Saturday, November 27, 2010

A sort of response to a recent anonymous coward

I don't like deleting comments, but I've deleted a couple by a person who styles themselves as "Anonymous". I've no problem with anonymous comments per se: at least one of our commenters, redpesto, uses the anonymous options but 'signs' his comments. What I object to are personal, specifically defamatory, comments. I've deleted two of Anonymous's comments in the last thread, and Blogger's spam filter ate the third. (BTW, if your comment doesn't appear, it's in the spam folder, write to me and I'll probably liberate it. The algorithm it uses is totally opaque to me.)

Here, yet again, is my non-lawyer's view of what blogs should delete and why. I'm going to quote Anon's deleted comment because otherwise I'll have to dance around the subject in a way which is unnecessarily both obscure and prolix.

"AFAIK Just Journalism was so bonkers that Nick Cohen resigned from their board"

A very old photo of Nick, being used, before his alcohol consumption caught up with him.

AFAIK, the cartoon portrait on Nick Cohen on the Spectator blog site, which gives the impression that he has his hair cut in a monastery, is a good contemporary likeness. The photo used, where his style is more junior Jedward, belongs in the archives. Fair enough, it was an old pic. I doubt NC chose it though. Even if he did, I couldn't altogether blame him; I'm roughly his age, and I'm all too acquainted with brightness falling from the hair, if the hair doesn't fall first. I prefer to leave the "ooh hasn't she got old" to the nasties who write for the Daily Mail (when they're not writing headlines like "People over 45 should take an aspirin a day say makers of aspirin").

Besides which, as I said in reply, alcohol consumption does not make you go bald. (Can't resist: has anyone seen Christopher Hitchens lately? Sorry, I must watch him debate Blair, I may have to fast forward the Blair parts though.)

This blog doesn't do ad hominems not unless I think they're funny, anyway. We do ad argumentum and I want to keep it that way. Anonymous had nothing to say other than a rude personal comment, and that's why I deleted it.

The comment the spam filter took included:

Anyway you can asume what you want about me, I can take it, and since you provide an anonymous option I think i'm free to use it if I wish, I can asure you i'm not a regular reader, so leaving a name won't provide you with anymore info.

This misses the point. If you take a shot at someone, they should be able to take a shot back, otherwise you're a coward in my book. I'm not asking anyone to leave a name for my benefit, but for whoever they attack to have a name at least to reply. It's big to say "I can take it" while hiding.

Sorry about this. Thank you for your time. Normal service will be resumed. Please do not hit your computer.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A bit of a gloat

Not really on topic, though I'll rope in a few tenuous connections.

The story so far. This blog is dead, officially, since David Aaronovitch slipped behind the Romulan cloak of invisibility Times paywall, but we return to life when the World of Decency calls. Nick Cohen last posted on his Standpoint blog on the 2nd of November. He was never a frequent blogger, but that's a long enough silence to assume that he's jumped ship for the Spectator. Doubtless many of his former colleagues[1] are bereft, including Joshua Rozenberg, whom we shall come to. (I did warn you that the links would be very tenuous.)

How about that Spectator, eh? It's published an apology to Mohammad Sawalha:

We now accept that Mr Sawalha made no such anti-Semitic statement and that the article was based on a mistranslation elsewhere of an earlier report. We and Melanie Phillips apologise for the error.

Yes, it's dated the 27th. I don't understand this either.

See Islamophobia Watch for the full case.

The Spectator may have apologised, but er, hello? [SILENCE].

Quel surprise, this isn't being covered in the press, much. (A journalist wrong? What, are we supposed to report the rising of the sun now, or what?) Matthew Norman is a joyous exception:

Lovers of the unusual, rejoice! Within days Melanie Phillips will make a public apology. In July 2008, Mad Mel lifted and embellished a mistake from the neocon website, Harry's Place, regarding Mohammad Sawalha, a Palestinian-born British man whom Al Jazeera had mis-transcribed referring to "evil/ noxious" Jews at a rally. In fact, as Arabic experts later confirmed to High Court superstar Tugendhat, he referred to the "Jewish lobby". Al Jazeera corrected it instantly, and Harry's Place later, yet MM magisterially ignored requests for a simple correction until a trial was imminent, when she caved. This unwonted arrogance has presented a six-figure bill for damages and costs to The Spectator, which at the time of writing continues to host her deliciously deranged blog.

Harry's Place could rely on the legal eagle brain of David Toube. Alas for poor Mad Mel who could she call on? Oh wait, what about the afore-mentioned Joshua Rozenberg, isn't he a solicitor with a legal degree from Oxford University... and her husband? He also writes for the the Guardian.

That said, Martin Bright would do well to read his opinion on Phil Woolas.

[1] Pedants! eg Justin, how would *you* use the word colleague? I've always understood it to mean someone employed in the same organisation as oneself, more specifically someone who works directly with oneself. However, every dictionary I've looked at suggests that just being in the same line of business confers colleague status. This is certainly the way Nick Cohen uses it here: "As my colleague Julian Glover reports in the Guardian". This just seems wrong to me. Fowler's has no opinion.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I can't let this lie

I think watching Martin Bright comes under what this blog is supposed to do.

As so often, I'm ambivalent about this. Bright makes some decent (no pun intended) points.

I'll point you to fellow-Decent John Rentoul for some background.

However, I managed to take the elementary precaution of reading the judgment – or at least its conclusions. I am afraid that I had no idea that there was a law against telling lies in election campaigns. But there is, and, now that I have looked at it, it is a good law. It is section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which says that anyone who "for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election, makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate's personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true".

It is a limited and specific law, designed as a fail-safe for extreme cases. It is intended to prevent candidates publishing factual assertions about their opponents that they know, or should know, to be untrue, and which are likely to affect the outcome of the election. In such cases, the law of defamation offers insufficient remedy, because the successful candidate might simply pay damages while continuing to serve as an MP, which would be a reward for "illegal practice".

Indeed, there is such a law, and it was passed under a Tory government (indeed under Mrs Thatch herself, not under one of those wibbly-wobbly pseudo-leftie Tories like Heath or Macmillan).

Politics is a dirty business and general election campaigning is politics at its dirtiest.

That's Martin Bright. But, if I may make a suggestion, perhaps politics could be cleaner. The Marquis of Queensbury cleaned up boxing. It's still thuggish and about breaking jaws, but not the sci-fi death sport it once was. Does this have to be an eternal truth? I don't think the voters really want dirt. Laws making general elections less dirty, passed, perhaps ironically enough, by elected MPs, may be a good start.

I was not comfortable with Phil Woolas's "robust" approach to immigration policy. And I cringed at his election leaflets. His attempt to scare white working class voters was distasteful to this north London liberal.

And to me. See: Martin Bright and I agree on some things.

But the gleeful way in which he has been hung out to dry by the Labour Party has been more so. How quick were Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman to reject him – and how slow to condemn Ken Livingstone for backing a non-Labour candidate in the Tower Hamlets mayoral election in London.

But not on everything. Woolas broke the law. A sensible law, passed by his (ex-) peers. Livingstone didn't. He's a loose cannon and a bete-noire of Martin Bright, but he also has a power base - and in this case he stayed on the right side of the law.

I called Martin Bright's prose "over-caffienated" (have lost the link, sorry) once, and it's his adjectives I object to as much as anything here. I think Miliband was very slow to reject Woolas. He should have realised this was coming, and at least looked at those election leaflets as Bright did. And 'gleeful'? No, I really don't see any evidence for that, other than the celerity of their reaction. And, of course, they'd have been torn apart had it been slower.

Virality and Virility

Thanks to Flying Rodent in the comments to the last post.

Oh dear. Let's be charitable. I'll assume that our Nick is joking about the Observer 'viral ad'.

The editor, a kind and caring man[1], warned me that posters here could sometimes be rather rough.

He didn't warn Nick that they can be almost unbelievably credulous, and culturally philistine. There are 13 comments as I write this. None realise that it's an Armando Iannuci sketch.

I was going to correct FR's observation "Cohen and Bright seems an oddly homogenous pairing" because I was under the impression that Bright has retired. Newp. In that case, the comments do get rather rough, and rightly so.

What is this about? Allow me to feel a little vindicated. I know I predicted somewhere (on here?) around the General Election that when the Tories (specifically Simon Heffer in the Telegraph) turned on David Cameron, it wouldn't be pretty. Heffer and others regard Cameron (wrongly, IMO) as what was called a 'wet' during Thatcher's first term. Not 'one of us'. Deviantly left-wing, and so on.

My guess is that Nick has joined the Spectator because he has form for piling on the Lib-Dems. And the Spectator can fire at the LDs all day long and still claim to be loyal to the Tories. This, then, is another move at undermining the Coalition from the right, because the Coalition isn't sufficiently Thatcherite yet.

Or, I could be paranoid. It's been known.

[1] But whose name, NC appears to have forgotten. (I consider naming names basic journalism, and academic and blogging practice. But that could just be me.) It's Fraser Nelson, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Response to Brownie

A host of psychological experiments demonstrates that it doesn’t work like this. Instead of performing a rational cost-benefit analysis, we accept information which confirms our identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them. We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change.

George Monbiot

One marker of a bogus trend story is an abundance of such weasel words as some, few, often, seems, likely, and more, all of which allow a writer to simultaneously state a strong assertion and couch it. Another is an article with no data, just a string of anecdotes to support his thesis of a new or growing trend.

Slate on Bogus Trends

I owe a couple of responses to Brownie on, I think, three threads now, but I'll post them here, because that would save him coming back to check where I've written anything (and I've been very slow lately), besides which I'm suspicious of long threads.

On the first discussion, you really have to make up your own minds. I think "Not in my name" is a perfectly sensible protest against elected representatives, especially when neither "backing George W Bush come what may" and "Invading Iraq to look for non-existent weapons" were part of any political party's manifesto. I'm also suspicious of "communities" precisely because they don't have any formal democratic network. Who decides who is even a member? If there is a "Jewish community" would 'just a tiny-bit Jewish' Christopher Hitchens be a member while his brother Peter wouldn't be? But I'll come back to this.

This post is really about this post. I want to bang on a bit about Steven Weinberg because I greatly respect him, particularly for Dreams of a Final Theory, which is a book I'd recommend to everyone. (It was intended for George H W Bush, or Bush Snr, if that helps at all.)

Some background. Brownie thought that Mike Leigh joins cultural boycott of Israel was worthy of a post. Mike Leigh is, by the way, at least nominally Jewish, whatever that might mean, and may even be a part of the Jewish community mentioned above. The comments, for the most part (not available or not visible to me) were vituperative to Mr Leigh. This, I think, was entirely predictable. If a poster on Harry's Place slags someone off, the tenor of the comments is not "I have considered your points, and, while there is something in what you say, I do have to register some disagreement..." but rather, "Man down, bags the first kick!" And then the rest, almost like dominoes falling, lay in as well.

I don't think that Weinberg is a tosser. Sorry, that was a bit of a trick question. I think his decision was eccentric given that (which The Guardian article misses or didn't understand) he shared the 1979 Physics Nobel Prize with Abdus Salam who he was supposed to be visiting, yet he boycotted this country because of one union's (the NUJ) actions. Actually, I admire his conviction. He has principles, and he made a small, real world sacrifice on their account. I find that courageous. And I admire courage. I'd NEVER think of writing a blog post to slag him off. I can admire him and I can admire Mike Leigh, because both do something other than kow-tow to the latest orthodoxy and lip serve some narrow political correctness.

Writing this has made me angry, and I was going to make some silly joke about all the cross posts on Harry's Place. Can't you just have a cup of tea and watch an old Laurel and Hardy YouTube clip before posting? Advice I should take myself.

But while I'm here and angry the brave person who hides behind the moniker "More Media Nonsense" (more fool me, I thought the appellation was ironic or, at the very least, self-referential) Paul Mason on the picket line post's argument ran thus: BBC journalists are on strike (true at the time); Paul Mason (Newsnight journalist) is an "SWP poster boy" despite not being a member of same; therefore the strike is the work of 'Trots'. For a site which promotes democracy, Harry's Place can be ignorant of how democracy works here. Union strike ballots are secret. The voters are committed (either to going on strike, or not doing so: either way they understand what is at stake, and why). It wouldn't matter is the spokesperson were Alexadndr Orlov from the 'Compare the Meerkat' ads. The strike is still representative of the will of the members. Or community, if you must.

Finally, I greatly enjoyed this cross-post from Standpoint:

As ever, it is spot on. His piece reminds us of the clarity and sense of purpose which pervaded his administration, and which is so desperately lacking today.
Blair pulls no punches, but neither does he pander to the easy canards about …

I'll repeat myself:

This IS a spoof, isn’t it? It’s that Michael Ezra having a laugh with one of his “from the archives” posts but with the names changed. Let me guess, Pravda, reprinting Stalin’s criticism of Dmitri Shostakovich just after Uncle Joe kicked the bucket. Am I right?

Oh, you're a broad church all right.