Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Disappeared of Islington

Your mission, should you decide to accept it is: find the Aarowatch (including "World of Decency") watchee here. Hint: I can't. Paul Wolfowitz contributes - perhaps they don't need his interpreters.

I haven't looked at any of the articles (generally, they do my head in). Sound off about anything that captures your fancy in the comments.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The sewer, not the sewage

Aaro sez:

"That we have not had a similar scandal in Britain, despite our less rigorous attitude towards checking facts, must be considered a minor miracle. Perhaps we are just too small a country for big public lies to get lost in. All we have are a few faked photos and (I am told) at least one newspaper that occasionally instructs its writers to “fudge” an inconvenient fact or absence of facts. "

Aaro sed:

""If nothing is eventually found, I - as a supporter of the war - will never believe another thing that I am told by our government, or that of the US ever again. And, more to the point, neither will anyone else. Those weapons had better be there somewhere. They probably are. "

Aaro's column is often full of fibs, fudges and outright lies - just not ones made up by Aaro.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Just a little grace note to the last couple of Nick and Aaro columns, as they once more try to join the winning team. As Aaro puts it

But even if he had been a half-Chinese ballet-loving Francophone, he would have been hated by some who should have loved him, for there isn't an American president since Eisenhower who hasn't ended up, at some point or other, being depicted by the world's cartoonists as a cowboy astride a phallic missile. It happened to Bill Clinton when he bombed Iraq; it will happen to Mr Obama when his reinforced forces in Afghanistan or Pakistan mistake a meeting of tribal elders for an unwise gathering of Taleban and al-Qaeda.

Nick has the same idea although less clearly - Obama is too good for us horrible liberalssess because he's American.

It's clear what the underlying purpose here is - the Decents are swimming out toward the USS Barack Obama because they can see a handy evacuation vehicle from the rock they're stranded on with respect to Iraq. If he wins (which frankly looks likely), then they can come along for the ride and at some point in the future Iraq will be in the past and they'll be able to write something on the Guardian website without a hundred and twelve comments popping up reminding them about it. And all without having to temper their Atlanticism. Hurray.

The strange thing though is the insight into the underlying political psychology here. Aaro pretty much admits that, when the left of the world turns against Obama, it will be because of him carrying out an illegal act of international aggression - in other words, they will be right to criticise him. The connection here between people criticising American presidents and American presidents doing a lot of pretty awful things is just ignored here - or at least, it's noted, but only as a curiosum that can't possibly have anything to do with anything else.

This is surely the roots of Decentism in left-grouplets at work; Aaro and Nick have so much history with party lines that it's still hard for them to get their head round the idea that other people might make their minds up based on what actually happens, rather than who said what about who agreed with who at the Third Party Conference in 1912.

I mean really. One might as well note that Aaro was an opponent of Ian Smith and yet he now condemns Robert Mugabe. He claims that this isn't such simple anti-Zimbabwean bigotry but just you watch - as soon as Morgan Tsangverai orders unarmed demonstrators to be machine-gunned, he'll be condemning him too.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Buzzword Bingo

Meh. I can't be bothered. Here are some videos.

Otherwise, at the end of every paragraph of Nick's I thought "Kennedy". eg:

Ignore the imperatives of anti-racism and remember that to a generation raised on The West Wing Obama is the perfect candidate: hip, handsome, commanding, charismatic.


She gave him 'hot, married love', while the Republicans were stuck with the 'stiff, asexual, erratic McCain and his zombie-fied former drug addict wife'.

Kennedy! Nixon!

Even those in the European elites who do not buy the full 'America has it coming' package believe that Bush is a cowboy who doesn't understand that the postmodern way to end conflict is to compromise rather than fight.

"Jaw-jaw is better than war-war." Winston Churchill, deconstructionist ahead of his time. "War is merely a continuation of politics." Carl von Clausewitz.

Good lord, what is it with Nick and his buzzwords? "Postmodern" - I don't think he even knows what it means - other than "bad things" of course. "Liberal" - a word which means god-knows-what. People he likes, people he doesn't like; educated people (perhaps). 'Root cause' - a bad argument for something. (Not in Decentpedia yet - get on it Malky.)

By building him up into a great Satan, the oil man who invades countries to seize their reserves and the Christian who orders bloody crusades, they have hidden the totalitarian threats of our age from themselves and anyone who listens to them.

Kennedy! You know, nuclear war, the end of life as we know it. An enemy with ICBMs, an army of millions, and a rigidly-enforced totalitarian system. Now, some crazy guys in caves. Gosh, I'm scared.

See also Cian's comment. I totally agree about Trudeau (brilliant and not a racist - as well as being publicly supportive of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan) and about Rall (whom I haven't met, but still find unpleasant).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Anthony Browne, oh my oh my!

Oooooh! Are you sure you want to go there, our Nick? A little bit of background on "Our new man in town to fight political correctness" …

Anthony Browne has some … funny … friends (actually perhaps this link might be more helpful, the previous one is blocked by most workplace filters). He's not "a liberal". He is, to put it bluntly, an immigration nut. I can hardly improve on David T's analysis from 2005:

It is clearly possible to oppose a particular immigration policy without being a racist. Similarly, it is possible to denounce Zionism without being a racist. The fact that racists may oppose either or both immigration and Zionism does not make all those who use such arguments racists.

However bigots usually give themselves away. It is usually a turn of phrase that provides the clue. At some point, the weight of evidence makes it more likely than not that a person is, in fact, a bigot who seeks - as Newshog puts it - to "hide … bigotry under a smokescreen of faux concern".

I can certainly see Newshog's point in Browne's case. The argument which Browne makes about the fascist nature of radical Islamism appear to be part of a broader argument which he is making about “third world colonization“. The case for treating radical Islamism seriously can do without his support.

And this is a rather bowdlerised version of what actually happened in the furor over Browne's 2003 Spectator article, entitled "The Secret Threat to British Lives"

exposed the civil servants who were pretending that a rise in HIV was due to poor sex education rather than immigration from African countries where the virus is raging. A former press officer at the Department of Health staff told me that his arguments caused consternation, not least because they were true

On the matter of the medical profession's response to Browne, I'll once more resort to verbatim quote, this time from Richard Croker, writing in the BMJ.

"The United Kingdom has an enviable reputation in international public health. In recent decades this has rested in part on a humane public health policy response to HIV - where a position was taken early in the pandemic to protect human rights and provide care and succour to those in society most marginalised and stigmatised. This approach also happened to be rational, coherent and effective. It would be a shame if this reputation was tarnished through an ill considered conflation of immigration control and communicable disease control.

And the 2003 article ought to be put in the context of Browne's full program of views about immigration. He wrote in 2000 that white people will be a minority in the UK by 2100 and in London by 2010 (eighteen months to go Anthony, although he rather rowed back on this in 2003, claiming that he was talking about "White British"). He also thinks that Muslims want to conquer the world.

Nice liberal mates you've got there. In fairness, it should be noted that this is in the "Seals of Dacre" series rather than "World of Decency", as Nick is well outside the Decent mainstream on this one. Aaronovitch was an early dectractor of Browne and "Migration Watch", Harry's Place stepped away from their endorsement as noted above and even Martin Bright acted somewhat embarrassed by Browne (while continuing to cuddle up to Policy Exchange).

The interesting question now, I think, is whether Nick will go on to endorse VDare itself as being "basically liberals".

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

That Aaro Column

Say what you have to in the comments. I haven't a clue what he's on about.

DA is clearly running scared of libel tourism[1]. He's not going to satisfy any George Carmans de nos jours by actually naming names or giving us even a hint who he's thinking of.

They, I think, are more realistic than those who manage on one day to laud the Democrat as not being a real politician, and on the next to praise him for his sensible left-trimming when seeking the party's nomination and his equally sensible centre-hugging once it was in the bag.

Who are these people? Where can I find them?

This in the country that has sent Big Brother, Pop Idol, Wife Swap and Location, Location, Location over the Atlantic in the other direction, while taking delivery of Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Wire.

And The Simpsons. Actually, Big Brother isn't British. It's Dutch. I'm not sure about the others.

In part I think that anti-Americanism is linked to a view of change as decline. The imagination is that dynamic capitalism, associated with the US, is destroying our authentic lives, with our own partly willing connivance. It is a continuing and - at the moment - constant narrative, uniting left and right conservatives, which will usually take in the 19th- century radical journalist William Cobbett (conveniently shorn of his anti-Semitism), and end with an expression of disgust over the Dome, the Olympics or Tesco. Just as bird flu is a disease from out of the East, runaway modernity is a scourge originating to the West.

But the Dome was crap. Disgust over the Olympics is usually about Chinese human rights abuses rather than modernism. (He can keep Tesco.) Surely if one were to look for "runaway modernity" the far East - Japan, Singapore, South Korea are places to go. And if "runaway modernity" is the issue, where are the pickets against iPhones?

[1] Ooh look: Harry's Place praises Policy Exchange now.

The hypocrisies of the liberal establishment

As it seems that comments are now well and truly running ahead of whatever we post on here, I may as well just put up specific posts where you can leave on-topic comments.

So today Nick Cohen, Anthony Browne, and political correctness.

Some notes:

I first met Anthony Browne, Boris Johnson's new policy director, in the newsroom of The Observer in 2002. ...

I realised my mistake when he started to rave about dentists. ...

Journalists on liberal papers didn't criticise health workers in those days and I assumed his plan to take on the dental profession would get nowhere. Wrong again. Every one of Browne's criticisms turned out to be accurate and an impressed editor organised a campaign against rip-off dentists.

My ellipses. When did you meet him, Nick? You see, he wrote Inquiry into rip-off dentists launched on Sunday March 10, 2002.

A government spending watchdog has launched a special inquiry into Britain's dentists, prompted by The Observer's 'Rip-Off Dentists' campaign.


The Observer campaign, which ran in spring 2000, revealed that dentists in Britain do around £200 million of unnecessary work each year to earn more money.

My ellipsis. Nick met Anthony Browne two years after the Observer's 'Rip-Off Dentists' campaign. The Observer is a liberal paper and it obviously had "criticise[d] health workers" in those days. And the campaign probably had impressed the Audit Commission when Browne mentioned it (otherwise it would just be two-year-old news), so when Nick first heard of it (he obviously doesn't read the paper he writes for) it had got somewhere. Does Nick Cohen have early onset Alzheimer's or something? Or is he just really really stupid?

Oh, here's some more Anthony Browne. Warning: Hate Mail. Second warning: article does not contain argument. Merely lots of assertions in a rather creepy 2 sentence to a paragraph format.

After decades of erosion of personal responsibility in the public and political sphere, David Cameron may just have signalled that it is about to make a comeback.

My emphasis. The word 'decades' is interesting, given the title of the piece: "If Mr Cameron has the courage to bring morality back into politics, he will truly be Thatcher's heir". So who is eroding "personal responsibility"? Well it can't have been Thatcher, can it? Maybe the rot started with John Major. Even so, he only got into Number 10 in 1990. Er, let's see 8 take away zero, that's 8. Zero take away 9, that's um ... eleventy billion decades! No it's not: it's not even two. Is Anthony Browne just really really stupid?

There is some good news from Nick, however:

And so it is, but I sense a fault in Browne because I have sensed it in myself. If you are not careful, you can allow yourself to become so blinded by the hypocrisies of the liberal establishment you can't see what is in front of your nose.

My emphasis. O happy man! Conservatives aren't known for hypocrisy.

Are they?

Update Thursday 6:30 am. Matthew Turner finds the consistency of Nick Cohen 'spooky'. NB the date of his attack was 24 February 2003 - after he met (and claims to have been impressed by) Browne. I was going to add an update to say that Nick clearly meant he met Browne in 2000 not 2002. Now I'm not sure about that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pot, kettle

A blogger writes:

I have problems with Dawkins when, like so many public intellectuals, he imagines his political opinions are of such depth that they merit being aired in public.

Nick is not at home to Mr Coherent

Well that was quite a column, wasn't it readers? I'm really quite surprised that the Observer is so keen to print something that not only has no actual argument, but also so very visibly betrays a complete lack of knowledge of what the author is talking about. My guess is that more or less anything that can support a subhead of the style "Those Awful City Types, String 'Em Up" is red meat to the old lefties who form the majority of the Obs dwindling readership. Which isn't necessarily such a bad thing - lots of those city types are awful, and stringing a few of them up might be a good idea once in a while. And even to the extent that it is, the Observer has a very long tradition of believing that stealing money from rich people without using violence is a much worse crime than stealing money from poor people using violence, and another article on this topic would be timely in a week when the FTSE100 has been up and down like a fiddler's elbow. But when the whole thing is wrapped around a couple of Conservative Party talking points, perhaps one might think that if a polemic's worth writing, it's worth doing properly.

Nick doesn't appear to have grasped the fact that the Equitable Life collapsed in 2000, not last week, and it did so as a result of actions carried out in the 1990s (it was a House of Lords decision on some litigation that did for it, and at the time, very few people other than Ned Cazalet believed that the Equitable would lose). It is hard to see what the hell he means when he claims that the Equitable "has not paid a penny" - in fact, it has paid more or less every penny it has to the guaranteed annuity-holders, which is why there's nothing left for the other members, who are the ones for which the Ombudsman's report recommends compensation. I am obviously in no position to gainsay Nick's claim to have read the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report, but I don't think he understood what he read, because this is all spelt out pretty clearly. It's also pretty obvious that the reason why Conrad Black was tried for fraud in America is that Hollinger International was an American company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and I'd be interested in what theory of international jurisprudence Nick would have proposed to try him under.

My guess is that the reason that the column jumps around from theme to theme so jarringly is that it's been subbed to pieces in order to remove a lot of unsupportable accusations of fraud - certainly it would make a lot more sense if there was any actual reason to talk about the Serious Fraud Office in the context of the Equitable and Northern Rock, but there isn't. The SFO section of the column looks to me as if it draws pretty heavily on the back page of Private Eye, where their City columnist has been allowed to write exactly the same article about the law relating to fraud every fortnight for the last twenty years. There is a debate to be had here, but it doesn't have much to do with the point Nick's trying to make about mortgage brokers - a £250k mortgage fraud is not actually the kind of big ticket that the British courts cope badly with, and the people who carried out these frauds are not exactly fat cats or City boys; if they were, they wouldn't have needed to lie on their mortgage applications. Hedge funds have got fuck-all to do with it, of course.

On the other hand, although the "delivery system" of the article is all over the place like those hilarious Pershing 2 tests (Nick also manages to take in the theme of "privatised profits and socialised risks", though naturally he screws up the examples), the "warhead" is as clear as you like. Nick wants to get rid of Gordon Brown, because he has " made such a mess of the public finances that there's no money for tax cuts".

Now, this isn't true at all - it's a George Osborne talking point, and as far as I can tell nobody can explain quite what it actually means without saying untrue things about the UK's debt and deficit position. If, like Nick (or Libby "worse than the 1970s" Purves), you're forecasting a very serious recession in which "millions will pay a heavy price" and "readers of this newspaper will lose jobs and homes", then you can probably come up with some sort of way of blaming it on Brown by saying that the low-inflation, low-interest rate environment of the last ten years caused the house price bubble, although frankly this seems a bit of a stretch to me (what alternative policy could he have carried out, plus the Bank of England was independent) and I don't actually agree with the implicit forecast. But to claim that the UK's deficit and debt position is so bad that no Keynesian fiscal policy can be carried out is just visibly untrue. The actual position is that a stimulus policy will require the debt/GDP ratio to rise above the 40% limit that Brown set in 1997, a rule which carries more or less no economic consequences whatever.

There's a sort of sense in bringing out the early 1990s songbook for another strum - everyone who did it in 2002 post the dot com bust looked a bit silly, but this time things do look quite a bit sticker and $140/barrel oil doesn't help (thanks for that oil war guys). But I'm not sure Nick's the best guy to be singing it, and it really ought to be recognised that "Gordon Brown has made a mess of the public finances" is simply a Tory talking point. Also interesting to speculate on the intended subject of "Change can only come from a new Prime Minister who is not complicit in past negligence". Did Nick have such success with his "vote Paddick" political strategerising that he's decided to take it national? Has he been talking to Martin Bright again and thus signed up to the Staggers "Draft Purnell" campaign? Or do we have to simply face facts and agree that the man's a Tory?

More to the point, does the Observer still have Will Hutton's phone number?

"I mean really" moment of the week:

A few weeks ago, Dame Vivienne Westwood made my point for me when she appeared on Channel 4 News wearing combat fatigues. 'I've come as an urban guerrilla,' her ladyship explained. Dame Vivienne would have cut a more ridiculous figure if a background of aggression on the streets didn't permit English designers, artists, writers and performers to extemporise on themes of brutality and pain. Take that away and Banksy will have to turn to the career in accountancy I'm sure masters at Bristol Cathedral School took to be his destiny.

Do fucking what mate? As far as I can tell (and I realise that to explain a joke is to kill it, but it took me four readings to work out what the hell was going on here so I suspect I am providing a genuine service to readers here), Nick is trying to make the point that the existence of a culture of violence in the UK provides material commercial benefits to the media and design industries, allowing British gangsta rappers (?) to compete with their American counterparts (??) and Dame Vivienne Westwood to generate export earnings by selling combat fatigue-themed clothes. This proposition is advanced by way of establishing the comic conceit that if light-touch regulation has helped to establish London as an important global financial centre, light-touch regulation ought to be considered for street criminals. You can sort of see how the joke might have worked if a bit more time and effort was spent on it, but frankly as it stands, it just looks like Nick is once more chucking up a few middlebrow figures of ressentiment in order to establish his credentials as a man-of-the-people Philistine. That's the only way that the reference to Banksy can make any sense at all, as far as I can see.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Just a Jack-Knife Has MacHeath, Dear

Have I ever complained about journalists not doing basic research? Well, bugger me backwards, I'm going to do it again. Aaro: We are all stabbing blindly at knife crime.

I awoke to an absurd discussion on the radio yesterday morning. Some chap from a northwestern accident and emergency ward was reacting to what he and many others believed were government plans to ferry young knife carriers around casualty departments as he and his colleagues attempted to patch up the victims of stabbings.

Right, the Today programme has an exemplary website, where it is not hard at all to find all the interviews and reports from the previous week. How do I know he means 'Today'? a) Because it's always 'Today' and b) via - of all things - Sky News. (I missed the programme at the time our Dave was getting up (ten to nine), because I was already at work.)

The apparent u-turn follows a scathing response to the plans from opposition parties and doctors' groups.
Donald Mackechnie, clinical vice-president of the College of Emergency Medicine, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "We certainly don't think it would be a good idea if then potential or actual perpetrators of knife crime were marched through to see these patients, who are in an extremely vulnerable state."

So, given the name of the 'chap' I could work out that DA meant the Today programme on Monday, 14 July 2008 08:50 UK.
And on Sunday the BBC reported on Shock tactics for knife carriers.

Mrs Smith's proposals will see young people caught carrying knives being made to go to accident and emergency wards, to see the consequences of stabbings.

To recap, Ms Smith has definitely suggested that yoofs should be taken to A&E wards. Mr Mackechnie (I think he's a surgeon, so Mr rather than Dr) has said (he's quoted correctly by Sky which saves me typing his statement) that patients recovering from knife attacks may not appreciate being put on show. He has not said anything about "ferrying young knife carriers around casualty departments as he and his colleagues attempted to patch up the victims of stabbings". (Probably because that's an absurd and unhygenic suggestion which no hospital would contemplate.) Dave made that bit up. His objection had nothing to do with the physical patching up, but to do with protecting traumatised and vulnerable people.


No, ministers' ambitions were limited to having visits to the wards.

Indeed, and that's Mr Mackechnie objected to, calling it "paramount to secondary victimisation in someone who's already suffered a horrendous insult to them." Very clear: it's not about interupting surgery.

Even so, the doctor summoned up an unexpected expertise to say that even such less dramatic mechanisms for confronting young people with the consequences of crime had been shown (in the US, of course) not to work.

I have no idea how he knew this, but when it comes to the prevailing moral panic, we are all experts now.

I do have an idea how he knew this: I listened to what he said. He cited the Scared Straight! programme (actually a film project). As Wikipedia has it:

Of course, it must be remembered that the program was the brainchild of a film maker, not a psychiatrist specializing in the rehabilitation of felons; therefore, the focus was on whatever theatrical value could be obtained by filming a group of hulking inmates scaring relatively young teenagers.

Mr Mackechnie actually has it wrong here. "The recidivism rate of the original two casts was less than 10%." Pretty good, actually. I remember the programme (god, I'm old). But if anyone knows anything about crime in the US, I'll be happy to print a correction if I'm talking out of my arse on this. Update: HA! Thanks to Anonymous (well he or she knows who they are) in the comments, we have "Scared Straight" and other juvenile awareness programs for preventing juvenile delinquency. OK, I relied on Google and got Wikipedia as the first result. This is so much better. Cutting to the discussion, we get the following:

These randomised trials, conducted over a 25 year period in eight different jurisdictions, provide evidence that 'Scared Straight' and other 'juvenile awareness' programmes are not effective as a stand-alone crime prevention strategy. More importantly, they provide empirical evidence - under experimental conditions - that these programmes likely increase the odds that children exposed to them will commit offenses in future. Despite the variability in the type of intervention used, ranging from harsh, confrontational interactions to tours of the facility converge on the same result: an increase in criminality in the experimental group when compared to a no-treatment control. Doing nothing would have been better than exposing juveniles to the programme. Given that the seven trials used in the meta-analysis were conducted in six jurisdictions using different conceptions of the intervention underscore the high external validity of these findings.

Point to Mr Mackechnie and I apologise for saying that he had it wrong. How did the doctor know this? Because unlike our Dave, he's clearly used to reading real science papers. Unlike the brain-dead arts grad wankers who form the third estate.

Dave then goes on to be in the words of one comment a "tempered voice on the problem and one that reminds us to look at the facts and deal with things in a calm and collected way." Well, that's one way of looking at it. What he does in my opinion is ask a lot of rhetorical questions which are blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever read a book on criminology or sociology or economics for that matter. He pretty much wastes a column saying "there are weighty and serious questions which need answered." They do; I agree with Aaro. Most universities have sociology departments. Someone could have addressed all this, talked about actual research, and written an informative article.

What we got was a waste of space. Like a print version of Jaqui Smith, then.

Donald Mackechnie was followed by the man who "today takes on the job of heading up the national knife crime programme" Alf Hitchcock.

Janet Leigh.

Well, someone had to make that joke.

Frank "Mafia Boy" Sinatra provides a bad example to us all. (Lyrics Bertolt Brecht based on an original idea by John Gay.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

He's baaaack!

Oh dear, it seems Nick has not been sacked by the Observer after all. Never mind. This week's offering is a barely coherent rumination on the xenophobia and isolationism of the Tory party. Exhibit A, afaics, is Tory policy toward intervention in the former Yugoslavia. The direct evidence that Tories "can be" anti-American is a crass remark by Malcolm Rifkind directed at John McCain and Bob Dole. But the substance of what Nick wants to convey is that the Tories wanted to stand back and do nothing whilst the United States was desperate to avoid a re-run of the Holocaust in Europe. The only problem with this is that it isn't true. Whilst the Clinton administration did come round to the idea of intervention in the former Yugoslavia, US policy for a long time was summed-up by Bush Snr's Secretary of State James Baker's remark that "we do not have dog in this fight". Tory policy and US policy were essentially the same.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

He fought the law

I've a post in the works, which may appear below this one, on the differences between our watchees. Nick's Standard piece, Mosley's trial by tabloid is the price of free speech is bizarre enough to merit its own (more or less) post.

When Saddam Hussein's Iraq invaded the Ayatollah Khomeini's Iran in 1980, Henry Kissinger looked at the two ghoulish combatants and said: "It's a pity they can't both lose."

As I really don't trust Nick to keep his facts straight, I had a quick google. While Ruth Dudley Edwards in the Irish Independent supports Nick's quote, US sources seem to prefer "too bad they can't both lose." When he said it, seems to be lost altogether. Presumably, some time after 1975 and before 1987 (though the war didn't start until 1980 - Nick got that right - so it could just have been a quip Kissinger kept on standby). From what I know of the Iraq-Iran war, both sides did lose.

And anyway, what's he doing quoting Kissinger?

Yet it would be hugely against the public interest if he won his case. British judges have already made our libel courts a national embarrassment. As the American human rights group Freedom House puts it, Britain has taken the lead in using "strict lopsided libel laws to punish and muzzle journalists, authors and publishers". At a great cost to free speech, "influential moneyed interests" are silencing legitimate investigations into the financing of terrorism and political corruption.

Freedom House map of the world shows the UK to be 'free'. And here is Freedom House's pdf "Libel Tourism—A Growing Threat To Free Speech". Its conclusion:

The practice of intimidating and silencing journalists and authors from other countries under British libel law has earned the UK a reputation for being the Libel Capital of the World. But such plaintiff-friendly laws are not restricted to the British Isles. Common law–based systems in Asia, for example, open the door for influential moneyed interests to gain an enormous legal advantage, at great cost to free speech. In fact, this can be seen as part of a larger global trend identified by Freedom House, in which countries are increasingly using strict lopsided libel laws to punish and muzzle journalists, authors, and publishers. Terrorist financing and corruption-related topics have often been the objects of such suits, bringing larger public-policy concerns into the equation. The pernicious and far-reaching damage caused by libel tourism makes more vocal and effective advocacy on this issue an imperative.

Emphases mine. Note that the conclusion is "the world needs Freedom House (go us!) more than ever!"

I see it happening almost weekly. For instance, you may remember the story about Vitol, an oil company which paid kickbacks to Saddam's henchman during the UN's oil-for-food scandal. It quickly died, not because the accusations didn't have substance - Vitol admitted its guilt in a grand larceny case before the New York courts in November - but because newspapers have been deluged with legal warnings. The law in Britain is so expensive and so weighted against the press that the media backed off.

This says a lot about the media if true. And if there's one thing journalists do when proved right, it's crow about it endlessly. Revenge best served cold and all that. Is this the best example Nick can come up with? No, it's not, see below.

If this judgment now extends to privacy law, I can soon see it becoming-impossible for a newspaper to report that a minister who is demanding public- sector pay restraint is claiming a small fortune in expenses, or that a politician who denounces single mothers is keeping a mistress on the side.

I can't see this at all. The Guardian reports Max Moseley:

"I've been doing [S&M] for 45 years and ... if it hadn't been for bribery and illegal acts, this wouldn't have come out," said Mosley, who added that he had kept his activity from his wife.

Indeed, Moseley's case seems to rest on the illegality of the NoTW's sting. The News of the Screws outed Robin Cook without problems - and he hadn't even denounced single mothers. As for expenses, there is the Freedom of Information act. So far, expenses claims are pretty much in the public domain.

The prurient hypocrisy of the News of the World is the price we have to pay for a free country.

You know, I don't think it is. Sorry to be all Aaro-ish, but I don't think my freedom is affected at all if the News of the World loses. As I hope it does.

But you can't, as they[1] say, keep a good[2] blogger down. Nick returns to blogging.

I’ve written many times about how England’s libel laws are the last resort of the scoundrel. It’s not simply that the judiciary allowed Jonathan Aitken, Jeffrey Archer, Robert Maxwell and George Galloway to collect damages, but that they have opened the doors of their court to Saudi billionaires and Ukranian oligharchs wishing to suppress criticism.

Now, as I remember it, Aitken did not collect damages, but went to jail for perjury - the Guardian hired George Carman. If Nick is right, he must be referring to some other case with Aitken won and I've forgotten. If so, his argument against all four is that they're all bad men, clearly guilty of some things, so how can they ever win in court? Guardian: Government 'did not try' to fend off Saudi inquiry threats. I'm sorry, who didn't? The judiciary? Russian oligarchs. Actually, the Sun went very strange over Usmanov: photoshopping Russian fur hats onto Arsene Wenger and calling his team 'Arsenalski'. The courts didn't make it do that: its natural creepiness did.

By far the oddest thing about Nick's post is that it presumes (wrongly in my opinion for what that's worth here) that Harry's Place may lose if taken to court by the British Muslim Initiative. David T

Notably, he does not take issue with our reporting of the revelation, made in a Panorama documentary in 2006, that he is a senior activist in the clerical fascist terrorist organisation, Hamas. The BBC report disclosed that Mr Sawalha “master minded much of Hamas’ political and military strategy” and in London “is alleged to have directed funds, both for Hamas’ armed wing, and for spreading its missionary dawah”.

Note that the actual digging was done by those unmanly folks in the state-funded broadcast media. I doubt the Beeb used the words "clerical fascist terrorist organisation", but for it to be a worthwhile revelation, they clearly thought his connections did not reflect well on him. Unlike Harry's Place, Panorama have lawyers to check what they say before it goes out. Nick:

You may think it can’t claim for defamation because an organisation which repeats the conspiracy theories of Adolf Hitler has no reputation to lose. If you do, you don’t know the English judiciary.

Ah, they're all fascists.

Bonus question, because I can. Who called Alastair Campbell a 'fascist' in his diaries and why?

[1] No, I'm not going to tell you who they are. Can't we publish anything without all this "facts, facts, facts" business? You sound like Gradgrind.

[2] See 1.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Macho Jargon

This is slightly off-topic, but I've been dying to post this for a while and today is the day that temptation won.

With regard to Nick's To use a word they ['liberal' broadcasters] would never use, their chosen careers are “unmanly”.

I had a desk with a phone in the newsroom, though I was seldom there. The sight of grown men, and some women, filling in expenses forms, going to the pub, reading newspapers and pretending they were working was absurd. The qualities needed to succeed at the job were patience, a flair for lateral thinking and the ability to write clearly - though none of these, slightly feminine attributes was valued at all. What was admired in the newsroom was, in this order: belligerence, the knowing use of macho jargon and the ability to drink alcohol. The atmosphere that [the news editor] tried to create was that of a Royal Marines training school. And this, amazingly, was how it had always been.

Sebastian Faulks, Engleby p176. Faulks used to be a journalist and even had an Evening Standard column. I don't think 'Engleby' is a particularly good novel, but it's well written and the acuity of passages like the one above make it worth reading.

Friday, July 04, 2008

We haven't forgotten Aaro

No indeed. And he's still writing, twice a week now, over on the Times. 10 days ago he wrote about Mugabe. B2 is ignoring the Yank election process and is thinking about Africa, so I've left that one to him.

Hooray! Dave seems to have a regular gig reading the Times archive. His method, if he has one, is to stay away from anniversaries of any sort. Last Saturday was the 94th June 28 since the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.[1] Instead, our man chose to write about the arts patroness and salonière Lady Ottoline Morrell. Pretty blah really, in my humble. (Yes, I did check out what she looked like - DA: “Arresting” is the word. Billie Piper has nothing to fear.)

I also don't have any views either way on the guilt or innocence of Dr Crippen. I will point out that DA has not, to my knowledge, ever won Mr Hat Wearer UK or similar.

So what is there to watch? Nothing. Today, readers, we are listeners. Our man has debated with David Davis, Denis MacShane, Henry Porter on a Guardian podcast "Is liberty in peril?" I may write about this later. Updates depending on rain in SW1.

Update! Sat 12:50. Still haven't heard the thing, but Ros Taylor in tehgrauniad sums up:

The fact that the whole topic appeared to bore Aaronovitch did not endear him to the audience. "We have reached the point almost of paranoia about civil liberties ... It is, in my opinion, a paranoid fantasy," he said. The barely disguised hint that they were hanging out with the little Englanders and the green ink faction did not please the majority of those present. "You're not all being watched," he concluded, exasperated.

One of the comments recommends Martin Bell by contrast, although Bell (lucky enough to have a very very famous nephew) doesn't address DA's point "I conceive it as a civil liberty not to have to use a lift that someone craps in every day". (I don't buy the Times for similar reasons, though the crap there is more metaphorical.)

[1] I know this because it was mentioned in a book review in the Torygraph - which I can't find online. I don't carry this sort of trivia about in my head, you know. You need to subscribe to view the Times archive but if you do, the report is here. Sadly, the Times did not recommend intervention and hunting for WMDs, but it did report this:

Cabrinovitch is said to be a well-known ne'er-do-well who has been in Montenegro and Belgrade, while Prinzip was expelled from Bosnia some years ago for taking part in a pro-Serb demonstration. Both are said to have assumed a most cynical attitude during their examination. Notwithstanding their statements that they had no accomplices, the plot is generally believed to have been prepared long beforehand and to have had extensive ramifications.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Till human voices wake us, and we drown

Well, reader Bubby did ask.

Christopher Hitchens: On the waterboard.

This came to me via Justin 'Chicken Yoghurt'. It's done the rounds: tehgrauniad; Update From the “No Shit” Department (John Cole gets the best title); David T of Harry's Place and many more no doubt.

I did think about blogging this here. It's good to see Hitchens on the right side, and I'm pleased that David T wrote about this too. I also think that this is proper journalism, even if it looks like a bit of a stunt. That is to say, Hitchens left his office and actually did something. I've been thinking about the Nick Cohen thing in the last post, and IF the allegations about the Observer spiking[1] his stuff are true, it must be at least partly because he doesn't seem to do any research. I've said this before, but the Finsbury Park mosque is not far from Islington. Jon Ronson is Jewish (he's said so) and he manages to meet these anti-Semitic nutters and write about them, and he's not the one who calls other hacks 'unmanly'.

Seymour Hersh kept writing about torture after Abu Ghraib; but his stuff didn't get old because he kept up the fact-finding. This is also an excuse for me to link to Preparing The Battlefield: The Bush Administration steps up its secret moves against Iran which I think anticipates the Decent talking points we're going to be seeing in the next few months.

I can't remember all of Hitchens's views on this, but I think he's never tried to argue to torture is either morally acceptable or effective. What he has argued is that there were no orders from the top: the Abu Ghraib scandals were privates acting privately as it were. I hope he's now realised that this was not the case.

Finally, and seriously, I hope his nightmares pass soon.

[1] We use all the drawing-attention to ourselves journo buzzwords here.