“Al Franken will probably run for U.S. Senate in Minnesota.”:http://news.google.com/news?client=safari&rls=en&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&tab=wn&ncl=1113214687&hl=en Presumably because he’s good enough, he’s smart enough, and doggone it, people like him. This had better be his campaign slogan, by the way.

The criminal as artist

by John Holbo on February 1, 2007

So I skimmed the whole Biden gaffe story. “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American, who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” But then, forsaking the news for the sake of the news that stays news – great literature! – I ran into this sinister speech by Mr. Big, from Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die:

In the history of negro emancipation,’ Mr. Big continued in an easy conversational tone, ‘there have already appeared great athletes, great musicians, great writers, great doctors and scientists. In due course, as in the developing history of other races, there will appear negroes great and famous in every other walk of life.’ He paused. ‘It is unfortunate for you, Mister Bond, and for this girl, that you have encountered the first of the great negro criminals.’

Mr. Big blathers on about Trotter’s Instincts of the Herd in War and Peace, etc. “I am by nature and predilection a wolf and I live by a wolf’s laws. Naturally the sheep describe such a person as a ‘criminal’.” Then things about taking, “not dull, plodding pains, but artistic, subtle pains.” Then he explains how he will kill Bond – but it’s not even sharks with head-mounted lasers. Mere keel-hauling. (Yawn.)

Auric Goldfinger, in his parallel ‘but before I kill you’ scene, manages to be a bit more romantically high-flown:

Man has climbed Everest and he has scraped the depths of the ocean. He has fired rockets into outer space and split the atom. He has invented, devised, created in every realm of human endeavour, and everywhere he has triumphed, broken records, achieved miracles. I said in every realm, but there is one that he has neglected, Mr. Bond. That one is the human activity loosely known as crime. The so-called criminal exploits committed by individual humans – I do not of course refer to their idiotic wars, their clumsy destruction of each other – are of miserable dimensions: little bank robberies, tiny swindles, picayune forgeries. And yet, ready to hand, a few hundred miles from here, opportunity for the greatest crime is offered. Only the actors are missing. But the producer is at last here, Mr. Bond, and he has chosen his cast. This very afternoon the script will be read to the leading actors. Then rehearsals will begin and, in one week the curtain will go up for this single, the unique performance. And then will come the applause, the applause for the greatest single extra-legal coup of all time. And, Mr. Bond, the world will rock with that applause for centuries.

So here’s my question for you. Obviously Mr. Big is straight out of book I of Republic – Thrasymachus and the wolves and sheep and so forth. But when did the romantic notion of the artist-criminal first appear in literature? By the time we get to Goldfinger supervillain soliloquies are hardly cutting edge, I appreciate. But before it became a cliche it had to have a first occurrence. What would you say? (Not villain monologuing, per se: monologuing about how they are artists.)

The British journalist Nick Cohen has been sorely misunderstood. His book, “What’s Left?”, is not a phillippic of the pro-war “Decent” left at all. It’s a scholarly assessment of the authoritarian strains of left wing politics, and the tension between resistance under capitalism and resistance to totalitarianism, as exemplified in the writings of George Orwell for example. As he says:

I look at and explain how Bosnia revealed the dark side of the pacifist European temperament and how and why Douglas Hurd and other liberal Tories appeased Serb nationalism. There’s a chapter on the strange and virtually forgotten story of how pacifists and communists ended up arguing against the British war effort during the Blitz. There’s even a chapter of how the intellectual history of Islamism can be traced back to the insane conspiracy theories developed in the furious ultra-right reaction to the Enlightenment of the 18th century.

You would never guess it from what the critics are saying, but the story of the Stop the War coalition fills just half of one chapter in a 13-chapter book.Contrary to what Peter Oborne maintains, I go to great lengths to separate decent people from the scoundrels who lead them. I put their arguments as well as I can, and say they were right in all respects except one: they couldn’t support their comrades in Iraq once the war was over.

Which is odd, because the publishers, Fourth Estate, had apparently originally been pitched a book entitled “Our Friends On The Left”, being “an examination of agonies, idiocies and compromises of mainstream liberal thought”. Since Nick didn’t update his author profile on the Guardian blog, you can see the original blurb there.

Fair enough, maybe the project changed significantly in writing, as Nick decided that mainstream liberal thought wasn’t as agonised, idiotic and compromised as he’d previously believed when you get a good look at it. Except not.

Nick did update the biography on his personal website when he changed the title of the book. It’s described there as

“What’s Left? the story of how the liberal-Left of the 20th century ended up supporting the far Right of the 21st ”

I think the majority of Nick’s readers can hardly be blamed for taking exactly the same assessment of this book as its author. Did anyone really expect anyone to be fooled by this?

Background research on this subject provided by “Aaronovitch Watch (Incorporating Nick Cohen Watch)“, which is a general site about the nature of international politics in a world of globalisation, commonly mistaken for a specialist site for obsessives and stalkers of two named journalists.