Archive for October, 2005

The benefits to a young journalist of owning a Filofax

October 21, 2005

Not much to report about NC in the Standard, by the way, and I have mislaid my copy so I can’t do extracts from it either. However, he was writing about the Saddam trial (and various other guff I can’t remember) and had to execute a rather embarrassing volte-face. If you remember, during a recent Reach Out To The Left Week, Nick waxed lyrical on “Our Criminal Barristers, God Bless ‘Em” and “No Matter How Bad The Crime, A Cornerstone Of A Decent Society Is A Fair Trial”. This was a bit awkward to square with the need to write a column excoriating Geoffrey Robertson QC for asking that the Saddam trial be moved to the Hague. To be honest I probably agree with Nick that Saddam ought to be tried in an Iraqi court (although I do think it’s a bit scandalous that the charges have been so carefully selected so as to ensure that nothing embarrassing to the US and UK comes up during cross-examination), but it was absolutely visible in the Standard column that he was wishing he hadn’t gone in so aggressively on the barristers one.

A Filofax could have prevented this minor embarrassment; you can write down important coming dates in them. I suspect that Nick doesn’t own one though because they have connotations of the Thatcher era.

The Pritikin Institute is taking bookings for Spring 2006!

October 18, 2005

What the hell? “The vulnerability, the fallibility” Aaro is now turning into “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” Aaro! Bird flu? My arse. SARS wasn’t a pandemic, nor was Ebola and therefore by induction we are immortal. Or in any case, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway so gather ye rosebuds while ye may. As Nietszche said, what does not kill me, I will probably get 400 words out of for my Tuesday column in the Times.

No, no, that was just the characteristic Aaro introductory toccata. Nasty and pointless little jibe at the Today programme, I notice; do not think for one single minute that this was unintentional or just by-the-by. Every little bit of crap you can chuck at the BBC helps, particularly if you work for Murdoch and are shilling for New Labour. Aaronovitch certainly does know the difference between 200,000 people dying at an actuarially predictable rate as part of the normal consequence of events and 50,000 people dying suddenly and in a short period of time, and I for one am not going to waste precious Watching energy in lame “fiskings” of him by pretending he doesn’t.

The meat and drink of this column is, of course, the fact that Aaro has tamed his belly, and so you lot ought to too, because heart disease is a bigger killer than bird flu. I am, to be honest, surprised that the Pritikin Institute doesn’t get a plug by name, particularly since Times readers are quite likely to have missed the Guardian “fat camp” story and thus might not necessarily realise that when Aaro exhorts them to change their lifestyles and diets with a bit of willpower, that’s not exactly how he did it himself. Possibly the Times has a sort of Blue Peter self-denying ordinance when it comes to plugging brands by name, but I doubt it. However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is an intentional deception being practised by Fat Camp Freddy on his readers, because the whole spiel of the Pritikin Institute (most famous alumnus: David Aaronovitch Michael Moore) is precisely that their miracle formula is just common sense and willpower. But even so, it’s worth pointing out.

But anyway, the real point of this column for me is the exercise in (presumably?) unintentional irony. Given that Aaronovitch is on record as having said that “I have a feeling (and I could be wrong) that [the Lancet report on Iraqi casualties] may be a dud”, and his quite disgraceful browbeating of the author’s report on the Newsnight special on Iraq, can anyone see this paragraph as anything other than a subconscious cry for help (by the way, Nick, this bit is what’s called “deconstructionism” by we the effete pomo liberal left)?

I am a late convert to many of the marvels of capitalism, but when it comes to the food industry the old Bolshevik emerges again. These companies lie and dissemble in their packaging, dispute until they can dispute no longer every bit of research that links their horrible products with modern ill-health, and they suborn or browbeat government and agencies. Take the Advertising Association and its attitude to the marketing of junk food — food which is high in sodium and fats, low in nutrition and which, together with our sedentary lifestyles, is killing us. The Director-General of the AA recently described as “unproven” the idea that junk food advertising contributed to ill-health. Only if it is “unproven” that advertising leads to sales — a proposition that would bankrupt the entire ads industry.

Meanwhile, Decent Dave continues to regard the case as “unproven” that That Bloody War might possibly have been a horrible great disaster. When it comes to scientific opinions on politically sensitive matters, I suppose that one of the many marvels of capitalism, is that you pays your money and you takes your choice.

I Don’t Know How He Does It

October 17, 2005

Nick Cohen’s latest (NickCohen.net; Observer) manages his too-frequent trick of making an essentially sound point after an incredibly irritating opening.

A week ago, at a reception in one of London’s dowdier hotels, Maryam Namazie received a cheque and a certificate stating that she was Secularist of the Year 2005. The audience from the National Secular Society cheered, but no one else noticed.

This story was of course reported on the NSS site, Maryam Namazie Named “Secularist of The Year” which has the benefits of greater exactitude — and photographs.

The happy crowd who arrived at the Montcalm Hotel on Saturday were also joined by Honorary Associates Dr Evan Harris MP, Joan Smith, Martin Rowson and Jonathan Meades. The hilarious entertainment was provided by top notch comedian Stewart Lee, who is co-author of Jerry Springer — The Opera. His joke about what happens if you lick a lollipop with the face of the pope on it doesn’t bear repeating in a family e-letter.

That would be the Montcalm which may, for all I know, be the dowdiest 4-star hotel in the world.
Not quite no one else, Nick. It’s true that readers of tehgrauniad group newspapers, wouldn’t. Here’s the tehgrauniad’s site search for Maryam Namazie. Clearly, apart from Nick’s article, her only way to get into the paper is to write letters to the editor. Nick’s worked there how long, and he’s mentioned her how often?

For all that, Maryam Namazie’s obscurity remains baffling. She ought to be a liberal poster girl. Her life has been that of a feminist militant who fights the oppression of women wherever she finds it.

I’m baffled Nick and the monstrous legion of his colleagues haven’t mentioned her.
Others have noticed her before. Ophelia Benson (there’s a Butterflies and Wheels email every Monday if you’re interested) — Google found 46 references to Ms Namazie (some may be duplicates). The press didn’t cover it all, with the exception of Reuters.The NSS links to the limited coverage elsewhere, which manages to get everything wrong: here and here.
Coda: The one reaction everyone, including Nick, has missed is the one on Islamophobia Watch. (IW has a prominent copyright notice, which says in part, “All material remains copyright of original author and publisher, as cited in documents. Copyright material is posted on this website for the purposes of criticism or review.” I’ll note here that I’m posting their copyright material “for the purposes of criticism.”)

This would be the same Mayam Namazie who offered the following thoughtful comment on the issue of the hijab: “I suppose if it were to be compared with anyone’s clothing it would be comparable to the Star of David pinned on Jews by the Nazis to segregate, control, repress and to commit genocide.” So perhaps it’s just as well they didn’t get her started on Islamophobia.

This is entirely argument by innuendo. Her point is entirely reasonable. (I think there’s a difference between, say, a BNP candidate saying that, and someone who’s lived in a Muslim country saying it. The difference isn’t in the words themselves, but the speaker’s purpose and his/her views on women.)
Update: I mentioned Islamophobia Watch, and should have guessed that they’d post on our boy.

The Ontario proposal [for “right to faith-based civil arbitration”] provoked a racist backlash throughout Canada against Muslims and their supposed barbaric religious practices, which it was claimed had no place in a civilised Western society. And it was another WPI central committee member, Homa Arjomand, who played a leading role in encouraging this upsurge of Islamophobia. For her trouble, she became the “poster girl” of the most hardline right-wingers, receiving plaudits from the likes of Front Page Magazine.
It can’t be long before Cohen and the WPI go the whole hog and join their friends in GALHA — with whom they have co-operated closely in the anti-Qaradawi campaign — in promoting an anti-Muslim agenda that is indistinguishable from the vile propaganda of the racist Right.

Nick doesn’t need me to defend him here, but I will anyway. I don’t think he’s anti-Muslim in any sense which he isn’t also anti-Jew (he is militantly secular, so he is anti-Muslim in a sense). I do think that his intention (“agenda” is such a loaded word) is distinguishable from the straightforward racists. Just as taking sound bites from George Orwell can make his anti-Communism sound indistinguishable from old-style Tories who stood for many things he hated, of course, Cohen and Namazie’s writings can be cherry-picked. If Nick agrees with FrontPage, it may be because, like a stopped clock, FrontPage is right every so often. (I could have put this in so many other ways, almost all of them better, including citing Goebbels on propaganda having to contain truth, but this will have to do.)
Update 2: I’ve had an email which says that the Guardian search above doesn’t work. It did for me, but I found four articles, one was the Nick Cohen piece under discussion and these: 2004; 2003; 2002. Ms Namazie was also mentioned by name by Kenan Malik in January this year. It’s still not much a platform to attack Woman’s Hour from.

Notes and Queries

October 15, 2005

Q: Did the Guardian “run a web debate entitled: “David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen are enough to make a good man anti-Semitic'”?

A: No. Some troll started a thread of that title on their “talk” boards and it was deleted as soon as noticed.

Q: Why did Nick claim that they did in his New Statesman article?

A: Charitably, he doesn’t really understand this interweb thing. Less charitable explanations are certainly possible.

Q: Isn’t some apology in order?

A: If you don’t think I’m cute you can go and fuck yourself

Jesus Christ, it’s Saturday night!

October 15, 2005

blah blah forecast bollocks. I think:

NC: Left anti-Semitism is too soon after appearing in the Staggers. Iraq is not providing much material at present (interestingly, not too many words about that Constitution, are there?) and we’ve already had Reach Out To The Left Week. So, I’m guessing Darfur, which is always there whenever you need a pint of crocodile tears and a bag of shit to pour over the UN. No, hang on, earthquake in South Asia. We’ve provided them with loads of aid, so the bastards can stop bombing us.

DA: Earthquake too. The vulnerability, the fallibility. Mother Nature is a far greater force than the terrorrisses.

Update: Actually on reflection one or other of them is bound to have a go at Harold Pinter.

Update Update: Faith schools?

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October 15, 2005

Intentionally misunderstanding newspaper headlines is the lowest form of wit

Now I’ve started, I can’t stop. The Express today has the headline “PLOT TO BLACKEN DIANA’S NAME”. Apparently they’re thinking of calling her DeeAhnia. Stop it, you’re killing me.

I used to write about Post-Keynesian economics on this blog, didn’t I? It all seems so very long ago.

Journalists and Bloggers

October 14, 2005

Now that Nick Cohen has his own site, it’s worth asking what the difference between joggers and blournalists is. Johann Hari is another decent leftist, a Harry’s Place reader, and he only publishes his print journalism on his blog. For me, that’s not “getting it.” (I think that’s © Instapundit, but I don’t recall for certain.) Some smart blogger called his postings “velleities and lemmas”. Now if I knew what velleities were and I knew what lemmas were too I’d probably agree with that. It sounds good. And a lot of heavyweight journalism seems to be wielding a thesaurus at the right time.

Nick’s site looks like a blog, and it [insert 3rd person present participle verb here] like a blog and it [insert 3rd person present participle verb here] like a blog. But like Johann’s, it only covers his print pieces. Now if you write for money, why write for free? Andrew Sullivan does it, but I suspect that he’s found that a blog is a way of getting in touch with his audience (which is somewhat different from the readership of the publications he writes for), and a way of being the first contact for some eyewitness accounts. But what’s in it for Nick? Johann — to me — is an over-rated columnist (if that isn’t a tautology). I’ve never been sure if he’s a token rightist for the Independent or a token gay or if they just think he’s great. (I know Harry’s Place do; my taste may not be reliable.) Nick Cohen gets about more. There’s the Standard, the Observer, the Staggers, and perhaps FrontPage (I think that was Horowitz trying it on, however). Now, if columnists sell papers, and columnists can also been found free, and as they say gratis, not forgetting for nowt, on the interwebs, where does that leave Nick’s school fees? I think journalists having blogs is a very good thing. Just not like this.

What I think I’m leading to is that I think Nick is to be congratulated for having a site. (And getting WordPress to work half well. I never could.) But I think he’s cutting his own throat by publishing content freely when the Staggers charges. Copyright may protect his right to do that, but if I were a publisher, I’d refer to my freedom not to print his stuff. I just think he’s putting up the wrong stuff. If I were him (and it’s clever double-bluff time. … No, I’m not) I’d blog the first drafts. Get feedback. (Blog comments pick up factual errors.) Make the blog entries to the Observer column like Dorothy Wordsworth’s letters to William’s pomes. They say that with texts and phone calls, the art of letter-writing is dying. But if it weren’t for blogging, I’d write more letters. There are plenty of professional writers, poets, novelist, biographers, historians, philosophers honoured by the publication of a thumping volume of their laundry lists and billet-doux.

But if everyone does what Nick and Johann presently do, isn’t this going to kill their newspapers? Aren’t they union members? See, I don’t believe that blogs can take on journalism, but they can take on commentary. Because any idiot can do that. And blogs by professionals can rot sales to the point where papers cease to be influential. And then they close. That makes it seem like the mortgages and pensions and health care of printers, reporters, and lots of others are somehow in Nick’s hands.

Perhaps they are.

Update 16/10. First, thanks to Tom, the webmaster of NickCohen.net, for his positive comments. I meant to add an update earlier, disagreeing to some extent with what I wrote last night, but reading Tom stopped me. I have revised some of what I thought. Perhaps it’s a good thing that commentary becomes free, because then the unique selling point left to the “old media” (or the “main stream media”) is reportage. But, then, I also thought that Napster would kill phoney commercial music, killing off royalties and making only graft and live performance pay, and you can see how right that predicition was. And thinking about it, Nick only puts up columns which you can’t buy in the shops. That may be the sensible compromise. There’s always a premium for the new. (See the queues for the publication of a Harry Potter as a for instance.) This gets up the noses of us bloggers, but we’re wrong about this: journalism can’t be free. We need newspapers, that is real newspapers. They’re more than a way of avoiding eye contact on public transport, they also offer serendipitous discovery of stories in a way the structured search of the web avoids.

Finally, I seem to have excited some defences of Johann. I did say that my taste was unreliable. I think Nick is a better writer (although he could work on conscious humour, as dark sarcasm doesn’t go very far), and his books and the range of publications which he writes for bear me out. I’m prejudiced against the Indy which I used to read, because it just carries too much commentary. And I’m not convinced by Johann, though I’m aware that, generally, his heart is in the right place (I use this too often). I do have a prejudice against the under 30s. I’ll try to explain. I like Harold Pinter for example and he wrote some very good plays before he was 30. Eliot wrote the Wasteland, which I think is one of the most profound works of the last century, at 32. But those are, as it were, home games. Someone who writes every week in a paper should be used to playing away. She should have a very broad experience, preferably (IMO) either through intellect (as in university, I’m thinking of Conor Cruise O’Brien, a real heavyweight who wrote for the Observer) or as a reporter (I’d name Bill Deedes, no university, but seen the world). People like Johann were selected as columnists because they can write. I don’t want to read an account of an ascent of Everest by Andrew Motion. I want the account by the idiots who did it. Likewise I don’t care then Andy McNab’s prose may not butter many parsnips at the High Table. He’s been shot at and tortured. Beat those! If you’re going to comment on current events, you’re going to have to have seen a few. As I said, any idiot can write commentary. Perhaps (and this isn’t a hopeful perhaps) because everyone does do it, we get quality back. Of course, I also think that by the time you’re old and experienced enough to write commentary, you’re also a used-up backward-looking reactionary old fool. But then, life’s unfair.

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October 14, 2005

Betting update

Oh all right, I put my money on Doctor “Doctor Doctor” Fox. On the basis of a tip-off that he was well-liked in the City. I backed him at 12-1 at Ladbrokes; I missed the top tick because I could have got him at 14s the next day, but he is right back down now and I could take a small profit by laying him at 10s on Betfair. Bollocks to that, I’m sticking on for the real money.

I am slightly worried by the Cameron bandwagon obviously; there do seem to be a few rumours flying round that he has taken cocaine in the past, but so what? is the opinion of all the journalists I read (all of whom notoriously vote in Tory leadership elections). As far as I can tell, the only people left who would be prejudiced against someone simply because he snorted a few lines at university are a bunch of old farts in tweed suits living out in the country. Talk about out of touch granddad; they might as well be members of the Conservative Party.

Update: By the way, in further newsboard humour, the Times had a headline the other day saying something like “PRISONERS GET EXTRA TIME FOR STABBING” Is this at all wise? They seemed to be doing enough stabbing during the normal 90 minutes.

late betting update: rassen frassen riam rox.

Outsourcing

October 13, 2005

Christ you can get good work done by an Indian call centre for cheap these days.

Update: by the by, we were having trouble getting hold of the most recent New Statesman column recently, but here it is, unprotected by password walls or any such. Have things really got so desperate at the Staggers that they’ve started flogging their content on to David Horowitz? Is Nick on a residuals deal? (Similarly, given the unwise goatee/black suit/red shirt combo that Dave was wearing on Newsnight, is he auditioning for a slot on a celebrity poker show? Watch your fucking cards if he is, that’s my advice to our celebrity readers).

The reverse-twisting double-Gilligan with half somersault

October 13, 2005

AW is on reduced service at the moment I’m afraid, due to staff illness (mine). But the glaring, watchworthy bit of Dave’s little outpouring of crocodile tears for the BBC is right there in front of us in cold print:

It is, in essence, the Gilligan defence again. Never mind the facts, the story fits the preconceptions, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s true or not.

No, Dave. That’s not “The Gilligan defence”. Andrew Gilligan’s defence was specifically that David Kelly had said to Gilligan that the dossier had been fucked around with, and that he had used the specific phrase “one word: Campbell”. Gilligan’s defence was one of justification on the specifics of the Kelly story, and of fair comment on the rest of his five-minute piece. Lord Hutton found otherwise, but that was the defence.

Dave may be confusing this episode with the claim “SADDAM COULD STRIKE IN 45 MINUTES”. That was a story which was not true, but which fit the preconceptions and so was allowed to stand uncorrected. In fact, the general defence that it was OK to tell flat out lies in the service of a noble cause is specifically the central plank of Decentism (viz: “am I sorry about the WMD claims? I am not sorry that we got rid of a brutal dictator, who was brutal”). Aaro himself was actually on Newsnight last night helping Jack Straw rubbish the Lancet body count by saying “nobody can deny that things are better with Saddam gone”. The claim that the true body count is 8,000 is untrue, but it fits with the preconceptions, so never mind the facts.

So I repeat, those weapons had better be there.