Saturday, September 29, 2007

Brown Studies

This is more of an open thread than 'proper' Aaro watching. I submit the following:

WHEREAS the Decents, while extolling 'democracy' tend to ignore the actual political process, and where they acknowledge it, you'd think we were still in the dying years of John Major, where the democratic machinery is ranged against brave little fringe groups, and poor Alan 'Not the Minister' Johnson's voice is all but gagged by despots in Parliament and their henchpersons in the mainstream media;

WHEREAS one-man Decent think tank Oliver Kamm called the Labour Party (which he insists he supports) a "Farcical grotesquerie" stated Brown has behaved appallingly in the last week, but then he has behaved appallingly throughout the life of this government, and beyond. Matthew Turner has more;

WHEREAS David Aaronovitch thinks Gordon Brown is wonderful and should therefore call an election soon, while his erstwhile colleague Martin Kettle* thinks Gordon Brown is wonderful (I know, this surprised me too) and there should not call an election soon;

WHEREAS Gordon Brown mentioned Iraq only once in his conference speech;

This blog resolves that Gordon Brown's position as leader of the Labour Party and his standing in the polls is/is not a situation desired by the Decents.

You decide. (FWIW, I think David Miliband is the closest thing to a Decent in Parliament, and that rather than spending their days fisking Madelaine Bunting and complaining about Muslims under the bed and writing silly documents nobody cares about, the decent agenda would be better pursued by actually getting their hands dirty in Labour party politics, and not sticking to fringe meetings. In short, I think that they'll ignore the real world, just as they always did.)

*"In the past three months, Brown has brought back dignity and balance to our politics and has won deserved approval for doing so." I can't remember Martin Kettle bemoaning that these were ever missing when he was praising Blair.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Juliet & Ashleen Nakajja

Do we support Harry's Place? Well, as a matter of principle, no. On the other hand, sometimes they get it right. So we back their call for Urgent Help Needed for Juliet & Ashleen Nakajja.

NB: I am not saying that the facts as Harry's Place have reported them are correct in every detail. What I am saying is that we have asylum laws for very good reasons and this looks like one of them, and that the Home Office or whoever is responsible for this (threatened) deportation had better have some very good reasons for doing so.

Oh god, this is going to be one of my more incoherent rants. Suppose Ms Nakajja is guilty of fomenting some kind of terrorism in the UK. I'd still rather that she serve time in custody in this country where we have some democratic control over her treatment, than that she were sent 'home'. (Yes, I do pay taxes.) I believe that Ms Nakajja is innocent of any reason for deportation. But, even if she were not, "Not in my name" is not some laughable slogan of the comfortably insulated but the root of democracy. And you're not against that, are you?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nick on Liberty

(from the Rioja Kid)

Part of the reason Nick is becoming unreadable is down to his increasingly hectoring and melodramatic style. Still, if you’re going to be hectoring and melodramatic about anything, the Saudis are a good enough place to start.

Anyway, here’s the meat of the thing. On That Mosque Programme

It is against this stifling background of journalists and Muslim activists biting their tongues and pulling their punches that the unprecedented decision of the West Midlands police and Crown Prosecution Service to hound Channel 4 should be seen…

… the rules governing television documentaries remain incredibly tight. Channel 4 stuck to them. It substantiated every allegation and then gave the people it criticised a right of reply. Even so, the West Midlands police referred it to the television watchdog and, in the process, sent a message to other journalists thinking of exposing religious extremism to back off if they didn't want the cops on their case as well.

Now why might that be then? A couple of years back, Nick had this to say about attempts to warn us of the consequences of creeping authoritarianism:

Meanwhile, many politicians and civil servants will never forgive the law lord, Lord Hoffmann, for saying of anti-terror legislation: 'The real threat to the life of this nation ... comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these.' The slyness of the sentiment infuriated them. Hoffmann might have said that the liberties of Britain must be protected even at the price of allowing preventable atrocities to take place. This is a principled position that I believe in, but one which honourable people oppose for honest reasons.

As it was, Hoffmann allowed no room for argument about the balance between liberty and security and simply asserted that the government was engaged in an unwarranted power grab. When even law lords sound as if they write their judgments in green ink, I think it is fair to say that a deep malaise has taken hold. Because it is so prevalent, not nearly enough attention is paid to its psychological appeal to millions of people.

This is exactly the kind of thing that Lord Hoffman was talking about: as you give the cops more powers they inevitably become policy makers themselves, not least because a wide spread of laws enables them to pick and choose the ones they find it convenient or useful to enforce. It enables them to adopt their own priorities. And funnily enough, they don’t turn out to be Nick’s. When you “allow room for argument over the balance between liberty and security” the cops get to say who wins the argument. He adds:

Ofcom will rule on Undercover Mosque in a few weeks and it looks like it will dismiss as laughable the West Midlands police's claims that Channel 4 framed innocent preachers.

Given his record at prediction, I wouldn’t put any money on this.

Hope harder, you bastards!

I see Harry's Place have recruited another dozen new bloggers; surely at some point they will need to hire a dedicated human resources department. Standing out for me is this piece of dispiriting crap which epitomises that Tinkerbell tendency of the Decent Left which I hoped had been beaten out of them:

A few weeks back I was discussing the consequences of the surge with a couple of anti-war Eustonites. One in particular was disturbed to find his beliefs in solidarity with everyday Iraqis better represented by neo-conservative writers than those on the left

A note in passing. This is kind of like saying "A few weeks back I was talking to Bill Oddie and he mentioned that he was keen on birdwatching". Yes, no shit sherlock. Note from the next paragraph that this unnamed Eustonaut is "anti-war" in the sense that he supports continuing US military occupation of Iraq and was in favour of the escalation of the US military presence earlier in the year. In this sense, I supposed, I am "anti-cheese-sandwiches", because I like them and want more of them.

, illustrating his frustration at current Democrat "cut-and-run" policy with the example of a presidential hopeful essentially calling General Petraeus a liar. His despair at Democrat foreign policy being dictated more by short-term political gain than a sense of responsibility to the people of Iraq made for uncomfortable listening.

Ahhh the siren song of Decency. If things are getting worse rather than better in Iraq, then General Petraeus is a liar. If General Petraeus is a liar, then how on earth can it be a display of "responsibility" or "solidarity" with the people of Iraq to not call him on it? Given that things are very bad in Iraq, if somebody is trying to tell the US government that their current strategy is working, and it isn't, then that person's doing something very dangerous and irresponsible to the people of Iraq.

Of course it's the classic Nick Cohen rhetorical move; to define anything except "stay the course" as de facto anti-Iraqi. From the point of view of the Decents, to even discuss whether we're making things worse rather than better is evil and irrational. On the basis of no evidence at all. They still from time to time try to pretend that the Johns Hopkins/Lancet team, whose one and only priority was to measure the scale of the disaster in Iraq in the hope that something might be done, were not on the side of the Iraqis.

I like to pretend, if only for the sake of continued hope in the future of democracy, that views like this are only typical of the more moronic element of modern Decency, and that there are more sensible Decent arguments about the future of the democracy-building project. But really, are there?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Breaking news!

Alan Johnston's NotMinisterial Address to the fringe (in every sense of the term) meeting of the Euston/Scoop joint space station project is up online. Satirists will be pleased to note that Alan Not The Minister has "a hundred new ideas" and that he thinks one of the problems with Britain today is that there aren't enough Decent weblogs. Further analysis, perhaps, to come.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Our old friend Alan 'Not the Minister' Johnson has written a letter to the Guardian which puts, shall we say, a very creative spin on Hugh Muir's Diary of Friday September 21, 2007.

'Scoop' Johnson:

We Eustonian social democrats may disagree with much Jackson said and did, but would not share Muir's seeming disgust at Jackson's opposition to totalitarianism.

Muir (in full):

How far will Gordon and his lieutenants go with this "big tent" thing? Everybody's welcome, it seems. Bring a friend, bring a bottle. At next week's Labour conference, ministers Liam Byrne and Shahid Malik are expected to address a meeting called Winning the Battle of Ideas Against Islamism and Terror. Should be a goodie, particularly as it is co-sponsored by the Henry Jackson Society, named after a virulently anti-communist Democrat who lobbied so hard for military spending that he was dubbed the "senator for Boeing". He was also an enthusiastic supporter of the internment camps set up to hold Japanese Americans during the second world war. He died in 1983, but the society is a rallying point for American neocons. Bush adviser Richard Perle, James Woolsey, promoter of the wildest absurdities about WMD in Iraq, and Bill Kristol, the publisher of neocon bible The Weekly Standard, are all on the Henry Jackson Society board. After attending the London launch two years ago, my colleague Ros Taylor described its supporters as "a smattering of spooks, diplomats, Times journalists and grandees whom recent events have treated badly". Ministers can sup with who they like, but if they let these people anywhere near the tent, there'll be trouble. Tell them the marquee is full, the bar's closed.

I know I can be a bit slow at understanding, but can someone please point out where Hugh Muir expresses "disgust at Jackson's opposition to totalitarianism" in that paragraph?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Our Work Here Is Done ... For Us

Phil of the Gaping Silence takes on Nick Cohen over the Rhys Jones story. The whole thing is splendid, so I suggest you read it.

On a similar theme, we haven't written about Nick last Sunday: Why Gordon never gets the hump with big money - to quote Phil, above - "possibly because the numbers are solid and the argument seems pretty reasonable." This does look like a return to the more radical Nick Cohen (he's had doubts about Gordon Brown since the 90s, IIRC), though it also reads like a write-up of various TUC press releases and talking points.

Via Lawyers, Guns & Money (specifically the comments), David Brin writes that Both the right and left have gone quite mad. I read this because of this comment: "Erika -- ugh, he cites Nick Cohen. From what I've seen (thanks to the brave souls at Aaronovitch Watch/World of Decency), he's a sober Hitchens." Did we say anything like that? Is it true? Nice to know we have readers anyway, but link next time, OK? [Joke] The Brin piece is long, but it gets critical of NC and the comments are intelligent.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Lessons of History

We haven't been watching Aaro much lately. FWIW, he's been pretty good, writing informed commentary on stuff he knows about in his token liberal role on the Thunderer. I think The story of a happy wedding and a sad magazine was especially good, and I did mean to write about it, even if only in a sort of nodding dog role.

This is older now, but The lessons of history? That's a lot of bunk wasn't such a good piece. However, I can't be bothered with the whole Watch thing this morning, so here are two Australians on the same topic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A great steaming blob of Mart

About a year ago, I wrote:

"What would Martin Amis have to do in order to lose his reputation as a "major" or "important" writer? Is there literally anything that he could write which might make literary editors and critics say "actually this man is really rather untalented"? Or has he achieved a sort of event horizon of writerliness, at which his seriousness and density have become so great that there can be no escape? I suspect the latter; surely a reputation that has survived "Koba the Dread", survived "Yellow Dog" and now survived this, must be indestructible. Long after the nuclear holocaust when we are all dead, the cockroaches that crawl through the ashes of Western civilisation will still take Martin Amis seriously, although none of them will know why."

Now this, rather underlining the point. I cannot see how this piece would have been written differently if it was part of a conceptual art project aimed at destroying Martin Amis' reputation. Apparently there is literally nothing the man can write, no matter how idiotic, that is not publishable in a national newspaper. Even recycling anecdotes which are nearly a year old (the "Question Time" one, which is rather dodgy - here's the video, and I think Amis misrepresents both the intention of the statement and the audience reaction: Update: that's funny - I could have sworn it was there but it doesn't seem to be, although this clip has him saying that the Russians are "half European and half Asiatic", and that the murder of Litvinenko was an example of the Asiatic side coming out. Can anyone find the relevant Mart-blobule on YouTube?) doesn't matter.

Of course Michael White, who will not be the subject of a Profile In Decency any time soon, loves it, and goes straight to the heart of the issue - why is it that liberal relativists all support Osama bin Laden?

Well, AW readers? Why do you support Osama bin Laden? Go on, why? Best reason in the comments wins a miniature of Bell's.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Gems from Decentiya

anyone with a login, feel free to add more ...

"Imagine police officers and criminals being legally obliged to obey the same rules during violent confrontations between them — with the police expected to obey the rules despite the moral asymmetry between criminals and the police, and obliged to obey them even if the criminals routinely got away with violating them. "

-- Irfan Kharjawa, very very confused about what policemen are allowed to do in violent confrontations with criminals.

"However, when anti-Zionists attack leading non-Jewish world figures such as George Bush and Tony Blair as 'Zionist', and when Islamists label as 'Zionist' any person or institution deemed hostile to their interpretation of Islam, we can see that a new antisemitic consciousness is emerging, perhaps best summed up as the view that 'The Zionists Are Our Misfortune.' "

-- Mark Gardner reminds us that anti-Semitism is often merely a cover for criticism of Israel.

"And there are rational and blind anti-Americanisms, and they fluctuate with events. Lurking just beneath the surface of the essays are the questions: To what degree is anti-Americanism attributable to the ruinous preoccupations of the occupant of the White House for the last seven years, and to what degree is it susceptible to imaginable policy changes?"

-- Todd Gitlin justifies his nickname "Sherlock".

--Gerard Alexander's "Letter from Iraqi Kurdistan" is impossible to summarise - if you had ever wanted to know what would have happened if Michael Totten had followed an academic career, this is it.

Thursday, September 06, 2007


Stephen "as if anyone gives a fuck" Glover on the press, surmising that Aaro has such a copious Wikipedia entry because he edited it himself. What are we, chopped liver? I have sent him an email asking for a correction and full credit to be given to AW and its surrounding research community.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Profiles in Decency II : The Henry Jackson Society

Future editions of Decentpedia may list the Henry Jackson Society as "A reality TV game show in which first prize is membership of the Bilderberg Group", and in all honesty, the world would make a lot more sense if that was the truth. The Scoopies really don't seem to have understood the fundamental point about Labour Atlanticism. It's not something that you do off your own bat. It's something that you get paid to do. It reminds me of the "home pub enthusiast" scene, which there is a stall in Camden market that serves, where you can buy optics, gravity pumps, branded ashtrays and the like and pretend in the comfort of your own home that you are a service sector employee. The Henry "Scoop" Jackson Society appears to bear more or less precisely this relation to the British American Project or the Council on Foreign Relations, which also publish windy and tendentious essays about global geopolitics, but somehow seemingly to slightly more point.

Or perhaps it's more like the Society of the Future Husbands of Britney Spears, a 2000-vintage website which has obviously rather been overtaken by events, but which was quite big in its day. It provided a home for a bunch of slightly deluded lovelorn American teenagers to moon and spoon over Britney, while making detailed plans about what they would do if they were married to her. And the Scoop Jackson Society lurrrrrves its detailed plans[1]. They've got one for dealing with China, they've got one for Darfur, they've got one for dealing with Russia, they've had at least half a dozen for dealing with Iraq and they've got several aimed at whipping the EU into shape. I daresay they will have a plan for dealing with the subprime housing crisis as soon as British Aerospace invents a missile that can be aimed at Collateralised Debt Obligations.

Their worldview centres around the proposition that the UK is a much more important force in the world than it actually is. Notoriously, they claimed that Britain was "unquestionably the second greatest military power in the world". Which of course is a bit like being the world's second best black golfer, or the second most famous person called Adolf[2], even if it were true. But anyway, the idea is that we need to slightly less than double the amount we spend on the armed forces (and indeed to have a constitutional bill mandating that defence spending be no less than 3% of GDP) and order a hell of a lot of aircraft carriers. Which is odd for a society named after Henry Jackson, since Boeing doesn't make aircraft carriers, but there you go.

The interest of the H'S'JS to a Decentologist, however, is that it is (at least implicitly) one of the few facets of modern Decency to recognise that anything ever happened in world history except World War 2. The blood-curdling opposition of most mainstream Decentists to any mention of Vietnam in the context of Iraq is almost as ubiquitous as their enthusiasm for claiming that "it is 1933 and I am Churchill"[3]. Scoop's own Presidential candidacy, on the other hand, was wrecked by the fact that he was still supporting the Vietnam war in 1976.

And this is an important part of Decency - the determination to repeat all the mistakes of the Cold War, the second time as farce. I hope I don't have to explain why the struggle against global Islamist jihad is obviously not very like the Cold War. But equally, it's a hell of a lot more like the Cold War than it is like World War 2. And the main lesson of the Cold War was that domino theories don't work, overstretched foreign wars don't work and the ritual condemnation and blacklisting of supposedly subversive elements back home, doesn't work[4]. Constantly shouting "America! Fuck Yeah!" and treating it as a political program in the UK did work, a bit, during the Cold War[5], but the new evidence as it comes in is suggesting that it isn't working so well this time round.

And so, the Henry 'Scoop' Jackson Society. Somewhere between the Skibbereen Eagle[6] of international policy think tanks and the Trilateral Commission[7] of the Fresher's Fair.

[1] "Detailed plans" in this sense obviously having the meaning "elaborate fantasies", this meaning being common to usages in the context of both Decent politics and the Future Husbands of Britney Spears.
[2] Harpo Marx, unless AW readers know different.
[3] In fairness, it was actually "Morgoth" from the "Harry's Place" comments section who was daft enough to actually utter this sentence, but it is only a vestigial distaste for being laughed at that stops an awful lot of Decentists from saying something similar.
[4] Scoop Jackson-related hilarity, part whatever. You might think that it was almost fair enough to have been in favour of the internment of Japanese-Americans during the war - I don't think many modern Americans are exactly proud of this episode but there was a war on. However, Henry "Scoop" was not only in favour of internment during the war, but was actually opposed to allowing the Japanese Americans back to their homes after the war on the basis that they shouldn't be allowed in the Pacific Coast states because of their questionable loyalty.
[5] In as much as, we weren't actually nuked by the Russians.
[6] For example, "We do not therefore aspire for Britain to become more engaged with EU defence co-operation in order to isolate and weaken British interests and sovereignty, but rather to rally other EU members states towards British positions and provide the additional military muscle to ensure that Britain and the USA are not forced to act alone in defence of our common values through lack of capability. Indeed, this is the only goal that HJS would support for such an exercise, for we would regard any attempt to use EU defence co-operation for another purpose - and specifically for one not in the British and transatlantic interest - as an illegitimate one."
[7] Actually probably not the Trilateral Commission, since that included Japan and we know Scoop's views on that lot.

Credits: Matthew does a lot of good watching of the H'S'JS although I am too lazy to look up the actual posts to link to them.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

The Guardian/Observer/CiF has already carried enough plugs for Andrew Antony's lamentable new tome. Still, John Lloyd's latest puff at least tells us what we need to know:

Now, with such recent works as Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism, Nick Cohen's What's Left? and Christopher Hitchens passim, [the liberal left] has some accounting to make of itself. Andrew Anthony's book takes its place with these, on their level for intelligence and intensity.

On their level. I suspect many of us would agree about that.

The Decent Tardis also seems to be at work:

What Anthony dimly recognised, and what was to finally be driven home to him by 9/11 and its aftermath, was that here was a contradictory experience: the Sandinistas were in some ways better, in some ways worse, in some ways the same as the old regime.

9/11 made him think worse of the Sandinistas? I bet he's thrown out all his old Clash albums thanks to Osama. This guy certainly makes sense.

Then this:

This vignette recalls progressive, especially London, politics of the Seventies and Eighties, where largely middle-class politicians of the left did do good, did keep the local machines going, but with an overlay of moralising political correctness which assumed prejudice on the part of a white working class and innocence on the part of those with darker skins.

Hmm. My own memory is of figures like Ted Knight and the other Lambeth councillors who were thrown out of office, as well as, on the other side, cabals like the Islington Murphia, but if you've got a Tardis then it is the work of a moment to install Madeleine Bunting in power, retrospectively.

Oh, and "understanding" gets a look in. There's bad understanding - the sort that Madeleine Bunting and co allegedly extend to bad people:

they at least admire those who still call themselves [socialists], and are prepared to extend understanding to the former Soviet Union as to the present regimes in China, Cuba and Venezuela (North Korea is going a bit far).

And then there's good understanding, that the Muzzies show too little of:

a leadership of European Islam which is not, or too little, concerned with integration, understanding and the genuine multiculturalism which includes frank examination and discussion of differing cultures.

They should strive to understand more; we should strive to understand less. There you have it.