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Awful Column of the Year

The Observer, on its front page on December 21st 2003, proudly proclaimed David Aaronovitch to be "columnist of the year". It also trumpeted his column for that week, which I believe to be thoroughly bad. What follows is an attempt to debunk it.

The first problem with this column is that it is obfuscatory. At least three ideas are dealt with that have no connection whatsoever to the untrained observer (Libya and its chemical weapons, the invasion of Iraq, and the terrorist attack on New York of September 11, 2001). No plausible connecting theme is developed, and the jumps between them are startling.

So it is necessary to attempt to unpick the logical structure of the piece. Here is my impression of his main points, paragraph by paragraph:

This may seem like a trite parody. While I am responsible for the parody, I believe the triteness was not introduced to the piece by me. In particular, I claim to have missed out from my summary no piece of serious argument or motivating example that he has given.

A detailed analysis reveals many non sequiturs. In places, concepts are seemingly introduced solely to be confused with other concepts. Here's a list of the problems most glaring to me:

Some of these faults may be partially excused due to the columnist's requirement of brevity. On the other hand, this is not an excuse to abandon the necessity of writing within a transparent logical framework. And, furthermore, one hopes that a skill vital to winning a "columnist of the year" award would be the ability to manage this space problem by compressing an argument cogently. Indeed, the citation, quoted by the Observer, mentions "presenting the case for action in a cogent and persuasive manner". No such manner is evident in the piece I read.

It must be said, as a last specific complaint, that "Iraqodox" is a bad neologism, not least because it's not obvious whether it's suppose to resemble "orthodox" or "heterodox". However, I suppose it is evident from the context which he means.

I don't see how he manages, by attacking the orthodoxy, to claim not to be a voice of orthodoxy himself, when he managed to receive a "columnist of the year" award for writing disconnected nonsense like the column discussed above. If you rule out the journalistic merit of joined-up thinking, deductive processes force you to believe the award was for bullish defence of the doctrines of the establishment orthodox.

The citation for his award mentions the "brave and consistent stand" he has taken. I had no idea that Tony Blair had been elevated to the status of a rebel icon, such that to eulogise him and to agree with him both in principle and on every point of action constituted bravery.