Twitter is only a tool, and His Grace is the workman blaming it

Speaking to an audience with learning difficulties, otherwise known as our parliamentarians, the Archbishop of Canterbury attacked Twitter.

Social media, he said, have killed off thoughtful reflection. A sophisticated question can’t be answered in 140 characters.

Yes, it can, Your Grace – and sometimes even before it’s asked. Always provided, of course, that it’s the right question.

Thus Pontius Pilate, a protagonist in the book with which His Grace is surely familiar, asked a wrong question when interrogating Jesus: “What is truth?”

Jesus didn’t deign to answer the wrong question because the night before he had already answered the right one. The right question wasn’t “What is truth?” It was “Who is truth?”, and to that question Jesus had indeed given an unequivocal reply:

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

That’s only 59 characters, Your Grace, but this number was sufficient to plum philosophical depths that encapsulate the very essence of Western civilisation.

Pilate was a man weaned intellectually on Greek and Roman philosophy. His exposure to it might only have been tangential – he was a military man, after all, not a scholar.

Still, that kind of stuff was in the air, and it was inhaled even by those who hadn’t studied the primary sources. Hence to Pilate truth was a what, an abstract idea ringing true more loudly and clearly than other, competing abstract ideas.

Jesus Christ corrected that metaphysical error by explaining that truth wasn’t a what but a who – he personified truth, thereby making it absolute and detaching it from the musings of individual thinkers. Thenceforth their task wasn’t to find truth but merely to comment on it.

It followed that reality also existed outside the perception of a single person, no matter how bright and learned he was. Just as truth was embodied in Jesus Christ, and therefore objective, so was reality removed from subjective perception. Reality just was, it had been created, and nothing a mortal man thought would change it.

This concept of truth and of reality changed the world immeasurably more radically than all revolutions put together. Among other things it made real science possible, and no civilisation that wasn’t privy to this truth has ever even approached the scientific discoveries of Christendom, or Western civilisation, as one is now supposed to call it to avoid offending assorted groups.

I’m not proposing to indulge in cracker-barrel philosophising here. All I’m suggesting is that, if a mere 59 characters could change the world for ever, then surely 140 characters would be ample to contain what Justin Welby called ‘reflective comment’.

This is assuming, of course, that those who are active in the social media are capable of reflection. And there’s the rub: they aren’t, not en masse at any rate.

That’s why people, especially young people, seek the sound-byte comfort provided by Twitter. Their inability to think seriously came first, Twitter merely provided a tool for expressing mental deficiency.

Why are our young people intellectually retarded? This would have been the correct question to ask, and “because they tweet” would have been a wrong answer.

The correct answer would have been “because they are now detached from the civilisation whose very essence was explained in 59 characters”. But that’s not the kind of answer our parliamentarians, led on that occasion by Dave and Ed, would have understood.

More worryingly, this isn’t the kind of answer our prelates are any longer prepared to give. Blaming Twitter is easier, safer and less ‘controversial’.















Football as a yardstick of intellect

“Football is popular because stupidity is popular,” wrote the wonderful Jorge Luis Borges.

If Borges was right, and he usually was, then I have to admit to being stupid. For I like watching football almost as much as in my younger days I enjoyed playing it.

Over the years tennis has replaced football as my active sport, but even now I’d no more miss an England match in the World Cup than my own book launch. Certain things just have to be held sacred.

To this day I bitterly regret having missed the 1966 final on TV, the only one England has ever won or indeed made, and you’d think 48 years is enough time to get over it.

Still a teenager at the time, I instead went on a date with the girl I eventually married. The marriage didn’t last, but the regrets have, serving a constant reminder of how important it is to get one’s priorities right.

Still, I like to think that my reservoir of stupidity is mostly expended on football, which is why I like to use the game as a source of further-reaching observations, mostly dealing with crowd mentality and a need for tribal belonging.

My love of the game is disinterested at the club level because I don’t support any particular team. My mild preference is usually for the currently best London club, as long as it isn’t Chelsea.

That team I detest for two reasons. First, it’s owned by a disgusting Russian gangster. Second, I live not far from their stadium. Every time Chelsea plays a home match, crowds of tattooed blue-clad dipsomaniacs descend on our neighbourhood, turning it into a Millwall with better architecture.

Once we couldn’t even get home because both King’s and Fulham Roads were blocked by grex venalium celebrating their triumph in the FA Cup. The celebrations took the shape of open-top buses slowly driving through the jubilant and uniformly pissed crowd.

Cans of lager were being tossed onto the bus tops, and the fans dancing there would drain them, then throw the cans back. The continuo was provided by the crowd singing such masterpieces as “We win home and away, we win every f****** way!” and “Chelsea here, Chelsea there, Chelsea everyf******where!” The f-word, as you may realise, is the sine qua non of this poetic genre.

I opened the window of my car and asked a neutrally observing policeman, one of the regiment in attendance, why they allowed two major thoroughfares to be taken out of circulation. The cop looked at me the way St Ignatius Loyola must have looked at a heretic.

“These men have a right to celebrate, Sir,” he said. “And I have a right to get home,” I replied. “How am I going to do that?”

The officer looked at me the way St Ignatius Loyola must have looked at someone insisting on his right to worship as he saw fit. He didn’t say anything, but his expression did: “That’s your problem.”

On another occasion my wife and I were driving down King’s Road, which is densely lined with drinking establishments. Each was full to the brim, with crowds of Chelsea fans either celebrating or commiserating, I can’t remember which.

Both types of post-match festivities are identical, involving as they do championship-calibre drinking and concomitant excretions through every orifice God gave man, except ears.

That day was fine, and the crowds had spilled over onto the pavement. As we drove along, one man politely turned his back to the pub and relieved himself onto the street, narrowly missing our car as it crawled along.

My wife, who’s rather prim in such matters, immediately rang the police. “A man has just exposed himself to me on the King’s Road!” she exclaimed. “So what do you want us to do about that?” asked the officer on duty. “I want you to arrest him!” “Lady,” said the cop, “we don’t have enough men to arrest everyone who does that on match day.”

I was disloyally laughing throughout, what with my own sensibilities being considerably less refined than my wife’s.

Though public urination isn’t my chosen spectator sport, I do enjoy some of the bawdy songs our football fans often extemporise.

Once Millwall FC, the club representing the area I mentioned earlier, were playing a team from Iran. After a few minutes, the local fans began singing “You are Shiite and you know it,” changing the original lyrics only slightly. They also sang “Get your face out for the lads”, again adapting the existing mantra to the occasion.

Though perhaps wishing that these chaps channelled their ingenuity into a more productive conduit, one still has to admire the ready, if somewhat crude, wit.

During the Big Firm match in Glasgow, that is the game between the Protestant Rangers and the Catholic Celtic, the fans add a nice touch of sectarian invective to the chorus.

For example, the Rangers fans sing, to the tune of She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain and in reference to the IRA terrorist who starved himself to death in prison, “Would you like a chicken supper, Bobby Sands, would you like a chicken supper, Bobby Sands, would you like a chicken supper, you filthy Fenian f***er, would you like a chicken supper, Bobby Sands?”

Every law of the genre is observed, with a few added nuances. Hope the Scots vote No in the referendum – we want them in the Union.

So fine, all football fans are stupid. I still hope England will stuff Uruguay on Thursday, and Borges is dead. Go, Ingerland! (The word is now in the OED, in case you’re wondering.)

Modern politics breeds psychopaths (like Tony Blair)

Tony has regaled us with a long essay claiming that the escalating slaughter in Iraq has nothing to do with anything he and George did back in 2003. It would all have happened anyway.

This is a version of the defence often heard in our courts: It’s all society’s fault, gov.

The inexorable pull of forces beyond human control exculpates the murderer. He didn’t do it. It’s society that slashed the victim’s throat. Even if the knife wielder hadn’t been there, the throat would have been cut anyway.

Commentators are stuck for an explanation behind Tony’s bizarre piece of writing, but only because they insist on referring to the facts. True enough, these appear unequivocal.

It wasn’t aliens from Planet X-4 who falsified intelligence reports and lied that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction aimed at Western cities. It was Tony and George.

It wasn’t visitors from outer space who then attacked Iraq, eliminating the only regime that had a reasonable shot at keeping a lid on the bubbling violence. It was Tony and George.

It wasn’t Martians who then promoted the ‘Arab Spring’, in effect replacing unsavoury secular regimes with jihadists fanatics. It was Tony and George.

It wasn’t creatures with pointed heads who kept changing their professed reason for the aggression, eventually settling on the urgent need to bring democracy to the Middle East. It was Tony and George.

The difference between the two is that George at least has the decency to keep his mouth shut, while Tony not only tries to vindicate his criminal acts but is actually screaming for more of the same.

Anyone with a modicum of education knows that the Islamic world has always been a powder keg waiting for a lit match. This started 1,400 years ago, not 10.

When Mohammed died, one lot felt that power should pass on to the wise elders, while the other lot insisted that only the Prophet’s kin were fit for the role. Since then the two groups, the Sunnis and the Shiites, have been at each other’s throats.

Ostensibly this situation isn’t unique to the Muslims. Charlemagne’s death, for example, was followed by an internecine struggle for succession. When one part of Europe decided to destroy the traditional Christianity still practised in the other part, wars ensued. The Roundheads and the Cavaliers falling out led to a civil war.

All that is par for the course: boys will be boys. The difference between what used to be called Christendom and the Muslim world is that in the former people would set about killing one another with gusto but after a few years, decades at most, they’d come to their senses.

Muslims don’t. Their so-called religion encourages both murderous fanaticism and long memory. When the two are combined, tectonic plates of seismic violence perpetually strain to slam together, and only a greater force can keep them apart.

Specifically in Iraq, the Sunnis hate the Shiites, the Shiites loathe the Sunnis, they both detest the Kurds, who reciprocate with relish. All of them abhor the West, which they claim is decadent, hedonistic and godless.

The claim isn’t without merit, but what weakens it somewhat in this context is the historical evidence showing that the Muslims hated the West even when it was none of those objectionable things.

These overlapping hatreds could only be kept from exploding into a blood-soaked chaos by… what, class? What could have prevented a violent chaos in Iraq? Democracy, Tony? One man one vote, George? Sit down, both of you. You fail.

A check on the murderous passions could only come from ghastly, unsavoury dictators, ideally military. Like Assad. Like Gaddafi. Like Mubarak. And – are you paying attention, Tony and George? – like Saddam.

The criminal aggression perpetrated by Tony and George unseated them all with the exception of Assad, who’s hanging by a thread. The result was wholly predictable: the region is being drowned in a tsunami of blood threatening to engulf it all and then spill over into other regions.

Such is reality. Yet the commentators who are baffled by Tony’s obvious divorce from it are missing the point.

Tony isn’t ignorant of the facts. He isn’t ‘in denial’, a term much in vogue. He isn’t even lying, in the sense of uttering falsehoods he knows for what they are. He’s mad or, to be more forensically exact, a psychopath.

Such people are driven by a single passion to which they dedicate their whole being. Since others are unlikely to want to cater to the psychopath’s obsession, in order to succeed he has to learn how to manipulate people, bending them to his will.

In due course, manipulation itself becomes the obsessive passion. It stops being the means and becomes the end.

Appealing to the psychopath’s reason is pointless, as is trying to argue with him on the basis of obvious facts. He simply wouldn’t understand what you’re talking about – if facts are stubborn things, as Stalin once said, so much the worse for the facts.

When Tony denies that the 2003 invasion of Iraq made the current atrocities inevitable, he’s not lying, meaning deliberately distorting reality. Every lie is a falsehood, but not every falsehood is a lie.

For a psychopaths only his mania is real. Everything else is grist to the mill.

Hence Tony’s famous gift of the gab, making him millions on the lecture circuit. It’s tempting to think that those willing to pay good money to listen to Tony’s revelations are simply stupid. After all, the man has never uttered a thought that isn’t a vulgar banality at best or utter drivel at worst.

Stupidity doubtless features prominently in Tony’s audiences. But most people are simply mesmerised by his hypnotic power of a manipulative psychopath. Rather than listening to the words, they respond emotionally to the miasmas emanating from the mad effluvia.

I’d suggest that, by reducing political success to a talent for manipulating large blocs of votes, modern politics brings this type – and increasingly only this type – to the fore. Tony isn’t the only one, he’s just better than most.

He’s the ideal towards which every modern politician strives, and in this sense Dave is indeed ‘heir to Blair’, his typological son as it were.

But equal talent seldom occurs in two successive generations of the same family. A woman wishing to give birth to a musical genius shouldn’t marry Mozart. She should marry Mozart’s father.

Hence Dave will remain a pale imitation – he’s not quite psychopathic enough. When his time comes, his earnings from postprandial talks will be lower than Tony’s by an order of magnitude.

So yes, Tony, of course you’re right. You’re blameless in the ongoing orgy of bloodshed in Iraq. Whatever you say, dear. Just calm yourself.









Clever Putin is using Abu Dua’s ISIS as a decoy

One has to give it to the KGB thug: he understands how the West works.

It’s not for nothing that The Art of War by the Chinese strategist Sun Tsu (6th century BC) is required reading at the KGB/FSB academy.

“If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles,” taught Sun Tsu, and obviously Putin has learned that lesson well.

The colonel knows himself very well indeed, but then of course there isn’t that much to know. With KGB genes coursing through his blood (“There’s no such thing as ex-KGB,” boasted the colonel once, “This is for life.”) he’s single-mindedly dedicated to promoting the cause of his sponsoring organisation.

That cause is so simple that it can be summed up in a single word: power. The power to shove their own people’s faces in the dirt and stamp on them to keep them there. The power to bully anyone at home or abroad who’s too weak to resist. The power to suck every ounce of wealth out of Russia and use it for personal enrichment.

This quest for power is the overriding strategy. Everything else is tactics, the means to an end.

That’s why the colonel sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century” – and he’s particularly nostalgic for the Stalin period. Stalin is the colonel’s role model, the ideal that can never be fully reached but towards which one has to strive.

Hence he has let it be known that he wouldn’t be averse to Volgograd regaining its historical name Stalingrad – only if the people vote for it, of course. Putin wouldn’t dream of bypassing the democratic process.

It has to be said that the city’s historical claim to bearing Stalin’s name isn’t indisputable. After all, it was called Stalingrad for only 36 years, from 1925 to 1961. For the previous 372 years it had been named Tsaritsyn, but who’s counting?

The colonel knows himself perfectly, and he realises that reviving Stalin’s sterling contribution to Holy Russia would strengthen his own claim to royal descent. If Dave can be heir to Blair, why can’t Putin be heir to Stalin?

So first Russian schoolbooks have been rewritten to portray Stalin as merely an effective, if occasionally harsh, manager. Then a million-strong city on the Volga will again be named after Stalin. Then the statues and portraits will come back – one step at a time.

It’s not all about symbolism either. Stalin was the greatest empire builder Russia has ever known, and Putin’s KGB heart still bleeds at the sight of the empire created by his idol falling apart. What rankles most is the fickle jewel in Stalin’s crown, the Ukraine.

Those bloody Ukies always get ideas above their station. So they had to go and declare independence when Russia was in turmoil, busily trying and failing to reconcile Stalin’s cherished heritage with the dire need for Western dollars.

Not only that, but those upstarts actually pretend not to realise that this is all a game. The Soviet Union didn’t really collapse, it has merely been put on hold, just like Russia’s membership in the G8.

It was understood all along that, when the time came, Russia would reclaim what’s hers. Well, as far as Putin is concerned, the time is now. Granted, one has to proceed with caution, not to trigger a violent reaction from Enemy Number 1. The West.

Here comes the second part of  Sun Tsu’s lesson: know thy enemy. Col. Putin does, which is to say he knows what he needs to know.

The essence of Western civilisation doesn’t fall into that category. All Putin is really interested in is a simple binary problem. The West is prepared to stop Russia’s expansion in its tracks – yes or no?

If yes, stop and bide your time. If no, proceed with caution to the next step. It’s like computer programming, only simpler.

The West has already given the good colonel every encouraging sign that the answer is no. Putin flagrantly annexed a chunk of Ukrainian territory, and the West just shrugged its collective shoulders.

Nothing but derisory sanctions were imposed, and the Crimea has gradually disappeared from all subsequent negotiations. These focused on the colonel’s obvious desire to swallow up the rest of the Ukraine.

When it became clear that Putin wasn’t prepared to drive thousands of tanks into Kiev just yet, the West heaved a sigh of relief. The EU in particular was relieved. There’s no need to risk losing Putin’s gas – the colonel seems to be happy with the fait accompli of Crimea alone.

Oh yes, he is fomenting sedition in the Ukraine’s eastern provinces, arming the so-called separatists to the teeth and threatening an Armageddon if the Ukrainian army gets too bolshie. And yes, some of those ‘separatists’ have never set foot on Ukrainian soil before, coming as they do from places like Moscow and Chechnya.

But hey, for as long as they pretend to be Ukrainians, we’ll pretend to believe them. No need to upset the apple cart.

The Ukraine has predictably proved too taxing for the West’s minuscule attention span defined by news bytes. The new version of “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing” could only keep our interest for so long. As long as Putin’s tanks stay on his side of the border, there’s better news to follow, like Kate’s billowing skirt.

With his predator’s instinct, honed at the KGB academy and unencumbered by any excessive intellect or moral sense, Putin knew this would be the case. He also sensed that Kate’s billowing skirt wouldn’t provide a sufficient distraction should his tanks indeed roll. Something more spectacular was needed (no disrespect to the Duchess’s shapely behind).

Abu Dua’s assault is just what Sun Tsu ordered. The West is holding its breath, hoping that the whole Middle East won’t go up in smoke, and the Ukraine is now on Page 48, if in the papers at all.

So Putin’s tanks have rolled, though not yet in their thousands and not yet all the way to Kiev. Just three T-72s and a few personnel carriers, just 17 miles into the Ukraine, just for Putin to poke his toe in the water.

When Abu Dua overruns Baghdad and, ideally, bombs Israel, then the time may be ripe for some serious business. Meanwhile, Putin is happy with yet another proof that the West is impotent and craven.







Granny Yaga: The kind of book publishers hate and readers love

Publishers like pigeonholes: a book must slot neatly into the groove of a specific genre. Anything else, and promotion becomes difficult – if it takes more than two words to suggest the shelf in which the book belongs, reviewers and bookshop buyers may demur.

That’s why Thames River Press ought to be complimented for bringing out Vitali Vitaliev’s brilliant Granny Yaga. After all, the book is subtitled A Fantasy Novel for Children and Adults, raising such awkward questions as, “So is it for children or is it for adults?”

The answer supplied by every beautifully crafted sentence may confuse some publishers, but it’ll delight every reader: Granny Yaga is for the child in a grown-up and the grown-up in a child.

After all, any child will eventually grow up and Granny Yaga will make a small but telling contribution to helping him end up more knowledgeable and aesthetically developed. And any adult who has expunged the child in him is a crashing bore unable to marvel at life.

A parallel between Vitaliev’s main protagonist Danny and Harry Potter begs to be drawn, but I’d suggest that Danny, what with his greater subtlety and sophistication, would feel even more comfortable in the territory signposted by C.S. Lewis’s Narnia.

Actually, Danny’s physical habitat is London, but his adventures go way beyond mere physicality. For Danny finds himself smack in the middle of the metaphysical world inhabited by the traditional personages of Slavic, particularly Russian, folklore.

Every Russian tot, which Vitaliev once was and, in every good sense, remains, grows up hearing, in due course reading, fairytales about Baba Yaga and Koshchei the Deathless. When the child is old enough to listen to serious music, he’s reminded of Baba (Granny) Yaga by a segment in Musorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition.

But no reminder is really necessary – childhood images stay with us for ever. Baba Yaga, she of the bony leg, chicken-legged hut and such arcane modes of transportation as a broom or pestle and mortar remains etched in the memory, ever alive, ever up-to-date.

When the lady appears in Vitaliev’s book, she flies astride a Dyson Hoover as both a bow to modernity and a reminder that, like her nemesis Koshchei, she’s truly deathless. She’s also a considerably more sympathetic character than I remember from my own childhood, much too protracted if my wife is to be believed.

For example, the witch I remember wasn’t known for her insouciantly ironic humour, and she really ought to thank Vitaliev for humanising her so much. Neither did she ever fly her broom to the same destinations she now flies her Dyson, such as London.

By the looks of it, the old lady may be angling for a tour guide’s job: her amusing interplay with Danny and other characters reveals so much intricate knowledge about London that I defy any reader to say he hasn’t learned something about this great city he didn’t know before. I most certainly did.

Yet Granny Yaga is so much more than a travelogue in disguise. It’s also a history book, a guide to today’s politics, a commentary on modern mores. Above all, it’s riveting, fast-flying entertainment that moves through its gears as rapidly as Granny Yaga flies her Dyson.

The reader flies along with the narrative, never feeling like getting off, hoping the journey will never end and feeling sad that, like all superb books, it has to. But not to worry: by more magic, a little bird has told me that a sequel is coming, and the journey will resume. I for one can’t wait. 










Are Anglo-American champions of democracy in Iraq happy now?

There’s one result democracy is guaranteed to produce in the Middle East. When it’s on the march, people are on the run.

In this instance hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are fleeing south, a step ahead of the rapidly advancing jihadists led by the warlord Abu Dua. As they run, they’re pursued by a rapidly congealing tsunami threatening to sweep across the whole region.

The forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have already seized two major cities, Mosul (where much of Iraq’s oil is) and Tikrit. By the looks of it, Baghdad may well be next, while the ISIS already controls the adjacent area of Syria.

Abu Dua’s people hate the West with hysterical fervour, that’s a given. But the West is rather far away and still strong enough to defend itself against the slings and arrows of aggression, if not the pinpricks of terrorism.

For the time being Abu Dua’s black-clad troops can vent their unused bile on other groups they also loathe, those closer at hand. Mainly it’s the Kurds and the Shiites who make up the majority of Iraq’s population.

When al-Qaeda chaps are hot, they’re hot, and even their coreligionist Sunnis are finding themselves on the receiving end of egregious violence. So it’s not just the Shiites and the Kurds who are running for their lives.

When American neoconservatives, who’ve substituted democracy worship for more traditional religions, were cheering the 2003 invasion of Iraq, I spoke to one of their prominent British acolytes.

“Don’t you lot realise this will end in disaster?” I asked, somewhat rhetorically. “It may,” he replied. “But it’s still good to prod the hornets’ nest.”

Well, prod the nest they did, and the hornets are stinging thousands dead – in a vain attempt to teach our warmongering democracy-hounds a lesson. Wasted effort: ideologues never learn, no matter how many mutilated corpses are used as visual aids.

It was all oh-so terribly predictable. Democracy, in its post-modern perversion, can’t fulfil its promise even in the countries that enjoyed the real thing for centuries.

It can no longer function as a just and truly representative form of government even in its native habitat. All it’s good for these days is sloganeering designed to rally enough support for the ideologues to indulge their lust for power.

The peculiar trait of the neocons, whose movement was started by Trotskyists, is that the boundaries of their own countries can’t contain their indomitable bellicosity. Foreign wars are a must, except nowadays it’s not world revolution but democracy they’ve inscribed on their banners.

This particular slogan still carries a lot of weight since most people don’t realise that, contrary to its thunderous claims, our virtual democracy pushes power away from the people, not closer to them.

Those who vote our governments in have no idea what sort of outrages are being perpetrated in their name. It has all become a megalomaniac game of virtual reality: governments pretend they’re acting in the people’s interests, the people pretend they believe them.

That’s why it’s relatively easy to rally what passes for public opinion these days behind yet another asinine foreign adventure. All it takes is a bit of scaremongering backed up by a few rigged intelligence reports – and Dubya is your uncle, Tony is your aunt.

Thus George W. Bush and his poodle Tony ‘Yo’ Blair combined their forces to drag the two countries into a war whose aims they falsified and for whose end they didn’t even try to plan.

Anyone without an ideological fire in his belly and with an IQ above room temperature (Centigrade) knew it would come to grief. Saddam was a monster and a sadist, but one thing he wasn’t was a jihadist.

Both he and his Ba’athist mate Assad kept Muslim fanatics at bay because they correctly saw them as a threat to their own power. Their countries were pressure cookers bubbling with toxic hatred, and the two chaps relied on rather unsavoury but successful methods to keep the lid on.

Trying to replace their regimes with Western-style democracies was idiotic to the point of being criminal, and I for one would love to see our two democracy champions tried for war crimes. The only possible result was to create a power vacuum, and these are always filled by the most impassioned groups.

In this case it meant jihadists, and the only way to keep them down was to replace Saddam’s violence with the Anglo-American variety. That wasn’t on the cards, not for long.

Anyone familiar with the history of American conflicts, especially the disaster of Vietnam, knew that tricking all of the people all of the time would prove impossible. Then too the country ran out of political will to finish the military job.

Sure enough, after a few years of growing casualties and attenuating will, first the British and then the Americans withdrew from Iraq, tails between their legs.

By way of a smokescreen covering the retreat they laid on a thick fog of lies, perpetuated by the successors to our would-be war criminals. These are exemplified by the comment of the National Security Council on the current calamity: “President Obama promised to responsibly end the war in Iraq and he did”.

Never mind the grammar, feel the lie. Responsibly? This must be the newspeak for irresponsibly. So what did Obama mean by his claim to responsibly have ended the war? (Sorry if I’m using the split infinitive without any natural flair for this grammatical perversion.)

Why, democracy of course. Wasn’t that what Dubya, Tony and the neocons decided was the aim of the war? Granted, that wasn’t the original aim, but them good folks from Texas are allowed to change their minds – and their stooges’ minds as well.

Obama confirms: “We ended our war and left Iraq to its people and a fully sovereign Iraqi state could make decisions about its own future.” Methinks the ‘fully sovereign  Iraqi state’ is about to have a few decisions made for it, doubtless to the accompaniment of the neocons’ loud cheers.

What are we going to do about the unfolding catastrophe? Well, in broad strokes, not to cut too fine a point – nothing. A square root of sod-all or, in the more polite words of Foreign Secretary William Hague, “We’re not countenancing any British military involvement at this stage.”

Or at any other stage actually. We’ll just sit back and enjoy the show. Democracy has been served.

FN and the danger of single-issue politics

“Accidents will occur in the best-regulated families,” said Mr Micawber, one of the cleverest literary protagonists.

Dickens could have had the Le Pens in mind, and only the slight chronological divergence makes such an intention unlikely this side of prophetic prescience.

The founder and honorary chairman of Front National Jean-Marie and his daughter Marine, the current leader of the party, don’t seem to be seeing eye to eye on politics, ‘seem’ being the operative word.

Le Pen fille has just scored the minor triumph of carrying the European election in France. She partly managed that feat by distancing herself from Le Pen père, who eschews his daughter’s crypto-fascism for the no-holds-barred variety.

Marine is a cleverer politician than her father. She knows what his ideas are, shares them and realises that so do most of those who vote for the party. But she also knows that she has to make voting for FN socially acceptable.

To that end she eschews the more inflammatory vocabulary favoured by her openly and proudly fascist father. Even as it is, those who vote FN seldom own up to it.

By chatting to the locals in our province of France one gets the impression that no one would ever even dream of voting FN. FN, moi? Absolument non!

Yet the party always carried the province by a wide margin even when Jean-Marie was in charge, never mind now. This has to be the only example in the annals of democracy of a party winning elections without having a single vote cast for it.

Now there’s talk in France that Marine may just win the next general election, especially since a large drift is expected from François Hollande’s socialists. They seem to be ever so slightly disillusioned, can’t imagine why.

And the UMP Gaullists aren’t over-enthusiastic about Sarko’s return either, although some are looking forward to seeing more nude pictures of his wife, a visual feast to be confidently expected in the run-up to the election.

All Marine has to do is make the electorate forget that her party neatly blends socialist economics with the nastier version of nationalism. Nationalism plus socialism equals… well, everyone knows what it equals. So temporary amnesia on the part of the electorate would go down nicely.

Just when everything seemed to be going swimmingly, Jean-Marie had to go and jog the people’s memory by suggesting with a distinct longing in his voice that a popular Jewish singer Patrick Bruel ought to be put into an oven (une fournée).

The modifier ‘gas’ wasn’t uttered, but Jean-Marie’s record on the issue leaves little room for doubt that it was implied. One doesn’t have to be an elephant to remember that Le Pen has several convictions for inciting racial hatred to his credit.

Marine screamed bloody murder. That was a political error, Dad, she said. What’s going on? (Qu’est que c’est que ce bordel, papa?). What are you trying to do, throw a spanner in the works?

Her father said he was deeply hurt. Everybody knows what his views are, and he’s not going to change them just because a few sales Juifs don’t like it. Can’t teach an old chien new tricks, and if his daughter doesn’t realise this she can go boil an oeuf.

This family squabble wouldn’t be worth talking about if it didn’t communicate a wider message. But it does, and the message is: beware of single-issue politics even if you happen to agree with the single issue.

Any reasonable person in France or, for that matter, Britain would accept some of the planks in the FN platform.

Curtailing immigration, especially that of cultural aliens, regaining national sovereignty by leaving the EU, banning homosexual marriage – all these are sound ideas. But voting for, or even approving of, a fascist party just because it espouses them isn’t.

Nigel Farage is absolutely right when saying that Ukip has nothing in common with FN, even though they may share a few ideas. But what’s important isn’t just how a party stands on this or that issue, but also why it does so.

Ukip starts from a generally conservative point of departure; FN from a generally fascist one. They may overlap on a point or two, but their philosophical lines will never converge – and they aren’t even parallel.

It’s always useful to remind oneself of others who may share one’s perfectly sensible feelings, and why they do so. Otherwise one may end up in bed with perfectly unsavoury partners.

Don’t like homosexual marriage? Neither did Osama Bin Laden. Feel uneasy about rampant internationalism? So did Hitler. Want to leave the EU? So do the Le Pens. Bad people are capable of holding some good ideas, but that doesn’t make them any less bad.

Before voicing support for a political party or group, one would be well-advised to look deep into its overall philosophy, both at present and as it has evolved historically. Failure to delve deep may lead to a terrible error of judgment, which, if compounded in a democracy, may be translated into ill-advised policies.

Thus I know some decent and intelligent (which is to say conservative) people who have warm feelings about Putin because he claims to support traditional Christian values. As evidence of the KGB thug’s virtues, they cite his recently acquired piety along with the ban he imposed on homosexual propaganda (reliable rumours in Russia insist that the colonel doth protest too much).

They don’t see the wood of fascism for the trees of a few policies they wish our own government would adopt. Personally I’d rather stay in the EU than have a fascist government take us out.

Decent people can like Putin or, if French, vote for FN only if terribly misguided. Alas, in our democracy run riot it’s not knowledge but ignorance that confers power.

A word in favour of religious discrimination in schools

Education Secretary Michael Gove is upset, and Home Secretary Theresa May is upset he’s upset.

Apparently Islamic ideology has been imposed on Birmingham schools, turning them effectively into breeding grounds for fanatics, with bright if short-lived career prospects in suicide terrorism.

An investigation by Ofsted found that, rather than being an organic development, this was part of a concerted campaign by Muslims to change “the character and ethos” of our schools.

As a result, some publicly financed state schools cancel Christmas celebrations and nativity plays, while some others broadcast a Muslim call to prayers on their loudspeakers. In all such schools, Muslim girls must wear the traditional Halloween garb even when it’s not Halloween, sit in the back of the classroom and keep their mouths shut.

This, says Mr Gove, isn’t good enough: “We will put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school has to deliver for children. What we have found was unacceptable. And we will put it right.”

So far so good, as a man said falling down past a 10th floor window. The question is, British values as defined by whom and on what criteria?

If Britain were still a sovereign realm, this question, though still valid, could be answered easily enough. But since our laws are superseded by those imposed by the European Court of Human Rights, just about any reasonable answer would be deemed unacceptable.

Both government officials and educators have tried to define Britishness so as not to offend anyone in Brussels and Strasbourg. Part of being British, they explain, is tolerance to those of other faiths. This is stipulated by British law, and going against it means discrimination.

In other words, all religions, including Christianity, must enjoy equal treatment under law and therefore at schools. Sounds reasonable but, at the risk of being regarded as a fossilised bigot, I’d suggest that such even-handedness is what got us in trouble in the first place.

For many years now, our schools have treated Christianity as at best one of the five major religions, no better or worse than any other. This has been reflected in the amount of time allocated to the study of various creeds. Two periods for Islam, two for Buddhism, two for animism (I’m guessing here) two for Christianity and so forth.

This not so much confirms as denies what it means to be British. Our realm is constituted along strictly Christian lines, as anyone can ascertain by looking up the text of the Queen’s coronation oath. More recently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (aka William and Kate) married in a church ceremony, as they had to by law.

Stepping outside politics, British culture is specifically Christian, as are British pre-EU laws that can all be traced to the two Testaments of the Christian canon.

In other words, Britain is, if only residually, a Christian country. Giving Christianity equal time – at best! – thus constitutes an act of cultural and constitutional sabotage.

Therefore Christianity, in its religious, cultural, social and political manifestations, should be the only religion studied at British schools, and every school day ought to start with the Lord’s prayer. The odd period or two may be devoted to an overview of other faiths, but not to the detriment of the educational focus on British tradition.

Children of other faiths may be exempt from the prayer if they so wish, but not from the academic study of Western religious and cultural heritage. Should they or their parents deem it necessary for them to delve deeper into other faiths as well, they should do so at Sunday schools, or whatever they call them.

This doesn’t mean intolerance to other creeds or lack of respect for them. On the contrary, pupils must be taught equity, fairness and tolerance. Britain is, or rather used to be, a free country and denying other people’s freedoms is tantamount to denying our own.

But tolerance isn’t a suicide pact – by all means, let’s respect other religions, but not at the expense of letting them destroy our own, imposing in the process values that aren’t just different from ours but actively hostile to them.

I’m not so naïve as to imagine that anything I suggest could possibly happen even if HMG were so bold as to propose measures in this vein. The European Court of Human Rights would throw them out faster than you can say multiculturalism.

Even the timid, largely meaningless palliatives mooted by Mr Gove are regarded as wildly controversial. Teach pupils to be British? What on earth does he mean?

For example, in a typically ignorant statement, former Labour home secretary Jack Straw said: “It’s crucial that if we are to get the overwhelming majority of members of the Muslim faith on board that we draw a distinction between those who are devout and embrace British values as well, and those who are extreme.”

A devout Muslim, Mr Straw, can’t ‘embrace British values’ while remaining a devout Muslim. He has to sin either against Britishness or against Islam.

Such standard Muslim practices as the stoning of adulterers and the murder of infidels, for example, would be hard to reconcile with the English Common Law. Yet there are 107 verses to that effect in the Koran, and these diktats are widely enforced not only in most Muslim countries but also in the self-created Islamic ghettos mushrooming all over Europe.

What we are witnessing today isn’t just a Muslim plot to take over Birmingham schools but a pan-European drive to expunge Western tradition, knocking the cornerstone out of the edifice of what used to be called Christendom.

This is a sine qua non for the success of the European ‘project’ to which we’re all supposed to have subscribed, a morass into which we’re being sucked deeper and deeper.

It would take a national government brimming with moral integrity, intellectual rigour and stern courage to put up any meaningful resistance. If you think that any Western country, emphatically including our own, is blessed with such a government, there’s a bridge across the Thames I’d like to sell you. 









Scotland’s independence? The c-word springs to mind

What do the USA, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, China, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil and all African countries have in common?

The answer is, they were all constituted in their present shape much later than Great Britain.

This now familiar nomenclature came into being in 1706 and 1707 when the Parliaments of England and Scotland passed the Acts of the Union, joining the two kingdoms into one.

The two crowns united a century earlier, when James VI of Scotland became James I, King of England and Ireland, in what was known as the Union of the Crowns. The political union of 1707 merely recognised the status quo, as in those backward days monarchy was still taken seriously.

This brings us to the c-word, as in ‘constitution’, and shame on you for thinking I had something else in mind.

This word is slipping out of the vocabulary of public discourse as fast as the masculine possessive pronoun. The two words are worth keeping, ‘his’ for cultural and aesthetic reasons, ‘constitution’ because most political debate should both begin and end with it.

Americans, proud of their 1789 Constitution (since then amended 27 times, as one has to remark with a bit of Schadenfreude), like to point out that Britain has no constitution, by which they mean no single written document. This is ignorant nonsense.

When Salic Law was debated in France, its opponents were invoking a similar argument. “Where is it written?” they kept screaming. “Salic Law,” replied the great constitutional thinker Joseph de Maistre, “is written in the hearts of Frenchmen.”

I’d suggest that if a constitution isn’t written in that organ, any written document will be useless. And if it’s indeed written there, any written document will be redundant. In fact, a written constitution is like a prenuptial agreement stipulating the frequency of sex: if you have to write it down, you might as well not bother.

The Acts of the Union were written both in the hearts of the two fraternal peoples and on paper. And now politicking on the part of the SNP and its fanatical leader Alex Salmond is threatening to destroy the constitution of Great Britain.

The amazing thing is that both the opponents and proponents of devolution are arguing this issue of cosmic constitutional import on all sorts of trivia – without ever mentioning the c-word.

The debate seems to revolve around the fiscal impact of devolution on an average Scottish family. The two sides are about £2,400 apart: one lot claim the Scots will be £1,400 a year richer, the other that they’ll be £1,000 poorer.

Even considering the legendary parsimony of the Scots, surely they must realise that such matters oughtn’t to be decided on a few pennies here or there.

To be fair, they aren’t the only ones. Money seems to be the crux of the matter even when the Brits argue about an infinitely more vital constitutional issue: that of the country’s membership in the EU.

Those who favour this abomination claim that our economic survival depends on tearing our ancient constitution to shreds, with Her Majesty becoming just another citizen of the EU. When I say that even if this were true – and it isn’t, not by a long chalk – I’d still be opposed on purely constitutional grounds, the federasts look at me with touching concern for my mental health.

In fact, it’s their heads that need examining: taking the constitution out of our body politic is like amputating the skeleton from a man’s body. Everything else will collapse and the body will die.

The issue of devolution is bogus from beginning to end. It’s not as if the Salmonds of this world felt that Scotland would be better off if she fended for herself.

Quite the opposite, the intention is to swap the historical union with England and Northern Ireland for that of the EU, where Scotland will enjoy a great deal less independence – and, incidentally, much smaller handouts.

In fact, the primary force behind the current devolution drive came not from Alex Salmond but from Mel Gibson, who brought to his awful film Braveheart the same burning passion he expresses privately through anti-Semitic rants.

Every Englishman featured in the film is a sadistic villain torturing, raping and murdering heroic, selfless Scots. The subversive potential of such films was first pointed out, with grateful appreciation, at the dawn of cinematography by Lenin, who described it as “the most important of all arts”. Important to rabble-rousing, that is.

Amazingly, even some conservative, which is to say intelligent, Englishmen often say “We’ll be better off without them”. They cite things like the predominance of the Labour vote in Scotland, which is usually the only factor swinging general elections the Labour way. (Even their saintly election winner Tony ‘Anthony’ Blair was solidly beaten in England in each general election he won.)

Or else they point out the enormous cost to the Exchequer of maintaining Scotland’s social handouts, which are higher than anywhere else in the UK. Effectively this amounts to income redistribution from England, mainly her South, to Scotland, something no conservative can countenance.

All true, all trivial. The economic argument is particularly weak: it’s not as if the English taxpayer will benefit if Scotland leaves the Union. Our own dear government, whichever party will form it, will find other ways of wasting our money up the wall (the idiom isn’t quite precise, but my wife says I mustn’t use in writing the same horrid language I use in speech).

The political argument fails on the same general principle: the difference between today’s  Tory and Labour parties is that between a calamity and a disaster. We choose not so much the lesser of two evils as the evil of two lessers.

Obviously, the advent of Labour would be more catastrophic but, even so, I’d still insist that the devolution argument shouldn’t stand or fall on party politics.

Like no other nationhood, Britishness – and Englishness – is defined by the country’s constitution. Take it away, and it’s not just the national politics but the national character that will be dealt a mighty blow from which it may not recover.

The Scots too would be well-advised to recall the c-word more often – and not just the one they use when talking about the English.







Education and business: news from the battlefronts of class war

A government-sponsored study recommends expanding reverse discrimination in university admissions.

According to Dr Claire Crawford, pupils coming from comprehensives should receive preferential treatment over those from selective schools.

Moreover, the worse the comprehensive the more preferential should be the treatment of its graduates. After all, good schools enjoy the unfair advantage of what Dr Crawford calls “teaching effect”.

In a language well-nigh incomprehensible this side of a loony bin, the study insists that universities “may wish to consider lowering their entry requirements for pupils from non-selective or low-value-added state schools (relative to pupils from selective or high-value-added state schools, or independent schools) in order to equalise the potential of students being admitted from these different types of school.”

Cutting through the gibberish, one could sum up the proposal in simple English: pupils of selective schools are better-educated because their teachers are better. This riles our class warriors because they detect a deficit of equality.

Hence the mad idea of equalising “the potential of all students”. Inasmuch as one can discern any sense there, this means that cleverer and better-educated youngsters must be pulled down to the level of their cultural and intellectual inferiors. That failing, they ought to be kept out of universities altogether.

In other words these educational subversives wish to wreak on our universities the same disaster they’ve already wreaked on our schools – all in the name of equality.

The study authors grudgingly accept that most universities are already adopting such discriminatory policies. However, “more could be done” to make higher education even more meaningless than it is now.

It’s refreshing to observe that we still have a seemingly endless supply of home-grown social engineers. Perhaps that’s why we have to import so many mechanical engineers from China, India, Eastern Europe or wherever else they don’t stress equality over quality.

Equality is perhaps the most pernicious of all myths, and its destructive potential has been demonstrated in all places where it has been taken seriously. It was in the name of equality that various tyrannical states (democratic or otherwise) have destroyed their economies, education, medical care – and, at their extreme, millions of people.

In democratic tyrannies, all egalitarians other than militant socialists magnanimously acknowledge that equality of result is an indigestible pie in the sky. However, they insist that equality of opportunity is a goal that’s both desirable and achievable. In fact, it’s more or less the other way around.

Equality of result can indeed be achieved by enforced levelling downwards (the only direction in which it’s ever realistic to level).

It’s possible to confiscate all property and pay citizens barely enough to keep them alive (this was more or less achieved in the country where I grew up).

It’s possible to put in place the kind of dumbed-down schools that’ll make everybody equally ignorant (this has been more or less achieved in the country where I grew old).

It’s possible to provide the kind of equal healthcare for all that has little to do with either health or caring (both countries have achieved this).

What’s absolutely impossible is to guarantee equality of opportunity anywhere but in prison.

A child with two parents will have better opportunities to get on in life than a child raised by one parent.

A boy who grows up surrounded by books will have a greater opportunity to get ahead intellectually than his coeval who grows up surrounded by discarded syringes and crushed beer cans.

A girl who goes to a good private school will have greater opportunities in life than one who attends a local comprehensive (closing private schools down, an idea so dear to our egalitarians, wouldn’t work: middle-class parents will find a way of supplementing their daughter’s education either abroad or at home).

A young businessman who inherits a fortune will have a better opportunity of earning a greater fortune than someone who has to start from scratch (again, confiscatory inheritance laws will fail: as with all unjust regulations, people will either find a way around them or flee).

Human potential, Dr Crawford, can’t be equalised. But it can be destroyed, and following the recommendations of your study would surely do just that.

One never tires of admiring the contortionist dexterity with which this lot tie themselves in knots trying to reconcile their conflicting pieties. Much of this enviable flexibility comes from the knack at lying they all share.

First they claim an all-out commitment to meritocracy – meaning that people should get ahead in life on the basis of personal attainment rather than, say, birth. But then they call for overriding meritocracy by favouring a different kind of birth.

No moral difference is immediately apparent, though the destructive potential is there for all to see.

In the same vein, the Milibandits keep bellyaching about the so-called crisis in our standards of living. And sure enough, this complaint is easy to make.

Since no absolute criterion for standards of living can possibly exist, they could always be higher. Even though ours are stratospheric by any historical comparison, who wouldn’t like to live a bit better?

So how are we to go about achieving our soaring aspirations? Never mind that, comes the egalitarians’ answer.

What really matters isn’t the standard of living but equality. With barely a year left before the general election, the sharpest burr under our class warriors’ blanket is the disparity of wealth between the South, where people tend to work, and the North, where people tend to favour state handouts.

To correct this glaring inequity, in a recently leaked document the Milibandits are proposing to hit every freeholder in the south of England with extortionist taxes.

This is aimed not only at homeowners but, in a commendable show of even-handedness, especially at the owners of retail outlets: high-street shops, groceries, fishmongers, off-licences.

One doesn’t have to be a Nobel economist to realise that the shops will be certain to pass the extra costs on to consumers. So how does this tally with the Milibandits’ unflinching commitment to raising our standards of living?

It doesn’t, and asking these egalitarians to explain their reasoning would be pointless. When ideology speaks, reason falls silent.

What matters to this lot is gaining power, and they sense that an appeal to the egalitarian instincts of the British public, thoroughly corrupted by decades of Marxist propaganda, will represent a welcome shortcut. For the sake of our country, let’s hope they’re wrong.