Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A brief pause from not watching Nick Cohen

A new slang term: "Standarded, a British expression for a newspaper that costs 50p and whose main selling point over free alternatives is the presence of columnists one would pay money to avoid. As in "I bought this newspaper because the billboard said that the Circle line was shutting down, then found myself Standarded into some godawful rant by Nick Cohen".

He is right, however, that London is a city in which there are many excellent free alternatives. Thelondonpaper, London Lite, Metro - Nick doesn't write for any of them.


Blogger ejh said...

I stopped picking it up off seats on suburban trains when I found myself reading Allison Pearson.

3/10/2009 03:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent definition.

That piece really is poor. He's reading a New Yorker from a year ago - and I can't quite work out why. Oh, i see why:


dear oh dear! At least Lezard points out that the review was published a year ago...

I can always flee the centre to convivial Italian restaurants in Clerkenwell, that are infinitely preferable to Fiamma

and when in NY you can always eat at one of the thousands of excellent, cheap restaurants in Manahttan, say those in Hell's Kitchen. What the hell is his point?

you can go from the Tate Modern

the place which is overseen by BIG BAD EVIL Nick Serota and home of awful state-funded art. copyright Nick Cohen, last week in the Obs, and in several columns before that too?


If you do not have to worry about housing costs – a big “if,” I accept – you can go from the Tate Modern to the National and on to Exhibition Road.

i don't understand the housing costs point. all these things are free. why would worrying about housing costs stop you doing them?

Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free

Have the subs at the Standard all been sacked under the new owners?

In any case, you can go to the Met in NY for free too...

3/10/2009 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

I must say that the implicit claim that you can get better cheap Italian food in London than in New York might be a bit controversial.

3/10/2009 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

good spot on the year-old thing btw OC - comment duly dispatched.

3/10/2009 03:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a New Yorker subscriber and I do often read the restaurant reviews because they tend to be well-written (like most other stuff therein). When I read Nick's piece I thought, 'I don't recognise seeing a review like that recently', so I looked it up but didn't register, initially, that the date was March 2008.

But since I am clearly an obsessive, I sometimes look for buzzwords in Cohen's pieces on google to see which online source he's been 'inspired by' and found that Lezard piece (Lezard is a pretty good writer, I think).

There are some good things to do for free in London, and museums being free to enter is definitely a big plus to living here. But New York is a great city too and there are a lot of brilliant cheap eats and cheap things to do. Also, if you pay to enter somewhere like MoMA you get into all the exhibitions for free, while you have to pay about £8 to go and see the same things at the Tate. swings and roundabouts really.

3/10/2009 03:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eh? I know Nick likes to get a bit over-excited, but I never thought of a mid-priced Italian meal as a form of sanctuary before. What a weird, parochial little column.

3/10/2009 04:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oliver kamm in giving nick cohen an easy ride (and in fact putting words in Nick's mouth to try to hide the gaps in Nick's knowledge of economics) shocker... the piece is very, very poor, relying again on a straw man left drawn in invisible ink.

3/12/2009 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger The Rioja Kid said...

Hahaha, adventures in Harry's Place (ching!) deletion policy; I noted that this post was ludicrously hyperbolic (as we know, nonviolent organisations are never given the legitimacy and official recognition conveyed by, errr, a small spare-room evening meeting at the SOAS) - it stayed up for ten whole seconds.

3/12/2009 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Yes, exactly my thoughts on Oliver's review of Nick's book. It reads exactly like you'd imagine a review of book would read if the author had asked a mate to review it kindly because no-one else would, diss other reviews and also make out it was more about finance than it really is.

3/12/2009 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I would like to take some credit for the fact that Oliver does mention he helped out on Nick's earlier book, for when he complained about some SWP ex-member not mentioning he was a member when reviewing a SWP member book, I pointed out that his review of Nick Cohen's What's Left failed to mention:

that you are a friend of the author, that there had been a "viral marketing campaign" to get you to say nice things about the book in public, that the review was appearing in a journal edited and founded by not only a friend of both you and the author but also a co-founder of a political movement with the author, that the author sits on the magazine's advisory council, and that you were one of the book's two proof-readers

I'm embarrassed now about the length of that list for I forgot to add that Oliver also sits on the advisory council of the magazine and had directly helped on some of the book's contents.

3/12/2009 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

That's a very strange review. I mean: Of all those writers who stand on the Left and (not but) favour the foreign-policy approach of Tony Blair, Nick Cohen is one whose political roots lie most obviously in the traditions of British radicalism. Does Nick Cohen really have 'political roots'? And isn't "traditions of British radicalism" sort of an oxymoron?

OK seems to think that 'concatenation' means 'group'. It doesn't. Cohen-bashers aren't "an interdependent or unbroken sequence".

But he was right and early in understanding that the ructions in US subprime mortgages were not a purely foreign affair. Since WftE is a collection of journalism, and we've covered much of that, can anyone remember what he said? Apart from that, OK doesn't tell us a single thing that's in the book.

3/12/2009 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

It's this piece


3/12/2009 07:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite aside from the fact that we all know Nick didn't breathe a word about subprime mortgages until everyone else was talking about them, that line implies that Nick was some sort of voice in the wilderness, warning us all about an impending tragedy at a time when the world, to quote Morrissey (and the author he got this from whose name I can't remember), wouldn't listen.

So, quick query for those with excellent search-engine-fu. The first time I heard a lot of people seriously talking about subprime being a factor in a potential recession was when Robert Peston broke the story about Northern Rock seeking emergency help in September 2007. What was Nick writing about immediately prior to that?

3/12/2009 07:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Matthew's just answered me! Blimey. Now I know how Jeremy Paxman felt when he was confronted with Gail Trimble.

3/12/2009 07:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really can recommend that Harry's Place thread, it's well worth the swearbox contribution if you're a connoisseur of hysterical bollocks. Allowing someone to go to a seminar at SOAS (which it is not even clear has actually happened), is the exact equivalent of Kristallnacht.

3/12/2009 09:16:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

An excellent question. Had Winston Churchill been Heydrich’s deputy and His Majesty’s Armed Forces an adjunct of the SS, Britain could not have done less to help the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust. Really, very little has changed in Britain in the interim. Not only do most Brits not care (”hey ho that’s academic freedom for you”), I do believe they rather enjoy the prospect of a little Jew-baiting - after all it is an ancient English custom firmly embedded in the cultural DNA of the place.

3/12/2009 10:08:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Whoops, need to make sure that's a comment from HP, I've not just gone insane.

3/12/2009 10:09:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Thanks Matthew. Actually, Nick was onto something there. There's a bit of a dig at Gordon Brown in In Britain, abandoning prudence and diving in before much of the market is sewn up still seems the best strategy. He'd have got more points from me if he'd blamed the government more clearly.

Even in his better pieces, as here, he's still an annoying writer. What does he mean by "too old to realise"? (Does he mean "too old to care" or is he just writing off everyone over, say, 70 as senile?) And I thought everyone knew that recessions, like wars, come round at the time that everyone's forgotten how bad the last one was.

3/12/2009 10:22:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Ah, Harry's Place. You know, Brownie's reply to that comment makes sense.

3/12/2009 10:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That HP thread is just the kind of thing to give paranoid wallowing in victimhood a bad name.

Whenever Israel has been behaving badly the victimhood thing is ramped up a couple of notchess.

3/13/2009 12:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the Kamm review is hilarious. Can anyone remember former banker Kamm saying that complex derivatives , the shadow banking system, hedge funds etc. risked destabilising the financial system ? Or did he in fact say they were all jolly good things, and we needed to avoid over regulation. And the attempt to suggest that Nick was the man warning about dangers in the financial system, but ignored by the left, it is just embarrassing.

3/13/2009 08:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's very sad that Kamm has been forced to write this:

Cohen writes little directly about economics; he is an observer of social mores.

That's not how Nick made his name; it's not even the reason why people liked What's Left, is it? A sad tale of decline really. From Nick's 2007 column:

They were poor serial debtors or once comfortable people who had become too old to realise that they were signing away valuable assets when they remortgaged their homes.

god, yes, that is bad isn't it? I also find it odd that when trying to link US subprime to the UK, Nick completely changes his view in a few short lines. In the USA it was the lenders who were at fault, in the UK it is the borrowers. He was still castigating British people for mortgaging up to the hilt last year, and viewed this as their fault rather than anyone else's. Of course they have to take their shjare of the blame but the polarisation of it is very odd. And read in retrospect the column doesn't really add up to much.

This is the problem with people who give this new book an easy ride - they're forced into misreading Nick's columns to try to show that 'he predicted the recession and the subprime crisis'. Subprime was already widely discussed in 2007; from my memory of a few cursory discussions in 2007 with friends in investment banks it was on their minds throughout early 2007. Nick wasn't really striking out on a limb there, and he only appears to have gained sources in places like RBS very recently. the fact that he only wrote half a column in the last 4 years on the topic of subprime says it all. That's why several reviewers have lambasted the introdeuction and packaging of the new book, and Kamm goes along with them, in a coded manner, by trying to explain away the absence of economics because 'Cohen is an observer of social mores'. I guess that's an accurate description of What's Left, because being a columnist who observes social mores involves making stuff up, treating stereotypes as if they're true, conflating very different groups of people under the same umbrella, etc.

the response of reviewers in the liberal and left-wing press is: hauteur

What about the Telegraph review - probably the most vitriolic of the lot? hehehe... Why didn't the Times review 'Etonians'?

Kamm says:

The British economy is skewed to the financial services sector. There is nothing inherently wrong with this: it is snobbery to suppose that manufacturing matters whereas services do not.

This is really poor quality, straw-man stuff. OK has a vested (and unacknowledged) interest in promoting the financial services industry, of course.

The Left in the advanced industrial economies is thus in danger of inferring exactly the wrong lessons from the financial crisis

OK never actually says what these lessons are though. He says that free trade should be promoted (a fairly tangential point, seemingly aimed at the Obama admininstration) and banks should be better regulated. How many left-wingers have you seen arguing for less regulation since the credit crunch started?

and this is where Nick and OK's 'blame the left' thesis falls apart. The left-wing response to the financial crisis has to be invented and shown to be 'wrong' because OK and Nick have staked their livelihoods on lefties being wrong about everything. Nick has spent the last 4 years rewriting passages from What's Left as if it was still 2003 and he was Churchill/Geras/someone. Neither Nick nor OK shows much sign of having learned any lessons - whether about economics, whether about 'liberal interventionism', or indeed about hubris.

The collapse of the Western banking system and the discrediting of "light-touch" financial regulation ought to have vindicated Cohen's critiques.

The critiques of labour's affair with big business which to all intents and purposes he stopped making after 2003?

OK seems to think that 'concatenation' means 'group'. It doesn't. Cohen-bashers aren't "an interdependent or unbroken sequence".

Of course not, and the fact that 'Etonians' has been reviewed negatively by almost everyone, right or left, puts that theory to bed in any case. OK only mentions negative reviews in the left-wing press though.

He'd have got more points from me if he'd blamed the government more clearly.

Indeed - but Nick has a very odd relationship with the Brown govt. He invested all his collateral in the idea that Cameron's Tories were a shoo-in because Labour embraced PC and Islamism, but the financial crisis has comprehensively disproved this. Just because Nick bought into the idea of the Tories as 'progressive', the only criticism of hem being that they're posh, doesn't mean that everyone else did - thus the hasty rewrite of the intro to Etonians and thus the negative reivews.

3/13/2009 09:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too true, Cheeseboard
And who can forget Oliver Kamm's own own prescient attacks on light touch regulation. He was like a profit in the wilderness with his warnings - who can forget his chilling warning :-
"Derivatives perform an exceptionally valuable function in a modern, complex economy by enabling economic agents to accomplish this end. Ill-conceived regulation can do harm by making it impossible for corporations to manage their business risk efficiently; this will have significant economic cost, with no compensating social benefit."

3/13/2009 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

That's got to hurt.

3/13/2009 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Kamm is one of the most thick-skinned individuals in the entire world as far as I can tell. You can't hurt him.

I think if Nick wants to do "I am John Maynard Keynes and this is 1931" he's going to have some competition.

3/13/2009 09:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My guess is that behind Kamm;s wall of pedantry, he is often crying inside. Open up Ollie and share your pain.

More Kamm from his 2005 Prospect piece "in praise of hedge funds"
"Tighter regulation to constrain footloose capital is mainly a chimera"
"The danger, however, is that because financial markets are the most visible part of the economy, public opinion may infer that the financial sector is parasitic on the real economy, or even that the market economy itself is a rapacious and anarchic force."
"Yet the mythology of arrogant, unaccountable and unstable forces in the capital markets is mistaken"

"For all their faults, speculative markets do the job better than any conceivable alternative. Those who make a living from them may not all be philanthropists, but they are a deceptively progressive social force."

3/13/2009 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why didn't Cohen, Kamm etc read this in 2006


or this in 2003


The coming first world debt crisis
Ann Pettifor


'The reckless financial policies of leading western powers in the last two decades make it likely that the next seismic debt crisis will be in America, not Argentina. It can be avoided, says Ann Pettifor of the Real World Economic Outlook, only by serious efforts to bring regulation and balance to the international economy.'

Is it because Pettifor


'held several posts as adviser to the leader of the Greater London Council Ken Livingstone '

3/13/2009 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'd like to suggest that Kamm is more Jesuitical than pedantic.

3/13/2009 10:29:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, and Nick seems to have forgotten to read "nightmare on debt street: Will Britain's economic bubble burst?" , which argued in 2003 - so four years before Nick caught on -

"THE "consumer boom" of the last few years has been partly fuelled by the rapid rise of house prices. House prices are a key factor in Britain's economy. This is because the lack of decent and affordable social housing has pushed a high proportion of people in this country compared to others into becoming mortgage payers.

Rising house prices have encouraged people to believe they have more wealth and so to borrow more against the "value" of their home. The remortgaging of homes is at record levels, accounting for 43 percent of lending last October.

People have been borrowing record amounts, of up to £4 billion a month, against the value of their homes. Relatively low interest rates have also encouraged people to borrow too. Many commentators fear that the house price boom could burst, just as the last such boom did in the late 1980s" and so on and so on. In the pages of the hated "socialist worker"


I am sure there are hundreds of examples of the same in the mainstream islamist loving liberal left as well, but Nick spent years listening to Oliver Kamms free market hedge-fund-a-mentalism instead. And now he is surprised that pretending to be the prophet in-the-wilderness-ignored-by-the left wise man on the financial system is being met with some scepticism.

3/13/2009 10:35:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

To be fair to Nick, he has always been quite suspicious of the bubble years.

My wife had property in the US which I was trying to persuade her to sell before the bubble burst - so I was paying quite close attention to the US property market. People were warning about the sub-prime problem in early 2006. By March 2007 it had moved on to dire warnings of the threat to the financial system.

3/13/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, be fair then, and spoil the fun. the point is , however, that while Nick might have retained some of his old left wing instincts on the economy, he was no more ,and probably far less , active on this issue than the left he despised and insulted. And nwo he is pretending he was ahead of the pack.

3/13/2009 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In defence of Allison Pearson, can I just point out that they don't have her on Review any more. They have Julie Myerson.

(Captcha: 'lavent'. Thanks to the Captcha Elf for reminding me that (though it pains me to admit it) I'd rather listen to either of them talking about culcha than Lauren Laverne.)

(Or Ekow Eshun. Or Michael Gove.)

3/13/2009 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Really? I can think of few people I despise more as a "critic" than Myerson.

3/13/2009 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair to Nick, he has always been quite suspicious of the bubble years.

In a very non-specific way, though. In factbefore the bubble burst (TM) he barely wrote anything on it, aside from vague suggestions that people might not buy organic if they were unemployed.

In his Standard columns recently he has railed against people who mortgaged themselves up to the hilt, but he contradicts himself on this in his Observer column from last week where he seems to be suggesting that people shouldn't need deposits to buy houses.

The central problem is that he lost most of his genuinely left-wing sources over his Iraq hysteria and he retreated into a weird pro Iraq and pro free market bubble. He now seems incredibly proud of the fact that he's got someone from RBS to talk to him, but it's all far too late to be taken seriously - the RBS stuff is in his post-Etonians columns, post-Goodwin too, which says it all. At the time he either turned a blind eye to short-termist investment bank practices or - much more likely - actually thought they were a good thing, inspired by Oliver 'deregulation for the win, oops i mean regulation for the win' Kamm. I can't help thinking that Kamm would not have been much of a fan of Nick, pre-Iraq war march etc. The problem is, as so many critics of the new book have pointed out, that 'What's Left positioned Nick is a cul-de-sac where being opposed to war rendered everything you said null and void - unfortunately this meant that he only really had right-wingers to listen to on anything.

Cohen himself has no answers over the economy and his Etonians introduction is retrospective - while Lehmans was falling he was wanking on about how the left should support McCain and Sarah Palin.

For someone so concerned with 'shameful silence' on the left it's pretty damning that his first comment on Operation Cast Lead was a numbskull article a month after it ended, and for 'someone who predicted the economic crisis' his collected columns 2003-2009 has almost nothing on the economy in it.

Actually that weird 'real Americans like Palin' thing is linked to the 'Americans were too old to realise that subprime was a bad idea' thing, isn't it? In both cases the supposedly pro-America columnist seems incredibly patronising of Americans generally.

3/13/2009 11:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Certainly Pettifor and Elliot were ahead of the crash unlike most other economics commentators. Nick was suspicious of the housing market but it wasn't an obsession like it has been with Islamism.

Those quotes from Kammm are absolutely fantastic. You couldn't have made that up its so spot on.

3/13/2009 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How would Ollie Kamm review a book by Larry Elliot?

Moussaka Man

3/13/2009 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Nick was suspicious of the housing market cos he couldn't afford a bigger house somewhere nice.

3/13/2009 10:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well he lives in Islington which, if you live in one of the 'nice' bits, is a fairly nice place to live.

I've often wondered why he lives there, though. He seems to actively despise everything to do with Islington. There are lots of other places which are similarly nice in London to which he could move, but Nick barely seems to leave his postcode let alone acknowledge that other nice places exist. It's Islington or bust for him...

I guess it provides him with lots of material for his rant-mode columns mind you.

3/14/2009 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Bits of Islington are quite nice, but there are far nicer parts of London. Its all relative. I vaguely remember him mentioning Fulham in one column.

3/14/2009 02:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Jeremy Hardy once said, the Standard is what Londoners have instead of a newspaper.

3/19/2009 09:01:00 PM  

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