Thursday, January 28, 2010

Non-prediction thread

From the non-barking dogs section. Nick Cohen, as regular readers know, is not a fan of Mr Justice Eady. (See his article from May last year on Simon Singh.) However, Justice Eady supported the Mail on Sunday against a libel action. 'Kill British' blog man fails in MoS libel bid.

Azad Ali tried to sue over articles which appeared in the two newspapers in January last year under the headlines "Muslim civil servant suspended over 'kill British' blog", and "Civil servant 'backed fanatic's call to kill our troops in Iraq'."

Justice Eady yesterday gave the newspapers' publisher, Associated Newspapers, his summary judgment in which he said Ali's case was bound to fail and had about it "an absence of reality".

Ali had claimed the articles meant that he was "a hardline Islamic extremist who supports the killing of British and American soldiers in Iraq by fellow Muslims as justified".

The stories said he had been suspended from his job after posting a number of remarks on his personal blog, published on the Between the Lines website, which is hosted by the Islamic Forum of Europe.

Can we expect another story on the limited mental faculties of David Eady, his bias against journalism, etc?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The child is father to the man

Not much to disagree with in Aaro's assessment of the Edlington case (score a prediction point, btw), but I note with interest the coda ...

The second point is about our insouciance. The violence in Edlington that day has been described as “unimaginable”. But it has been imagined, over and over again, by the makers of horror films and violent television.

Imagined by them, sold by them, seen by millions, including children, and therefore reimagined over and over again. Such evidence as exists shows that “vulnerable” people may very occasionally take these as prompts to act out fantasies. Is it beyond our wit to reduce the amount of this stuff in offline circulation, and to express a little more intolerance towards it, rather than the giggly indulgence we currently allow? It turns out not to be quite such a private vice after all.

Echoes, oddly of Sam Aaronovitch's campaign against American horror comics.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Not Impressed

Something tells me that Malky Muscular was not impressed with Nick Cohen this week.

There's no disguising it sir - your presidency can't survive a bad write-up from a tiny clique of pointy-headed, no-dick academic ideologues prattling about war and swooning over belligerent-sounding bullshit.

I'm really against trying to assess the psychology of people through their writing and allegiances, but when you see someone swoon "over belligerent-sounding bullshit" it's hard to assess their mental health charitably. I do want to say to our neo-liberal chums, "You seem to have some issues about manliness and violence. Have you thought about buying a Harley-Davidson and/or a PlayStation? Couldn't you just have an affair?"

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Late Prediction Thread

I'll say that Aaro will go with the Doncaster torture boys. He ought to - it'll give him a chance to Tory-bash (and I still part of his role is to go against the prevailing trend of the rest of the paper; to put it another way, he's the token leftie), the boys' parents were married, the Tory argument is kneejerk, uninformed, hysterical, and risible. Aaro on this sort of thing is usually compassionate but rational - pretty much my definition of a liberal and the polar opposite of the conservative approach to social questions. In short, a wide-open goal and a case worth making. Of course, I've been wrong before.
As for Nick. Well, Enron the play has moved to the West End. Another notch on Nick's occasional theatre reviews? Perhaps, "Haiti: or why Madonna shows us how the Yanks are good"? I think, however, he'll go with Alastair Campbell's recent blog post on 'the wrong lessons from the Chilcot Inquiry'.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let us dispose quickly of the Yank-bashing

Aaro lays it on the line, strongly scolding "tinges" in "some of the coverage" and "two of our three letters page correspondents". One entirely salutory contribution of blogging to the media is that these days, when people start arguing with a non-specific "they" without giving names, it's very very obvious.

In actual fact, I am coming up very small on actual citations for people criticising the USA for "gaucheness" or whatever it is Aaro is wittering on about. Decent demigod Bernard Thefounderofmedecinssansfrontieres [1] has criticised the US Army for failing to co-operate with other agencies, and the Brazilians in the UN mission have expressed reluctance to give up and let the US Army take over, but these look much more like substantial differences on operational matters than "Yank-bashing" (in fact they look like the normal consequences of frustration and institutional chaos as a result of people working long days under incredible pressure). In any case, I kind of think that one of the world's most famous humanitarian workers and the United Nations peacekeeping mission might make more suitable debating partners for Aaro than "people who write letters to newspapers".

Of course, in the hands of a confirmed Labour Atlanticist and interventionist, this sort of propagandising for the desirability of a unipolar system and attempting to create strawman "Yank-bashers" for whom even relief work is an occasion to criticise the USA[2], is hardly harmless. It all leaves a rather sour taste.

Medecins Sans Frontieres Haiti Appeal

[1] His middle name is Kouchner.

[2] Bring me examples of any such people and I will condemn them in terms stentorian. But I don't actually see any examples of anti-American imperialists using the Haiti earthquake as an occasion to promote their politics. I do see one example of a pro-American imperialist doing so.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Never level an accusation you can't substantiate

Advice to young journalists from Nick Cohen:

As a matter of low tactics as much as high principle, they ought to know that you never level an accusation you can't substantiate because you make life too easy for your targets when you do.

Now, our favourite suspect for writing Private Eye's 'Ratbiter' column [can substantiate the suspect bit - Ed], hasn't just lifted this sage advice [cliche, change - Ed] from some old handout from a journalism ethics seminar, he's got a hard example in mind. Quite rightly, he suggests that mind-reading should be avoided.

No one who opposed John Major claimed he was lying when he said that taking the pound out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism was in Britain's best interests. We confined ourselves to the truthful charge that he had made a monumental policy blunder.

Does anyone know who writes NC's Wikipedia entry?

Cohen later had to apologise to the journalist Nick Davies after [Cohen] falsely accused [Davies] of printing stories he [Davies] knew to be untrue in his anti-war book Flat Earth News.

Here is the Apology to Nick Davies (not linked from Wikipedia).

I thought you'd like a post on yesterday's Observer column. Thanks to Matt Turner.

And we have an update. 10:05 am 18/1/2010 Alastair Campbell issues garbled retraction over his evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry. Via Armando Iannuci. I think the phrase is "this stuff writes itself."

In a further blow to Mr Blair, Lord Turnbull, the cabinet secretary throughout the war, has made the most outspoken attack yet on the dossier, saying it was produced through “a process of granny’s footsteps ... At each stage, you can see another little sort of tweak of the dial”.

NB The Torygraph is hostile to Labour and the writer Andrew Gilligan has a history with Campbell. However, the Glasgow Herald has the same story.

Friday, January 15, 2010

These Hacks Do Talk Some Drivel

Nick's latest blog post is hard to resist.

The other night I saw Dinner with Portillo[1] -a show whose conceit of filming members of the chattering classes eating lukewarm food and regurgitating received opinions I can assert with confidence would never occur to any commissioning editor from any other country on the planet.

Foreign television is rightly famous for quality programming, of course.

Lukewarm food! Whatever next? And I thought the chatterati were all salad grazers. Why, that's half way to eating roasts like the stout-hearted yeoman of England's glory. I quite like 'eating ... and regurgitating' - I'd even steal it if I could allow it pass without a Princess Di reference.

Anyway, this is really a hook for Nick to copy and paste an entire blog post of Alistair Campbell's because Julia Hartley Brewer of the Express said he (Campbell) can't write. Journalists don't like the former doctor of spin; and Campbell hates most journalists going by his tweets.

Having a sandwich mid inquiry. Watching lunchtime news. God these hacks do talk some drivel

Fair point, but Alastair "45 minutes" Campbell can't tell drivel from melting snow. Another tweet reads:

had fascinating call from behavioural psychologist who fears Paul Dacre has homoerotic fantasies about me. Poor Mail Obergruppenfuhrer

Alastair's quite big on looney doctors. His last novel was about one. He ought to know that this sort of psychoanalysis by proxy isn't taken seriously by anyone not a hack or a quack. It didn't work out at all well for Colin Stagg for instance. I hate the Mail too, and Dacre strikes me as exceptionally unpleasant. To steal a word George Monbiot stole from Arthur Koestler, Dacre is a mimophant. But I doubt he's responsible for every word that appears in the Mail; suggesting he is magnifies his abilities considerably. Jan Moir wrote a particularly ugly and homophobic article last November, but it's no good pinning her prejudices on homophobia alone, as today she managed to write an equally nasty piece about Antonia Fraser.

It's also funny that while Campbell likes to rant about "queer-looking Quentin Quetts" and the suppressed homoeroticism, he apparently forgot that Dacre recently poached the Openly-gay journalist Andrew Pierce.

I was going to ask rhetorically about all the misogynistic tripe the Mail peddles about how female slebs look simply horrid away from the studio. Except it does the same thing to men. Maybe there's something in all this psychosexual theorising, after all.

But what is it about dinner parties?

Update. Dang! Just remembered what set me off on this - Marina Hyde on Myleene Klass.

Finally, I'm reminded by a Guardian commenter of the story the illusionist Derren Brown tells of bumping into the charlatan Derek Acorah, whom he naturally holds in righteous disdain, but found himself unwilling to harangue in person. As Derren puts it, "my own apparently strong feelings gave way to the simple social code of being nice." And yet, according to a report that subsequently appeared in the Sun, "The pair started rowing but Myleene Klass, Derek's co-host for the new series of Ghost Stories, stepped in. The insider said: "Myleene told Derren to leave Derek alone. She said, 'You're obviously threatened by him.'"

I'm sure Dacre, though a prize wanker in his own way, is equally threatened by Campbell.

[1] Update 2 I've now seen Dinner with Portillo. I enjoyed it, but then, being a saddo, it's the sort of thing I do enjoy. Julia Hartley Brewer eviscerated Campbell; she was a joy to watch. I don't think her dislike stems from unrequited attraction; I'd say she considers him sexist and patronising. It wasn't only her who didn't rate Campbell's writing: Oona King, erstwhile darling of Harry's Place, and Roy Hattersley, who was Deputy Leader when Campbell was supposedly a political journalist on the Mirror, both agreed. Portillo, for the record, thought Campbell was a good writer. Besides, I can't but respect Chris Mullin, who I think is a good egg and somewhat loftier than merely a member of the "chattering classes."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Inside baseball ...

Aaro, he likes him some Dave Miliband, as seasoned Watchers know. I have not, frankly, the foggiest of clues here as to what the point is, except that we are told vey vey sternly that there is nothing funny about that picture of Miliband holding a banana. Stop sniggering at the back. I think that this is one of those articles that has been written for half a dozen people, of whom I am not one (that phrase attributable to Peter Jay, Aaro's old boss at Weekend World). But Patricia Hewitt is a pal of Aaro's as well - he wrote an article some while ago defending her on charges of having an irritating voice. Who cares, other than those poor souls who picked up a copy of the Times in Starbucks thinking it was free, and now find not only that they're out of pocket, but that there's no proper Aaro column to read?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Liberals love Pol Pot, probably

"This idea that support for [North Korea and Pol Pot] is all part of the liberal tradition is one of the more bemusing aspects of progressive politics. But the missing factor in the equation is the view that the United States of America is the ultimate villain."

Clothes for Chaps, rehasing ground already covered with respect to Malcolm Caldwell in a Democratiya piece I can't be bothered to chase up. One can't help but notice in passing that Caldwell, despite being a passionate political supporter of some of the worst regimes on earth, nonetheless had lots of very good friends who are still prepared to defend his reputation, while Andrew Anthony, by his own autobiographical account, has managed to lose most of his mates despite being in favour of liberal democracy and human rights. The thorough corruption of "the liberal left" is one possible explanation - that Decency attracts a certain personality type is perhaps another.

Of course, we are told, Pol Pot was bad and "Duch" also a terrible man, but it's important to be clear about who the real villain is here. Noam Chomsky, of course; there's much blah about who did what when in this much-discussed and highly unedifying episode from NC's career. I doubt anyone was expecting C4C to break new ground here and he doesn't; fair do's though, he did look up the relevant Wikipedia entry and that's about as much as can be reasonably expected at the Observer these days.

I'm not really exaggerating there, by the way. By the end of the article, AA has talked himself into such a corner that the head of the victims unit of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is as bad as a Pol Potist because ... well, because she's part of an Australian Leninist party and Stalin! Also Mao! Communism always leads to the gulag why can't you see it you bastards! [1] While Duch himself, well, he doesn't seem such a bad guy, call him what you like, at least he's not a red.

Biggest interest for me is that C4C dips his toes into rehabilitation of the Vietnam War. I have long believed that this is the logical next step for Decency; after all, if you don't like Communism, you do like America, and you do believe that Western states have the right or obligation to use military force to support democratic values, it's hard to see why you would regard Vietnam as a bad war, unless you'd peeked at the answers at the back of the book.

[1] Bonus hilarity. Anthony aims to show that the Leninist Party Faction are terrible people by quoting an open letter which includes the passage

"We too are Marxists and believe that 'the ends justify the means'. But for the means to be justifiable, the ends must also be held to account. In time of revolution and civil war, the most extreme measures will sometimes become necessary and justified. Against the bourgeoisie and their state agencies we don't respect their laws and their fake moral principles".

In the context of Andrew Anthony's article, about the Killing Fields of Cambodia, pretty chilling stuff. In its original context, which was to do with the leadership of the Democratic Socialist Perspective expelling the Leninist Party Faction after getting unauthorised access to an internal LPF email list, perhaps less so. FFS.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Random Nick

Nick can be so random sometimes. When a group of MPs comes up with a report that argues that NuLab ministers (Tessa Jowell in the forefront) introduced a raft of socially-damaging policies at the behest of lobbyists from the drinks industry, you'd expect him to be fully behind the attack. But no, Nick chooses instead to see this as evidence of a new wave of puritanism. Well perhaps. I was certainly shocked by the central factoid of his column:

What do you imagine they say is a "moderate" level of drink? According to the health committee, the answer is six units – that is three pints or one bottle of wine – a week. This is not a misprint. The committee and its associated health professionals do not believe that three pints is a reasonable amount for an evening or a day, but the boundary a "moderate" drinker must not cross from one weekend to the next.

Can they really have written that? Oh, luckily the whole report is online and it is possible to check .... So where does the figure of six units come up?

Aha! It is in the following sentence (para 337:

It would cost a moderate drinker who drinks 6 units per week 11p per week, as we have seen, a woman drinking the recommended maximum of 15 units could buy her weekly total of alcohol for £6.

But the figure given there isn't given as a definition of what a moderate drinker is, it is an example of the effect of price on a person who fits within the range. If Nick had read with any care he'd have seen that the committee employs the standard thresholds of 14 units (women) and 21 (men) (see para 333 immediately above). (To be fair, the figure of 6 gets referred to a few times in the context of the "Sheffield Report" but it is clear from context that it is always being employed in the same way, to give an example of the effect on price of a typical moderate drinker.) Now there may be a point to be made about whether the conventional advice is right. I haven't seen any evidence that justifies setting the limits so low (14;21). But in order to mount such a critique, Nick would need to be able to read with the attention of a weak undergraduate with a bad hangover. He doesn't seem to be able to do that.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Tony Judt

Very moving and impressive piece & video on Tony Judt on The Guardian site. For relevance to this blog see: "tony judt". Suggestion: Liberal Debacle. He's one of ours. Stephen Hawking has worse. Countless tens of thousands of Ethiopians don't have water; tens of thousands of Iraqis fear daily bombings. But it's still terrible to see one man suffer like this.

Sometimes a long spoon isn't enough

This is majorly off-topic, but the last thread was dying. I think it was D-squared who came up with the nickname "Little Red Footballs" for "Harry's Place." Huffington Post: Charles Johnson Got Threats After Breaking With Right, Relocated. It's sort of a non-story, highlighting a couple of paras from the LA Times' interview with Charles Johnson.

As I talked to Johnson in his office, an alert flashed on one of his two giant computer monitors. An angry screed targeting him on another website concluded: "I think a visit to Mr. Johnson's home might be warranted. Anybody got his address?"
Such veiled threats are at least one reason why Johnson, 56, relocated not long ago. He remains in the Los Angeles area, but now is in a gated community.

Now, to paraphrase the New Yorker cartoon, "On the internet, no one knows you're harmless" - a lot of stupid gets said, and very little done. But I can think of other sites which haven't discouraged commenters from intemperate rhetoric. It would be glib to say "Heh" here.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Freedom, if it means anything ...

Perhaps a little OT, but I think we're going to be bombarded with wankery regarding this: Wootton Basset Demo Group Challenges PM.

Islam4UK has said it would apply to police "in the next few days" for permission to protest in the Wiltshire town famous for honouring repatriated British troops.
The plan for the demonstration, which would see dozens of symbolic coffins representing Afghan civilians killed in the conflict, has caused widespread public anger.
More than 250,000 people have signed an online petition calling for it to be banned.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Brown had already made known his views on the planned march, which he described as "abhorrent and offensive".
Home Secretary Alan Johnson said he would have "no hesitation" in supporting a ban on the march if police or the council requested one.

As described, and this is from Sky News, this sounds to be not only a peaceful protest, but one, with the 'symbolic coffins,' to be very like environmental or anti-nuclear demonstrations. As David Aaronovitch has said (see last post), "There are no undiscriminating suicide bombers among the world’s many environmental activists..." This may be because they're given other options.

What kind of democracy are we supposed to be defending?