Jun 152011
 

Ann Coulter is probably one of the most hated political figures in the United States, just behind George Bush and just ahead of Rush Limbaugh. In her ideology she exudes what the Republican Party probably ought to be if it ever wants to be credible again, and is a bone fide conservative, and in her contempt for left-wingers she is inflammatory and scathing. She is therefore loathed by left and right.

I love reading her stuff. So do some surprising other people—’the right-wing Judy Garland‘ is not an accidental handle.

I love her even though she sometimes takes a shot at libertarians, as in her most recent column. And even though I love her, I’ve gotta fisk her.

She takes issue with Ron Paul for advocating that the government ‘get out of’ marriage but carry on with providing health and social care benefits for ‘children and the elderly’ because so many of them are currently ‘dependent on the government.’

In one sense I agree with her; I think Ron Paul is being a bit weird here in the context she points out. Marriage, says Coulter, is a contract on which many, many legal attributes depend. Adoption, child custody, health insurance, inheritance, medical proxy, etc etc. Fair enough.

On the other hand, she’s missing the point and tilting at a massive straw man. I can’t speak for Ron Paul, but I do know a good bit about what libertarians think, and that tends to go something like this:

Contracts, and the ability to enforce them, are a basic pillar of civilised society. In the absence of Rothbardian private justice, one of the legitimate functions of government is to arbitrate and enforce contracts. Marriage, whilst for many people religious in nature, is just a particular type of contract in the eyes of the state. It carries implicit agreements about child custody, insurance, inheritance, and so forth. There is nothing special about marriage that should make it any different to any other type of contract—in the eyes of the state.

Except that in the US, for some reason, there is a strange moral attribute to the marriage contract. Homosexuals cannot enter into this contract with each other. They are specifically and specially debarred, in a way that is utterly exceptional in a country that usually only refuses to recognise your right to contract if you are (a) a child, or (b) non compos mentis. There is nothing, even, to stop a gay person from marrying someone of the opposite sex. It’s only each other they can’t contract with in this way.

The state is not there to enshrine the religious or moral connotations of marriage; in fact it doesn’t do so for straight people at all. Straight people can contract marriage in front of the state without ever getting close enough to sniff a priest or a rabbi or an imam.

So why should gay people be denied this same legal status? The US government isn’t trying to pretend that gay people are as incapable of consenting to agreements as children or the mad; it isn’t trying to pretend that straight marriages always and everywhere carry a moral or religious weight. It’s either (a) bowing stupidly to pressures from people who would use the government to impose a moral sanction, or more worryingly (b) sees nothing wrong with making arbitrary exceptions to normal jurisprudence when it suits.

The exceptional treatment homosexuals receive in the context of this one contract is not only hypocritical and wrong, it is dangerous to the body politic.

I would guess that this sort of thing is really what Ron Paul is getting at.

However, obviously in Coulter’s mind he is some kind of pansy jackass for saying, essentially, ‘It’s not the state’s place to disbar consenting mindful adults from entering voluntarily into contracts with one another, but I don’t think at this stage I would eliminate Medicare and Social Security at a stroke, because it’s some old folks’ only income and some children’s only health insurance. I’d sort of prefer a different approach.’

The idea that Ron Paul is ‘pretending to be [a] Randian purist, but [is] perfectly comfortable issuing politically expedient answers’ is ridiculous. So is that idea that all libertarians are like that. I know a lot of libertarians but not many who even pretend to be Randian purists.

Furthermore, this?

I make the case that liberals, and never conservatives, appeal to irrational mobs to attain power. There is, I now recall, one group of people who look like conservatives, but also appeal to the mob. They’re called “libertarians.”

Is hilarious. The mob? Please. There is no irrational mob in this universe that finds libertarians appealing. There isn’t even such a thing as a libertarian mob. When libertarians gather together, they don’t chant slogans together or march in unison. At the Rally Against Debt, as large a gathering of libertarians as I personally have witnessed, someone tried to start the slogan-chanting thing. About 3 people joined in for a round, then got bored. The speakers, far from being cheered like messiahs, received polite applause. The closest thing to a mob was the three ‘anarchists’ (left-wingers) chanting in the pen, where the police had put them in case a fight started. They needn’t have worried. Libertarians don’t fight with left-wingers, they fight with each other. It’s the only ‘mob’ you’ll ever see where the crowd hears a rousing speech and says to one another, ‘You know, I’m not sure I agree with him. He misses Friedman’s point about the fact that…’ and then argues all the way to the pub, where they’d all much rather be anyway.

As much as I like Ann Coulter, she doesn’t seem to understand the libertarian perspective at all. And it’s a shame, not because I think she should agree, but because I think if she could be as accurately nasty about us as she is about left-wingers, her occasional potshots would be a lot more entertaining.

Jan 232010
 

Cranmer highlights another step in Evan Harris MP’s campaign to amend the ban on members of the royal family marrying (or being) Catholics. He points out some interesting features of this campaign, not least that it is centred around the wrong Act of Parliament.

It turns out that the Act of Settlement of 1701 is, apparently, in breach of some articles of the ECHR, namely the right to marry and the prohibition of religious discrimination.

Let’s put this into perspective, y’all. The rules of succession of this country are a nonsense, and always have been, and the idea that there is any fixed procedure besides expediency – let alone one that takes into account anyone’s rights – is ludicrous.

First, members of the royal family are allowed to marry Roman Catholics. There is nothing to prevent them. But if they do, they cease to be considered in the line of succession to the throne.

As far as I’m aware, being in line to the throne is not a right enshrined in the ECHR. So if you marry a Roman Catholic, you lose your place in that line. But your human rights have not been breached.

This attempt to make the line of succession some kind of equal-rights procedure seems very silly to me. By its very definition, the royal family is not an equal-rights institution. It is a family. Everyone who is not a member of that family is debarred from taking part in what it does. If there are then further conventions about who in the family is permitted to do what and when, fine. If the rules of the family say you can’t be the head honcho if you marry (or are) a Roman Catholic, meh. Those are choices you, as an individual, have to make. Peter Phillips and his bride made just such a choice – she converted to Anglicanism before their wedding. She didn’t have to do that. And he didn’t have to marry her. These were voluntary decisions made in full knowledge of all the consequences.

Second, Evan Harris MP seems bothered by the fact that succession in this country is by male primogeniture. Nominally it may be, but in reality this is piffle.

The ‘male’ part, of course, a holdover from the warlike-chieftain days of yore, when the leader of the tribe was also the leader of the war-band, so he kind of had to be a man. But, as Tacitus relates in the Germania, the line of succession in the Germanic tribes from whom the English were descended was always through the female. The chieftain’s brothers, and the children of his sisters, were his successors. A man’s sister’s children were closer to him than his own, always.

Why? Because they were the children he could be sure were related to him by blood. His wife’s children may or may not be of his blood, but his sister’s children surely were. And so the chieftain’s nephews would be his successors in the next generation, and the chieftain’s nieces would carry on the bloodline in their own offspring.

This tradition continued, generally speaking, during the Anglo-Saxon period in England for a good long while (with a few alterations). Brother succeeded brother; nephew succeeded uncle. The significant alterations came in when this was not possible, or when the natural successor was considered unfit by the witan or the war-band. Then an alternate might be chosen by election (roughly) or acclamation.

It wasn’t until William the Conqueror came over with his feudalism and his Norman barons and his hey-that-hurts that this all changed. The Norman nobility had a different system, and when they became the nobility of England, that system took root. It was not the sons of the sisters who took precedence, but the sons of the chieftain himself. Though the Normans had been Germanic, too, they were also the vassals of the king of France – and French succession operated according to a version of the Salic tradition of direct male descendants.

In this tradition, the remote chance that the chieftain’s wife had cuckolded him was apparently considered a negligible problem when laid against all of the advantages and skills a child would have who had been trained and brought up by the chieftain himself. And rules of succession, wherever one may have been, could be (and sometimes were) bent to the point of breaking if the legal heir was considered unfit.

And so England’s throne became one of direct male primogeniture, in general. But then this got screwed up in 1399, and direct male primogeniture has been a happy fantasy ever since.

The first hiccough: Richard II, grandson of Edward III through his first-born son the Black Prince, was deposed for being ‘unfit’ by Henry IV, also a grandson of Edward III but through his third son, John of Gaunt. Eventually this led to the Wars of the Roses, out of the wreckage of which came Henry VII – whose only blood claim to the throne was as the son of the great-great-granddaughter of Edward III (by his third son, John of Gaunt). Sound torturous? Yeah. Male primogeniture took sort of a back seat there. Restoring it was still a happy hope until Henry VIII came along, who fucked it all up.

When he died, Edward VI (son of Henry VIII) had no sons or brothers, and Henry VIII had no brothers with issue, and Henry VII had had no brothers, and before that there had been a massive tangle. Finding direct male descendants of the last absolutely solid English king, Edward III, would have been pretty fucking difficult by 1553 even had Henry VIII not had most of them judicially murdered to preserve his own claim to the throne. There was no question that succession would have to go through a female line somewhere.

Henry VIII had had two sisters: Margaret, who married the king of Scotland, and Mary, who had married lesser nobleman Charles Brandon. At that point, primogeniture should have demanded that Margaret’s male descendants inherit the throne of England; unfortunately, she had none, and the monarch of Scotland at the time was an 11-year-old Catholic girl engaged to the Dauphin of France. The prospect of one day becoming part of the kingdom of France was intolerable to the English, never mind the abhorrent Catholicism. So they turned to Mary’s line. And, alas, she had no male descendants either!

There was a female, though, a nice Protestant girl called Lady Jane Grey. She was proclaimed queen in short order, with the prior approval of the dying Edward VI.

But this was stupid, no? If there were going to be a female monarch, as there had never been before, why someone with such a tenuous blood tie to the previous king? Why not Edward VI’s older sister Mary, the legitimate (de facto if not de jure) daughter of Henry VIII? Mary thought so too, and rocked up in London immediately. Parliament heaved a massive sigh of relief, declared her the rightful queen, and started praying that, even in her late age, Mary could somehow produce a son.

It’s a lot more complicated than that, of course, but you can see the tangled crap that has always been the rules of succession in England. They were so flexible, in fact, that Henry VIII and Edward VI both tried legal means to straighten them out. Henry VIII used Acts of Parliament; Edward VI tried to circumvent them in his will. Neither was successful.

There was another hitch when Mary died without children; the Catholic queen of Scotland was by then no longer attached to France, but the English had had enough of Catholics, so they chose Elizabeth – who also died without children. And, at long last, they found a man: James, the good Protestant son of Mary, Queen of Scots, whose relationship to Elizabeth was remote but who was at least a direct descendant of Henry VII, if though a bunch of women.

By then, of course, the English had decided it was okay to have queens if you couldn’t find a suitable king, which was how the country ended up with Mary II and Anne: there were available men by that time, but they were ‘unsuitable.’ But when Anne died without surviving children in 1714, the English (well, British by this point) had to go on the hunt again – this time even more circumscribed by the ‘no Catholics’ rule – and finally lit upon some random Hanoverian who was descended from James I (through his daughter) and bore absolutely no resemblance to anything that could be called a ‘direct male descendant’ of anyone who had ever been king of England.

And of course the present monarch is not even his ‘direct male descendant,’ since she is not only not a man, but she’s descended from him through a woman (Victoria).

So. Given that male primogeniture was a rule only when it could be applied, and has only rarely been applicable since 1399, why mess around with it now? It’s not like the English have ever given a shit, and who the monarch is hardly even matters these days anyway. Let the royal family sort it out for themselves. Surely there are better uses for Evan Harris MP’s time.

Aug 202009
 

Yes, that is how the universe is divided up these days; or if not the universe, at least the immigration queues at Gatwick South Terminal.

When the Devil and I arrived back in the UK this morning–three hours late because Thomas Cook Airlines make the Titanic seem like a pleasant transport option–from our lovely trip to Cyprus, we were greeted by the sight of two separate corridors at the border. Not just two separate queues, you understand: the Rest of the World now are now directed by a sign (helpfully footnoted with the legend ‘This includes US citizens’, in case we’re too stupid to realise we’re not part of the EU) down a cattle chute of their very own, beneath exposed piping, drop cloths, and alongside bare sheetrock walls, twice the length of the EU corridor, to meet with surly border agents next to another sign that proclaims, reassuringly, ‘Tougher checks mean longer waits’ and ‘We catch 2,100 immigration criminals a year.’

After some further surly misdirection, I was made to join the EU queue anyway, as one of the only three representatives of the Rest of the World in the terminal at that time. And was duly questioned, although fortunately not detained again, probably because I had associate firepower standing next to me.

Quite apart from being pigeon-holed into Sneeches-with-Stars-Upon-Thars and Sneeches-Without-Stars by Angus McFergus McTavish Dundee Border Agent, what also peeved me was being questioned about the Refused Tier 1 Application (see here and here). The Border Agents can see on their little passport-reading computer that I was refused that visa but they can’t, apparently, see why. Evidently, this innocent piece of data makes me out to be quite the shady customer. So even though the refusal was entirely document-related, and due entirely to the Border Agency’s own misinformation, its presence on the database paints me with the brush of Immigration Criminal–they might as well slap a sticker on my forehead that says ‘Undesirable! Treat with suspicion!’ Because that’s exactly how the Border Agency are now treating me.

Somebody ought to relay to them that (a) living in Britain has now become so repulsive to some of its own citizens that they feel no shame in asking me ‘Why in the name of all that is holy and pure do you want to stay here?’ and (b) the United States is not yet such a shithole that its productive class are now fleeing in droves to the sunnier shores of the UK. It’s not as if I’m here to start a new life in a better land where all are free to pursue prosperity and happiness. All I wanted was to carry on enjoying my nice job and my nice home with my nice now-husband, fulfilling all the responsibilities of living in Britain without having access to any of the privileges. I don’t see why that’s so much to ask, or why it means I must not only put up with being shepherded about, marginalised, and interrogated like the sneakiest crim in history, but also be expected to feel safer and grateful for it at the same time.

That said, Cyprus was wonderful, and interestingly enough, provided a tremendous contrast: we went to the American Embassy in Nicosia to have a document notarised by the consul, and from start to finish, I was treated like royalty. Admittedly, royalty that has to be metal-detectored and patted down three times before being allowed into the Inner Sanctum, but royalty nonetheless. Everybody was polite, nay, downright friendly; they ushered me to the front of all the queues, no appointment necessary; the consul himself congratulated me in paternal fashion on the impending nuptials; and the guards were kind enough to arrange transport back to Larnaka for us–all because of my shiny blue American passport. Sometimes being part of the Rest of the World is quite pleasant.

Aug 032009
 

1. Everything in America is huge.

2. Including the creepy-crawlies.

3. American healthcare costs what it does because of (a) widespread, mild hypochondria and (b) creepy-crawly-borne diseases.

4. American food is now too rich for my palette.

5. Big weddings are more trouble than they’re worth.

6. A supportive family can turn a hell into, if not exactly a paradise, at least a reasonably tolerable purgatory.

7. Virgin Atlantic is my new favourite airline, and I won’t hear a word spoken against Sir Richard ever again.

8. It’s good to be back home in the UK, for another 28 days anyway.

Jul 222009
 

Blogging has been light these past couple of weeks due to my travelling places (Edinburgh, mainly, which was lovely), and will continue to be light as I return to the US for ten days to attend a friend’s nuptial festivities.

Everyone who has commented here about my immigration problems has been enormously sympathetic, and I’m very grateful. Having this blog, and the input of its commenters, has really been an unexpected blessing, without which I don’t think I would have coped as well. So this post is also sort of a giant THANK YOU! for the support, including the unknown but brave gentleman who has offered to make an honest woman of me so I can stay here.

You will be perhaps pleased to know that I have not yet quit fighting; I have some plans in hand to continue the struggle. The British government has not seen the last of me. Nor has this blog, which I will update as and when I can from the US, although given the bride-and-groomly demands on my time and the parlous connection options available in the impenetrable swampy wastes of North Carolina, I do not expect it to happen often.

So au revoir until August, probably, when I will resume the reasoned yet flighty political discourse to which you have all become accustomed.

Jun 172009
 

[From me, admittedly, on both counts.]

More comment-mining at Tim’s Guardian piece:

The lack of choice I refer to is, I believe, less due to employers than with female mate-choice. If a man wants to be a father, he first needs to attract a mate. If you’re not a good provider few women will consider you father material or worth settling down with. It’s a catch 22 – if you want to have a family you need to prioritise your career, which leaves you less time to spend with your family.

Do men really think this is generally the attitude of women? Sure, I can see that there will be those ladies who would turn down a lovely man because he had a crap income, but on the other hand, I have personally never encountered such a thing. There have been in my life recently the following:

(a) a professional female friend who desperately wanted to marry and spawn with her dirt-poor, student boyfriend;

(b) another professional female friend who is marrying a man who works on hourly pay as a shop clerk;

(c) my mother, who earned more than my father throughout her entire working life;

(d) and of course myself – I care nothing for what a potential ‘mate’ earns as long as he isn’t boring, and in fact I have never dated a man who has gone out of his way to set himself up as a ‘good provider.’

Anecdote, I know, but I can’t help feeling that amongst professional types, this person’s contention is pure nonsense, the kind of crap spouted by men who as people have trouble attracting women, but would rather blame their modest incomes and the meretricious monstrous regiment than admit it.

UPDATE:Oh! and here’s another one

Another fact that feminists cover up. Women marry “up”, not “down”. When a woman marries a man, she chooses a man earning MORE than her — even if she expects to go on working after marriage. A female banker may have an affair with her electrician, but she would NEVER marry him.

Really? Really really? Prove it. ‘Cause I would.

UPDATE 2: Argh:

Because, dear heart, when you are in your bath chair, doubly incontinent and in need of care and medical attention, it will be other people’s children who will be looking after you, wiping your bum, feeding you and making sure you get the care you need. Other people’s children’s taxes will be paying towards your pension when you retire, the costs of public services, producing the food you will eat, the tv programmes you will watch, mending the pavements you walk on and building and maintaining the house you live in.

I really object to this idea that future adults are a resource for current adults to expect to mine and utilise one day. I don’t have children so that one day they can wipe my co-worker’s ass, and neither does anybody else. And if people truly did think that way, it would be repugnant in the extreme: treating future adults as little service-tax-and-pension-generating engines rather than autonomous human individuals who may very well – pleasegodplease – get sick of being treated thusly, foment a revolution, and eliminate this hideous, fucked-up, socialist society that has held them in that sort of bondage since birth.

I want my own children to look after me when I’m old – not the children of others. I want my own children to love me enough to care for me. And if they don’t, or if I never have children, then I shall reap what I have sown, and go about with ass unwiped and frail and hungry, since the institutions that used to do that for unclaimed old folks – charities – have been co-opted by the state or, if they refused to add their biological and technological distinctiveness to the Borg, destroyed.

Mar 302009
 

Dr David Starkey has opened his trap about the injustice done to poor Henry VIII by the concentration of modern female historians on his wives, to the exclusion of his powerful accomplishments in the realm of politics and religion.

But he warned that the “soap opera” of Henry’s personal life should come second to the political consequences of his rule, such as the Reformation and the break with Rome.

Dr Starkey went further, by saying that modern attempts to paint many women in history as “power players” was to falsify the facts.

Many years ago, when I still taught history, I used to tell my students that almost everything that ‘power players’ did was motivated by money, power, or land. With Henry VIII, it tended to be all three, although as in a sense they’re more or less three sides of the same coin, this is not particularly noteworthy.

In fact, very little of what Henry VIII did is particularly noteworth – and the break with Rome is not one of those things. The English Church, under the direction of the monarch, had broken with Rome already on a number of occasions. The refusal of William II to fill vacant bishoprics (so that the Crown could continue to collect their revenues) resulted in the exile of the Archbishop of Canterbury and William’s excommunication; Henry II’s spat with Thomas Becket meant that half of the priestly class of England joined Becket in exile and, of course, Henry was excommunicated; John’s stubbornness about Stephen Langton mean that the poor archbish couldn’t even get into England, let alone go into exile, and John’s excommunication and the subsequent Interdict laid on the nation lasted for some years. During all of these periods, the monarch and people of England were ‘broken’ from Rome, and in the case of John, many of the people even supported his position. Henry VIII’s quarrel with Rome rather pales in comparison, and the basis of his break was neither theological nor procedural: he wanted the Church’s revenues, and he wanted to be ultimate court of appeal on both religious and civil matters. The 39 Articles were hardly un-Catholic, and most of what he incorporated from Luther’s theological protest was later adopted by the Catholic Church during the Counter-Reformation anyway. The true Reformation in England happened after Henry VIII’s death, under his son Edward VI and his second daughter Elizabeth I.

What is significant about Henry VIII is that, as part of his megalomania, he rode roughshod over the constitution of England and the traditional liberties of its people as enshrined in Magna Carta. His show trials rivalled Stalin’s and his prosecution of people under treason laws for slights against his amour propre made a mockery of justice. His execution of the Duke of Buckingham for no other crime than being a rival prince of the blood, and his subsequent seizure of the Duke’s ancestral lands (ever wondered about Buckingham Palace?), whilst nevertheless moaning on and on about the sanctity of his conscience, show him to have been a despot and tyrant of the highest order.

Even these dubious accomplishments, however, are not unique to Henry VIII; his father did the same thing.

What is unique about Henry VIII is that he alone of all English monarchs, including the wicked John, the inept Edward II, and the evil-uncle Richard III, beheaded his wives. Everything else he did falls, if you will, into the ordinary realms of monarchical naughtiness. Grasping, greedy, power-hungry – well, fair enough. But double uxoricide? That, my friends, was unprecedented, and has never happened since. It’s the kind of behaviour one might expect from a Mithridates, not from a crowned monarch of a Christian nation, a Defender of the Faith with an exquisitely acute conscience. Is it any wonder historians, whatever is between their legs, focus on that?

I reckon that Henrician history isn’t feminised so much as it is centred on the only thing that makes Henry VIII actually interesting. Apart from his torrid love-life, he’s really a rather run-of-the-mill king.

Starkey does say one peculiar thing, though:

He also stressed his comments were not a “value statement” about how he thought the world should be, but argued: “It is a great impertinence to impose our values on the past. It instantly reduces the people of the past from real people to mere straw men and women in our struggles.”

Using the past to inform our own time is kinda what we study history for; while it may be ‘impertinent’ to impose our values on the people of the past, it is the height of arrogance to argue that we must not employ history as a rhetorical tool in our own struggles. Although I don’t like it, and I resent the use of history that politicians make to prop up their own stupidities, to insist otherwise is to diminish its importance, and the study of history is embattled enough already without historians adding to the claims of irrelevance it has to overcome.

Marriage hell

 indolence  Comments Off on Marriage hell
Mar 152009
 

His Grace today quotes Michael Gove, Shadow Secretary for Schools, Children, and Nuclear Units on the subject of marriage:

Marriage is a constraint, it is a restriction on freedom, a corset or corral in which passions which would otherwise run free are subject to disciplines, and personal satisfaction is subordinated to social expectations.

Fuck me if he doesn’t make it sound really unappealing. No wonder nobody’s doing it any more…

Feb 052009
 

Via that mine of information, Tim Worstall, this agony question in the Guardian: ‘Why wouldn’t my partner marry me?’

Tim highlights the questioner’s final, desperate enquiry (‘Why will a man sleep with a woman, when he won’t marry her or tell her he loves her?’) and wonders how any adult woman can ask that in all seriousness.

He’s right.

Genius-level IQ is hardly required to come to the conclusion that sex is quite different from love/marriage. For one thing, sex isn’t supposed to last the rest of your life. (Thank goodness; we’d never get anything done.) For another, love at least has never been a prerequisite for sex, nor, as in this case, a postrequisite. Generally, and contrary to popular feminine belief, if a man doesn’t tell a woman he loves her, it’s probably because he doesn’t. It’s not commitment-phobia; it’s not fear of emotional vulnerability. He’s just not in love. (This argument is true for marriage, too, I reckon.)

What the missive-writing woman really wants to know, I imagine, is ‘Why does this man want to spend years of his life cultivating a relationship with me if he doesn’t intend to formalise it?’

There are two really obvious answers to that. First, in this day and age, ‘formalising a relationship’ (i.e. getting married) is a religio-social and legal concept that has no actual bearing on how the participants feel about one another, as divorce rates show. If one is happy in the relationship and confident of the partner’s devotion and fidelity, what is the need for formal marriage?

And if one is not happy in the relationship, or confident in the partner’s devotion and fidelity, why the desire to marry to such a person in the first place?

(I’m aware that if you are particularly religious, or you wish to enjoy the fiscal protection marriage brings, that argument is irrelevant. Fair enough.)

The other likely reason this poor woman’s boyfriend is in no great hurry to marry her is because he already enjoys the benefits of marriage without any of the hassle or responsibility. They lived together; they travelled together; they probably shared their incomes; they obviously slept together. Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?