The Moral Degradation of The Labour Party

Corbyn in front of Hezbollah flag

The UK Labour Party’s moral decline began with Ed “My Parents Are Refugees” Miliband’s betrayal of Syrian civilians for petty party-political ends. When I saw Labour MPs raise their arms in Parliament in triumph at winning a vote to abandon children to gas attacks, I resigned my lifelong membership of the party.

But the main reason I will likely never return to Labour is that it has become an institutionally racist political party. This speech, Jews, the British Labour Party, and How We Fell Out, by David Toube of Quilliam is one of the best summaries of how such a great, progressive institution sank deep into this swamp of hatred under Jeremy Corbyn.

It’ll take you a few minutes to read, but it’s worth the time. It’s cool and accurate and sober, and, by its end, not entirely depressing. Some highlights:

There are two features which might be said to define British Left wing politics, and figure large in its mythology. The first is that the Left is the citadel of anti-racism. The second is that the Left has a monopoly on virtue. Neither of these myths are true.

However, the consequences of these delusions are as follows. When racism emerged on the Left in Britain, it was either minimised, or explained away as an aberration. By contrast, racism on the Right is regarded, including by those who are themselves active in centre Right politics, as a natural danger, a stumbling block to be avoided. For that reason, centre Right politicians have long been alert to the dangers of antisemitism, and have taken steps to establish a cordon sanitaire, excluding antisemites from positions of power and influence, and quickly expelling those who breach that boundary.

The part of the Left which has now taken over the Labour Party emerged from various parts of the Left ecosystem, of which one was the so-called anti-War movement. The Stop the War Coalition was a coalition between Stalinists, Trotskyites and Islamists, whose chair was the Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. That coalition was bound together by opposition to Western and American power. It brought British Left activists into close cooperation with organisations aligned to the south Asian Islamist group, Jamaat-e-Islami, and with the Muslim Brotherhood. Supporters of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah, played a supporting role.

These organisations were treated as part of an international coalition against what the Left regarded as ‘imperialism’. In this political milieu, Israel was regarded as an imperialist, colonialist venture, to be opposed in every way, and ultimately to be dismantled. When the overt and conspiratorial antisemitism of the various Islamist groups was pointed out by concerned critics, the response of Jeremy Corbyn was to host Hamas and Hezbollah activists in the House of Commons, and to call them his ‘friends’. Their antisemitism was treated as mere rhetoric, or the cry of the oppressed, rather than the all-explaining worldview that it is.

By this means, the Left got into the habit of ignoring or minimising antisemitism. When it came to doing the same in relation to antisemitism arising in their own ranks, amongst predominantly white British political activists, they were already well practiced in the art of the reflexive, dismissive response.

In the Marxist understanding of the world, imperialism is recognised as a product of the manner in which the capitalist class captures the foreign policy of the state. Therefore, in a debased form, the personalised critique of capitalism has similarly given rise to a personalised critique of imperialism. Let me give you a few examples.

Two council candidates  in separate posts, implied that Israel had created or was backing ISIS.

  • A Labour diversity officer, posted a cartoon which made the same allegation. That view was also shared by the deputy mayor of Kensington, Beinazir Lasharie, who also implied that Jews were behind 9/11
  • A parliamentary candidate and Mayor argued that the Muslim Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi was “buying oil from ISIS to sell to Israel”
  • A Labour councillor posted that “Israel was created by the Rothschilds & what they are doing to the Palestinian people now is EXACTLY what they intend for the world” He accompanied his post with a particularly nasty racist caricature of a Jew: his hands soaked in blood
  • Another councillor shared a post in which he opined that “There are only 9 countries in the world without a Rothschild central bank: Russia, China, Iceland, Cuba, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea and Hungary. Isn’t it funny we are always at war with these countries?”

We then come to a separate category of antisemitic discourse: the denial, inversion, or applauding of the Shoah.

  • A Councillor in Luton, described Hitler as “the greatest man in history”
  • A Councillor in Oxford compared Israel to Nazi Germany, as did many many others.
  • A councillor from Bognor, posted a picture of a child killed in Syria, and expressed the view that “Hitler had a point” and that Zionists should be “put in concentration camps”
  • A former Councillor in Norfolk, circulated Holocaust denial material.

There have literally been over a thousand complaints, each involving similar rhetoric, to the Labour Party’s compliance department. There are so many that, instead of giving a structured talk, I could simply have read them out to you. I wouldn’t even be a fraction in to the total before my time was up.

The result of reporting these individuals to Labour has been, to put it politely, mixed. Some have resigned. Some have been expelled. Many others have been cleared. But the largest category of cases are those which await adjudication.

But the part of the talk I recommend most strongly is the part I don’t quote here. It’s the last two sections. If you’ve read the extracts above, but don’t have time to read the whole thing, read those parts of it at least.

FILM REVIEW: Downsizing

Downsizing

It’s rare I recommend a slice of American art house, but Downsizing is an example of how to make a thought-provoking, medium-budget Hollywood film about big themes without being too clunky or obvious or politically correct or po-faced.

First things first: It’s a pleasure to look at. It would have been so easy, in our era of convincing CGI, for a fable like this to adopt an exaggerated fairy-tale look—heaven only knows what grotesquerie someone like Tim Burton or Wes Anderson would have opted for. Yes, some kind of 1950s suburban golden glow seems to have been applied its palette, but the production and costume design, lighting, and technology is as realistic as it is stylish. Take it from a reformed lab rat, the setting of the opening Eureka! sequence is as close to an actual biomedical research lab as I’ve seen in a film since Contagion.

On the matter of technology, of course, another First Thing to be mention First is that there are good reasons—that would make a classic Oxbridge Entrance Exam question—why “cellular miniaturization” technology wouldn’t work; but this is science fiction, so (contrary to most SF-skeptics’ view of the genre) we have to take the premise as a given to get to the meat of the matter. And, to the makers’ credit, for the most part they do their best to depict the practical implications of implementing that technology, rather than skipping over them for narrative convenience.

Second things second: The quality of the performances of the principals is excellent throughout. One or two of the supporting cast members give the impression of not being professional actors, and that seems to have been a deliberate choice. An unusual quality of this film is that it shows workplaces in a way that is true to life; characters’ motivations centre around their feelings about their work in a way that is truer to real life than it is to most films. It’s ironic that the authentic delivery of lines by what seem to be real working people pulls you out of the movie’s world, when none of the main performances are actorly, but it does.

Now, to the substance: There’s not a great deal to this story. It hinges on its premise and perhaps three big choices by the protagonists. But you care about all those choices, especially the last. Not because the leads are heroic or accomplished or represent something bigger than themselves, or even because you identify with them; but because you come to appreciate their humanity. That alone makes a film worth a couple of hours of your time.

But the simple plotting bears a good load of quiet fun. There are fine, understated visual gags. There is social satire beyond the premise itself. There is physical humour that is perhaps the best small-scale slapstick since Mr Bean did that thing with the toy container lorry. (Watch out at the end for some brilliant work with a walk-on trolley bag.)

This is a (geo-)political satire, Damian, so what about the politics?

Again, to my surprise, this turned out to be one of the most interesting things about the film. The hi-tech eco-warriors who drive the story are presented in a (literal) flattering light (especially at the climax of the tale), but it’s no accident that they are also undercut throughout by other aspects of the presentation, in particular by the dismissive-but-seductive cynicism of Christoph Waltz’s character.

A standard “woke” thread runs throughout that “white people” are to blame for various ills and that, even in utopia, non-whites and immigrants inevitable victims; but there is also a Vietnamese character whose pidgin-English delivery borders on parody. What prevents this trope from being “problematic” is that hers is the voice of another three-dimensional human being. A film with two fully-realised people: one a believable man with believable motivations, and one a believable woman with believable motivations, is another rare thing. Even if you strip everything else away, there’s a world in that small achievement.

Film Review: Fright Night

David Tennant

Despite my thinking Roddy McDowall underrated, I’ve never seen the original Fright Night; but the 2011 remake was on last week and I thought I’d give it a whirl. I didn’t regret it

As you’d expect from a contemporary vampire film written by a Buffy The Vampire Slayer alumna (Marti Noxon), it was witty and sharp and led by twentysomething actors pretending to be teenagers. It was also, at moments, scary.

It’s sad that watching the protagonist, played by Anton Yelchin, is a reminder of how much his untimely death deprived the World. He plays a nerd graduating into The Cool Kid tier of the school hierarchy like someone who might well have experienced something similar in his own life. Of course, the satirical moral of the story is that you can gravely regret turning your back on the geek culture that made you what you are.

The film’s Las Vegas setting is perfect for a vampire story and, as one of the characters observes, a suburb of a city with nocturnal habits and a transient, showbiz population is the perfect environment for a 21st-century vampire to hide out in. Showbiz is embodied in the story by an excellent, Russell Brandesque turn from David Tennant as a superstar magician with an obsessive, but strictly hands-off, interest in the real-world occult.

The female leads do their bit well, but Imogen Poots doesn’t get much to do beyond being extraordinarily pretty. And typically-Hollywood-too-young mum Toni Colette is almost, but not quite, a cliché.

After a gory-funny cold opening, the plot rightly takes a little bit of time to unfurl its batwings, but the set-up is engaging and assured and leads us, via scary and seemingly insurmountable challenges, to at least two well-judged final showdowns.

Recommended.

An Amusing Overlap

Countries in the Top 18 Most Corrupt Developed Countries In The World that are also in Top 18 Countries In The EU For Belief That EU Membership Has Been Beneficial To Them:

  • Ireland
  • Estonia
  • Portugal
  • Poland
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Hungary
  • Slovakia

Three countries from the first list that are most striking by their absence from the second list: Greece, Italy, and France. I wonder if that has anything to do with the Eurozone or EU Migrant Crises.

[Thanks to James Dennison on The Twitter.]

Film Review: The Space Between Us (2017)

still from The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us is an odd film. It’s not Great Art and it isn’t great fun, but it has some beautiful moments, some fine acting performances, and its heart in the right place. I have to be careful writing about it, and I recommend not watching any trailers for it, because the other thing it has going for it is that, at least twice, it turns out not to be what you’re expecting it to be (despite being predictable in other ways).

Don’t watch it for a space adventure—although much of it is set in space and the effects are excellent for its budget. Don’t watch it for an art house experience—though it does have an indie vibe about it. If, however, you aren’t prejudiced against laid back romcoms or kid-friendly coming-of-age films, there are many small pleasures to take from it, especially if you’ve ever had a relationship with someone that, despite everything else, is simply impractical. One moment in particular, which should have been cheesy as hell, was moving because of the natural warmth of the protagonists and the carefully established innocence of the mouth out of which the words emerged—and, yes, because good actors can sometimes rescue weak scriptwriting.

You can watch it for “free” if you have Amazon Prime. That’s not a paid ad, because I probably wouldn’t have paid to see it, but I don’t begrudge its makers the time I spent watching it.

Don’t Go!

Given a lot of the Yes campaigners’ rhetoric, it’s possibly not wise of me, an anti, to suggest to wavering Scots that they should read a blogpost by a pro-intervention Conservative MP in England, but, apart from someone’s friends-only Facebook update, this is the piece I’ve read about the independence vote, taking place today, that has affected me the most:

Mostly I feel a great sadness. It’s the second time in a year that I’ve been deeply troubled by a democratic decision, the last being the vote in the House of Commons not to take military action against Syria after its use of chemical weapons. But this event seems bigger even, and potentially far more damaging, than the shameful loss of resolve in our foreign policy.

And now I also feel dismay. Dismay that we’ve somehow, carelessly, let this happen. Dismay that our broken politics might now break the United Kingdom. Dismay—no, anger—that the people without hope on those council estates have been so let down by socialism that they genuinely see independence as a route out.

Nothing, nothing, has mattered more in my nine years as an MP, or for that matter in my lifetime.

Do please stay with us in the union, Scotland. If the United Kingdom were a boy/girl band, you’d be the fat talented one.

Burning Down The House

This summary/graphic by Tim Montgomerie of The Times is fun. It imagines the four parties Britain would have if we started from scratch. If we did do such an experiment with voters—if we asked them about real policy choices—I don’t believe that these are the clusters would emerge; most people, especially English people, believe hotchpotches of things that, taken together, have little ideological coherence. It tends to be politics geeks and media commentators who a) can recognize an overarching political philosophy when they see it and b) think politicians should have one. Real people care about getting their bins emptied and worry less about the details of how or why.

The parties of the scorched Earth

The parties of the scorched Earth

Personally, I’d be a (practical rather than ideological) “(New )Liberal”—except for the bit about wanting the country to be more like London. The summary claims that the people running the country recently have mostly been New Liberals. But most of the parties’ current leaders are behaving as HotchPotchers, even if they aren’t HotchPotchers in their hearts. Since most of the parties are currently led by people who’ve done little in their adult lives other than study or practise politics, this is either strange—surely people who care so much about ideology would want one of their own?—or not strange—if your livelihood depends on persuading an electorate of HotchPotchers, that’s what you’re going to try to do and (appear to) be, regardless of your intellectual tastes.

Gratuitous YouTube video:

 

Avoiding identity theft

Here’s an excellent, concicse blogpost that outlines both how identity thieves can scrape sensitive information from your discarded computer and simple steps you can take to make it harder for them to do so.

Stealing someone’s identity doesn’t take a lot of intelligence or even a lot of effort. The bad guys only need you to trust them with your hard drive and a combination of bootable live disks [to] turn your financial and personal life into a living hell.

I use Boot And Nuke to scrub my old hard drives, then I drill physical holes in the overwritten disks.

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Israel But Were Afraid To Ask

Levy and Counsell show logoAfter a summer break, another episode of International Edition with Levy and Counsell is up at Ricochet.com. [iTunes link to follow.]

Here’s the Ricochet blurb:

TV news shows often only turn up in distant countries when the shooting starts. This approach can scare off, or simply puzzle, intelligent and curious viewers who would prefer more backstory and less bullet-dodging. International Edition is back and Judith Levy and Damian Counsell begin this new season hoping to help intelligent and curious Ricochet listeners with this very problem.

This week’s edition the first of a series of Q&A format shows, where we hope to share our answers to your questions—and to use them as a starting point for wider discussion.The first is about the much misunderstood state of Israel and its place in the Middle East, with explanations direct from a real live Israeli who has studied the country and its relations with its neighbours from an academic, a political, and a personal perspective. She also knows a lot about the food.

In this podcast, Judith answers readers’ questions about the land of Iz. Sorry about the dodgy mix. By way of compensation, this episode opens with this classic exchange:

JUDITH: “It’s great to talk to you.”
ME: “It certainly is.”

That’s because I’m AWESOME.

A Femi-narcissist reader

Do read my previous post first!

And I should credit “Ban This Filth!” for the caption to the Laurie Penny tweet.

In addition to the Dan Hodges blogpost that I linked to at the end of that one, here are some other relevants articles worth reading that I couldn’t shoehorn in.

Here’s Mrs Trellis, writing a Dear Joan letter to feminism to explain why she’s taking some time away. I’m tempted to quote all of it, but here’s a hefty block:

You tell me I’m strong and that I can fight for myself. But when someone threatens me with assault online your reaction is that the forum used should be banned, or heavily restricted. My instinct is that toxic comments will die out when women in public life reach a critical mass and it simply isn’t possible to tweet rape threats to them all without getting RSI, but you say I’m too delicate and your responses deter other women from putting their heads over the parapet.

You tell me that I constantly have the risk of sexual assault hanging over my head. You regularly assume that this has happened to me—that I’ve been groped or propositioned on the Tube and it’s part of a woman’s experience. Well, I haven’t. You alienated me then. You said it was so ubiquitous, I found myself wondering why not me? Am I too ugly even for an anonymous grope? Too unapproachable to pester on public transport?

You tell me I can dress as provocatively as I wish, and I’m cool with that. But at the same time, feminism, you tell me that if I dress provocatively, have photographs taken for money and get those published in a magazine, I am responsible for “pornification”? That this “pornification” has caused an increase in sexual assaults, is destroying the futures of young girls and boys and sending this country to hell in a handjob? So instead you’ve suggested extreme, swingeing censorship, the like of which we’ve only seen before in repellent dictatorships like Iran or China: it’s for my own good, you say. Men can’t control themselves. That made me wonder if you’d listened to yourself during the slut shaming.

You say I can have sex with whomever I wish. But I am not permitted willingly to have sex with people in return for money. God forbid I should film this sort of business and sell these movies on, independently, to interested third parties. In fact, it’s best that such behaviour is utterly, utterly forbidden under any circumstances because, again, some men are slime and can’t control themselves. In absolutely no way whatsoever would this ban lead to anyone being maltreated or exploited, you tell me. No, you say, it’ll prevent that from happening in the first place – but I know you are ignoring the evidence to the contrary.

So, feminism, you’ve done a lot for me, but we are going to go our separate ways for a bit. I know it’s going to be sad for a while, but you have some growing up and some thinking to do. You need to focus on what’s important. You need to stop ignoring the revolting treatment of women in countries like Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen. You need to understand that what makes women free is allowing us to have sex with whom we want, when we want–to dress how we want and have children when we want. That’s not a menu. You can’t pick and choose from it. We need all of it. You may not like some of it, but tough.

Here, God help me, is Brendan O’Neill correctly, I think, identifying the demographics underlying this recent silly season Twitter hysteria.

[M]ost of the recent controversies over insults and threats being exchanged on Twitter seem to spring from this unfortunate coming-together of two variants of lazy people-the leisured classes and the layabout classes. The most offensive tweeters seem to come from the studenty, unemployable end of Twitter’s time-rich population, whether it’s Liam Stacey, the racist student tweeter who was jailed for 56 days, or that 17-year-old bloke who harangued diver Tom Daley, or more recently Oliver Rawlings, the student who insulted Mary Beard. The Daily Mail has a picture of Rawlings “lounging on a boat in Marbella” and describes him as a student with a lot of time on his hands.

Meanwhile, the offence-takers—who often, it has to be said, take offence quite ostentatiously—come from the other time-rich section of Twitter, from the not-very-productive cultural elites who have in recent years almost completely decamped from the real world to the virtual world. So on Twitter we have happily time-rich people on one side and regretfully time-rich people on the other, well-off wasters of time versus less well-off wasters of time, and that is inevitably going to generate envy, spite, sometimes even malice, the exchange of hostilities. One side has all the time in the world to insult people it doesn’t know and thinks it doesn’t like, while the other side has all the time in the world to turn those insults into a big media issue and national campaign.

One recent example of femi-narcissism that I didn’t include in my earlier post is this minor classic of the genre, that could be summarized as “lad mags are to blame for my terrible taste in boys“. The comments are far better than the article—for example, this one:

Daisy, to blame lads mags for the failure of your relationship is ridiculous, and looks like you’ve done it solely to be topical. As someone that’s worked for one of the ‘less high end’ magazines you describe (but don’t name for some reason) for many years I can tell you that not once, ever, have we published a single joke that’s been at the expense of women, let alone a whole section like that every week. Promiscuous are never championed, at all. And sexually adventurous women never, EVER had their value diminished.

I actually doubt you’ve ever read a copy of Nuts, seeing as you’ve quoted an advertising line (incorrectly) that’s not been used since 2005. Why don’t you write a piece decrying the use of close-up photos of celebrity cellulite that the women’s weeklies thrive on? That’s what young impressionable women will be looking at. Or the ‘look at the state of her without make-up on’ pics in the likes of Heat magazine? How about Cosmopolitan, presumably you’re absolutely fine with this. Nothing like treating men as human beings when they fit in the ‘sexiest tennis players naked’ eh?

And interestingly you championed the ’50 shades of grey’ effect in your piece for The Guardian, a book about women submitting themselves sexually to men, and said you hoped it would have an ‘effect’ on teenage girls? As with most of the arguments over the past couple of days, this piece is riddled with hypocrisy.

And, for those of you wondering what Twitter looks like under a real patriarchy where the authorities really take Twitter abuse seriously, here (via Claire Berlinski and Susae Elanchenny is a clanky Google translation of a story about a popular Turkish actress having to report to the police to justify a tweet “insulting” the Prime Minister of Turkey.

The Femi-narcissists

At the height of the BBC’s “Jimmy Savile crisis”, when police were estimating that the old, dead child rapist and his associates had assaulted at least 40 boys, a female media twitterer tweeted that she had no sympathy for the BBC’s predicament at all, after the way they had blocked her promotion, because she was a woman, over years when she had been a TV executive at the corporation. For her, the aspect of the crimes under investigation most worthy of comment wasn’t the physical and mental suffering of scores of abused young people, male and female, but the way the BBC’s patriarchal culture had interfered with her career development.

Today, Laurie Penny, a opinionist for the Independent, shared this with us:

Laurie Penny: "It's all about me, buy my book to find out why"

Laurie Penny: “It’s all about me, buy my book to find out why”

And, this week, Stella Creasy, a Labour MP I used to have a lot of time for, said on Newsnight that the problem of spamalanches of threatening tweets—mostly generated by computer programs wielded by teenage boys—like those she had received for supporting feminist campaigns should be taken seriously by the authorities because her experience of abusive Twitter spam was “about violence against women”.

This is a material untruth—at worst, the most recent eruption of this not-even-slightly-new phenomenon is about the anonymous, impotent rage of pathetic young men—but it’s also sick-making—precisely because violence against women is a serious matter, and because no violence had been perpetrated or is ever likely to be perpetrated against Creasy or any of the other prominent successful female users of the free service who were referred to by name during the discussion.

Imagine if you were a female victim of domestic violence watching a powerful, professional, educated woman—with an income several multiples of your own, who could pick up a phone and summon police protection in moments—sit in chair worth more than all the furniture in your home, in a studio of the state broadcasting service. Imagine how you would feel when that woman tried on your battered skin in a public dressing-up game calculated to advance her political interests. Imagine how you would feel if you were a real feminist.

Another Zimmerman/Martin link

Thanks to Gaby Charing for this opinion piece from William Saletan in Slate:

Trayvon Martin is dead, George Zimmerman has been acquitted, and millions of people are outraged. Some politicians are demanding a second prosecution of Zimmerman, this time for hate crimes. Others are blaming the tragedy on “Stand Your Ground” laws, which they insist must be repealed. Many who saw the case as proof of racism in the criminal justice system see the verdict as further confirmation. Everywhere you look, people feel vindicated in their bitter assumptions. They want action.

But that’s how Martin ended up dead. It’s how Zimmerman ended up with a bulletproof vest he might have to wear for the rest of his life. It’s how activists and the media embarrassed themselves with bogus reports. The problem at the core of this case wasn’t race or guns. The problem was assumption, misperception, and overreaction. And that cycle hasn’t ended with the verdict. It has escalated.

Zimmerman and Martin

As much for my own reference as anyone else’s enlightenment, here are four articles about the Zimmerman case that you might be better off reading than some of the hysterical, race-fixated nonsense in the media. That first link was to the Shooting of Trayvon Martin Wikipedia article.

These next two are from commentators who happen to be black—not that that should make any difference—both suggesting that some observers need to get a grip. The Left’s sad reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict is from Brett Wilkins in Digital Journal,

I used to think that irrationally emotional responses to lightning rod issues were more or less exclusive to the reactionary right.
Boy, was I wrong!

and On The Killing Of Trayvon Martin By George Zimmerman, from Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, is an enumerated list of Things Worth Thinking About. Here’s one:

I think the jury basically got it right. The only real eyewitness to the death of Trayvon Martin was the man who killed him. At no point did I think that the state proved second degree murder. I also never thought they proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted recklessly. They had no ability to counter his basic narrative, because there were no other eye-witnesses.

One other black commentator I am deliberately not linking to is the Guardian‘s indefatigably stupid Gary Younge, whose article written in the immediate aftermath of the verdict had to be taken down “pending investigation”—because Younge has yet to manage the endangered but legally important “investigate first; write second” tradition of journalism.

The last, George Zimmerman Is Probably Going to Walk, and That’s Not a Bad Thing is a more legally-minded essay that was written before the trial verdict:

Over the past two weeks, trial-watchers have seen a lot of things: bad jokes, anguish, rage, odd disparagement of Zimmerman’s physical capabilities. But there’s one thing we haven’t seen: a compelling, factual rebuttal to Zimmerman’s account of what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed.

I didn’t know and shouldn’t care what racial grouping Justin Peters belongs to, but, having now seen his byline photo, I would say: white-with-crazy-hair.

International Edition with Levy and Counsell Episode 12: Michael J Totten

This week, Judith Levy and I interviewed independent international correspondent Michael J. Totten.

Michael Totten, who has reported extensively from the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. Sohrab Ahmari of Commentary wrote of Michael that he

"practices journalism in the tradition of Orwell: morally imaginative, partisan in the best sense of the word, and delivered in crackling, rapid-fire prose befitting the violent realities it depicts."

michaeltottenMichael’s work has appeared everywhere from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Republic to Beirut’s Daily Star.

Levy and Counsell show logoHe is the author of The Road to Fatima Gate: The Beirut Spring, the Rise of Hezbollah, and the Iranian War Against IsraelIn the Wake of the Surge; and Where the West Ends: Stories from the Middle East, the Balkans, the Black Sea, and the Caucasus. He has also recently published a novel called Taken.

Michael talks with Judith and Damian about Syria’s descent into sectarian chaos, the American response to the escalating crisis, the Russian angle, and the Lebanese wild card. Join us for a candid and eye-opening discussion of one of the most dangerous hotspots in the world today.

Listen in above or subscribe in iTunes.

Direct link to MP3 file

Sexing down

Here’s an extraordinary thing: a documented cover-up by a US administration—not one imagined by conspiracy theorists:

There's new evidence, obtained by ABC, that the Obama administration did deliberately purge references to "terrorism" from accounts of the attack on the Benghazi diplomatic mission, which killed four people including the US ambassador to Libya.

Conservatives have long maintained that the administration deliberately suppressed the truth about the attacks.

This is the first hard evidence that the state department did ask for changes to the CIA's original assessment.

Specifically, they wanted references to previous warnings deleted and this sentence removed: "We do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa'ida participated in the attack."

There's little doubt in my mind that this will haunt Hillary Clinton if she decides to run for president, unless she executes some pretty fancy footwork.

State department spokesperson Victoria Nuland is directly implicated, and the fingerprints of senior White House aides Ben Rhodes and Jay Carney are there as well.

Black and white

Republicans are certain to use the Benghazi affair against Clinton should she run in 2016

In the interests of full disclosure I have to say I have not in the past been persuaded that allegations of a cover-up were a big deal. It seemed to me a partisan attack based on very little.

I remember listening to reports from the BBC and others at the time that did suggest the attack in Benghazi was a spontaneous reaction to a rather puerile anti-Islamic video.

And here’s another extraordinary thing: gross editorializing by a supposedly impartial BBC employee:

I understand President Barack Obama's careful use of the word "terrorism" when it actually means something, rather than as a knee-jerk description of any violence by foreigners against Americans, often in order to justify a "war on terror".

But the evidence is there in black and white, unless we doubt the documents obtained by ABC, which I don't.

I hope Mark Mardell has relevant examples to support his implication.

[Thanks to Iain Murray.]

The opposite of scholarship

John Rentoul quotes India Knight:

Gove’s proposals are, to me, socialist in their intention, which is to equip every child with the sort of education that has traditionally been available to only a very few. How is that wrong? And what do left-leaning academics think they’re doing when they say, “Ooh, no, the children won’t understand any of it; it’s bad for them”? What? As bad as the fact that state-school students are still shamefully under-represented at our top universities?

Even if you don’t have a paid subscription to the Times online, it’s worth following the link to the original article that John Rentoul quotes, because anyone can read its opening paragraphs for free. In them Knight observes, as I often do, that quacks of educationalism write shocking prose. It could be that they are too dim, lazy, and dishonest to draft an open letter in good, plain English. It could be that ideology is the opposite of scholarship.

In related news, Gove has called the bluff of those who falsely accuse him of discounting evidence about educational interventions by commissioning Ben Goldacre to report on the potential for evidence-based educational practice.

Levy & Counsell podcast 4: National Manners, International Diplomacy, and Statehood at the United Nations

Levy and Counsell show logoOver at Ricochet.com, our producer Scott named this podcast The Politics of Petulance after an article of the same name by David Horovitz in the Times Of Israel that Judith and I mention towards the end of our discussion.

There are a few other sources I’d like to give credit to: Yau-Man Chan at Skepticblog writing about the curious cult of the Dalai Lama, this piece in The Economist about the squeezing out of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, this commentary by the Israeli ambassador to the US in the Washington Post. this post by Norman Geras at normblog about the crimes perpetrated by Hamas, and this piece by Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, about the Israeli government’s latest expansion of settlements.

I’m happier with my performance in this episode than in the others; Judith is excellent as ever—she gets understandably passionate about the injustices done to Israelis by fashionable international opinion—and the audio and communication quality is the best I’ve heard it so far. Our listener numbers are down a little from the first episode, but I am pleased that we’re now getting rave reviews in the live chat and the comments. On the Internet, it’s easy to be Famous For Fifteen People; it’s harder, but more satisfying, to inspire fifteen people to mad enthusiasm.

If you left kind words or downloaded, thank you. Here’s a link to the Levy & Counsell show on iTunes.

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The Levy & Counsell Podcast, episode 3: special guest Claire Berlinski

Claire Berlinski on the Levy and Counsell podcast

This is the first edition of the podcast that’s freely available gratis to people who don’t subscribe to Ricochet so fill yer boots. Judith and I just wound Claire up and let her run, though I did press her to come up with some hard, pragmatic reasons for the West (the US) to intervene in those areas of the planet where there is trouble right now.

Judith has already listened to the recording and pointed out that the conflict Claire and I refer to as the worst of recent time, measured by numbers of dead, isn’t audible. We were talking about the war(s) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

How to get work done at work

Just as TED talks are becoming the subject of well-deserved parody1, via Business Insider, I find an old one  (2010) with useful things to say. Here, Jason Fried suggests ways the office can become a more productive place.

I’m not entirely convinced by all of his solutions, but he doesn’t claim they are solutions. By the way, my answer to his original question is that, to really get a job done, I stay very late at work.

  1. This one about corporate social media bullshit is popular right now []

Levy & Counsell podcast 2: Special Edition

Levy and Counsell show logoJudith and I discuss current events in Israel for Ricochet.com.

The sound is better all round this time, though it’s clear I’m going to have to work on being a bit slicker. It’s possibly a good thing that I talk slowly out of a fear of saying something stupid. To quote one of our listners typing into the live chat during the broadcast:

“I find Damian’s voice reassuring because he always sounds unsure of himself when stating facts.”

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Rulers and Riders

To try out my exciting multiple-choice plugin, test your knowledge of 18th-century British Prime Ministers and contemporary British competitive horseriders by guessing which of the two categories each of the following named individuals falls into.

Prime Minister or Equestrian?

You'll be presented with half-a-dozen names. You have to decide whether each is the name of an eighteenth-century British Prime Minister or a contemporary competitive horseman. At the end of the quiz your performance will be scored. Good luck!
Start

Congratulations - you have completed Prime Minister or Equestrian?.

You scored %%SCORE%% out of %%TOTAL%%.

Your performance has been rated as %%RATING%%


Your answers are highlighted below.
Return
Shaded items are complete.
12345
6End
Return

The first Levy & Counsell podcast at Ricochet.com

Oh the irony. My contribution to the first (test) Levy & Counsell podcast as token friendly Lefty at online US conservative community Ricochet.com was marred by technical problems. Even I find it hard to follow the thread as I listen to this because my audio breaks up and I speak even more slowly and haltingly than I needed to to be understood. Entire Presidential terms elapse in the gaps between my words. But, no doubt thanks to Judith’s fluency and clarity, Ricochet liked it enough that we will return in two weeks with another.

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portraits of Judith Levy and Damian Counsell

In this episode, it was inevitable that we would discuss the result of the US Presidential election, me from a statistical point-of-view and my old friend Judith Levy from Israel’s perspective.

There’s a special offer on now, so get yourself a Ricochet subscription and sign up for our podcast!

Dancing about architecture

There is a small, ugly overlap between the kind of people who complain about reduced state funding for the arts and education in the UK and the kind of people who excuse the burning of books, advocate the closure of places of learning, attack performances of classical music, and disrupt debates in bookshops.

Outside this foetid sliver of life’s great Venn diagram, there are people like Eve Garrard. I recommend all of this post of hers at Norm’s place.

Nothing is timeless

I often grumble here that there’s no such thing as “timeless greatness” in art. Everything from subject matter to structure to execution to meaning depends on the circumstances that prevailed when a work was made. Indeed, if a work is published into another set of circumstances, it can escape its creator’s intentions completely, even without significant time having passed since it was first enjoyed. A piece that started as a private contemplation can mutate into a commentary on a catastrophic event that was unknown during its completion but that dominated the world of its release.

Today, I noticed two not-new commentaries on the way in which the format of music, the way a listener experiences it, defines both the way composers and musicians make music and the way audiences think of it after it has been made.

The first was The Birth Of 33⅓, a (too short) extract of the upcoming book 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story in Slate magazine, illustrated with (too small) photos of people like Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, and Aretha Franklin looking impossibly cool in recording studios.

My Fair Lady cast recording

My Fair Lady cast recording

You can read it like you would watch an episode of Mad Men, raising one of your eyebrows aloft using only the power of hindsight:

No less interested than Columbia in finding a solution to the problems in playing long-form musical pieces on 78s, RCA had developed a rapid record changer, which would allow listeners to stack a large number of records around oversized spindles above the turntable. The records, which played at 45 rpm, would then quickly and automatically drop to the turntable in ordered succession, creating a virtually uninterrupted flow of music. The goal was the same as that of CBS’s microgroove LP; RCA simply pursued it with a different technology. Now, rather than switch to Columbia’s long-play technology, RCA would fight.

The second was this recording of a design/architecture radio show from earlier this year, in turn quoting a brilliant snippet from recording of a talk by composer Jon Brion. In it, amongst other things, Brion explains why covers of Led Zeppelin are unsatisfying. He tries to impress upon his audience the important distinction between a song and a performance, he does this well: by performing snippets of songs.

If you are normally afraid of podcasts because the lack the concision and searchability of all the other stuff you graze on on the Net, then don’t be; if you’re a music geek, every second of this one is worth savouring—up until the show’s outro, obviously:

Phonies

While I’m on the subject of ideologues ignoring facts, this thread over at the Website of the obnoxious Local Schools Network is both informative and entertaining, unlike the article that started it.

One of Andrew Old‘s contributions late in the debate says much of what I think about most quack educationalists in two paragraphs:

And now we are back to the usual situation where you are quoting opinion rather than evidence and hoping that if you keep doing it fast enough, and without answering direct questions, you can confuse matters enough for people to think there is some kind of controversy over the evidence, rather than simply between those who believe in empirical research and those who ignore it.

I know that people with pseudo-scientific beliefs do this a lot, but you must know that there are enough people looking at threads like this who know the actual evidence base and will point out that no amount of TES opinion pieces or Eurydice’s casual dismissal of the evidence, can actually change the facts.

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