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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of the 'examples' Nick is using were featured recently in tedious discussions on Harry's Place. His column adds nothing to the general sub-littlejohn ranting on there, and once again uses sleight of hand to disregard any of the non-useful facts to posture as as brave secularist, exactly as the HP regualrs do.

The Exclusive Brethren tells its members not to watch television. If the BBC refused to hire one of their number on the reasonable grounds that he had never seen a TV programme, would it be guilty of religious discrimination?

Wouldn't it depend on the nature of the job he was going for? and does Nick have an answer to this? it's easy enough to come up with difficult hypothetical cases for judges to rule on, but why doesn't he look at the law and see what the answer would actually be?

This, and the other hypothetical 'examples', are symptomatic of Nick's descent into classic rentagob journalism of the kind employed ad nauseam on a radio station like Talksport. A load of hypothetical guff to compensate for a lack of decent examples (note that Nick's first one, the Sikh girl, is later described as 'not a perfect example', and indeed it isn't since it was specifically the racial discrimination that was all-important in the ruling).

The way out of the mess is for the state to commit itself to secularism

isn't that quite difficult when the head of state is also the head of a religion?

Plymouth Brethren may not have been as devout as they appeared. If you sincerely believe that an omnipotent God controls every aspect of your life, you place your fate in his hands. You do not ask accountants to lobby ministers for tax-efficient changes to pension law.

not sure i can be bothered to go into just what is wrong with this passage, but it's no less misguided than his interpretation of Islam. on the whole though the article is so tedious, and there's so much idle speculation masquerading as analysis that it's hard to get too worked up.

8/04/2008 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Captain Cabernet said...

Incidentally, extra fun is to be had in following the intra-decent war of the bangle between Geras and Shuggy. Geras is, basically, talking sense, but Shuggy (a sort of thicker version of Nick C) is taking umbrage at the trademark Geras mixture of pedantry and condescension.

By the way, was talking to an economist who specializes in pensions the other week. Unfortunately I can't remember the crucial details, but he thought it extremely unlikely that the Plymouth and Exclusive Bs actually did any lobbying, since they don't vote.

8/04/2008 04:11:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I predict that Nick's next column will say ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY over and over again.

8/04/2008 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

"Incidentally, extra fun is to be had in following the intra-decent war of the bangle between Geras and Shuggy."

"Fun" seems to be the word. B2 posts on Nick a day late and our commenters invade the Virtual Stoa in search of action. I think the slide into arguing Bob Marshall-Andrews' merits was entirely my fault. Sorry about that Chris.

8/04/2008 04:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Shuggy (a sort of thicker version of Nick C)"

For Christ's sake, what is wrong with you? Calling people you disagree with thick just makes you look like an arsehole.

8/04/2008 05:00:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

I glanced at the other columnists in the Observer this week, and he's not the worst. Catherine Bennett is pretty bloody awful, and this is the paper that used to employ that Christina Odone woman. So he's probably safe.

8/04/2008 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

For Christ's sake, what is wrong with you? Calling people you disagree with thick just makes you look like an arsehole.

Mmm, but anonymously calling someone an arsehole ...

8/04/2008 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Ah, but he didn't. He said it 'makes you look like an arsehole.'

But, also on a pedantic note: the Capt clearly disagrees with Norman Geras *too* and didn't call him stupid. And of course some people are stupider than Nick Cohen - NC does have a PPE which is a fairly difficult course to get onto.

8/04/2008 07:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know about anybody else but I find this enormous fuss that NC and many others make about religion and its place in society awfully overheated.

Does anybody else apart from nutty monomaniacs really give a flying fuck about all this stuff.

Of course there is a very marginal strain of Islam out there which believes that it is ok to kill us for our unbelief, but we are talking about a tiny number of people. And there is no future for this strain because it inevitably alienates the wider Mulsim body politic.

There ain't going to be no Eurabia (sorry Marty) and there we are not going to be forced into Burquas anytime soon.

But some like the Hitch or NC seem to have completely lost the head over the subject. You can't help thinking that they are looking for some epoch defining conflict that they have to take sides in. They missed fascism by a few years so the war against Islamism will have to suffice.

Damn right about Catherine Bennett too. She ain't half self-righteous.

8/04/2008 09:12:00 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

I think there is a general consensus about what kinds of stories "raise important issues" in the news media, and columnists and editorialists have to make a show of going along with this solemnly and pompously, even if they actually believe it's a load of guff. Over time this sense of what is important gets internalised, especially if said writer is insulated from ordinary people.

And what may get forgotten is that when, say, the Telegraph covers the previous Pope's death as an exceedingly important story (I think this is a good example), this isn't because the majority of the Telegraph's readership care that much about it - but because
(a) the paper's owners are Catholic, and (b) the minority of readers who are Catholic might care.

The same goes for a bunch of other issues. You start with a story which does the rounds because some particular group care about it - or even the journalists thinks they *might* care about it - or because of sheer novelty value - and then columnists start confusing the prominence of a story with its importance.

This consensus isn't 100% of course - it cracked with the nauseating "national mourning" when Princess Di died, for example - but again, that was only because they were trying to sell more papers by printing "provocative" articles about how over the top the Diana coverage was. yawn.

8/05/2008 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, I like Shuggy - he may be in the Decent area politically but at least he doesn't have the Euston Overtone. (Viz. that constant background hum - half grumbling self-righteousness, half whining self-justification - which makes so many of those people so unreadable).

(Like I'm going to name names.)

8/05/2008 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

He is not bad as they go, but on this particular occasion he's happened on the wrong view and dug himself in quite deeply.

8/05/2008 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You start with a story which does the rounds because some particular group care about it - or even the journalists thinks they *might* care about it - or because of sheer novelty value - and then columnists start confusing the prominence of a story with its importance.

This is very true. It also happens because if one outlet covers a story prominently then journalists at another organisation feel they also have to cover it so that their readers won't be 'out of the loop' in the sense that they won't have it as a topic of conversation with their friends who have read it somewhere else. Nick Davies was very good on this in his recent book.

But the end result is a lot of material of very dubious value is constantly churned by almost the whole of Press and Broadcasting.

News values of course also dictate that if you have a story on an issue (e.g. 'devil dogs') then the media will be primed for more stories on the same topic. Stories tend to come in 'waves' because of this.

8/05/2008 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

To be fair to the Telegraph re: the Pope's death, they did have two journalists who apparently had not only proof of God's existence but also that the Pope was already up there with him. If that's not a news story I'm not sure what is.

8/05/2008 02:43:00 PM  

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