Sunday, February 25, 2007

Nick Cohen appeals to right-wing Americans

In Opinion Journal, no less:

I hope conservative American readers come to Britain. But if you do, expect to find an upside-down world. People who call themselves liberals or leftists will argue with you, and when they have finished you may experience the strange realization that they have become far more reactionary than you have ever been.

Thank God for the Wall Street Journal and its endless coverage of Egyptian bloggers.



The Telegraph says that the CIA is supporting terrorists group in Iran . There seems three major problems with this. One, the morality of it. The campaigns are against soldier and governmental officials, which perhaps makes it less terroristic than if it was against civilians, but these things rarely remains so compartmentalised. Second, the hypocrisy of it, particularly with respect to criticism of Iranian activity in Iraq. Finally, the fact that it might be counter-productive, as the article notes these groups are not particulary pro-the US.

I think these things need a very specific goal if they are to be successful. On the other hand if one wants a policy it is undoubtably a better policy than a military attack, which I think just won't succeed. The Times reports that some US Generals plan to resign if Iraq is attacked. One shouldn't read too much into this, there are loads of Generals. Perhaps more interesting is the suggestion that the US Navy is being 'seriously careful' as it doesn't want to get involved in an incident with Iran that might provoke the White House.


The Shame of the Left, part XXVIX by Nick Cohen

Apparently, except for bloggers, only Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International [1] have been protesting 'here' [2] against the jailing of Egyptican blogger Abdel Karim Suleiman, which apparently backs up Nick Cohen's book which argues that the liberal-left (with a special focus on Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) have turned their backs on the poor world in gruesome alliance with Islamists [3].

[1] Reporters without Borders certainly have to, but I suspect their Frenchness ruled them out.
[2] 'Here' I think means the UK, which is a little odd as I thought Human Rights Watch was based in the United States.
[3] Aside from this ridiculous argument, I agree with most of the post.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

He-Man and She-Man

I've been reading Anne de Courcy's Diana Mosley biography, which has been interesting. One of her friends was (and then wasn't) Evelyn Waugh, and I was unaware (but Wikipedia notes it) that he married a women called Evelyn, and they were known as He-Evelyn and She-Evely.

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The cost of living

Nick Cohen in last week's Evening Standard (not online, I think) returns to one of his favourite themes, the rising cost of living in London. He quotes Martin Amis[1]:

"In the 1960s you could live on 10 shillings a week: you slept on people's floors and sponged off your friends and sang for your supper," Amis remembered. " Then , abruptly, breakfast[2] alone cost 10 shillings. The oil hike, inflation and stagflation revealed literary criticism as one of those leisureclass fripperies we would have to get along without."

and adds himself:

Class is once again dominating London's culture because the extraordinary house price inflation is pricing graduates from ordinary backgrounds out of intellectual life.

There is clearly something in this, with many salaries in these types of jobs failing to keep pace with the general rise in income, and house prices in any case have exceeded the rise in income [3]. And yet the example chosen is not a good one (and it's worth recalling that Cohen means couples on £100,000 a year when he talks about these things)

Ten shillings in 1969 is equivalent to about six pounds today. That doesn't sound very realistic, even for the 1960s. But of course Amis is remembering those days as sleeping on people's floors, sponging off friends, and singing for your supper. Obviously this means a low cost of living as everything there is free. The cost of doing that today is identical. Zilch. Furthermore, Nick Cohen's interpretation makes no sense at all, because house price inflation is essentially irrelevant to Amis's story.

You could argue that higher house prices mean people have smaller houses, and thus less room for people to crash on their floors. But really the lesson of this is what we were discussing the other week, which is what Cohen and Amis mean is no-one (and particularly one assumes not people of their age) would put up with the deprivation that they did then. This is essentially at the heart of middle-class whinging - they want foreign travel (vastly cheaper) and new TVs, etc, when their parents probably holidayed in Devon, and made do with a single black and white set until it stopped working.

[1] The choice of Amis as an example of better days in piece about how nowadays people can't work in the arts unless they have rich parents is amusing.
[2] Cohen's genius for misquotation continues, unless there are two version of War Against Cliche. It's a bus fare that now costs 10 shillings in my version (but his italics).
[3] Although houses are investment goods, and so the cost of buying a house contains implicitly a positive amount of saving. People should really look at the cost of purchase using an interest-only mortgage.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Tim Worstall

Let me begin by saying I like Tim Worstall's blog. I disagree with his views on most issues, I think he is far too quick to draw conclusions from limited data, I think he's slightly boring in that his libertarianism collapses too easily into Toryism (e.g. the idea that the government should create a nationalised company to advertise its jobs rather than use the private sector), and I think occasionally he just gets things wrong (and doesn't often enough own up to it). But I respect the sheer amount of posts he makes, and he often raises interesting issues and points.

In many ways, then, I was disappointed to learn that his huge efforts in gaining revenue for his blog through advertising, and paid links, and paid posts, etc, gained him just £2,000 a year. That's just £9 per working day, which must make his hourly rate dire.

Also, we now have this:

This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation. The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog. That content, advertising space or post may not always be identified as paid or sponsored content.

Update: See comments.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

James Rogers

James Rogers, who we last heard of declaring that "Britain is unquestionably the second most powerful country in the world" now writes (in an article that reminded me of the old story that Berwick upon Tweed was once at war with Russia) that:
[Russia] has an economy little larger than a European city like Paris or London

How can a man with so many academic qualifications be so ill-informed? I thnk that might have almost been true of GDP statistics about a decade ago, when the economy was at rock bottom and the rouble undervalued. But even then the comparision would have needed some explanation. Today, it's far from the truth. As of 2006 the IMF estimates that Russian GDP was $975bn, with UK $2.4 trillion. This makes London's GDP about $400bn, ie just over 40% of Russia's. For 2007 the estimate for Russia is nearly $200bn more, for London just $20bn. That mean's Russia's economy is not 'a little larger', it's a lot larger. PPP estimates, which have at least as good a claim to accuracy in this (and often a better guide to the future) are $1.7trn to $1.9trn, making London about $320bn, or 1/5th the size of Russia.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Martin Amis

I wanted to return to these comments by Martin Amis:

There’s a definite urge—don’t you have it?—to say, “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.” What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation—further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan...Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children.

I am surprised, and disappointed, at the lack of outrage over these comments. Let's look in some more detail at what he is saying he has 'definite urge' to happen. He is demanding 'curtailing of freedoms' and 'discriminatory stuff'. More specifially, he wants to ban Muslims from travelling.

Where would this lead? It's not rocket science. Obviously, a lot of Muslims would not be able to do their jobs if they were not allowed to travel. Thus you would have a increasingly impoverished community, ever more reliant on state handouts to remain alive. They would also be increasingly angry, as to this he wants to add 'strip searching people who like they're from the Middle East or from Pakistan'(this section, as Mukul Kesaven notes, puts pay to the idea that this is only about Islam). And what would they be searched for? The Koran?

Finally, 'down the road', we have 'deportation'. Given the travel ban, this might be difficult, but more is the point - where do you deport a British-born Muslim man to? Presumably not the EU, as then they could come right back. Other countries aren't going to willing play Amis's game. Obviously you can't, unless Amis plans to find an empty island somewhere. This is chilling stuff.

I think this particularly shocked me as I was quite a fan of some of Martin Amis's earlier works, and also because I am going on a trip (to the United States) with a friend of mine who happens to be a Muslim, in a month's time. Amis not only doesn't think he should be allowed to go, but he wants to make him suffer if he remains in the country.

As I said, there should be more outrage. Does the Jewish Chronicle know what it is paying to put on? Does Manchester University know who they are about to employ?

ps I should say, as I did last time, that I retain some hope that Amis was misquoted. That he has made no effort to correct this, or inform his best mate Hitchens before he quoted it, suggests not, but it remains a possibility.


Am I Decent or Not?

Norman Geras says that he doesn't like the term "Decent Left" and that it should be left to the 'sneerers'. It is of course a strange term as it is used both by the Decent Left, and those who oppose them. Here is a handy guide to some leading pro-war figures and their use of the term Decent. There are three categories. "Approvingly" means that they have referred to the "Decent Left" (or very similar) and done so approvingly, ie they haven't said "That Decent Left love a good war". "Self-describe" means that they have described themselves as being on the "Decent Left". There are three options here, Yes, No, and 'Implicit'. The latter category is where (in my opinion, but I've been quite strict) the writer is implying that they are part of the "Decent Left". Really, I don't see how someone who considers themself on the Left, and that there is a "Decent Left" (and thus a non-Decent one), would not consider themselves on it, so there should be more YESs in that category than I given.

Nick CohenYESImplicit
John LloydYESNO
David AaronovitchNONO
Norman GerasNONO
Oliver KammYESNO
Harry's PlaceYESImplicit
Alan JohnsonYESYES


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

There was that Falklands difficulty, but nonetheless

The problem with being dead if you can't really complain. Is the Henry 'Scoop' Jackson Society considering a name change to the Jeanne Kirkpatrick Society?


Monday, February 19, 2007

Newsnight debate on Road Pricing

I think they must have chosen two people (one for, one anti) designed to make those who support or oppose it change their mind when hearing their own argument made. Who was that dreadful man? And who was that awful woman? Then there's that interior designer, who seems to have all the ills of the world on her shoulders.

I was a supporter of the congestion charge extension when I lived in the zone (though I was somewhat concerned about what happened if you were forced to move your car during the day because the parking bays were suspended) and I still support it now I live outside (but on the edge). However I think the critics have some valid points which haven't really been answered.

Most people, despite what you might read in the newspapers, don't drive into Inner London on a weekday. So this is really a bit of a sideshow. Proper road pricing however will affect, at least at some point, most people. I haven't really made my mind up about it. On the one hand, I think congestion is a problem, with much of the costs hidden (by forcing one to change one's habits) and (I think it was David Aaronovitch who pointed out) the motoring campaigners do appear to believe that we are still living in the 1950s. But on the other hand I imagine road pricing will be implemented badly, and I have some qualms, which I can't quite explain, about charging people to move around the country. Also given the supply of roads is essentially fixed I'm not quite sure markets will work as well as everyone seems to think.

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I'm back

Yes, my internet connection is working again.

I thought I'd share this photo (on my new Nokia) of an ex-pub I passed today whilst walking from Paddington as the Circle Line was down. I thought it was quite impressive.



Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Nokia N73 on Three

The BBC writes about the Nokia N73, which reminds me that so was I. Yes, it's pretty brilliant. Skype calling is a novelty, and only Skype-to-Skype at the moment, but it is useful if you know people on Skype, especially if they live abroad. The camera, 3MP, is pretty good too. But the best feature is the web browser (though Nokia keep it well hidden, witht the default setting being more of wap browser). This is a proper, fully-featured web browser which shows webpages in their entirety - you can check your online bank account, listen to Test Match Special - I even got to work on it in a fashion - seing your PC desktop on your mobile phone is quite strange.


Monday, February 12, 2007

John Howard and Barack Obama

I couldn't say I was much of a supporter of Barack Obama's campaign for the White House, but I was impressed by his reply to John Howard's ridiculous comments. If you missed those, they went like this:

If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats

This seems to me not only desperately unoriginal - I imagine every single planned withdrawal of troops from anywhere has seen someone declare it was a victory for someone or other - but also a rather careless intervention in US politcs by a foreign government. Howard has essentially stated that he cannot work with a Democratic president.

In any case Obama's reply was spot on, noting that the US had in Iraq 140,000 (I think 133,000 now) troops to Australia's 1,400 (actually that's their total in the 'theatre', it's about 850 in Iraq itself). I can never understand why, if this battle is as important as people like Howard say it is, they don't have ten times as many troops there as they do. Australia should have around 9,000 troops if it was to have the same troops to population as the US, ie 10 times as many, and 2,400 if it was the same as the UK.

But why should they not have more troops than the US or UK if Howard believes it to be so important? Australia fielded four divisions overseas in World War II, when the population was less than half what it is today. Howard is comforting Osama as he attacks Obama.


Surely Hitchens isn't that confused?

I intend to add more soon on that Martin Amis quote on what he would like to see done to Muslims, as it has been troubling me, and because I think it is an example of why the world 'Islamophobic' has some value. Meanwhile via Oliver Kamm I see that Christopher Hitchens is to have a chat with Amis as part of Jewish Book Week. The blurb, here, declares that:

Christopher Hitchens left the UK for the US in 1981 where he is columnist and contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Both an atheist and anti-atheist...

Hitchens' recent work has not, I think it's fair to say, been his best, but surely he's not that confused? Maybe they mean 'anti-theist'?



John Reid dismisses claims that Britain is turning into a Police State. Yet at Paddington Stations this morning, I heard the announcer say over the tannoy:

The people being held outside the station are being held their for their own safety and protection

"Safety and protection". Those are the weasel words of Police States througout history and across the world.


This wasn't a small group of criminal, but instead a large number of commuters, honest hard-working people.


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Monday, February 05, 2007

Pubs and burgers

Why do all pubs that tart up their food menu (I hesitate to say 'gastropubs' as gastropubs surely really means pubs that have proper chefs, whereas I just mean ones that don't call a spade a spade) insist on naming their burgers after the pub? For example, 'The Greyhound Burger' or the 'Duke of Wellington Burger', are two that I have seen recently, but most pubs do it. They don't feel the need to name their lasagne, or steak and chips.


Nick Cohen update

You will be pleased to know that the most blatant instance of his untrue claim has now been removed from the Observer website. Though it remains here.

A commenter in the post below finds an online version of Nick Cohen's remarkable article bemoaning the fate of childless couples who earn £100,000 pear year, and suggesting that Labour needs to think of their financial plight if it is to win the next election.

Update: According to Stephen Pollard a second print run is already under way, so if any readers pick up a new copy can they tell us how (or if) Nick has changed his book to correct his misunderstanding.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Nick Cohen on middle class poverty

I didn't think it could be possible that Nick Cohen's articles on other topics would be worse than his pieces on Iraq. But it is true. Three week ago in the Evening Standard he went on a rant about "Labour were losing the South" because of the rising cost of living for a couple on....£100,000 a year.

Take a standard young couple who want to have children...They both have good jobs - he's in human resources, she's at the BBC - but every penny of the Pounds 100,000 a year they bring in shoots back out again.

The difference now is that it [London] is a hard city for the middle class. The modest ambition to live an ordinary life is beyond the means of hundreds of thousands in jobs their parents assumed would guarantee them a secure future.

A 'standard young couple' - £100,000 a year!

It never fails to suprise me the extent to which these upper middle-class journalist types who live in Islington or similar have no idea about how much most people earn. Median household income in the UK in 2004/2005 was £24,700. London's median income is slightly higher, but not much (mean income in London is much higher) so it's probably currently a little under £30,000. The lower limit of the upper decile of the household income distribution, ie the point where only 10% of households earn more than yours, is £53,209. A couple, both working, might earn more than this (but if they're young, they might not), but there's no way £100,000 is typical. Cohen's couple are going to be in the top 3-4% of the income distribution, even in London.

I'm not saying that people in this income bracket do not have money concerns. But they clearly don't have the money concerns of those on half or a quarter of that level.


Too cool for Skool, and too old too

Apparently one of the 'class of 2007' for people who take their style tips from the Observer Music Magazine, is Kate Nash, a female singer-songwriter type. Anyway, your humble correspondent was at Hoxton Bar & Grill last night to keep you all up to date. Unlike last year at the Artic Monkeys, I managed to work out who the main act was, and didn't leave before she was on.

The embarassing thing this time, however, was that I was there as a guest of the mother one of Miss Nash's schoolfriend's. Luckily apparently the singer's grandmother was there, saving us the disaster of being the oldest people attending. And we didn't get to sit at the front with blankets on our knees (though that would have been nice).