Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Honest Norm

Norm clearly and rightly thinks it possible to have one view of the Iraq War without supposing that everyone who takes a different or opposite view must be mad, bad, or just plain wrong.

Some of those who supported the war subsequently came to think they had been mistaken in doing so. I was one of these people - because I had been mistaken in my expectations about the human costs of regime change in Iraq, and those costs had proven exorbitantly high. But in changing my mind I never lost sight of the potential costs if there had been no war or regime change, and it is this, among other things, that continues to separate me from the army of the self-blinding, self-righteous multitudes of the anti-war camp, people not only convinced that they were right to oppose the war, but incapable of recognizing that those who supported it might have had conscientious moral reasons for doing that.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The moral case for the Iraq War

After a lifetime of being anti-war the invasion of Iraq has been an education. Selective pacifism is rife on the left. Being anti-war is little more than a cover for anti-Americanism. So the moral case is too easily overlooked.

Fine analysis of the moral case for the invasion of Iraq by Nigel Biggar, regius professor of moral and pastoral theology at the University of Oxford, in today's Financial Times. He begins thus:

The surfeit of moral certainty among the commentators is suspect; the zealous clarity of their moral waters needs muddying.

The professor, in muddying those waters, does not shy away from the terrible death toll that followed the invasion. But he deals with it in a clear-minded way, asking how one can judge whether it is disproportionate. He gives short shrift to the issue of legality:

International law can be variously interpreted. However, even if we grant that the invasion was illegal, we still have to grapple with the fact that so was Nato’s 1999 intervention in Kosovo, which is now widely regarded as legitimate. The implication? That legality is not the final word.

The case comes to this:

The decisive issue in evaluating the Iraq invasion is not whether it was morally flawed or disproportionate or illegal, but whether it was really necessary to stop or prevent a sufficiently great evil.

He concludes that the certainty with which the antis answer that question is unjustified:

Maybe critics of the war view with equanimity what might have happened without the 2003 invasion, trusting that the secular rationality of Realpolitik would have prevented the rivalry between Iraq’s atrocious Saddam and Iran’s millenarian Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad from turning catastrophically nuclear. In this age of suicide bombers, however, such faith is hard to credit.

THanks to John Rentoul for this.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How long have I got?

When I was revising for my third year final exams at university I got depressed and then anxious and then desperate about time running out - so much to do - fewer and fewer days, hours, minutes to do it. In the end I was so preoccupied by the shortness of time I was unable to spend the dwindling amount left usefully preparing for the test which was looming. A Harley Street psychiatrist, Anne Darquier, more recently a subject in a book "Bad Faith" by Carmen Callil but then doing a stint as a student counsellor, helped restore me to working order.

I find myself today in a similar state. This time it's death that's the problem. Not that I have a date, nor a suspicion that it's near. Frankly I'm surprised to be still around in my sixty-seventh year, and my decline is neither obvious nor swift. But I am aware of it. The end-time. I can't go on for ever. It's going to happen. I just don't know when.

And, as with my student revision, it's beginning to get in the way of doing ordinary things in ordinary time. The scarcity of time is making it harder and harder to make best use of the diminishing amount at my disposal.

I used to pick up and sometimes buy a book thinking I'd either read it now or save it or keep it for future reference. But it's the future reference, or lack of it, that's squeezing life out of the present. So I don't buy the book or start to read it. And I'm so much less likely to start anything, do anything, go anywhere for the first time.

At best it's a warm feeling. I feel that what I have left is time to revisit books and places, renew old acquaintances and friendships, see and hear again familiar sights and sounds, appreciate once more and perhaps more deeply the people and things I have found most worthwhile in my long short span.

But at worst it can be enervating, emasculating, a vicious spiral of incapacity in which what remains of the day implodes and all that is left is night.

Hurry up Matron! Time for my medication.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Homo Rapiens

This is how John Gray describes the human species in 'Straw Dogs'. Sooner or later it, we, will become extinct. When it is gone the Earth will recover. Long after the last traces of the human animal have disappeared, many of the species it is bent on destroying will still be around, along with others that have yet to spring up. The Earth will forget mankind.

And the implication is clear. Good riddance!

The same spirit is to be found in the misanthropic utterances of Doug Stanhope:

"Want to save the environment? Then don't f*** in the front hole"

Shocking - but funny, and kinda logical.

The Heir of Blair

Weather - or not

I have just heard a weather forecaster on TV say that part of the reason for it being cooler is that the temperatures are lower.

Canon Peter Green

Recently attended a lecture about this Salford Anglican priest who was active there between and after the two world wars of the last century. Strong character. Despised gambling and drinking. Very demanding. Turned down academic and episcopal appointments. Castigated the clergy for their inexcusable laziness. A vegetarian because he thought it healthier. Favoured remarriage in church of 'innocent' spouse after divorce. Preferred life sentences to execution because they allowed more time for repentance. Was ahead of his time on women's ordination and lay ministry. A peacetime pacifist who yet thought that World War Two was the lesser of two evils. A reformer on such matters as euthanasia and assisted suicide. He read the bible, not as the revelation of God, but as the history of the revelation. He believed that the Fall took place in a state of pre-existence. He called it the fall of the world's soul - original sin.

One could not but respect and even admire his energy and passion. I'm not as sure that I would have loved and liked him. One example. He taught that prayers should be said kneeling, or they were useless. I thought of a contemporary of his, a priest who was my Rector at home, the Revd Father F. W. Osborn. I'll bet he never said prayers other than kneeling, even on the coldest, hardest floor. But he would never have condemned the more comfortable offerings most of us make as useless. What conceit.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.

When you come to a fork in the road - take it.

I think we have Mark Twain to thank for this helpful advice.

The real John Venables problem

Like many people I struggle with the apparent conflict between our needs to understand and yet to condemn the terrible killing of Jamie Bulger. But there is room here for a more considered view. Melanie Reid gives it.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The blood of the martyrs

Frank Skinner has found the secret of success - embrace religious victimhood.

How sad?

"Sadly there are large chunks of the world that I've never visited."

Francis Turner expresses this regret in his normblog profile. I wonder what he means by this. I wonder what he thinks he's missed - or that 'large chunks of the world' have missed on account of his not having been there?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A senior moment

I often wonder which is more needed for survival - the ability to remember - or the ability to forget? I like the notion that human memory has a will of its own.

"Your memory is a monster; you forget - it doesn't. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you - and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!"
John Irving

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Just been thinking

We never know our parents. We never know our children. And we never know ourselves.

This isn't a problem. It's just a fact.

The problem is that we think we do.

Many of the world's difficulties stem from a single mistake. We think we know things when we don't.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Secret Caretaker

I used to interview people - mainly teachers - for jobs. One of my own mentors in this role was the managing director of a large company who attended interviews for new staff. As the candidates arrived on the company premises he met them in the guise of the caretaker, key chain, overalls and all. He noted their attitude to him in what they perceived to be his lowly position, and compared it with their demeanour when introduced to him a second time in the boardroom.

I was once shown round a hospice by the chaplain. I had agreed to cover for him at holiday time. I noticed that whilst he couldn't wait to introduce me personally and politely to the consultant, medical and nursing staff on duty, he walked past the cleaners without so much as a greeting.

I'm particularly sensitive about this - probably because my dad was a caretaker. He took good care of me.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The wrong end of the stick

 Tim Worstall has a go at Geoffrey Lean for this piece of obvious wisdom:

Green technologies also seem to provide plenty of jobs. Exploiting renewables now employs 2.3 million people worldwide, more than the entire oil and gas industries, even though they contribute a small fraction of the amount of energy. They provide several times as much work per dollar invested than fossil fuels, with other green measures like recycling and saving energy proving even more job-intensive. 
Come on Tim:

"Imagine an economy of 100 people. 80 of them must labour to provide the food for all 100. This leaves only 20 to do the arts, the crafts, the medical care, lawyering, defence, banking and manufacturing. Over time we get better at that farming thing. We now need only 20 to produce the food for 100, we have perhaps 50 doing manufacturing and 30 doing the services. Times and technologies move on again and we need only 2 to feed us all, 12 to make things we can drop on our feet and 84 can run creches, tend the sick in the NHS, write Grand Theft Auto and appear on the X-Factor.

"Roughly speaking that is what has happened in the UK economy over the past couple of hundred years. We have become wealthier by reducing the amount of labour required to produce food and things and services meaning that we can produce more of all of them to share among us out of the labour we have available. We've even, over the same time span, gone from the majority of everyone's time being spent in labour to the minority of it.

"A useful shorthand for this process is "we've got richer".