Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Twofer!

The September Standpoint is out. We have Nick Cohen, as predicted by commenter Bubby, on Bonekickers.

Nick, paragraph 6:

All true, but the otherwise forgettable Bonekickers was worth remembering because it illustrated how the disasters of the Bush Administration and their own intellectual and aesthetic inadequacies have allowed writers to get away with a bad faith that would have had them booed off the stage in less fevered times.

So the writers of Bonekickers weren't "booed off the stage"? And not because a) writers aren't usually on the stage, and b) it was on television, after all. Nick paragraph 5:

“Mind-bogglingly dreadful,” said The Guardian. “Rubbish,” said The Times. The authors have the right to fail, said the man from The Independent, but “I’m not sure that it was wise of them to exercise it so vigorously”.

That looks like booing to me. Readers may know what he's on about. I don't.

There's more with World of Decency watchee Marko Attila Hoare.

Nevertheless, the next US president will have a much more difficult job managing South East Europe than either Clinton or Bush was faced with. The principal reason for this is the resurgence of Russian aggressiveness and power under Vladimir Putin.

There's a much more interesting piece on Alexander Solzhenitsyn by Robert Conquest which seems to me to be closer to understanding "the resurgence of Russian aggressiveness".

As for the recent past, Solzhenitsyn blamed Yeltsin for the failure of the 1990s, while praising Gorbachev who, though politically inexperienced and irresponsible, “first gave freedom of speech and movement to the citizens of our country”. But in general it was Putin he praised, as the one who “started to do what was possible – a slow and gradual restoration”. Part of this “restoration”, for Solzhenitsyn, was Russia’s emergence as a great power unsubservient to Washington.

When it came to foreign policy, Solzhenitsyn believed that, after 9/11, when Russia had given “critically important aid in Afghanistan”, the US had been completely ungrateful and then tried to push other demands. The pro- Western mood in Russia, he said, had started changing with the Nato bombings of Serbia: “All layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings.” Things got worse “when Nato started to spread its influence and draw the ex- Soviet republics into its structure. This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine.” Gorbachev carries more weight than his fellow Nobel laureate. He too has supported Putin’s foreign policy and accused America of thinking in terms of “a new empire” and of taking a series of unilateral decisions that “ignored the Security Council, international law and the will of their own people”. The comments of these two figures show how Russians who are against the return to a Cold War still hold some of the old nationalist attitudes

Never mind the next President, I haven't seen the incumbent doing much about Putin. The comments on the Hoare piece (five so far) are simply wonderful.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cheer up, it's Aaro!

Aaaro, on the general theme of don't worry, be happy. Broadly correct on all substantial points (particularly, the ferocious indifference of George Osborne in particular to the fact that he's almost 100% of the time talking provable crap). On the other hand, I would caution readers against assuming either a) that this is Aaro writing a good 'un as he does from time to time or b) an example of the stopped clock theorem. As seasoned Watchers, we're aware that "don't worry, be happy" is a frequent Aaro tactic and it's almost always used in service of an agenda. In the past, he's certainly not been averse to fear-peddling himself, most notably in the context of ASBOs. Furthermore, one of the biggest peddlers of dodgy assertions of ongoing doom and crap on the current Conservative front bench is Michael Gove, but does he get a mention here? Of course not - not only would that be unprofessional (although it is in some strange way not unprofessional to have a go at Guardian editorialists in the pages of the Times), but Gove is the Right Sort Of Chap. Harrrrrrrumph. Or maybe I'm just crabby today, anyway check it out, it's not a bad piece and he mentions lizards at the end.

Also (thanks to andrew adams in comments), it appears that Harry's Place have been brought down by a malicious complaint to their ISP. This is probably a bad thing to do (edit no, it's definitely a bad thing to do), but on the other hand, I think I will leave the heavy work of protesting against it to somebody who hasn't been repeatedly and maliciously impersonated on their site.

Update Chardonnay Chap has just pointed out in the comments that "expressing solidarity" with someone does not imply that you're going to take any particular action, and indeed is not always inconsistent with actually hoping that their house will be bombed. So I therefore upgrade my slightly guarded condemnation of anonymous complainants and declare that Harry's Place has our full support

Update Apparently Harry's Place is back up. Hurray, hurray. No seriously folks, we must support their right to free speech. This could happen to any one of us. Another thing that could happen to any one of us is that we could be run out of our jobs or internships because of a letter-writing campaign organised by Harry's Place, but there you go. Truly this is a cause that all lovers of free speech should get behind, grudgingly.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Off Topic

One of the things which gets me down about blogging for Aaro Watch, as I mentioned in my last post, is the awfulness of some of the stuff we watch. I think Nick Cohen exposes all the weaknesses of the generalist straying into specialist territory: he doesn't know much history or economics or ecology, hence his articles don't hold any insights. David Aaronovitch, in contrast, is actually pretty good on liberal and local topics. Again, he's no good on politics abroad or war or anything like that. On those, he's at the mercy of agenda-pushers (I suspect NuLab spin-doctors with deep pockets).

I was reading Simon Barnes' blog on the Times site (which I only discovered because Aaro appeared a day late last week). Yesterday he wrote:

As the two British swimmers threshed their way around the marathon course yesterday, my old friend Matthew Engel, former editor of Wisden currently writing for, of all things, the Financial Times, announced: "It's time to invoke the Conway Principle." He meant that he was now cheering for a British one-two, not that one cheers out loud in the press-box, at least, not very often.

Two things stand out for me: he's generous in naming names and he's specific. Aaro has this off-and-on Jackie Ashley bashing thing, but without telling clueless Times readers who he's fighting with. Clarity should be journalistic commandment number 1.

So, as an antidote to all this negativity, we've covered journalists and bloggers who've got everything wrong. Who, in your view, actually gets it right? Who would you recommend on the Georgia thing? Or on China? Because I need a break from idiots.

PS Who you would recommend on anything really.

No Comment Necessary

Nick didn't appear in the Standard this week (NC Standard archive) and Aaro wasn't in the Times.

We did have Nick's rather bizarre rant about Prince Charles. Nick definitely has a talent: I ought to agree with him, but somehow I just get irritated by the whole hectoring attitude. Nick's point minus reveries about Marie Antoinette and Julie Burchill was put rather better by the Environment Minister:

Phil Woolas, the environment minister, said it was "easy for those with plentiful food" to ignore Third World hunger. He told The Sunday Telegraph that the Government would press ahead with GM crop trials and look at moving to a more "liberal" regime in Britain, unless scientific evidence showed that the crops had done harm.

Somehow, the whole thing fits into one paragraph.

I can't help feeling that the real inspiration for Nick was George Monbiot a week earlier.

Since I feel bad about pointing our readers toward purest drivel (NC rather than GM), here's a bonus link: Michael Bywater calls Julie Burchill "a Fool, a Blockhead, or a Knave, without using any of those opprobrious terms!"

Posted partly out of an anal need for completeness on my part and partly because I know a couple of readers will be much better informed about Rousseau than I am (see "Rousseau's praise for the honest virtues of simple peasants moved Marie Antoinette").

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Our extended family

It's always good to see a member of the Aaronovitch Watch extended family doing well, and so I see that frequent AW commenter Marko Attila Hoare has been climbing up the ranks of the Henry "Scoop" Jackson Society. Although he has historically been "European Neighbourhood Section Director", while Alexandros Petersen has been "Section Director; N America, Russia and Eurasia", the rattle of the cannon has brought him a brevet promotion, leaving him second only to Alan Mendoza himself! While Petersen has written not a word on South Ossetia, Marko has been given free rein to demand that British troops be sent to Georgia (note: also treading on the toes of Robin Simcox, "Britain in the World" Section Director, who might fairly have assumed that the disposition of HM Armed Forces would have fallen to him) and to declare a second Cold War! Historically, only H'S'JS officials with the rank of President or above have been able to declare a Cold War, so you can see he's on a rising track, while I think it would be a foolish man who bet on Alexandros Petersen to hang onto his three Section Directorships given the extent to which Dr Hoare has stolen his thunder (I think that the stakes have been raised so high that Petersen's only option at this stage is to reach for the nuclear option).

The summary of the article might be "hey, you know how Decents are always telling you that it's like Munich in 1938? Well, this time it really is like Munich in 1938!". This time with Sarkozy in the role of Neville Chamberlain (call your office, Patrick Schneider-Sikorsky). Sarkozy's fall from "neoliberal and Atlanticist saviour of his country" to "yet another spineless scion of Old Europe" has been precipitous - can it be long before the Scoop Society starts to agitate for a palace coup by Bernard FounderofMedecinssansfrontieres? (his middle name is Kouchner, apparently).

At AW, we are not really all that well placed to analyse the ins and outs of the power struggle over South Ossetia. We are, however, uniquely well placed to analyse the ins and outs of the power struggle within the Henry 'Scoop' Jackson Society. I suspect that this article, erring in the direction of realism was the original incursion which has provoked such a bloodthirsty and disproportionate response from the HSJS' resident superpower - we await Round Two with baited breath.

Update: My God, the man's even withdrawing forces from Afghanistan and Iraq to man the front line in Georgia! Is there anyone in the HSJS Army whose command is safe from this beau sabreur? We have occasionally described the Henry Jackson Society in the past as the "I've got a cardboard box on my head and I'm a tank commander" element of British Decency - the breakfast cereal must be ankle deep on the floor at Peterhouse College today.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Putin takes Euston signatory's advice

Obsessives with long memories (like me) will remember that Michael Ledeen, of the American Enterprise Institute, is a signatory of the American version of the Euston Manifeso. Ledeen famously advised:

"Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

So how come the Eustonites are so upset with Putin?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Our boys make points

Nick: This attack on football clubs is just class envy. (Background.) I'm not sure that Nick has the right analogy - that is comparing football fans with political demonstrators.

At first, along with everyone else I talked to, I cheered the police on. Hit football hard, we cried. Make it suffer. Only afterwards did I worry about being vindictive. Clubs already meet the cost of policing inside their grounds. The police might compel them to pay for the cost of officers escorting fans to and from a game as well but that is not a tactic a democratic society should encourage.

Readers may remember that Nick appears to support Manchester United. I'm not convinced that he really "cried" "Make [football] suffer." Perhaps he was thinking of the team formerly based in Highbury.

Premier League clubs, by contrast, throw money around - even though most of them are in debt - and allow their players to join the super-rich. Class envy makes us want to punish them. Funny, that: it's our season tickets and pay-TV subscriptions which provide their wealth in the first place.

Well, speak for yourself, mate. I don't want to "punish them" - I do think that the rich can afford it; the police budget comes out of money which also goes to council housing, etc. But there are a few knowledgeable football fans among you (Justin and the Captain, for instance).

The bit which annoys me is this:

Why do millions who enjoy the game still want to punish its clubs and administrators, when they give the genuinely sinister organisers of the Olympics' minority sports such an easy ride?

I've already dealt with the word "punish". But what on earth does he mean by "genuinely sinister organisers"? I'm involved with athletics (pretty much a minority sport), and I know people involved in other minority sports. None of them are sinister. There is an argument that the Olympics should not have been awarded to China, but that doesn't make the participants supporters of torture. Sebastian (now Lord) Coe went to Moscow in 1980. He seems to have always been a conviction Tory rather than a Muscovite pawn. Shorter me: what the fuck?

David Aaronovitch didn't appear in the Times on Tuesday. We got Simon Barnes instead. He knows a lot more about this.

Aaro did appear yesterday: The internet shrinks your brain? What rubbish. He almost wholly right. The internet has kept me from even opening my copy of "The Golden Notebook" and I haven't read Bryan Appleyard for ages. That must be the intertrons, surely.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Thinks, "I have to mention X and I have to mention Y and I have to file my copy in a couple of hours ...."

According to Nick, China is a Stalinist dictatorship akin to the Soviet Union in the Stalin era, using the Olympic Games to con us all into thinking that it has green policies.

(But no-one has been so conned, have they Nick?).

Also, according to Nick, China is a dictatorship that can't actually enforce its commands in the provinces, because local officials are in the pockets of local capitalists.

(Hmm, that doesn't sound like Stalin's Russia.)

And, also according to Nick, the legitimacy of the dictatorship depends on ever rising living standards, green policies would stop growth, and democracy (as far off as ever) is the answer!

(But, hang on Nick, if the people want to get richer, why would they vote for green policies if they had the chance?)

I'm just as keen on democracy and greenery as Nick is, but I can' help feeling that Nick has put as little thought and work into this column as into the last 365 or so. What seems to be happening is that (a) Nick decided he needed to mention Solzhenitsyn and (b) he had to mention the Olympics. The worrying part of the article (as opposed to the merely incompetent part) is the suggestion that India and China, rather than the United States and other already-wealthy countries, are the climate-change baddies.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Nobody's Fault But ...

... someone else's who cannot be named for legal reasons, obviously.

Today, readers, we're doing personal responsibility. Thanks to John Falhammer in the comments to the last post, we have Aaron on the Today programme (last item). "The sort of things I feel strongly about nobody seems to organise a protest about very much really." This is David Aaronovitch, former president of the NUS, now a Times columnist - sadly unable to exert his democratic rights because no one organises protests for him. Poor baby.

OK, that's a little unfair - and he was being very affable along with Mark Thomas (I can't imagine there's much common ground there; it's nice to find people still capable of civility under the circumstances).

There is a new Aaro theme emerging. The witch-hunt against politicians is the real scandal (July):

Far from leading to good government and good politics, it is in danger of creating neutered government and supine politics. On every programme that I saw and heard, Mr Lewis's departure was discussed as an “embarrassment” for the Tories, not as a possible setback for the fight against youth crime. Mr [Ray]Lewis [Boris Johnson's pre-disgraced deputy] should have stayed with his academy; once he had stepped into politics, he was doomed.

My emphasis. Actually, the fault lies outside Lewis: yes, he should not have entered politics, but then he should not have been selected.[1]

Dammit, I think I've had a change of heart (April):

But my difficulty, and one that I acknowledge today, is that so much that is said and written and polled indicates that I am the one who is out on a limb. Well, me and Daniel Finkelstein, also of these pages. When he wrote recently suggesting - very reasonably, I thought - that we take a less punitive and childish attitude towards our MPs, his column managed the almost impossible feat of attracting unanimous hostility from online commenters. To a person they excoriated our representatives as lazy, lying, swindling scumbags, and their defenders as apologists for a decadent elite.

We should be nice to MPs, see. Classic Dave (July): The truth is no one really knows what is happening.

I've brought this up because something about DA's colleague Daniel Finkelstein struck me. But first, Gill Hornby in the Telegraph this morning is right: Time for David Cameron to speak up:

When David Cameron was elected as Tory leader, he saw that changing the selection procedure for candidates was one of his first and most important jobs. He introduced A lists, and changed the format of the selection boards in the hope of creating a slightly less white, less male, more centrist Conservative House of Commons after the next election.

In November 2006, under Cameron's guidelines, Watford duly selected staunch party activist Ian Oakley. Daniel Finkelstein, who had conducted the applicant interviews on the night, described the lucky candidate as "a very stable, solid choice." Oakley himself pledged to win the key marginal for his party using "99 per cent perspiration and 10 per cent inspiration". But even so alarm bells did not begin to ring.
It is time for him [Cameron] to start telling us what he stands for. When the Ian Oakley scandal first broke, the official Conservative response was that it would be "inappropriate" to comment. But now he has actually pleaded guilty to a three-year sexist vendetta, and still the new, modern, forward-thinking, women-friendly party has failed to come up with even a line. Could we perhaps, future prime minister, hear your views?

DA may call this a "punitive and childish attitude towards our MPs". I don't.

Daniel Finkelstein: Ian Oakley - my role in his downfall. Actually, Finkelstein's role was in his resistable rise.

It is now the fashion to invite journalists to interview applicants in the final round of the seat selection. And I was asked to be the interviewer in Watford.

Is this true? It seems remarkable to me if it is. I actually had a quick search for confirmation and found the Hammersmith Conservative Association:

Open Primaries: After trials in the last parliament the Conservative Party changed the rules governing the selection of its parliamentary candidates allowing flexibility of process. The key change was the choice of an Open Primary Event. This is a significant change as for the first time non-party members can be involved in the selection of a conservative party candidate.

So maybe. I still can't see why journalists. And Finkelstein is a member according to Wikipedia. He was certainly honoured by John Major.

Back to Finkelstein:

Oakley wasn't intellectually the strongest candidate but I understood why he was selected. He seemed the most experienced of the finalists and the one most obviously ready to be the PPC.

When I was asked by friends, I said I thought Watford hadn't necessarily selected the best future MP but they had chosen the one who seemed most assured, self confident and politically mature. I thought him a very stable, solid choice even if he didn't do all that much for me.

There wasn't the smallest sign that he was, well, basically bonkers.

The episode is yet further demonstration that in politics it is impossible to predict where scandal will come from.

Indeed. The one quality they selected Oakley for, they got completely wrong. Hoodies with guns should be more responsible. Journalists on selection committees don't need to be. It's all awfully complicated and who really knows anyway?

[1] Bonus quote from the same article:

A few months ago the right-wing press scalped Ken Livingstone's black man, Lee Jasper,...

Heh. Indeed.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

You changed, oh Guardianistas

Aaro, writing in the Times.

More to follow.

Later: 17:37. Wow. That was easy. 22 comments for a link! And no one seemed to care what Aaro meant by "oh Guardianistas". He's really not daft enough to address Guardian readers via the Times. It just doesn't seem worthwhile to me. It's a bit like writing "Arsenal fans support wrong team" in a Man United fanzine, but not as amusing.

Some long while ago, far away in the vast, misty caverns of time, there was a by-election in Glasgow that Labour lost. It may be hard to recall the debates in the Labour Party of the last weekend but one, yet historical research uncovers a subsequent period of media stories based almost entirely upon the utterances of anonymous sources.

Maybe I missed it, but no one seemed to bother to ask the voters of Glasgow East why they voted Labour out. Despite the assertion by 'Paulie' on Chris Brooke's site (where all the commenters from here go when we're quiet): "Tory voters (with their reluctance to pay taxes)", I suspect that many former Labour voters were rather surprised by the abolition of the 10p tax rate which affected "Around 5.3 million households – roughly one in five - [who] will be left worse off, mostly in the poorer half of the population." Labour voters don't like paying taxes either. No one does. The party hasn't debated this enough, and it can expect another spanking whenever a the occupier of a safe working class seats pops his clogs.

I have often wondered what would happen if newspapers and broadcasters were to sign a self-denying ordinance, refusing to print or repeat anything supposedly said by an anonymous source...

It can't be that hard to imagine, Dave, you used to work for the Independent. But of course they should.

Some columnists I can think of, on other newspapers, make me blush with their weather-vane “we thought Gordon was marvellous but he has proved us wrong” schtick, as if, somehow, the man whom they had so praised for the decade of his slow premiership campaign had grown unexpected hair and teeth on a full-moon night last autumn.

I think this is mostly a dig at Jackie Ashley. See JA last year This Brown-bashing, like the Gordolatry, is far overblown. Both DA and JA seem to say "other journalists get things wrong because they get much to excited like the dizzy little tarts they are; I however, am a rock." I did like (from October last year) this:

We have had ancient journalists rumbling away like exhausted volcanoes, and Blairite columnists croaking happily like frogs in a rainstorm, but in fact the "Tony Blair says Brown a bag of wet nappies" briefings were swiftly rebutted by a Blair spokesman, and all the trouble probably goes back to a single discontented ex-cabinet source, who just can't help briefing sympathetic journalists.


Polly Toynbee has been consistent in her ambiguity toward Brown. (Link goes to a menu of her articles between May and September last year. Her enthusiasm was distinctly curbed.) Her predictions (September) were equally good:

On Monday Brown needs to show exactly why he has been so impatient to take control. The party faithful will celebrate him with huge warmth, but they need to know what he thinks Labour is for after 10 years in power, beyond merely hanging on to it.

I had not known it was so hard to tell the difference between a poke in the eye and being "celebrate[d] with huge warmth".

The thing about Aaro, Toynbee, and Ashley is that none of them can manage to say "I was wrong."

Insofar as I am a Guardianista, I hold Andrew Rawnsley in much higher esteem than his colleagues and he says "There is no doubt about it, this is a full-frontal assault".

It was, and Brown should sack Miliband. Or resign. He can't tolerate this, and last.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Nick in the Observer open thread

Blah blah secular society blah. Once more, not very well written and a bit of a grab bag of semi-relevant clips. Also worth having a close look at the basis of Nick's argument here. He's not really arguing so much about people having religious beliefs, as about their having the right under various bits of human rights legislation to require that reasonable accomodation be made for those beliefs, and then cherry-picking a few hard cases, but what's actually under attack here is the fundamental concept of a legal basis for abstract and universal human rights. About half of Melanie Phillips "Londonistan" is about the threat to "progressive" values from supranational liberal institutions like the European Court of Human Rights (because the enemy is always using our freedoms against us you see), and it's rather distressing to see Nick heading down this road.

Bonus ball:

The argument among economists about the gender pay gap is, at root, an argument about relevance as well. Are women paid less because they take time off to have children or because of misogynist employers' irrelevant prejudices?

nope. Nick might not think that the allocation of childcare between the genders is a relevant matter for economists to study, but economists don't share this mistake.

PS: thanks for the heads up, commenters, on Aaro's radio show about May 1968. No word yet about whether Lee Jasper will be featured.