Archive for August, 2005

Harry’s Place.

August 31, 2005

I have just seen “Harry’s Place” for the first time . (strapline “Hurry up Harry” TM Jimmy Pursey/Sham 69) Disturbing or what! Melanie Phillips diary and Oliver Kamm’s nonsense all accessible on one site. Is garry Bushell in there as well?
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August 31, 2005

Hurray for New Math, New Math

Meanwhile over in Bizarro World, I am saying:

LAST WEEKEND the Pope gave a warning against treating religion as a “consumer product� in which one picks and chooses the bits one likes. Though irretrievably atheistic, I have every sympathy with him.


Dear me, I am a little bit pompous over in Bizarro World, aren’t I?

In related news, Oliver appears to have been reading a couple of textbooks in the higher mathematics:

When mathematicians speak of set theory, no one suggests they be required to give equal time in class to those who dispute that the next number in the set �one, two, three� is �four�.


I have checked this with two (2) mathematicians, one of whom is a Chartered Mathematician and I bet you didn’t know there was any such thing. Both of them confirm that the set {“one”, “two”, “three”} does not have a member which is “four”.[1]

[1] Perhaps Oliver is confusing it with the set {“one”, “two”, “three”, “four”}[2]. It’s a common mistake but you would have thought the Times subs would have picked it up. In Bizarro World.
[2] More specifically, the ordered set, but now you’re just being pedantic.

“Decent Left” slams Uzbekistan shocker!

August 30, 2005

Up to now the Decent Left has been silent about Islam Karimov and his regime in Uzbekistan.This was no doubt to show solidarity with Blair/Bush etc. who saw the Butcher of Tashkent as someone who was “with us” in the war on terror. Now Fearless Nick Cohen has come out in print against the Uzbek government. Apparently their human rights record has suddenly come to Nick’s attention.What has caused this sudden rush of conscience? Could it be Karimovs recent decision not to allow the USA to remain in their huge Uzbek airbase after the end of this year? There he is, Freedom’s Champion – Way to go Nicky boy!
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Give the People What They Don’t Want

August 29, 2005

Call that a holiday, Nicko? Well, the hardest working man in showbusiness is back for the attack. With a couple of comments so boneheaded the Standard might have rejected them (Good old George Bush for taking his holidays on his own ranch! Talk about not setting the bar too high. And apparently Uzbekistan is all the fault of the EU, because it was absolutely impossible for us not to have sacked our own ambassador there for cutting up rough).

But the main comment is red meat for the Watchers. We’re in the business here of every week teasing out the ways in which Tweedledum and Tweedledangerous are always trying to advance the Decent Left agenda, even in seemingly sensible or unobjectionable columns. And this week’s Cohen piece on homeopathy is a nice easy full-toss over middle stump of which even an Australian might be ashamed:

On the rare occasions the NHS is forced to defend pandering to ignorance, it says that large numbers of people believe in complementary medicine, which is true. It adds that an aromatherapist or dispenser of Bach’s flower remedies can at least offer patients the herbal tea and sympathy which busy GPs haven’t the time to deliver, which is also the case. We’re a democracy and the public likes to have its superstitions treated with respect; where’s the harm in giving the punters what they want?

The answer is that the government is dealing in deceit. It may be a harmless deceit most of the time, but it can be cruel and occasionally fatal deceit when the quacks are set loose on the seriously ill. A government which is prepared to deceive about medicine will deceive about much else besides.

Well yes Nick. Meanwhile, I’m stuck on the Azed crossword. Four letters, begins with “I” and ends with the British Army presiding over Iranian-style sharia.

David Aaronovitch is Fat

August 26, 2005

Well perhaps not so much now that he’s been to the Pritikin Longevity Center And Spa in Aventura, Florida. (Yes, it is indeed the same place.) Can this be true, is the one certain fact of blog life really going to crumble?
OK, this story has a very tenuous connection to David Aaronovitch, but the imagination reels.
Mike from from Michigan called himself an “independent film-maker.” This had a clear downside, as he was paying the spondoolicks out of his own pocket. My heart bled for him. And he was fat. How very like a whale as the writer chappie had it.* Unlike the dapper fatsoes lounging elsewhere, Mike was sort of scruffy, and wore a basball cap. He had a bit of a chip about coming from a place called Flint, which sounds a bit drab, if free of the Shiraz-types. I tried to win him round by slagging off main stream movies. At least you’re an independent film maker, Mike, mate,” I said. “Wasn’t it just awful how the Academy gave an Oscar to ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’? Cosseted Hollywood, what do they know?”
*See my previous post for more of Dave’s knack for misquoting cliches. (I’ve never read a blogger who has injuncted “Read them all” either.)

Friday forecasts

August 26, 2005

Not much to work with this week; I’m rolling over my own forecasts from last week, although I suppose that there is some possibility that Aaro will write up his Brunei trip in the column rather than in the Travel section. I actually suspect that the Cohen col won’t appear at all as it would be his second week of holiday (assuming he is on holiday; the Observer sez “away” which might mean he’s researching something?).

Harry’s Place indicator isn’t really much help either; there sort of seems to be a general theme of “comparisons with the ANC”, but it would be much too blatant a steal … wouldn’t it?

If you want to tweak your predictions or to join in the contest, it’s in the comments below …

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August 26, 2005

Justified and Ancient

(posted here for various reasons of convenience. Also the Crooked Timber comments policy is to avoid pointless flamewars about Middle East politics whereas the D^2D comments policy is “kick out the jams, mofos”. I don’t even always delete blatant comment spam because it makes the site look more popular).

Brad DeLong and Jeff Weintraub are trying to have a civilised debate over whether The Left are treacherously undermining our war effort by accident or on purpose. Sorry, guys, include me out of the “civil and measured” part of this. Not so long ago I was talking in the context of George Galloway about the kind of rhetoric that comes close to being the sort of thing that a decent Millian liberal would want to see banned; well, in my book raising dolchstosslegende is right up there too. Jeff Weintraub appears to be explicitly saying that in his view, many people on the liberal Left in America in the 1950s were actually partisans of the Stalinist cause, that naming, shaming, ostracising and blacklisting them was the right thing to do and that we ought to do the same thing today with people who might be sympathisers of The Terrorists. He is a professional philosopher so no doubt he will be able to come up with a watertight explanation of why this isn’t McCarthyism, but I for one won’t be buying it. So forgive me my gentle readers if the essay below tends toward playing political dirty pool; I feel that when someone is claiming that there is a fifth column of decadent liberals within our midst, the governing rules are not so much Marquess of Queensbury as WWF Hardcore.

So anyway. Brad ‘n’ Jeff are all on about the distinction between “explaining” terrorist atrocities and “justifying” them, with Mr Weintraub claiming, (on the basis of what look to me to be very flimsy interpretations of partial quotes taken out of context from Normblog) that a very substantial proportion of antiwar liberals who claim to be doing the former are actually being dishonest because they really mean the latter.

This is one hell of a claim to make. Let’s be clear about this; he’s not just deciding to abandon the normal convention that when we’re having a political argument with someone, we do them the courtesy of assuming good faith. That would be bad enough, but the fact of the matter is that this isn’t just one of your Internet games. Under currently proposed UK legislation, “justifying terrorist violence” is “unacceptable behaviour” which could get you deported if you’re an immigrant. It’s clearly not far off being a criminal offence in the UK, so throwing around accusations of “justifying terrorism” is not at all the sort of thing that anyone can shrug off lightly.

So it’s not something that ought to be discussed with hypothetical examples and stipulations. Instead, let’s take a case where it is agreed by all that some people are engaged in the business of “explaining” while others are “justifying” and see what we can learn about the distinction. I’m sure there are many such cases, but here’s one that occurred to me.

You see, there is this country called Israel, and it has an army called the Israel Defense Forces. And from time to time, the Israel Defence Forces do things which, taken as single actions on their own, would look to be very bad indeed. Things like shooting children for throwing rocks. Or like bulldozing people’s houses because a family member committed a crime somewhere else. But when they do these things, they do them for reasons.

Now there are basically three points of view that people take toward the controversial activities of the IDF. Some people regard them as “wholly inexcusable” and deny that there is any explanation, excuse or justification possible for them. I think that people who say that are being intentionally blind to the facts. Some people, like me, believe that what they’re doing is basically morally unacceptable, but that it hardly takes place in a vacuum, that they are for the most part reacting to a situation not wholly of their own making and who knows, maybe if it was me and my countrymen getting blown up by suicide bombers, maybe I’d be a lot more sympathetic to what they do. And then finally, there are plenty of people, not me, who think that the IDF are justified in acting as they do, that the Palestinians have brought their troubles on themselves and that bulldozing houses and shooting kids with rocks can be the right thing to do if you are acting in national self-defence.

[there will now be a short pause during which everyone who was composing a sentence in which they accuse me of claiming that there is moral equivalence between the Iraqi insurgents and the IDF, may quietly fuck off]

I think we have here something that throws quite a lot of light on the distinction between “justifying” and “explaining” things. What Jeff Weintraub apparently believes is that in the case of Iraq, there are a lot of people who are claiming to have the sort of views about the Iraqi insurgents that I have about the IDF’s use of bulldozers, but who actually have the sort of views that the proprietors of Little Green Footballs have about the IDF’s use of bulldozers.

A somewhat unfair and tendentious analogy? Well yes, but it wasn’t me that started it. In any case, we can take this a bit further. One thing that we know about The Left is that one of its favourite activities is pointless infighting over minor details of analysis. Certainly, in the context of Israel, whenever I make a remark which expresses my own point of view explaining the excesses of the IDF, it is not difficult to start a vehement argument with people who think I ought to be moving further in the direction justifying them, or further in the direction of unequivocally condemning them. This is because, on the left, there are plenty of representatives of all three points of view on this issue.

On Iraq �? Not so much. The argument is entirely between “explain” and “unequivocally condemn”. You will search far and wide (you will find something in the end, but it will not be an easy search) to find examples of one person on the liberal left excoriating someone else on the liberal left for not giving the Iraqi insurgents enough of the benefit of the doubt.

Now this might be because there is a massive, Left-wide tacit agreement to all keep shtum so that we can get away with our clever deception. But the problem with asserting this is that it is visibly ridiculous. The Left has never been able to sustain a united front on any issue in the past and has always succumbed to the narcissism of minor differences of emphasis. A much more plausible explanation is that there is no criticism of mainstream “explanation” of the insurgency from the point of view of people who give the insurgents more credit, because there are (to a rounding error) no such people.

In other words, my contention is that the fact that the question of active apologism for the Iraqi insurgency isn’t a topic of vicious internecine fighting among the mainstream liberal left (in the way that active apologism for Palestinian terrorists is), this is decent evidence that there is next to no genuine apologism for the Iraqi insurgency on the liberal left. Stab-in-the-back, how are ya.

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August 26, 2005

Some questions have easy answers

It just struck me that I know the answer to at least one question which surely must have puzzled at least a few people with respect to the Social Security debate in the USA.

Q: Why are the “administration costs” so much higher for private sector pension plans than SS? Isn’t it at least a little bit strange for a government program to have so much lower deadweight cost than a private sector one?

A: “Administration costs” is a euphemism; most of the difference between the cost of SS and the cost of a private pension plan is the commission paid to the adviser who sold the plan. These commissions are quite material and the costs are, of course, borne by the consumer in the final analysis (as I used to point out to graduate trainees, retail customers have to bear the cost of everything in the financial sector as they are the only ones who go out and work for a living).

There you go. If anyone else has a couple of “easy answers” like this, post ’em on your blog.

Why we write

August 25, 2005

I hesitate to put up a link which is closer to the subject matter of a proper blog than a “watch” site, but if you think that this is completely irrelevant to the subject of David Aaronovitch, you’re wrong.

Update: No not the Hitchens bit, you predictable bastards. This bit:

Thomas L. Friedman: The Enabler

In some ways, the well-known New York Times columnist doesn’t fit with the others on this list. A neoliberal rather than a neoconservative, Friedman never drank all the Kool-Aid. But he was a vital — perhaps the vital — enabler of the war, because from his Times perch, he convinced many a reader (elite and layperson alike) who never would have been persuaded by the likes of Kristol that the war needed to be fought.

Nick Cohen sometimes veers into Hitchens territory (“I am the columnar expression of the World Spirit and the Universal Will To Power and anyone who disagrees with me, including me five minutes ago, is a miserable amoral wretch who must be crushed”), but Aaro is straight up and down a salesman. The only constant in his columns is sales; the only variation is whether this week’s special offer is on overseas adventurism, domestic authoritarianism or holidays in Brunei.

Also: This too, thanks to an anonymous commentor. By the way, anonymous commentors, if you select the “Other” option in our comments system you can give yourself a nickname and it will be a lot easier to keep track of who said what.

The Tyranny of High Expectations

August 23, 2005

Aaro may be on holiday, but he still manages to pop up on Normblog’s “Writer’s choice.”

The [Just William] books are also one long poem of praise to anarchism and the unfettered human spirit. I am a supporter of Asbos in general, but if ever there were a literary candidate for one, his name was William Brown.

Thus writes a professional journalist. Perhaps my memory is a little misty, but I can’t recall him doing anything which even merited a clip round the ear from the local bobby, let alone the involvement of a court. William Brown’s spirit did not need fettering as anti-social, because it was mostly harmless. Still one can’t be too careful with kids, so give the little brat one anyway.

Otherwise his choices are anodyne and uncontroversial — to me, anyway. There’s a fiction writer trying to get out of David Aaronivitch:

…but his [Marx’s] description of how the classes behaved during the French crisis of the mid-19th century, and how the bourgeois revolutionaries were — in the words of The Who — fooled all over again, is more than compelling.

Where did The Who sing the words “fooled all over again.”?

And finally, arrived at late because Communists didn’t read Orwell, there’s George.

Dave has listed Tolstoy and Dostoevsky: when did Communists read them? I like his pride in “because Communists didn’t” therefore he didn’t. Worth noting when he rails at whoever he chooses to rail at.

It’s the clarity of the writing, the complete lack of obfuscation, the demolition of convenient intellectual hidey-holes, the absence of bullshit, the intellectual fearlessness.

Well, that’s how Orwell saw himself in Politics and the English Language. Methinks David doth praise too much. Surely for most purposes “obfuscation” and “bullshit” are the same thing. See Jim Holt:

It would, of course, be hasty to dismiss all unclear discourse as bullshit. [G. A.] Cohen [a fellow of All Souls College] adduces a more precise criterion: the discourse must be not only unclear but unclarifiable.

So Orwell is clear, he is clear, he demolishes “convenient intellectual hidey-holes” (I’m trying to think of an example of this), he is clear, and he is intellectually fearless, which sounds like a good thing to be, and reminds us, should we have forgotten, that he was an intellectual.

Anything more different from current fashions among the academic, post-modern ultra-lefts is hard to imagine. No wonder they hate him so much.

Well, spiders are things and are very different from “current fashions among the academic, post-modern ultra-lefts” and I can easily imagine them, especially as one seems to be caught up in my hair as I type. Likewise, sunsets, hangovers, MRSA, diminished thirds, sauropoda, and Croydon facelifts, are all things which are different from academic fashions. This wouldn’t be a criticism by David Aaronovitch, former Communist who didn’t read Orwell because Communists didn’t? Whatever would he know about “fashions among the … ultra-lefts”? Who hates Orwell so much? Perhaps David has confused the ultra-lefts with his parents. Paging Dr Freud. (And don’t forget Orwell hated fad diets too.)

Update: I’ve been reading some of Orwell’s essays since I posted this, and I still like Orwell’s style. (This is what infuriated me, and moved me to post, for I am a “post-modern ultra-left” — what David Aaronovitch seems to mean by the term, anyway. I’m a Foucault-admiring Stopper.) Here is George on Swift in Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels:

Swift approves of this kind of thing because among his many gifts neither curiosity nor good-nature was included. Disagreement would always seem to him sheer perversity. “Reason,” among the Houyhnhnms, he says, “is not a Point Problematical, as with us, where men can argue with Plausibility on both Sides of a Question; but strikes you with immediate Conviction; as it must needs do, where it is not mingled, obscured, or discoloured by Passion and Interest.” In other words, we know everything already, so why should dissident opinions be tolerated? The totalitarian Society of the Houyhnhnms, where there can be no freedom and no development, follows naturally from this.

I think David sees a higher clarity in Orwell than Orwell would have been uncomfortable with. In the same essay, Orwell lets himself down toward the end. He is a very good literary critic, but he falls into the Hellalump trap of analysing the writer rather than the text. On Swift (and, somehow, also Tolstoy):

Such people are not likely to enjoy even the small amount of happiness that falls to most human beings, and, from obvious motives, are not likely to admit that earthly life is capable of much improvement. Their incuriosity, and hence their intolerance, spring from the same root.

I’m not happy with the first sentence. If happiness is not enjoyed, in what sense is it happiness. But if Orwell had meant “good fortune” he would doubtless have written that instead. Then he sticks his head into the hunny pot for good measure.

To-day, for example, one can imagine a good book being written by a Catholic, a Communist, a Fascist, pacifist, an anarchist, perhaps by an old-style Liberal or an ordinary Conservative: one cannot imagine a good book being written by a spiritualist, a Buchmanite or a member of the Ku-Klux-KIan. The views that a writer holds must be compatible with sanity, in the medical sense, and with the power of continuous thought: beyond that what we ask of him is talent, which is probably another name for conviction.

Orwell the literary critic was familiar with Byron and Christopher Smart, not to mention the great crazy Russians, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. He had probably heard of Jean Genet. Even if he were to answer that the first two are poets, whose wits from madness are by thin partitions divided, the second two only joined the Battersea Dogs Home chorus after their best work had been written, and the last was not crazy, more determinedly anti-social, he’d still have to explain the movies. I’ll judge Orwell guilty until proved innocent.