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March 23, 2006

I suppose some sort of comment is in order

I am now going to be writing quite a bit for Comment Is Free, the new Guardian blog. A lot of people are apparently saying it isn’t a proper blog, but in my view, if it’s got a really nasty flamewar about Israel somewhere on it, it’s a blog. In principle they pay money, but it is quite difficult to get it, but I am frankly in it for the ego trip.

My original idea was that I would post all my good ideas there and put the crap on this site and CT. On the other hand, it has just dawned on me that whenever they pay me, I have to pay higher rate income tax on it, plus there is no PAYE so it will turn my income tax form into a hideous nightmare of record-keeping (even more so since it has launched two weeks before the end of the tax year, so in eighteen months time I will forget which cheques arrived which side of April 5th). So I might actually reverse that strategy.

The Levitt review part 2 (tentatively entitled “The Heterodox Economic Theory Of The Criminal Firm”) is now half finished. It’s not really got much to do with Freakonomics but whatcha gonna do. I think I might finish it tonight, and it will be up here as it is way, way too long for the Guardian.

This is as good a time as any to admit that I am one of the people behind Aaronovitch Watch (incorporating “Nick Cohen Watch”).

Update. It is traditional on this site to break up the hiatuses with silly newspaper headline jokes. So I note that the Evening Standard yesterday had the headline “GANG PLOTTED TO BLOW UP BLUEWATER”. Could this occasion the first prosecution for glorifying terrorism?

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March 7, 2006

Johnny One-Mate

I have just refreshed the Pajamas Media front page 35 times, and been served the same Netflix ad every single time. Is this a record?

(I’d be particularly interested to know if US readers see anything different, because I seem to recall that their other advertiser was some kind of postal service that didn’t want you to click through their ad from non-US web addresses and I suppose in principle the PJM people might have finally got their act together to stop serving it).

Update: “Instapundit.com”, part of the PJM network, 15 times. Netflix every time.

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March 1, 2006

Dancing With den Bestes

I see that Den Bestie Boy is up to his old tricks again. I therefore pass on these tips, gathered from experience, for Fontana Labs and anyone else who might be thinking of having a run-in with him.

1. Don’t answer his email. It might look quite civilised, but in fact he is hoping that you will reply in a way that gives away your IP address. He will then do a reverse DNS lookup and post your details on his website. SdB apparently doesn’t think that this is a really twatty thing to do, but you might.

2. Be aware that he has a tendency to try to rewrite history, particularly the history of conversations he has had with people who are too polite to post private email, in a really self-serving way. I note that he is now talking smack about me, for example and I must say that this, well it ain’t the way I remembered it. However …

3. Remember that living well is the best revenge. A simple corollary of this is that maintaining an anime blog is the opposite of “living well” and thus the worst revenge, so if you are in a pissing match with someone who does spend all his time protesting to the Internet that he really does shut his eyes when the naked cartoon children are on screen, honestly, then all you really have to do is sit tight and wait for history to rack up enough points on your side. If you read den Beste’s version of things then he whupped my ass realll good with his mad crazy usenet flamewar skills but the facts are that three years later, nobody really mentions his name without adding the word “shorter”.

that is all.

Update: Oh look, he posts private email too (see link in comments)! The ethics of anonymous posting are perhaps a matter for debate but on this there is surely a social convention, isn’t there? Just a couple of points:

1. I think I actually come off quite well in the posted exchange; you’ll note I’m being reasonable and conciliatory while den Beste is posting links to loony rants about Jacksonianism. There was a reason why he did that, btw; he needed me to follow a link from an email he sent so that he could check the IP address in his referrer logs against my mail headers and thereby post the name of my ISP. This is why I warned above to not reply to his mail.

2. (there is actually another piece of information which is highly relevant to understanding that exchange, but I am not going to publish it on the Web because I have too much respect for the third parties involved)

3, and most hilariously. SdB is not actually telling the whole truth when he says “I did not respond any further”. Actually, a couple of days later, he sent me an email whingeing that I kept spelling his name wrong – it is apparently “Shorter Steven” not “Shorter Stephen”. I am reminded of Charles Pooter, who left with quiet dignity but tripped on the mat on the way out.

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February 27, 2006

Monday Swearing Board

This is the place to post all the coarse language and personal insults which are ommitted from the John Quiggin.com Monday Message Board

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February 23, 2006

The Anglo-Saxon Death Cult

Assuming that at least some of us have the ambition of understanding the Islamic world and being better able to predict events there, rather than just randomly hating and fearing them, and assuming that some of us in that group do not really have the time or ability to learn Arabic and become experts on the Islamic worldview, one of the things that might be really useful would be a few analogies between the Islamic worldview and our own. Being able to think in terms of “X is to them as Y is to us” is often a good way to get inside someone’s head. With this in mind, I offer the following contribution.

A lot of the reason why well-meaning and intelligent people inadvertantly helped to fuel and sustain what might otherwise have been a minor moral panic in the Muslim world over those Danish cartoons, is that the level of outrage seems (to us) completely disproportionate to the insult. Since it seems to disproportionate to us that anyone should riot over a disrespectful portrayal of Mohammed, or the defacement of a Koran, I suggest that the problem here is that we are using the wrong symbols when we translate their actions into our own terms. We do not have anything like such a serious taboo on religious blasphemy. It is therefore by that token bad analysis to think about Muslims’ reactions to defacement of their holy symbols, by considering what we might do if someone defaced our holy symbols.

We do, however, have an awful lot of taboos when it comes to death and dead bodies. These are actually much older, more universal and more serious in English-speaking cultures than the sexual taboos – in the original Anglo-Saxon tongue, “fuck” and “cunt” were simple descriptive terms for what they described and all the swear-words were to do with death. Certainly people who would not think twice of displaying their genital piercings in the street would cover themselves up and nod their heads when a funeral cortege passed by.

A dead body is a simple physical object; it looks like a person, but it is not that person – the person stopped being there at the moment of death. It may look like somebody’s loved one, but so does a picture or a caricature. However, in English law, it is in many circumstances actually illegal to put a dead human body on display; the most recent case involved the sculptor Anthony Noel Kelly. The only public display of human bodies which has been allowed in the UK in the last forty years was Gunther von Hagens’ “Bodyworlds” scientific exhibition, and this was extremely controversial at the time (as was Channel 4’s broadcast of an autopsy by Hagens) despite the education and scientific nature of that exhibit. Simply putting dead bodies on display to ogle at would be completely unacceptable to British society in this age, although perhaps not in older and more bloodthirsty times. Certainly, there is no longer anything but revulsion for the concept of public executions.

Not only that, but when we in the English-speaking world see dead human bodies being treated disrespectfully, or otherwise than in accordance with our particular customs and taboos, we react in an extremely emotional fashion. In March and April of 2004, we attacked the city of Fallujah with bombs and white phosphorus, in response to an incident in which four contractors had been murdered. Of course they were not the first contractors to be killed in Iraq, and nor was this even the worst attack in Fallujah by that time. However, the insurgents who dragged them from their cars also mutilated and burned their bodies while putting them on public display. This led to vastly more outrage in the English-speaking world than several other atrocities by the insurgents which had been much worse in terms of actual deaths. I did not read all the opinion published at the time, but I don’t think anyone at all in the English-speaking press or on weblogs suggested that a massive all-out attack on a whole city was in any way a disproportionate reaction to the desecration of four corpses.

So I think that this is the analogy; whenever one hears of a Koran defacement or some such, it makes sense to imagine that a corpse has been desecrated, because it seems to me that this is the analogous taboo. I don’t want to at this point say anything about whether it is more or less rational to respond in this manner to a holy book or to a dead human body; for one thing I am a Westerner and hardly in a position to judge the rationality of my own beliefs, and for another I am currently of the opinion that the leisurely study of whose taboos make more sense is a luxury that we will be better able to afford when we and the Muslim world have stopped rattling our sabres at one another to quite such an extent. But it strikes me that the Muslim taboo on graven images and the Anglo-Saxon death cult, whatever their historical origins, have the same psychological roots.

Postscript: This post is dedicated to Philip Davies, who died on February 9th of complications following the massive stroke he suffered last November. He was a regular reader and occasional contributor to this blog, most notably to this post on the speed of falling spherical parachutists, which has always been a personal favourite of mine (particularly its comments).

Dad was a really great bloke. He lived his life according to a fairly simple personal rule which involved caring a great deal about a small number of important things and not at all about a large number of basically unimportant things. I’ll miss him a hell of a lot, and I keep resolving to be more like him.

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February 5, 2006

Effigy update

I have found the effigy maker I was talking about below, and what a bloody disappointment it is too. That alleged “effigy” is a joke. It’s just a generic rag doll with a sort of Danish cross painted on it and a bit of Arabic writing, no doubt saying “I am the blasphemous Dane and when I am burned that will teach me a lesson”.

In related news, as I recently pontificated at Matthew’s site, is there some major political and moral interest which is served by not saying “sorry” to the Muslims? A lot of internet commentors certainly appear to think it is a sad day for press freedom etc etc when the latest newspaper editor has an eye on his job and makes a slightly late, slightly insincere apology. My advice to future sensationalist newspaper cartoonists is that a stitch in time saves nine, and if you are serious about just wanting to make a point about press freedom and not just having a go at the Muslims, a quick, sincere apology the moment you find out that you have caused offence often goes a long way toward defusing a potentially nasty situation. Fuck the Pope and the IRA. Christ I’m sorry, that was a really stupid way to make my point. See? It works.

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February 3, 2006

Oh yeh? Well I don’t care about your views on the Danish cartoons either!

I have two of ’em.

1. This idea that your proclamations in favour of free speech or reporting on the issue are for shit if you don’t reproduce the cartoons yourself are beyond mindless. David Irving is in jail in Austria for making offensive statements. Does the BBC have to reproduce five minutes of holocaust denial every time they cover this story, in order to show that it won’t bow to overseas pressure?

2. I have to say that if, ten years ago, someone had offered me the deal that the Muslims could decide what cartoons would be published in Jyllens-Posten, and in return we could decide who was allowed to have nuclear weapons, I would probably have said “deal”.

I quite like it when there are riots on the telly. It is interesting and so far nobody has been actually hurt. I was quite impressed that a Pakistani crowd apparently burned an effigy of the Danish Prime Minister on Wednesday; presumably the effigy-maker was working from a photograph, and they would have had to hang some sort of “I AM THE DANISH PRIME MINISTER” notice around its neck, because I for one would not be able to tell an effigy of the Danish Prime Minister from an ordinary shop dummy. Still, it’s pretty slick work to be able to knock up an effigy of the Danish Prime Minister in no more than a couple of days. I wonder if the guy has a website where I could order a few dozen Tom Friedmans?

btw, I guess that the first newspaper to publish these cartoons in the UK will be the Independent. They like their big, splashy picture front pages. I prefer news myself, but there is clearly a minority audience for this stuff.

So my final considered conclusion is that I had previously assumed that the only people who wrote letters to newspapers were loonies, but the reaction of the Islamic world to these cartoons suggests that it is not always a bad idea. A sternly worded letter of complaint with an unfunny sarcastic remark at the end would have been a much better and not obviously less effective form of protest. In general I am quite sympathetic to downtrodden people who overreact massively to any minor slight – having the option of taking any shit from anyone is actually quite an expensive luxury only available to those at the top of the tree – but there is such a thing as taking a good idea too far. I am more neutral on the subject of making death threats to cartoonists because my prejudice is to believe that newspaper cartoonists are a smug bunch of wankers who are in the habit of claiming to be “puncturing pomposity” or “adding an element of anarchy” rather than providing something for the 40% of newspaper buyers who are illiterate to look at. I think the occasional death threat might have a salutory effect. Martin Rowson has got a lot better since I locked him in my car boot for 48 hours.

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February 2, 2006

Mr Tom Friedman: An Apology

It has come to my notice that President George Bush has decided to spend $25bn of American taxpayer’s money on research into alternative energy sources, in order to reduce America’s oil imports from the Middle East. This is, as near as dammit, the “geo-green” policy advocated by Thomas “Airmiles” Friedman of the New York Times.

On a number of occasions in the past, I have opined that the fact that George W Bush is from Texas and they pump oil in Texas, means that it was somewhat forlorn to suppose that he would spend billions of dollars on creating a recession in Texas. Indeed, I have suggested that the fact Friedman has tried to sell a “geo-green” policy to the Bush White House, was good evidence that Friedman was a buffoon. An apology is clearly in order.

My apology is obviously tempered by the fact that a child could see that Bush is lying on this just as he was on the African AIDS millennium initiative, Katrina reconstruction and national security spending for New York City post 9/11 and the money will never show up, but nevertheless, advantage Friedman for the time being.

Meanwhile I went a little bit mental this week and decided to fight the blue corner for the racial incitement laws, one of the stupider policies of a government I despise. Here at Blood ‘n’ Treasure for example, spilling over to the Jarndyce blog here. I even pursued the enemies of censorship onto completely different issues and started babbling about Marxism. It all ended badly as I delivered one of the most bitter outpourings in quite a while at the original scene.

Thank god I wasn’t too overcome to pick my weekly pointless fight with Abiola Lapite. There is a bit more incitement law advocacy at that site too but I can’t be bothered cataloguing it.

Next week, quite possibly, the general theme of “those fucking Danish cartoonists had it coming”. Pip pip.

Levitt bit coming soon …

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January 24, 2006

Around and about the blogs

Sorry, quite busy recently � I did promise another installment of the Levitt sage, didn’t I? Forthcoming, although probably not this week as Thursday is my big night for writing blog posts and this week I am going to heckle at a philosophy lecture instead. Anyway, of late I have:

A busy week, although I did make time to troll the Newsnight “Have Your Say” feature (scroll down to “Russia spy row”). I have a mate at Newsnight who I like to wind up from time to time, so there are actually quite a few of these in the archive.

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January 13, 2006

PC Plod

Once more, the politically correct mafia are censoring Radio 4 and this time it is a slightly different crowd who have grabbed the wrong end of the stick (surprisingly little overlap between the gang shouting “Islamophobia” now and the gang shouting “PC leftoFascism” a month ago

Look chaps, this is the deal. There are apparently a few rather touchy queens who listen to Today and PM. If you say something nasty about our friends the pooves, they are going to call the police (apparently in this case there is even a handy web portal for them to use) and say you’ve committed a public order offence (this would have to be “harassment”, as homophobic incitment is not a crime). The busies will investigate this, because that is their job, investigating alleged crimes (I know that a lot of people including my readers think that their real job is walking around in circles and no other form of police work has any merit at all, but I promise you this is not true). In the course of investigating this charge and finding it to be bollocks, you will get a phone call from John Law. Try not to fly off the handle when it happens is all I’m saying.

A few years ago, there were a couple of Newcastle fans who used to play a similar annoying and silly game. If an opposing striker ever kissed his badge or shouted to the crowd to celebrate a goal, they would grass on him to the police and claim he was committing a public order offence by taunting him. This is not acceptable behaviour of course, and gets both pooves and Geordies a reputation for being thin-skinned slimy little toe-rags who can give it out but not take it. But nor is it the end of democracy.