Saturday, 26 January 2013

Reasons Not To Be Cheerful

We may all excuse ourselves for being miserable in January because Monday the 21st. is reckoned to be the saddest day of the year. I'm unsure about the criteria of measurement but perhaps they include some of this past week's hardships such as the obligations to get back to work, pay the latest round of inflated utility bills and maintain our new year's resolutions. Assuming, however, that the summation is an average there will be some people who are feeling unseasonably cheerful right now. To them I say don't be smug, the bulk of the year hasn't happened yet so there is plenty of scope for misery to befall you.

Coinciding with Miserable Monday this year was a downfall of snow which disrupted the routines of millions, caused the cancellation of meetings, the extension of journey times and the thwarting of many a good intention. But for some of us snowfall may be a positive experience. People in the news media, for example, thrive on the opportunity to show footage of the white stuff and tell stories of disruption, incompetence and disaster; weather forecasters relish the chance to adorn mundane meteorological maps with amber and red warning triangles; dads get to rummage through the garage for the sledges they stowed away last spring and school-teachers plan their extra holidays the evening before predicted snowfall. I'm not so sure kids like school closures though: I remember the walk to school through snow as an adventure in winter wonderland - crunching through the drifts, snapping off icicles to suck and testing the frozen surface of every puddle and, during breaks in lessons, competitions in sliding and snowman-building and mass snowball fights: so much more fun than staying at home.

The snow may have added to your seasonal gloom or distracted you from it but, to my mind, the major misery-inducing factor was the tax payment due by the end of the month. I acquiesce with the general principle that taxation is a fair way to fund the infrastructure needed by society but a recurring question presents itself as I am about to press the 'transfer' key. What will the government do with our money? Will it invest in education to produce long-term benefit for the whole of society or fritter it away on politically motivated projects that mostly reward vested interests?

 In theory we control this via the ballot box but the reality is not straightforward, as is illustrated by our government's response to recent violent developments in the North African Maghreb. I note that we taxpayers are being primed for a protracted extension of the "war on terror" in yet another hot and dusty region and I am concerned at the glib employment of sound-bites to sustain the argument. To call someone a terrorist implies that their motivation is to terrorise others, which is to distort by simplification the complex circumstances which lead to violent conflict. Many who had been called terrorists by colonial powers were, from their point of view, freedom fighters using whatever means they could to win their cause and who, having eventually won the battle, emerged as political leaders of independent states.

In the Maghreb there are many stories: a long history of nomadic tribes being dispossessed by imposed political boundaries; tribal rivalries; the recent collapse of dictatorships and the ensuing power vacuum into which are drawn criminals, racists, and religious zealots, as well as political factions. The one constant in the storyline is the fact that it is a fight for control over the region's resources and the involvement of the Western powers, however described, is part of that story.

Perhaps if I paid my tax in little instalments I might be lulled into not thinking too much about how it is invested: as it is I am convinced that killing 'terrorists' will not be as profitable in the long term as ensuring that schools remain open when snow is on the ground.

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