Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kamm on Hari

A bit busy, but we certainly ought to have a Johann Hari discussion thread and this is it. Oliver Kamm appears to believe himself to be striking body blow after body blow, but so far his main arguments appear to be a) grammar flames weak enough to be actively embarrassing b) the assertion that Kamm takes the neoconservatives at their word and this is Hari's problem and c) some crap about George Orwell which is not even right (I noted in the comments on the past tense Harry's Place post that Cohen's review in the latest Decentiya is fairly and squarely an attempt to claim the mantle of Saint George).

Meanwhile, Kamm also appears to be claiming that Hari must be lazy or dishonest rather than making an honest mistake (if mistake it be), because "No one to my knowledge has ever accused Nick Cohen of writing impenetrable prose. His argument here is characteristically clear". Which rather invites the question that if Cohen is such a clear and lucid writer, why does he need to spend nearly all his waking hours telling every single reviewer that they have completely misunderstood his book "What's Left?". After all,

Johann is entitled to change his views and apologise for what he formerly argued; but in his indictment of those of us he terms the pro-war Left, he is duty bound to give an accurate account of our position. If he seeks to depict the malign influence of neoconservatism on our thinking, then he is duty bound also to give an accurate account of that movement and its role in US foreign policy

is an admirable sentiment, but the twin issues of "changing one's views" and "giving an accurate account of other people's position" are two that I would have tried to stay away from in a defence of Nick Cohen, rather as Harold Shipman's lawyer always tended to steer the subject away from murdering grannies and toward more general issues of NHS policy. Oliver also uses the Hari review to continue to push his quite odd view of the Versailles Treaty (capsule: flawed because it was not nearly draconian enough on the Germans) and to once more suggest that this is the sensible view of nearly all reputable historians and JM Keynes can fuck off). But more of that anon. In the meantime ....

Update by Bruschettaboy. No you haven't gone mad. Some of the comments don't make sense anymore, because I have chopped a short comic poem entitled "The Ballad of Oliver Kamm". OK is a long time bete noire of AW, and several of the editors have a long history of swapping insults with him. However, this post has now been linked from the Johann Hari blog, and if we get a load more traffic as a result, I think that the fun and games will not look right divorced from context. Rest assured our loyal readers that AW has not got out of the personal insults game, far from it, we're just a little bit subtle. I might revise this decision at any minute, and the post will certainly be restored when this has all blown over. I just have a horrible feeling it will indeed all end up in court and even quite good jokes tend to die the death in such situations. Aaronovitch Watch, the quiet voice of reason.


Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

I'm disappointed that you didn't take the opportunity to comment on how often Oliver mentions his mother and his uncle, a line finishing "me Mamm" would have been just the ticket.

7/31/2007 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hari has quite effectively skewered Nick Cohen and his absurdities. It's painful to see Cohen rambling desperately and utterly failing to engage with or even mention most of Hari's actual arguments. Denying his own statements is ludicrous. Hari has his faults (he apparently did used to "make things up", such as writing a silly endorsement of Ecstacy when he never even taken the drug himself, and he once wrote that John Pilger had said "Cuban communism is a model for the world" when Pilger had actually said that the Cuban healthcare system was a model for the world, not quite the same thing) but his recanting on his Iraq position was brave and honest - I'm sure it's not easy to loudly proclaim that you were horribly wrong about the most important issue of the day and to announce that the critics you were so vicious about were right all along (imagine Aaro or Nick doing this - Aaro's idea of recanting is "Here's my apology for the 'disaster' of the Iraq War - Now Where's Yours?"). Hari wrote any number of pieces on how it was obvious that U.S. foreign policy had changed drastically following 9/11, that there would be no more propping up tyrannies and how George Bush and friends should be taken at their word when they spoke of spreading democracy, and he visiously attacked the Chomsky's of this world for suggesting it was more of the same PR bullshit and that he was being rather niave. He used to get asked for evidence of this drastic change in the U.S.'s outlook and he used to go rather quiet. He evidently seen the light and, recognising that this absurd children's fairytale view of the United States that he once held is still being entertained by the likes of Cohen, he's now doing a good job of showing how niave and divorced from reality these people actually are.

As for Kamm, he's a ridiculous clown who isn't worth taking seriously. The fact that he is so unaware of how much of an absurd prat he looks when he rambles on about Hari's grammar is remarkable. The man spends most of his life desperately trying to smear Chomsky, who he is plainly completely obsessed with. He needs to get out more.

7/31/2007 10:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought of something along the lines of "my famous famm/ily ..." but then had an attack of conscience.

7/31/2007 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

he is duty bound to give an accurate account of our position

Can anybody provide an example of Oliver Kamm following his own advice on this question?

7/31/2007 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark, I'm not sure repeating a libellous comment is a good idea... especially since my sister has actually taken E with Hari (a long time ago, when they were at 6th form), so she can testify in court he is a drug user! How often do you get to do that in defence of the guy? Lol...

7/31/2007 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Not sure that a comment like the above should be made anonymously...

7/31/2007 11:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, sorry, my name is Brett Anderson, my sister was at Woodhouse College with Johann Hari in I guess 1998-2000 (I could be slightly out there with the dates)

I am the anonymous poster above.

Hope nobody will report my sister to the police now!

7/31/2007 11:20:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well a friend of Hari claimed he rang him up prior to him writing his piece on ectascy and asked him what it was like. Could have been some crossed wires, perhaps he was asking him how he found the drug, and his friends assumed he was asking him becaused he hadn't tried it himself. I'm not aware that Hari has ever given his explanation of this however. There was another case where he claimed to have witnessed the death of a G8 protester in Italy only for witnesses to say he had actually hailed a taxi and left the scene some time before the protestor was killed. He also rather contradicted himself on the details of his journey to Iraq prior to the war. It's not all that important, these things may be exgagerated and this was all a long time ago, but this is the reason Hari has a reputation for "making things up" in some quarters. Accusing him of making up quotes by Nick Cohen is a little odd though, since the quotes are right there in Nick's books and columns as Hari demonstrates.

As for Kamm saying that writers are duty bound to give an accurate account of someone else's position, he has to be taking the piss? His hypocrisy is breathtaking.

7/31/2007 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

The thing about Kamm is, in his way he's very accurate: that's his whole method. He quotes accurately (as far as I'm aware) and extensively - but he does so in such a partial way as to give a thoroughly inaccurate impression of the views of whoever he's attacking. This of course is a game anybody can play: Kamm gets to play it on a bigger scale than most people because of the nature of his views and the identity of his targets.

7/31/2007 11:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incidentally, Nick's riposte to Johann is a quite wonderful piece of flapdoodle. Apparently admitting you were wrong is "Maoist" self-criticism. A bit cheeky that, since Nick's straw man of "The Left" bears a remarkable resemblance to the Nick of old.

7/31/2007 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ejh, you are exactly right about Kamm's methods. Another typical trick of the Kamm trade is claiming that a writer has been misrepresented by selective quotation when in fact, they haven't - demonstrating Kamm's extraordinary hypocrisy in the process too. He has tried this with Chomsky numerous times, most notably with regard to Patrick Moynihan's statements in his book about the U.S. "wanting things to turn out as they did" in East Timor. Chomsky responded at length and demonstrated that had not misquoted or misrepresented Moynihan at all, and Kamm made something of a fool of himself. Now he's trying it again with Hari with much the same result. Kamm is quite despicable actually, regardless of what one makes of Chomsky's views on the Balkans, Kamm's efforts to smear Chomsky by promoting the belief that he denies the Srebinica massacre, when he plainly dosen't, is disgusting. It is however hard to take Kamm seriously, he's such a buffoon. Witness his asinine rambling about Hari's grammar. It's embarrasing.

Brett, I don't doubt that your sister took ecstacy with Hari if that is what she said, as I say the above allegation may the result of misunderstandings. Hari has however made up one or two things in the past, the false Pilger quote being a case in point. He's not making up any quotes from Cohen however.

Perhaps Oliver could follow David Cameron's example and set up a Web-Kamm. Then he could entertain us with lengthy tirades about how disgraceful Chomsky is, live from his living-room. I'm sure it would make riveting viewing.

7/31/2007 12:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Hari is often quite naive and even error-prone - if you look at the top story on his site today, he's quoting a Darfurian in the CAR refugee camps as saying that there were helicopter gunship attacks in SouthWest Darfur last month - I'm not saying that this is impossible, but that wasn't even a combat zone, and the CAR refugee camps are quite full of hardcore revolutionaries (I linked last year to a story about them trying to intimidate Darfurians who wanted to go home to their farms, in order to avoid diminishing the propaganda value of the refugee camps). I also think his support of the divestment campaign is wrongheaded. But you have to respect his willingness to get up and go to the dangerous bit - which he is correct to say that Cohen hasn't actually done - and with regard to "What's Left?" I think he was spot on.

7/31/2007 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I've not checked much of his Chomsky criticism - one seemed right and one seemed wrong. The wrong one made me laugh, though. It's here


In which he says:

The phrase "though only a few hundred Albanians were killed", which Chomsky apparently quotes from Wheeler, has been made up. (If you doubt me on this question of Chomsky's polemical crudity and dishonesty, you can read page 269 of Wheeler's book on Amazon.com's "Search Inside" function; Wheeler's actual words are: "It is estimated that some 500 Kosovars had been killed..."

Well off we go to Amazon.com and 'search inside', and search for 'few hundred', and hey presto! p.34:

"What about a case where only a few hundred have been killed but intelligence points to this being a precursor to a major campaign of killing and ethnic cleansing? This appears to have been the story in Kosovo..."

I mentioned this to him but it remains uncorrected.

7/31/2007 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

In fact even more bizarrely I've just realised he quotes that very passage in his post.

7/31/2007 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kamm is unlikely to ever correct any 'mistakes' on his website, the purpose of his tirades is to throw plenty of mud and hope some sticks. When his errors and misrepresentations are pointed out to him, he tries to throw up a kind of smokescreen to evade the issues and change the subject (usually he won't enter into any debate about the details of his misrepresentations, he just accuses his critics of "failing to consider his argument" instead). While writing about the Faurisson affair a few years back, he claimed that a certain quote from Chomsky condemning Holocaust denial did not exist, and that Chomsky's 'acolytes' had invented it. In fact, the original quote is quite easy to find, and Kamm appears to own the book which contains it, or he certainly has access to a copy. I would imagine plenty of people wrote to Kamm to point out the name of the book and the chapter and page number in which he could find the quote, but curiously there has been no correction from Kamm forthcoming and I suspect there never will be. Correcting his 'errors' does not serve Kamm's purpose, which is smear and defamation. It's sad to see someone so obsessed with a political commentator, plainly because he does a rather good job of bringing to light the extraordinary crimes committed by the United States and its allies and demonstrating the utter fallacy of believing that the U.S. acts out of altruistic concern for foreigners, things that Kamm wants well hidden from view because it makes a mockery of his agenda and his irrational and childish beliefs. None of this has anything to do with Chomsky's politics or anything he may deserve to be criticised for, it's simply cheap smear to try and discredit to chief exposer of the U.S. crimes that Kamm prefers to ignore or even defend. That he is so obsessed by the guy that he has to fill 90% of his weblog with analysing every last trivial sentence written by Chomsky in books published 35 years ago is truly sad. As I say, Kamm should get out more. It's not entirely surprising that he's now turned his tried and trusted methods of defamation onto poor old Hari, who is also committing the cardinal sin of pointing out that when one actually looks at the evidence, believing that the U.S. is an altruistic state committed to selflessly spreading democracy and fostering human rights abroad is comparable with believing in the tooth fairy.

7/31/2007 03:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7/31/2007 03:11:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I didn't know David T was a lawyer. Mind you, simply knowing that Harry's Place exists involves knowing more about Harry's Place than I would strictly like to.

7/31/2007 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That video was pretty interesting.

The quote that "We are a civilised state. Iran and Syria are not."

Kamm has obviously never been there. They're both great countries, full of interesting, friendly people. Maybe not so for smarmy, pig-nosed popinjay know-it-alls...

7/31/2007 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

It's the heart of the Decent position though - there are civilised states and uncivilised ones and therefore the former could and should take action against the latter.

It is, shall we say, an uncomplicated view.

7/31/2007 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

of course careful, lucid etc, etc writers like OK and NC never chuck words like "uncivilised" around carelessly when talking about Middle Eastern countries, so it is crystal clear that he means they are not liberal democracies. To suggest that this involves any interpretative charity (of the sort that OK never hands out) at all, still less to suggest that the use of language carries an unfortunate racial connotation, is the stuff of which lawsuits are made of.

7/31/2007 04:21:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Incidentally I'm sure I'm not alone, in enjoying the fun over at HP, in being reminded of sectarian fall-outs on the left, denouncing of former comrades and so on. It's a useful reminder that a lot of this crowd come from that direction in the first place and have taken most of the bad habits with them on departure (while acquiring, I might add, a fair few new ones to go with them).

7/31/2007 04:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Precisely. The reason he hates Chomsky so much is because had he been sat there when he said that, he would have responded by listing the long and grisly record of the United States and its allies and asked Kamm how he or any other reasonable individual can conclude that these actions are those of 'civilised states'. That 'we' are civilised and 'they' are not is not merely a point of view, it's a doctrine.

I'd never actually heard Kamm's voice before and frankly he's even more pompous and repulsive than I had imagined. The bit about "these weapons are supposed to prevent confict, not kill people" is particularly disingenuous - Kamm knows fully well that the United States has proposed preemptive nuclear strikes with 'mini-nukes' and that Geoff Hoon has stated that Britain is also prepared to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in preemptive strikes. He should have been pulled up on that as well.

7/31/2007 04:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incidentally when Kamm made his remark about 'uncivilised states' I though initially that Marcus Brigstocke has mumbled something about "ah yes, dark-skinned foreigners" which Kamm chose to ignore but checking back he actually says "ghastly foreigners". Amusing really that when MB pointed out to Kamm that Iran have plenty of motivation for wanting nuclear weapons when they have a superpower who have recently killed thousands threatening to attack them, the only response he is capable of is "ah yes, but it's OK for us to have them because we are civilised, unlike those uncivilised foreigners". I'm not much of a fan of Lenin's Tomb, but he has Kamm down to a tee when he calls him an "intellectual dwarf".

7/31/2007 05:05:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

If I was a conspiracy theorist (and of course I am), I'd suggest that David T and Johann Hari had cooked this up between themselves as an excuse to close the whole site down.

7/31/2007 05:44:00 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

Personally, I'm loving every minute of this. Watching Hari/Cohen/T/Kamm go at it is like watching a bunch of Friday night slatterns go to town on each other over the last Bacardi Breezer.

I'm sure the dispossessed and oppressed of Iraq are truly grateful for their champions' struggle.

7/31/2007 06:05:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

What I want to know is - who are their allies in Iraq?

7/31/2007 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Oooh, now that's strange.

If you click on the link (this one) on the Update (indeed all end up in court) it appears still to work. But click on the main site - and it's gone...

7/31/2007 06:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Incidentally I'm sure I'm not alone, in enjoying the fun over at HP, in being reminded of sectarian fall-outs on the left"

yeah, me too. I'm reminded of when the Japanese Red Army retired to a cabin somewhere and started executing each other for ideological deviations.

7/31/2007 06:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure the dispossessed and oppressed of Iraq are truly grateful for their champions' struggle.

As they are for your invaluable contribution here.

7/31/2007 08:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

la di da di da, Brownie.

Guess who's got more Iraqi friends than you have? Johann Hari.

7/31/2007 09:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pleased to meet you, Brownie. Who would the "dispossessed and oppressed of Iraq" (non-ironically) be? Everyone says that about everyone else. (That's a bad paraphrase of Lenin's Hegelianism: 'Everything is connected to everything else.')

What happened to that post then? It was just getting interesting.

BTW, I consider Johann's position inevitable: to be accused of [something] by one's enemies (eg http://shoothari.blogspot.com/ from H'sP's comments) is one thing; to be accused of the same by former colleagues is quite different. And I think (emphasis on I) that there's a difference between free speech blocked by the state in the interests of the state and speech blocked because it contains falsehoods liable to damage the freedoms of someone else (in this case, as I understand it, the freedom of Johann Hari to pursue his career). I know someone raised this in the interest of calling JH a hypocrite, but I don't think one can be quite consistent with free speech: it always means (more or less) "You can say what you want if you can prove it and if it doesn't somehow endanger the state or agents thereof's lives". Not the sexiest of freedoms really. (Also freedom of speech means freedom from state interference, not freedom from individuals calling 'foul'. As here.)

7/31/2007 09:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love the fact these people are getting so indignant that Hari actually challenged their lies about him!

Would these guys allow people to post slurs against their professional behaviour, and recommend "career death", and not legally challenge it?

If one of the HPers were a fireman, would I be allowed to say that actually he sits in his engine and lets people burn to death on my blog, without them complaining?

7/31/2007 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger Justin said...

As they are for your invaluable contribution here.

Cheers Brownie. Nice to be included in such non-hysterical, priorities-in-the-right-place company.

7/31/2007 09:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, I don't think Hari would have sued, and don't think he would have won if he had sued, but it's not at all cut and dried and he correctly judged that Harry's Place didn't have the stones to hold their ground, perhaps because they might have been (correctly) somewhat ashamed of a really rather slimy post. There's no disgrace in folding when bluffed (I know I'm not the only AW contributor to have rolled up like a cheap card table when threatened with a writ), but you don't half look ridiculous whining about it.

7/31/2007 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

I don't think that anything will end up in court. What's happening is that the warmongers are now fighting amongst themselves - it's a sort of variant on the "who lost China" debate that raged in the American right in the late 1940s.

Very entertaining, though. If anyone wants to read the DavidT posting that caused so much bother, various sites have reposted it, including mine.

8/01/2007 12:26:00 AM  
Blogger Njegos said...

The best way to describe Kamm's prose is "Kamm-fisted". Is the guy for real? Just look how he expresses himself. Who on earth is his audience?

And doncha just love they way he prattles on about NOT being a neoconservative? As if American neoconservative views on education, gay rights etc have any relevance to the war in Iraq.

As for Harry's Stinky Plaice, it deserves everything it that lands on its Faice. I endured a futile attempt at censorship. Unfortunately for censor "Gene" I was posting from a North American time zone. So much for HP's bullshit motto.

8/01/2007 03:16:00 AM  
Blogger Sonic said...

My favourite Ollie Kamm moment was when in the midst of an email exchange (where he was accusing me of distorting the words of his "friend" Mr Hitchens, I mean as if!) he sent me a blank email, then another, then another, in total 5 blank mails.

When I finally asked him if he was having email problems he responded that he was "just sending mails that had all the political content your have!"

Laugh? I nearly crashed my fags.

8/01/2007 06:15:00 AM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

It is interesting to note that you can (and in a different context we all would) see this as a case of a big and nasty Em Ess Em type intimidating poor ickle bloggers using the ludicrous UK libel laws, but HP have basically been pissing people off for so long that they can't find a friend. They really ought to have followed Geras' line, who whatever his other shortcomings, at least has the common sense to take the barrel of the gun out of his wellies before firing.

8/01/2007 06:37:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Everything is connected to everything else

Did Lenin actually say this? I spent some time looking it up without finding an actual source. I've seen it attributed to Lenin, of course, but only by Sir Humphrey in Yes Prime Minister...

HP have basically been pissing people off for so long that they can't find a friend

Quite so. I personally don't much like seeing bloggers threatened by journalists (for instance, Linda Grant's outrageous conduct towards Mark Elf) and I too have been threatened with libel action in my time - by Robert Maxwell, no less. But Hari does have the right to take action if he considers he's being traduced, and traducing people is basically what HP does. They've chosen to specialise in a particularly dirty style of argument (anti-war marchers are pro-fascist and so on) and they've been doing it for so long they're shocked when somebody makes them stop.

8/01/2007 08:19:00 AM  
Blogger Ken said...

I had heard it said of Ollie Kamm that he was a shortarse - a rumour confirmed by watching the YouTube video linked to on this thread. Bugger! he's about 5' 4" - my 13 year old is taller than that! It's good video, though, and left me wondering where Snow White and the other six were.

Another rumour still awaits confirmation. Back in the early 1980s Ollie was involved in Oxford student politics and got involved in some faction fight. The end result was that he ended up having his balls handed to him on a plate and vanished from student life.

What was the humiliation? I have written to everyone who was around in those days and nobody even remembers him.

The people demand answers...

8/01/2007 08:24:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Nick's "Maoist" jibe is pure sixth form. And crappy sixth form at that. Daft.

8/01/2007 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Isn't he responding to the term "recanted"? It's not perhaps the happiest term to use.

8/01/2007 09:08:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

David T used the grammatical third person to raise a serious allegation (about Hari), and suggested it should result in career death.

Of course, grammatically, he was not accusing Hari. But after reading the piece, its clear who he is referring to.

Clever lawyers, hey?

8/01/2007 09:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's also a hilarious term to use. Hari has actually been to dictatorships and reported on them. What risks has Cohen ever taken to oppose dictators, except risking being snubbed at an Islington dinner party? (The kind he so bravely jeers at...)

8/01/2007 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

So Maoist are his demands for self-criticism

So lazy, so sloppy, so cheap. Why, Nick, why?

8/01/2007 09:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried e-mailing Kamm once, asking him for his evidence that Chomsky had actually denied the Srebinica massacre. Needless to say, I got no response, so I tried e-mailing Aaro with the same question (since he put his name to Kamm's letter of complaint to the Guardian) and I didn't get any response from him either.

I'm not aware that Cohen has done anything practical to oppose fascism or tyranny. His only trips to the middle-east that I am aware of have been to Israel. Certainly I don't think he has visited any war-zones. Notice how as Hari is writing his responses from near Darfur, Nick is sat in his London home berating Hari for not being sufficently aware of the tyranny in the world.

Incidentally, in case anyone has never seen this, this is the response one blogger got from Nick Cohen when he sent him a polite e-mail taking issue with some of his arguments in 'What's Left':

"Tuesday, April 04, 2006 3:24 PM Subject: Onanism
Oi, tosser, I do not think that the far left and far right are the same, although god knows there's a strong case for arguing that they are. I think that since the death of socialism you and all your mates have decided to go along with fascist movements because any alternative to democracy will do even if it is from the far right. I also think that in doing so you have betrayed the left and your comrades in Iraq and Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia and Africa. Further, I think if you were anything other than a fraud and a poseur you would tell me why I was wrong, but you don't, so I assume you can't.

Nick Cohen."

Oi, tosser?! Charming and sophisticated guy our Nick, isn't he?

8/01/2007 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually I have just noticed that the blogger who was sent this charming e-mail by Nick responded with the following: "I have gone to some personal risk to assist progressives in Saudi Arabia. So I take particular exception to that little jibe. So what have you ever done for them, then?"

Seems Nick makes a habit of berating leftists for supposedly lining up with fascism only for it to turn out that they have done rather more to oppose tyranny than he has.

8/01/2007 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Oi tosser" comment was brilliant! Stroke of genius.

The Death of Socialism? This is wildly presumptious and short-sighted, a million versions of socialism are out there to be invented!


8/02/2007 11:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not familiar with the complete extent of Kamm's anti-chomsky writings but from what I know, he is correct to call him out regarding the affair ala-Moynihan. I even tracked down a copy of the book at the University library last year to check for myself and the source, as counter-cited by Kamm read verbatim. Wrapping my head around what Kamm was claiming and what Chomsky wrote it wasn't the one punch knock-out I was expecting but it was fairly damning, and IMO you would have to be pretty intellectually specious to claim what Chomsky was in regards to the remarks on Moynihan.

8/05/2007 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger StuartA said...

I obtained Moynihan's book and found Kamm's point to be nonsense. If people want to check for themselves, the relevant pages of Moynihan's memoir are here.

Chomsky quotes Moynihan saying that the US wanted "things to turn out as they did", after describing his efforts at the UN to prevent enforcement of its resolution calling on Indonesia to withdraw from East Timor. Kamm contended in December 2005 that in fact this quote referred to defeat of Fretilin, the Chinese-backed faction opposing the Indonesian invasion. But the distinction Kamm draws is non-existent, even according to Moynihan.

Moynihan explicitly stated that while the UN did nothing the population of East Timor was being massacred. He compared the casualty level to that of the USSR during the Second World War. He was explicit that to achieve the defeat of Fretilin the policy the US adopted, and the policy he implemented, was to hold off the UN until Indonesia had completed its brutal takeover. He says:

"The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success."

There is no reasonable interpretation apart from Chomsky's. Moynihan stated the consequences of an ineffective UN — massive East Timorese casualties — and proudly boasted of his not "inconsiderable success" in achieving exactly that.

Not that Kamm had a consistent line in any case. Two months earlier he was claiming, absurdly, that Moynihan was actually in some way referring to Angola, not East Timor.

So no, Kamm wasn't even slightly "damning". He just made an idiot of himself, as he has done several times over Chomsky.

8/07/2007 01:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If, as Kamm claims, Moynihan was referring to Angola, what actually was the success of USA policy in Angola in 1975? USA policy in both East Timor and Angola in 1975 was disasterous. In both cases it led to 20-odd years of war and misery. There are a lot of parallels between Angola and East Timor in 1975 and, in both cases, the US policy was driven largely by knee-jerk anti-communism in the aftermath of the fall of Saigon.

8/08/2007 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

The full extent of Kamm's nitpicking weirdness on Chomsky/Moynihan can't really be described here. I've thought about writing it up, but the prospect is depressing.

I have to correct myself slightly about Angola. Kamm doesn't explicitly claim Moynihan was talking about Angola rather than East Timor. He just drops in talk of Angola because that creates the impression that Chomsky was battily misrepresenting words about Angola as about East Timor.

Chomsky had the order of words in Moynihan's book slightly wrong in the interview that Kamm quotes. He says "in the next sentence", which Kamm takes completely literally in order to talk irrelevantly about Angola. Chomsky's actually referring to something shortly before the notorious "utterly ineffective" quote, not after it.

8/09/2007 03:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for providing a link to the Moynihan text, Stuart. As I see it, the point about what Chomsky wrote isn't the interpretation but the direct assertions:

Referring to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, [Moynihan] says that the United States wanted things to turn out as they did and that he had the assignment of making sure that the United Nations could not act in any constructive way to terminate or reverse the Indonesian aggression. He carried out that task with remarkable success. He then in the next sentence goes on to say that he’s aware of the nature of that success. He says that two months later, reports surfaced that the Indonesian invasion had killed off about 10 per cent of the population in East Timor over a period of two months. A proportion of the population which, he then goes on to say, is about the same as the proportion of people in Eastern Europe killed by Hitler. So he’s taking pride in having stopped the United Nations from interfering with an aggression that he himself compares with Hitler’s invasion of Eastern Europe, and he then drops it at that.

All the bolded phrases are both incorrect and, more importantly, misleading - the ordering of the argument makes a difference. I also don't see the 'pride' in this passage - he's pretty shameless, certainly, but I think 'taking pride' is a misreading. I don't see this stuff as entirely inconsistent with the later line Ollie quotes - "I defended a shameless American policy – Morocco and Indonesia were cold-war allies - with sufficient shamelessness."

The big charge against Chomsky is, as Ollie says, that there's a genuine difference between evil imperialist bastards* driven by considerations of realpolitik and evil imperialist bastards driven by neocon lunacy - and simply denouncing them all as evil imperialist bastards doesn't get to it.

*Ollie may not use precisely this phrase.

8/09/2007 06:29:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

As I've said, Chomsky is literally wrong to say "in the next sentence". In fact Moynihan refers to the casualties on pages 245-246, while his apparent boast of stymieing the UN’s response is on page 247. So Chomsky has the relative positioning wrong, and Kamm’s point about “the next sentence” reduces to an imperfect recollection of the order of Moynihan’s words. I don’t find this entirely surprising because Chronicles of Dissent, from which Kamm is quoting, is a collection of interviews. This hardly supports the grandiose claims of “outright fabrication”, or Kamm’s unlikely suggestion that Chomsky hasn’t in fact read Moynihan’s book.

You say this order matters, but I really don’t see how. Moynihan describes what he did, and its outcome. Chomsky isn't eliding some surrounding framework. The sense is not changed by swapping the order in which these two things are mentioned. Moynihan does not, as far as I can discern, present an argument at all in this section of A Dangerous Place. He provides what he calls a “short recounting... in the manner of small memorials in old graveyards” (p 244). He makes a strange apparent attempt on p 245-246 to somehow blame what happened in East Timor and elsewhere on other countries in the UN general assembly “imperil[ling] the language of national rights”. But if he’s trying to get himself off the hook he makes no explicit attempt to do so, meanwhile admitting to stalling the UN.

I don’t know what you mean when you say “he drops it at that” is “wrong” and “misleading”. All Moynihan has to say on East Timor is what Chomsky summarises: he talks about the casualties, and he talks about the UN inaction he promoted. Then, as Chomsky says, he “drops it at that” and moves onto Angola. How is this a misrepresentation?

You say Chomsky is “misreading”, and that you can’t detect “pride” in what Moynihan wrote. But Moynihan’s words certainly suggest that he was proud: “This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.” Kamm claims via some unspecified hermeneutical technique to detect Moynihan’s “self-mocking” intent, but I see no evidence of it. (The reference to Pandaemonium is irrelevant. It was published after the Chomsky work, and can’t retrospectively convict someone of misrepresenting an earlier work.)

In the end we have a) a misremembering in an interview of the precise ordering of Moynihan’s (badly written) words and b) an unprovable claim about Moynihan’s alleged intent that disregards the straightforward meaning of his words. As ever, these flimsy allegations just don’t support the outraged claims of misrepresentation and fabrication from Kamm.

But then I see from your blog that this sort of Kamm tactic has convinced you before. I can’t imagine why.

8/10/2007 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, once more.

Chomsky says that Moynihan expresses pride in having kept the UN from intervening in Timor; then compares the Timor invasion to Barbarossa, implicitly taking pride in that ('aware of the nature of that success'); then drops the subject. Kamm points out that what Moynihan actually does is describe the Timor invasion, then describe the US opposition to UN intervention, then says that he successfully put that opposition into effect.

Shorter Chomsky on Moynihan: "We stopped them intervening, and I'm proud of it - we stopped them intervening to prevent an enormous massacre"

Shorter Moynihan: "There was an enormous massacre. We stopped them intervening to prevent it. It was my job and I carried it out successfully."

Moynihan stands convicted in his own words of complicity in the Timor invasion, which is quite bad enough to be going on with. He just doesn't stand convicted of personally revelling in the thought of Nazi-scale massacres.

(The reference to Pandaemonium is irrelevant. It was published after the Chomsky work, and can’t retrospectively convict someone of misrepresenting an earlier work.)

It may be irrelevant to the point-scoring question of whether Chomsky set out to distort Moynihan, but it's surely relevant to the broader and more interesting question of whether Chomsky got Moynihan wrong.

8/12/2007 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

Shorter Moynihan: "There was an enormous massacre. We stopped them intervening to prevent it. It was my job and I carried it out successfully."

A more faithful rendering would be:

“There was an enormous massacre. We wanted to stop them intervening to prevent it. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.”

The straightforward interpretation of that last sentence is that he was expressing pride in what he had done.

It is not clear if Moynihan was “personally revelling in the thought of Nazi-scale massacres”. But Chomsky does not say that he was. All you quote Chomsky saying is that Moynihan was “aware of the nature of that success”. This is clearly true: Moynihan stated in A Dangerous Place what the casualty numbers were. He knew those casualties were a consequence of the policy he boasts of implementing. Your response seems to be that he was expressing pride in doing something while simultaneously disavowing its known consequences, even though there is no disavowal in the book.

You have not provided any strong reason to disbelieve Chomsky’s view that “he’s taking pride in having stopped the United Nations from interfering with an aggression that he himself compares with Hitler’s invasion of Eastern Europe”.

It may be irrelevant to the point-scoring question of whether Chomsky set out to distort Moynihan, but it's surely relevant to the broader and more interesting question of whether Chomsky got Moynihan wrong.

It may be relevant to that question, but certainly not in any definitive way. What Moynihan intended to say when he wrote A Dangerous Place can’t reliably be divined from his spin on it over a decade later. It is in any case not clear what that spin was. Yes, he claims in Pandeamonium that his promotion of a “shameless policy” was “[o]nly somewhat to be atoned for in a subsequent memoir” (p 153). But he does that after a vague Cold War rationalization and before quoting his weird apparent attempt at blaming the whole affair on the UN General Assembly. The disjunction with his “no inconsiderable success” line remains, and so does the lack of apology for what he did.

I grant you that Moynihan’s memoir is staggeringly poorly written, and therefore just maybe there was some other intent behind his words. But Chomsky’s interpretation is the most straightforward one, is certainly not unreasonable, and is not unique to him. Kamm’s manufactured outrage is absurd, just as it was with the Guardian interview apology and his various other Balkan ramblings.

8/13/2007 01:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not much point protracting this - it doesn't look as if I'm going to convince you, and I know you're not going to convince me.

My reading of the Chomsky passage (which I'd seen long before this thread - I read Chronicles... when it came out) was and is that it gives a substantially different impression from the Moynihan text it's referring to (which I hadn't seen before this thread). It seems to me that Chomsky gives a hostile abridgement of Moynihan's account, which has the effect of portraying Moynihan in a worse light than the account actually does. And it seems to me that this is what Kamm picked up on.

That's how I read those words. And, er, that's it.

8/13/2007 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger StuartA said...

You are telling me you felt that Chomsky was peddling a false impression of Moynihan’s account before you had even read Moynihan’s account. A view of the text has not changed that feeling, even given Kamm’s obvious exaggerations, and the various other facts I have pointed out. Indeed, given your final sentence, it looks as if your view is faith-based. So no, this isn’t worth protracting.

8/13/2007 08:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are telling me you felt that Chomsky was peddling a false impression of Moynihan’s account before you had even read Moynihan’s account.

Correct. I often feel that way about Chomsky's summaries & paraphrases; the hostility of his tone makes me suspect the person being summarised isn't getting a fair treatment.

A view of the text has not changed that feeling

A view of the text confirmed that impression.

Indeed, given your final sentence, it looks as if your view is faith-based.

My view is based on trust in my own powers of interpretation, which I don't intend to abandon.

8/14/2007 08:33:00 AM  

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