Adam Smith on that Genoa bridge

Smith had it all figured out almost 300 years ago

The death toll of the collapsed motorway bridge now stands at 41 and counting, with recriminations flying all over the place.

I’m following the story with particular attention, for I myself must have driven on that bridge a dozen times. That adds an element of personal frisson, accompanied by a sigh of relief: it could have been me.

Then of course one’s imagination kicks in with a cringing effect: fancy driving through beautiful Liguria when suddenly the bridge collapses in front of you.

You hit the brakes with ankle-breaking force, but it’s too late: the car tumbles over the edge and here you are, falling 300 feet to your death, the ochre, pink and tawny colours of Genoa flashing before your eyes…

Who’s to blame? This question is vital, if only to have a chance of preventing such tragedies in the future.

For Matteo Salvini, Italy’s new Interior Minister, the answer is clear: the culprit is the EU, with its miserly subsidies and suffocating restrictions on budget deficits.

Now Mr Salvini isn’t a huge admirer of the EU, and I sense a kindred spirit there. The EU does attract strong emotions, one way or the other.

Hence those who, like Mr Salvini and me, detest that wicked Leviathan may be tempted to blame the EU for all the world’s ills. Yet we ought to be aware of this natural tendency and keep it in check.

The EU can indeed be blamed for a lot – but not for everything. I don’t blame it for my bad health, too much weight or shortish stature. And Mr Salvini shouldn’t blame it for the Genoa catastrophe.

This is what he actually said: “If external constraints prevent us from spending to have safe roads and schools, then it really calls into question whether it makes sense to follow these rules. There can be no trade-off between fiscal rules and the safety of Italians.”

His second sentence rings true, but with one minor amendment: replace ‘fiscal rules’ with ‘budgets’. Yes, a civilised country should never use shortage of money as an excuse for putting people’s lives at risk.

The full stop at the end of this statement means that there’s no need to go into the details of Italy’s financial dealings with the EU, such as what kind of infrastructure subsidies she receives or whether or not she’s a net contributor to the EU budget (opinions and calculations vary).

It simply doesn’t matter. Europe’s fourth largest economy must find the money to keep its motorway bridges from killing people.

Looking at the published photographs of the Genoa bridge a month before the disaster, one doesn’t have to be a structural engineer to see that a collapse is imminent.

The whole central section had lost much of its underside, with rebar, no longer covered with cement, sticking out. Any civilised country, a word combination I insist on using, would have condemned that bridge years ago.

Italy didn’t, which brings into question the extent to which she’s civilised – now, not in Roman times. The blood of those 41 victims (and counting) is on the hands of whatever Italian authorities, local or central, are responsible for maintaining infrastructure.

As to the budgetary constraints, Mr Salvini should take his cue from Adam Smith, whose advice would have prevented the tragedy: “What is prudence in the conduct of every private family, can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.”

In other words, a country should run its budget on the same principles as families run theirs. The principles are simple: unless a family is so rich that money is no object, it prioritises its outgoings.

Junior wants his own car? Sorry, no money for that. Yes, a five-star hotel would be nice, but we can only afford a B&B. And yes, dear, you’d look smashing in a Savile Row suit, but our budget doesn’t stretch beyond M&S.

But – critically – if Junior needs an operation, and the NHS has a two-year waiting list, then money must be found somehow. Mum going back to work, Dad doing night shifts, the house re-mortgaged, the car sold – whatever it takes. The boy needs urgent help.

Without looking at Italy’s budget in any detail, one can state with absolute certainty that many of its items are less important than keeping motorway bridges from becoming death traps.

In fact, I’d be happy to lend Mr Salvini a helping hand pro bono publico and suggest areas where savings could be made. At a guess, reducing the number of immigrants would be a good start, and I bet my euros to his cannoli that the welfare budget could stand some squeezing.

Yet come to think of it, I too blame the EU – for providing a ready excuse to the likes of Mr Salvini, a way of abrogating their own responsibility.

If the new Italian government detests the EU as much as it claims, it should do the honourable thing, get out – and take care of its own motorway bridges.

If the EU collapses as a result, it’s no big deal. No one will die.

Is Trump Nixon in disguise?

“I admire President Putin’s strong leadership.”

Watergate was in full swing when I landed in New York 45 years ago. President Nixon had just fired Archibald Cox, a special prosecutor in charge of the investigation.

Walking down Broadway, I saw a bumper sticker saying ‘Impeach the Cox sacker’ and laughed out loud, the pitch of my mirth heightened by a foreigner’s pride in having understood the crude pun.

The Cox straw fell on the camel’s back with such a thud that the resulting resonance sent destructive waves all over the Nixon presidency. Its end became a matter of when, not whether.

The president had to go on television to assure Americans that “I am not a crook”. A few months later he resigned, half a step ahead of impeachment.

Those events came back to me the other day, when President Trump revoked John Brennan’s security clearance, vindictively punishing the former CIA director for his outspoken criticism of Trump’s links with Russia.

The White House press secretary explained the action by Brennan’s “erratic conduct and behaviour”. Brennan, she claimed, “has a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility”.

She also referred to the need for “protecting classified information”, however without proffering a single example of Brennan’s misusing such information either during or after his CIA stint.

Moreover, she named nine other former colleagues of Brennan whose security clearances are also in jeopardy. Among them are former FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former NSA Director Michael Hayden and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

All of them are fierce critics of Trump’s links with Putin. Moreover, the nature of their jobs was such that they had all the relevant information at their fingertips. And the information was, and remains, damning.

I’m writing as someone who has no ideological issues with the president – in fact, as I’ve mentioned on several occasions, much as I find him personally hideous, I like most of his domestic initiatives, and many of his international ones.

Some aspects of his foreign policy, alas, can easily be construed as designed to benefit Putin’s, rather than American, interests. One example is Trump’s understated commitment to the Atlantic alliance, especially Article 5 of the NATO charter, according to which an attack on one member is seen as an attack on all.

During his campaign, Trump made noises about leaving NATO altogether, which tune he later changed for the perfectly legitimate demand that European countries contribute more to their defence. However, underneath it all one detects a willingness to let Putin treat the post-Soviet space as his sphere of influence.

Sen. Newt Gingrich, a Trump insider, enunciated that attitude in so many words, issuing an open invitation to Putin. Estonia, he said, is but a suburb of Petersburg, and we wouldn’t to go to war over it.

More grist is added to the mill by Trump’s sycophantic courtship of Putin during the recent Helsinki summit – and indeed by the entire history of their relationship.

All the recent anti-Putin measures, such as the new batch of sanctions, have been taken over Trump’s objections and threats of veto. That has had a unifying effect on Congress, where a large enough bipartisan majority has been built to override any such veto. Yet  Trump has managed to slow down the implementation of sanctions to a snail’s pace.

Such inexplicable loyalty to Putin has given rise to speculation about the possible pull Putin has on Trump, in the shape of a dossier of compromising material (kompromat in Russian). Actually, I’d be amazed if such a dossier didn’t exist.

Before he announced his candidature for the presidency, Trump had had dubious business links with Putin’s Mafioso junta, which – to anyone who knows how big business is done in Russia – means with Putin himself.

For at least five years Trump was trying to secure a contract to adorn the Moscow skyline with a tower bearing his name. Acting through such prominent organised crime figures as Agalarov and Deripaska (also a good friend to our own Peter Mandelson and George Osborne), Putin kept dangling that carrot in front of Trump, but nothing came of it.

The most Trump managed to get – officially – was an invitation to use Moscow as a site for his travelling bordello, otherwise known as the Miss Universe pageant. That 2013 event is claimed to have produced kompromat of a sexual nature, which I find credible. After all, Trump’s propensity to consort with ladies of easy virtue is amply documented.

More damaging would be financial kompromat, and Trump’s sons Donald and Eric did acknowledge that the Russians were Trump’s major source of financing (Eric) and revenue (Donald). Doing such business with criminal organisations makes it impossible to keep one’s hands clean.

Trump has never stopped expressing his admiration for Putin’s ‘strong leadership’, dismissing or downplaying the crimes committed by the KGB junta – from murdering political opponents to earning the distinction of becoming the first European country after 1945 to annex another country’s territory by force.

Also, one has to be a fanatical worshipper of Trump not to wonder why his campaign and subsequently cabinet were densely packed with men whose links with Putin and his acolytes have since landed them in deep trouble.

Page, Papadopulos, Flynn, Manafort, Cohen, Tillerson – the list is long. Such concentration of Putin’s friends among Trump’s appointees would be suspicious even in the absence of any compromising information. Alas, such information is plentiful.

Trump originally intended to appoint his Republican rival Mitt Romney to the top government post of Secretary of State. At the last moment, however, Romney – an implacable critic of Putin – was shunted aside and replaced with Rex Tillerson, seen as a Putin-friendly character.

Now Tillerson had no qualifications for that position whatsoever, having had no diplomatic or indeed government experience. But, in his previous capacity as CEO of ExxonMobil he had been an associate of Putin and a close friend of Igor Sechin, widely regarded in Russia as Putin’s de facto deputy.

In recognition of his services to Russia, Tillerson received the Order of Friendship, while whatever services he had rendered America had until his appointment gone unrecognised. Trump’s brief to him, by Tillerson’s own admission, was to “stabilise the relationship with Russia and build trust.”

Tillerson’s appointment caused a spate of resignations in the State Department, and his tenure lasted less than a year. The other top foreign relations job, that of National Security Adviser, went to Michael Flynn, another friend of Putin, who lasted even less time.

In December last year, that paid participant in Putin’s propaganda extravaganzas pleaded guilty to a felony: lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government during the Trump presidential campaign. That was a reduced charge, in return for which Flynn is now providing government evidence.

The chairman of Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort, is now on trial for his life, charged with all sorts of financial crimes, including money laundering on behalf of Putin’s Ukrainian puppet Yanukovych. Manafort too was intimately connected with Deripaska, at that time already sanctioned in the US.

Such a concentration of Putin’s agents, witting or unwitting, among Trump’s entourage is hard to explain. The most benign explanation would be extremely poor judgement and lamentable failure to conduct most elementary due diligence.

Less benign judgements come to mind more easily, especially considering Putin’s own admission that he wanted Trump to win. That wasn’t just cheering from the sidelines: Russia’s vast resources were dedicated to destroying Hillary Clinton’s candidature (an awful one, it has to be said).

That was part of the hybrid war Russia declared on America, and the West in general. Propaganda and electronic offensives are the essential ingredients of the hybrid, and disruption its primary aim.

The Russians set up trolling and hacking factories, whose role was to swing the election Trump’s way. Never in US history has a foreign government attempted to exert such a direct influence on elections.

To that end, Russian trolls bombarded America with 1.4 million pro-Trump, anti-Clinton tweets that received 288 million hits. The Russians also hacked into the e-mail servers of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton herself. Compared to that massive theft of documents, the Watergate break-in looks like a little childish prank.

That both the DNC and Clinton were criminally negligent is as true as it’s beside the point. Putin’s intelligence services pursued a specific aim, that of helping Trump. This they did by feeding their loot to Assange’s WikiLeaks.

Whenever Clinton’s lead in the polls grew, new batches of hacked e-mails were released, with the clear intent of counteracting her gains. This was accompanied by a steady barrage of fake news and trolls generated by Putin’s bots.

All this is beyond doubt. What’s open to discussion is whether that hostile campaign actually affected the outcome, and whether Trump and his men were in cahoots with Putin.

The election was extremely close, with Clinton actually getting three million more votes. But Trump carried the Electoral College by winning the slenderest of majorities in three swing states. A turnaround of just 77,000 votes in those states would have put Clinton into the White House.

It’s impossible to assess the effect of Putin’s trolls and hackers, but it’s likely that they did have an effect. As to the other debatable point, we do know that key members of Trump’s campaign, including his son and son-in-law, had contacts with Putin’s agents throughout the campaign – which is to say they were requesting or at least accepting help from a hostile power.

After many denials, Trump finally admitted that he knew about those contacts, which is to say he authorised them. He claims this is perfectly legal, and he may be proved right – although that would surprise me.

I doubt Trump specifically requested help from Putin, or actively conspired with him, which would have been a heinous crime. But his overall demeanour certainly does little to dispel suspicions that Trump is Putin’s man. If that’s indeed the case, then Brennan was right when describing Trump’s behaviour as “nothing short of treasonous”.

The president could quash all such ugly suspicions by making unequivocal statements about the criminal nature of Putin’s regime and his hybrid war on America. He could then initiate new punitive measures or at least expedite those initiated by Congress.

Instead he seems to be doing a Nixon: attacking the press, singling his critics out for punishment or at least trying to silence them. He may get away with that. Nixon didn’t.

“The purpose of terrorism is to terrorise”

It’s terrorism, Comrade, but not as you knew it

Whatever the subject under discussion, we should always listen to experts. Yet we must make sure that their expertise is current.

Enter V.I. Lenin, who knew a thing or two about terrorism.

This although, as every Soviet schoolchild was taught, Lenin was opposed to individual terror. But the teachers never stressed the word ‘individual’, as they should have done.

For the great humanist only questioned the efficacy of the piecemeal murder of government officials. What he had no doubt about is the wholesale massacre of millions – that sort of thing worked like a dream, as far as Lenin was concerned.

True enough, when terrorism claims millions of victims, it does terrorise. But when a Sudanese Muslim drives a car through some cyclists, no one other than the cyclists themselves is really terrorised.

(A contortionist slap on my own back: didn’t I figure out the driver’s religion perfectly yesterday? Just kidding: everybody knew he had to be a Muslim.)

Even the odd explosion doesn’t change our lives much. A year ago a bomb went off at my local tube station, and I haven’t noticed any subsequent reduction in the size of crowds on the platforms.

So the pronouncement attributed to the past master of mass murder has a distinctly archaic ring to it. The purpose of terrorism isn’t to terrorise, certainly not just that.

But this doesn’t mean modern terrorism serves no purpose at all. It does, but the purpose is subtler than scaring a lot of people out of their wits.

The real purpose of terrorism is to disrupt, to subvert the normal course of life. And that purpose is achieved not by scaring the man in the street into changing his daily patterns, but by goading the government into precipitate action.

Take yesterday’s event, for example, which is trivial by the usual standards of Islamic terrorism: no one was killed, only two people were injured.

Yet both our national government and the London mayor Sadiq Khan have already announced they’re considering closing Parliament Square and all the streets around it to traffic.

Now, as a Londoner and a driver, I can anticipate the disaster that’ll befall London traffic if the proposed pedestrianisation goes into effect.

The Embankment is by far the most important thoroughfare linking southwest London, where millions of people live, with the rest of the city. Having it run into a dead end will wreak havoc on traffic, which is already diabolical.

If that happens, the act perpetrated by the Sudanese chap will have succeeded: life in the city will be disrupted, albeit in a rather trivial way.

Other forms of disruption are far from trivial. For the threat of terrorism makes Western governments act in decidedly un-, not to say anti-, Western ways.

In politics, Western ways are defined by the balance of power between the state and the individual: the more it tips in favour of the individual, the more Western the country is – and vice versa.

Every modern state seeks to empower itself at the expense of the individual, but in the West the state can’t just put its foot down at will. Traditional checks on state power can be eroded, but they can’t be discarded offhand.

And even erosion won’t proceed by itself – every time the state diminishes the power of the individual it has to come up with a credible excuse.

That’s why states and the people tend to feel about war differently: most people don’t like it, but most states do.

For war provides a ready-made excuse for the state to suspend or reduce some civil liberties: at a time of emergency the collective has to take precedence over the personal. Few people notice that, after the hostilities end, the state gets to keep some, if not all, of its supposedly temporary powers.

Although it’s conducted on a smaller scale, terrorism is like any war. It provides an easy excuse for the state to claim greater control over people’s lives. That’s by far the greatest outrage caused by terrorist acts, even those as seemingly insignificant as yesterday’s drive over bicycles.

Fighting terrorism is the pretext the state uses for empowering itself to monitor our movements, correspondence, phone calls, e-mails. It’s supposedly because of terrorism that Britain has more CCTV cameras than the rest of the world combined.

When some of us demur, we’re put to shame. Photographs of terrorism victims, their assorted body parts and weeping mothers are produced to condemn our crass insensitivity.

So what if CCTV catches an average Briton 70 times a day? Just think of those poor children blown to bits.

Rational arguments needn’t apply. Other methods of preventing terrorism, such as reducing the number of Muslim immigrants rather than increasing the number of spying devices, aren’t even mooted for fear of being accused of racism.

Racism, you understand, is no longer a crime against common decency or even a particular race. It’s now a crime against the state. Everyone is a racist (homophobe, misogynist, xenophobe, you name it) if the state says so – and the state says so if it senses even a minuscule threat to its power.

Fighting terrorism is a convenient pretext for the misconduct of foreign policy as well. Rather than facing up to foreign tyrants, our governments cravenly kowtow to them because this is supposed to be the only way of enlisting their help in the fight against terrorism.

The very terrorism, incidentally, that those tyrants sponsor. That’s like co-opting arsonists to fight fires, but our governments don’t mind.

In that spirit, successive US administrations have chosen to ignore that 15 out of the 19 Twin Towers terrorists were Saudis – God forbid the Saudis take offence and withdraw their anti-terrorist help.

One has to admit that terrorism achieves its real purpose, that of subverting Western ways by encouraging Western governments to act tyrannically at home and gutlessly abroad.

Just terrorising is sooooo yesterday. We live in a different world now, Comrade Lenin.

Outrage in Westminster: who and why

Yet another car was driven this morning into the security barriers protecting the Houses of Parliament.

Before swerving into the barriers, the driver negotiated a path that took him through a crowd of cyclists, most of whom must be blessed with lightning-quick reflexes and managed to jump out of the way.

Only this can explain why, of the 10 cyclists hit, only two victims ended up in hospital, presumably St Thomas’s just across the river. However, this assumption isn’t entirely safe: knowing how the NHS operates, they might as easily have taken the victims to a hospital in Muswell Hill or Richmond.

The police say their minds are open, which is a good thing – provided their brains don’t fall out. They didn’t specify what it was that their minds were open to, considering that every eyewitness stated unequivocally that the act was deliberate.

Those familiar with the geography of the area will know that there’s so little room in which to swerve at 50 mph that such a manoeuvre couldn’t possibly have  been executed accidentally – especially since the driver was only conning a Ford Fiesta, hardly the most powerful car out there.

Are the officers’ minds open to the perpetrator’s identity? That’s highly unlikely, considering that they arrested him on the spot. Ask him nicely, and he’ll be only too pleased to introduce himself, thereby closing all those inquisitive minds.

However, even if the police know who drove that Fiesta, we don’t, not at the time of writing. We do know the car wasn’t a self-drive vehicle. One newspaper mentioned in passing that the driver was black; the others didn’t volunteer any information at all.

And we still have no inkling why that black gentleman chose to write off his car in such a spectacular fashion. It couldn’t have been insurance fraud because he made no attempt at subterfuge. Nor was it a suicide attempt, for otherwise he could have simply driven the car off the cliff somewhere upcountry.

As always, police reticence under such circumstances leaves the door wide-open for speculation. And here we must decide which great English mind we should look to for inspiration: Bertie Russell or Sherlock Holmes.

Russell believed that, no matter how regularly and for how long the same event has been happening, there’s no guarantee it’ll happen again. The sun may have risen every morning as far back as anyone can remember, he said, but we can’t infer on that basis that it’ll rise again tomorrow morning.

His near contemporary Sherlock Holmes would have disagreed vehemently. Abstractions aside, he’d say, in a world of solving practical problems, when something has always happened for a certain reason, one can confidently predict it’ll happen again and for the same reason.

This morning’s incident at Westminster definitely falls into Mr Holmes’s area of expertise, rather than Prof. Russell’s. And it’s Sherlock Holmes’s practical approach to such matters that can help us come up with a credible hypothesis on the nature of the Fiesta fiasco.

Mr Holmes himself would have had it all figured out before even arriving at the scene. He’d dismiss out of hand as utterly improbable any motive other than vehicular terrorism.

And he’d make a mental note that so far every such incident involved a Muslim perpetrator – including the attack on the same target 17 months ago that left five dead.

Ergo, the great detective would explain to his hapless sidekick, Dr Watson, the black driver of that Fiesta is a Muslim, doing what he did because he’s a Muslim. Elementary. (Speaking today, Holmes would probably say something like “Sor’ed” instead – tempora mutantur, and usually for the worse.)

After an earlier such incident I proposed that every Muslim driver should be made to take a remedial course in keeping the car on the road.

If you want to hit a cyclist, Ahmed, get out of the car – most of us other drivers would cheer you on, what with cyclists tending to be sanctimonious pests. I for one have lost my voice on several occasions, screaming irate obscenities at those road menaces.

And Ahmed? Think twice before driving at full pelt into a concrete and steel barrier: in that crash there can only be one winner. Get yourself a Challenger 2 battle tank if you want to take a security barrier on.

Building on that didactic initiative, I’d suggest every Muslim car owner display on his rear window two stickers: ‘Muslim on board’ and ‘Learner terrorist’.

(I realise that most Muslim drivers aren’t going to use their vehicle for the purpose of terrorism. By the same token, most Rottweilers aren’t going to attack a pedestrian. However, they’re all muzzled in the street just the same: better safe than sorry, what?)

You may think that two such messages would be redundant, and either one would do the same job because they are interchangeable.

Well, this is up for discussion. My mind is open too, even though I’m not a cop.

Jeremy is slandered, again

“Just one cry of ‘Down with Jews’, and they’re up in arms,” complained Comrade Corbyn

As a fellow socialist, nay Marxist, nay Trotskyist, I deplore the vituperative attacks on my friend Jeremy in every conceivable medium.

Accusing Jeremy of anti-Semitism is like accusing his girlfriend Diane Abbott of being fat… or is it a wrong simile?

Must be, for she’s indeed fat, while Jeremy doesn’t have an anti-Semitic bone in his body. My writing is getting sloppy in my dotage.

Anyway, you know what I mean. Not an anti-Semitic bone in his body – that’s exactly what Jeremy said in reply to my question when I rang him last night.

“Listen, Comrade, those hyenas of journalism, those hirelings of world capital and specifically of the City and Wall Street don’t even understand the words they use,” complained Jeremy.

“First they run all those ridiculous, if true, stories about my support for the Palestinians’ just cause.

“Then they publish photographs of my kissing and hugging dozens of freedom fighters from the PLO, Hamas or what have you – and then they have the stupidity and gall to say I’m an anti-Semite.

“I looked it up: Arabs are Semites. Right, Comrade? I love Arabs, so how does that make me an anti-Semite? I’m a philo-Semite if anything.”

“Well, that’s not quite what those hangers-on, renegades and lackeys mean,” I interjected gently. “They mean you hate Jews.”

“Hate Jews?” Jeremy sounded genuinely surprised. “Nothing can be further from the truth. Why, some of my best friends are ki… I mean Christ-killers.”

“Of course, Jeremy, of course. I know that, you know that, but those pawns in the hands of world capital don’t know it.

“They keep banging on about Tunis,” I explained, “that wreath you laid in 2014 at the tomb of those terrorists who tortured and slaughtered 11 Israeli athletes in Munich…”

“Terrorists? Et tu, Boot? Freedom bloody fighters, not terrorists, Comrade. And anyway, I just dropped a wreath at that tomb on my way to another tomb, of those PLO hero-martyrs killed by Israeli imperialist colonialists in an air strike.”

“Yes, Jeremy, but those media stooges to the Jewish conspiracy will say that the PLO was terrorist too…”

“Are you kidding me, Comrade? That’s like describing as terrorists those fighters for the liberation of Ireland from British imperialism and colonialism.”

“Yes, Jeremy, but the Jews…”

“Don’t talk to me about the Yids, Comrade,” objected Jeremy rather forcefully. “I love them and all, but sometimes they get too uppity for words. First, they genocide millions of Palestinians…”

“Are you sure about that number, Jeremy?” Sometimes my pedantic side is hard to contain.

“Millions, Comrade! They’re worse than the Nazis! And then they moan about those 11 athletes. In the general scheme of things, what’s 11 athletes more or less?

“Those Israeli Jewboys whinge they’ve been at war non-stop for 70 years, and then they bitch about 11 casualties. They’re just sore losers, if you ask me. When you chop wood, chips will fly, as Trotsky said.”

“Do me a favour, Jeremy,” I pleaded. “Quote someone else from now on, until after the next general election at least. Those jackals of Fleet Street will eat you alive…”

“Jews’ flunkeys, every one of them,” interrupted Jeremy. “Not that I have anything against Jews.”

“Of course not,” I agreed hastily. “But listen, Jeremy, I’ll be in London around the second week in September. Perhaps we could grab a beer and talk about your PR?”

“Can’t do that week, Comrade. I’ll be in Saudi then, laying a wreath at the memorial to those 19 heroes of 9/11. Maybe later in the month.”

“Fine, Jeremy, later in the month it is,” I said. “But until then, take it easy, will you, for Marx’s sake? Keep shtum about the Jews, Hamas, the Holocaust…”

“The what?”

“Well, you know, the Holocaust. It did happen, didn’t it?”

“No, it didn’t,” said my friend Jeremy firmly. “But it will.”

Jesus didn’t die on the burqa, Ruth

Ruth Davidson, our future PM and a theologian of no mean attainment

There’s no difference between wearing a burqa or a crucifix. Both should be defended, says Ruth Davidson, reinforcing thereby her claim to future Tory leadership.

This airtight analogy was drawn in the midst of the knock-down, drag-out controversy I wrote about the other day: that nasty Boris Johnson sounding dismissive about the burqa, though stopping short of calling for a ban.

That is, when I wrote about that I didn’t realise there would be so much brouhaha about it. But the madness is now upon us, complete with calls for Johnson to be investigated, though not yet stoned or mutilated.

Fair enough, the opportunity was too good to miss. By castigating Mr Johnson and upholding multi-culti virtue, politicians can tick all the rubrics essential for a front-bench career.

Ruth’s ticks, however, are bigger and fatter than anyone else’s. Thus spake our PM a couple of elections down the road – and certainly the Conservative leader in the near future.

Miss Davidson’s credentials are unassailable.

First, she’s a shrewd political operator, which she demonstrated in 2016 by making the Tories the second-largest party in Scotland.

For Tories to come in ahead of Labour in Scotland is like a neo-Nazi party coming in ahead of Labour in Israel. So that electoral coup must have caught the eye of Tory mandarins and other fruits.

Then Miss Davidson is a member of four (!) oppressed minorities. A membership in at least one now provides a strong boost to a political career, and is well on its way to becoming an ironclad requirement.

First, Miss Davidson is a Scot and therefore a long-suffering victim of brutal English colonialism, as conclusively proved by any number of Hollywood films, all starring Mel Gibson.

Second, she’s a woman, which group is both oppressed and a minority – in the existential sense that transcends arithmetic. And women deserve political prominence as compensation for millennia of abject subjugation.

This isn’t specific to the UK. The American Republican Party, for example, has proudly announced its intention to nominate women as at least half of their congressional candidates. ‘Irrespective of any other qualifications’ was the implicit yet inevitable refrain.

Third, Miss Davison is a lesbian, who’s currently having an IVF baby with another woman. And if sexual deviancy can’t earn a person a place on the modern political Olympus, I don’t know what can. That too is fast approaching the status of a necessary (and sufficient?) job qualification.

In fact, I’m hereby starting a campaign to replace the outdated aphorism ‘divide and rule’ (divide et impera) with ‘deviate and rule’ (deviat et impera).

Fourth, Miss Davidson goes even further by belonging to an oppressed minority within an oppressed minority – and I know you’ll find this as surprising as I did a few days ago.

My eye opener came in a morning issue of Sky News, which featured in one of its top segments a lesbian woman complaining bitterly of the ‘T’ in the LGBT pushing the ‘L’ to an inferior status.

I’m a lesbian, explained the interviewee, meaning I’m a woman who likes other women. Those bloody ‘Ts’, however, aren’t real women but, because they capture public imagination to such a degree, they impose their own agenda on the ‘Ls’, depriving them of their God-given freedom of speech.

I’m not sure I followed every argument but, as a progressivist of long standing, I wholeheartedly agreed that the plight of lesbians within the LGBT ‘community’ qualifies them as a martyred minority.

Given her membership in four oppressed minorities, I’m surprised Miss Davidson felt the need to beef up her CV, but beef it up she did.

These days any candidate aspiring to lead our true-blue Conservatives must demonstrate total ignorance of (and ideally contempt for) British history, civilisation, culture and – most critical – constitution.

By equating the Cross and the burqa, Miss Davidson succeeded in doing just that, which turns her candidature into an unstoppable juggernaut. And this vehicle is further souped up by her general ignorance.

As Boris Johnson and that Oxford imam, whose name escapes me, correctly stated, the burqa has no scriptural justification in Islam. Therefore it’s not a religious symbol, but an ethnic and cultural one.

The Cross, however, isn’t just any old religious symbol, but one in whose name our civilisation was created. This isn’t an expression of faith but simply a statement of historical truth.

The Cross, furthermore, was the inspiration behind every successful effort to stop Islamic aggression in Europe, perpetrated by the very people who then decided to hide their womenfolk behind hideous garments.

Do the dates 732, 1571 and 1683 mean anything to Miss Davidson? I suspect not, which is most unfortunate.

Granted, Miss Davidson is entitled to her own opinions and her own faith – but she isn’t entitled to her own facts.

She is, however, entitled to ignorance, especially of the religious foundations of the West and hence Britain. But it wouldn’t hurt a professional politician to know the kind of basic information about the British political system that goes (or should go) into the citizenship test.

One datum that seems to have gone by Miss Davidson is that Britain is a monarchy and the Queen is its head of state. A related datum is that in Britain the church isn’t separated from the state, as it is, say, in the USA or France.

The existence of an established church makes Britain a Christian commonwealth not just historically and culturally, but statutorily. This was re-confirmed 64 years ago, during the coronation ceremony of Her Majesty, as this exchange shows:

Archbishop. Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?…”

Queen. All this I promise to do.”

Miss Davidson may bemoan the fact that Britain is a Christian commonwealth rather than a Muslim caliphate (where she’d probably be tossed off a tall building, but that’s beside the point), but that is indeed a fact.

In view of that fact, equating the Cross with the burqa makes Miss Davidson an ignorant, cynical opportunist. And an ideal candidate for Tory leadership.

Donny + Vlad = ?

“Over and over I keep going over the world we knew// Once when you walked beside me// That inconceivable, that unbelievable world we knew// When we two were in love”

Putin is incandescent. There he was, thinking Don loved him – and now this. The Yanks call this a ‘sliding scale of pressure’.

Having scrutinised the evidence provided by Britain, the United States concluded that it was the Russians who used military-grade chemical weapons to poison the Skripals.

And, while they were at it, most of the rest of Salisbury as well.

Vlad had to ring friend Don direct, use a few choice expressions highlighting the loose sexuality of Don’s mother and ask him what the hell was going on.

At first friend Don whimpered and grovelled, but then he blew his top. “For crying out loud, Vlad,” he shouted, “they shoved the goddamn evidence under my nose! What was I supposed to do, disband Congress? Fire the whole damn State Department? Gimme a break, for Chrissake!”

He had a point. The good news was announced some 90 days ago, at which point the button was pushed for the statutory 60-day countdown before new sanctions had to be imposed.

To give credit to Don, Vlad has to admit begrudgingly that he did all he could to delay the sanctions. The trouble is, the Main Adversary’s government is set up in such a stupid, incomprehensible way that the president can only do so much.

‘So much’ in this case turned out to be just a paltry 30 days’ delay before the sanctions were announced, and another fortnight or so before they’ll go into effect. Every little bit helps and all that, but this bit is just too little for words.

Now the Russian economy will edge even closer to being well and truly buggered, thinks Vlad. Normally that wouldn’t bother him all that much, what with those Panama cellos stuffed with laundered cash still playing a merry tune.

But this time the Main Adversary has sanctioned the export of the kind of electronics and avionics that Russia simply can’t produce herself. How’s Vlad supposed to target his ICBMs without those gadgets? And how’s he supposed to scare the living bejeesus out of the Main Adversary without his ICBMs?

Let’s face it, the Russian economy only has three sectors, thinks Vlad, and they’re like the three legs of a tripod: knock one out and the whole shebang goes down.

First, there’s the pipe through which oil flows westwards, and dollars flow back. Second, there’s the giant laundry through which the dollars are diverted into private accounts in godforsaken places like Panama. And third, there’s the ICBMs reminding the Main Adversary not to get too bloody sanctimonious about this cozy arrangement.

Turning the US into radioactive ash and creating the Atlantic Strait between Canada and Mexico – the threat has been communicated to the Main Adversary thousands of times and in no uncertain terms. And still they play silly buggers!

And that damn scale could slide even higher if Vlad doesn’t let a swarm of Yank spies into the country, to inspect the relevant branch of Russia’s chemical industry. Within 30 days!

Give him a year, and all those novichok factories will look like fertiliser plants – compared to Vlad, Potemkin with his villages was a bungling amateur. But a month is just plain ridiculous.

Call this friendship Don? After all that Vlad did for you, you ungrateful twerp! Whatever next?

Actually, Vlad has a pretty good idea of what could come next. The menu for the next batch of sanctions includes such Russophobe atrocities as:

A ban on US banks providing credits to Russia; the US voting against any international banks providing such credits; a ban on the export of all American goods; reducing the level of diplomatic relations or discontinuing them altogether; banning state-controlled airlines, such as Aeroflot.

And if you think that’s bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet, thinks Vlad. There’s this bipartisan bill going through Congress about sanctioning Russia for meddling in US elections.

That’s what one gets for giving a little helping hand to a friend, moans Vlad. As if there’s something wrong with friendship. Well, there’s plenty wrong with the proposed sanctions.

The Yanks are talking about new sanctions against Vlad’s accompl…, no, he means friends; a ban on US participation in Russia’s energy-related projects; investigation of Russia’s sponsoring of terrorism.

And – here Vlad swallows so hard that his Botoxed cheeks almost burst open – they’ll examine Vlad’s assets and overall wealth! There’s nothing sacred for the Main Adversary.

So what if a successful man puts away the odd hundred billion for a rainy day? The Yanks like to talk about property rights, so what business is it of theirs how Vlad takes care of his retirement? What about his property rights?

Vlad’s face hardens, and his eyes narrow down to slits. He doesn’t give a flying buck about all the rest of it or, even if he does, he could just about live with it. But this last thing?

That’s like relieving yourself at the altar of Christ the Saviour, sacrilege to end all sacrileges. Worse than Vlad’s idol Stalin blowing up the original cathedral back in 1931.

Time to tell friend Don to get his finger out and bloody well do something about that. If he doesn’t, Vlad will lower the boom on friend Don so fast he’ll end up a little puddle on the floor.

Friends, thinks Vlad bitterly. A man can never count on them in this world. Oh, the good old days…

Boris Johnson was wrong about the burqa

Is it a boy or a girl?

Using accurate similes is a stylistic and therefore moral imperative. Using wrong ones is confusing, misleading and therefore indefensible.

That’s why I think Mr Johnson ought to apologise for claiming that burqa-wearing women look like ‘letter boxes’ and ‘bank robbers’. His similes were inexact.

I haven’t seen many black letter boxes around, while burqas are usually black. And bank robbers may cover their faces, but not necessarily with black stockings or masks. Nor do they always wear black over the rest of their bodies.

Burqas look more like Halloween costumes designed to scare passers-by out of their wits, and in fact I once asked a group of women thus clad if Halloween came early that year. The exchange took place in Hyde Park at midday, and I felt reasonably safe with so many people around.

Otherwise I could have been in trouble, especially if one of the Aishas carrying Gucci handbags had turned out to be an Abdul carrying an AK under his garment.

Avian similes could also have worked much better. At certain camera angles, for example, penguins look remarkably like burqa-clad persons (I’m not being sex-specific on purpose: we have no way of knowing if the garment conceals a fourth wife of a visiting sheik or a runaway male terrorist).

Also crows and starlings have a fair claim to looking just like one of those persons. Admittedly those birds fly and black-clad persons don’t – unless of course the bomb goes off prematurely. But hey, I’m not claiming a perfect simile, only one that’s better than Mr Johnson’s.

To sum it up, I agree with Mrs May, who demanded that Mr Johnson apologise for his inaccurate use of similes… Hold on a second. My wife has just looked over my shoulder and said I got it wrong.

That is, Mrs May did demand that Mr Johnson apologise, but not for a stylistic solecism. What she thought called for public contrition was that his remarks had “clearly caused offence”, presumably to the Muslim ‘community’.

Granted, said ‘community’ is notoriously sensitive about any disparagement of its customs, such as making women cover up head to toe, polygamy, forced marriages, stoning of adulterers, FGM, blowing up public transport or flying airliners into tall buildings.

Now heaven forbid we’d want to offend anybody, gratuitously or otherwise. Civilised people don’t insult one another, unless they are very young and/or very drunk.

Being old and, for the moment at least, stone sober, I wholeheartedly subscribe to that sentiment. However, ‘one another’ are the operative words there.

They communicate reciprocity: we don’t offend Muslims and in return they don’t offend us. Alas, one has to note with chagrin that the Muslim ‘community’ hasn’t exactly kept its end of the bargain.

I’m sure I’m not just speaking for myself when saying that I’m offended every time yet another atrocity is committed by chaps screaming “Allahu akbar!”.

Call me oversensitive, but yes, I’m offended when bombs rip apart passengers on London buses and underground. When knives are stuck into the bodies of my countrymen. When heavy vehicles are driven through crowds, with body parts flying in every direction.

The only thing that mitigates the offence is that those causing it usually die in the process. But there’s no mitigation to the offence of watching whole Muslim ‘communities’ dancing with ecstatic joy in their thousands every time one of those massacres is committed.

A milder offence, but an offence nonetheless, is caused by those ‘communities’ refusing to adapt to the mores of their host country, instead trying to impose their own.

Another offence, less mild this time, is the sight of signs saying “This area is governed by Sharia”. One country, one legal system, my friends, and, one hopes, it’s not going to be Sharia any day soon.

It also offends me deeply to read about Muslim children in places like Bradford who don’t even realise Britain isn’t a Muslim country. How would they if all the tots see around them are Muslims, if they listen to nothing but Muslim radio and watch nothing but Muslim TV, if they’re taught in schools where the Koran makes up the bulk of the curriculum?

Another affront is to see thousands of mosques in Britain, while there isn’t a single church in Saudi Arabia, where you can be arrested for bringing a Bible into the country. It’s that reciprocity again.

The nature of worship in many of those mosques offends me even more, with wild-eyed mullahs preaching hatred for everything I love and openly promoting jihad – against everyone I love.

And yes, now we’re talking offences, I am offended by the sight of those black-clad creatures making our streets look like a Kasbah somewhere in Sudan. I have nothing against Kasbahs, you understand – provided they are indeed in Sudan (and not, for example, in the reception area of every private hospital I know in London).

To his credit, Mr Johnson refused to apologise. To his discredit, he tried to explain himself by steering the discussion away from where it should be.

Full-face veils shouldn’t be banned, he said, but it’s ridiculous that people should choose to wear them.

This misses the point altogether. First, many women don’t choose to wear the burqa. The choice is made for them by their devout, which is to say violent, brothers, fathers and husbands – by the whole suffocating ethos thrust down their throats so deep it can’t be spat out.

And why not ban such veils? The idea lacks novelty appeal: 13 countries have already done so, among them those not known for their reactionary social policies: Denmark, Belgium, France, Austria.

In our civilisation, imperfect as it may be, people hide their faces in two situations only: at a fancy-dress ball or if they’re up to no good. Apart from aesthetics, there are legal concerns here, those I touched upon facetiously earlier: our authorities are entitled to see and identify the faces of people inhabiting our cities.

Moreover, in our civilisation women aren’t treated as men’s chattels, which is the attitude behind the veil. All men are entitled to see the faces of all women – this privilege isn’t reserved for the woman’s husband or next of kin.

Another irrelevant point Mr Johnson made is that there’s no scriptural authority for the burqa in Islam. True enough, the garment isn’t mentioned in the Koran.

But it’s not his remit, nor mine, to uphold the scriptural purity of Islam. Whether Muslims do what they do because the Koran says so, or because their culture dictates it is immaterial.

What’s important is that they do things that are clearly incompatible with our culture, one it would offend me to lose.

Playing the ponies will never be the same

One trick pony? Not at all. A pony has many tricks, as this candid shot shows.

As a life-long champion of progressive causes, I’m appalled at the gross miscarriage of justice perpetrated in Oklahoma.

It’s clear that the light of equal rights for everyone and everything hasn’t yet shone on that American backwater. Those hicks from the sticks still hold antediluvian views on alternative lifestyles – and they act on those views with troglodyte savagery.

Just witness the latest violation of human and animal rights making the news in that reactionary part of the world.

A naked man was… hold on a second, let me wait for my blood pressure to return to normal… Yes, that poor naked man was brutally arrested for having consensual and mutually satisfying sex with a miniature pony.

Arrested! For practising an alternative lifestyle! In a supposedly civilised country! Sorry, I’m going to run out of exclamation marks, I’m so worked up.

And the most worrying aspect of this gross violation of everything progressive humanity holds dear is that the victim had to come up with excuses for doing what comes naturally to him.

That’s like you having to defend yourself for having sex with your spouse of either sex or both of them.

The poor man had to claim that his action had been caused by the medication he was taking. Apparently there exist drugs that make people mount ponies in more ways than one.

Well, even though no excuses needed to be made, this one is perfectly plausible. A chap takes a pill and ponies up, as it were. All I can say is that the drug obviously wasn’t one of the half-dozen or so I take every morning, for none of them has so far had the same effect.

The victim was charged and held in lieu of a $50,000 bond – this for exercising his natural right to sexual self-expression of any kind. Charged with what? I hear you ask.

As far as I know, the pony was of age, so there’s no question of corrupting the morals of a minor. Since the pony didn’t kick back, nor showed any other signs of displeasure, a charge of rape clearly wouldn’t stick (Harvey Weinstein, ring your office). Neither did the pony suffer any physical damage.

So what’s left? Indecent exposure? Crime against nature?

In fact, the poor man was charged with those very transgressions. How ludicrous is that?

There’s no such thing as indecent exposure any longer, as last week’s Pride weekend in Brighton shows.

Converging on that Regency city (population 229,000) were 300,000 LGBT activists, wearing all sorts of imaginative costumes or none and giving the lucky residents variously explicit and uniformly entertaining demonstrations of their preferences.

Did anyone complain, never mind call the police? Of course not. Brighton residents have the notion of sexual equality so firmly ingrained that they kept their mouths shut (or sometimes agape) and tried to enjoy the show.

Crime against nature is an even more risible charge. Both the defendant and the pony are entitled to receive and give sexual pleasure. No harm to nature ensued, certainly none as compared to global warming caused – as the UN conclusively established – by your aerosol spray.

It was back in 2001 that Peter Singer, Boston professor of bioethics, explained why there’s nothing wrong about sex with animals.

Humans and animals, postulated this ultimate authority on such matters, can have “mutually satisfying” sexual relations because “we are animals, indeed more specifically, we are great apes.” Therefore such sex “ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.” Or to the status and dignity of ponies, I feel like adding.

Oklahoma police are guilty of blatant speciesism, which, as far as human rights violations go, ranks with homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia and Brexit. That’s why I’m happy to announce my new initiative, which I hope you’ll support.

Some seven years ago I founded the ‘Charles Martel Society for Multiculturalism’, of which I proudly remain president and so far the only member. The structure of the Society allows for expansion into adjacent areas, which is why I’m adding a new chapter.

Provisionally called ‘The Dog and Pony Show’ (I felt ‘Go the Whole Hog’ or ‘Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks’ would be too limiting), it’ll be dedicated to worldwide struggle against sexual speciesism and for interspecies marriage.

Donations will be gratefully received – so pony up. Let’s put a new ‘B’ into LGBT: bestiality.

Consider the source, Donald

Daddy knew nothing about it, and there’s nothing to know anyway.

So Donald Trump Jr’s 2016 meeting with a Putin lawyer wasn’t just a humanitarian mission after all.

Until now Daddy’s official line has been that Don Jr met Natalia Veselnitskaya to discuss US adoptions of Russian orphans, something Putin’s government banned in response to American sanctions.

Considering that Russian orphanages are death factories, where children are malnourished, maltreated and molested, that countermeasure would strike any civilised person as odd. The underlying message seems to be: “If you don’t let us export our goods, we’ll starve our orphans to death.”

Had Don Jr discussed this moral disaster with Putin’s agents, I’d be full of admiration, only slightly leavened with a dash of incredulity.

There we were, in the middle of a bitterly fought presidential campaign, and the leading candidate’s closest confidant took time off to discuss such worthy issues with agents of a hostile power? Anything is possible, I suppose, but some things are hard to imagine.

Now Don Sr has owned up to what everyone has known all along: his son, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his campaign manager Paul Manafort (currently on trial for his life) met Veselnitskaya because she had promised some juicy dirt on Hillary Clinton.

However, the president didn’t make that admission with contrition. His dominant emotion was anger, especially since various sources had reported that he was concerned about his son’s role.

Those reports were “fake news”, screamed Trump’s tweet. He wasn’t concerned because there was nothing to be concerned about: “This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”

This last statement sounds dubious: it’s unlikely that his closest advisers would of their own accord and without informing their boss have met an agent of a foreign power – even if the Trumps didn’t consider that power hostile.

However, being a credulous sort, I’m happy to believe that Donald Sr knew nothing about the meeting, nothing came out of it anyway, and the meeting was “totally legal”.

Similarly, it would have been “totally legal” for Trump’s emissaries to triple-team Natalia in her hotel room and then post the video of the orgy on the Internet. It would, however, have been immoral and, even worse, ill-advised.

Alas, the president’s whole experience of life, especially in business, has taught him that legal is whatever one can get away with, and moral is whatever is legal.

Since I don’t know as much about American legal loopholes as he does, I shan’t venture an opinion on the legality of that meeting of minds, although to my layman’s eye it looks dodgy. But what Trump’s lads did was much more immoral than my imaginary orgy scenario would have been.

Yes, trying to get compromising material on a political opponent is a practice as old as politics itself.

Some might question its probity but, come on chaps, we live in the real world, don’t we? Objecting to this practice in principle is like objecting to tax avoidance: might as well take issue with the wind and the rain.

The problem here isn’t what the lads tried to get but from whom they tried to get it. Allow me to illustrate with a hypothetical example even Putin’s most devoted fans won’t find contentious.

Suppose for the sake of argument that Don Jr was contacted not by Veselnitskaya but by the godfather of a major Mafia family. Let’s call him Don Corleone.

When they met, Don Corleone said to Don Jr: “You’re a good boy, Donny, your father must be proud of you. And is this pezzonavante your consiglieri? Heard a lot about you, Paul. Now I got stuff on Hillary to make your eyes water. But what have you got for me? One hand washes the other, capisci?”

Suppose further that the fact and the nature of the meeting were leaked after Donald Sr became president. What would be his response then?

That there was nothing illegal about that get-together? That the promise of dirt didn’t materialise?

How many people would have believed that Don Corleone’s proposed generosity to Don Jr had no quid pro quo involved? The dirt would have been on the president, covering him head to toe – this even if everything he said about the meeting were true.

Now, any Mafia family is a Rotary Club chapter compared to the Kremlin kleptocracy. Practically the whole Russian economy is criminalised, with Putin and his gang collecting protection money in trillions of dollars.

Whatever loot is left over from buying palaces and yachts, and stuffing Panama cellos with laundered cash goes to wage worldwide electronic war against the West, especially the United States. As we speak, the US government is trying to stop Russia’s meddling in the mid-term elections.

Even if some useful idiots deny the aggressively hostile nature of Putin’s kleptofascist regime, only those refreshingly ignorant of basic facts will deny its organic fusion with organised crime.

Natalia Veselnitskaya is a faithful servant and paid agent of that regime, whose principal function until then had been trying to get the Magnitsky Law overturned. And neither organised crime nor the KGB (FSB/SVR is its current moniker) offers anything for free.

If Veselnitskaya dangled the dirty carrot of information in front of Don Jr’s eyes, she was pursuing the interests of the Kremlin kleptofascist gang that thought – however wrongly – that Trump’s victory would also be theirs.

Accepting the best possible scenario, that no useful dirt materialised and, whatever did, had no effect on the elections, that meeting was still revoltingly immoral.

Illegal? Probably not. But President Trump ought to realise that his new job comes with higher moral expectations than his old one, building casinos in Atlantic City.