Tuesday, November 28, 2006

He's called Nick Cohen and he's very angry about parking regulations

So I declare him to be on topic for this blog, even though in my heart of hearts I know that he's probably not the same guy.

No more Aaro before breakfast for me

Jesus wept. God willing, some more Watching of this one later today, but Aaro has already provided me two fairly serious "choke on your Egg McMuffin" moments and I fear the health consequences of further reading. In one:

I’ve long had this one, pleasant fantasy: which is that, somehow, people get what they say they want, but it all happens in some kind of parallel existence and I don’t have to suffer from their preferences

Dave, meet Riverbend. Riverbend, meet Dave. I think you've probably got a lot to talk about with respect to Dave's vision of the promotion of worldwide democracy through force of arms, and who ended up bearing the fucking consequences of it.

In two:

I am not going to argue with Mr Salmond about the extent to which English people or companies might have helped to discover “his” oil and gas, or the extent to which Scotland might have been subsidised by English enterprise or natural resources. I am not going to argue about it because it’s so obviously demeaning.

Yup, people, in its crudest and most horrible form, the age old argument of "why is our oil underneath their sand?" (or in this case, sea). Dave seems to actually believe that if you develop hydrocarbon resources, that gives you an ownership claim to them which is senior to that of the state in which they are located. I am, to be frank, surprised that this view has not led him to an even more insane Middle East policy than the one he actually has.

By the way, there is, shall we say, a rather more relevant precedent for the possible model of an independent Scottish economy than Iceland. It's a country which has a lot more in common historically and institutionally with Scotland than Iceland does, and it's been doing quite well of late. It begins with "I" and ends with "eland" but it isn't Iceland. Edit: I could have sworn it said "Iceland" earlier today, but it says "Ireland" when I looked at it just now. Either there has been a typo cleared up, or (probably more likely) I misread it first time. Slap wrist, bruschettaboy. Double Edit: No, right first time. There is one mention of "Ireland", followed immediately by a mention of "Iceland", in what would normally be a context where Ireland would make much more sense, but then it is in turn followed by Dave talking about Norway. Is this a simple typo, or is Dave really trying to suggest that Scotland and Iceland are similar?

Update: Oh fucking great, that's my mid-morning bagel ruined too:

Of course it’s all your oil, we had nothing to do with it. And by the way, please don’t imagine that we will act in any way to reassume control of any of our natural “English” or “Welsh” assets currently held by Scots.

Dave appears here to be actually threatening the expropriation of private property held by ethnic Scots in England. I am pretty sure that even Milosevic's Serbs didn't try that one on.

Update: I now have a tofu curry for lunch and so I am being careful and reading the piece one sentence at a time, between mouthfuls. It doesn't help much when you get sentences like this:

(yes, of course there will have to be border checks, ask the Norwegians)

If you asked the Norwegians, I think they might say something like "border checks? What the hell is Aaro on about? Norway has two borders, with Sweden and Finland, and all three are Schengen countries. Even before joining the Schengen agreement, Norway had open-borders agreements with both Sweden and Finland. Norway has in fact not had border checks since the Nordic Passport Agreement of 1957. There is an offchance that Aaro is referring to the Svalbard of Norway, which is a rather strange treaty-recognised anomaly and not part of the Schengen agreement, but this would be pretty weird as the Svalbard islands obviously have no borders with anyone for there to be checks at."

thanks, Norwegians. Presumably Aaro means "customs checks", which still do exist between the Nordic countries, but that's not what he says.

Update Hey Norwegians! You forgot about the border with Russia which Chris Baldwin has just reminded me about in the comments!

"Oh yes, sorry about that, but to be honest it just seemed really weird to us that Aaro might decide that his big example of a serious impediment to trade was the one or two trucks a day that trickle through Lapland".

thanks, Norwegians.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Lordy Lordy

Nick is all a splutter over loans for lordships. This is a slight return to the Nick of "Pretty Straight Guys", but at this late stage does anyone care? Personally, I think it's probably more harmless for the government to be selling lordships than, say, two year exemptions from EU tobacco advertising bans, letters of recommendation for the purchase of Romanian steelworks, passport applications, large government contracts for anthrax vaccine and what have you, and rather disagree with Nick that the problem here is the structure of the upper house, rather than the fact that we have a bunch of sleazy crooks in charge (again). I suspect that someone from Labour Research managed to bend Nick's ear this week and get the plug; unless I am wrong, it was not the Bow Group which triggered the current investigation so much as a specific complaint made about Chai Patel's inclusion in a draft honours list. Other than that, not much to report; it is not a bad column although it is very thick indeed on the "it's all your fault, you the readers of the Observer, you are the very worst people in the world for allowing this to happen". It is Nick's stock in trade, the self-flagellation of the liberal left and it is getting very tired indeed (look at the desultory nature of the comments on the Observer website - even online loonies can't really be bothered any more). It is surely past time for Nick to eff off to Associated Newspapers and castigate the left from an ex-left "progressive" perspective.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Trainspotters r us


Nick pops up in the comment section of Harry's Place to give us his thoughts about copyright (and I accordingly plagiarise them wholesale):

Sorry to barge in, but I find reading the blogs so much easier than getting on with my work. I don't mind copyright but the present system is pushing the artist's rights to the limits and beyond. For instance, I wanted to quote from poems that W H Auden and C Day Lewis had written between 1936 and 1939 in a recent book. In both instances I had to pay the publishers. I didn't mind, they were very helpful and the quotes made my points far better than I could. But I was struck by the thought that Auden and his contemporaries wrote their best poetry when they were young men. Copyright goes for 70 years after their deaths. Auden died in 1973, so copyright extends to 2043 -- or more than 100 years after he published his socialist poems. Auden is going to be read for as long as people read English poetry. But C. Day Lewis and the other 'pink poets'? If they were out of copyright, independent publishers might collect their work and try to interest new readers. But as it is, the costs of the very system that is meant to protect them may ensure that they are forgotten.


ooooOOOOOOHHH! scoopy doopy doo!!

Not a "scoop" in the real sense but I feel like a proper journalist right now. You see, it appears that one of the people who got an advance copy of Nick's Book treated this privilege with slightly less than the wholehearted sense of responsibility and respect that they should have done. In other words, a proof copy showed up in a second hand bookshop. I am not saying where or which bookshop because I am not giving away clues. And who should have been passing through that bookshop with a spare £3.50 but me? Hey hey.

At first glance it looks like there is some new material in there, although the bits about Iraq are very familiar. I haven't found the bit where Nick deals with the dicky issue of his own behaviour post 9/11 yet. Full review and highlights to come as soon as I get completely clear about the legal situation - I am 99% sure that there is no restriction on me but I want to be 100%. Hoo hoo hoo.

Update: It has just struck me that I didn't get the Standard this week (this is also not a clue). Did anyone see what Nick wrote?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ted and Nick's Excellent Adventure

Honderich's response to the NC piece is now up on his own website - thanks very much to Callan and Cian in the comments for the heads-up. In as much as the Aaronovitch Watch predictions were a) that Nick's interview was the hackjob to end all hackjobs and b) Honderich is really rather barking on this subject, we look pretty prescient. Fans of the Ted Honderich prose style, disappointed you will not be. I suspect that ENGAGE will have a field day with section 10, as TH appears to not be aware that neither Nick nor Dave are religiously or matrilineally[1] Jewish, and therefore refers to Nick's statement "I am no more Jewish than David Aaronovitch" as "Kabbalistic".

[1] I nearly said "ethnically", but am not sure what this would mean with regard to Dave, see below - the matrilineal criterion is IIRC what matters with respect to Israeli immigration policy, but I don't think that's the necessarily definitive given that he does refer to the Jewish community with the first person plural in his journalism. Are there any experts on ethnic studies out there who can enlighten?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Two ferrets in a sack

We sometimes email each other behind the scenes at Aaro and Cohen Watch, and divvy up the shifts. Evil BB suggested that we do a proper watch of Nick's interview of Ted Honderich and Captain Cabernet begged off with the beautifully succinct:

I've already done my bit of Honderich-watching, as I was forced to endure his ghastly programme. Two ferrets in a sack if you ask me.

Yes, here at Aaro and Cohen Watch we have our disagreements, but none of us, I can assure you, wants to carry water for Honderich.
The Cohen-Honderich dialogue is a piece of work, and it gives me the opportunity to float one of my how-blogs-can-make-life-better ideas. Despite the rather odd title (Time Out with Nick Cohen: This week: Ted Honderich) Nick's piece is just an interview of Honderich, written up by Cohen. The interviewer here holds all the cards: he or she can decide what's relevant and what's not, what to cut, and what to dwell on. It's not a debate because the parties certainly are not equals. The old democrat in Nick would have realised this at one time. It's only human to press an advantage. And perhaps Nick does a long time before he signs off with a bit of psycho-hackery.

It's a poor consequentialist who can't think about consequences. Honderich can't because, I think, the emotional consequences of admitting that not all the darkness of the world is the fault of the west would be too great for him to endure.

I want to impress upon you that, though Nick wishes to see the encounter as a meeting of fine minds, one of whom just happens to have a commission to transcribe the meeting, this is an interview with Honderich. To use a sporting metaphor: Nick has elected to bowl, and that means that he can't score runs while he does so. He doesn't seem to appreciate this. He doesn't seem to have done the other thing that interviewers are supposed to do: research. Steven Poole is quite scathing, but it was only just before I decided to write this that I realised why. Nick:

Our meeting began badly and got worse. I had arranged to talk to him at a conference at the Royal College of Art in London's museum district: a bland, modernist building overshadowed by the exuberantly gothic Natural History and Victoria and Albert museums. The college is an anonymous place where it is easy to miss people, but there was no missing Professor Honderich. Six foot five inches and 73 years old, he was all flowing grey hair and dramatic poses as he marched up to me and began to denounce a Channel 5 documentary by Times columnist David Aaronovitch. I hadn't the faintest idea what he was going on about, but so vigorous were his condemnations that I assumed he had been pilloried.
Only later did I learn that Honderich himself had made a documentary for the channel (which the Guardian described as a fatheaded attempt to blame Islamist terrorism on almost everyone but Islamist terrorists)

Honderich hasn't got a book/film/play/album out which is the usual pretext for the dance with the press. Nick, as a gentleman of the press of long standing now, should know that nothing drives an interview downhill like You haven't read it, have you? Steven Poole drips vitriolic scorn (which angers a commenter, which in turn led me to understand what was wrong with the original piece):

One can hardly doubt that if the Guardian describes something in such august terms of disapprobation as fatheaded, then it is assuredly so. No need for the intrepid interviewer to watch the programme himself: a ready-made Guardian opinion will do.

Here's the thing. Nick Cohen interviews Ted Honderich - and he doesn't know that Honderich made a (fairly heavily trailed, I understand) TV programme on one of Nick's pet subjects. Not only that, he didn't get hold of a tape or disc and spend an hour (minus ads) watching the thing. Now, I sympathise with the good captain's position: but Nick does this for money. His disregard of basic professionalism reflects badly on the Staggers.
I agree with Honderich regarding fascism. I think it's possible that al-Qaeda is a bad thing, and Ayatollah Khomeni's Rushdie fatwa is a bad thing (to give just two examples) with either being 'fascist'. Not everything bad is fascist. It's true that Nazism oppressed women; but Maoism (which I'd also call fascist) protested women's equality. Jewish conspiracy theories (or, rather, theories of Jewish conspiracies) were not invented by Hitler any more than the blood libel was; Nick does the old shortarse too much credit. Abolish democracy? I know I've stuck my toe (up to the thigh) in here before: but surely Nick means bourgeois democracy - the sort we have here and in the US, and I really wouldn't bet that Karl Marx (who Nick thinks was a harmless old guy) wouldn't (updateoop - negative added) have chucked it if he could. Kill homosexuals - I take it Nick is aware that Winston Churchill said that the Bletchley Park shortened WWII by three years, and that war hero Alan Turing was driven to suicide by the British state within ten years of Germany's unconditional surrender.
Anyway, here's my how-blogs-can-make-life-better idea. Nick is old enough to have learned shorthand as a hack (I don't know whether he did or not), but the interview is obviously recorded. It can't be beyond the skills of a newspapers IT department to convert a tape or disc to MP3 format and plonk it in a public directory. I'll quote Norman Geras here:

First, because in criticizing your letter to the LRB I followed the normal blogging convention of linking to the text of what I was taking issue with, so giving my readers access to what you imply I may have been wanting to hide from them.

It's true that in the confusion of Aaro Watch we'd exchange frantic emails: I thought you read it No, you said you would Well what about evil BB, then? etc. See, with the web, a hack can interview someone - and publish twice. He (or she) can write up the interview, as is the case now, or she (or he) can broadcast it, just like John Humphreys. Nick says he tried to calm him [Honderich] down, but how uncalm was Honderich? I'd like to be able to hear the bits Nick left out.

Denial would have been a river in Israel if the Six Day War had gone on a bit longer

Much, much disingenuousness here from Dave. It's not obvious what his actual point is – he gets angry when people chuck anti-Semitic abuse at him and reading between the lines I think that's what's happened here. I am also wondering if the Honderich reference implies that there has been some sort of communication between Dave and Nick, because David Aaronovitch (regular commenter on Israel and writer of a column in the Jewish Chronicle about his life in the British Hewish community) appears to have got himself confused with Nick Cohen (militant secularist and rarely if ever writes about Israel).

The underlying agenda is the same as it was when Dave was doing this number on the Mearsheimer and Walt paper, largely taking the ENGAGE line that although it is of course possible to have political opinions about of the State of Israel, the Middle East policy of the USA and UK and the importance of lobbying, one must express them without ever using the words "Israel", "lobby", "money" or "neoconservative", because these are all "classic anti-Semitic tropes". I think it is OK to say something like

"AIPAC is the self-styled banana banana organisation which claims to represent the voting interests of American bananas, but actually appears to have become a vehicle for a banana banana tendency in Banana politics and which arguably exercises undue banana with respect to US (and therefore UK) banana about banana banana."[1]

but not much else.

It is no more edifying now than it was then to see Dave lending his support to the annoying soi-Decent anti-Semitism police and it undermines whatever point he was trying to make about David Grossman's speech. Dave is also picking up the nasty journalistic habit (which I think started with Melanie Phillips, so watch out) of telling us all about the arguments he won with random students and dinner party guests. This is rather like boasting about the hundred birds you shagged on holiday during the summer vacation, and they were stunners every one. We don't care, we suspect that things might not have happened exactly as you say and whatever you did then, we can only judge what's before us now and it isn't that impressive. It is perhaps unfortunate that Dave chose to ridicule the view that the Israel/Palestine question is a significant cause of terrorism in the wider Middle East only a few days after it was endorsed by Tony Blair and it would have been much more interesting to see him take on Blair's version of this (IMO fallacious) idea than some random undergraddy's.

Numbered lists, we love them:

1. Dave appears to attribute a quote about "Jewish finance" to Baroness Tonge when she actually said "pro-Israel". This is why I think he's got a lot of this material second hand from ENGAGE[2]; IIRC, they made the same mistake too. He is right that JT is a bit of an apologist for suicide bombers, but since this detail is the whole point of the article I think he ought to have made the effort and got it right.
2. Dave is a "staunch defender of Israel", of course he is. He notoriously refused to condemn the bombing of Qana as a war crime rather than a "tragedy" and viewed the invasion of Lebanon as the equivalent of the Falklands War. Over the last twelve months, he has been a substantially more reliable and forthright supporter of Israeli government policy than Norman Geras, for example.
3. (an Aaro trivia obsessive writes): Q: why does Dave specifically pick Spain as a country that he's a stauncher defender of than Israel? A: Most likely because his brother the actor Owen lives there. He has written one article unfavourably comparing Israel to Spain, however, but this is something like the fourth article he has written this year broadly in defence of the policies of the government of the State of Israel, despite the fact that this government has for all of that time been of a political tendency that would normally be repugnant to him. Surely that's staunch if anything is?

I've mentioned in the past that Dave does seem to have a slightly uneasy relationship with the Jewish part of his heritage and this is another example. In his JC pieces, he refers to the British Jewish community as "we and opines on its future direction as if he was part of it from time to time, but then in between times (usually, it has to be said, when the question of Israel/Palestine comes up), he's "a bloke with a name like Aaronovitch". My guess is that the whole issue is uncomfortable for Dave; he is basically comfortable with his position on the fringes of what is apparently called "British Jewry", but much less so with respect to Israel itself. It is perhaps worth mentioning parenthetically for the sake of context that Aaro's first book, "Paddling to Jerusalem" was actually a travelogue of the British Isles, which sums it all up rather nicely. I think one of our Watchers has a copy of this one – does he expand on the subject?

I think we have a new Quote of the Month when I can be bothered to put it up:

" It’s all about identity, of course, and I can never decide whether the pulling on and brandishing of identity is thoroughly bad, or whether it gives comfort and support to human beings in their short passages through this life. Whichever, I still think that relying on it to make an argument is weak politics."

[1] It isn't of course. Everyone knows what "banana" is a code word for! A writer who cared about avoiding such blatantly anti-Semitic implications would have chosen a different word.
[2] Have I made the joke yet about ENGAGE being very concerned about anti-Semitism because they think that it is a cover for criticism of Israel? Well I'm making it again then.

Around and about the Cohensphere

And the Nick spots coming in thick and fast thanks to google ... here he is, quoted in the Times, plugging his book, talking about the CPB in the context of that woman who sold the painting, and a) claiming rather bizarrely that the CPB controls CND, and b) getting his groupletology a little bit wrong as he ignores the split in the CPB and which side of it Anita Halpin's on.

Nick and Ted's Bogus Journey

The Decent Left's equivalent of Ted Honderich meets the anti-imperialist Left's equivalent of Nick Cohen, with predictably mad-headed results, in the New Statesman. It is more or less impossible to work out what actually happened since it is written in the "and then the force of my argument carried all before me and I was cheered to the rafters as I turned on my heel and left" style that Nick uses for these things. I doubt that Honderich's version of events (in a diary item in the Sunday Indie, not on line, thanks to Rioja Kid for the tip) will be any more informative. But it is well worth a read.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Weekend catching up

sorry about that, travel and illness means that I only got to the Tuesday Aaro a few days late. There is not much to say about a man whose actual argument is "politicians don't discuss big ideas any more?!! Why on my very desk I have papers about road pricing, rural bus routes and NHS fundholding adjustments!", except that the distinction between "political ideas" and "random managerialist crap" probably ought not to have fallen into abeyance in the way it has. This is more of the "lobes" theory - we the public are feckless, whining little bastards, always demanding to be entertained rather than knuckling down to the serious business of government. We simply don't deserve the politicians we get and we certainly don't deserve Aaro.

In many ways, Aaro may be correct in his belief that the public are like ungrateful teenagers. But he's ignoring the reason why teenagers behave like they do. They act that way because they are constantly being insulted by fake "consultations", from people who pretend to ask for their views and then ignore them and force them to do something else anyway. The "public debate" which we are always having on all of Aaro's big issues, is the equivalent of asking Kevin where he would like to go over Christmas, when everyone knows it's gonna be Nan's house.

I really can't face Watching Nick in the Observer. It's all about house prices. It's exclusively about London too, so it may be a retread of a Standard col, but I can't face looking that up either. At some point this all becomes a bit too painful. Any other prize bits of Decency out there? Has John Lloyd stuck his head above the duvet recently?

Friday, November 10, 2006

So Now You Know

More via Norman Geras:

The people working on these projects are best known for having produced a document called the Euston Manifesto, which was composed in a bar near the Euston station of the London metro. (If these people had a million dollars, they wouldn't have to compose their manifestos in bars - they would be able to rent a proper office for themselves.) Their online journal, Democratiya, has become, by my lights, the liveliest and most stimulating new intellectual journal on political themes in the English-speaking world - certainly the liveliest new thing to appear on the English-speaking left in a good long time. Their project Engage has rather bravely taken up the challenge of arguing against the slightly demented anti-Zionism that appears to have... overrun whole regions of British intellectual life.

So now you know: Euston, Engage, and Democratiya are one and the same. Paul Berman says so, endorsed by Geras. (Ellipses in the Norman Geras version.) Some of us, clearly mistakenly thought than Euston also connected to Manchester and Glasgow, but we'll take Berman's assurance that only the metro stops there. Damn, I should have called this The Metro doesn't stop here anymore.

Nick on Rights

This is a blog, which means we can post immediate, not-always-fully-considered reactions. If I had to write this for money, I'd spend a week screwing drafts into tight balls and lobbing them at the bin. So this is a very much top-of-my-head reaction: Nick doesn't understand rights. (Happily, I think one or two of my co-bloggers do, so they can correct me.) Norman Geras has read it [Nick's book] in draft and warmly recommend[s] it. He offers a couple of brief excerpts. This is the second of those:

If the new left of the 21st century is to be a liberal-left worth having, then it must learn from the best of the old traditions. First, it must understand that we are lucky people who have won life's lottery. An accident of birth has given us freedom and the wealth that comes with it. We don't have an obligation to overturn tyranny by military force. But we have no right to turn our backs on those who want the freedoms we take for granted. We have no good cause to scoff at them and make excuses for the men who would keep the knife pressed to their throats. The best reason for offering them support is that we can. We have the freedom to vote, to lobby, to protest, to write and to speak, and there is no point in having freedom unless you use it to a good purpose.

First, like a few of you, I'm not sure that liberals and leftists share traditions. I know this sounds unashamedly morally relativistic, because that's what I am, but who is to say which has the best of those traditions? Now I know Nick is writing rhetoric in a book with a clenched fist on the cover rather than a philosophical treatise, but he is using non-interchangeable terms much too interchangeably. We do, in fact, have a 'right to turn our backs ...' just as we have the right to do whatever else we please that is not prohibited by common judgement. He means 'it is wrong for us to...' but that is a different matter entirely. Most of us (that is, I use 'us' to mean UK voters) will turn our backs, and care more about the 'X-Factor' or what the Sun says. And that is our right. We have the right not to buy poppies; we have the right not to vote; we have the right to walk past beggars and their emaciated dogs. I'm not saying you should do these (non-) things. Someone, maybe Captain Cabernet, may enlighten me on negative rights, but I feel Nick is pointing in the wrong direction here.
I am something like a century out of time is my aestheticism: Art for art's sake is my motto. And freedom for freedom's sake while I'm here. There is no point to freedom, other than it feels right. It comes with no obligations. If it did, it would not be freedom. I've a 100% voting record, though the only time I ever voted for the victor was in 1997 (and I regret that). I'm an occasional letter-writer and marcher too, but my freedom is no better than the next slob's. Sorry.

Just a link

Conor Foley at CiF has a go at Nick on torture (and Peter Tatchell, in comments there, isn't happy with him either).

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Dave mentions Iraq

Yes he does, in elegiac mode. "How the hell did this all get so fucked up? Certainly looks as if somebody screwed up big time. Wonder who that was?" appears to be the Aaro line, with a small helping of "Am I sorry? I am not sorry that we got rid of Saddam" (c) Tony Blair, via Normblog.

There is a lot of semi-interesting historical colour on Iraq, albeit nothing that you can't get anywhere else and in my opinion the role of the US and UK is rather played down in order to make France and Russia look bad (the fact is that the UK does not manufacture a rifle as good as the Kalashnikov and we would certainly have been a big supplier to Saddam if we did. Worth remembering from the Matrix Churchill affair that we were conniving to break an embargo and provide him with the wherewithal to take potshots at Israel!).

But the key message is "the vulnerability, the fallibility", sometimes you just have a war and kill 600,000 people and it's basically nobody's fault. For who is to say that it might not have been even worse if we did things the other way?

Realpolitik, its many current fans should realise, no more guarantees you a quiet life than does interventionism. But at least the latter puts the tyrant in the dock.

I could bang on about "excess deaths" in the Lancet study (a concept Dave actually makes use of in the context of a Unicef report which was later withdrawn). But I don't think one needs to bring out the statistical heavy guns here. Just to note that Dave's conclusion basically amounts to:

"See those guys who couldn't handle a simple embargo without fucking it up? Why not give them a bit of political cover to launch a war?"

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Is Polly Decent?

Here's an interesting question – can Polly Toynbee be considered a Decent? The question is prompted by an anonymous commenter[1] who drew attention to this piece in the Guardian, which is clearly covering exactly the same ground as this Aaro piece, right down to the Tesco reference (also Watched here). It is also vulnerable to the same four criticisms on the substance:

1) The logistic introduction of ID cards means that it would only take a single Act of Parliament to have them carried compulsorily, and thence on to pass laws.
2) Repressive states never monitor everyonem Big Brother stylem on the off-chance of picking up dissent, their modus operandi is to identify known dissenters and harass them, and the database state is a hugely useful tool for this.
3) Polly's faith in the ability of "a few laws" to prevent all manner of abuse of other people's private information by dishonest petty bureaucrats is misplaced and
4) Remind me again what is in it for us (assuming that no major IT consultants read AW) from this hugely expensive piece of crap?

And the same one criticism on the style – that it is a really weaselly piece of insinuation and guilt by association, trying to suggest that absolutely everyone who objects to ID cards also objects to CCTV and speed cameras (and wears a tin foil hat – apparently the proposition that CCTV is an unalloyed benefit got past Trevor Berbick on points and is now part of the conventional wisdom). Oh, and she's recruited the voiceless working class to her cause; naturally they all unambiguously and uncritically regard the forces of the state as being there to protect them, and it's only middle class people who go to dinner parties in Islington watch Top Gear who think otherwise.

This is not an aberration for PT either – she's one of the high priestesses of a certain kind of "the status quo is no longer an option" managerialism, and IIRC is regularly quoted approvingly by Aaro. On the other hand, a large part of the Decent Left can't stand her, seemingly because she is insufficiently backward in coming forward in saying how horrible the Muslims are. So is she Decent or not? Is soft-authoritarian managerialism the key identifying feature of Decentism, or is it constitutive of the movement that you have to be part of the Greatest Intellectual Struggle Of Our Time?

[1] please guys, just pick a pseudonym will youse?

Monday, November 06, 2006

White Men With Short Hair

I suppose you expect me to talk, Goldfinger.
No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.
I agree with the other BB (we really must change my name) and Captain Cabernet. Nick's own site shows a photo of our humble watchee. Here's the Wikipedia entry on Timothy McVeigh and the one on David Copeland. Were the latter two trying to 'destroy our way of life'? One would think so. But did Nick advocate torture in 1995 after Oklamhoma? Or in 1999? There's a bomb in a gay pub (OK that won't convince the Sun) and the clock is ticking. Or there's a bomb in a truck under a government building (Daily Mail: tea drinking skivers blown to smithereens) and the clock ... You get the idea. But police hold a brown man and Nick is suddenly on the side of PC Nasty.

On the morning of 1 October, 2002, Wolfgang Daschner, deputy chief of police in Frankfurt-am-Main, gazed at Magnus Gaefgen, a law student and the prime suspect for the kidnapping of the 11-year-old son of a Rhineland banker. The policeman was certain he knew where the boy was, but Gaefgen refused to talk and had every reason to maintain his right to silence.
Suppose that Jakob von Metzler was slowly starving in a cellar. It was in Gaefgen's interests to let him die and dispose of his body when he was sure the police were not watching him. Alive, the boy would be a prosecution witness. Dead, he would be the source of forensic evidence. If Gaefgen stayed quiet, he might get away with murder and the police knew it.
Daschner considered his options and wrote a memo. Gaefgen should be tortured, he said. 'After being warned, he should be questioned again, under medical supervision, with the infliction of pain [no injuries].' The kidnappers of children aren't brave men and the mere threat of a beating caused Gaefgen to confess that he had murdered Jakob and hidden his body in plastic bags under a jetty.

I particularly like The kidnappers of children aren't brave men - what are they supposed to do? Laugh? and say, Le Chiffre, you'll die scratching my balls?
Now, I think Nick is quite intelligent. So this is probably the best case he could find. You may take note that the threat of torture did not save the boy's life. It would be a different story if it had. Nick could have written the murderers of children aren't brave men and it would be no less true. I assume from this that Nick can't find an example where torture saved a single life.
His Lordship was right. The moderation of British trade unionists drove Marx wild, but he never tried to persuade them to think again and start a revolution.
Mr Karl Marx, a German denizen of Soho, Westminster, London, co-authored a pamphlet with his friend Mr Engels of Manchester, titled 'The Communist Manifesto', which is widely believed to persuade just that, your honour.
I'm truly boggled by the number of Marxists who misread the old git. He didn't want a revolution after all; gosh they wasted their efforts. Lenin, you silly sod.
But the most infuriating sentence is this:
Because Germany has experienced the horrors of both fascism and communism, torture is a taboo, banned not only by laws, but by the constitution.
Has Nick not noticed that torture was banned in the US - and long before fascism or communism? The US, and for that matter this country, has experienced persecution and we have our own taboos - and for reasons every child is taught. If [o]nly the English held firm could he explain the method of extracting the confession of Guy Fawkes?
For the first time in British history, there are asylum seekers who could attack the country which gave them sanctuary.
Guy Fawkes, Nick. But what's the difference between asylum seekers and citizens? Why should Lord Haw-Haw or Melanie Phillips be treated differently?
BTW, what do you propose to do if their governments will not so promise, or if in the case of some - Libya, for example, or Jordan, I can't believe a thing she says - we don't trust them? Anyway, shouldn't we apply the reverse logic? If their countries promise not to torture them, we know they're the bad guys. How did Libya treat the Lockerbie suspects? or the murderer of WPC Yvonne Fletcher? Nick knows that Saudi Arabia is a racist, sexist fascist hell. 14 of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. If they won't torture suspects, surely that confirms that they're agents.
Shuggy, my colleague on the Sharpener, posts on Drink-Soaked Trots for War site, also disquieted by Nick, though he says Many of the responses already in accuse Cohen of advocating torture, which he doesn't. Well, if Nick doesn't, why does he mention it in his opening paragraphs? What does Nick advocate? He certainly seems to advocate something other than the universal human rights he was so keen on until recently: now he thinks one law for John Bull, a different law for asylum seeking chancers.
Nick likes to think he's George Orwell. Imagine him writing in the 1930s: Swiss Asylum seeker in bomb plot. Swiss National, Albert Einstein, who has found sanctury in Princeton University today wrote to President Truman outling a truly outlandish bomb which he says could be placed in a port by boat. Nick Cohen questions whether this self described agnostic really is a Jew and persecuted by the Nazis as he claims. His device could be used by people who hate us just as easily as it could be dropped by high altitude bombers on Japanese cities. I consulted the Observer astrologer on details of this device, and he claimed he couldn't make head or tail of it. Send this man back now.

Groundhog torture

Like Captain Cabernet, I remember a time when Nick thought that the use of torture was not a liberal position, but it must have been more than a year ago. Same column, right down to the "Star Chamber" reference. The only new bit is the idea that we could profitably extend the model from the terrorists to the paediatricians too.

It's not just fascist; it's unoriginal.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Nick sinks ever deeper

My memory of what Nick has said in the past may be a bit hazy, but I think it had something to do with pursuing the moral course even when it conflicts with national interest. To those who said that Iraq should be left to Saddam on the grounds that he didn’t pose much of a threat to us, Nick replied with sermons about the indivisibility of morality and the need for solidarity with torturer’s victims.

A basic, perhaps the most basic, principle of human rights is that people have the right not to be tortured.

So what do we have here?

Nick first flirts with Dershowitz-style “ticking bomb” scenarios. Truly, this alone is a sign that he has sunk deep into a poison pit. But the final para of this week’s abomination commends the robust attitude of the French (the French!). They don’t let concern for fundamental human rights get in the way of pursuing their national interest, so why should we, asks Nick? Well Nick, don’t you remember ? This was why the French didn’t get involved in your great moral crusade in Iraq.

If only Nick had woken up earlier, we could have saved ourselves a good deal of grief. There were all kinds of Iraqis hanging around the UK in the 1980s and 90s, some of them were troublemakers. Perhaps we should have sent some of them back home in return for an assurance from the the secular authoritarians in Iraq that they would treat them nicely? An obscene suggestion? You bet. So why is Nick now commending the deportation of people to the prisons of the secular authoritarians in Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Jordan?

Or is that what he’s saying? Remember last week’s pop at Ian Buruma? The bit where Nick wrote:

There is a revealing slipperiness in that sentence: the use of “one can’t help sensing” instead of “I think”….

This week’s weaselling is coated in the “revealing slipperiness” of “I suspect” as in:

I suspect it is going to be hard to say automatically that what the authorities want to do is wrong.

The coating is pretty thin though.