Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Life After Death

If BB can post, so can I. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with Michael Ezra of Harry's Place.

It is somewhat presumptuous of me to comment on a book that I have not read, but for this purpose I am going to assume that Chas Newkey-Burden has not taken the following sentence from Melanie Phillips’ new book, The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle Over God, Truth, and Power (Encounter Books, 2010), out of context:

It is not an exaggeration to say that the position an individual takes on the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is a near-infallible guide to their general view of the world.

Presumptuous? I can think of a blogger who would disagree with that:

Bizarre view among some Indie readers that you need to read a book before dismissing it. I don't.

Chas Newkey-Burden's review seems highly unsatisfactory to me. For instance:

So powerfully and closely argued are these chapters that they are worth the entrance money alone. Having examined these specific issues and others she then convincingly finds the common threads that underpin the loss of reason when it comes to public debate of them.

Yet, despite concluding his review with "I strongly urge you to read and circulate her book" he doesn't summarise these powerful arguments at all or even hint at her methods.

As she argues, “Antisemitism has simply mutated from prejudice against Jews as people to prejudice against Jews as a people. First, theological antisemitism wanted the Jewish religion to disappear; then racial antisemitism wanted the Jews themselves to disappear; now the latest mutation wants the Jewish state to disappear.”

These are assertions, not arguments. I like this picture.

Usual comment deletion policy when Israel is the subject. Points (but no prizes) to anyone who convince me whether 'Jill' in CN-B's comments is a troll or not.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Aaro Against Free Market Capitalism

At a think tank gig in Ukraine. Basically having a go at the oligarchs (and, I think, rather courageously accusing one of the beneficiaries of voucher privatisation of having "stolen"; I hope this link doesn't constitute "publication" in the UK of that claim which AW certainly doesn't endorse in any editorial sense).

Friday, June 18, 2010

Melanie Phillips has a book out. Oi! No! Take it seriously! You rotten kids!

I am not going to review Melanie Phillips' book, still less read it, but this seems like a really pointless piece of contrarian windbaggery. There is nothing about the epithet "Mad Mel" which can be considered misogynistic - her name is Melanie, she writes like a mad person, hence Mad Mel. And if the author thinks that Michael Gove attracts less opprobrium, he's reading the wrong blogs.

No really, we have to consider the very very serious issues which Melanie Phillips raises in between her vitriolic abuse of us for being so awful. What are they, you ask:

At the heart of Phillips's new-found conservatism is a profound feeling that the postwar transition in the west towards a multicultural, sexually tolerant, more open society has come at a profound cost. The price paid for a more liberal society has been a kind of chaotic, unanchored sense of alienation and atomisation

In other words, the price paid for the right of about a billion people to live something closer to the life that they choose free from abuse, is that Melanie Phillips feels uncomfortable about it. I have considered this, in depth though I would be lying if I said at length, and my conclusion is: "fuck a bunch of that".


Friday, June 11, 2010

Pejorists and Pejoratives

Post on The world won’t stop to let Britain get off will be along in a bit. Talk amongst yourselves. If anyone's read 'Ill Fares the Land' by Tony Judt, please fill me in, because I haven't. (Look, I liked the title, and I didn't want to forget it.)

Update Fri 19:30 (ish, it'll be later by the time I finish) Thanks to everyone who commented so far. I decided to write a post (or, going by the above, not write) on this, when I often leave Aaro to D2, because I saw Sarah Ditum and David Aaronovitch exchanging pleasantries on Twitter while slagging off Blond. That's interesting, I thought, well, Aaro isn't afraid of pissing off his readers, and neither am I. Blond has been gone over, from the left, by Jonathan Raban, and the right, especially at the Torygraph has something of a feud with him: see James Delingpole and I can't find a link to Simon Heffer, but Madeleine Bunting sums his position up.

It was his [Blond's] ideas which peppered Cameron's speech at Davos; Simon Heffer was apoplectic with fury last week as he lambasted it as terrifying, meaningless, obtuse and infantile. Yes, all four adjectives were necessary.

(Link mine.) I suspect that Simon Heffer has been advised by a (presumably BUPA) doctor not to type the name 'Phillip Blond' if he wants to celebrate another Christmas. The mere mention of the oxymoronic 'red toryism' turns the fury up to 11. Naming the Blond Beast may result in apoplexy. With so many enemies, I'm tempted to like Phillip Blond, but what I've read is typical think tank bullshit. To call it hand-waving is to offend semaphorers. So, no love for Blond from me. (See also Sarah Ditum on Blond.) I can't believe that Cameron takes him seriously, but Cameron takes George Osbourne seriously, so who knows? On the other hand, what I've read of Tony Judt, I like, and though he's an ill man and close to death, I still can't picture him standing athwart history, yelling Stop.

His [David Cameron's] speech, taken in full, suggested that the economic crisis represented an opportunity to change away from a bad BWOL, with the idea of what the better BWOL might consist of left to be inferred entirely from his negatives.

This is, of course, what I both like and dislike about our Dave. It's percipient and as the silly cliche has it, double-edged - because "what the better [society] might consist of [is] inferred entirely from ... negatives" also applies to most political programmes. At least, I've always understood the Labour Party project to be working toward the removal of inequality, after which various positive benefits would follow; the same goes for my interpretation of feminism, and so on. Not being a serious journalist or think tanker, I suppose my idea of the good society is something like this one, but with fewer bad things.

Of course, and I suppose I do have to say this, like Dave, I don't have any time for the "Britain is broken" thing. Apart from the fact that most people I know are actually quite happy, the only attraction of the metaphor is its alliteration. I don't believe that Britain (or society) is a machine, so the 'broken' concept simply doesn't work. Yes, there are things I would change, and society could be better - more free, more equal - IMO. So full agreement with Dave from me there. (As Sarah Ditum said somewhere, can't think where, at the moment, she'd like DA "more in opposition". Well, that goes for me too.)

Ah, but Judt. I like John Mearsheimer:

Righteous Jews have a powerful attachment to core liberal values. They believe that individual rights matter greatly and that they are universal, which means they apply equally to Jews and Palestinians. They could never support an apartheid Israel. ...
To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few.

Which reads like a Harry's Place hit list. However, I've found the introduction (?) to Judt's Ill Fares the Land online, and I'm not that impressed.

Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of collective purpose.

I think hardened readers will guess what's coming. Thirty years?

That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

My emphasis. George Mason. OTOH, Judt continues (with my approval):

The materialistic and selfish quality of contemporary life is not inherent in the human condition. Much of what appears “natural” today dates from the 1980s: the obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization and the private sector, the growing disparities of rich and poor. And above all, the rhetoric that accompanies these: uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, disdain for the public sector, the delusion of endless growth.

This is both a straightforward attack on Thatcherism/Reaganomics and yet somehow wrong. Cults are, by definition, restricted to minorities, are they not? And there is always rhetoric - the rhetoric he's talking about has been around for a lot longer, see Hayek, Rand, etc. At the moment, I'm on the fence regarding Judt. I think the conflation with Blond is unfair; one of the "Judty Blonds" is smart. I agree with Judt's principles and worldview; I just don't buy the tabescence thing. I meant, when I came up with the title, to work in Nick Cohen:

Mike Godwin held in 1990 that the longer a discussion continues on the web the greater the likelihood that some fool invoking the Nazis would reduce it to absurdity. Today, reduction to Zionism has replaced reductio ad Hitlerum.

For NC, pejorism is a given. Recently, things were OK at least; now they're worse, pretty bad, in fact, and heading toward disaster. Like Blond, Nick sees happy highways shining plain.

Aaro is pro-immigration which is a huge plus for me. But his anti-Judt bias (and his failing to acknowledge judt's really horrible personal circumstances - and I do realise that doing so may seem patronising), makes this a score draw.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Root-cause type reasons

Resist everything except temptation, that's my motto.

Indeed, to his credit, O'Toole goes further than most of Israel's one-handedly gesticulating critics generally do by acknowledging that, as well as the more usual recipients of this explanatory favour, the Jewish people may also have some root-cause-type reasons for its fears and its behaviour, reasons close within historical memory. It is a rare concession these days.

Norman Geras June 09, 2010. "Acknowledging ... root-cause-type reasons" is to Fintan O'Toole's "credit." Some might disagree, and consider that such reasons are a resort of bad faith.

The plea will be made, though - it always is - that these are not apologists, they are merely honest Joes and Joanies endeavouring to understand the world in which we all live. What could be wrong with that? What indeed? Nothing is wrong with genuine efforts at understanding; on these we all depend. But the genuine article is one thing, and root-causes advocacy that seeks to dissipate responsibility for atrocity, mass murder, crime against humanity, especially in the immediate aftermath of their occurrence, is something else.

Note, first, the selectivity in the general way root-causes arguments function. Purporting to be about causal explanation rather than excuse-making, they are invariably deployed on behalf of movements, actions, etc., for which the proponent wants to engage our sympathy or indulgence, and in order to direct blame towards some party for whom he or she has no sympathy.

Some professor or other, July 13, 2005.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

No one would have predicted

OK, I "knew" that the Iraq war would cause lots of misery, but not this. Experiments in Torture: Physicians group alleges US conducted illegal research on detainees. See also Balloon Juice and PZ Myers.

Well, Hitchens was right about something. It has got much worse.

Monday, June 07, 2010

OT: B2 calls it right

If AW gets a prediction right, you bet your arses we'll bang on about it. B2 in comments to the last post but one:

Unfortunately Helen Thomas, who has done a lot of excellent journalism in the past, has now rather blotted her copybook by saying that "the Jews should get out of Palestine and go back to Germany and Poland" in front of some cameras. The usual suspects will be calling for her job and I have to say that on this occasion, I will find it hard to disagree with them (not that I think one mistake invalidates a whole career, nor am I particularly keen on the business of trying to rush people out of their jobs, but she's the author of her own misfortunes - it was an amazingly silly and unpleasant thing to say)

See Matt Welch for the video and some good comment.[1] This seems relevant as one of our commenters (OC?) recently speculated that Nick Cohen's apparent leap to the right was partly motivated by his belief that he had to swallow his personal doubts and disagreements with the left consensus for so long. (Not sure I agree in either case, but the argument has some merits.) See also Dave Weigel.

I have quite a lot of sympathy with Thomas, especially as saying that Israel should stay within its 1967 borders gets one denounced as an anti-Semite.

Quick post-publish button addendum. Roy Edroso (via Flying Rodent) reads Jay Nordlinger so no one else has to:

"I smile at two little facts: Sarah Palin, in her governor's office, had an Israeli flag. Siv Jensen, leader of a party in Norway called the Progress party, has an Israeli flag in her office. No, those women are not in power. But they represent a lot of people, who count."

And the Guardian had a nice pic of other proud carriers of the Israeli flag at the weekend.

The Norwegian Progress Party sound just charming. Wikipedia: "The party has generally been ostracized from the other parties on the national level."

I find it very, very hard not to get riled by this sort of thing.

[1] And some indulgent back-patting:

All of which is why I wish even the straightest-edge news outlets would follow Reason's still-lonely example and show us (at minimum) who their staffers are voting for

Slate also published their contributors' choice of Presidential candidates in 2004. And Reason's last effort was also the election before the last one. Hardly mould breaking.

Ever-uglier contortions

I saw this (thanks to Anne Billson) and thought of Nick Cohen.

Update Mon 7/6 23:20 Medi Hasan has more.

Friday, June 04, 2010

While ignorant armies clash by night

This video isn't entirely relevant, but Helen Thomas is what I call a journalist (and I think that filming the White House Press briefings is such a good idea, compared to our system of non-attribution and rumours), and it sort of illustrates two points: Israel did frame the debate by filming the commandos boarding, knowing that all television news needed footage, and that some people will believe practically anything - or rather believe anything other than their side behaved badly). I was actually looking for the video I can't see on this page because I'm in the UK. (Why would Glenn Beck claim that other networks hadn't used the IDF videos? But then, why does Glenn Beck do anything?)

I'm not entirely happy with Gaza’s waves will crash on Turkey’s shore, David Aaronovitch's thoughts on the flotilla. For one thing, he uses terms like 'East' and 'West' rather atavistically, to be kind. (E.g. "For many years, to say that Turkey was an ally of the West was not to claim any great pleasure in the association.") What is the 'West' here? NATO? the EU? if either, why not use the name? It's more than 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down. There isn't an 'East' any more. Nor am I sure what the 'Pakistan-Taleban war' is. I'm sure Dave's thinking of the Ahmadi massacre, but I don't the background to that is anything like as simple as conflict between the armies of two bordering states. (From the comments, Pakistan terrorist violence spiked 45 percent in 2009. It all sounds horrific, and perhaps DA is just ahead of me here.)

Mostly, though, it's the first paragraph that I don't like: at least some of the passenger on board the flotilla are described as "fanatics who welcomed victory or martyrdom without discrimination." I accept the whole thing is a mess, and Palestine seems to attract fanatics, so DA may be right. I'd prefer to see some evidence first before concluding that he is, however. I mean, it's not surprising that armed troops boarding a ship in the middle of the night aroused violent hostility, is it?

(Conspiracy theory break. Are Israeli military commanders really that insane, blinkered, or stupid? Or was the point further polarisation of Israel-Palestine argument? I read somewhere recently (citation needed as they say on Wikipedia) that Jews in the US are less interested in Israel than previous generations were. Could the point have been to arouse anti-Semitism worldwide, and so make US Jews feel more Jewish than American? No, that's too loopy.)

Yet despite my reservations, the sensible side of Aaronovitch wins, which is to say that he supports bridge-building politics. Alliances are good things, Israel and Turkey should be friends. Not everyone thinks this way. "Latek" on Harry's Place (31 May 2010, 8:03 pm) wrote "Shocka! Relations between antisemitic Turkey and Israel may suffer. No big loss."

Flying Rodent said in the comments to the last post, "After following Aaro's tweets for a while, he seems like a very nice and rational man, doesn't he? I might have to buy his latest book, just to see what he has to say." Indeed.

@yorkierosie look, I think some of the people on the boats were very violent. It doesn't justify shooting nine of them

June 1st. And I only slightly disagree with him a bit later:

Same old same old between Israeli ambassador and John Humphrys. Ron Prosor throws in Gilad Shalit, JH offers 'a knife is not a weapon'. Eek.

Humphreys did say, "a knife is not a weapon, necessarily". The issue of the Red Cross and Gilad Shalit is of course a point against Hamas rather than against the Red Cross for being willing to co-operate with Hamas so as to treat their prisoners.

Title has not much to do with anything, just the best I had. Those are my thoughts, provisional and disconnected as they are. Yours?

I'll delete any comments I consider to be racist or excessively trolling, BTW.


Thanks to BenSix (in the comments to the last post) for spotting the following exchange:

@nickcohen2 Griffin could claim that he is "progressive". It's one of those terms that sounds like it should mean something. But doesn't

@smithsky1979 It's fucking ridiculous, meaningless gooble-de-gook for smug, shallow, fashion following, mindless gits

So NickCohen2 and D2 (he pronounces it 'D squared' so sadly we can't refer to them as the '"2" brothers' from now on) are of 1 mind on the matter of "progressive". Or perhaps not. Aren't progressive values important any more?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Solidarity with Aaro

There is a long very on-topic post on the Flotilla and Decency in my head somewhere. Mostly I'm fairly disgusted with the apologetics for Israel coming from people I think should know better (eg Gene of Harry's Place). And I could write a post on why Melanie Phillips isn't a Decent: for one thing Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Norman Geras are all atheists and rationalists and materialists. That, and that I'm what Nick refers to sarcastically or ironically as 'right-thinking' is one of the planks of what I have in common with them. Mad Mel, although she refers to herself as an agnostic, believes in lots of woo, like the MMR stuff, and continually talks about Judeo-Christianity, as if that was, well a good thing, when I imagine that the others see themselves in a tradition in which the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the English Civil War, American and French revolutions feature rather higher than Moses getting ten-ish orders on tablets of stone (or not), Ceiling Cat smiting everyone in Soddom and Gomorrah, and then drowning all life, etc.

Anyway, that's for another day. Our man gets tweets like this and I'd just like to say that however angry I feel about the Flotilla, people like this do not represent my (or I hope AW readers') views. I sent a tweet to 'britishcitizen'. I seem to have made an enemy. What a surprise.