Friday, September 29, 2006

The eternal, unvarying triumph of Good over Evil

White always mates, he thought with a sort of cloudy mysticism. Always, without exception, it is so arranged. In no chess problem since the beginning of the world has black ever won. Did it not symbolize the eternal, unvarying triumph of Good over Evil? The huge face gazed back at him, full of calm power. White always mates.

Norman Geras is curiously reticent for a moral philosopher on that subject, but at least he wrote a lengthy post and the words which are his and not cut-and-pastes are "This, from Jared Goldstein, says the necessary". The quotation from this being:

Congress is now poised to do something it has never done before: Take away the right of prisoners to seek habeas corpus. Since long before the United States became a nation, the right to seek habeas corpus has guaranteed that anyone imprisoned by the government may ask a judge to determine whether he or she is properly imprisoned. The right to seek habeas corpus has applied to prisoners regardless of whether they are citizens or foreigners, and no matter how dangerous they are accused of being, or how horrible their alleged crimes.
The right to habeas corpus has been a basic part of English common law, and, later, American law, since the adoption of the Magna Carta, in 1215, which established that no one could be imprisoned on the mere say-so of the king.
The founders of the United States considered habeas corpus to be such a fundamental protection against tyranny that they enshrined it in the Constitution. Congress has expanded the right to seek habeas corpus several times, and it has never tried to take the right away. To do so now would turn our backs on our fundamental principles of justice.

The Bush administration has proposed revoking this fundamental right for the 450 or so foreigners held at Guantanamo. If Congress goes along, no limits will remain on the government's power to imprison people without evidence and without trial. Doubtlessly, the United States can and should lock up terrorists posing a threat to the nation - but it must do so within the bounds of law.
Our strength as a nation is demonstrated when we treat even our worst enemies within the rule of law.

OK, what is this doing on Aaro Watch you ask? Hey, we ask the questions.
Here's a story in the Washington Post by Ariel Dorfman. Here's another, also in the WaPo by Vladimir Bukovsky. Funny thing that, why are two guys from close to opposite sides of the planet recounting their experiences in an American newspaper?
Well, I don't know, I'm sure. Nick's pressing concerns have been The Decline of the English Boozer and Anti-Americanism. Dave thinks his Arabs-are-bad-and-Leftists-are-hypocrites tv show the big news of the moment. Someone carried a placard which read, We Are All Hezbollah Now. Just one person, yet they somehow spoke for the entire left. Both our boys claim to be anti-anti-Americans, which I think makes them philo-Americans, and, given their day jobs, you'd think they followed the news.
If Nick is so interested in George Orwell's writings about watering holes, he may care to reread (I hope) this.
But worse things happen at sea. Our boys are not relativists, exactly, but they'd like you to know that bad things happen elsewhere. So the pressing question of the day continues to be Where did the Left go wrong?
Perhaps they will ask this in the US too, as they will also ask Have you seen my pipe? or Do you know the way to San Jose? The answers will always be the same. But this no longer matters.
Did you know they're still interrogating people in Guantanamo? Four, five years are inmates were captured, can they be expected to reveal anything worthwhile now? But we all know the kids in the military wanted to be film stars and now's their chance:

Mr. Blonde: Listen kid, I'm not gonna bullshit you, all right? I don't give a good fuck what you know, or don't know, but I'm gonna torture you anyway, regardless. Not to get information. It's amusing, to me, to torture a cop. You can say anything you want cause I've heard it all before. All you can do is pray for a quick death, which you ain't gonna get.

Placards and pubs. Good work guys.
UPDATE: this is the other post I wrote a few days ago and then sat on. I searched Nick's site for 'torture' and he does mention it a few times. He's against, of course. (But so is everyone, apologists apologise for and justify 'harsh treatment' and so on.) I did find this:

To her credit, she [Cherie Booth-Blair] talks a great deal of sense when she isn’t giving turgid lectures on the history of PMs’ wives. Her speech on torture for Human Rights Watch earlier this month deplored the barbarism seeping into the Western anti-terror strategy while dismissing the wilder demands of civil liberties lawyers. It was the best attempt to get a difficult subject right I've heard.
For that, I can forgive the fact that she is a sucker for every snake-oil selling quack, New Age gobble-de-gook peddler and iffy estate agent with overvalued property to off load.

Likewise, I'd forgive the newly-minted fogey moans about wine bars for one decent post on John McCain.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sounds familiar?

As luck would have it, I heard of a philosophical gentleman today whose views piqued my interest. I want to know about this worthy thinker, said I to myself, for truth be told I had it in mind to compose a short blog post on the fellow.
I used a search engine called Google to look for his writings. For reasons I shall not tire the reader with now, Wikipedia is often the first page that admirable search engine offers, but it was not of much help, apart from telling me that the man was Dutch, and was born in Amsterdam.
Now, if the reader is scientifically minded, he (or indeed she, but I cannot imagine these political discussions would interest any ladies) might care to indulge me in a little experiment. If you would be so good, would you click on the Google link above? Thank you so much.
This is what I had.
Hit #1 Cornelius de Pauw - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Hit #2 Cornelius de Pauw: Information From
No, don't go: this is the good one.
Hit #3 anti-American: Definition and Much More From
Hey! That looks interesting!

Anti-American sentiment in Europe originates with the discovery of America, the study of the Native Americans, and the examination of its flora, fauna, and climate. The first anti-American theory, the "degeneracy thesis," portrayed America as a regressive and culturally bankrupt continent. The theory that the humidity and other atmospheric conditions in America physically and morally weakened both men and animals was commonly argued in Europe and debated by early American thinkers Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. In 1768 Cornelius de Pauw, court philosopher to Frederick II of Prussia and chief proponent of this thesis, described America as "degenerate or monstrous" colonies and claimed that "the weakest European could crush them with ease." The theory was extended to argue that the natural environment of the United States would prevent it from ever producing true culture. Paraphrasing Pauw, the French Encyclopedist Abbé Raynal wrote, "America has not yet produced a good poet, an able mathematician, one man of genius in a single art or a single science." (So virulent was Raynal's antipathy that his book was suppressed by the French monarchy.)

Edited slightly to remove links to footnotes. This blog's sub-title is incorporating Nick Cohen Watch, so I won't keep you any longer.

In 1770, a French naturalist called Cornelius de Pauw looked at the new experiments with democracy in the American colonies and was repelled. You could tell the land was cursed by its animals, said the Richard Dawkins of his day, which were for the most part inelegantly shaped and badly deformed. America was inundated by lizards, snakes and by reptiles and insects monstrous in their size and in the strength of their poison. Their sickness was contagious. When well-bred European animals crossed the Atlantic, their size diminished and they lost a part of their instinct and capacity. Dogs stopped barking and women became infertile. In all of America, from Cape Horn to the Hudson Bay, there has never appeared a philosopher, a scholar, an artist or a thinker whose name merits being included in the history of science. (This in 1770, when Paine, Franklin, Jefferson and Hamilton were alive and getting ready to kick.)

When I read that entry I had the funniest feeling of having been here before (for I read the Cohen piece first, and it was through him I learned of Cornelius de Pauw). The Dutch may have a word for it.
UPDATE: The date and time on this post will make it appear as it is out of sequence. I wrote it on Thursday, and then sort of changed my mind. The article above is essentially a copy of the Wikipedia entry on anti-Americanism, which is the first result on Google for the term. This is merely an observation. Your deductions are your own.
Now I'm not going to tell Nick how to write book reviews (except, well, yes I am). The Telegraph review of Why God Won't Save America ended very significantly.

There is also a curious lacuna in the mini-biography of Walden himself, which glides straight from his years as a civil servant in the Foreign Office to his fellowship at Harvard, chairmanship of the Man Booker Prize and career as a "cultural commentator". Has the copy-editor inadvertently deleted a sentence? Or has somebody decided that anti-American slacker dudes are unlikely to fork out £16.99 for a book by a minister in Margaret Thatcher's government?

Is the author that George Walden? It strikes me as significant, because when I used to read the Staggers, it was earnestly anti-Thatcherite. So positive review of a book by a former Thatcherite Minister in the Statesman comes as a surprise. If the book contains an attack on Chris Patten (and this isn't Nick ad libbing in his review), some declaration that Patten and Walden used to share a boss seems in order. Walden's publishers Gibson Square's site is no help. (I've tried writing to them, there's a first for me on this blog. Research! I'll update if I hear anything.)
Iain Dale is pleasingly caustic about the former MP: George Walden is a Pub Bore.

Former Tory MP George Walden was one of Britain's worst ever High Education Ministers. Since leaving Parliament he has earned a living writing pseudo-intellectual drivel about politics and culture. It's usually unreadable. I attended a discussion evening with him and his wife a couple of years ago, organised by Living Marxism. He was insufferable and spent the whole evening putting down his wife.

UPDATE 2 Monday 2 October 8:23 PM. Gibson Square got back to me. "Dear Sir, yes one and the same. Regards ..." Good for them.

Possible Blackadder episode alert

Not strictly a matter of decency, I know, but I'm sure that Aarowatch readers will be interested to know that that great stylist of the English language, Oliver Kamm, has just announced (in the course of a post where he once again reminds his readers that Anthea Bell is his mother) that Christopher Hitchens will be “in conversation” with Bernard God is dead but my hair is perfect Henri-Lévy:

considered by many to be France’s leading philosopher is a prize-winning writer, novelist, journalist, and filmmaker. In ‘American Vertigo’ BHL combines a novelist’s eye and a philosopher’s depth while travelling for a year in the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville ….

I think I’ll just leave it at that, since all those who follow, from a distance, the careers of these great men of letters will have no problem imagining the comedic possibilities for themselves.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Euston: the movie

Hmm, seems like I'm the only AW contributor who watched Aaro's lamentable "Don't get me started" programme on C5 last night. For various reasons I wasn't keen to write on this , so I'll keep my comments to a minimum. The film was a kind of "HP Sauce, the movie" (or, alternatively, "Euston: the movie") and starred the usual suspects: Alan NTM Johnson, Jon Pike, Jane Ashcroft, Shalom Lappin and Eve Garrard. The content: why oh why is "the left" in bed with "Islamofascist terrorism".

The film committed all the usual sins of Eustonite commentary, with various Islamic movements being run together as if they were all manifestations of the same thing (Hezbollah, AQ). The first part: why oh why is "the left" so obsessed with and hostile to Israel? I think there was one rather indirect reference to illegal Israeli settlements and no reference at all to the 1982 invasion of Lebanon in the entire programme, rather there was a sustained application of the "double standards" argument. Why oh why didn't "the left" make a fuss when Arab regimes massacred Palestinian refugees? [How did the Palestinian refugees get there then David? How come they were refugees?] Jane Ashworth deplored the bombing of children and was followed by Eve Garrard saying the "the left" only noticed when Arabs were the victims. Perhaps Eve and Jane should get together and notice some of those dead Arab children, killed by ... bombs.

There was at least one major factual howler when Jon Pike (an OU philosopher) claimed that Hezbollah had rained missiles down on Tel Aviv. No they didn't Jon ... they didn't have the range. Apart from that, what to say. Well there was the usual self-pitying sense of the Eustonites being an embattled minority, though this is pretty hard to sustain when you have a serving Foreign Office minister (in the shape of Kim Howells) on to support your case. As usual, Aaro made no real effort to support his claim that "the left" was siding with "Islamofascist terrorism". The closest he came was when he had Galloway voicing his congratulations to Sheikh Nazrallah. Since the strong suggestion was that "the left" had become apologists for acts like 7/7, this fell a long way short of making the case to anyone who thinks that Galloway is not the same as "the left" and who notices that fighting a guerrilla war against a multiple invader of your country is rather different from planting bombs on the tube.

UPDATE: HP Sauce have now posted links to the whole damn thing at YouTube.

I think I have spotted the hidden flaw in Aaro's argument

From his latest book reviews:

Here is the real lesson of 1956. The common thread between Hungary and Suez was that of the use and the withholding of American power. In the wake of Suez, the United States forced a reluctant Israel to withdraw from Gaza and Sharm el-Sheikh. In complying, Israel — for the first time — tied its future to the American giant. In Eastern Europe, America told the citizens of the satellite states that it wouldn’t risk another war for their liberation. They remained, for another 30 years, under Soviet rule.

This presumably accounts for the fact that today the Middle East and Israel are such flourishing and functional democracies, while Poland, Hungary, and former Czechoslovakia are such hell-holes? Is Aaro seriously trying to make the case here that over the last fifty years, American policy with respect to the Middle East has been more of a success than American policy with respect to Central and Eastern Europe?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tough on Corruption

It occurs to me that there may be more in a Nick Cohen post than previously suspected.
I'll try to keep things straight by concentrating on the part of Nick's paean t0 Paul Wolfowitz which mentions Hilary Benn because that's where the consequences of Nick's arguments become practical politics.

In a speech last week, Hilary Benn, the International Development Minister, did much better [than other critics of Wolfowitz] when he acknowledged the problem and tried to find a way out by emphasising good governance.
He opposed Wolfowitz by asking: 'Why should a child be denied education; why should a mother be denied healthcare; or an HIV positive person Aids treatment, just because someone or something in their government is corrupt?' Rather than suspend loans, the World Bank should help build responsive and accountable governments. The trouble for Benn is that regimes that inflict the greatest suffering don’t want to be responsive. For Sudan's genocidal rulers and the kleptomaniacs of Zimbabwe, reform would mean loss of power.

I hope you can see that Wolfowitz agitates so many people because he raises questions that have no easy answers. I’m not fit to provide them. All I can suggest is that it would be a mistake for the French, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Benn and all the rest of them to get into the position where it is 'neoconservative' to oppose corruption.

It doesn't seem from to me than Hilary Benn fails to oppose or supports corruption. And Johann Hari makes it clear that he thinks Benn is honest.

This decision has been greeted with some astonishingly dishonest criticisms. My colleague Dominic Lawson and my friend Nick Cohen have responded by serving up a dish of red herrings with a side-order of straw men. They have angrily asked why Hilary Benn and the Bank's critics are so keen to remove the conditionalities which prevent loans going to the corrupt and the dictatorial. There's a simple answer: we aren't. You made it up. We are in favour of removing the conditionalities that force privatisation on the poor. They. Are. Totally. Different. Things.

Nick has now responded in the Letters page of the Independent. Nick helpfully provides a link to Improving Governance, Fighting Corruption, which he describes as "a long speech by Hilary Benn on the danger that rigorous anti-corruption campaigns will stop at least some aid trickling down to the needy."
Blinks. This doesn't seem to be the point under discussion at all. Hari and Benn want there to be foreign aid (I think Wolfowitz and Cohen do so too, but I'm less sure). What Nick calls "rigourous anti-corruption campaigns" here means no more or less than turning off aid. Benn is against that - but you knew that. Being against aid being turned off, is not the same thing as being against having conditions for aid.

Walking away from our responsibilities to poor people is not, in my view, the right thing to do. If necessary, we will change the way we give our aid. ...
Corruption is an outcome; it is one of the symptoms of poor governance and can involve the abuse of public office for private gain. It can also take place in the private sector.
Thus any plan to fight corruption in a country must be part of a programme to improve governance. The two go hand in hand. The best check on corruption is to strengthen the governance with which to prevent it from happening, and to fight it when it does.
And that means encouraging demand for good governance by supporting civil society and the media, parliaments and trade unions, and communities so that people’s voices are heard and governments are held to account.

Benn here seems very keen on conditions. It seems to me that he is, as Nick says in his letter to the Independent, "opposed to the World Bank’s zero tolerance campaign". Nick wants us to believe that Hari denies this when Hari very clearly doesn't. Nick is defending himself against a charge which was not made.

Johann Hari posts another letter to the Indy - this time from James Levine.

Then Nick Cohen today claims it was "hurtful" for Johann Hari to call him "startlingly dishonest" after Cohen claimed Hillary Benn was with-holding £50m from the World Bank because its new head, Paul Wolfowitz, is "too tough on corruption." Yet Hari was absolutely right. Benn is withholding the money because of the privatisation conditionalities, not corruption. Cohen conspicuously failed to tell his readers about this, and clearly implied that Benn was motivated by anxieties about Wolfowitz’s corruption charges. For Cohen to shed crocodile tears now he has been called on this is a bit much.

Finally, Captain Cabernet noted that "Nick would like us to know that he's met Jeremy Clarkson and hates Piers Morgan". Fans of feuds may want to read Johann's post on Clarkson. I don't watch Top Gear, but my sympathies are closer to Nick's on this. I loathe Morgan and Clarkson is a far better writer than anyone in this dispute.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

More diligent research from Nick

What is it with Nick? Even when he's right about some issue, he can't help writing about it in a way that makes him wrong. On a first reading, it looks like the point of Nick's main rant is to express his disgust at the way the super-rich get credit for their charitable giving. But by the time I'd reached the end of that section, it was pretty clear that Nick was only writing in order to have a dig at Muslims (in the shape of Cat Stevens) and to push the Eustonite line that promoting human rights are the best way of reducing global poverty.

On the first, I'd say that there's more joy in heaven over a sinner that repenteth, etc. Perhaps I'm more forgiving than Nick, but I rather think that the fact that Stevens now condemns terrorism and works for peace, love, understanding, and all that kind of stuff is a bit of a plus point, and that we ought to forgive him some of the absurd ranting he engaged in when he was a new convert about twenty years ago.

On the second, Nick writes:

If you go to the website, you will notice that none of the admirable charities it supports is dedicated to fighting poverty by spreading human rights.

Well, as a diligent Aarowatch investigator, I thought it my duty to follow up on Nick's claim and visit that very website. Among the listed charities, I found the British Red Cross, using the search box on their website I used the term "human rights". Guess what? BRC think they're rather important. But maybe I'm not reading Nick carefully enough? Perhaps he intends the emphasis to be on the "by" in "fighting poverty by spreading human rights"? On this reading, people who actually work against poverty and who actually promote human rights can still be the subject of Eustonite anathema even if they do a whole lot more than sit in front of keyboards in Islington or Didsbury.

Evil BB will no doubt comment on the details of the Plymouth Brethren and pensions section of the latest Nick. I'll confine myself to noting that the view that the state only respects its citizens as equals when it mechanically applies the same law to all of them without taking religious and cultural differences into account, is just extraordinarily crude. Should Sikhs get an exemption from motorcycle helmet laws?

Nick writes that the state:

can't be allowed to get away with a law which discriminates by creed. If we are going to cope with the stresses of multiculturalism, the state has to be above sectarian conflict and treat all people as equal citizens.

It is less obvious to me than it is to Nick, that the stresses of multiculturalism would be better coped with by, for example, banning Jewish and Islamic methods of ritual slaughter through a straightforward application of the animal welfare laws.

(Oh, and Nick would like us to know that he's met Jeremy Clarkson and hates Piers Morgan.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Dave for Justice for Dave

Aaro in the Jewish Chronicle (with a massive, albeit credited, lift from Normblog), saying reasonably true things in an irritating manner. If you were to boil this article down to bullet points then it would say that communalism is a bad thing and that we should all live according to general principles of human rights which are not specific to any one national or ethnic group. But if you read it, there's a hell of a lot of bashing of "Jews for Justice for Palestinians" for implicitly claiming that their religion gives them a privileged point of view on the Middle East, and much less and milder criticism for the rather stronger political tendency to claim everyone Jewish as a supporter of a particularly strange, violent and right wing politics which is not actually particularly good for the State of Israel, would probably lose an election if it stood for office there, but none the less has the trademark on the designation "pro-Israel".

The thing is, as Dave knows, whether or not you care about the dialectic, the dialectic cares about you. In an ideal world, JfJfP would have no need to stand up and do the whole "not in my name" bit, but in the world we have, there is a medium-sized media industry dedicated to manufacturing the general belief that the default position for Jewish people (and people with Jewish names, for that matter) is support for the fringiest bit of the Likud Party.

It is not as if Dave hasn't had this one rubbed in his face a few times, as the famous Barbecue Sooliloquy and its followup[1]. It so happens that Dave did in fact take the very looniest and nastiest position possible with respect to Lebanon, and although I think his motives for doing so were Decentist rather than ethnic, he did see fit to mention that the person he was discussing the matter with at the Hampstead barbecue was Jewish. Dave at that time recommended Peace Now to his pal, which is an odd thing to do since that's a specifically Israeli pacifist group.

I suppose the dialectic can be resolved by assuming that the JC subeditors "corrected" something which they thought was an error but was actually a crucial part of the argument:

In the more virtuous part of the spectrum, the justification for all this is that there are unique Jewish values that Israel often offends. You know, nice ones, decent ones, about justice and, er, treating people properly.

Capital "D" on "Decent", please.

[1]I note in passing that one of Dave's very biggest worries at that barbecue, noted at the foot of the piece, was a remote likelihood that Hezbollah might get the means to attack Israel with cluster bombs. Irony, you cruel jade.

How To Do It

My colleague Captain Cabernet has already posted on DA on Darfur, so this may be somewhat OT. Readers who know me will know that I hold William Deedes, former editor of the Torygraph, former foreign correspondent, contemporary of and model for Evelyn Waugh, in the highest esteem.
This is how you write about Darfur. No swinging certainties that if it's in Africa, it must be like Rwanda. Just paragraph of falsifiable statements after paragraph of same. Read, and learn:

When Khartoum struck oil in southern and south-western Sudan in 1975, its influence in the world multiplied. From being regarded as a somewhat remote country, it began to win friends.
The National Petroleum Company of oil-thirsty China built a pipeline across cruel country to Port Sudan and several countries became Khartoum's clients.
The oil fields were fiercely protected from attack. In the prolonged war being waged between Khartoum and southern Sudan, the south reckoned that oil revenues would fortify Khartoum's hand against it.

Now, these facts may be wrong. I'm not there. I can't check. But they are clear. They are gainsayable, and with very little wriggle room. This is how journalism should be.
Put it like this: when I read a columnist, I expect him to know more than I can adduce from all facts as reported. If he's to be an authority, he has to add something essential to what he writes. Going there, or having been there counts for a great deal. Desk-anchorites don't make it, guys.
Note to Oliver Kamm: this is why John Pilger is cool, and you're not, sorry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Global Dave For Darfur

Here's a fact for you; there are more people at risk of death in Northern Uganda than in Darfur right now. Also, massively resistant TB is a huge health risk to the whole of Africa and there is still a civil war in DR Congo. The fact that Darfur has not made the news is a small subset of the larger fact that stories about Africa, in general, do not make the news (the mandate of the "mission to explain" does not reach the Sahara. It's not something that can be tricked up into a semi-demi charge of racism, unless Dave is prepared to accept it himself. The Liberal Democrats have, it appears to me, mentioned Darfur about as often as Dave has and for more or less the same reason – to score points off their domestic political opponents. The "shameful silence over Darfur" game is a silly one to play, particularly as shameful silence is actually probably more productive at present than crazy demands for non-specific "action" which (as I believer I and others have pointed out regularly and copiously) basically amounts to a promise to the NRF that the cavalry is coming, without an army to cash the cheque.

I am on the point of massively and viciously losing my temper over the Rwanda analogy. Dave is by no means the worst offender, but he is this week quoting Romeo Dallaire as if having been in Rwanda gives you some special insight into Darfur. That's Orientalism, pure and simple. Darfur is nothing like Rwanda. It is a civil war. The only point of similarity is that there are black people involved (there is also no specific reason why Muslims might be particularly interested in an African civil war, any more than Bavarians might have had a special interest in Northern Ireland). It is always annoying when the Decents drag out the old "the world stood by in Rwanda" line, because they are implicitly comparing it to a perfect intervention of the imagination rather than a Somalian-scale fuckup, but this comparison is ill-informed as well.

For what it's worth, Dave's news is a bit out of date; al-Bashir is currently attending a UN meeting and now appears to be negotiating on the UN force. But the interesting thing here is that it isn't clear at all whether or not Dave is actually supporting a non-consensual intervention here. The "better question for the Start the War Campaign" is not whether they have enough troops and bodies to intervene (and I don't know why Dave is bullshitting about Sweden and Turkey – the proposal is for UNMIS to rebadge the AMIS troops and write a cheque for their pay and rations). The interesting question is whether the fact that "We still don’t know how to intervene in somewhere such as Darfur, which is so big (it's about the same size as Iraq -bb)" means that actually, this "never again" rhetoric is so much flatus vocis and the Decent Left is going to have to admit that the constraints of sanity and possibility are rather more binding on their project than they had thought hitherto. Dave raises this question but never addresses it; is he rolling back the frontiers of Decency or not?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Paul Wolfowitz

Oh gawwwd ... Nick clearly doesn't know anything about Wolfowitz except a) he winds up the left and b) hey, Iraq! Thanks for the fucking mention of the Day for Darfur campaign, by the way.

Wolfowitz, if you recall, "championed democracy in the Philippines and Indonesia", when he was ambassador there. Even more cleverly, he did so without ever generating any record in a newspaper story of having done so, and in a manner which caused many contemporary commentators to believe that he was so far up Suharto's arse that all you could see were ankles. The East Timor activist community hate the man.

Meanwhile, and to the surprise of nobody, Hilary Benn is right and Nick is wrong. You can see that Nick is arguing in bad faith when, in paragraph 8, he makes his case dependent on Sudan, DR Congo and Zimbabwe whereas in paras 2 and 3 he has already pointed out that Wolfowitz's "corruption" jihad (actually a campaign in favour of the commissioning of expensive and pointless audit reports, a massive aid program for developed world consultancy firms) has been cancelling loans to India, Bangladesh and Ethiopia.

Wolfowitz is not unpopular because he "raises questions that have no easy answers". He's unpopular because he gives wrong answers to questions that everyone is aware of, and forces everyone else to go along with them.

Update Another good article from the Village Voice, making the ad hominem but IMO reasonable jibe that Wolfowitz's enthusiasm for tackling corruption was presumably required after his time in dealing with Iraq and running the US Department of Defense.

btw, "currently calling bullshit on" the following:

I managed to silence a literary dinner party for the first and I suspect only time in my life

Hands up if you believe that Nick has only brought a party to embarrassed silence once in his life.

Oh no they didn't

Nick's hymn of praise for Paul Wolfowitz suggests that he is serious about third world corruption but that touchy feely "Make Poverty History" campaigners would prefer to pretend that the problem doesn't exist. Actually, it is a little difficult to pin such a definite proposition on Nick, since at one point he says that the MPH people would prefer that the dilemma imposed by corruption doesn't exist and at another he says

All I can suggest is that it would be a mistake for the French, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Benn and all the rest of them to get into the position where it is 'neoconservative' to oppose corruption.

No doubt it would be a mistake for someone to get into that position, whoever "all the rest of them" refers to. A quick surf over to the MPH website and the kind of minimal research google enables you to do in 30 seconds finds a MPH statement on corruption. Ditto, and at considerably more length, Oxfam. No doubt I'd find more if I were to dig around a bit, but I've done enough to establish that MPH and Oxfam think it is not just OK, but actually required, to oppose corruption. So why did Nick write a poorly-reserached (but aren't they all?) column that gave the impression that Oxfam is in denial about corruption? Did he just want to say how wonderful PW is? Probably.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Damn, I'm Old

Matt Turner has pointed out in the comments to the last post that Nick not so long ago wrote ...The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, whose demonstrations older readers may have marched on with me...
How dare he call me an older reader?

Once, when book editors were heaping deserved praise on Reading "Lolita" in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, Azar Nafisi's poignant account of educated women suffering under the Iranian mullahs, I managed to silence a literary dinner party for the first and I suspect only time in my life by asking if they realised the 'Paul' Nafisi had dedicated her book to was Paul Wolfowitz.

Comment by Vinayak:

Azar Nafisi's book "Reading Lolita in Teheran", is dedicated "In memory of my mother, Nezhat Nafisi, for my father, Ahmad Nafisi, and my family Bijan, Negar and Dara Naderi". Nary a Paul in sight, let alone Paul Wolfowitz.
Will Cohen's dinner guest must be kicking herself.

A further comment by Neoconned suggests this post by Doug Ireland. It may be of interest to the already interested reader that the root of this controversy, which is neither more nor less than, as Comrade Benji is very likely to put it, a storm in a teacup, is the endlessly circumlocutory Christopher Hitchens, or writer of some reputation and a contributor to Vanity Fair, Slate and other publications. Hitchens' helpfully made his observation in the Independent, however, he made it to Johann Hari (hooray for blogs!).

But can we trust the Bush administration - filled with people like Dick Cheney, who didn't even support the release of Nelson Mandela - to support democracy and the spread of American values now? He offers an anecdote in response. There is a new liberal-left heroine in the States called Azar Nafisi. Her book ?Reading Lolita in Tehran' documents an underground feminist resistance movement to the Iranian Mullahs that concentrated on reading great - and banned - works of Western literature. "And who is this book by an icon of the Iranian resistance dedicated to? [US Deputy Secretary of Defence] Paul Wolfowitz, the bogeyman of the left, and the intellectual force behind [the recent war in] Iraq."

The dedication is apparently as Vinayak says. (Good point about Cheney, Chris; I'd forgotten that.)
Hitchens replied.

I may have condensed or elided verbally in my conversation with Hari, who is a fairly meticulous reporter, but then he has me applauding a "destabilisation" of General Franco as if such a thing had actually taken place rather than (which I must have meant) as if it would have been a desirable thing if it had.

Doug Ireland is certainly "not alone in finding" that "elliptical, not to say evasive."
Under his own name, Hitchens phrased things somewhat differently.

An equally intriguing moment occurs at the other end of the book, on the pages devoted to "Acknowledgements." Here one finds a tribute to "Paul (thank you for introducing me to Persecution and the Art of Writing, among many other things)." The title mentioned-but unattributed-is that of a celebrated essay by Leo Strauss (while the "Paul," you may care to know, is Paul Wolfowitz).

Ms Nafisi replies in some detail. She neither confirms nor denies the 'Paul' is indeed Wolfowitz.

The acknowledgments to my book, [although the individuals I mention belong to very different political spectrums, both liberal and conservative, left and right) are very personal, and I do not wish them to be used to define my political views, or to imply political associations. Without being coy I reserve my right to keep the identity of Paul private and not let my relationships become political inferences either in support or against certain views.

Me, I take that to mean she may well have meant Paul Wolfowitz, but does not wish to be seen as partisan. He seems a likely reader of and recommender of Strauss. I'm not sure I believe that authors have to right to take back statements, and if she privately confided to Hitchens that she did mean Wolfowitz, he has the right to use that as he sees fit. (He may have traded this right for the one of being perceived a gentleman, however.)
Nick, it's unconfirmable and from a secondary source. Call it a 'known unknown' and keep it under your hat, I say.
UPDATE (30 seconds after posting). I got sucked into that what dedicated what to whom thing there. I meant to originally just post a request for a helpful reader who had a copy to tell us whether Nick or the first commenter was right.
The real reason for this post is this passage.

There was a fashionable postmodern theory in the Nineties that people hate the alien 'Other'.

A decade or two or ago, I could have given the page reference for that one -- in this. (1943, IIRC. Also that's a very nice looking cover on Amazon. Maybe I covet the book; maybe just the appearance of the book, and not its essential bookness.)

Nick again:

Anyone who has been caught up in office politics or a family feud will have learnt that, on the contrary, people hate what they know.

Or, as Philip Larkin once remarked, the famous Frog got it the wrong way round.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


Matthew Turner has a post of Nick's Evening Standard latest. It's not online, and Nick's blog can't be relied on to reproduce his Evening Standard columns. So this is all I have:

He ought to know Labour is an immensely soppy party. Only an institution drenched by lashings of sentimentality could have embraced unilateral nuclear disarmament not once but twice in its history.

Matt says that Nick used to support CND, and I'd be surprised if this were not the case. I did a bit of Googling for "Nick Cohen" CND and found a couple of interesting pages.
Dangerous Liaison. Nick in The Grauniad (apparently) and reproduced on the Yorkshire CND site. It's possible that Matt and I are wrong and that Nick didn't support unilateral nuclear disarmament, but the following paragraphs are unmistakeably Cohen.

Every now and again the mask slips and staff officers speak plainly. The US Space Command - which coordinates the technological ambitions of the Amican army, navy and airforce - recently set out its 'Vision for 2020'. A Star Wars system would project military power 'across the full spectrum of conflict'. In other words, the US could attack without out fear of reprisal as well as defend itself. The Cold War doctrine of mutually assured destruction is falsified. America can destroy without being destroyed.
The British, meanwhile, could just be destroyed without having the vicarious satisfaction of knowing that our generals had exterminated hundreds of thousands in the minutes before the mushroom clouds bloomed, America needs the Fylingdales and Menwith Hill bases in North Yorkshire to pinpoint warheads. Any enemy of America would want to take them out. A defence system which protects America, but not Britain, will make Britain, in the words of Stephen I. Schwartz, publisher of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, a 'prime target in the event of nuclear war'. If you want to overwhelm your enemy, you must overwhelm his defences. Only in this case America's defences will be on the Yorkshire Moors.

Nick may not have wanted unliateral nuclear disarmament, but he comes across as uncomfortable with nuclear weapons and our alliance with the US. Funnily, this argument (which certainly appeals to me) seems dry and cynical: I don't see any "lashings of sentimentality".

Blair wants to be perceived as tough on defence because in his mind Labour support for CND helped keep the party out of power in the Eighties by exposing it to the taunt that it would weaken Britain's defences.

I like "in his mind." Blair's mind didn't appeal to Nick in those days.

Blair was quite right. It is bizarre to accuse him of not loving his country The sole difficulty for his fellow citizens is the country he appears to adore like a cow-eyed teenager is the United States of America.

In May 2001 he spoke at a Forum on U.S. Missile Defence. The chair was Bruce Kent. The other speakers were Professor Paul Rogers, Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, Caroline Lucas, MEP, South East England, and Lindis Percy of the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases. His actual words aren't recorded, and whoever took the minutes or added them to the web page, may have added a little CND spin. Still:

He described how Missile Defence undermines the basics of British conventional wisdom. In a recent Observer article he reiterated that "Star Wars can’t defend Britain" and that the establishment is exposing the country to an unprotected attack from America’s enemies. At the same time the UK is saying very little to oppose the US as it proposes to abrogate bilateral and multilateral arms control treaties. Blair has told Bush that Britain shares 'American concerns that they are highly unstable states who are developing nuclear capabilities. We have go to look at all the different ways, including defence systems, that we can to deal with that threat.'

Nick really hated Blair in the late 90s and the early 00s. And "America's enemies" couched like (assuming that those were his words) implies that Nick did not, at the time, take it as read that America's enemies were our enemies. He doesn't seem to upbraided the audience for their sentimentality.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Nearly missed this one ...

I've been getting lazy and assuming Dave puts everything he does on his blog. Noooo. A joke item where Dave does Mills & Boon. Funny if you've never read a "newspaper journalist does Mills & Boon" article before I think. Interesting to us because Dave's novella contains a character called "Tom 'Wandering Hands' Watson, the PR executive". What with that and the fat jokes, it appears that there is a little bit of a personal needle here, I wonder why. Left lobe, Dave, left lobe.

Dave's Lobes

Thanks very much to the other bruschettaboy (the nice one) for excellent and Stakhanovite Watching as I have been busy avoiding writing anything about Aaro for the last meanwhile. Out of temporal order, I want to have a word about his last but one, on global warming, because I think it's really quite revealing in the light it throws on his journalism in general and his recent witterings on Brown v Blair (by the way, Dave, it really is quite unedifying to see you doing the fat jokes. It wasn't so very long ago you know, and the mere fact that the famous Guardian Weekend cover isn't on any page indexed by Google image search doesn't mean we've forgotten about it)

It's the lobes, you see, the lobes. While Nick references Freud and the psychology of forgiveness, Dave has his own theory of human political psychology. In our "right lobes", we are the horrible whinging public. Always selfish, demanding our right to drive cars and endanger Dave's kids, to throw away packaging and endanger the planet and wanting the right to a fair trial. Our "left lobes", however, are the enlightened selves who see the pure rationality of Aaronovism. If only we could do what our left lobes know to be right, everything would be OK, but our selfish lizard-brained childish right lobes always get in the way, lashing out at poor Tony, stuffing our faces with lard, insisting on the upholding of international law.

I wonder if this theory of psychology (which appears similar to a version of the godawful "transactional analysis", beloved of people with HR degrees) is part of the program at the Pritikin Institute? It's certainly more asinine than anything Sigmund Freud came up with – it is perhaps the only theory of psychology under which the idea that "people were angry with Tony because they love him so much, and they are angry because they think he might go" might have been uttered without involuntary urination.

So anyway, it is obvious what theory of politics this theory of psychology would point to. We are free in so much as we are obedient to our better selves, the left lobes. The left lobes express the General Will. None of us really want the polar ice caps to melt, do they? So therefore, we'd better bomb some more Lebanese kids and cows. Shut up, sit down, it's all connected. You're thinking with your right lobe there, you need to think with your left lobe. Of course, some people, like Dave and Tony Blair and Patricia Hewitt, have unusually large left lobes, and so maybe we should let them take charge and not trouble ourselves over much with questioning their decisions. Because likely as not we wouldn't really have anything to say, we'd just be reacting emotionally to them. You can tell the big-left-lobers from the general population, btw; the outward sign of their inner grace is that they are not fat.

Oh, of course I know the roots of this bollocks! I was about to consider how Dave applied his theory to the media, then it became horribly obvious. It was with respect to the media that it developed in the first place. Left lobe = considered, analytical pieces, barghing through the conventional wisdom on "globalisation" and "demographic change" for hours and hours, featuring John Birt and Martin Wolf. Right lobe = nasty shouting and yar boo sucks, gossip about people's sex lives, presented by Ulrika Jonsson and George Galloway. That's the root of this two lobe theory – it's our old nemesis, the "bias against understanding" from Dave's days at Weekend World. This is why I believe Aaro when he says that he doesn't mean his blog post (I nearly said article then; the fact that this was published in the Times does not, in my view, raise it above the stature of a blog post) to be an intervention in the Labour battle in the Blairite cause. He's not a Blairite. But neither is he a Millibandite. He's a Birtist.

Me? I'm a Trilobite.

Update: AW posts are rather like buses, they stink of piss. And they appear in bursts of three. Don't let the fact that I was last to the trigger make you miss BB's or RK's latest.

dave comes out for one Milliband or other

Aaro scans the horizon and is amazed by the silent but heartfelt love he detects for the Prime Minister amongst we, the British public.

What always surprises me, however, is the latent support there is for the proposition that Tony Blair is not the spawn of Satan, and has done a pretty reasonable job.

Ah yes. What we have here is the top of the pops fallacy. Thing is, when I was fourteen I was convinced that such and such a band should be on top of the pops because me and my friends liked them. Of course, they weren’t because the only people who liked them were me and my friends. Everyone else thought they were shite.

In other news, Dave declares himself for Milliband. I take it this is code for coming out for Cameron at the next election, while the Dauphin prepares. What really matters is passing on the torch of true liberalism, you see.

rioja kid

Bullying, Babies, Browns, and Blair

Being the earnest political wonk that you have every right to expect on a blog like this, I was listening to radio 4 earlier. It was one of their round-the-table discussions, and I agree with Martin Wisse in the comments to an earlier post that "Any Answers" that left-wing voices are sometimes left out. This was nice:

Yes I think the satirist and people in the media are on the, naturally on the, opposite side of the fence to the establishment, when you go into government, whether its the Labour Party or the Conservative Party you become the establishment ... you are then naturally target, and frankly you have to be, perhaps even more these days because I don't think the House of Commons is doing a very good job in controlling the executive, that's been happening more and more, it's not just a feature of the last nine years. ... Lord knows how long it would have taken us to find out what was going on inside the Home Office without the media.

That's a pretty good articulation of the position exactly opposite to DA's. (I don't remember his being quite so keen on our friends in the press when he was in office, but we'll come to that.) And a former satirist:

Always the people in power, when you win an election, you have a honeymoon, because the people even if they've elected you narrowly, feel that you deserve a chance. But once that's over, you're fair game.
And that's very good, because if you have to choose between a government which gets away with things, and an unfair media, I'd always choose the unfair media (though I wish they were fair).

As would I. Both quotes are from The Frost Years, the first was Norman Tebbit and second was Gerald Kaufman.
DA doesn't share this view of the press.

The grey methane fog of political journalism in this country, with its lifeless storms and sterile uniformity, works hard to make us all think the same way, or to make us think that everyone else thinks the same way.

Here come my old complaints, so let's get them over. I don't believe a collective noun (or, arguably, an abstract noun) like 'political journalism' can be said to do something. Of course, according to Dave, political journalism does this, so presumably all political journalists do. Dave is a political journalist. Needless to say, even if he phrased his case rather more clearly, it is demonstrably not true that the Independent, the Daily Mail, and the Times have a) homogenous political commentary or b) work hard (work hard? drink hard maybe) to push goodthink. I agree with Chris Dillow that the mass of political journalists are desperately ignorant of economics, and, indeed, of the material processes which support our political system, but I don't agree about uniformity.
Do I have to point out that "Boy not shot on way to school" is not a story, nor is "Driver had good eyesight and was driving responsibly"? I can't see why "government department runs smoothly, meets targets" is supposed to interest anyone. A story like Home Office used wrong figures to predict 'trickle' is not symptomatic of group think among the press, it's a perfectly legitimate story. All the good stories involve someone behaving foolishly or badly. All the rest that make the papers usually feature attractive young women (as Matt Turner will no doubt point out, a disproportionate number of these will be blonde).
Some of DA's commentary is so astonishing it in faux-naivete, that it's not worth comment. He affects not to understand that the "unsagacious 17" are careerists, so who they impress (or suck up to) is enormously important to them. If you can't be the boss man yourself, the next best thing is choosing who is, and I don't blame them for their interest in this. For some reason, DA has also forgotten that politics at the sharp end is about winning the very few susceptible floating voters; it's not about "win[ning] round a sceptical public".
One sentence is staggering:

My instinct is that Labour MPs are panicking because they don’t any know more what they’re for and they’re desperate to be told.

And the best way for them to "be told" is to write to Blair and suggest he quit? That was a subtext I missed. Does DA really mean that MPs no longer have a purpose and we have burst into a new post-democratic era?
He commits a couple of unforgivable distortions.

So universally expressed is the trendy Blair-hating that you could easily think that he’s the man who persuaded Hezbollah to abduct Israeli soldiers just for jollies.

I actually can't work this out. Is he suggesting that Hezbollah's motives were not the return of 300-odd prisoners, but "jollies"? or is he suggesting that the average Times reader is confused as to which side Blair supported during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon?

All the same, the suddenly fashionable view of the Chancellor as an idiot savant - brilliant with figures but unable to eat soup in company - is not my experience.

But this isn't anyone's view of Gordon Brown. What his critics do suggest is that he lacks the suite of talents to be a popular and effective Prime Minister. All sides agree that Brown has sniped at his boss for years. If, as DA suggests, this has been mostly his acolytes, he has been less effective in controlling them than the Lebanese government was with Hezbollah. As most of the people concerned are answerable to him, and he's ultimately the paymaster of all of them, he has no excuse.
I think DA's had a pretty bad attack of conscience when writing this. Apparently, Andrew Marr (whom he praised last week) and his collegue Daniel Finkelstein are part of this "grey methane". I don't believe he believes that. I've quoted his use of "instict" (journalese for "I have no facts to support me here") and he later uses "sense" as a verb, which is no better.

And in even wondering ["Why didn't Brown condemn the Watson letter"], I sense the answer. I sense it in the knowledge that this article will be labelled as part of a Blairite attack on the Chancellor by his acolytes (many of whose devotions have been, to be fair, unsought) in the press and the Labour Party. They are, whether they know it or not, a terrible bunch of unimaginative bullies.

I like "I sense it in the knowledge that ..." Aarowatch goes to CafePress. Get your mugs, t-shirts with the quotable Aaro here. I think you'll know what he means. I'm not going to draw diagrams. I don't know why the Chancellor's acolytes are "unimaginative" or "bullies". (A "terrible bunch" seems fair enough.) I think this lot includes all the women likely to progress. (Though this may be less a sign of being sensible than the fear that the anti-Brown may be Alan Milburn.)

In any case I am, I think, a Milibandite - partly because it sounds like something from the Cretaceous period, and partly because there are two Milibands, and that gives me wriggle room.

It's a little early to confess to being a political dinosaur, Dave. And most of the fauna from the period are either -saurus or -or. He may have been thinking of trilobites, which were Cambrian. (That's a lot earlier.) The American Heritage Dictionarysuggests "Adherent or follower of: Luddite".
In a way, I agree with Dave about the methane mists: one thing all political journalists now do is ... well, I'll let Dave demonstrate.

Mr Brown ... feels that he has a grievance that he is somehow entitled to have sorted out.

I've followed the slow meltdown of the Labour Party over the last nine years, and one constant has been the tight lips of Gordon Brown. His real thoughts, always assuming that he has any, have been relayed second hand, mostly by these acolytes - the very people we're told not to trust. Gordon Brown may well feel this, but I suspect he does because I have read that he does so often, not because there is any confirmatory evidence.
Same old, same old. Less debased political journalism would use fewer instincts and senses, and more direct quotation. Not a word about policy, you note, if you don't count "though smothered by the methane, the Government launched its new policies on social exclusion" which I don't because the government is always launching things.

Sunday, September 10, 2006


No, really: WTF?

It [the psychology of forgiveness] is a new discipline. Sigmund Freud concentrated on hysteria, addiction and depression and, however discredited his theories have become, psychiatrists and psychologists have stuck with the same subjects ever since.

I can't speak for the loony-doctors, but psychology in the UK and US started with William James (smarter brother of novelist Henry) whose 'Psychology' was published in 1890. James was a clearer thinker, better writer, and more original researcher. (The best text on Freud, before even Popper, is Jeffrey Masson's splendid The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory.)

If researchers neglected happiness in the 20th century, they shunned forgiveness. Robert D Enright, an American professor at the forefront of 'forgiveness studies', said that when he started out in 1985, he couldn't find a single scientific paper on what made people merciful.

The man's a fool. Getting on with people, tolerating their faults, and making up after arguments is the default human behaviour. We know about "time, the great healer" and we know that most people, most of the time are merciful. The issue is also confused because it's cross-culturally seen as a social good to be merciful, so even when they aren't, people say they are. Take Peter Hitchens (no really): if he wants to argue for longer prison sentences or the death penalty, he does so, not on the grounds that "hanging people is fun" but on the grounds that he's caring for victims. Even the Nazis often claimed that they were merely going to move the Jews elsewhere; extermination wasn't something one said aloud in public.
The great Stanley Milgram experiment (which, to repeat myself owes nothing to Freud) was an attempt to find when people were not merciful. Before he started Milgram canvassed psychiatrists -- including the kind who were influenced by Freud, or by the sham Theodor Adorno, whose study "The Authoritarian Personality" is one the worst-researched, narrow-minded, and fatuous works ever completed in human history. They universally agreed that subjects would not inflict pain. Of course, they almost all did.
My now ancient 1985 second edition copy of Psychology by Henry Gleitman says on p544-545 regarding chidren and empathy:

As we develop, we become increasingly able to tell what other people are likely to feel in a given situation and how to help if it is needed. But even that is not enough to ensure that we will act unselfishly. For helping is only one means of getting rid of the empathic distress tht is caused by the sight of another person's pain. There is an easier but more callous method: one can simply look away. This often occurs in the big city, with its many beggars and derelicts and victims of violence, where empathy may seem a luxury one can no longer afford.

I don't know who Robert D Enright is, but I do know you sound cooler if you claim to be the first. Contra Coleridge, it is not disbelief which needs to be willingly suspended but belief. There are lots of studies of empathy and generosity before 1985, and most of them concluded that the main factor, when mercy is seen to be rare, was the perception of the other is inside or outside one's own group. (There was brilliant study in the 70s or 80s which used an actor who feigned to have collapsed on a university campus close to a lecture theatre. Students who were late were a lot less likely to stop. One reason for being merciful: not being late. Seriously. Though I can't find that now.)
As Nick comes close to admitting, the reason forgiveness is not much studied (apart from the problem of how do you tell forgiveness from forgetting), is that it makes sense. Not forgiving makes less sense, but clearly exists, making it a useful subject of study.
I don't know what this means:

Men and women at the top of politics tend to be like street fighters, who demand respect and respond to snubs with vehement anger even if the cost to themselves (and their party) is out of all proportion to the offence given.

But that's what being an alpha male means: in politics, street gangs, clans, academia. It means not taking any shit. (You can see this in academia in the vendettas Chomsky pursues.) Of course politicians are like street fighters: for these purposes they're the same.
And finally a question:

If the Chancellor takes power, the odds are that Blairites will do to Brown's premiership what the Brownites did to Blair's premiership.

What have the Brownites done to Blair's premiership? I'm agin Blair. Even in 1997 when I supported him (against wiser council), I hoped that he'd step down in favour of his cleverer number 2 sooner rather than later. (Ie before the then putative 2001/2002 election.) But Blair did most of the damage himself. Brown didn't make up any 45-minute claims about non-existent WMD. Brown didn't go on holiday with Silvio Berlusconi. Brown doesn't have a greedy wife who profits from books about her husband. Etc, etc, etc.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

One Question and A Long Pained Groan From Me

I'll look at DA's latest post later.
In the last post, I mentioned that DA "predicted with absolute certainty that Blair will step down of his own accord in July 2007." I meant to add that a seasoned politics watcher such as himself should know the old Wilson dictum that "a week is a long time in politics". Come to think of it, his own record on predictions isn't all that great. Did I commit these to bits and pixels? Did I hell. Aaargh?

So, David Aaronovitch, you think that "Blair will step down of his own accord in July 2007." Are you sure?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Any Aaros?

DA was on Any Questions yesterday (Friday) which willl be repeated today (Saturay) at 1:10 pm BST. And available on the web until next Friday; after which there will be a transcript. He was on with Peter Hitchens (madder brother of the more famous Chris), Shireen Ritchie (who disappointingly, didn't marry Madonna or make ultraviolent blokey films, but is a fairly reasonable Tory - former SWPer Peter H having taken all the unreasonable Tory positions) and Zulfi Bukhari (who is a Muslim).

I listened to it, as I usually do on Radio 4, doing other things. Peter Hitchens's belief that the country is going to hell because no one is polite anymore doesn't constrain his other belief that other people are really only there to listen to him. I'd be grateful if someone who is more familar with PH could confirm whether he has a sense of humour, as early in the programme he was batting for the government's suggestion that we should all get married and said various things like there's less abuse in marriage and that children conceived or born out of wedlock are at some great disadvantage. Aaro gently pointed out the timing of his parents' nuptials and his own arrival into the world. Hitchens responded with an affirmative grunt straight of Monty Python's "Upper Class Twits". I think we could be generous and conclude that this was merely jokey. It just seemed spectactularly rude to me.

DA did very well. He worked for the BBC and ITV as a researcher and later as a producer for over a decade, so he should do really. Of course, being against Peter Hitchens confers a huge advantage. The latter's pomposity and bullying make audiences cool toward him, and he refuses to distunguish convincing arguments from lists of things he likes or hates, which utterly impedes him when trying to sway a listener.

Not that I think DA was consistently right. He played the loyal Blairite too well. (IIRC, and I'm writing this the morning after), he predicted with absolute certainty than Blair will step down of his own accord in July 2007. Michael Crick, who I admire, but I think DA is cooler toward, was on Newsnight (available until Monday evening) suggesting that sufficient Labour backbenchers felt otherwise. He also thought the disciplining of the Glasgow firemen was right (I disagree) and said that being sent on a BBC course (for tolerance or some such) was one of the best things that ever happened to him. I'd have liked to know more about why he thought this, but Peter Hitchens boorishly interupted.

God, I hate Peter Hitchens.