Money makes the world go down

Modernity’s first inaugurating document stated its commitment to “the pursuit of happiness”.

No more of this

That word wasn’t used in the Greek sense of eudemonia, which more or less equated happiness with virtue. As a subsequent document, the Federalist papers, explained, happiness was mainly understood in the material sense: money, acquisition, comfort.

By itself, there was nothing wrong with that. But that commitment didn’t come by itself. It came packaged with an attempt to build a new civilisation around the common man and his material aspirations.

That common man, the axis around which the new civilisation was to rotate, was deprived of religion, which is to say a check on his passions and appetites. Love stepped aside as the desideratum of life, to be replaced by greed (provided it was expressed within human laws).

Aristotle warned about the dangers of such an arrangement some four centuries before Christ: “A society that pursues wealth rather than morality will end up using this wealth against itself.”

What we are observing at the moment vindicates that maxim. For the pandemic was largely caused by our voracious appetite for cheap goods and therefore greater comfort.

Hence we avidly do business with evil regimes in the name of free trade and globalisation. However, when we step outside our civilisation, free movement of goods may well result in the free movement of infections.

Communist China has a callous disregard for human lives and the practices that protect them. Hence most major blights have in my lifetime originated there. They include the murderous pandemics of Asian flu in 1957 and 1968, and, emphatically, the current disaster.

Enough has been said about the mechanisms involved. Perhaps the most evil thing those heirs to Mao did was putting their reputation before human lives, which is why they lied about both the onset of the pandemic and its scale.

Yet it’s we in the West who have blithely turned an evil regime into a world power: our greed came before any moral considerations, and now our commercial amorality is backfiring yet again in a crudely material way.

The West has form in such suicidal commercialism. The two most satanic regimes of modernity, Bolshevism and Nazism, wouldn’t have reached maturity without huge injections of Western capital and technology. And today the West spares no effort to absorb the looted lucre of Russia’s kleptofascist regime and the cheap goods flooding in from communist China.

None of my message is a call to poverty. Note that Aristotle was only talking about relative priorities, not absolutes. He warned not against pursuing wealth as such, but only against putting that activity above morality.

Christianity followed the same logic. Its injunctions were aimed not at money in se but at a wrong sense of priorities.

People had traded goods they produced since time immemorial. Since money was sometimes involved as a means of exchange, it was natural to expect that more money would eventually end up in some hands than in others.

Hence labour implicitly presupposed the possibility of enrichment. Yet in spite of that the New Testament contains direct endorsements of work.

These come across in the Lord’s Prayer (“give us this day our daily bread”), in Jesus the carpenter talking about “the labourer worthy of his hire”, in Paul the tent maker saying that “if any would not work, neither shall he eat.”

This was understood by Christian theologians. Thus Aquinas: “The perfection of the Christian life does not consist essentially in voluntary poverty, though that is a tool of perfection in life. There is not necessarily greater perfection where there is greater poverty; and indeed the highest perfection is sometimes wedded to great wealth…”

Note the qualifiers: ‘essentially’, ‘not necessarily’, ‘sometimes’. Rather than issuing a licence to acquisitiveness, Aquinas was expressing the fundamental Christian view on pursuing wealth: Go on then, if you must. Jesus, after all, only said man shall not live by bread alone, not that man shall live by no bread at all. But do remember what comes first.

Addressing seven centuries after Aquinas a world that no longer put God first, John Paul II said essentially the same thing: “It is necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.”

That was wishful thinking. A West where wealth could be approached in that manner is long since gone. Yet, though we can no longer be expected to do the right thing, we can still identify it.

As a general rule, we mustn’t trade with evil regimes: lying with dogs can have most unpleasant hygienic consequences, such as catching Covid-19.

As immediate measures, we should suspend all trade with China and impound the looted Russian funds laundered through our financial institutions. We’d suffer some short-term commercial damage, but nothing like the economic catastrophe that’ll follow this pandemic.

We’d still be capable of making as much money as we need. We’d still be able to invest our surplus income. We’d still be able to live in decent comfort, eat good food and wear stylish clothes. Yet we’d be able to do all those things without destroying either our souls or our societies.

For that to happen, we’d have to backtrack to the guiding principles of the civilisation we’ve systematically betrayed. That means it won’t happen: we are too set in our ways, too incapable of learning our lessons. Including the one being taught at the moment.

Trump, a walking dichotomy

I’ve followed the destinies of all post-war presidents, although my memory of Truman is compromised by my age at the time. That’s 12 presidents all together.

“Hi, Don, Tom speaking. Listen, your authority isn’t quite total…”

On the basis of that survey sample, I can state with absolute confidence that not a single one of them has divided opinions as much as Donald Trump.

The emotional pitch reached by those who love him is only matched in intensity by the febrile fervour of Trump haters. No middle ground is anywhere in evidence, which forms a vacuum famously abhorred by nature.

Acting on nature’s behalf, my feelings about Trump touch neither extreme of love or hate. Instead they cover a narrower range, demarcated by squeamish revulsion at one end and grudging appreciation at the other.

The first end covers Trump’s personality; the second, many of his policies. And the past few days have bolstered both ends.

First, the president confirmed yet again my general assessment of his character. As an admirer of our civilisation, I’m saddened to see a man so spectacularly untouched by it.

Trump is ignorant, vulgar, rude, bombastic, narcissistic, impulsive, loud-mouthed and generally savage. Such qualities aren’t rare among the first generation of wealth in an American family.

However, the scions of chaps who clawed their way to riches (such as Trump) tend to acquire gentlemanly manners, decent education, refined or at least grammatical speech and sometimes even culture.

Trump bucks this trend like a demented mustang. At times he displays unconscionable vulgarity accompanied by grotesque ignorance.

On Monday, for example, he declared that he could order individual states to end the lockdown when he saw fit. “When somebody is the President of the United States, the authority is total,” Trump explained.

Eh, not quite. Replace ‘the United States’ with ‘Russia’ or ‘Zimbabwe’, and the statement would be unassailable. In the US, however, there exists this minor matter of the Constitution, which Trump undertook to “preserve, protect and defend”.

Its Tenth Amendment specifies that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Nowhere does it say that the president has total authority to end lockdowns.

In response to some governors’ demurring, Trump displayed the breadth of his cultural references: “Tell the Democrat Governors that ‘Mutiny On The Bounty’ was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain.”

He’d do better drawing his inspiration from the Federalist papers than from a Hollywood concoction. However, he got even that modest reference wrong: the mutineers of the Bounty put their captain in a lifeboat and set him adrift. Or perhaps, rather than getting the film wrong, Trump revealed his fear of suffering a similar fate after the November election.

Then, at a press briefing, a CBS correspondent challenged Trump’s self-serving boast that he had saved lives by restricting travel from China. She pointed out, not unreasonably, that it had taken him a month and a half to recommend social distancing.

Trump’s response was in character: “You’re so disgraceful, it’s so disgraceful the way you say that… You’re a fake. Your whole network is a fake.”

Though it’s hard to argue against his general assessment of CBS, civilised people don’t respond to substantive criticism that way. Barbarians do, and that’s exactly what Trump is.

However, and here we reach the other end of my feelings about the president, he’s the kind of barbarian who gets many of his policies right. Thus one has to applaud his decision to withdraw US funding from the WHO.

That organisation was complicit with China in suppressing the early data on the deadly effect of Covid-19. That’s hardly surprising because Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, comes from Ethiopia, China’s client state.

Even though US contributions to the WHO were 10 times the size of China’s, Tedros never breaks his labio-gluteal contact with China and follows its lead with unswerving devotion.

That’s why he ignored the data provided by Taiwan’s government as early as in December. In an e-mailed letter based on in situ research by Taiwanese scientists, Taiwan informed the WHO that an unknown virus was causing atypical pneumonia.

However, as far as China (and therefore Tedros) is concerned, Taiwan is a non-country, and therefore anything it says must be ignored. When the pandemic spread, Tedros even lied that no such letter had been received, forcing Taiwan’s government to produce the e-mail with its date.

China and the WHO are thus accomplices in a crime. Their shenanigans caused a deadly delay in other countries’ response to coronavirus and cost thousands of lives. I don’t know what Trump’s response to China will be, but his suspension of WHO funding was justified and, well, presidential.

There you have it, a dichotomy in the flesh. On balance, if I still voted in US elections, I’d pinch my nostrils and opt for Trump, what with the alternative being unimaginable. But I wouldn’t feel good about myself in the morning.

How to help coronavirus kill

Looking at the fatality statistics around the world, one might think that Covid-19 is doing a good killing job without any outside assistance.

Social distancing at Moscow underground

However, as far as Moscow’s mayor is concerned, there’s no limit to excellence. And fair enough, he must feel that the city is grossly overpopulated.

When I left Russia in 1973, Moscow’s population was a meagre seven million. Today it stands at a whopping 12 to 15 million, depending on who’s counting. Just think of providing enough residences and municipal services for that human beehive – not an easy problem by any means.

Hence Mayor Sobyanin, while publicly bemoaning the human cost of the pandemic, must secretly see it as more of a solution than a problem. Anyone wishing to contest this hypothesis should look at his actions, not listen to his words.

Since Muscovites aren’t the most obedient people in the world, their compliance with the lockdown is less than perfect. That’s why the mayor introduced a tracking system, whereby anyone wishing to leave home has to download a digital code.

That may be granted or denied, depending on how valid that person’s reasons are for going walkabout. Those who satisfy the authorities on that score download their code and rush to the nearest tube station.

Alas, the new system makes the Moscow underground as hard to enter as a top secret defence installation.

Everyone wishing to avail himself of that conveyance must produce his digitalised pass and also his internal passport. The policemen at the door scrutinise both documents and check the digital code on their computer.

As a result, the average waiting time at the entrance is 30 to 40 minutes. As you can see on the photograph above, the social distancing in the crowd outside is somewhat less than the requisite two metres.

That way a single carrier of Covid-19 can infect hundreds before catching his train, thereby striking a most satisfying blow for population control. And that’s not all.

Those Muscovites who have their own cars naturally turn to them as a healthier form of transport. If in my day such lucky individuals were about as rare as private jet owners are in London, today’s Moscow boasts some 3.5 million privately owned cars.

Since the city is ill-equipped to handle such volume of vehicular traffic, even some billionaires prefer to travel on the plebeian tube: the social cachet isn’t quite the same, but at least one gets to one’s destination quickly.

Now what do you reckon happens to traffic when even the plebs have to turn to their cars? Correct. It gets much worse.

In fact, one can easily spend an hour in traffic jams anywhere in Moscow. That’s bad enough even for regular drivers, but all they risk is tardiness and perhaps some hypertension. Alas, some of the vehicles stuck next to them are ambulances, and for them an hour’s delay may well be a matter of life or death.

That’s a population-control double whammy: Muscovites catch the virus at the entrance to the tube. Then those who find themselves in ambulances can’t get to hospital. Job done.

So spare a thought for them next time you bitch about the way coronavirus is handled in London, Paris or New York. Thing can be a hell of a lot worse.

Direct democracy, anyone?

As an EU fanatic, Manny Macron is bound to despise even representative democracy, never mind the direct kind.

“Damné if do, damné if I don’t”

But, to paraphrase ever so slightly, Manny proposes and gilets jaunes dispose. A few months of riots, threatening to become a full-blown revolution, thrust some direct democracy down Manny’s throat, constricted as it was by fear.

You don’t like my way of saving the planet from warm weather? he finally asked the rebellious, yellow-clad populace. Fine, do it yourselves, see if I care.

The mission of saving the planet was thus delegated to a panel of 150 members of the public called the Citizens’ Convention for the Climate. Chosen at random, said Citizens were promised that their proposals would be either implemented or at least put to parliamentary vote.

Predictably, the Citizens came up with ideas that, if put into action, would neatly dovetail with coronavirus to put France’s economy six feet under. The carbon emission limits they demanded would effectively ban most cars; all out-of-town hypermarkets, the mainstay of French shopping outside major cities, would be closed; advertising of products with high carbon emissions would be banned.

Even though Manny doesn’t have to drive to hypermarkets, he knows how deleterious such measures would be. But he has painted himself into a corner. He now has to backtrack on his promises and risk another wave of rioting, or else deliver more blows to an economy already knocked down by coronavirus.

This proves yet again, if any further proof is necessary, that direct democracy doesn’t work. Neither does representative democracy. Neither does monarchy. Neither does any political system – in the abstract.

Any system, no matter how sound it looks on paper, is only as good as the people who operate it. Thus democracy lives or dies by the quality of the electorate. A morally and intellectually corrupt electorate will elect a corrupt government or, if encouraged to govern without mediation, make corrupt policies.

The Greeks, to whom we owe both the theory and first experience of democracy, knew this. That’s why voter education was their main concern as a factor of political virtue.

Much is made of Plato’s yearning for philosopher kings, but both he and Aristotle believed that a democracy could only be virtuous if not just the kings but also the voters were philosophers, after a fashion.

No, they didn’t envisage an electorate made up of philosophers who composed long tracts. Plato and Aristotle only made an unassailable point: to take part in affairs of the state by voting responsibly, an elector has to have a sufficient grounding in the disciplines involved, and there are many.

Thus democracy can’t serve common good in the absence of an educational system that can train most of the electorate in political theory, moral philosophy, epistemology, rhetoric, logic, not to mention the specific disciplines in the forefront of current public debate.

Such a system has never existed anywhere in history – and it’s not even remotely approached in any modern country. That stands to reason: people able to absorb and process recondite knowledge can’t possibly constitute a majority, nor even a significant minority.

Even in Athens there were only 30,000 fully enfranchised citizens (out of the population of about a quarter of a million at its peak), with 5,000-6,000 constituting the quorum. In fact, Plato suggested that this wasn’t only the minimum acceptable but also the maximum desirable number of active participants in a democracy. Going over that cut-off point, he warned, would result in mob rule.

Edmund Burke (d. 1797) was even less generous, but then he had to deal with greater numbers. According to him, there were about 400,000 Britons qualified to vote responsibly, out of the contemporaneous population of about 10 million.

A similar proportion today would produce an electorate of about 2.5 million – not the 48 million it actually is. One can’t help thinking that the requirement for responsible voting has been dropped somewhere along the line.

Public education in France is still better than in Britain, but only marginally so. And the gap is closing.

Hence neither country can be governed by its demos because the demos lacks the requisite intellectual and moral qualifications. Even if we were able to improve our education no end (and nothing suggests we are moving in that direction, quite the opposite), it’s unrealistic to expect that tens of millions of people would reach the necessary plateau.

If true democracy isn’t possible, what is? A sham one. That is, effectively an oligarchy made up of a few thousand demagogues who aren’t particularly well-versed in the art of government either, but who are experts at crowd manipulation and bare-knuckled political infighting.

However, as Manny is finding out, sometimes people rebel at being manipulated. They demand direct, if limited, democracy, believing they could do better. Well, they can’t.

All they can do is create mayhem, chaos and anarchy. And of course, given half the chance, an economic disaster.

That closes the vicious political circle of modernity, a point coronavirus is hammering home with devastating effect – while, in France, direct democracy is trying to add some more power to the falling hammer.

P.S. Two epidemics of Asian flu (both, incidentally, originating in China) in 1957 and 1968 killed about three million people worldwide, at a time when the world’s population was half of today’s. Yet nothing like today’s hysteria materialised, and we’ve only seen some 120,000 coronavirus deaths so far. Tempora mutantur… and all that.

The story of Sodom springs to mind

Fundamentalist sectarians are claiming that coronavirus is God’s punishment. Sodom usually comes up in that context, although the Bible offers plenty of other punishable offences as well.

Apparently, female warders beg to differ

Since my religion is as mainstream as they come, I feel uneasy about biblical literalism, and uneasier still about drawing too many parallels. However, if I weren’t so prejudiced, perhaps I’d see their point.

If you recall, God punished Sodom for the sin that has since borne its name. To be fair, God didn’t mete out his punishment arbitrarily, on Abraham’s say-so.

Following proper forensic procedure, he sent two angels to investigate the patriarch’s accusations. Abraham’s nephew Lot put the detectives up for the night and gave them supper.

However, before the comely angels lay down, the denizens of Sodom besieged Lot’s house and demanded that he deliver the angels into their hands so they might ‘know’ them.

Trying to mollify the libidinous Sodomites without violating the sacred law of hospitality, Lot offered them his two virginal daughters instead. But the men wouldn’t swap the real thing for palliatives.

The daughters must have been bitterly disappointed about that delay in their sexual initiation. Hence, when the family escaped Sodom, leaving behind Lot’s wife in her saline incarnation, the first thing those minxes did was get their father drunk and ‘know’ him on two consecutive nights.

That, however, is a separate story. The real point is that, compared to today’s world, Sodom is an exemplar of sanity and probity. So fine, some chaps wanted to practise an alternative lifestyle with two angels, whom they supposedly mistook for young men.

But were they? After all, angels are heavenly, rather than earthly creatures. Since only the latter were designed to procreate, angels are androgynous. However, depending on their mission, they can appear to be either male or female. It’s possible therefore that Sodomites mistook them for girls, which absolves them of that particular sin, if not of attempted rape.

Here we reach the kernel of our story, which turns the tale of Sodom into a ganglion of prophesies.

For, according to Rory Stewart, Tory ex-minister, women’s prisons are housing 1,500 ‘male-bodied’ inmates who self-identify as women. In other words, their male bits are in working order.

Hence they resemble angels in their ability to switch effortlessly from one sex to the other. Alas, when they do find themselves in women’s prisons, their behaviour isn’t exactly angelic.

Says Mr Stewart: “When I was Prisons Minister, we had situations of male prisoners self-identifying as females, then raping staff in prison.”

That’s where the Biblical parallel ends. Rather than suffering sexual violence, it’s the gender-bender angels who do the raping. And it’s not just the female warders who get that treatment. Other inmates suffer it too.

For example, in 2018 a convicted male rapist self-identifying as a woman found himself as a tomcat among the pigeons in a female prison. There he promptly raped several women, using the traditional male technique.

Government and prison officials swear they’ll do everything humanly possible to protect female warders and inmates from those feral ‘women’. I’m sure they will, but that’s not the point.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that God’s patience sometimes wears thin. When a place becomes too insane for his liking, he expresses his wrath with fire and brimstone or equivalents.

Have you made that assumption? Good. Now compare Sodom with a world where the stories I’ve just told are not merely possible but increasingly commonplace.

A world where the sin of Sodom is no longer a sin, but an alternative, in some ways preferable, ‘lifestyle’. Where demonic freaks can emulate angels by claiming to be women while remaining predatory men. And where the few remaining sane people can’t cry havoc and let slip… well, they have no one to let slip.

You must agree that the comparison isn’t in our favour. So we should get down on our knees and thank God that he only punished us with coronavirus and not, say, bubonic plague.

Then of course we don’t believe in God and his punishment. We believe in… I’m sure you can complete the sentence on your own. There’s got to be something we believe in.

And the third day he rose again

At Easter a few years ago I found myself at an Orthodox church in France. The liturgy was bilingual in Russian and French, but the key words were delivered in every language represented in the congregation, and there were some 20 of them.

Every time those key words sounded, all the priests laughed. It was laughter of joy, not mirth. For Easter Sunday is indeed the most joyous day of the year – even of this year, marked as it is by tragedy.

On this day those who believe celebrate a sinful world saved; those who don’t believe celebrate a great civilisation born. On this day, life defeats death.

Easter gave man a vision of eternity, and it wasn’t a beautiful mirage. It was a reality one could see, hear, touch.

The new reality was so vast it engulfed the world, and the world emerged transfigured for ever. It acquired a new face, a new soul, a new life.

This is the life we celebrate today. And again those rousing words sound all over the world in every language, just as they did in that French church – just as they did two millennia ago. On this one day at least, the world turns into a church.

Christ is risen!

Le Christ est ressuscité!

Christus ist auferstanden!

Cristo ha resucitado!

Cristo è risorto!

Kristus on üles tõusnud!

Kristus er oppstanden!

Xристос воскрес!

Chrystus zmartwychwstał!

Kristus vstal z mrtvých!

Cristo ressuscitou!

Kristus ir augšāmcēlies!

Christus is verrezen!

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!

Krisztus feltámadt!

Kristus är uppstånden!

Kristus prisikėlė!

Kristus nousi kuolleista!

Hristos a înviat!


Save women, Scots and NHS

Tomorrow we’ll celebrate the heavenly salvation of mankind, all of it. However, while giving thanks to almighty God, we ought to remind ourselves that here in earth none of us are almighty.

It’s not just women who are in danger of upskirting

Hence we have to prioritise groups most in need of saving, especially since coronavirus stretches our resources to breaking point. The police, for example, are so busy chasing sunbathers and nonessential shoppers, that they run out of officers to stop the surging wave of a most heinous crime: upskirting.

In case you still haven’t moved into the 21st century, upskirting is made possible by the technological advances of which modernity is so justly proud. Dropping a camera attached to a long stick down to the floor, criminals take shots of women’s knickers, provided they are wearing any (what’s photographed otherwise doesn’t bear thinking about).

Those villains persist with their wicked activities, even though upskirting is punishable by up to two years in prison – a term that only a tiny proportion of, say, burglars ever get to serve, and then only after multiple convictions.

Yet in spite of the law, says Siobhan Blake, who’s in charge of the CPS’s sexual offences prosecutions, “women continue to be violated as they go about their daily lives. This is a serious crime and I am very pleased to see police and prosecutors making regular use of this legislation.”

And I’m pleased to see that the CPS has its priorities right at this trying time. Or does it?

When I told my friend Angus McAngus that it’s only women who are thus singled out for protection under the law, he was aghast: “Get tae,” he said. “Dinnae ken what yer talking about.”

“You mean Scottish men wearing kilts are also in danger?” I asked. “Aye,” said Angus. “I’m fae Edinburgh, and rank laddies always try to stick a Nikon under me kilt each time I go out for a wee dram.”

“But you must be wearing something under your kilt,” I opined. “Aye,” smiled Angus. “Me shoes.”

Thus it’s not only British women but also Scottish men who must be protected against this beastly crime, and I hope you’ll petition the CPS to this effect.

On a different note, this morning we went for a long walk in Wimbledon Common, having first broken the law by nonessentially driving there. The walk turned out to be longer than we had planned because we got lost in the woods and added a couple of nonessential miles to our constitutional.

There weren’t many people in the Common’s 1,140 acres of woodland, and they were vastly outnumbered by notices telling us to protect ‘our’ NHS.

My mind in its ecclesiastical mode, I decided that the obsolete Lord’s Prayer ought to be slightly modified to reflect the priorities of our ethos. Here’s my modest effort:

“Our NHS that art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name, thy will be done in Perth as it is in Devon. Give us this day our daily med and don’t forgive our trespasses as we won’t forgive those who trespass against thee. And lead us not into the street but deliver our daily bread to our home. Yo, man.”

I hope you’ll agree that this prayer makes up in sincerity and relevance what it may lack in poetic sensibility and devotional purity.

If Greta is the ventriloquist, what does it make the Pope?

Coronavirus and other disasters, said His Holiness, are nature’s way of punishing us for global warming: “I don’t know if these are the revenge of nature, but they are certainly nature’s responses.”

Does she have to be Catholic to be canonised?

If Greta Thunberg hadn’t spoken through the Pope, she might as well have done. One can only wish that the pontiff stuck to his own remit and relied on some other source of inspiration.

Had he wished to portray the pandemic as a punishment, he could have picked a different transgression and a different judge. Far be it from me to pontificate (as it were) on such matters, but a parallel with God punishing Old Testament Hebrews for reverting to idolatry was begging to be drawn.

How much more apposite it would have been for His Holiness to say that God punishes those who turn away from him, sinking into paganism and godlessness. People might have agreed or disagreed, but no one would have doubted that the message was appropriate, coming as it did from the Vicar of Christ.

Compare Francis’s Gretinism with the dignified, inspiring address the Queen delivered on the pandemic: “Many people of all faiths and of none are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, to pause and reflect in prayer or meditation.”

In the reign of the other Elizabeth, John Donne also had to respond to an epidemic. He did so with profoundly Christian words – without ever mentioning either Christ or God:

“No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Did the Pope really think that Christians could have been roused out of their torpor by drivel out of Greta’s copybook? God only knows what he thought.

P.S. Rail union boss Steve Headley: “If BoJo pops his clogs I’ll throw a party”. Brushing aside his friends’ criticism, he enlarged on the thought: “I hope the whole cabinet of Tory bastards get it too.”

It’s good to see how some people get into the spirit of Holy Week. I also wonder if Steve has read John Donne.

Always remember the 7th of November

To an Englishman, the 5th of November, with the act averted on that date, is more portentous than the 7th, and of course it scans better.

“A prophet hath no honour in his own country”

But to a Russian 7 November evokes two disasters that did happen. The second one, the Bolshevik takeover on that date in 1917, was more fateful. It also had wider implications.

However, it’s the first one that may perhaps elucidate our current plight. On 7 November, 1824, a raging storm broke out in the Baltic. The dams protecting St Petersburg burst, and the city was flooded.

Several hundred people and thousands of animals died, and it took the authorities many days to clear out the debris. Predictably, epidemics ensued, mainly of cholera, killing thousands more.

That event inspired one of the best-known poems in Russian literature, Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman. In the original Russian, Pushkin inaccurately described the eponymous statue of Peter I as copper, but then if a poet can’t claim poetic licence, who can?

Yet it’s not Pushkin’s response to the flood that’s relevant to our situation, but that of his close friend, the first Russian philosopher Pyotr Chaadayev.

Over several years on either side of 1830, Chaadayev wrote his famous Philosophical Letters (since he wrote in French, as one did in those days, the actual title was Lettres philosophiques.) There he was scathing about Russian culture, describing it as backward and derivative.

“We did not take anything from the world; we did not give anything to the world,” wrote the intrepid philosopher with little regard for the inevitable consequences.

The government’s response followed a simple logic. Since any normal person knew that Russia was the most cultured, virtuous and spiritual nation on earth, no one at variance with that view could have been normal by definition.

Hence in 1836 Chaadayev was declared “clinically insane” and put under house arrest – the first but far from last time that the Russians used psychiatry for punitive purposes.

Yet the philosopher was not only a sane thinker, but also a prophetic one. His response to the 1824 flood should be chiselled in stone and prominently displayed in all Western capitals:

“We ought to worry not about fighting a calamity, but about not deserving it in the first place.”

Surely something to ponder during this Holy Week.

Boris’s illness tugs on our hearts’ strings

Great upheavals call for great poets, and great poets inspire great upheavals.

Now relieved of Labour whip, Sheila can step up her preparations for the Miss East Midlands pageant

Whenever poetic words capture the spirit of the time, they stop being just words. They become deeds.

Thus Beaumarchais’s Marriage of Figaro sparked off the French Revolution, and Griboyedov’s Woe to Wit inspired the 1825 Decembrist uprising.

I’m overjoyed to observe that the genius of our time has also found a rousing poetic expression. In the great tradition of medieval minstrels and troubadours, these verses are to be sung, not recited.

Yet their genre, rap, merges song and recitation into a synergistic whole. And when practised by the sublime Stormzy, piercing words join upbeat music to appeal to the very heart of modernity.

I shan’t keep you on tenterhooks any longer. Here’s the verse that puts modernity, circa 2020, in a nutshell:

“Rule number two, don’t make the promise// If you can’t keep the deal then just be honest (Just be honest)// I could never die, I’m Chuck Norris (Chuck Norris)// F*** the government and f*** Boris (Yeah).”

Pedants among you may quibble that the couplet is somewhat wanting in formal perfection. I hope you are ashamed of yourself.

Who cares that ‘honest’ doesn’t really rhyme with ‘Boris’? When words don’t rhyme, one can make them rhyme by sheer force of personality.

Then you may question the relevance of the martial arts actor Chuck Norris in this context. Well, if you can’t discern the deep theological connotation of this reference, I’m sorry for you.

In his films Chuck Norris, now octogenarian, routinely defied prohibitive odds by putting away dozens of armed men with his hands and feet. That enciphered message of immortality raises the verse to a whole new plateau where pedants can’t tread.

You may also feel that the second two lines have no discernible link to the first two. That only goes to show how deaf you are to subliminal nuances. Here, by subtly breaking the verse in half, Stormzy stresses the moral dissonance of the ‘honest’ and ‘Boris’ juxtaposition.

This sets up – indeed makes inevitable – the poignant last line, communicating valid political criticism through a metaphorical reference to sexual congress.

But never mind the decortication, feel the resonance. The amazing thing is that Stormzy wrote his masterpiece just before the pandemic, when Mr Johnson still enjoyed rude health. But true art always transcends its historical instant.

Hence these immortal lines struck a chord in our comprehensively educated masses. As Boris Johnson fights for breath in intensive care, some of Stormzy’s disciples have tweeted direct quotations from the master.

One wrote: “Stormzy said f*** Boris and Corona did the rest.” Another skipped the attribution but still unmistakably hinted at the source: “Boris Johnson in the ICU f*** yeah.”

Still others veered outside the form of Stormzy’s poetry, while faithfully adhering to its spirit, including the theological subtext. One fan, doubtless a good Christian, wrote: “Boris Johnson about to die due to the Rona. THANK YOU LORD.”

Another good Christian implicitly affirmed the existence of life everlasting: “if boris johnson dies I will cackle maniacally say hi to Margaret Thatcher in hell.”

Yet another writer drew our attention to the broader context, while rebuking the PM for his sartorial lassitude: “Poor Boris? No. Poor NHS. F*** that scruffy man.” Other messages range from slightly wordy (“Were gonna have a party when boris Johnson dies” and “Hope boris Johnson dies and it’s painful”) to more laconic (“hope boris dies”).

One doesn’t have to be a stickler for grammatical rectitude to notice a certain carelessness of syntax throughout. That testifies to the liberating effect of modernity, what with the staid conventions of grammar, taste and morality being replaced with more democratic, progressively better standards.

Lest you might think that Mr Johnson’s fellow politicians would refrain from expressing such sentiments publicly, here’s a profound message from Councillor Sheila Oakes, Labour mayor of Heanor, Derbyshire.

Miss Oakes displayed not only an impeccable moral and aesthetic taste but also rare political acumen: “Sorry he completely deserves this and he is one of the worst PM’s we’ve ever had.”

Note the implied belief that every person suffering from a disease has somehow deserved it: this clearly has its provenance in some doctrines of fundamentalist Christianity.

As to the depth of political analysis, it has laudably taken Miss Oakes but the few months of Mr Johnson’s tenure to identify the exact place he occupies in the historical hierarchy of British prime ministers.

Alas, the Labour Party has characteristically failed to realise what a gem it possesses in Miss Oakes. To be fair, the party is trying to undo the electoral damage caused by many of its members expressing heartfelt regrets that the Holocaust didn’t quite finish the job.

Trying to launder its sullied image, the Labour Party has removed the whip from Miss Oakes, effectively kicking her out. I do hope she’ll eventually make a comeback. It would be a shame to waste such talent.