Category: wankers

The Radicalisation of David Goodhart

I’ve been meaning to get to this. Now, he’s bound to be out telling us to give up this or that to fight the terrorists, so here goes. OK, who’s this?

The fault lies with our leaders, not with the people who came for a better life. There has been a huge gap between our ruling elite’s views and those of ordinary people on the street. This was brought home to me when dining at an Oxford college and the eminent person next to me, a very senior civil servant, said: ‘When I was at the Treasury, I argued for the most open door possible to immigration [because] I saw it as my job to maximise global welfare not national welfare.’…I was even more surprised when the notion was endorsed by another guest, one of the most powerful television executives in the country. He, too, felt global welfare was paramount and that he had a greater obligation to someone in Burundi than to someone in Birmingham.

We are ruled by a secret cabal of cosmopolitans, who control the media. I, as a special intermediary who can travel among them, alone bring you the horrifying truth. Here’s some more:

they seem to feel few national attachments. Indeed, they feel no less a commitment to the welfare of someone in Burundi than they do to a fellow citizen in Birmingham. Perhaps they even feel a greater commitment

Not only are they cosmopolitan, they are denational, anti-national.

Here’s some more, again.

Intellectual sophistication is, more generally, associated with transcending the local, the everyday, the parochial, and even the national. Replacing the nation with other allegiances seems an attractive, even morally superior, alternative – chiming with globalisation’s market freedoms.

It’s the intellectuals. Scheming with the merchants. To replace the nation with immigrants. There’s actually a word for that in German (Umvolkung) and the people who invented it are who’d you think.

Here’s some more.

I believe it is necessary to do something to break with the lethargic consensus in which we are trapped, even if it is a sacrifice…While I defend everyone’s national identity as long as they stay at home, I protest against the outrage that aims to replace our nation!

I kid, of course – it’s taken from French extreme-rightist thinker Dominique Venner’s suicide note, issued before he blew his brains out, in front of 1,500 worshippers, on the altar of Notre-Dame, in what was frankly a rather queeny effort to protest gay marriage. The translation is mine.

But the first three quotes are from hyper-respectable establishmentarian thinktanki, David Goodhart. Here’s some more Goodhart.

Who could say confidently that 5 million or 10 million people would not turn up in the space of a couple of years, especially to a country with the global connections that Britain already has?

I can’t find the reference at the moment, and there’s no way I’m spending more than the absolute minimum of my time typing things like “Eurabia GRECE ships founder conquest immigration” into search engines. But Goodhart is either knowingly or unknowingly quoting a founding text of the postwar extreme right in Europe here – a book, published in about 1968 by one of the founders of Venner’s thinktank GRECE, about the inevitable decadence of democracy, that would end when 5 to 10 million (inferior, animal, hypervirile – you know the deal) African immigrants suddenly sailed for our shores in the space of a couple of years, on rusty tankers, and we didn’t have the balls to just sink them on the high seas. I’m hoping one of my readers, probably Chris Williams or Phil Edwards, can remind me of the title.

Or I was. Then I did the obvious thing and referred to Venner’s own blog. It’s Jean Raspail’s Camp des Saints.

In the same piece of Goodhart’s, he specifically says that he wants to end the notion of refugee status for people fleeing, say, famine, natural disaster, or even war so long as the persecution is not directed at you as a named individual.

But many of the largest groups, such as Somalis, applying to enter Britain and other rich countries as refugees are not facing individual persecution but rather are caught up in regional conflicts or civil wars or even natural disasters. They have usually been granted “exceptional leave to remain” or what is now called “humanitarian protection”. There is no reason why the leave to remain should be permanent.

He is actually borrowing from French practice here; until the early 2000s, the French government didn’t recognise being persecuted by, say, the Taliban because you are a woman, rather than being persecuted for some individualised reason like (say) this or that celebrity dissident, and tended to dodge the issue by suggesting you might want to sneak on the Eurostar and get rid of your papers before the UK border control, nudge nudge. I suspect that the sources of this view in French administrative law are not ones you’d want to look at too closely.

Anyway, here’s some light relief. More Goodhart.

In the mid-20th century, political elites in the liberal democratic west began to embrace what the sociologist Geoff Dench has called the “universalist shift” – the belief in the moral equality of all people.

Geoff Dench?

 

Surely it is a notable fact that the director of Demos has self-radicalised, and is arguing for a program whose sources and whose content can be summed up as travail, famille, patrie?

Of course, the man who this reminds me of is Martin Amis, and I wonder if the same person turned both of them on. Perhaps it’s that one, you know, that one person who goes to North London dinner parties and indulges in casual anti-Semitism in front of rightwing newspaper columnists?

A glimpse of the libertarian utopia

Here is a blog post on the fate of horrible Internet troll “Old Holborn”, who seems to have decided to insult the whole of Liverpool, and succeeded in inspiring at least one Liverpudlian to dox him and report him to the police in his home town. I haven’t laughed so much in years, as this character was literally the only person in the British political blogosphere to recommend drawing up lists of enemies, and actually linked to one of my posts in so doing. Also, apparently the angry Scouser threatened to tell his employer all about the computer diary, which is salutary, given as his comments thread did that about twice a week to some poor public servant or other.

Beyond mere snark, a couple of points. For a start, this points up a huge problem with libertarians and their ism. If you really mean it about absolute free speech, doesn’t this place you under a duty to use it responsibly? Remember the crack about putting a big knife in the boss of cars’ steering wheels as a road-safety measure. If, rather than in the steering wheel, the knife was attached to a hub cap like the scythes on Boudicca’s chariot, surely it would be incumbent on you to take extra care? Obviously, a libertarian or anarchist society would be much more dependent on individual tolerance, forbearance, and civility just to keep the show on the road and daily life non-kinetic. Especially if everyone’s allowed to have guns.

Also, one of the classic arguments for freedom as a good in itself is that it promotes human flourishing. Not just because it is the absence of tyranny, or because the economy might supposedly work better, or because it provides space for creativity, eccentricity, and innovation, or even that it is abstractly inspiring as an ideal, but because living as a free moral actor requires you to be a better person. You might at this point think of some of the horrible gargoyles authoritarian societies seem to produce, and nod sagely. But it’s up to you. As the existence of this post suggests, we’ve got some real pieces of work too.

Anarchists agree, and take this much more seriously, to the extent of considering anarchy as in part an inner project of self-improvement and self-discipline. You are expected to live as if you were already part of an anarchic society. After all, even if abolishing the state is a somewhat remote objective and even creating a commune is a big project, you can at least expand the zone of sanity by not being such a twat. You might even be an example to others.

But as far as I can tell, political libertarianism seems to set out to do the exact opposite, to demonstrate that a libertarian society would be an opportunity to indulge the worst features of one’s character, and indeed to exercise and strengthen them. Also, do any of them imagine there might be anything about themselves that could be improved?

Meetings

Mark Ballard of Computer Weekly is trying to get the details of government meetings with the IT industry, and struggling. Among other things, this seems to be yet another use case for an enduring Freedom of Information Act request. It’s also one of the reasons why I like the idea of a central contacts register. Back at OpenTech 2009 I said to Tom Watson MP, just after he resigned as a minister, that it wasn’t just useful for citizens to be able to find out who officials were contacting – the government itself might benefit from keeping track of who was lobbying it, maintaining a common line-to-take across different departments, and the like. Hey, even the lobbyists might benefit from knowing who else was lobbying.

Of course, there’s an argument that the government quite likes having pathological relationships with its suppliers. But that’s one of the points where as soon as you get radical enough to understand the situation, you’re also too cynical to do anything about it. Watson’s been campaigning about this, and the Cabinet Office recently released some data. With the embarrassing bits taken out.

The bulk of it is here, it looks like they’re planning to split the disclosure between departments as this only covers ministers in the Cabinet Office (i.e. the PM, DPM, Secretary for the Cabinet Office, Leader of the Commons and the whips). It’s also on data.gov.uk but it’s going to need reparsing. At least it’s not a PDF. It’s a bit thin, presumably because the bulk of meetings with external organisations go via officials or bag carrier MPs – DEFRA’s is rather chewier.

There’s also a list of special advisers by department and salary, which may be handy, and has already informed me that one of William Hague’s advisers is none other than Richard Littlejohn’s son.

coffee and stupidity

Deeply unprofitable Crooked Timber thread produces an interesting point. Not so much “why do libertarians hate Fairtrade coffee?”, but why on earth do they insist on lying? From the link:

By guaranteeing a minimum price, Fairtrade also encourages market oversupply, which depresses global commodity prices. This locks Fairtrade farmers into greater Fairtrade dependency and further impoverishes farmers outside the Fairtrade umbrella. Economist Tyler Cowen describes this as the “parallel exploitation coffee sector”.

Coffee farms must not be more than 12 acres in size and they are not allowed to employ any full-time workers. This means that during harvest season migrant workers must be employed on short-term contracts. These rural poor are therefore expressly excluded from the stability of long-term employment by Fairtrade rules.

The problem here is paragraph two; I’ve not attempted to estimate the cross-elasticity of demand for Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade coffee, and it’s not the kind of thing I’d try unless someone was paying me to do it. But it’s perfectly simple to consult the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation International standardisation documents and see if they actually forbid full-time employment or set a maximum limit on the size of farms. Here’s the standard on the use of hired labour. Requirement 1.5.1.13:

All regular work is undertaken by permanent workers…The objective is that as often as possible, work is undertaken by permanent workers. Only work that is added to usual work levels during peak seasons may be undertaken by seasonal workers.

So – no. Not even close. 180 degrees out, in fact. The point arises downthread that the great majority of work on a coffee farm is seasonal in nature, so Cowan couldn’t possibly have been right even if you let him have his own facts. This is marginally unfair to him; it’s not his prose, but rather something he’s (very) favourably quoting. The original source is here; note the cites back to Cowan and to people at George Mason University, the Koch Industries school.

For some reason, I still followed a link to his blog after this, to this interesting sociological result. Apparently, if you’ve been to jail, you’re more likely to self-identify as black when you leave jail then when you went in. This is interesting, but then numskull racist twit Steve Sailer showed up in the comments. As far as I can make out from his semi-coherent comments, he’s very angry about this, which is odd for someone who believes in biological racism (surely it wouldn’t matter? your DNA, after all, doesn’t care which census box you tick).

Further, Sailer’s freakout reminded me of the old joke about the Wee Free minister who hears that a hippie commune has moved into the next island along. He listens icily as the various novel features are described – the long music, the loud hair, the ruthlessly commercial communists, etc. Eventually they tell him the newcomers believe in free love. “Free love?” he explodes. “That could lead to mixed dancing!” Similarly, it’s clear from Sailer’s comments that he’s opposed to rape in prison because he thinks it might lead to multi-culturalism. And does he think about it. All the time, it seems.

Perhaps his mate Anthony Browne from PolEx could offer him counselling as part of the Big Society?

trolls of the Ayatollah

Laura Rozen takes us to meet the Iranian government’s loyalist bloggers.

The hardliners have fielded hundreds of pro-regime bloggers, most writing in Persian, emphasizing particularly the importance of supporting the Supreme Leader. The bloggers range from students to clerics, with many claiming to be members of the Basij and children of war veterans or martyrs. Virtually all are hard-line or extremist in their views. Some bloggers appear to be popular and often draw many comments from their posts.

You bet they do. It would be offensive to speculate exactly who we all know would end up doing this job in a hypothetical fascist Britain. I’ll leave it up to you, although I will point out that at least two bloggers who would be regulars on Newsnight and in the British Gazette‘s opinion pages in that scenario…already are regulars in the MSM.

I don’t know if they’re doing anything technical to favour their bloggers and their trolls over the other guys; if the loyalists are more likely to be hosted in Iran, the policy of slashing international bandwidth while leaving the networks up might help. But that’s not what interests me right now.

What role, politically, do trolls play? On one hand, it’s clearly possible to use the Internet as a mobilisation tool for good, or at the very least, for nihilistic shit-flinging. Examples; this slightly disappointing interview with the Obama campaign’s CTO, and this blitz on a bunch of bigots’ facetwitspace accounts, respectively. Or this scientific paper; oddly, when a random Internet person actually did some climate science they didn’t find that it was all made up.

But on the other hand, there’s a great towering mountain of drivel, a spuming, stinking Eyjafjallajökull of bullshit – an Icelandic or Hawaiian eruption, one that keeps burbling on without working up enough pressure to explode, but does keep belching toxic gas.

Personally, I suspect that the use of Internet pond life in politics is that it’s a way of tapping the energies of people who otherwise wouldn’t get involved, just as lefties tend to hope it might be the same thing. I just differ on which group of people are being mobilised. It’s hard to get The Authoritarians to initiate anything; they’re obsessed with leaders by definition. And it’s also unlikely that you’ll get people who are convinced of the futility of collective action to start a movement. Further, this guy wasn’t going to take to the streets, was he?

Get them in front of a keyboard, pass them some talking points, though, and they’re happy to bombard selected targets with abuse. I further observe that we have about three major examples of this – one is the US, and specifically the Bush re-election campaign, another would be Russia in the early Putin years (Andrew Wilson’s classic Virtual Politics (I reviewed it here) is good on the importance of the temnik talking points system), and the latest would be Iran today.

covering the story: a glimpse of the press in action

Ah yes, the summer and autumn of 2004. The beaux jours of rightwing horseshit, back when an actual neocon disinformation job was targeting a short who’s who of blogging. It seems to be time for some of those years’ shit to float up to the surface. Here’s Dan Rather, suing CBS.

Rather contends not only that his report was true – “What the documents stated has never been denied, by the president or anyone around him,” he says – but that CBS succumbed to political pressure from conservatives to get the report discredited and to have him fired. He also claims that a panel set up by CBS to investigate the story was packed with conservatives in an effort to placate the White House. Part of the reason for that, he suggests, was that Viacom, a sister company of CBS, knew that it would have important broadcasting regulatory issues to deal with during Bush’s second term.

Among those CBS considered for the panel to investigate Rather’s report were far-right broadcasters Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

I had an interesting experience with CBS after that, which may bear repeating. Quite suddenly, some time in the early summer of 2005, I was contacted by a CBS Correspondent, regarding the Viktor Bout-to-Iraq issue. We discussed it by e-mail; they read huge quantities of the blog from a wide range of locations that presumably mapped onto the organisation chart of the CBS journo-octopus.

Could they see primary documents? Surely they could. I shot over a gaggle of DESC fuel contracts. CBS e-mail didn’t eat more than 500KB at a go; we did it again. We conspired in pubs. They were delighted to learn I was….an actual journalist, not some anarchist drug-chimp off the interwebs. Better, a trade journalist, so not someone on the nationals… Credit and cash were offered. Lunch was called at Villandry, conveniently not far from my office.

A top CBS was summoned; I hauled in a box of docs on the train and the tube and my desk, as well as all the digital. Unlike MI6, I didn’t lose them. He came supposedly direct from Iraq, with photos of various aircraft at Baghdad Airport. I identified them, wondering what the point was – there were plenty of VB jets photographed there?

There was a brief period of expectancy, before the correspondent eventually called back to say that after the Rather/Kerning Krisis they couldn’t do anything like it, for political reasons. Perhaps they needed a signed statement from Viktor? I had a similar experience with the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal, without the lunch. Now, it all makes much more sense.

food

While I’m randomly abusing the government, what about this?

The document classes 1.6 million families with children aged between two and 11 as “high risk”. It states: “Food has become an expression of love in ‘at risk’ families.

The horror. Food should be an unpleasant necessity shoved down because authority says so. Everyone knows that – it’s how it works in the most expensive private schools, and in the most expensive state institutions as well. And they can’t be wrong – they’re too expensive.

Of course, later in life it can be an opportunity to display merit through consumption, as long as you make amends by reading the Thoughts of Madeleine Bunting. But an expression of love? That’s like those perverted Arabs and their erotic desire for women.

I am now surrounded by liars, clowns, fools, drunks, sycophants and the desperate

Shouldn’t this story be getting just a little more air? So the editor of the News of the Screws is found by an employment tribunal to have bullied one of his reporters to the point that it seriously affected his health, to have tried to exert influence on his doctor, while both the sports editor and the deputy managing editor lied to the tribunal. Had it been any other kind of tribunal, this would have been the stuff of a perjury conviction.

Yer man is now, of course, the director of communications for the Conservative Party, and Rupert Murdoch’s representative on Earth (David Cameron Department). Does the party endorse this sort of conduct? Is he a fit and proper person? It would, as they say, be irresponsible not to speculate.

Also, what kind of a sick internal culture does that rag have? First you have violent binge drinker Rebekah Wade, then school bully Coulson and the pair of liars Dunn and Nicholas. It’s astonishing; I always assumed they ran on massive hypocrisy, but in fact the content of the paper exactly represents the way they behave in private. The personal, it seems, certainly is the political at the News of the World.

On the other hand, don’t imagine that the story from the Guardian actually ran in the paper. Instead of the wealth of detail given above, the print edition slashed it down to a one-paragraph nib in the depths of the paper; I suppose we should be thankful they didn’t say Coulson had been the editor of “a newspaper”, as their Robert Napper case coverage did to avoid naming names about the Sun‘s disgraceful police-sponsored smear campaign against Colin Stagg. Why can’t you get a cab outside a newspaper office? Because of the double yellow streaks.

a short film about killing turkeys

The Rude Pundit has a very good point.

You can’t even picture Obama pardoning a fucking turkey. Sure, he’ll probably do it. But unlike Bush, who approached such obligations with dunce-like glee, for Obama it’ll be like a kick in the groin.

As usual with Rude, there’s a serious point here, sneaking past the guards while all the noise and snark and chainsaw dust draw their attention. Pardoning a turkey is, let’s face it, exactly the kind of stupid crap most British people look at as just the kind of stupid crap Americans get up to. Can you imagine a British prime minister trying this? He or she would be laughed out of the country; probably they’d end up doing a John Profumo and choosing a life of deliberate monkish obscurity.

But it’s not just ridiculous; it’s morally repellent and politically more than dubious. After all, what is the turkey’s crime? Being a turkey? Pardon implies that you committed a crime, and also that you were punished by some legitimate authority, which has now offered you mercy out of the goodness of its heart. It’s a sort of reversed sacrifice – rather than killing a goat to expiate your sins, it’s not killing a turkey so as to go off and eat millions of ‘em with a clean conscience.

Pardon is also interesting because it can’t be separated from executive power. To pardon someone means that the head of state decided, whatever the law happened to be, whatever the judiciary thought of the case, whatever the jury thought of the evidence, just to intervene and make an exception. It’s only possible, after all, because the executive has the power to execute. It also means that the executive agreed to all the other executions; what, after all, would happen if the president pardoned everyone? That would be about as likely as pardoning all the turkeys. Executive clemency is the flip side of executive cruelty. (Note, of course, that a British prime minister isn’t the head of state.)

It’s therefore a profoundly anti-rational, authoritarian custom; no wonder it’s a holdover from absolute monarchy. And this, I think, is what worries me about this ceremony – it’s the sacralisation of the executive branch. Like the King’s touch for scrofula. (He can even un-turkey a turkey!) No wonder, as Rude so wisely points out, Bush loves it.

Before we go on, here’s a video from Talking Points Memo in which you can see both Bush doing the turkey thing and also Sarah Palin’s now-notorious performance in which she pardoned a turkey while a worker slaughtered turkeys in the background. It will help your comparative turkeyology to watch closely.

Now, what about the well-known cockup in Alaska? A couple of points come to mind. For a start, as befits an anti-rationalist movement, neoconservatism has no culture of competence. They never run anything; their natural habitat is the thinktank, the university campus, the elite circle. Hence the Schlamperei that follows them around, like a drugfuddled burglar in a darkened room full of gym equipment. Of course they’d fuck it up – even in Washington, Bush managed to grant the bird a “full unconditional unconditional pardon”.

The second is that perhaps they aren’t trying. Looking back, when did they lie convincingly? The case for war was based not on lies, but on the unwillingness to confront the lies. Later, on things like torture and mass surveillance, they moved beyond this and simply admitted the facts while denying the form. Yes, we waterboarded the guy and pulled your call-detail records – are you with the terrorists? Of course, we do not support torture or illegal surveillance. In a very real sense, they were pardoning turkeys in front of the slaughter live on TV all the time.

a cheap holiday in other people’s misery

I’m not so sure about this; arsewit wingnut blogger runs out of money, goes bankrupt, various people who should know better jeer.

The whole point of everything from some way to the right of centre – Bismarck or thereabouts – leftwards is that IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good christian, a loyal subject, a committed rebel, if you work harder, if you’re especially competent. Even if you’re rich; European history is littered with the monuments of elites who thought they could buy their way out at the last. We survive if everyone else does.

Poverty and misfortune are not, generally, held up by individuals’ decisions; they roll over the landscape, driven by shifts in huge statistical aggregates and channeled by tiny ripples of random chance, just as a flood begins with a rise in average rainfall and ruins one street that’s six inches closer to the water. When you think that so-and-so went bust because of their own immorality, and therefore they join the undeserving poor, you’re signing on with the other side. They will tell you that the system is entirely OK; it’s the ones who failed it who are the problem. They didn’t believe in it enough.

As the case of Kim du Toit makes clear, this won’t help you one bit when it happens to you. Yes, he’s an arse of the first water and a troll of epic proportions. No, mocking people because of their poverty is always and everywhere wrong.