time, given naval cuts and other commitments?

Alex Harrowell wrote a good post on the Callaghan governments defence of the Falklands which Thatcher and John Nott cut as too expensive. Yes, that was a brilliant fiscal decision.

2/28/2010 12:02:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Oh, forgot the footnote. [1] Events not in my lifetime. Invention of monotheism; Plato, esp The Republic (not really the invention of totalitarianism, since that managed to exist elsewhere, but bad enough); rise of Christianity and the suppression of Greek astronomy; WWI.

2/28/2010 12:08:00 PM  
Blogger The Couscous Kid said...

Before General Galtieri's fascistic junta invaded the islands Margaret Thatcher had no "-ism" after her name.

The Times, 24 Nov 1979: "The party was fighting off the shrill divisiveness of Thatcherism, with its simple monetarist policies."

Andrew Glyn & John Harrison, The British Economic Disaster, 1981: "Many workers‥. see Thatcherism as an outmoded nineteenth century ideology with little relevance to contemporary economic reality."

2/28/2010 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

If some supreme being could give British leftists of my generation the power to go back and stop one historical event, I have no doubt that we would rewind the tape and wipe out the Falklands war.

I immediately thought 'Miners' Strike' there too...

We could never answer the question, who was the real imperialist in the conflict?

I agree with the above - surely there were other questiosn to be asked there. But equally, can Nick answer that one now, in retrospect? He seems to think that because it was the Junta, then Britain was instinctively in the right; but his argument now is based not on which country is more evil (though, of course, because the Argentinian Govt is left-wing, the UK is much better) but on self-determination. That does rather beg the imperialism question, though, doesn't it? Particularly since the whole issue is about oilfields, something Nick mentions, but only in passing.

As far as nick's condemnation of Obama goes, it's for this:

failure to uphold automatically the right to self-determination

something about South Ossetia springs to mind here. And does Nick seriously think John Mccain and Sarah Palin would be handling things better?

Overall it's hard to shift the feeling that the Obs editors are encouraging Cohen to be as barking and one-eyed as possible - his function seems to be: write an anti-lefty column each week. I mean, it's hard to see how anyone who wants to be taken seriously could write the following:

I am equally sure that Obama's critics are not all wrong however much they overdo it

especially given his former output on Obama - everything he has done is wrong - and prior to that, on people who opposed the Iraq war.

2/28/2010 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ian Jack wrote an interesting column about the Falklands in yesterday's Guardian. But Jack still has a reporter's habits -- he actually goes to the places he writes about.

K

2/28/2010 02:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, I _did_ give the buggers some post-invasion advice - about 2 months in I had a letter printed in the Indy, comparing the postwar policing strategies for Northwest Europe 1943-44('make a plan') and Iraq 2002-3('plan? there ain't no plan!'). So it wasn't even my fault.

I imagine, though, that the Placeniks will decide that my failure to condemn you (and indeed, them) sufficiently for not trying to offer constructive criticism, or something, leaves me in the doghouse.

Chris Williams

2/28/2010 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger Sangiovese Fellow said...

Actually, I'd be with Nick on the historical "rewinding the tape" issue - the Falklands conflict saved Thatcher from a near certain crushing defeat in '83, and for all the Tories' subsequent efforts to claim that she won because of an incipient economic recovery, the fact that she spent much of the rest of the 1980s banging on about the war whenever her poll numbers fell rather gives the lie to that piece of right-wing revisionist spin. Of course I agree that the miners' strike was very significant too, especially in its long term implications for labour rights and civil liberties, but if Thatcher had been ditched in 1983, it would probably never have happened.

This said, I think most of the rest of the Cohen piece is just lazy and inaccurate Decent drivel of the sort which we have come to expect from him. For example, the oil and gas prospects are not a new discovery - I well recall some left critics at the time pointing out that the proximity of the Falklands to Antarctica gave the UK territorial claims that might feasibly unlock mineral resources from which Tory corporate backers could profit if British sovereignty over the islands was retained. Like our anonymous contributor, I loved the use of "we" in relation to a military conflict too - a typically Decent attempt to equate real life military prowess in a battle zone with the easy keyboard belligerence of comfy middle-class bloggers thousands of miles away. In fact, in this respect I think the Decent attitude to foreign war is very like the middle-class support of football teams smartly parodied here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xN1WN0YMWZU

3/01/2010 12:03:00 AM  
Blogger Jim Grant said...

I must say I'm impressed if he managed to get the Tories out of Exeter Uni, since that really would be Canute going down to the shore and the sea going "Okay! Okay! I'll fuck off. just stop shouting."

He's proper mangled the more recent thing though. There was a campaign to get the Christian Union disaffiliated from the Students' Guild (so right-wing it can't even call itself a union) on the basis that their refusal to countenance female committee members violated the equal ops policy. If you tried to do that to the Tories down in Exeter, they'd pack the AGM like the SWP on a three-line whip. About 60% of the student population is people who were rich enough to get into Oxbridge but too thick.

3/01/2010 07:37:00 PM  
Anonymous hellblazer said...

Sorry to interrupt the reminiscences/conversation, but does anyone feel like changing the "doesn't" in the post's linkquote to "didn't"?

3/02/2010 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I immediately thought, "The Miners' Strike": difficult to defend without a vote, strategically disastrous, ultimately destructive.

An alternative view:

1. Probably the closest anybody got to beating Thatcher (until the not-very-obviously constitutionalist poll tax protestors did the job). Would have won if the NACODS strike (ballot result 4-1 in favour, strike called off anyway, curious absence of fuss about that) had gone ahead, or if the TUC hadn't sat on its arse.

2. I can think of no strike which has received media, public or trade union support because there was a ballot. I can, however, think of any number of strikes, after any number of ballots, which have received precisely the same hostility as the miners did, but without the public support. There were reasons to have a ballot in 1984 - I'm pretty neutral on the issue, and was back then - but the idea that its absence was a cause of the strike's defeat is, I am afraid, nonsense.

3/03/2010 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

That's a fair point Justin: I didn't mean to imply that I thought the miner's strike failed because of the ballot issue. I simply meant that arguing for it when shaking a bucket was harder when people brought up the ballot (which not many did). But that and the timing and the NACODS strike - and the media, the Labour Party, and the TUC could all have done more. I was overly glib.

3/03/2010 04:00:00 PM  

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