Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cheap love

Our Prime Minister has announced his support for the institution of marriage - and he intends to put our money where his mouth is.  He draws on his own experience in the most touching way:
"I believe in marriage. Alongside the birth of my children, my wedding was the happiest day of my life. Since then, Samantha and I have been a team. Nothing I've done since - becoming a Member of Parliament, leader of my party or prime minister - would have been possible without her."
I'm not sure this counts as a selling point for most people, but we'll park that one for now. What annoys me about conservatives these days is that they aren't proper conservatives - and even when they're these neo-liberal types that deal in the economistic reduction of social issues masquerading as conservatives, they can't even do that properly.

 There is already a considerable financial incentive to marriage, once you've got over the cost of the wedding itself. Where you had two houses, you only need one - and you sit in a room with one TV when in the past you needed two - this room being warm at half the cost you experienced when you were single. Your council tax is only 25% more than it was before you got hitched, not double... 

I could go on, but you get the point. And then when you get divorced, the whole cost-saving joy of matrimony is thrown into reverse. You're talking thousands of pounds here. You go from "I will love you until the mountains fall into the sea" to "must you breathe like that?" in a few short years. How to avoid this tragic waste of human suffering? Give them a couple of hundred quid of their own money back. For shame. Perhaps if you eliminated income tax altogether for married people and put all single people on an emergency tax band it might have some kind of impact on people's behaviour. Would this be desirable? Only to those who put too low a price on institutions that can't always be justified with such narrow utilitarian cosiderations.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A (short) reply to Simon Heffer

Simon 'born wearing a bad suit' Heffer has written a piece that follows a tiresome pattern in right-wing journalism.  He writes stuff that is deliberately objectionable.  People object.  He and his fans complain that this is 'political correctness gone mad' and he can't say what he thinks is true whilst simultaneously ignoring the fact that said right-wing blowhard actually makes a living from saying what he thinks is true.  So far, so predictable.  I think it's a little sad that Nationalists imagine that his latest in the Daily Shriek, which favours Scottish independence for all the wrong prejudicial reasons, is anything unusual.  He would spew the same kind of bile if he was talking about single-mothers, immigrants, welfare claimants or anyone else his readers don't like, which would be most people.

It is, therefore, a waste of human energy to engage with what he's written in the itemised fashion you find here.  I'm surprised that no Nationalist has made what I would have thought was the obvious riposte to this nonsense...
"In a true democracy we, too, would be allowed our say, with a vote of our own next September, since there are two of us in this particular marriage."
...which would be this: we need not ask Simon Heffer and his ilk what they think about Scottish independence because while I would agree it would affect them, they don't have, and shouldn't have, any say in the matter. As is the case with the very analogy he uses. Can he really think a divorce can only be granted if both parties agree?  I think he's just being deliberately silly.  It is, after all, what he gets paid for.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Against pro-war moralism

I had a number of possible titles for this post but this one will do because it gets to the crux.  Another had to do with 'the shadow of Iraq', which is an essential prelude.  Did the participation of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the invasion of Iraq 'raise the bar', as someone put it, to subsequent British military engagement overseas?  Yes, of course.  Is it right that this should be the case?  I would say so.  The late Christopher Hitchens, on being asked whether he still stood by his fulsome support for the US-UK led invasion of Iraq in 2003 said that it would be 'abnormally unreflective' not to have considered the possibility that this had been a terrible mistake.  He went on to say that despite everything, he hadn't changed his mind but acknowledged in subsequent articles - found in Slate and elsewhere - that the 'near criminal lack of post-war planning' was among the factors that had led to the outcome of regime-change in Iraq not being quite as benign as predicted.

I'd probably go further than that myself but I don't want this to turn into some tiresome mea culpa.  Instead, let's go with the 'right idea, poorly-planned' theme, which I think would probably be the bare minimum of self-criticism that any reasonable person would expect.  It's another way of saying those of us who supported the invasion of Iraq just weren't practical enough.  Long on moral outrage and zeal to overthrow tyranny but short on the practicalities of what would happen after the regime had been 'decapitated'.  The laissez-faire 'shit happens' attitude looked murderously incompetent when, for example, the occupying forces took the lunatic step of dissolving the army.  Lots of angry unemployed youths with guns; what could possibly go wrong?

Ten years on with the situation in Syria you shouldn't ask: what has been learned?  Because the melancholy truth is, absolutely nothing.  What do Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, John Pilger and George Galloway have in common?  At least two things: all of them identify themselves as being the true standard bearers of the left and none of them are the least bit interested in questions of military capability or strategy.  With Pilger and Galloway, their disinterest has its origins in the conviction that it doesn't matter because it shouldn't be done under any circumstances.  Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch have no such excuse.  Both of them have an obligation to spell out what practical steps they would support that would effect the sort of change they want to see in Syria that would avoid the bloodshed we've witnessed in postwar Iraq.  I haven't read what Aarononvitch has to say but I did see this from Nick Cohen.  I have to say that I'm more than a little shocked at the ahistorical vitriol on display here; so much so, I don't care to engage with the detail.  Denouncing those who decline to support an ill-defined and inchoate militarily action as morally disgraceful is in itself morally disgraceful.  It's a good line but it isn't what I really think.  I just think it's stupid.

Instead, they would do better to try and persuade people why they think Western military intervention would do any good.  Waving pictures of dead Syrian babies is all very well but why does anyone think the exemplary displays of military violence being suggested will offer any help to the Syrian people?  If you want to make war, do it properly.  'No boots on the ground' indeed!  You need proper air-cover and the real threat of foot-soldiers.  I read somewhere that Iran has 50,000 proxy fighters either in Syria already or ready to go.  If you're prepared to match this with overwhelming force - perhaps a quarter of a million would do - then put it to your legislatures.  If not, prepare to repeat the mistakes of Iraq.  And spare us your moralising.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Beef-eating surrender monkeys

With the prospect of the touted 'pin-prick' strikes morphing into another regime-change, some of the usual suspects have fallen into their conventional positions - while some have adopted stances that are a little different from what one had become accustomed to expect.  As with previous conflicts, the moralising ad hominem rhetoric doesn't justify head-space, never mind a response.  Rather, I was hoping (in vain, no doubt) that regardless of what position anyone takes on this - people might agree that the historical analogies being mobilised (from the Second World War, of course) in the debate are as helpful as ever.  Which is to say, not at all.

It relates to the 'special relationship'. We're told that there has been irreparable damage done to it on account of the Parliamentary refusal to sanction military action. Our prestige in the world is diminished and our trade imperiled.  We should all hang our heads in shame?  No.  This from the Washington Post illustrates the point.  I imagine Cameron, Osborne and Gove nodding in agreement to it:
"But Britons of another stripe awoke in a daze. How had the Churchillian spirit of a nation suddenly turned into a Chamberlain moment, appeasing a tyrant? At great risk, they argued, was Britain’s outsize role in the world, a role it has earned since World War II by playing global deputy to America’s sheriff."
Paddy Pantsdown Ashdown was another who mentioned Chamberlain - in an interview that left one feeling a little queasy.  With anyone who's mentioned Appeasement, I've yet to hear an interviewer make the obvious historical point.  'Global deputy to America's sheriff?' The flaming cheek of it!  The United States was a little late to that particular shooting match, if one recalls  - and only joined it after being attacked herself.  Yet to listen to some Tory MPs and the usual 'being on the right is the new left' pundits, we're all supposed to commit suicide or something because we're not on the starting block with the US army?  You don't have to be Max Hastings to find this 'special relationship' obsequiousness a little nauseating.  The piece was entitled 'soul-searching stirs Britain'.  You search your soul if you want to.  I'll carry on looking for people who trade in something other than personal insults and stupid historical analogies.

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