Friday, February 20, 2009

Oh Goody, Goody

Back to our eponymous journalist.[1] From today's 'Newsnight' email:

As Jade Goody tries to secure her children's future, what does our interest in her tell us about ourselves? One of my guests on Review, writer and commentator David Aaronovitch will be discussing this before we both join Booker winner Ben Okri, and Iranian comic Shappi Khorsandi to review Lenny Henry's dramatic stage debut (excepting panto) as Othello.

While I think the big man is very competent TV guest, I just don't believe that there is such a thing as 'ourselves.' Ms Goody tells us nothing because there isn't an ourselves to tell about. I mean, include me out. I'm aware of who she is (I did watch Big Brother 3), but I'm not interested so I don't contribute to 'our interest'.

I meant to post on Dave's latest anyway. Yet again, he's very good. (I think this is a point worth repeating - and I'm pretty sure[2] that I speak for the crew here - that we're not opposed to DA or MAH. We're all rather similar to them. Leftish backgrounds, leftish sympathies, "something must be done" instincts. As Captain Cabernet demonstrated in the last post, some of us can agree with our watchees at times. I don't think we'd do this if that wasn't the case. I wouldn't anyway. There are columnists, such as Melanie Phillips, Madeleine Bunting, or Richard Littlejohn, with whom we have nothing in common and criticism is superfluous.

David Aaronovitch is often very sensible. (He's free to quote that on the back of a collection of pieces if he wants.) He's pretty good here.

And so it has been with the reviewers. A Hermione opined that “this kind of show forces us to confront the depressing fundamentals of human nature. It isn't just that the children are horrid - they're horrid in such predictable ways.” A Serena complimented the “fascinating and enlightening” programmes that “showed how selfish, spoilt and mollycoddled most of these children were”. Which, I bet a hundred quid, is what friends of Serena had heard her say about modern youth months before she had watched a minute of these programmes.

And isn't it wonderful how these people don't get nature v nurture. "[F]undamentals of human nature" being one and "spoil[ing] and mollycoddl[ing]" being the other. "Selfish" always seems to be an irregular noun: I have self-interest; you/he/she/it/they have selfishness. And if sparing the rod spoils the child, more spoiling sounds good to me. Likewise hugging children. We're not again cuddling.

This isn't to say that our man doesn't spoil it. As here:

But my God, how some of us hate children to put them through this! It is astounding how people will moan on about CCTV and ID cards, when they are prepared to connive in the invasion of the privacy of minors in this way, simply to be entertained, or to have their prejudices about today's youngsters apparently confirmed.

Yes, "people" 'moan on about CCTV and ID cards' (he means commenter Alex and myself) and "people" (ie neither of us) "are prepared to connive etc". I'm not sure about the privacy of minors. There was a piece on Radio 4 today or yesterday about hospitals sharing data on children admitted. Now if I were an adult with an STD, I'd be upset if hospitals were trying to piece together my private sexual history - but I think it's different for abused minors. I think children have different legal freedoms and protections from adults and I think that's largely recognised as a good thing.

But, carping aside, good stuff from Dave.
[1] Does anyone know how to use 'eponymous' correctly? Apart of "their eponymous first album" (eg "The Clash" by "The Clash") all usages seem contrived.

[2] Nothing like 100% cast-iron certainty, and you won't get any of that here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

that usage of eponymous is the only one there is: since in no other area of human endeavour does anyone ever name something they made (or live, or eat) after themselves

a possible exception
winston churchill: where is my horrible eponymous grandson

2/20/2009 11:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was working on an REM joke here, but I couldn't work out how to number the compilations.

2/21/2009 10:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

daniel deronda is the hero of the eponymous novel -- aaro is not the eponymous hero of this blog tho, as it is called "aaronovitch watch (featuring world of decency)" and he is not

so basically usage = if the sentence is correct when you switch "eponymous" with "same-named" then ticketyboo; if not, ticketybon't

there is of course a question (albeit a v. stupid one) whether the first clash LP is called "the clash"; or are the band rather bdeing announced as the authors of this LP (which by a certain rock convention has no name of its own, its role reserved instead for the marquee announcement of the arrival of this hot new group etc etc)...

the term for this wd be presumably "pseudeponymous"

2/21/2009 11:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can see botht he attraction of watching failed lefties and rabid frothing wingnuts, as yer man Alicublog does so well. With Cohen and Aaronovitch and all there's this horrid fascination, this sense of there but for the grace of a random, uncaring universe go I, especially for those of a simular age and background. A terrible warning of what happens when you sell your soul for a column in the Evening Standard or regular Newsnight appearances.

2/21/2009 03:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How, Martin, do you "sell your soul" for Newsnight appearances? George Monbiot or Yasmin Alibhai-Brown are on just as often, if not more. Do tell.

2/21/2009 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

Pretty much spot on comments from Chardonnay. The DA piece is excellent yet he does indeed lose it when he brings in that awful CCTV ID card analogy into the argument.
I've always taken it as unsaid that no-one hated everything DA wrote, because it was DA, as that would turn all the thoughtful contributions on AW into a moronic tit-for-tatting.
Back to Goody though. The problem with social/political commentators is that they feel forced into having an opinion on the latest "big story", and your criticism of "ourselves" is correct. It's straight-forward elitism to presume what "ourselves" think/do and is a projection onto the "masses" while steering clear of "we"/"they" etc and still preserving “objective” commentary.

Re Goody, I think that a person who is famous for being famous and whose celebrity-status was born on TV and now will face death on TV, a fairly interesting full-circle from a "Truman Show" perspective. And I don’t want that to sound cruel btw.

OT but review on “Liberal Defence” is quite interesting today.

2/21/2009 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Melanie Phillips, Madeleine Bunting, or Richard Littlejohn

Madeleine Bunting?

2/22/2009 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Mr Kitty said...

"Melanie Phillips, Madeleine Bunting, or Richard Littlejohn"

Madeleine Bunting did seem a tad harsh come to think of it. Unless CC is slipping a rogue one in to make sure we're paying attention. Having said that I've only read half a dozen of her pieces, so I may have missed something horrendous.

2/22/2009 11:22:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very unfair to stick Bunting in with Littlejohn and Phillips. Most of what she writes is pretty sensible if not exactly earth shattering.

What do you have against her?

2/22/2009 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Completely off topic, but probably of interest to some here.
Billmon is back:

Bit bizarre to see him incorporated into the Kos borg, but whatever.

2/22/2009 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the kosborg is nevertheless where billmon started, isn't it?

2/22/2009 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Book review in telegraph, can't see it on their website strangely.

Waiting for the Etonians: Reports from the Sickbed of Liberal England

by Nick Cohen

383pp, Fourth Estate, pounds 12.99

T pounds 11.99 (plus pounds 1.25 p&p) 0844 871 1515

In 2003, Nick Cohen read Terror and Liberalism, a short book about al-Qaeda by Paul Berman. It changed him profoundly. "He convinced me I'd wasted a great deal of time looking through the wrong end of the telescope," Cohen later wrote. "I was going to have to turn it around and see the world afresh."

Berman's thesis was that Islamism is the heir to the "isms" that wrecked 20th-century Europe: just like fascism, Nazism and Communism, it is totalitarian, murderously nihilistic and thrives on a myth that a pure people is under siege.

Cohen, who four months after September 11, 2001 wrote an essay headed "Why it is right to be anti-American", was energised by Berman's call for liberals to put right the appeasement of their predecessors and aggressively oppose their generation's anti-liberal "ism".

Ever since, his writing has been dominated by the theme that the "decent" British Left, which recognised the threat and supported the war on terror and the removal of Saddam Hussein, has itself been under siege from apologists for Islamism. The metropolitan intelligentsia are everywhere he looks, bruschetta and Pinot Grigio in their bellies, Radio 4 in their ears and the London Review of Books in their manbags.

He wrote What's Left (2007) on the phenomenon. Despite his publisher's shameful efforts - via a tacked-on introduction and misleading back cover - to dress this up as a work on the economic crisis, it is also at the heart of this collection of columns from the past six years.

Cohen was right to be angry. Some prominent politicians on the Left embraced vicious bigots apparently only because they were Muslim, on the basis that the enemy of their enemy - imperial America - was their friend. They could have been ignored were they not

so influential.

Yet most people who opposed the Iraq war still believe Western interventions are sometimes necessary: in this case they feared internecine chaos and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths. As Cohen has still failed to acknowledge - in print at least - both these things came to pass.

He has maintained his stance almost to absurdity. He defends as a mere passing urge Martin Amis's suggestions in 2006 for British Muslims, which included: "Not letting them travel. Deportation further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip searching people who look like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan ... Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community."

He ridicules those who claim that terrorist attacks after 2003 were fuelled by Iraq, pointing out there was also a plot in France, which opposed the war. Yet he ignores that no one seriously suggested it was the only cause and that in a video released posthumously only a month before the article's publication, Mohammed Sidique Khan, the 7/7 ringleader, said that Tony Blair's foreign policy drove him to blow himself up.

Too many of these repetitive pieces, which come too long after the news they reflected on, make for a disappointing book. Under the same title, presumably a play on J M Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, Cohen could have completed a neat trilogy of devastating critiques of New Labour, following the brilliant Cruel Britannia (2000) and Pretty Straight Guys (2003), with a better assessment of its dying days.

Because, as he sometimes shows here, Cohen remains one of its most interesting critics. He berates privatised traffic wardens ticketing funeral mourners to earn bonuses as emblems of our dehumanised, target-obsessed services. Elsewhere, with pathos and wit, he tells how this age of faith schools, foreign nannies and "Ryanair migrants" has seen Britain's rigid class structure redrawn rather than abolished.

Of the scant economic coverage, a prescient warning of the US subprime crisis from March 2007 is the only highlight. Unfortunately, it is buried in a section alongside six-year-old articles on how New Labour capitulated to big business, the gambling lobby and IT consultants, which read as dated as they sound.

And on the dreaded Etonians of the title, who share their alma mater with his hero George Orwell, Cohen has little more than false sound bites - "If David Cameron believes anything, [it is] that the old ruling class produces the best rulers of the country" - and banalities: a former PR executive became leader of the Conservatives and improved their PR.

As Cohen mentions, it is fascinating that the very dualism that allowed New Labour to seize power: a deregulated, relatively low-tax economy and a comfortingly fat public sector (paid for on the never-never) is the very thing that now threatens to make Britain's recession so sharp. He should write a book on it.

2/22/2009 08:54:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Sorry, should have aded its by Jon Swaine, appeared yesterday, p.20 apparently. I did wonder whether he had been influence by some of our stuff as it covers a lot of ground.

2/22/2009 08:59:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Thanks very much for the headsup! I'd love to think it was, but I doubt it - as far as I can see, that's the view that anyone would end up with of NC's work if they looked at it objectively, rather than through the lens of having known him for ten years.

Jon Swaine did have a blog, apparently, although the most recent post is 2008.

2/23/2009 07:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Swaine is wrong about Coetzee though. Coetzee himself took his title from Cavafy's poem "Waiting for the Barbarians". Oddly enough, the poem "Waiting for the Berbarians" could be read for an insight on the hollowness of the War on Terror and its fans

2/23/2009 08:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Madeleine Bunting did seem a tad harsh come to think of it.

In terms of the company you put her i, yes; in terms of whether you believe there is a space for 'God' (or at least religion) in public policy making, perhaps not (even if she did correctly read Blair as a religious nutjob sooner than some on Teh Guardian).


2/23/2009 09:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cavafy - yes. "They were, these people, a kind of solution."

Chris Williams

2/23/2009 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

From the review:
He berates privatised traffic wardens ticketing funeral mourners to earn bonuses as emblems of our dehumanised, target-obsessed services.

Surely traffic wardens are there to enforce the rules/policy. If funeral mourners are really getting tickets, then the problem is the council's parking policy. There might be plenty of problems with traffic wardens, but complaining that they're rigorously enforcing the rules is hardly a serious complaint. And personally, as a pedestrian with toddlers, I think there's not enough bloody enforcement of the damn rules.

2/23/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Coetzee's novel is also a metaphor for the hollowness of the "war on terror" (and was intended to be so). Good novel.

2/23/2009 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

"Nick on traffic wardens" has been covered in depth ...

2/23/2009 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Pedestrians with toddlers' vs 'drivers with toddlers' actually sums up a large number of social divides. Me, I think that we should be allowed to carry (and use) a 4lb hammer, free with every pushchair. Yr Mamas and Papas flat-folder, incidentally, can take a mirror off if you're going fast enough - it's all in the leverage and the fixed wheels. Maclarens just castor around the obstruction. They are no damn good.

2/23/2009 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Wasn't it something like 'Why it is OK to hate Traffic Wardens'? Shades of 'Why it is right to be anti-American', so traffic wardens can probably look forward to a 180 degree swivel sooner rather than later.

2/23/2009 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Yup, "It's Right To Hate Traffic Wardens, complete with the Kate Winslet anecdote which won a couple of Golden Groundhog awards back when we were giving them out.

2/23/2009 01:22:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Oh yes, the Kate Winslet story...
Even Kate Winslet was clamped after she left her car for a moment to go into an Islington shop.

This is a bad thing because?

I'm looking for some way to discretely scratch paintwork. Especially those fuckers who park on street corners just "for a moment", so you literally cannot cross the road. The IRA had the right idea, just applied it to the wrong people. Kneecap the fuckers, so they have a genuine complaint. And Kate Winslett could get another Oscar playing a cripple - everyone's a winner.

2/23/2009 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

By the way ...

He berates privatised traffic wardens ticketing funeral mourners

When this first appeared in NC columns, it was hearses that he claimed that they were clamping, and the Observer ended up printing a correction because both this, and a dodgy assertion about the traffic wardens bonus scheme were urban myths. I hope Nick hasn't resurrected them for his book.

2/23/2009 03:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know Jon Swaine from another corner of the internet (at least I think it's the same person) and have occasionally alerted him to certain elements of Nick's journalistic record.

Much of what we discuss here is of course now on Nick's Wikipedia page, and I'm pleased to say that "Why it is right to be anti-American" is result number 6 on a google search.

2/23/2009 04:00:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Excellent news on google search, your link is to a searh for WIIRTBAA but in fact you mean [anti-American], don't you?

It's also sixth for [Nick Cohen] too.

I see 5th if you search [anti-American] is a Gerard Baker piece saying the US is a great place to be anti-American and is full of them, which surely says a lot about Gerard Baker.

2/23/2009 04:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We've sort of been over this before, but the choice of the title 'waiting for the etonians', in terms of Coetzee, really does expose Nick. coetzee's novel's whole point is that the 'barbarians' will never in fact arrive, and that the state uses the threat of these barbarians and how awful they are to justify some truly reprehensible policies.

A good analogy for TWOT and indeed a great many other things in history - its non-specificity is the key.

But think about the analogy and how it equates to 'Etonians'. Nick's extract (the hastily-rewritten introduction) as published in the Observer and reprinted in the Mail painted Cameron's Etonians as... a bogeyman which will destroy the country.

In terms of Coetzee's novel, Nick's depiction of the Etonians as innately harmful and evil mirrors the actions of Coetzee's State, which is the true barbarian of the novel. You couldn't make it up - Nick has obviously never read either the Cavafy or the Coetzee. But hey, it's a snappy soundbite...

2/24/2009 10:57:00 AM  

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