Nasty, as in the NHS

The good news is that Oliver Kamm no longer writes about English usage. The bad news is that he now writes about other things.

The NHS is a great deal – if you don’t happen to be bleeding too fast

That’s a sign of a true polymath: he could write rubbish on every subject. Such as, this time around, the NHS.

“Private healthcare is no match for our fair and efficient NHS,” says his article, and anyone wishing to preserve his sanity would be well-advised not to read any further. I put mine on the line because the subject is close to my heart (and most other organs in my body).

As someone with ample experience on the receiving end of both private medicine and the NHS, I can testify that Kamm simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Then again, this has never prevented him from making weighty pronouncements.

For a self-proclaimed expert in matters linguistic, he doesn’t even use words properly. ‘Fair’ doesn’t actually mean the same for all. It means everyone getting what he deserves, and I don’t think, to cite a personal example, I deserved not to have my gangrenous gall bladder diagnosed for three days in an NHS hospital.

Nor did I deserve being treated like livestock thrown together in a barn, which is the nearest analogy to my ward of some 30 people, men and women together. Even overcrowded Soviet hospitals didn’t go unisex.

And my beloved mother-in-law didn’t deserve dying of MRSA, generously presented by one of our “fair and efficient” NHS hospitals. In the old days, before our medical care became “fair and efficient”, hospital-acquired infections were unheard of, mainly because matrons enforced the strictest standards of hygiene. These have fallen by the wayside.

As with any socialist enterprise, those who do the actual work play second fiddle to the administrators. A friend of mine, an NHS doctor, told me a few years ago that his hospital had cut the number of beds for lack of funds. At the same time, the hospital hired a director of diversity for £90,000 a year plus benefits.

Doctors and nurses get the impression they are extraneous to the true business of the NHS: increasing state control. That’s why they leave in droves: by current calculations, the NHS is short of about 100,000 frontline staff.

The deficit is being made up by importing thousands of foreign medics, many of whom are grossly underqualified and can’t even speak English properly. One such nurse once brought me a highly toxic mouthwash and told me to swallow it. Had I followed her advice, you’d be spared my vituperative prose now.

Third-world standards are even more noticeable in primary care. Good GPs are running away from the NHS at an Olympic speed: last year almost 600 fled, and this kind of drain has been going on for years.

The reason is simple: doctors want to do medicine, rather than admin. Yet the NHS, like all socialist concerns, is obsessed with bureaucratic wheel-spinning. As a result, the head of my local practice, the best GP I’ve ever known, left in disgust – more than half of his time was taken up by filling idiotic forms.

Because of its socialist genesis, the NHS hospitably throws its doors open to all and sundry from all over the world. That’s why the number of appointments goes up just as the number of GPs goes down.

Hence, even though the remaining doctors kill themselves working impossible hours and spending no more than 10 minutes per patient, we have to wait for appointments longer than in any other civilised country. Between January and March this year, 12.3 million appointments were completed 15 or more days after they had been booked.

To the likes of Kamm, ‘fair’ is a synonym for ‘socialist’, so no surprises there. But how does he justify the claim to efficiency, something that private care, with its short waiting times for both appointments and procedures, allegedly can’t match?

Simple. He bases it on cost-per-patient figures, which in Britain are “around the median” for the developed countries. Comparing the two systems I happen to know well from personal experience, he cites a cost of £2,989 in Britain and £3,737 in France.

Well, at least the French get more for their money. Generally, one can see a GP the same day or the next one at the latest. And in both my hospital stays in France I found myself in either private or semi-private rooms – and my neighbours in the semi-private ones were men, not women.

Another semantic nuance that seems to escape Kamm is that ‘efficient’ doesn’t mean ‘cheap’. In this context, it means either providing more service for the same amount or at least the same service for less.

Neither of these conditions pertains in the NHS, which is why, by Kamm’s own mournful admission, “no other country has adopted the British model of healthcare”. And there I was, thinking the NHS is the envy of the world.

“There is a good economic case for the NHS,” he claims, which is tantamount to saying that Britons aren’t overcharged for the privilege of dying of MRSA in unisex hospital wards, having the lowest cancer-survival rates in Europe and having to wait weeks for a GP appointment.

Even if we accept his figures, which I for one find hard to do, I’d say the NHS (the world’s biggest employer, by the way) is too dear at the price. The only case that can be made for it is ideological – and in that area Kamm is a past master. Whatever his subject.   

If only Remainers were honest

Our papers and TV screens are filled to the gunwales with tripartite Remainers riling against no-deal Brexit and promising to stop it by hook or by crook (mostly the latter).

Can you identify something terribly wrong with this picture?

This is an emetic lie. It’s not no-deal Brexit but Brexit that they want to stop. And they think, perhaps correctly, that they can pull the wool over people’s eyes.

Besides delivering fiery speeches and comparing Mr Johnson to some of the least savoury historical personages, they’ve instigated a petition against the prorogation of parliament that has already attracted more than a million signatories, each doubtless a constitutional scholar.

All this in the name of democracy of course, that bull’s head perched on the totem pole around which the masses are supposed to perform their song and dance routine. Scream democracy loudly enough, and everybody will jump up and salute, or else go down on his knees in a paroxysm of religious frenzy.

Applying reason, or for that matter morality, to modern politics is a thankless task. However, I’m willing to give it a try, for old times’ sake.

Democracy was served in 2016, when a comfortable majority of Britons voted to leave the EU, and when parliament subsequently activated Article 50. That means trying to keep Britain in the EU is tantamount to contempt for democracy, not totemistic worship of it.

When Remainers insist they affirm democracy by subverting it, they find themselves on shaky ground both morally and intellectually. However, if they were honest, they could make a valid argument. I’d still disagree with it, but I wouldn’t be able to deny its validity.

There exist various versions of democracy, they could say. The kind that delivered the Leave vote is called plebiscitary, wherein people bypass the institutions of the state and make decisions directly.

They could argue that plebiscitary democracy is at odds with the spirit, if not necessarily the letter, of the British constitution. That spirit, as postulated by perhaps our greatest constitutional mind, Edmund Burke, calls for MPs to act as representatives of people’s interests, not delegates for their wishes.

This is how Burke put it (concision wasn’t one of his many admirable qualities): “To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgement and conscience, – these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.”

To fast-forward the language a couple of centuries, Remainer MPs could take their cue from Burke and say something along these lines: “Yes, the people have expressed their wish to leave the EU. However, our remit is to act not according to the people’s wishes, but according to their interests. And in our view, acting on the people’s wishes in this case would be against their interests.”

Then they’d have my respect and attention: the position sounds solid. I’d object that they get the people’s interests wrong, and I’d argue why.

But at least an honest, reasoned argument would be possible. As it is, their references to democracy of people’s will as the ultimate political virtue sound as mendacious as they are intellectually feeble.

Mr Johnson’s decision to put parliament on hold for the subversive annoyance it has become communicates in no uncertain terms that no serious argument on this issue is taking place, nor can ever do so.

What is indeed taking place is a group of parliamentary saboteurs trying to derail democracy in the name of democracy – while accusing their opponents of doing just that. They are like a thief who runs away from a pursuing crowd and screams “Stop thief!” louder than anyone else.

Those MPs do nothing to dispel the suspicion that all they really want is to paint their careers on a broader canvas than that afforded by our narrow island. Bono publico be damned; it’s their own bono that occupies what passes for their minds.

Mr Johnson’s action is brave, intelligent and moral, and I thought I’d never use these adjectives when talking about a modern politician. It’s brave because he puts his political career on the line. It’s intelligent because he realises the option he took was the only one on offer. It’s moral because he has kept his promise.

Mr Johnson promised to deliver Brexit, and, uncharacteristically for today’s politicos, he seems dead-set on doing just that. He’d rather part from the EU amicably, but if he can’t, he’ll part from it anyhow.

The EU has made it clear that it won’t accept any ‘deal’ that would mean Britain leaving de facto, not just de jure. Parliament has made it even clearer that, if such a ‘deal’ came before it for a fourth time, it would vote it down – just like it did on the three previous occasions.

Thus the choice before Mr Johnson is stark: no deal or no Brexit. However, parliament has made it clear it wouldn’t allow the no-deal option, effectively keeping Britain in the EU against the express will of the people – by which our MPs claim they swear.

Hence Mr Johnson has done the only thing he could do within the guidelines of our law and constitution – he has prorogued parliament for a period he hopes will be long enough to defang parliament’s jaws.

Well-done, Mr Prime Minister. Godspeed.

When does euthanasia become murder?

Always, if one believes that, since it’s God who gives man life, only God can take it away.

At least they didn’t call it euthanasia

However, one has to accept that such throwbacks are in the minority. Not as small a minority as those who believe that children are brought by storks, but a minority nonetheless.

Since we live in an aggressively secular – and therefore not particularly bright – world, references to God, history, cultural or any other tradition can’t swing an argument any longer. Such things are met with derision, accompanied, if one is lucky, with a chanted mantra of modern articles of faith.

Darwin created life, and the Enlightenment liberated man from the shackles of any religious, intellectual, moral or spiritual authority. Because man evolved from the ape, he’s wholly in charge of his own destiny – and who but a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary could possibly find anything wrong with this logic?

Granted, a man doesn’t choose when to be born. His Mum and Dad make that decision (you can only say ‘mother and father’ at the risk of branding yourself as unfeeling). And if Mum decides she doesn’t want to be a Mum just yet, she can abort the person in the making, nothing wrong with that.

But the moment an unaborted person crawls out of his Mum’s womb, he becomes his own master. He can think or do anything he likes, provided he stays within the law. And if he’s unhappy with the way life is treating him, he can decide to end it.

He may do so by his own hand, that’s his right. No one but an antediluvian fanatic finds anything wrong with suicide. But if an unhappy man lacks either the courage to kill himself or the mental faculties to make that decision, then that’s what we have doctors for, isn’t it?

A kind medic will step in and fulfil his Hypocritical… sorry, I mean Hippocratic, oath by relieving society of the burden of caring for a crumblie.

It’s called euthanasia, which is the ultimate assertion of human rights and such commendable things as kindness, empathy and concern for the common good, of which the state is the distillation and epitome.

Hence anyone who regards euthanasia per se as murder is a troglodyte who doesn’t belong in our progressive world. This much is clear.

But what if someone first decides to be euthanised, but then changes his mind just as the lethal injection is about to go in? If you’re a believer in human autonomy, then you’ll probably think that the execution needs to be aborted, as it were.

But if you were a Dutch believer in human autonomy, you’d feel differently. You’d feel that the decision to be euthanised is like dropping a ballot paper into a box: the vote’s in, there’s no changing one’s mind. Job done.

If that shilly-shallying weakling has second thoughts at the last moment, that’s just too bad. The doctor is within his rights to have him pinned down kicking and screaming, and then to stick the needle in anyway.

This isn’t a hypothetical situation. A Dutch doctor is going on trial in The Hague for doing just that.

A woman of 74 suffering from Alzheimer’s decided to be euthanised. The doctor put a sleeping pill into her coffee, and the woman dropped off.

But when she woke up, she decided she didn’t want to die after all and began to kick and scream. But she was overpowered and killed anyway.

“The woman was in a state of confusion and the doctor did not see any point in consulting her,” explained Holland’s public broadcasting station. Absolutely. Who did the old biddy think she was, changing her mind like that? She couldn’t possibly have been thinking clearly.

However, a doctor acting quite as decisively as that turned out to be too much even for the progressive Dutch. Holland was the first country to legalise euthanasia in 2000, but some annoying restraints were still attached to the execution.

As the public prosecutor explained, “’The doctor is facing a charge of carrying out euthanasia without following the strict guidelines set down for such a process.”

So the doctor is being tried for being slapdash in following bureaucratic procedure, not for murder. You could see me wiping my brow: my faith in the Dutch has been restored.

For a second there I thought they had reverted to the old morality, wherein something like euthanasia was regarded as monstrous regardless of how meticulously the relevant guidelines were followed. But no, the goose-stepping march of progress has merely stumbled, not stopped.

Give them another few years, and restrictions on euthanasia will disappear one by one. As it is, the doctor involved will probably suffer no consequences other than perhaps some professional ones.

It ought to be clear that, once euthanasia has become legal, sooner or later it’ll become compulsory. Such a development follows inexorably from the new morality based on the new view of man, his origin and his life.

The prosecuted doctor simply moved down that road too fast for the state’s liking. Before long, the state will be flashing an avuncular smile: “Now you can. Euthanise away, and may Darwin be with you.”

Nazi-Soviet song and dance – and the music is still playing

The Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism falls on 23 August. On that day 80 years ago, the two satanic regimes formed an aggressive alliance (appropriately called the Non-Aggression Pact), plunging the world into the most devastating war in history.

The two friends are on song: they’ve just divided Poland between them

However, Putin’s Russia refuses to acknowledge this day because it puts Stalinism and Nazism under the same rubric. That simply won’t do.

The linchpin of Putin’s official policy is to restore Stalin’s empire, a task logically calling for at least some exoneration of Stalin and his glorious achievements, including the Pact. This is under way all over Russia, from schools to newspapers, from churches to city councils.

Stalin is portrayed as a great, if occasionally harsh, manager, who made Russia greater than ever. Statues to the butcher are mushrooming in Russian cities, and he is even worshipped as a saint in some churches.

Above all, Stalin is hailed as a great leader who led the country to victory in ‘the Great Patriotic War’. No wonder the Remembrance Day sticks in Putin’s craw: the underlying message is that Stalin won the war he himself had started.

What amazes me is that many good Westerners, who live outside the reach of Putin’s Goebbelses, seem to be unaware of this fact. A French friend of mine referred to it as a ‘theory’ the other day.

In a way, such ignorance is understandable because for the first 50 years after the war the Soviets mendaciously denied the existence of the Pact’s secret protocol, dividing Europe between the two predators.

Only in 1989, when the KGB assumed power in Russia and intensified the disinformation op called glasnost and perestroika, did Gorbachev agree to pull the text of the protocol out of the Special Folder (the highest degree of classification in the USSR).

The Folder contains 100,000 documents, of which only a handful have been made public so far. I doubt the rest will ever be declassified, especially those that deal with Stalin’s plans to conquer the world.

The plans have been established beyond doubt anyway by Russian and Western historians, such as Suvorov, Mel’tyukhov, Solonin, Joachim Hoffmann et al., who have analysed thousands of documents in Soviet and German archives.

The only thing they still argue about is the exact date on which Stalin planned to push the button and carry out his plans. Some calculate that Hitler’s preemptive strike beat Stalin to the punch by only a day, some insist on a fortnight or even a month.

Anyway, until the Special Folder is flung open, we’ll never know. However, solid evidence shows that the Soviet juggernaut would have rolled no later than August, 1941.

The evidence I have in mind deals not with strategic plans, logistics, troop deployments or military hardware, although such data aren’t in short supply either. No, the evidence I refer to is – vocal.

For, though tanks, planes and cannon are essential to warfare, they don’t fight wars. People do so and, in modern times, it’s not just the people in uniform. The whole population is involved, and populations need to be rallied.

That’s why every Soviet belligerent act was accompanied by the din of massive propaganda in every available medium. Stalin recognised the importance of rousing songs in particular, and he personally commissioned them.

Those who know how such things were done in the USSR will confirm that a stock of relevant songs had to be prepared way in advance of any military action. For it took months to release any song, never mind a propaganda one.

Most of the time was taken up by the song working its way through multiple stages of approval, from the Composers’ Union to the Writers’ Union to the Ministry of Culture to the Censorship Bureau to the Ideology Department of the Central Committee to, invariably, the Leader himself.

However, the canonical song The Sacred War appeared on 24 June, 1941 – just two days after Germany attacked the Soviet Union. That means the song had been signed off in advance – because Stalin had planned the war in advance, assuming it would start on his terms, rather than Hitler’s.

The Soviet archives contain over 70 such pre-prepared songs, most of them produced after the Pact, in 1939-1940. Some of them were used, some weren’t because the requisite conditions had failed to materialise.

The one that was used featured the refrain “Admit us Suomi, you beauty, into the necklace of your limpid lakes”. The song was widely performed during the Winter War of 1939-1940, when the Soviets attacked tiny and indeed beautiful Finland, promised to them by the Pact.

Apart from waxing poetic about Finland’s limpid lakes, the song also explains that “Your motherland has been taken away from you more than once; we’ve come to give it back to you; we’ve come to assist your reprisals, your repayment with interest for your humiliation…” [Hereinafter I’m translating the words only, not the rhyme and meter.]

The Finns refused the kind offer of help with ‘reprisals’ and heroically fought the Soviets to a draw, losing only small parts of their territory and suffering about eight times fewer casualties than the Soviets.

However, after that, Stalin’s Nazi allies moved a small contingent of troops into Finland, hinting to Stalin that Finland was their friend. Hence Stalin removed the song from circulation, attaching to the text a resolution, saying “until August, 1941”.

The same resolution stopped many other songs as well. One of them suggests that even the French may feel that Hitler’s preemptive strike against Stalin saved them from a gruesome fate. The song highlights the revolutionary red flag, first used during the Paris Commune of 1871:

“We’ve brought you, French people// The red flag raised by the Communards// Now your Paris, reclaimed from Hitler// Again lives under the red banner.// The flag has returned to its birthplace.// All enemies of peace and freedom// Are again listening in cowardly panic// To the steely steps of the Communards.”

Or, to be exact, of the Red Army, that proven enforcer of peace and freedom. Alas, this song too had to be shelved “until August, 1941”, and in fact didn’t get to be performed at all – because of Hitler’s sport-spoiling thrust, Stalin had to content himself with only the low-rent part of Europe.

Yet it would be demeaning to Putin’s role model to deny his ability to think globally, not just continentally. Hence another song Stalin regretfully postponed “until August, 1941”:

“And we’ll reach the Ganges yet,// And we’ll die in battles yet,// So that my motherland will shine// From Japan to England!”

The author of the song, Pavel Kogan, was killed in 1942, trying to make his prophetic words come true – and not realising that his geographic aspirations presaged Messrs Gorbachev, Putin and Macron.

They, to be fair, talked about Europe thus demarcated, not Russia. But of those three, only Manny seems to be unaware that, in this context, the two terms are bound to be synonymous.

Wouldn’t you like to know what kind of songs are being stocked up in Putin’s Russia now, on this anniversary of the Pact? On balance, I’d rather not hear them performed.

EU coins one perfect put-down to fit all

My congratulations to the Irish EU commissioner Phil Hogan and, by association, to the organisation he so loyally serves.

“Well, Churchill had difficulty controlling his weight too and, come to think of it, first time around he wasn’t elected either”

EU bureaucrats aren’t widely known for their verbal creativity, but Mr Hogan has done much to improve their reputation. In a flash of brilliance, he created a kit phrase that can be used to denigrate any man, woman or child in His creation.

Every advertising hack knows the value of prefab headlines able to fit any product. Two in particular have served many a copywriter with distinction.

One is perfect for promoting any product you can think of: “Not all [INSERT PLURAL OF PRODUCT CATEGORY] are created equal.” Now try to think of a product for which this universal headline wouldn’t work. You can’t, can you? There you go then.

The other headline is more useful for corporate advertising, although at a pinch it could do service elsewhere as well: “What we are not makes us what we are.” Trust me, it works like a charm whoever the ‘we’ happens to be, especially if followed by the tagline “Our people are our best resource.”

I don’t know the names of the geniuses who first came up with these trail-blazing discoveries. I do know Mr Hogan’s name, and he has claimed pride of place next to those anonymous innovators.

Expressing his disapproval of Boris Johnson’s intention to leave the EU, possibly even without permission, Mr Hogan declared that Mr Johnson was no Churchill. As he uttered the phrase, he might not have been aware of its universal potential, not just in relation to Mr Johnson.

For the list of famous people Mr Johnson is not could easily fill the 32 volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica. For example, he isn’t Julius Caesar, Henry VIII (although there some similarities are discernible), Charles Dickens, Lucian or even Sigmund Freud, Elizabeth II, Friedrich Handel, Mother Theresa – well, you get the gist.

This remind me of the story about a man approaching the manager of Barnum & Bailey with a proposal for an act.

“While I stand on a tightrope with my right foot, I spin 12 hoops on my left leg, juggle 12 balls with my left hand, and play a Bach violin partita with my right hand.”

Both impressed and incredulous, the manager asked his artistic director to go and have a look at that improbable act. The latter returned half an hour later, looking disappointed.

“So how is it?” asked the manager. “Well,” replied the artistic director, “Menuhin he ain’t.”

Mr Hogan must be familiar with this story, for he managed to extract the kernel of its logic and apply it to our prime minister. Churchill he ain’t, and that’s God’s own truth.

Had Mr Hogan stopped at that, he would have earned my endless gratitude for charting a useful shortcut to invective (not that I often find myself stuck for an insult). But unfortunately he proceeded to uncork another put-down, which made me think – turning the tables on Mr Hogan – that he’s no Churchill either, at least not in the area of coining epigrammatic lines.

He contemptuously dismissed Mr Johnson as an “unelected prime minister”, thereby displaying the veneration for elective democracy for which the European Commission is so justly famous.

Reading up on Mr Hogan, I’ve discovered that he was appointed to his first term as EU commissioner and now nominated for a second. The word elected was never mentioned, but it must have been only by oversight.

One could argue that Mr Johnson, though indeed by-passing a general election for a while, at least ascended to his post by an ancient constitutional process.

In that sense, he followed the same path as Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister and leader of Mr Hogan’s Fine Gael party, who also was selected by an internal party election two years ago and hasn’t faced a general election since then.

While similar to each other in that respect, both gentlemen are different from Mr Hogan and his EU colleagues in that the latter aren’t held back by the millstone of electoral accountability around their necks.

That, of course, imposes on them the extra responsibility of having to cope with unlimited freedom of action. This justifies their being paid considerably more than either Mr Johnson or Mr Varadkar, and that’s before their generous benefits and pensions are taken into account.

All things considered, aren’t you impressed with Mr Hogan’s adding a new twist to the saying about a kettle and a teapot? I know I am. I’m only sorry that his employment prospects might disappear should the EU collapse after a few other members follow Britain’s suit.

That is, if we do leave – and I’ll have to see it to believe it.

Trump to buy Vatican

According to unconfirmed reports, President Trump has tendered an offer to buy the Roman Catholic confession and its headquarters in the Vatican city-state.

“Listen, Pope, I gotta be mad to give you this price, but hey, a deal’s a deal, you follow?”

The offer, which is seen as a friendly takeover, is believed to involve an unspecified cash amount and also share options.

As part of the deal, Donald Trump Sr, Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump and Jared Kushner will be raised to the college of cardinals, Ivanka Trump will take the veil and be appointed Mother Super-Superior, Pope Francis will join the US administration as Honorary Vice President, while all cardinals, depending on their seniority, will acquire the titles of honorary senators or congressmen.

The rumour mill is abuzz with the news. Apparently, President Trump has struck a deal with Disney, Europe, to redevelop the Vatican site into a theme park provisionally called In God We Trust. The name reflects both the religious and commercial aspects of the facility, emphasising its dual nature.

The site currently occupied by the Vatican Museum will be converted to a casino, with optional prayers offered before every roll of dice or spin of the roulette wheel.

US marines will replace the Swiss guards as the sentinels-cashiers at the Vatican gates, with the price of entry structured to offer sizeable discounts to Roman Catholics. The theme park’s flag will incorporate an amalgamated motif by following the general design of the US flag, but with crosses replacing the stars.

When pressed for confirmation, President Trump declined comment. Instead he posted this tweet: “Where I comes from, the school of hard knockers, no real estate deal is off the table. If a company’s strapped for cash, and I don’t give two flying bucks what kind of company it is, it’s ripe for plucking. God may be real, but the Vatican is real estate. Money talks, bullshit walks.”

The reports appeared after the Danish PM Mette Frederiksen described Trump’s offer to buy Greenland as “absurd”. “I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously,” she added with a humourless smile.

Actually it was, and Mr Trump reacted to Miss Frederiksen’s statement with indignation. “The United States,” he fumed, “is me, and I’m the United States. And you don’t talk to the United States that way.”

“Essentially it’s a large real estate deal, like most things in life. And Denmark is trading at a loss there coz they’re losing almost $700m a year carrying Greenland.

“I tell that Danish broad, listen, I’ll give you the same deal I’d give my own mother. And what does the broad do? She mocks me. Well, I kid you never, nobody mocks the United States and gets away with it.”

However, no plans to occupy Greenland by force seem to be mooted. “That Danish broad,” tweeted the president, “can keep her Greenland and shove it where the sun don’t shine. Well, actually God already done that.”

Depending on the progress of the Vatican takeover, Mr Trump is planning to move on to other ventures. He is reported to be interested in buying Reunion Island from France, Sicily from Italy and Tasmania from Australia. “When I’m hot, I’m real hot,” commented the president.

Some of the acquisitions will be funded by the sale of Alaska back to Russia, with the details being currently thrashed out by e-mails between Donald Trump and “my friend Vlad”.

All in all, a breath – nay a hurricane – of fresh air is blowing through world politics, which are finally being put on a firm commercial footing. In a move long overdue, political chatterboxes have been replaced in the White House by a man of vast business experience.

Such background equips a statesman with the ability to reduce all convoluted complexities of politics to the crystal clarity of a real estate transaction. We all stand to benefit.

Outlaw hairism and Gary Lineker

Hard as I try, I struggle to learn all the isms and phobias to be shunned.

Messrs Shearer and Murphy seem to smile, while bleeding inwardly

The moment I figure out the difference between haemophilia and homophobia, paediatrician and paedophile, agism and agility, misogyny and miso soup, a new offence is identified and proscribed.

Being mortally scared of inadvertently offending a vulnerable group of sensitive people, I try to keep up as best I can. After all, moral laws are part of divine revelation, and no one said they were given all at once.

Hence divinely inspired people should be expected to update morality as they go along. And it behoves the rest of us to obey new prescriptions and proscriptions as faithfully as we obey the old ones, earlier vouchsafed first to Moses and then to those multitudes at the Mount.

Those of us who refuse to do so or, worse still, mock the new morality risk public opprobrium. If they happen to be public figures, they may also find themselves under investigation – as the football presenter Gary Lineker has discovered.

His two colleagues on BBC Match of the Day, Danny Murphy and Alan Shearer, are both follicularly challenged or, if you insist on using outdated offensive vocabulary, bald. Hence they belong to a widely abused group requiring especially sensitive treatment.

Yet Lineker (and no report of this offence failed to mention his £1.75 million-a-year salary, a highly relevant fact) saw fit not just to make light of this handicap but actually to mock it. He thereby offended not only his two immediate targets, but all follicularly challenged persons – and also all of us who are out to uphold the standards of new morality.

The presenter discussed a “hair-raising” start to the Premier League season, adding “’unless of course you’re Alan Shearer or Danny Murphy”. He thought that blatant display of hairism was funny, and so did Messrs Shearer and Murphy – or rather they pretended to smile, doubtless trying to suppress the acute pain they felt inwardly.

Predictably, the incident generated numerous complaints from individuals and institutions alike. We, sensitive people, will no longer tolerate offensive remarks. A spokesman for Alopecia UK certainly won’t: “It’s a shame that those in the media,” he stated, “still use that platform in a way that reinforces negativity towards hair loss.”

And, he continued, “In today’s society, it seems that jokes about bald men… can lead to men with hair loss feeling they are not supported when they struggle to come to terms with their change in appearance.”

The BBC is investigating the incident, and none too soon. After all, its own internal guidance states that “The BBC is for everyone and should include everyone whatever their background.”

Presumably, Lineker’s criminal quip has the effect of excluding about half of the adult male population, who’ll now give Match of the Day a wide berth. Since my own bald spot is bigger than Lineker’s, though not as big as Shearer’s and Murphy’s, I hereby undertake never again to watch that programme – or at least not to tell anybody if I do.

We must all of us, follicularly challenged or otherwise, close ranks and fight against hairism – and if I’m the first to come up with this neologism, then I’m proud. Lineker’s crime makes my hair, what’s left of it, stand on end.

We should be vigilant and never forget that everything about modernity must be progressive. Including its madness.

How Manny beat Donny

The French have a slang word for the likes of Macron and Trump: collabo, short for collaborator.

“My role model? Edouard Daladier of course. Why?”

The term gained currency during the Nazi occupation of France, but collaboration describes the run-up to the occupation just as accurately, as a synonym of ‘appeasement’.

For, by their craven appeasement of Hitler, culminating at Munich, France and Britain effectively collaborated with the Nazis, a point driven home by the panzers entering Paris on 14 June, 1940.

A lesson was thus taught, but it wasn’t learned. Now, 81 years after Edouard Daladier put his signature on the Munich Treaty, another French president, Manny Macron, is playing footsies with another aggressor with pan-European aspirations, Vlad Putin.

Meeting the Russian chieftain at Brégançon, Manny couldn’t have been more effusive. Obviously, Russia must take her seat at the upcoming G7 meeting, he insisted, that’s beyond doubt – and it’s most unfortunate that she lost her seat in the first place.

At the time that ousting occurred, in 2014, the G7 members stated their reasons succinctly. Russia, they explained, no longer belonged in that body because of her aggression against the Ukraine:

“International law prohibits the acquisition of part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force. To do so violates the principles upon which the international system is built. We condemn the illegal referendum held in Crimea in violation of Ukraine’s constitution.”

Manny’s urgent desire to reverse that decision must be based on his conviction that since then Russia has reacquired respect for international law. However, the evidence for such a Damascene conversion isn’t so much flimsy as non-existent.

Since that aforementioned referendum, Russia has effectively annexed two vast provinces in East Ukraine, killing 14,000 Ukrainians in the process.

Then there was that unfortunate incident with the Malaysian airliner, an incursion into Syria conducted with characteristic KGB savagery, an uninterrupted string of nuclear threats against the West, full-scale electronic warfare aimed at subverting elections, escalation of hysterical anti-West propaganda unseen since Khrushchev and many other, shall we say, disrespectful developments.

All these are, according to Manny, silly incidentals. As a self-appointed French intellectual, he won’t be side-tracked by facts interfering with a broad historical and cultural vision.

Instead, he came up with two startling discoveries: “Russia,” he pronounced, “is a deeply European country. We believe in this Europe that spreads from Lisbon to Vladivostok.”

Manny’s foster mother Brigitte used to be his school mistress, as it were, in which role she failed miserably. Geography wasn’t a subject she taught, but she still should have made sure that little Manny knew that 3,500 thousand miles of Asia separate Vladivostok from Europe.

Anyway, that was music to Vlad’s ears, and his geography is better than Manny’s: one of his pet subjects is Eurasia, a vast continent that Russia can confidently guide to a bright future or, barring that, just guide tout court.

This is a giant step forward from Gorbachev, who laboured under the same geographic misapprehension when he talked about “our common European home from the Atlantic to Vladivostok”. Manny, who repeated Gorby almost verbatim, must have gone to the Joe Biden school of speechwriting.

But I’m being facetious here. Manny, as an aspiring French intellectual (and French people tend to share that aspiration if they want to get ahead in life), doubtless was talking in cultural, not geographic, terms.

If so, he must be congratulated: his discovery finally settles once and for all the question that all the best minds in Russia herself have been pondering for at least two centuries.

Is Russia Europe, Asia, both, neither, somewhere in between or sui generis? They shouldn’t have been spinning their wheels trying to answer that question in vain. They should have asked Manny instead.

While playing lickspittle to the KGB thug, Manny seems to be undeterred by the lavish financing Vlad provides for Marine Le Pen neo-fascists, a service he extends to all marginal European parties of similar leanings.

That practice put paid to the government in Austria, but it has caused not a shadow of scandal in either Italy or France, where Russia’s involvement is much more sizeable.

Nor has it given Manny any second thoughts, which is surprising in a politician: after all, Le Pen’s party presents a serious electoral challenge to Manny’s own. But, with his approval rating dipping below 30 per cent and the yellow vests still restless, Manny has obviously decided to roll the political dice.

For some time he was the only major European leader who identified Putin’s Russia as a threat. Now Manny has performed a dizzying pirouette, and one can only guess his reasons.

Short-term he may be hoping that Vlad will now marginalise Le Pen and divert his financial, electronic and propaganda support to Manny instead. But I wouldn’t put it past Manny to have a long view as well.

Perhaps he wants to beat Angie Merkel to the European presidency, and he identified sucking up to Putin as a promising avenue to explore. Who knows, when French voters have finally had enough of Manny, he may fill that post and do all he can to make sure Putin’s Europe indeed spreads from Lisbon to Vladivostok – or rather from Vladivostok to Lisbon.

However, beating Angie to that position is in the future. At present, Manny has beaten Trump in the collabo game of mollifying Putin.

Trump too wishes to see Vlad’s charming face at the G7 summit. The reason for that, according to that master rhetorician, is that “A lot of the time we talk about, we talk about Russia, Russia –  because I’ve been to numerous G7 meetings…”

The word ‘because’ implies a causal relationship, which one struggles to discern here. And the fact that the subject of Russia often comes up at G7 meetings is neither here nor there.

I’m sure Trump and his colleagues also talk about, they talk about Iran, Iran and North Korea, North Korea. One would expect Western leaders to discuss countries that pose a threat to the West. Does that mean Iran and North Korea too should be admitted to the G7?

The president blamed Vlad’s expulsion on his predecessor Barack Obama. Putin, Trump said, had “outsmarted him”.

So he did, on numerous occasions – but not on this one. Unless Trump thinks that Vlad actually tricked Obama into expelling Russia from the G8 (as it then was), I’d be tempted to say that just this once no outsmarting took place.

This tune isn’t new for Trump; he has been agitating for Russia’s return to the G7 since 2018. However, he hasn’t done any better than Macron or other European stooges to Putin in proving that the reasons for the expulsion no longer apply.

Now I don’t know if Putin outsmarted Obama, but Manny certainly outsmarted Donny in the collabo stakes: he scooped Trump by one day with this round of shilling for Putin.

Manny should view some documentary footage of the Nazis entering Paris. Perhaps he’ll learn how seamlessly appeasement segues into collaboration.

And I’m still waiting for any Western leader to put forth a counter proposal, that, rather than being readmitted to the G7, Russia should be expelled from the UN Security Council.

Scottish independence is a travesty

Between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, there’s something fishy about Scottish politics.

Q. Is there anything worn under the kilt? A. Yes, the shoes.

I remember saying this to a well-known conservative columnist in 2012, at the time the Scottish Independence Referendum Act was being mooted.

The Act was soon passed, and two years later the SNP got its referendum, which it lost by 55.3 to 44.7 per cent of the vote.

My interlocutor’s feelings about Scottish independence could be summed up with the words ‘good riddance’, while I was arguing the unionist cause. Even between us, we didn’t manage to solve that problem there and then, and it continued to fester.

The SNP now demands a second referendum, which proves it’s in synch with EU policy: if you don’t like the result, make the people vote again and keep doing so until they get it right.

As a justification for its persistence, the SNP refers to another referendum, the one in 2016, when Britain voted to leave the EU, but the Scots voted to remain by a wide margin.

The Scots, claims the SNP, only agreed to remain in the UK because that way they remained in the EU. Now that prize is no longer on offer, they want to leave the former and seek membership in the latter.

I smell a logical rat there somewhere. The Scots, or rather the SNP, seem to define independence as being dependent on the EU, rather than Britain. Such is the conduit channelling the fiercely individualistic spirit of the people who wear kilts with nothing underneath.

Now I must declare a personal interest, or rather a distinct lack thereof. The only Scottish contributions to our civilisation that enrich my life directly are malt whisky (especially from the Isle of Islay) and James MacMillan, who will in future be mentioned in the same breath as Bach – and I can’t imagine a political situation depriving me of either.

The Scots, however, have much to lose if they aren’t careful about what they wish for. Scotland is currently running a 10 per cent deficit-to-GDP ratio, which is a bill picked up by Her Majesty’s Exchequer.

Since that body will no longer be proffering its chequebook, the Scots must hope that the EU will step in to take up the slack. The hope may well be forlorn.

The EU demands a deficit of no more than three per cent from its members. Though it has been known to show some flexibility in this matter, 10 per cent is way too much even for the EU to swallow.

Hence Scotland will have to introduce severe austerity measures, meaning higher taxes and lower spending. I’ll leave it to the economists to argue about the plausibility of such a drastic deficit reduction. Let’s just say that no European country has found it easy.

Now, apart from whisky and James MacMillan, significant but not sufficient revenue streams, Scotland’s principal export is North Sea oil, which presents a few problems.

First, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Scotland can claim exclusive rights to those reserves simply on the basis of their geographic location. One suspects HMG could make a strong case about those oil fields belonging to the country that paid for their exploration and operation, which is Britain at large, not just one of her constituent parts.

But be that as it may, those reserves are dwindling away, in parallel with oil prices going down. Unless those problems are solved, no drastic deficit reduction is on the cards, barring Nicola Sturgeon whipping out her magic wand.

The EU may also get cold feet about Scotland’s historical tendency towards separatism, which no one believes will go away the moment the Scots have replaced the Union Jack with that stellar circle.

With Britain leaving, the EU will have enough separatist pressures already, thank you very much. It may not want any other member pushing against the walls from the inside.

Then there’s the issue of the euro, which Scotland would have to join, what with the pound sterling no longer available. That means the Scots wouldn’t be able to adjust their monetary policy to suit their specific needs, which may well have Greece-like consequences.

The Scots may regard England as the devil, but at least she’s the one they know. Swapping the United Kingdom for the European Union is fraught with all manner of dangers – can they really want to spite the English so much as to cut off their own nose?

I don’t know. So perhaps a glass of Lagavulin in my hand and one of MacMillan’s Passions on the CD player will make things clearer.

All manner of sin and blasphemy

Doesn’t tempus bloody well fugit? Monty Python’s Life of Brian was released 40 years ago, yet it seems like yesterday, I remember it so clearly.

Really, Monty Python isn’t the worst thing that has ever happened to Christianity

The film caused a scandal in the American Bible Belt, where I then lived. The air was full of words like ‘blasphemy’ and ‘sacrilege’, and the scourges wished upon the heads of the Pythons were as horrific as they were imaginative.

In places like Norway, Ireland and several English counties, the film was banned outright, and Aberystwyth in Wales persisted with the ban until 2009.

Brian is in the news again because The Mail on Sunday has unearthed the archive of Michael Palin, one of the film’s stars. It turns out many scenes were cut out of the script on legal advice – in those days one could still be prosecuted for blasphemy.

One such scene featured a waiter at the Last Supper who tries to seat Jesus and his apostles, telling them: “I can do you two tables for two and two threes.”

In another, King Herod is described as “the world’s worst babysitter”. In yet another, embarrassed Joseph tries to explain the Virgin Birth to his winking-nudging friends.

Just think: a mere 40 years ago such jokes could lead to criminal prosecution. Today hardly anyone would bat an eyelid – we, even practising Christians, have had most of our blasphemy sensors cauterised.

I’m one such, which I admit only on condition that my priest isn’t going to hear about this. I may suffer from a hypertrophied sense of humour, but Life of Brian makes me laugh, rather than see red.

The scenes mentioned above are funny and, by any reasonable standards, rather innocuous. As are the scenes that actually made it into the film.

One I recall involves a parody of the Sermon on the Mount, with multitudes gathering en masse. Since sound couldn’t then be amplified, those in the back struggled to hear properly. Hence the following dialogue took place:

“I think it was ‘Blessed are the cheese-makers’”.

“Ah. What’s so special about the cheese-makers?”

“Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally, it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.”

I know I’m supposed to be offended by this. But I am not. I just laugh.

Unsmiling people who actually do feel outrage allow such humour less latitude than Jesus himself did. He singled out as an unforgivable sin only blasphemy against the Holy Ghost:

“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.”

One likes to believe that Christianity, unlike, say, Islam, is strong enough to withstand a little good-natured fun poked at its expense. After all, our founding religion has survived schisms, splits, dozens of major heresies and God knows how many minor ones. Christianity also managed to live through vicious persecutions, by emperors, caliphs, commissars et al.

As to mockery within Christendom itself, it goes back to at least the Renaissance. Read Boccaccio, Aretino, Rabelais or Chaucer, who were all Christians, and you’ll find an endless gallery of lustful, venal monks, nuns and priests.

Compared to the output of those writers, Monty Python’s little jokes tickle, rather than cut. Still, some people, those whose Christian sensibilities are stronger than mine and sense of humour weaker, may get offended.

As I would be, if I didn’t find Monty Python hilarious. After all, the capacity to make people laugh must have some redemptive quality.

Much more likely to cause real offence is unfunny mockery for the sake of mockery, such as that exemplified by the French satirist Léo Taxil (d. 1907) and his once popular sneering books The Amusing Bible and The Life of Jesus.

Even worse are supposedly serious, but in fact always spurious, attacks on Christianity by those who don’t even bother to conceal their visceral hatred of it.

One could mention here, inter alia, Polly Toynbee, Ian McEwan, Richard Dawkins, the late Stephen Hawking and Christopher Hitchens, Lewis Wolpert and many others, whose name is legion.

These people take it upon themselves to concoct ‘rational’ arguments against Christianity without bothering to understand it and learn about it.

That task has made stronger thinkers than these sound feeble, as anyone who has read Nietzsche’s book The Anti-Christ will confirm. But at least Nietzsche attacked Christianity for what it actually is, rather than the fake picture of it those other critics see in their mind’s eye.

However, people who are outraged by Life of Brian won’t be dismissed lightly. They maintain that there should be one thing in our anomic, deracinated world that lies beyond the reach of humour. People who ask “Is nothing sacred anymore?” know that question is rhetorical, and they’re upset.

Such staunch believers have strong arguments on their side, and I respect both them and their arguments. In fact, I’ve been known to make some of the same points myself.

Yet – yet I can’t help laughing at Life of Brian. And I can’t for the life of me force myself to be offended by it.