Law and ordure

statueofjusticeHave our courts set out to undermine any residual respect for the law?

Manifestly unjust verdicts are guaranteed to achieve this end, and these are increasingly the type of verdicts our judges pass.

Two exhibits, if I may, Your Honour.

EXHIBIT A. The other day I watched a traffic policeman being interviewed about hogging the middle lane on a three-lane motorway. People have been known to incur fines of up to £1000 and get five points off their licence for this heinous offence.

The interviewer observed, and the cop conceded, that our roads are relatively safe. Actually, they’re the safest in Europe. For example, we have less than half the number of road fatalities than France, which has roughly the same population but 10 times the number of road miles per car.

The two then also agreed that it would be nice if we had no accidents in general and fatal ones in particular. Neither mentioned that it would be as nice as eliminating disease, and just as unattainable: millions of fallible people driving at high speeds are bound to cause the odd collision.

However, the underlying assumption was that making everybody drive in the slow lane would make that ideal a reality, though no supporting evidence was proffered. It went without saying.

Now the slow left lane on a British motorway normally moves at about 10 miles under the speed limit. Most people drive at 10 miles over, and the police usually let them get away with it.

If the motorway is empty, driving on the left indeed makes sense. But since our motorways are usually busy, a law-abiding motorist travelling at a normal speed would constantly have to weave in and out of traffic. How this would improve road safety escapes me.

But let’s say a conscientious driver sticks to the assigned lane and finds himself going at 55 mph in a 70 mph zone. A red-blooded motorist will then move into the middle lane to overtake. What if he sees no gap on the left into which he could then move back? For the next couple of miles he’ll drive in the middle lane, thereby breaking the law.

“How do you tell hogging from a long overtake?” asked the interviewer. The policeman smiled a gnostic smile suggesting that he possessed secret knowledge inaccessible to hoi-polloi.

“That’s subjective,” he said. In other words, it’s left to the discretion of the police to determine whether or not the law was violated.

However, ‘subjective’ is an inaccurate word. ‘Arbitrary’ would be closer to the mark. ‘Tyrannical’ is another possibility, as would be ‘cynical’ if the law had been introduced strictly as a money spinner.

I’m not a great admirer of speeding laws, but at least a radar provides an objective criterion. Obligatory wearing of seat belts isn’t my favourite law either, but there’s nothing arbitrary there: the belt is on or it’s off. ‘Subjective’ laws aren’t laws at all – they are tools of tyranny.

EXHIBIT 2. Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne used to be one of the best footballers in England. However, even his own mother would admit he has never been one of the brightest men in England. The words ‘daft’ and ‘brush’ spring to mind when describing Gazza’s mind – even before he became an alcoholic.

Nor would he have a profitable career in stand-up comedy, as the joke he cracked the other day proves. Gazza was unhappy with the dim lighting in the hall where he was addressing an audience. He vented that feeling by putting on his usual madcap smile and saying to a black security guard: “Can you smile so I can see you?”

Any normal, which is to say pre-PC, person would have said something equally unfunny in reply, like “I can see you all right, and what I see is a drunk moron”.

But the security guard is a modern, as opposed to normal, man. The next day he complained to the police, claiming he was so severely traumatised that he had cried through the night.

And – are you ready for this? – the Crown Prosecution Service charged Gascoigne with a hate crime. The case was concluded yesterday, and Gazza was made to pay the traumatised guard £1000 in compensation. He was also fined £1000 and charged another £800 in court costs.

District Judge Graham Wilkinson accepted that Gazza’s “off-the-cuff” remark didn’t make him a racist. However, “As a society it is important that we challenge racially aggravated behaviour in all its forms. A message needs to be sent that in the 21st century society that we live in, such action, such words will not be tolerated.”

Your Honour, what’s intolerable is for such sanctimonious idiocy to acquire tyrannical powers. A perpetually drunk ex-footballer with an IQ below room temperature (Celsius) cracked a joke, as silly as it was innocent. There wasn’t a trace of malice there, just the sort of banter Gazza grew up with, at a time when no one found such humour offensive, never mind criminal.

Can we please go back to another century? Back to sanity? For we’re coming precious close to invalidating justice, something that makes Britain British.

Russian writer on Russian character

kuprinAlexander Kuprin (d. 1938) is less widely known in the West than his friends Chekhov and Bunin. However, he’s still venerated in Russia, and in the early twentieth century Kuprin rivalled his friends’ popularity. His 1905 novel The Duel sold 45,500 copies, which was remarkable in a country most of whose 126 million denizens either couldn’t read or didn’t have Russian as their first language.

At about that time, Kuprin wrote a sketch of his visit to Finland, displaying a true writer’s ability to convey a compelling picture with a few fleeting observations and images.

Now, if someone wrote a sketch like that today, he’d be branded as an inveterate Russophobe. If English, he’d be accused of being a narrow-minded Little Englander. If Russian, he’d be castigated for venting his personal grievances. If he happened to be of Jewish descent, the accusers would have that smug say-no-more expressions on their faces.

Well, Kuprin was neither a Russophobe nor a Jew nor, definitely, a Little Englander. He was an immensely popular Russian writer, whose vision was sharpened by his talent for unerring observation and understanding of human nature.

In this case, Kuprin put those qualities to good use by outlining with a few masterly touches a Russian type that still exists, and has always existed. Moreover, expertly goaded and guided by middle-class revolutionaries, it came to the fore in 1917 and has been ruling the roost ever since, if in different guises.

Now imagine what would happen to England if all her educated and business classes were wiped out in a matter of months, either murdered or driven into exile (as Kuprin was in 1919). Taking over would be today’s tattooed louts, with their feral energies channelled into xenophobic and murderous conduits by people like Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingston.

Are you getting the picture of an instant catastrophe, social, cultural, moral and economic? With those people in charge, try to imagine the country’s evolution over the next century, try to fathom the genetic damage done to the nation, visualise blown up churches, mass nameless graves, ruined cities, fields overgrown with weeds, millions of children growing up in diabolical orphanages after their parents disappeared, decades of nauseatingly xenophobic propaganda…

Have you done that? Good. Now imagine all the same things happening in a country that has never had centuries of our legal tradition and intuitive civility to fall back on, one that for most of its history has been at war with its neighbours, has always discouraged business or cultural contacts with foreigners, treated as a crypto-traitor anyone who has as much as visited the West, had most of her population enslaved for much of its history.

Go through this exercise, and you’ll understand Putin’s roots and those of a Russia he’s moulding in his image. You’ll see the nature of his much vaunted public support that the likes of Trump and Hitchens dare highlight as proof of virtue.

Kuprin didn’t have to go through such mental exertions, nor was he necessarily capable of them. His job was to refract through his artist’s brain what he saw with his artist’s eye. That’s exactly what he did in this Finnish sketch:

“As I recall, some five years ago I happened to join the writers Bunin and Fyodorov for a day trip to Imatra. We were coming back late at night. At about eleven the train stopped at Antrea station, and we got out to have a bite.

“A long table was laden with dishes, hot and cold. There was freshly smoked salmon, fried trout, cold roast beef, some kind of game, very tasty tiny patties, things like that. Everything was incredibly clean, appetising and gorgeous. Along the edges of the table, bread baskets surrounded piles of small plates and heaps of knives and forks.

“Everybody picked whatever he liked, ate as much as he wanted, then went to the counter and of his own goodwill paid exactly one mark (thirty-seven kopecks) for his supper. No monitoring, no distrust.

“Our Russian hearts were overwhelmed by this mutual trust, used as we were to IDs, police stations, concierges forced to spy on us, universal thievery and suspicions.

“But when we returned to the carriage, we were treated to a lovely picture in the indigenous Russian genre. The thing was, we shared the compartment with two masonry contractors.

“Everyone knows this type of tight-fisted upstart from Meshchov county in the Kaluga province: wide, glistening, slant-eyed red mug, red hair curling from under the cap, thin beard, shifty eyes, a penny’s worth of piety, fervent patriotism and contempt for everything non-Russian – in other words, a perfectly familiar, truly Russian face. You should have heard how they mocked the poor Finns.

“ ‘Now that’s what I call stupid. Bloody idiots they are. Hell, add it all up, what I scoffed at those bastards’, that’d be three roubles seventy, at least… What scum! Haven’t been beaten enough, sons of bitches! Savages, that’s all I can say.’ ”

“And the other one agreed, gagging with laughter:“ ‘And I… smashed a glass on purpose, then went and spat on that fish.’ ”

“ ‘Way to go, with those bastards. Freedom, my arse. Must stamp on them good and proper!’ ”

What exactly did Henry Ford stand for?

naziantisemitismFord (d. 1947) has become an icon worshipped even by socialists, never mind chaps called conservatives in the US. One such socialist is Piers Morgan, who lost his editorship of The Daily Mirror because of a phone-hacking scandal and his American chat show because of poor ratings.

Having now repatriated to his native shores, he has published an article With One Crass Decision the Greedy Men Who Run Ford Have Betrayed Everything Henry Stood for.

The crass decision was proudly worded by Ford’s CEO Fields: “Over the next two to three years, we will have migrated all of our small-car production to Mexico and out of the United States.”

“Isn’t that, with 93 million Americans currently unemployed, an astonishing thing for the boss of a major U.S. company to boast about?” exclaims Morgan (he exaggerated the figure, but what’s an order of magnitude among friends?).

What follows is a panegyric for Henry Ford’s undeniable business acumen only matched by his patriotism. That, according to Morgan, was all Ford stood for.

This displays ignorance staggering even by Mr Morgan’s standards. For Henry too had factories all over the world, and he stood for all sorts of things, most of them hideous.

For example, he was a rabid anti-Semite whom Hitler cited as his inspiration. Ford was the only American mentioned in Mein Kampf, an honour he merited for his literary rather than automotive output.

Henry published his personal newspaper The Dearborn Independent, putting to shame both the earlier pamphlet Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the later magazine Der Stürmer, whose editor Julius Streicher was rewarded with a Nuremberg noose.

For 91 straight issues in 1920 the paper ran front-page stories highlighting Jewish evils. The most strident pamphlets were later collected into a four-volume set called The International Jew, the World’s Foremost Problem.

The pamphlets crystallised Hitler’s thinking on the world’s foremost problem, not that he needed much help of that kind. He needed money though, and Ford had been financing Hitler’s movement since before the Putsch, which the New York Times reported in December, 1922.

Hitler gratefully decorated his study with a portrait of Ford and in 1938 awarded him the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest Nazi decoration for foreigners (which incidentally had been turned down by Francisco Franco, much reviled by the likes of Morgan).

Let’s not forget Ford’s day job either. Contrary to Morgan’s belief, he had factories all over Europe. They all profited under the Nazis, largely thanks to extensive use of free labour supplied by Auschwitz and similar job centres.

In 1928 Ford merged his German holdings with I.G. Farben. That chemical cartel also financed Hitler from the start, and its product range later included the Zyklon B gas serving the needs of Germany’s growth industry.

Ford’s greatest reward was profits generated on both sides of the war. His European plants assisted the Nazis as much as his Detroit factories helped the Allies.

There’s evidence that the US Air Force spared Ford’s factories in Europe. Either the RAF Bomber Command wasn’t party to that arrangement, or else Sir Arthur Harris got carried away, but in March, 1942, the RAF hit the Ford Poissy plant. However, the Vichy government paid Ford 38 million francs in compensation, with apologies for their lax anti-aircraft defences.

Ford didn’t play favourites. In 1929 he signed an assistance agreement with another champion of democracy, Stalin’s Russia. This agreement culminated in 1933 when Ford’s plant was completed in Gorky.

Ford lorries carried Germans into Russia and Russians into Germany (later also into Afghanistan). Most of those vehicles were made abroad. Ford jobs thus went to Europe much the same way as they’re now going to Mexico.

Today’s situation isn’t quite the same, but it’s a distinction without a difference. Morgan is of course as deaf to such niceties as he’s ignorant of Ford’s biography. Moreover, he doesn’t understand the nature of modern economics.

Modern business isn’t always apolitical, but it’s always amoral. That’s the nature of what I call ‘totalitarian economism’, treating the economy as the axis around which life revolves. From Smith to Marx to Friedman, this has been promoted by thinkers spanning the whole political spectrum.

From the strictly economic viewpoint, it makes sense to export labour to where labour is cheap. ‘Conservative’ economists will talk your ear off explaining how outsourcing ultimately benefits the economy by benefiting the consumer. Lower unit costs mean lower prices, with the funds thus freed channelled into more productive areas.

Yes, but what happens to all those workers, millions of them, who lose their jobs as an immediate result of outsourcing? They don’t all retrain as systems analysts, do they?

Most of them go on welfare, paid for by the same consumers who were supposed to be in clover. Suddenly we begin to realise that the consumer benefits aren’t as straightforward as economists claim – even on their own terms.

In broader terms, while the economy may gain in the short run, society will lose in the long run. Yet modern ethos won’t allow modern businessmen – modern people – to think along those lines.

This takes a thinker to understand, not your average hack. Especially one as ignorant as Piers Morgan.







My friend Junk owns up to lies

J-C.JunckerJean Claude Juncker, or Junk, as he likes to be known to his friends, among whom I proudly number myself, put his finger right on it when he ascribed the Brexit vote to “40 years of lies”.

“On Europe there are so many lies, so many half-truths that are circulated around, that one cannot be surprised,” he told me the other day over a shared bottle of his favourite tipple, Glenfarclas malt whisky. Actually, sharing is a loose description, for I barely managed to have a couple of drinks before the rest of the nectar disappeared down Junk’s zinc-lined throat.

To digress, his detractors ascribe Junk’s eccentric views and behaviour to his inordinate fondness for that particular Scottish product. As someone who has seen Junk consume two bottles of the stuff in the course of a normal business day, I can testify that nothing can be further from the truth.

Junk holds his liquor remarkably well, and whisky has no appreciable effect on him. If Junk sometimes slurs his words, it’s because of the difficulty he at times has with constantly switching from one language to another, or rather from one mix of languages to another. And if at times Junk walks in zigzags, it’s his natural gait, as he once explained to a tactless, prying hack.

Anyway, I agreed with him avidly. “Right you are, Junk,” I said, nursing the few drops my friend left for me in the £120 bottle of Glenfarclas he had put on his EU expense account.

“More than 40 years actually. It was over 60 years ago that Jean Monnet outlined his plan for gradually duping Europeans into believing that the EU is a purely economic construct, rather than a systematic effort to create a single state.

“Since then every blatantly political step has been passed for an economic one. And don’t get me started on the European army, which the EU has always said it didn’t want. You know, the one it has now been announced they’re going ahead with…”

“No, tais-toi, Dummkopf, shut up, mein lieber ami,” shouted Junk, drawing askance glances from our fellow drinkers and emphasising yet again the multi-lingual ease of his self-expression.

“These aren’t the Lügen I mean! The mensonges I’m talking about are the lies les Anglo-Saxons spread about the EU! Himmelherrgott, those sales cons d’Anglais, no offence, Al, say we’re hell-bent on creating a single European state, complete with its own laws, army, taxation, currency and German government… Un paquet of bloody mensonges, jeden single lying mot!”

“Hold on, Junk,” I said, trying to get a word in edgewise. “Haven’t you just reaffirmed your commitment to further European integration, including a single European army? You know, when that hack asked you if Poland would be the first country the Euro army would invade?”

“What does that have to do with the prix of bread in Chine, mein lieber Freund?” asked Junk, clearly perplexed.

“Well, you’ve been saying for decades you wouldn’t do any of those things, without meaning a single word…”

Ta gueule, you Englisch Scheisse,” shouted Junk, making the barman pull out the baseball bat he kept under the bar. “You don’t comprend, do you?”

“So tell me what I don’t understand, Junk,” I said, gesturing at the barman to take it easy.

“What you don’t understand, with your Englisch-Russisch Gehirn, that Anglo-Russian half-cerveau of yours, is that everything said in favour of the EU is the truth, and everything said against it as a lie. By definition.”

“But Junk,” I protested, ignoring the insults with which Junk always masks the deep respect he has for your truly, “you lot did unveil plans to launch an EU army, something you said you’d never do, and you did say Brexit would throw the British economy into chaos, with Scotland heading for the door…”

“All God’s own vérités, every foutu one of them,” replied Junk, signalling for another bottle of Glenfarclas. “It’s just that you lot can’t get your têtes around the concept of dialectical, as opposed to wörtlich, literal, truth…”

At that point, Darren the barman approached our table and said “Sorry, Mr Juncker, can’t serve you another one. You’ve had enough, mate.”

So, I had to admit to myself with some mortification, had I.

English, such stuff as nightmares are made on

ShakespeareBusiness Secretary Greg Clark studied at Cambridge and got a PhD from the LSE. Yet his speech isn’t that of an educated man.

He stresses the third syllable, not the proper second, in ‘contributed’, and the second, rather than the proper first, in ‘comparable’. The second solecism is an Americanism; the first is demotic usage, expected from politicians who must sound prolier than thou.

When I complained about this, a friend mocked my pedantic nitpicking. At least, he smiled, you understood what Clark said. How about this locution from Hillary Clinton:

“My accomplishments as Secretary of State? Well, I’m glad you asked! My proudest accomplishment in which I take the most pride, mostly because of the opposition it faced early on, you know, the remnants of prior situations and mind-sets that were too narrowly focused in a manner whereby they may have overlooked the bigger picture, and we didn’t do that, and I’m proud of that. Very proud. I would say that’s a major accomplishment.”

Clearly, the aspiring president doesn’t use language to express thoughts, nor even, Metternich-style, to conceal them. She simply babbles on in the knowledge that her audience has no more respect for English than she does.

English is blessed with the largest vocabulary of all European languages, at least twice that of Russian for example. Thus most concepts are finely fractured into nuances, which allows for unmatched precision and concision.

This reflects the English mind, predisposed to mental rigour and laconic dynamism. The former produced the vast vocabulary; the latter, a grammar uniquely revolving around the verb.

A language able to convey a precise thought with a single word discourages long-winded musings. In fact, English used to punish loquaciousness like no other language.

Yet that punishment is no longer exacted. The English mind has enveloped itself in a fog, and the language follows suit. Hence this comparative calculation:

Pythagorean theorem: 24 words; the Lord’s Prayer: 66 words; Archimedes’s Principle: 67 words; the Decalogue: 179 words; the Gettysburg Address: 286 words; the US Declaration of Independence: 1,337 words; EU regulations on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words.

“Language,” one hears so often, “is only a means of communication.” That’s not strictly true: if it were nothing but that, we wouldn’t have Shakespeare to savour. But, as the examples above show, even the face value of this sentiment no longer holds true.

Just like obtuse rationalism destroys reason, such dull utilitarianism destroys utility. The more language is seen strictly as a means of basic communication, the more the communication will suffer.

Advocates of this linguistic mayhem insist this is par for the course, for language develops. The assumption is that any change is for the better, which is as false in linguistics as it is in politics, culture, religion or anything else.

Not every development equals progress – much depends on what and who affects the development, and where it’s going. In this, English again reflects the national character, this time its innate pluralism and respect for all walks of life.

Our constitution was never codified in a single document. Our common law gradually evolved at the grassroots rather than being imposed by the state. Likewise, the English language has developed naturally, without any diktats from a central authority like l’Académie française.

Hence English has always been wide-open to numerous inputs, from different countries, classes, ages, professions, social trends. There’s a potential for anarchy in such openness, but it used to be kept in check by a hierarchy of cultural authority.

Formal speech came from the educated classes, with the lower strata adding colour and spice to keep English from turning into a linguistic eunuch. Free interaction between the language of the university and that of the street enriched the language, while preventing it from descending into chaos.

Then the hierarchical skeleton of the language disappeared and its body collapsed onto itself. The linguistic game began to be played without rules; it was Lord of the Flies time, with cultural children taking over and turning primordially feral.

Rather than developing under the influence of educated speech enlivened by informal infusions, English began to suffer the pernicious effects of bureaucratesque jargon, illiterate rather than colloquial usages of the newly dominant uneducated classes, unnecessary Americanisms, political correctness, electronic communication and whatnot.

Today one can’t open a broadsheet without seeing ‘affect’ confused with ‘effect’, ‘complimentary’ with ‘complementary’, ‘pour’ with ‘pore’, ‘masterly’ with ‘masterful’, ‘its’ with ‘it’s’, ‘nauseous’ with ‘nauseating’.

And our newscasters, if unprompted and unscripted, destroy whole grammatical categories, such as the subjunctive. What also comes out of their mouths is such ugly new locutions as ‘people were sat at the table’.

The new additions to the OED sound the death knells. These include such indispensable words as ‘gender-fluid’, ‘yolo’ ( ‘you only live once’) and ‘Fuhgeddaboudit’, a dreadful American dialectism, perceived as such even in its native habitat.

In addition to self-induced damage, English is suffering the effects of becoming the world’s lingua franca. ‘Everybody in Europe speaks English’, say home-grown ignoramuses with pride.

In fact ‘nobody in Europe speaks English’ would be closer to the truth, if not exactly true. What most Europeans speak is an ungrammatical, lexically impotent neuter of a patois, just sufficing to convey basic messages but falling far short of the glory that English used to be.

Given the most lamentable rise in global tourism and business travel, the newborn monster is exerting a reverse influence on native English. This hurries along the demise already rapidly progressing under its own steam.

Will Shakespeare, where are you when we need you?







Russian voices don’t reach Western ears

screamActually, the kind of voices I mean don’t reach Russian ears either: their mass media are controlled by the KGB junta, while all opposition websites are blocked for internal consumption.

Silenced are the Russian PLUs (People Like Us): those who abhor tyranny, detest tyrants, long for basic liberties, civic (and civilised) society – those who suffocate, as most of us would be suffocating, in the deoxygenated air permeated with all-pervasive war hysteria, xenophobic chauvinism and propaganda of anti-West hatred.

Turning the offensive volume up and the dissenting voices off – that’s how the notorious 82 per cent public support for Putin is whipped up, something that so excites our useful idiots, from Trump to Hitchens. The herd is there, and the KGB has plenty of experience in making it bray.

Meanwhile, the junta is proceeding to devise and implement laws that, in theory at least, make it possible to prosecute every citizen. Of course a society whose every member is a potential criminal is a criminal society, and there are still Russians, the silent minority, who realise this.

The idea of laws capable of criminalising the whole population goes back to Lenin, whose mummy still adorns Red Square. (Comparing his revolting pagan mausoleum to Churchill’s modest, unadorned tombstone at St Mary’s, Bladon, should tell those who seek understanding all they need to know. Alas, such inquisitive minds are thin on the ground.)

Capitalising on his correspondence degree in law, the genius looked at the draft criminal code, specifically the article providing for the execution of those conspiring to restore capitalism. A good law, he thought, but a tad too narrow. Lenin’s great legal mind went into action, and he added four words after ‘conspiring’: “…or capable of conspiring…” He saw what he had made, and, behold, it was very good. Every citizen could now be put up against the wall – at the discretion of the state but perfectly legally.

Putin’s jurisprudence follows the course charted by the founder of the modern Russian state. The latest steps along that road are taken through the ‘Yarovaya laws’, so called because they were proposed by the deputy Irina Yarovaya.

To be fair, the Yarovaya laws don’t call for the death penalty, yet. However, the maximum punishment for extremism (a charge routinely brought against social media users opposed to Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine) has been increased from four to eight years. Inciting ‘mass disturbances’ (anti-Putin demonstrations) is now punishable by five to 10 years in prison.

Actually, those familiar with the Magnitsky case – in which even Hitchens grudgingly admits Putin’s personal involvement – will know that imprisonment and the death penalty often amount to the same thing in Russia. But in any case a tenner in the pokey is fairly steep for peaceful protest, wouldn’t you say?

The new laws also prohibit missionary work outside ‘specially designated areas’, and it’s that injunction that was mocked by one of those forbidden voices, that of the columnist Yevgeny Ikhlov. This is what he wrote in a blocked on-line magazine:

“At last: a law has been passed and, what’s very important, already applied in Russia, making it possible to prosecute all the apostles, starting with Peter, Paul and Andrew.

“Actually, the Saviour was already culpable under a raft of extremism laws: offending believers’ feelings at places of worship, hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, disrupting religious services, inciting subversion, principal complicity in the forming of an extremist organisation …

“Also, organising, on multiple occasions for a period of one year, unsanctioned disruptive mass gatherings, both public and private, perpetrating illicit medical practice and fraud, unlicensed production of alcoholic beverages…

“However, so far the apostles and their flock have been regarded as law-abiding by the country’s jurisprudence. But a time has come to take a closer look at their activities from the standpoint of security and prevention of extremism.

“The justly celebrated Irina Yarovaya proposed, the Federal Assembly shuddered but passed, and the president sighed but signed new amendments making it possible to prosecute the apostles for illegal missionary activities.

“For, in flagrant violation of existing laws, they belonged to an unauthorised religious organisation…”

It was Gogol who first talked about laughter through tears, and since then the Russians have developed a knack for such lachrymose hilarity. While the insane ones protest by nailing their crotch to Red Square cobbles, and the strident ones rave, the wise ones laugh – and they all weep.

The mulititudes, the herd, bray on cue – and their ugly noise is music to the ears of our useful idiots. Where normal people hear screeching, discordant sounds, the useful idiots (so defined by the subsequently mummified genius) hear mellifluous melodies.

Mark, one of those chaps who, according to Ikhlov’s spoof, could be prosecuted in Putin’s Russia, quotes another subversive as saying “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

Implicit in that seditious statement is the understanding that some, possibly most, people are deaf. The deafness hinted at wasn’t physical but moral. The latter is more widespread because it’s harder to treat, and hearing aids are in short supply.

So, Miss Deng, what first attracted you to the billionaire Rupert Murdoch?

wendidengA similar line was used, hilariously, by the late comedienne Caroline Aherne. The target couple were Debbie McGee (young and good-looking) and the popular conjurer Paul Daniels (neither).

Gossip columnists had a field day. And they’re having one now, after Murdoch’s top employee revealed that his boss was ‘devastated’ by the alleged affair between his wife Wendi Deng and Tony Blair.

There are all sorts of lessons in this, personal, political and moral:

LESSON 1. When a rich and powerful man marries a woman 37 years his junior, he must suspect she isn’t driven solely by romance. When the woman in question is Miss Deng, a suspicion should become a certainty, and in fact Mr Murdoch’s family instantly branded Wendi a ‘gold-digger’.

Miss Deng became Wendi upon moving to the US from her native China. Her original name, Wenge, means ‘Cultural Revolution’, reflecting communist slaves’ imperative of communicating loyalty through their children’s names.

Russia led the way, with portmanteau names like Vladlen (Vladimir + Lenin), Vilen (V. I. Lenin), Stalina and so forth. The Soviet journalist Sturua’s name was Melor (Marx + Engels + Lenin + October Revolution), and even my good friend is named Lenar (Lenin’s Army).

Wendi isn’t to blame for her parent’s quirks, but she’s definitely to blame for the way she became Wendi. When in China, she ingratiated herself to an American businessman and his wife, Jake and Joyce Cherry. Joyce taught Wenge English, and the couple sponsored her US student visa.

By way of gratitude, Wendi seduced and subsequently married Jake, 30 years her senior. Once the student visa became a Green Card, she dumped him for a younger man.

This was the sort of CV Wendi brought to Rupert. Now Mr Murdoch didn’t get where he is by having an exaggerated trust in human virtue. Surely he didn’t believe his bride was smitten by his good looks and youthful vigour.

That story was quite banal: girl meets boy, girl falls in love with boy’s billions, girl collects and moves on. But Rupert didn’t care, not until the last part. He didn’t have much trust in virtue, but he had in spades the arrogance of money and power. If he could make kings, surely he could make his wife toe the line.

There endeth the first lesson, from which Rupert learned nothing. Shortly after his divorce from Wendi, he married the model Jerry Hall, who has four children by Mick Jagger. Miss Hall, a mere 27 years Rupert’s junior, thus bridged the already minuscule gap between the media and show business.

LESSON 2. One of the kings Rupert made was Tony Blair: without the weight of the Murdoch empire thrown behind him, Blair would have remained an obscure backbencher of dubious moral character.

According to the same whistleblower, Murdoch was also “financially generous” to Blair, not just “politically”. Much as one would like to believe that the reasons for his generosity were selfless, Rupert probably felt that having a British PM in his pocket wouldn’t hurt his business interests. One can sympathise: it’s hard to get around all those press regulations and anti-monopoly laws without help from a well-placed friend.

Yet again Murdoch misjudged human character. His affection for Blair was utilitarian, but, blinded by his gold’s glitter, he arrogantly felt that Blair’s affection for him was real.

Predictably, like the Creature concocted by Dr Frankenstein, Blair eventually became too big to control. If the Creature ended up strangling Dr Frankenstein’s bride, Tony found a better use for Rupert’s. However, in both cases the Creature escaped unscathed, leaving his creator ‘devastated’.

There endeth the second lesson. Trusting modern politicians, especially those with Blair’s well-documented history of backstabbing, is a losing wicket. Even owing his whole career, crowned with all those billions, to Murdoch didn’t imbue Blair with gratitude. The hand that feeds him only means a hand close enough to bite.

LESSON 3. Both politicians and press moguls have always been arrogant and cynical to some extent. But at least some used to have compensating qualities in the past. They don’t now.

Both professions these days attract immoral egomaniacs to the exclusion of other human types. These birds of a feather flock together to form our ruling elite.

Forget about the military-industrial complex: Britain is more or less run by an elite made up of journalists and politicians, those who manipulate public opinion and those who stand to gain from it.

The membership in this elite seems to be fluid to the point of being interchangeable: journalists effortlessly become politicians (William Rees-Mogg, Nigel Lawson, Johnson, Gove), vice versa (Parris), then back again. This is reminiscent of the Soviet nomenklatura, with, say, a deputy minister of fisheries drifting on to become a magazine editor, then an ambassador, then chairman of the football association.

The morality of our ruling elite is also catching up with the Soviet version, and the sleazy story of Wendi, Rupert and Tony provides a useful reminder.

All three are survivors: Rupert keeps his billions and, for the time being, Mick Jagger’s ex. Tony is making millions. And Wendi is reportedly having a fling with Putin. Well, more power to her.







Farewell then, Dave, miss you already

CameronCreatureNow that my friend has resigned his parliamentary seat, a void has appeared in my life. Or rather it has broadened, for the void dates back to July, when Dave left 10 Downing Street.

With Dave residing at that address, I was never short of receptacles for my bilious outpourings. When taking office, Dave told me over a pint (of Krug, his favourite pub tipple): “Alex, me old china [Dave likes to suggest he’s every inch a man of the people], as long as I’m ‘kin PM, you’ll never run out of ‘kin things to write about.”

That was one promise Dave kept, or rather the only one, for he has broken all others, such as one made on 8 July: “It’s my intention to continue serving as an MP and helping represent the interests of the people of West Oxfordshire and anything else I do will come a bit later.”

Now the people of West Oxfordshire, those hicks who never attended Eton, nor got pissed at the Bullingdon, have been made to understand that their pathetic little constituency is a small pond in which Dave is a big fish. Too big, in fact, to stay.

It’s said that Dave has left on a matter of principle, which I believe. Dave is indeed a man of high principle, and the highest of all is ‘look out for Number One’.

People say he has left to be free to challenge Theresa May’s plans on grammar schools, for doing so from the back benches would split the Conservative Party. Dave indeed detests this policy, as he told me over another pint of Krug at his local, Chez François.

“Alex, me old china,” he said, “we don’t want any of those proles to get ideas above their station. Anybody who’s anybody goes to Eton (or, at a pinch, the other place) and then to a degree at the Bullingdon. The proles can go suck an egg, or whatever it is proles suck. Teach them how to read, and before long they’ll figure us out, what? Can’t let that happen, can we now?”

As to splitting the party, Dave has never minded doing that in the least. For example, he courageously destroyed the Tories’ grassroots support by pursuing his two pet policies: homomarriage and the EU.

My only problem is that Dave didn’t go far enough. He advocated neither interspecies marriage, which would have been ineluctably logical, nor Britain becoming a straight German gau, with no nonsense about pan-European solidarity, which too would have been my preference.

But there’s no denying that Dave’s consistent, his detractors will say maniacal, pursuit of both policies split the Tories. Dave didn’t bat an eyelid, and one can’t deny his courage and integrity. There are a few other aspects of him one could deny, but we shan’t let them detain us now.

So that’s not why Dave flipped two fingers at the Mother of All Parliaments. He did so to graze in pastures green, as in dollar.

“If Tony can get $250,000 a pop talking to pissed Yanks,” said Dave, tossing, Bullingdon-style, his empty pint glass at the mirror behind the bar, “why the bloody hell can’t I?”

“Quite,” I said, wondering who on earth would pay good money to listen to either Tone or Dave. I mean, I’d walk to the ends of the earth to do so, but none of my friends would as much as cross the street. Still, there’s one fan of Tony and Dave born every second.

It’s a little-known fact that Tony and Dave are Siamese twins separated at birth (don’t let the difference in their ages mislead you). Since then Dave has looked up to Tone, who led the way out of their mother’s womb.

That’s why he called himself “heir to Blair”. Yet it would be churlish to deny that there was some sibling rivalry there as well.

For example, Dave always envied the ease with which Tone destroyed (“pissed all over”, was how Dave put it to me at Chez François) the House of Lords, one of our oldest institutions. Anything Tone can do, I can do better, said Dave and destroyed even an older institution, that of marriage.

Tone kisses Angela’s cheek, Dave can go him one better. Tone leads Britain into a bloody, and bloody meaningless, conflict, Dave won’t be far behind. Tone leaves Parliament immediately after leaving Downing Street, so will Dave.

Tony got a £4.5 million advance on his memoirs, Dave will get more: millions of people are gagging for the revelations his book will contain – I know, I myself can’t wait to read about his favoured brand of Bermuda shorts and Samantha’s ideas on fashion.

This can go on, the story of rivalry between Tony and Dave. Tony has earned £100 million in the nine years since leaving office – Dave can arrive at that magic figure in half the time. Tone has put together a buy-to-let empire of 32 properties worth about £38 million – that’s small change compared to what Dave’s going to do.

Please join me in wishing Dave best of luck in private life. I’ll miss you, Dave, me old china.

Don’t ever underestimate the awesome power of ideology…

Peter Hitchens…to turn even clever men into blithering idiots.

Ideology is virtual faith without God, virtual rationalism without reason and virtual morality without morals. As such, it’s always pernicious, regardless of its slogans or institutional symbols.

And ideologues are always obtuse, regardless of the intelligence they may display in unrelated areas. Enter my favourite subject, Peter Hitchens, Putin’s typical right-wing fan.

When ideology isn’t involved, Hitchens, though saying nothing original, at least doesn’t say anything manifestly inane. Then Russia comes up, and suddenly he loses whatever modest mind God gave him.

British people are wary of rants, which is why Hitchens always sneaks a disclaimer in: “I risk being classified as an apologist for Vladimir Putin. I am not. I view him as a sinister tyrant. The rule of law is more or less absent under his rule. He operates a cunning and cynical policy toward the press… crimes… can be traced directly to Putin’s government…”.

And yet, “as all around me rage against the supposed aggression and wickedness of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, I cannot join in.”

Why, pray tell, not? Surely it’s fine to detest “a sinister tyrant” who “operates a cunning and cynical policy toward the press”, suppresses “the rule of law” and murders political opponents? Especially if he constantly threatens the West with nuclear annihilation?

Hitchens explains why not, displaying not only his personal failings but also typical journalistic hubris. Hacks believe that visiting a place gives them unique insights. It doesn’t, especially not with notoriously enigmatic countries like Russia for which duping foreigners is stock in trade.

Hitchens spent two years in Moscow in the early 1990s, and at that time a Westerner in Russia was treated as a demigod. Visiting illiterate students, never mind marginally more erudite hacks, would puff up with pride when Russians twice their age and ten times their intellect sought their views on involved issues, hanging on every word.

Add to this a KGB trying to limit a correspondent’s contacts to trusted comrades and equally trusted ‘honey traps’, while his stock of caviar was never depleted, and you can understand how a man, especially one unremarkable at home, could fall in love with Moscow.

Hitchens certainly did: “The experience of living in that sad and handsome place brought me to love Russia and its stoical people, to learn some of what they had suffered and see what they had regained.”

My native city is indeed a “sad and handsome place”, and some Russians are indeed lovable, stoical and long-suffering. However, much of their suffering is self-inflicted.

Speaking of nineteenth century Russia, Joseph de Maistre remarked “Every nation gets the government it deserves”. Contemporary Russian writer Sergei Dovlatov brought that observation up to date: “Everybody is raging about Stalin, rightly. But somebody did write those four million denunciations.”

This sense of perspective is absent in Hitchens’s musings, which makes him your normal Russian groupie, like those impressionable girls on the make who roam the salons of New York, London and Paris. But Hitchens is worse than just that.

Having claimed he isn’t “an apologist for Putin”, he proves that’s exactly what he is. “Despite the fact that Moscow has abandoned control of immense areas of Europe and Asia, self-appointed experts insist that Russia is an expansionist power. Oddly, this ‘expansion’ only seems to be occurring in zones that Moscow once controlled…”

While wondering exactly who appointed Hitchens as a Russian expert (believe me: he isn’t), one has to point out that Moscow “abandoned control” when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. Putin was then a Mafioso deputy mayor of Petersburg, placed by the KGB to keep an eye on the mayor Sobchak. Hence said abandonment had nothing to do with him.

Said expansion, however, began when Putin described the collapse of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” and set out to put Humpty-Dumpty together again. Thus there’s nothing “odd” about Putin seeking to restore Russia’s control, violently if need be, over the post-Soviet space.

“The comparison of today’s Russia to yesterday’s U.S.S.R. is baseless. I know this, and rage inwardly at my inability to convey my understanding to others. Could this be because I have been unable to communicate the change of heart I underwent during my more than two years in the Russian capital?”

No, it’s because it’s hard to peddle a falsehood successfully, especially to people who don’t give a flying hoot about Hitchens’s changeable heart.

Of course today’s Russia isn’t a carbon copy of the USSR, or for that matter of Nazi Germany. Those two weren’t carbon copies of each other either. Yet there were many similarities – as there are between both and Putin’s Russia.

Putin takes his cue not from single-minded communist ideologues like Lenin and Trotsky but from synthetic despots like Stalin, who came up with a fusion ideology. Shaken into the new cocktail were aspects of communism, Russian chauvinism, time-honoured imperialism and even – in seeming defiance of constitutional Soviet atheism – Orthodoxy. That’s this tradition that, mutatis mutandis, Putin is restoring.

Communism is gone from the blend, replaced with ‘free enterprise’ (institutionalised gangsterism), while the proportion of the other ingredients has been increased. The resulting blend represents history’s unique kleptofascist government by secret police (with its clerical extension) and organised crime, operating with the violence and perfidy characteristic of both constituents.

It takes a mind neutered by ideology to defend such a regime. Hitchens does so by first saying that Putin is “a sinister tyrant”, then claiming he isn’t, then arguing, with a lamentable absence of logic, that, even if he is, he isn’t the only one. Just look at Yeltsyn’s Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and China.

“Erdogan… locks up many more journalists than does Mr. Putin,” he claims. That may be, but Erdogan doesn’t murder as many: Putin has had 250 Russian colleagues of Hitchens bumped off without wasting time on legal niceties.

Then of course there’s the torrent of nuclear threats streaming out of the mouths of Putin’s spokesmen – something even China refrains from. I doubt Hitchens’s Russian stretches to the task of following what he himself describes as Russia’s “controlled media”. If it were, even he would be horrified by the strident anti-Western hysteria being whipped up by every TV programme.

Or perhaps he wouldn’t be. Ideology does work in mysterious ways, all of them revolting.

Paralympics is testimony to parataste

Australian T53 wheelchair athlete Louise Sauvage competes in the marathon at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games

A story is doing the rounds of a North Korean athlete apologising to Kim Jong-un for only winning a silver medal at the regular Olympics. “Not to worry,” replies the kindly leader. “You’ll get your gold at the 2020 Paralympics.”

 In a parallel development, one of my best friends sent me this e-mail: “Please come with me to Rio and help me host a parasymposium, a three weeks’ philosophy conference for those who can’t so much as spell ‘epistemology’, let alone practise it.”

 I’d be happy to, I replied, except that I’m already going there to referee the cripple jump event and take part in the obese marathon, open to those with a BMI of 40-plus. Mine is lower, but a strategically placed bribe should take care of that problem, while at the same time reaffirming the new Olympic ideals.

 But enough of this levity. Actually, I was going to write a serious piece about this, but instead decided to settle for a bit of plagiarism. My only excuse is that I’m plagiarising an article I myself wrote exactly four years ago. There’s nothing to change, nothing to add:

The Paralympics is upon us, as if to prove that the heights of vulgarity scaled by the regular Olympics aren’t the highest peaks possible.

This sideshow is supposed to testify to the triumph of unconquerable spirit over abbreviated flesh. In reality it testifies to something else entirely.

The whole thing smacks of Victorian county fairs, where people paid to look at bearded ladies or boys with two heads. Usually there were some tricks involved then: the beard was glued on, and the other head was made of papier-mâché. But the Paralympics is for real.

We’re supposed to admire those poor deluded people who put themselves on show to cater to the PC idea that they’re no different from those with a full complement of limbs. But they are. They’ve all suffered a tragedy, and they deserve our sympathy and prayers. One of those would be that God grant them the strength to bear their misfortune with dignity.

Yet dignity is precisely what the Paralympics denies them, while also diminishing the voyeurs whose bad taste is indulged by the sight of double amputees trying to outrun one another. Add to this the crass commercialism that inevitably accompanies sporting extravaganzas, the trumped-up enthusiasm of the TV presenters, the glued-on smiles of the sponsors, and the emetic effect becomes uncontainable.

It takes strength to refuse to be kept down by physical deformity. If these Paralympians did all the same things in private, one’s hat would be off to them – they’ve refused to wallow in self-pity, proving that the human spirit can triumph over physical incidentals.

But when they appear in a stadium to the accompaniment of a marching band, one’s hat remains firmly in place. Suddenly respect gives way to discomfort – surely not the emotion these poor people expect to elicit.

Imagine a pianist who loses both hands in an accident. He then acquires prosthetic limbs and, after years of toil, learns to play simple tunes to the standard of a little child attending music school. The pianist deserves respect and applause from his friends. He’d deserve neither if he then hired Wigmore Hall, had a PR company do publicity and played a recital to an audience who don’t care about music but love a titillating oddity.

Similarly, people who watch a tennis match between two wheelchair-bound players aren’t there to admire the game. If asked why they’re attending, they’ll give you the usual mantra of bien pensant jargon they’ve absorbed from ambient air. You’ll never get the real answer: they’re there to have their nerve endings tickled by what deep down they see as a freak show or, to be charitable, a circus act.

Our whole way of life these days both encourages and rewards exhibitionism. Grown-up people reveal to a million-strong TV audience their innermost problems, of the kind that in the past they wouldn’t have divulged even to a best friend. Millions watch morons copulate and relieve themselves on camera. Youngsters scream for attention by disfiguring themselves with tattoos and facial metal. Old women wear miniskirts and tank tops, old men with varicose legs sport tight shorts. People go to group therapy and let it all hang out: “I’m John, and I’m sleeping with my daughter…”, “I’m Jane, and I can’t stop sniffing glue…”

Paralympians parade a different sort of exhibitionism, and yet not all that different. The competitors put their deformities on show, knowing they’ll always find willing dupes eager to watch.

Suddenly we realise they’ve succeeded in their professed aim of showing they’re no different from healthy athletes or indeed from most modern people. Suffering, which in the past was believed to strengthen a person’s character and enable him to plumb greater spiritual depths, now has no such effect. Seeking to prove they’re as good as anybody, the Paralympians waste the chance to become better than others.

Suffering or no suffering, we’re all expected to function to exactly the same laws of vulgarity and rotten taste. Such laws will never be repealed. They’re here to stay.