Advertising sells – and tells

Successful ads may say more or less about the product advertised. But they invariably say a lot about the target audience.

Music lovers rapt in attention – you couldn’t hear an A-bomb drop

Take the current DHL campaign. Its flagship 60-second commercial has been running a heavy TV schedule for months, which suggests it works – more people must be using DHL delivery services more often than before.

This means the campaign touches some invisible strings in people’s psyche, creating a nice, warm feeling. Since in my psyche the commercial creates nothing but acute irritation, it’s worth examining why.

The ad shows an electric guitar being custom-made in Nashville, Tennessee. The finished product is then rushed by a DHL lorry through the countryside, courageously overcoming all obstacles en route, such as a cow blocking the road.

The instrument then finds itself strapped into an airline seat, like a human passenger. Actually, large instruments go into the hull these days – and they certainly don’t travel in the cabin unaccompanied. But hey, what’s a little poetic licence among friends?

The guitar then makes its way into the strumming hands of a pop singer belting out some verbally and musically incoherent noise at a roaring London public. The atmosphere of a pop concert, that combination of a Nuremberg rally, orgy and opium den, is captured accurately. For all I know, that’s the footage of an actual performance.

Now I’m by all modern standards an old fogey and a hopeless stick-in-the-mud (which terms are universally used to designate cultured people). I detest pop excretions and actually object to describing them as music. If that is music, then so are the shrieks of a shaman dancing around a totem pole as a goat’s throat is being slit.

But the commercial clearly works because most people feel about such things differently. They accept those shrieks as music, rather than the extension of the pharmaceutical industry they actually are.

Fine, I have no quarrel with that. Or rather I do, but I timidly retreat when the collective modern bully asks his perennial question: “So what are you gonna do about it, sunshine?”

There is indeed nothing I can do. Except perhaps ask why DHL, and whoever employed it to carry that precious cargo across the ocean, had to bother?

Why didn’t the pop star just send his roadies over to a corner music shop, of which London has plenty, and pick up off the rack the first guitar they saw? How deficient would that instrument have been in producing the same three chords the ‘artist’ was playing? Especially since the sound was piped through electronic amplifiers and accompanied by the orgasmic roar of the heavily drugged crowd?

I defy even a person with perfect pitch to tell the difference. I mean, that’s not like Menuhin choosing a Stradivari violin for some concerts and a Guarneri for others. Pop isn’t really about tonal nuances, is it?

Now, before the commercial was produced and aired, it had been researched to death – no company would pump millions into an ad without trying to gauge the public response in advance. The research doubtless gave the commercial a thumbs-up: the focus groups loved it.

And the research didn’t lie, for if it had, the commercial would have been pulled after a couple of weeks. Hence the massive target audience out there – and, considering what DHL charges, we’re talking A and B+ – accepts that it takes a custom-made guitar rushed across half the world for a hack to strum out his three chords.

If these are the A and B+ punters, what are the Cs and Ds like? Oh well, let’s not think such gloomy thoughts on the last day of this millennium’s second decade.

A joyous New Year to all my readers, especially the music lovers among you. Happy listening!

Putin throws Macron a bone

Manny should demand a search for Gen Gudin’s missing leg, so his remains can be properly assembled

For months now, Manny has been begging Vlad for some benevolent gesture, no matter how trivial, that would enable the French to love one of the vilest and most dangerous regimes on earth.

The KGB colonel finally heeded Manny’s pleas and agreed to release the decomposed bones of Napoleon’s general Charles-Etienne Gudin, whose leg was shot off during France’s 1812 foray into Russia. The general’s heart was cut out at the time and buried in Père Lachaise, but the rest of his body, minus the missing leg, was recently discovered in Smolensk.

Now the unused portion can be reinterred at Les Invalides, and Manny is desperately trying to claim that this cheap gesture is proof enough of Putin’s good will towards France.

In the process, he has proved that it isn’t just the sublime and the ridiculous that are separated by only a small step. That Napoleonic aphorism can also apply to appeasement and capitulation, as Manny may find out, and to pragmatism and prostitution, as we’ve found out about Manny.

With all the impetuousness of his feminine nature, Manny has fallen in love with Vlad Putin, him with the bare torso of an ex-Chippendale and the muscular lingo of a Mafia don.

For years, Manny played hard to get, and Vlad didn’t go out of his way to endear himself either. He even funded Marine Le Pen’s neo-fascist party that ran Manny close in the last election.

But let bygones be bygones, decided Manny. Putin agreed, citing the corresponding, more evocative Russian proverb: “He who remembers the past, out with his eye.”

As befits a politician, Manny camouflaged his girlish emotions with geopolitical language. “Europe will disappear,” he said, unless the EU mollycoddled the KGB colonel.

That doesn’t quite tally with Manny’s parallel statement that Nato should be disbanded because Russia no longer presents a threat. If she doesn’t, then no mollycoddling is necessary. If she does (to the point of threatening to annihilate Europe), then Nato is vital – unless Manny seriously thinks France’s diminutive force de frappe is sufficiently robust to keep Russia at bay.

In general, Manny has an interest in, if little knowledge of, ancient history. Thus he has been impressed by the way Putin has fostered the cult of Peter the Great, the Westernising Russian tsar.

Had he delved into Russian history a bit deeper, he would have found that the cult of Peter has never been in need of fostering. Stalin saw himself as a Peter-like figure, and in that sense, as in many others, Putin simply follows his role model.

In any case, Manny would be well-advised to narrow his focus and look at more recent history and, for that matter, more recent bones. Such as those belonging to the 212,000 Frenchmen killed in the Second World War – including several thousand of those who for various reasons found themselves in Soviet captivity and died there.

Many factors conspired to trigger off that war, but one of them was the criminal appeasement of Hitler by the governments of France and Britain. The parallels with today’s situation are crying out to be made.

Those Westerners did brisk trade with Nazi Germany, supplying most of her raw materials until the Soviet Union took up the slack. At the same time, they released much hot air into the atmosphere, decrying Nazi excesses.

Today, the situation is eerily similar. European governments imposed sanctions on Russia after her 2014 aggression against the Ukraine, while never skipping a beat in doing business with Putin’s energy concerns.

Just like Hitler used Western supplies to build up his military muscle, Putin is pumping Russia’s petrodollars into increasingly sophisticated weaponry, including the hypersonic missiles just deployed.

The appeasement jargon is also uncannily similar. Yes, Herr Hitler shouldn’t have staged the Anschluss of Austria, and neither should he have occupied the Sudetenland. But let’s not forget that those places are inhabited by Germans, so Hitler really reclaimed Germany’s rightful possessions.

In the same vein, Western appeasers say that Putin was slightly naughty when grabbing the Crimea, but hey, it used to be Russian anyway, and it’s mostly inhabited by Russians. Actually, the Crimea was Russian during exactly the same period that India was British, give or take a couple of years.

But appeasers don’t listen to such arguments now any more than they did back in the late ‘30s. They refuse to see that, when vile regimes are bent on aggression, they proceed piecemeal, seeing how much they can get away with after each gobbled-up slice.

That’s how Hitler acted in the ‘30s, and that’s how Putin is acting now. It took the West five years to quell its indignation over the flagrant aggression against the Ukraine, and in the beginning Manny was among the most indignant denouncers.

Yet the KGB man knew his targets: he knew they’d come around sooner or later, and Manny hasn’t disappointed. But at least he can claim Gen Gudin’s bones.

P.S. Last night a French gentleman expressed his dismay over my spending so much time in France and yet detesting the EU. Using the same logic, I replied, a 1930s Frenchman who liked Bach and Beethoven should also have liked Hitler. My interlocutor didn’t get the analogy.

Rule of law means nothing

Few of our cherished political concepts can survive unmolested in their unqualified form. Liberty, for example, raises many thorny questions.

All perfectly legal

Liberty from whom and for whom? From what and to do what? What if my liberty to do something impinges on your liberty not to have that done to you?

Democracy presents similar problems. Everyone agrees it should have some limitations, but where do you draw the line?

According to Freedom House, the think tank supposed to be an authority on such matters, there wasn’t a single democracy anywhere until 1900. Thus neither Victorian England nor its contemporaneous USA was democratic.

The two countries presumably fail to pass muster because only a small proportion of their populations voted. Women, for example, were disfranchised until the 1920s, as were teenagers and quite a few other groups.

By inference, any limitation on franchise invalidates democracy. But franchise is limited everywhere: in the UK, for example, people under 18 and prison inmates can’t vote, and most American states have similar restrictions.

If you object that it’s not any limitations that invalidate democracy, but only unfair ones, then I’ll ask you to define fair.

For example, Jeremy Corbyn thinks denying 16-year-olds the right to vote is unfair. And the top political scientist at Cambridge in all seriousness wants to lower the voting age to six. Is the latter fairer than the former?

Of all those good things in life, the rule of law, presumably the quintessence of political virtue, is the most problematic if left unqualified.

It raises an unanswerable question: what kind of law? For example, the draft of the first USSR Criminal Code stipulated the death penalty for “aiding and abetting the bourgeoisie or counterrevolution.”

When it was submitted for Lenin’s approval, he added, after the words “aiding and abetting”, a slight amendment: “…or capable of aiding and abetting.” Since just about anyone could be deemed so capable, that impeccably legal document turned the whole population into potential targets for executioners.

The Nuremberg Laws in Germany also passed every legal requirement. Those carefully drawn laws effectively ostracised Jews, Gypsies and blacks, setting them up for future extermination.

You may take issue with the virtue of those laws, but not their legality. Some of Germany’s top experts on jurisprudence drafted them, and the country dutifully followed both their spirit and letter.

For the phrase ‘the rule of law’ to mean anything decent, the last word must be modified with the adjective ‘just’. Who can object against being ruled by just laws? Nobody.

But some nitpickers might ask: “What is justice”? An answer to that question depends on the existence of some objective criteria of justice, ‘objective’ being the operative word.

After all, most Germans considered the Nuremberg Laws just. And in the Soviet Union of my youth, few people questioned the justice of Article 70 of the USSR Criminal Code, according to which anyone reading Animal Farm could be sentenced to seven years of hard labour.

Some countries consider it just that thieves should be mutilated and adulterers killed, while some others regard such practices as barbaric. Yet those same people will before long applaud the laws enabling citizens to choose their sex and race from a long menu.

I’m touching upon all those problems somewhat flippantly, but they are very serious indeed. Now, my contention is that laws should be judged not on legal criteria, but moral ones.

After all, most seminal laws, such as injunctions against murder and theft, derive from moral antecedents. And in the West these are all Judaeo-Christian.

Foe centuries, people considered the source and accepted such laws as absolute. That unquestioning absolutism was the foundation of all Western legality, but a building doesn’t stand by foundation alone.

Hence the structure grew and grew, elements of classical jurisprudence were incorporated into it, numerous allowances were made for local customs and conditions. And the ancient distinction between malum in se and malum prohibitum had to be taken off the mothballs.

Based on Judaeo-Christian absolutes, the former, ‘bad in itself’, is proscribed by laws that are, ideally, impervious both to arguments and state interference. No state can remove, say, the injunction against theft and still be considered just.

Malum prohibitum, ‘bad because prohibited’, is a different matter altogether, and laws falling under this rubric make up the bulk of most legal codes. Such laws come not from scripture, but from clever advocates who draft them.

Neither Testament says anything about seat belts, speed limit, tax rates, safety provisions or banning certain substances. Yet we have laws about them, and some of those are enforced more rigorously than laws against, say, burglary.

Such laws are relative, not absolute, and hence open to argument. If the UK sets its motorway speed limit at 70 mph and France at 81, which is more just? If having a bit of how’s-your-father with a 15-year-old makes one a goer in France but a criminal in Britain, whose side is justice on?

Uncountable relativities are built into all laws. In fact, there are so many of them that buried underneath the rubble are the immutable foundations of Western legality. If most laws are debatable, before long all of them will be.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that the tower of legalistic Babel is growing so tall precisely because Western societies have lost touch with their founding moral, and therefore legal, principles. They rely on casuistry because they’ve forgotten the meaning of justice.

Justice, like everything else, has become a matter of opinion, and one opinion is as good as any other. However, the likely outcome of such latitude isn’t anarchy but tyranny.

A society can’t survive without laws and regulations. And, since shared moral absolutes are no longer recognised, the state may well rule that its own will is absolute.

When that happens, run for the hills. In fact, I’m off the starting blocks already.

A wrong step for the Queen

Her Majesty should take a serious look at her speechwriting staff. They are doing her no favours.

For her traditional Christmas speech, the Queen was given the leitmotif of the moon landing: “A small step for man, a giant leap for mankind”.

As a minimum, Her Majesty should have corrected Neil Armstrong’s solecism: “a man” would have been right because ‘man’ means the same as ‘mankind’.

Her speechwriters ignored that, but instead made the Queen add “and of course womankind”. This PC diction is another assault on language – and not only that.

In this context, as in some others, man embraces woman. ‘Mankind’ includes women as well as men. Tagging on that disclaimer ill-behoves a monarch whose main role is to uphold tradition, linking generations past, present and future.

Then it got worse. The Queen practically echoed Mao’s maxim about a thousand-mile journey starting with a small step. One of such small steps is, according to Her Majesty, or rather her advisors, the birth of Jesus, which then led to a giant leap in fighting global warming.

Now, the Queen is a devout Christian. How someone who fits that description could describe the Incarnation of Our Lord as a small step escapes me. This would be a dubious statement even for a rank atheist, never mind the head of Britain’s established church.

Whoever advises our royals should remember that monarchy is a conservative institution – or it is nothing. Our head of state shouldn’t talk in the idiom of Notting Hill lefties. Alas, that’s what one suspects her advisors are – and the ventriloquist government issuing their brief isn’t much different.

The Queen isn’t standing for re-election, although one can be excused for getting that impression. Hence there ought to be nothing to prevent her Christmas messages from being couched in the language of eternal truths, rather than transient political expediencies.

So here’s one of Her Majesty’s loyal – and admiring – subjects who are sad. But what are we few against so many?

St Paul on identity politics

The apostle must have anticipated the situation in Britain, circa 2019.

In his epistle to the Galatians, who were struggling to reconcile their identities with the new religion, Paul wrote: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I don’t know how faithfully the addressees followed Paul’s prescriptions, but things clearly haven’t quite worked out that way since. That is, the notion of “neither male nor female” has indeed made some headway, but probably not in the way Paul had in mind.

However, perhaps this one day of the year we can set aside our identities, real or imaginary, and remind ourselves that there shines a transcendent equality that can extinguish all crepuscular pseudo-equalities, putting in the shade the petty distinctions that seem so vital to us now.

That this may happen is only a hope. But then the same author, this time writing to the Corinthians, put hope at the centre of the ultimate triad: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three…”

Merry Christmas to all!

“Did Christianity make the world better?”

When asked this question, I always give an unequivocal answer. Possibly. Then again, possibly not.

A civilisation is born

In any case, that wasn’t the intent. Christ didn’t set out to improve this world; he set out to save it.

Talking specifically about people, Christ didn’t want to make us better. His purpose was to show us how we could make ourselves better.

To that end God gave us his most precious gift: free will, the ability to make free choices between good and evil, beauty and ugliness, vice and virtue.

But couldn’t he have done better? Couldn’t he have turned us all into little angels with nary a bad thought among them, strumming their lutes in luxuriant, redolent gardens? And if he didn’t, doesn’t that mean he isn’t omnipotent? Just look at us, killing one another in ever-increasing numbers.

That’s right, Christians kill. So do pagans. So do Muslims. So do Jews. So do Buddhists, if you get them angry enough. So do atheists and, if modern history is anything to go by, they run up the score like no one else.

History meanders, it zigs and it zags, its events flash before our eyes at a kaleidoscopic speed. However, one thing remains constant: people, whatever their faith if any, kill.

And of course God could have stopped it: he is, by definition, omnipotent. Yet doing so would have deprived us of that precious possession, free will. We would no longer be people; we’d be automata or else puppets in the hands of a wire-puller.

Then it wouldn’t be obvious why God bothered to create us in the first place, or sacrifice his son for our salvation. If we were unthinking, unfeeling machines, we wouldn’t need saving. The odd bit of routine maintenance would do the trick.

It’s reasonably clear that, given a free choice between right and wrong, many, possibly most, of us choose wrong much, possibly most, of the time. But that still doesn’t settle the question in the title.

Because ‘better’ is a comparative, not an absolute. Evelyn Waugh once pointed this out with his usual wit in a letter to his friend Nancy Mitford.

“You are a Catholic,” wrote Mitford, “but you are still a nasty bit of work.” “Yes,” replied Waugh, “but you don’t know how nasty I’d be if I weren’t a Catholic.”

Since we’re entering the murky waters of the subjunctive mood, it’s best to leave the question open. Christianity might or might not have made the world better.

But what’s indisputable is that Christianity made the world intelligible. It created its own system of thought and, as far as I’m concerned, no other comes close in its ability to explain the world, especially man.

Christ, fully God and fully man, created in his person the unique synthesis of the physical and metaphysical, body and spirit. He showed that (and why) an animal man might be, but he isn’t just an animal.

He’s a creature endowed with an atom of God’s reason, and even such a tiny particle is enough for man to understand much, if not quite everything, about himself and the physical world.

All it takes is the first step, accepting the story of the two Testaments on faith, the way a scientist accepts a hypothesis. That done, we can test the hypothesis against all available facts, revealed both empirically or intellectually.

And suddenly things that didn’t make sense before begin to do so. Moreover, all competing hypotheses and theories begin to look puny, at times downright vulgar.

For example, doesn’t the notion of free will exercised poorly explain our miseries infinitely better than the vulgarities of behaviourists, psychologists, Darwinists and other parasites? Doesn’t it tally better with the evidence before our very eyes?

Doesn’t it explain, say, crime more convincingly than any set of socioeconomic conditions? Some poor people steal because they feel their poverty justifies such an act. Some equally poor people won’t steal because it’s wrong. The denominator of poverty is common; the freely made choice, individual.

And doesn’t original sin explain human behaviour more convincingly and verifiably than all those Rousseauian inanities about the noble sauvage – to say nothing of that transparent mountebank Freud, with his salacious fantasies?

It’s not just man but also his physical environment that became intelligible thanks to Christianity. Those who claim that religion and science are incompatible should ask themselves why most scientific knowledge has been acquired in the West, with other civilisations offering only scraps here and there.

An inventor creates something new; a scientist uncovers what’s already there. Newton didn’t invent his laws of thermodynamics; he prised them out of a chest of secrets.

It’s illogical to accept the existence of rational natural laws while denying the existence of a rational law-giver. Since only things rationally created can be rationally knowable, Judaeo-Christian cosmology is an essential presupposition for any scientist, whether he’s aware of it or not.

The term Judaeo-Christian is composite; it implies the synthetic nature of Christian thought. Indeed, Christianity is what I often call an asset-stripping religion: it borrows what it finds useful, such as Jewish cosmology and Greek philosophy, and discards what it finds harmful, such as Jewish legalism and Greek morality.

But this synthesis isn’t mechanical. Rather, it adds a new revelation to the old, or else a touch of divine reason to the finest achievements of the human mind. It’s in that sense that, as the saying goes, Aquinas baptised Aristotle.

Christendom transformed Hellenic thought to create by far the deepest and subtlest philosophy any other civilisation could muster. Hence the so-called Age of Reason is a pernicious, cynical misnomer – in fact, it dragged reason from its cosmic heights down into the mire of turgid musings, soul-destroying materialism and fanciful half-thoughts.

Yet a great civilisation did exist, born 2019 years ago. It’s going through a rough patch now, and some might think it’s dead or at least dying. Perhaps.

But one day it’ll come back in all its glory. For, as its founder taught, indeed showed, just as there is death in life, there is life in death.

Merry Christmas!

Let’s celebrate the birth of shopping

Just two shopping days are left before Christmas, when Britain will be celebrating the birthday of Hermes, the god of merchants and trade.

‘Happy Hermes Day’ doesn’t quite have the ring, don’t you think?

Or did I get that wrong? Is it somebody else’s birth that we’ll be celebrating? Sorry, my mistake. But an understandable one.

The other day we ran out of Christmas cards and tried to replenish our store at Sainsbury’s, one of Britain’s largest supermarket chains, that’s doing brisk trade in seasonal merchandise.

Sure enough, the supermarket had Christmas cards for sale, racks of them. Yet not one – as in not a single one – featured a Christian motif.

To be fair, none depicted Hermes either. However, it’s a good guess that, given the choice between the two images, Hermes and Jesus, Sainsbury’s would choose the former, just to be on the safe side.

After all, few among us would respond to a depiction of Hermes with spittle-sputtering fury. Few would describe it as cultural supremacism, lack of sensitivity, racism, elitism, xenophobia and other such awful things.

All such tags are routinely attached to any reference to Our Lord – even during the festival ostensibly dedicated to his birth. We can’t mention Christ lest we offend those who don’t believe in him. And God knows we must pander to even the most morbid of sensitivities.

Far be it from me to suggest that everyone should be a Christian. I am convinced, however, that anyone who is offended by any reference to Christ at Christmas should save his brittle nerves and move somewhere else. May I suggest Saudi Arabia?

If Sainsbury’s commits a visual and verbal affront to the founding tenets of our civilisation, Tesco, another chain, goes against its very spirit.  

Unlike Sainsbury’s, Tesco hasn’t quite got away with it. Several newspapers have pointed out that the supermarket’s charity Christmas cards are produced by slave labour in China’s prisons.

That some outrage has been caused pours balm on my hubris. For in my 2011 book The Crisis Behind Our Crisis, I devoted several pages to this very issue. This is what I wrote then about China in general, not just her prison inmates:

“[We] ‘outsource’ most production to countries like China, whose population is consigned to what only Protagorian sophistry would prevent one from calling slave labour. In the good, if relatively recent, tradition of materialistic amorality, we choose not to ponder the ethical implications. When paying £1 for a pair of cotton underpants made in China… we refrain from doing simple mental arithmetic.

“Yet if we were to add up the cost of the cotton, utility prices, depreciation of the factory plant, manufacturer’s mark-up, cuts taken off the top by various middlemen and retailers, cost of transportation and storage, customs duties, and many other things I’ve undoubtedly left out, we’d realise that the poor devils who stitch those underpants together probably still subsist on a small bowl of rice a day.

“We congratulate ourselves on thus greasing the palm of capitalism. More power to the elbow of the invisible hand. After all, without us those people may not even have that bowl of rice. They are better off, we are better off, what’s there to worry about?

“Our souls, ladies and gentlemen, would be one answer to that. But this isn’t the kind of answer many would understand these days. We have become desensitised to the suffering of those who oil the works of our own consumption.”

Perhaps, and I know I’m being a star-gazing romantic, the faddish concept of ethical sourcing will one day be expanded from meat, fish and veg to include men and women created in the image and likeness of God.

Is it too much to expect that those enslaved by evil regimes receive the same consideration as tuna and lamb chops? Yes, I think so. Hermes beats Christ hands down – in this world, that is.

P.S. Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish readers!

Ersatz cults for an ersatz world

Marxist-Leninist philosophy, quipped anti-Soviet Russians in my youth, is about looking for a black cat in a dark room, knowing in advance it’s not there, yet crying from time to time “There, I’ve got it by the tail!”.

Today’s answer to vestal virgins

Transplanting that jibe into our own soil, one could find that, mutatis mutandis, it applies to the spiritual impasse into which modernity rushed.

However, rather than coming to a stop, it picked up speed and banged its head against a brick wall.

The resulting concussion addled its brain, making it believe that lying ahead is a straight, unblocked road. Yet the brick wall remained in place, and continuous butting against it has converted a concussion into dementia.

That man doesn’t live by bread alone was neither a parable nor a prophecy. It was an accurate observation of life.

Material goods, no matter how plentiful and luxurious, can’t sustain human life by themselves. People need a link to a world governed by the spirit, not the stomach. This is an exclusive property of Homo sapiens; it’s what separates us from animals.

For some 2,000 years Christianity provided a ready-made pathway to that world, but the road wasn’t toll-free. The toll was the undertaking to conduct one’s life within a certain devotional, moral and intellectual framework imposed from without, yet accepted from within.

For many, the price eventually proved too high. Hence, as GK Chesterton observed, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

When a man abandons his blameless wife out of boredom, he looks for justification. He tries to convince himself and others that there was something wrong with her. As he throws more and more black pigment on her picture, a perfectly decent woman begins to look like a Gorgon, someone to hate and run away from.

That’s what happened to Christianity: the departing modernity had to portray it as mendacious, irrational, venal and corrupt. Clearly, acrimonious divorce was the only option.

However, the need for spiritual fulfilment, for something greater than self, didn’t disappear. Following the First Law of Thermodynamics it was merely converted into a different form of energy.

Man decided he didn’t need the supernatural to rise to the superpersonal. Spirituality, he felt, could stand up on its own hind legs, without any need to be propped up by religion.

He didn’t realise that lost in the process wasn’t just his faith, but the ontological properties of being: what Aristotle called ‘transcendentals’, and what Plato specifically identified as Truth, Beauty and Goodness.

In post-Hellenic history, those ‘transcendentals’ found a home in Christianity and they wouldn’t be evicted or moved. That’s why, after walking out of church, man began to suffer from degeneration in his ability to perceive intellectual, aesthetic and moral truth.

But the hunger remained, and it had to be slaked. Since real food was no longer on the table, modernity had to settle for an unpalatable concoction of ersatz substitutes, hoping they could provide enough nourishment.

Religion was gone; taking its place were uncountable cults, variously inane or sanguinary, but always reflecting virtual, rather than actual, reality.

Whereas Christ’s parables revealed the deep meaning of life, modern myths reveal nothing but the spiritual bankruptcy of their followers.

Examples of this are plain to see, and they are too many even to enumerate. Just think of the tyrannical assault on free speech, indeed language itself, that goes by the name of political correctness.

Tossing away both Exodus and the Sermon on the Mount, modern man has come up with the ersatz morality of sanctimonious despotism. Having lost his mind along with his faith, he tries to look for moral perfection in obliterating the masculine personal pronouns, composite words featuring ‘man’ and traditional, stylistically neutral descriptors of various races.

Dispensing with Genesis (and the ensuing Judaeo-Christian history), man trampled into the dirt the binary, empirically verifiable truth, “Male and female created he them…”. He created no one, because he doesn’t exist, screamed the modern barbarian.

Humans sort of create themselves parthenogenetically, and they can be any of dozens of sexes, whose number tends to gravitate toward infinity. It’s how you feel, not what you are.

Rather than accepting that the physical world will come to an end with the Second Coming of Christ, modern barbarians ascribe that apocalyptic event to the effect of aerosol sprays, SUVs and gas cookers.

At the same time they rile against the proven and plentiful source of energy that leaves next to no carbon imprint: nuclear. The self-refutation escapes what passes for their minds.

I’ve said earlier that the symptoms of the malaise are too many even to enumerate, so I’ll stop myself here. You can extend the list ad infinitum on your own.

However, no matter how many modern perversions you identify, they will all have at their root the innate human desire to search for superhuman truth – and the doomed attempt to look for it where it can’t be found.

It’s that black cat again.


British traitors and Russian heroes

The cliché “one side’s traitors are the other side’s heroes” has always struck me as cynically relativist.

Pilgrims expected

It’s that old moral equivalence again: they have the KGB, we have MI6 and the CIA; they spy on us, we spy on them; they recruit our citizens, we recruit theirs. What’s the difference?

The difference is in who ‘we’ and ‘they’ are. Soviet spies fought for the most evil regime in history. Western spies fought against it.

Seen in that light, the difference shines through. But, obsessed as we are with arguing who’s left-wing or right-wing, we are no longer able to judge states, or for that matter parties, on moral criteria.

Of course, some people, especially in Russia’s government, don’t see Stalin’s USSR as evil. On the contrary, they glorify Stalin’s achievements, downplay his crimes, describe him as a stern but fair manager and dream of reassembling his empire.

For such people, British subjects who hurt their country are heroes, while Russians who spied on the Soviet Union are despicable traitors.

It’s in this context that one should ponder the unveiling of a memorial plaque to Burgess and MacLean in Samara, where the traitors lived for three years after fleeing Britain.

According to Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence (SVR), they and the other members of the Cambridge Five, “made a significant contribution to the victory over fascism”.

I’m confused. Those chaps didn’t operate against Nazi Germany or fascist Italy. They betrayed British and American secrets, including those of the atomic variety, to Stalin.

Hence, by inference, the Russian government has to regard Britain circa 1930-1950 as a fascist country, which isn’t a far cry from the way she was treated in the Soviet press until 22 June, 1941, when Hitler narrowly beat Stalin to the punch.

The unveiling was part of the celebratory festivities for the Security Agency Workers’ Day, led in his inimitable manner by one such ‘worker’, Putin himself.

Thus the Russians are expected to honour the agency that murdered some 60 million of them and enslaved the rest. I doubt many of them do, but what’s important here isn’t ordinary Russians but those who rule over them.

Burgess and McLean didn’t spy for the Russian Federation, a country that in 1991 replaced the Soviet Union, for which the traitors did spy. Honouring them shows yet again that an unbroken continuity exists (at least in Putin’s eyes) between Stalin’s USSR and today’s Russia.

True enough, Lenin’s mummy still adorns Red Square, Stalin’s portraits (and even icons) are everywhere, and now the Cambridge Five are feted as heroes. Do imagine for the sake of argument the Germans having a Hitler statue at the Brandenburg Gate and a memorial plaque to William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) in Unter den Linden.

Don’t you think some doubts about Germany’s rehabilitation might have crept in? Wouldn’t we be within our rights to accuse Germany of still cherishing her Nazi past?

Speaking of cynicism, if it were an athletic event, Col Putin would have just broken the world record. Recovering from the KGB galas, he yet again attacked Western appeasers and justified the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

“Stalin did not stain himself with direct contact with Hitler whereas the French and British leaders met with him and signed some documents,” declared the KGB man. “The Soviet Union was the last country in Europe to sign a non-aggression pact with Germany. All the others had signed it.”

Molotov, head of the Soviet government, actually did meet Hitler. Also, neither Britain nor France had a formal non-aggression pact with Germany, although one could argue that the treaties they did have might have amounted to the same thing.

But let’s not nitpick – you can’t expect the likes of Putin to be up on such details. However, the British and French appeasement of Hitler was deplorable, he’s right about that.

Yet neither Britain nor France signed a single scrap of paper dividing Europe between them and Hitler and allowing them to pounce on their neighbours. That was exactly what the so-called Non-Aggression Pact was, especially its secret protocol the Soviets kept under wraps for decades after the war.

It’s in accordance with it that the Soviets occupied the three Baltic republics, tried to do the same to Finland and annexed parts of Romania (one of them, Bukovina, wasn’t covered in the protocol, and Hitler was incensed about the occupation). It was also following that misnomer, the Non-Aggression Pact, that the Soviets attacked Poland from the east 17 days after Germany attacked her from the west.

Stalin was Hitler’s accomplice in starting the Second World War, and no one who denies that against indisputable facts has the right to talk about Britain and France “staining” themselves with appeasement.

As to Burgess, MacLean and Philby, their lives in Moscow illustrate a salient difference between Putin’s cherished institution and the British Intelligence Service.

The British traitors lived in Moscow openly (having known some members of MacLean’s family, I can testify to that) and under only token protection, serene in the knowledge that MI6 wouldn’t try to assassinate them.

Yet their Russian counterparts who managed to escape to the West lived in safe houses under new identities and yet were murdered en masse by Putin’s colleagues. Col. Skripal will testify that this fine tradition is lovingly upheld in Putin’s Russia.

P.S. Greta, the Evil Child of the Year, is missing a trick. Since, as we all know, emission of noxious gases is threatening to end life on our planet, she should campaign for a ban on the cultivation and consumption of beans, peas, Jerusalem artichokes, nuts and Brussels sprouts. Every little bit helps the noble cause, I say.

World War III is nigh

A conflagration is imminent, if you believe Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the Russian General Staff and the mind, as it were, behind the concept of hybrid war.

Fancy some mushrooms this Christmas?

As behoves the highest-ranking strategist in Russia’s armed forces Gen Gerasimov analysed the geopolitical situation with penetrating acuteness:

“In the Baltic countries and Poland, and the Black and Baltic seas, [Nato] military activity is increasing, the intensity of the bloc’s military exercises is growing… Their scenarios point to a purposeful preparation of Nato for the engagement of its forces in a large-scale military conflict.”

Can’t argue with that. Military exercises are by definition a preparation for war, as the rankest of strategic amateurs could have pointed out. But what kind of war?

A country that builds fortifications on one side of the border and one that deploys troops in an offensive formation on the other are both preparing for war. Yet the former is out to defend itself against an aggression, and the latter out to launch it.

Contextually, Gen Gerasimov sees, or rather wishes to portray, Russia as a peace-loving country in dire danger of invasion by Nato. The picture he and his accomplices flog to all and sundry tends to include the Smolensk Road as its centrepiece.

It’s along that thoroughfare that Polish, French and German invaders advanced on Moscow in different centuries. By implying that Nato is about to follow in their footsteps, Gen Gerasimov displays some knowledge of history, which is a good thing.

However, his assessment of the current situation can appeal only to madmen or idiots, useful or otherwise. Those who are both compos mentis and unsullied by ideological afflatus will find it hard to play out the implied scenario in their minds.

Doing so would necessitate believing that Nato’s high command, following orders from their respective governments, can launch an unprovoked attack on a major nuclear power. Let’s mull this over for a second.

Trump, Johnson, Merkel, Macron and various Nato small fry have a conference. “Guys,” says Trump, “We wanna hit them goddam Russkies with all we got.” “Righty-ho,” agrees Johnson. “Jolly good idea, that.” “Ich stimme voll und ganz zu,” nods Merkel. “Quelle bonne idée,” smiles Macron.

“We got a deal, guys,” says Trump. “I’ll go push the button then.” Cut to the final scene of Dr Strangelove, with nuclear bombs raining on Russia, clearing the way for Frau Merkel’s entire force of 300 panzers to roll along the Smolensk Road.

If you find this scenario cloud-cuckoo-land, you are sane. If you find it realistic you are Gen Gerasimov or, closer to our shores, Peter Hitchens.

Yet the imminent threat posed by “Nato’s eastward expansion” is the mantra screamed from the pages and screens of every Russian propaganda medium, or any British medium featuring Peter Hitchens and his ilk.

They whine that the US missile defences deployed in Poland and Romania undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent. Is that so? And what, pray tell, do the Russians wish to deter with their nukes? The insane doomsday scenario I outlined earlier? A Nato first strike? Pull the other one, lads, it’s got the Tsar Bells on.

But let’s not forget the massive build-up of Nato land forces in Eastern Europe. After all, it’s boots on the ground, not missiles, that will march on the Smolensk Road. And the build-up is massive indeed.

After Russia’s 2014 aggression against the Ukraine, Nato deployed 16,000 soldiers in Poland and the Baltics. That’s a full division, a force supposedly capable of dispersing more than a million Russian troops in active service – even if they call up their two million reservists.

Still not convinced? Well, then perhaps you’ll find the alternative more palatable: the defensive shield and the meagre land forces have been deployed to protect Eastern Europe, especially the three Baltic Nato members, from Russian aggression.

And it’s not Russia’s nuclear deterrent that the shield is expected to nullify, but her ability to launch a first strike, or at least to blackmail the West with the possibility.

Of course the notion of being encircled by enemies thirsting for Russian blood is close to the heart of every Kremlin patriot. Since time immemorial, Russian tyrants have used it to rally their enslaved, half-starving subjects – and to explain why they were enslaved and half-starving.

Because over the past century that effort has been supported by total, and unchallenged, propaganda, the Russians refuse to countenance that the defensive measures taken by Nato, along with some mild disapproval of Putin’s actions worldwide, may actually be Russia’s fault.

All Western governments would disarm in a minute if they felt that no threat is present. Come to think of it, Manny Macron has already mouthed words to that effect, although even he didn’t promise to retrain French soldiers as social workers.

Yet it takes criminal irresponsibility, or else being Manny, to ignore the evidence before our very eyes. And that points to a brutally realistic scenario developed on the premise enunciated by Putin years ago.

“The collapse of the Soviet Union,” he said, “is the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Implicitly, this wasn’t something he was going to put up with. Explicitly, he hasn’t.

Putin’s kleptofascist regime has already pounced on two neighbours, Georgia and the Ukraine, making Russia the first country to annex the territory of European states since 1945.

Threats to restore Stalin’s Soviet Union to its past satanic grandeur are standard fare in Russian media, issued against the familiar background of crocodile tears spilled over the plight of the Russian minorities there (remember Hitler and the Sudetenland?).

The hybrid warfare, of which Gen Gerasimov takes parental pride, is proceeding apace. New technologies are being tested on Western political institutions with the clear aim of creating a capability to jam Nato command centres.

Russia’s navy commits piracy on the high seas. Her air force stages provocative flights over, or right next to, the West’s borders. Russian agents of influence infiltrate Western institutions, typically using the billions the kleptofascist elite has purloined from the Russian people. Russian hitmen are operating with immunity all over Europe, with tacit support from the “Putin has nothing to do with it” brigade.

And yet Foreign Minister Lavrov has the nerve to whinge that Nato’s Eastern Partnership has resulted in “a split away from Russia of our closest neighbours linked to us with ties formed over centuries.”

The KGB veteran should ask those “closest neighbours” how dearly they cherish those ties. He should ask the citizens of the three Baltic republics how they feel about losing a quarter of their population to the atrocities committed by Lavrov’s colleagues in the ‘40s and ‘50s.

He should ask Ukrainians whether they remember Holodomor, the artificial famine staged by Stalin that starved millions of peasants to death. He should ask Hungarians and Czechs whether they remember 1956 and 1968 respectively.

Lavrov won’t ask. But if he did, he’d find that Eastern Europeans regard those ties as chains binding them hand and foot, or else a garrotte crushing their necks.

He’d also find out why Nato didn’t have to twist their arm to draw them into the alliance. They begged to be admitted because they didn’t fancy their freedom again trampled underfoot by their criminal neighbour.