When Harry met Karl

Home Secretary Pritti Patel was asked to comment on England fans who booed the England footballers ‘taking the knee’. The interviewer was clearly expecting Miss Patel to express a heartfelt wish that those racist troglodytes be lined up against the wall and machinegunned.

That expectation was quickly frustrated. “That’s a choice for them quite frankly,” she said.

What?!? People may choose to scream racism?!?!? To do or say anything that our opinion formers regard as heretical?!?!?! (I’m sorry about the excessive punctuation, but it was necessary to convey the pitch of the ensuing public outcry.)

It fell upon the England defender Tyrone Mings to put the blame for racism squarely at Miss Patel’s doorstep: “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against happens.”

The non sequiturs of that statement outnumber the caps Mings won during the tournament, but then we don’t expect rhetorical rigour from a ball-kicker. We do expect something along those lines from our columnists, especially those who are peers of the realm.

There goes another expectation right out of the window, if Lord Finkelstein of The Times is anything to go by. He thinks Mings was right and Patel’s reply was imprudent: “I’m never in favour of jeering anyone, is, I think, a pretty safe answer for a home secretary.”

Really? What about the England players giving the Heil Hitler salute, as they did at the 1936 Berlin Olympics? Imagining for the sake of argument that they felt like repeating the gesture today, would we be allowed a teensy-weensy jeer then?

Yes, says Lord Finkelstein, Miss Patel was right – ‘taking the knee’ is indeed gesture politics. But there’s nothing wrong with that in se. “The question is what the gesture is meant to represent.”

He continues: “Some of my friends on the right seem to have got it into their heads that taking the knee is an endorsement of the programme of a small group of Black Lives Matter activists. That taking the knee is a call for the abolition of capitalism and the advancement of the theories of Marx.”

Lord Finkelstein, who despite his protestations is a woke leftie, referring to his ‘friends on the right’ is a bit like an anti-Semite prefacing a hateful diatribe by saying, “Some of my best friends are Jewish.” But do let’s get back to what he thinks about the views supposedly voiced by his friends on the right.

Those are simply ridiculous. Neither Harry Kane nor Raheem Sterling, explains Lord Finklestein, wants to overthrow capitalism. Why, none of the England players has even read Das Kapital. Their gesture is merely “a protest against the racism they encounter”.

Well, I have news for Lord Finkelstein, and I’m appalled that this may indeed come as news to him.

Those millions of Russians screaming “Death! Death!” when the show trials were under way hadn’t read Das Kapital either.

The same people sobbing uncontrollably as they joined the stampede of mourners at Stalin’s funeral might not even have read the much shorter Communist Manifesto.

And I bet most were unfamiliar with Kritik des Gothaer Programms and Anti-Dühring, which didn’t prevent them from roaring their collective demand that ‘rootless cosmopolitans’ be exterminated.

In the same vein, it’s a safe bet that most Germans screaming “Heil!!!” at Nuremberg Rallies hadn’t perused the works of Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Yet such lacunae in their erudition in no way diminished their vigour in running gas chambers to purify the racial makeup of Europe.

The facts of the current confrontation are there for all to see. Black Lives Matter is indeed a self-proclaimed Marxist group proudly calling for the abolition of capitalism.

The genuflecting gesture originates from the unfortunate death of a drug-addled criminal who was killed by a Minneapolis cop kneeling on his throat after a scuffle. Mobs of BLM supporters then went on a rampage, burning and looting their way through the country.

They’d assail passers-by and diners in outdoor cafés, demanding they ‘take the knee’, a gesture BLM had adopted as their signature. Those who refused were killed, beaten up or otherwise abused.

So yes, woke genuflection is indeed gesture politics. And yes, this gesture is a clear-cut sign of support for BLM. And yes, BLM is a subversive Marxist gang trying to use race as a battering ram bringing down the walls of capitalism – they say so themselves.

Lord Finkelstein will never learn to think soundly – such an ability has to be acquired at an earlier age. But at least he could plug the most gaping holes in his education, specifically on crowd psychology and the proven methods of manipulating it. I’d recommend starting with Gustave Le Bon’s book The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind.

Then he’ll learn that vox populi isn’t so much vox dei as a dummy to variously evil ventriloquists, or else a puppet to their wirepullers. It’s they who decide what the dummy will say or do – and the throng acts no more rationally or even consciously than my metaphorical figurines.

Those wild-eyed Russians might indeed have thought they were striking a blow for universal justice and equality. Those fanatical Germans might indeed have felt that only Hitler could lead them to happiness and prosperity. And England footballers may indeed believe they are registering their “protest against the racism they encounter”.

But all of them were doing someone else’s bidding, however inadvertently or incidentally. For turning the mindless masses (and the masses are always mindless collectively, even if some individuals within them aren’t) any which way isn’t just possible but dead easy.

Someone like Lenin (who, incidentally, swore by Le Bon’s book) or Hitler had such techniques down to a fine art, and so do today’s propagandists. A few well-chosen incendiary platitudes, and the dummy throng gets its marching orders – either directly from the expert manipulators or indirectly, through the mysterious workings of the zeitgeist.

And what do you know, the same – exactly the same! – peasants who yesterday prayed for their beloved tsar, today sing and dance on hearing the news that he has been butchered together with his whole family. And the same bürgers who yesterday shared a friendly schnapps with their Jewish neighbours today denounce them to the Gestapo.

The two groups were equally certain they were doing the right thing both before and after. But they didn’t act as free agents; mobs never do. Le Bon’s disciples, all those ventriloquists and wirepullers, guided them then – as they are guiding our knee-takers now.

The intellectual paucity of our hacks never ceases to amaze me, and you would have thought I’d get used to it by now. I am, usually. But then Finkelstein et al. deliver themselves of another idiocy…  

Global cooling is upon us

It’s noon here in our corner of Burgundy, and the temperature is 14C (that’s 57F to les anglo-saxons). It’s raining non-stop, as it has been for the past three weeks, with the thermometer never venturing out of the teens.

That’s colder and wetter than I’ve ever seen in this neck of the woods – colder and wetter than anyone has ever seen. Now if that’s not the evidence of global cooling, I don’t know what is.

A new Ice Age is upon us, and we’re all going the way of the dinosaurs. And need I remind you that it’s not global warming but global cooling that has caused the worst ecological disasters in history.

Unless we manage to escape to Africa, we’ll all freeze to death. Except me, that is. My wife has family in Kenya, and I’m going to ask her relations to investigate the property market in Nairobi…

What? What are you calling me? Well, you too, sunshine. What’s your problem, anyway?

That I’m confusing weather with climate? That these two concepts involve different timelines? That weather is what happens over days, weeks or seasons, while climate is measured over millennia? That the cold snap in Burgundy, France, no more testifies to global cooling than the heat wave in Palm Springs, California, testifies to global warming?

Fine, I stand corrected. Suitably cowed, I retreat into my shell, tail between my legs. Or maybe it’s not the tail – I’m no better at anatomy than at climatology.

But I’m reasonably good at logic. Hence I agree that, if cold weather in Burgundy is no proof of global cooling, then indeed hot weather in California is no proof of global warming. If A equals B, then B equals A – the logic seems unassailable.

Moreover, it doesn’t take an intellectual giant to wield this mental weapon. Back in the old country, that simple equation was taught to seven-year-olds – and I don’t recall anyone unable to grasp the concept. Yet it’s evidently beyond the meagre intellectual capacity of the university-educated grownups working for our media.

This morning, Sky News did a feature on the heat wave in California, where the temperature had hit 120F in Palm Springs and 130F in Death Valley (which is actually four degrees lower than the record set in 1913, when not many people used aerosols).

I watched the programme for about two minutes, which was as long as I could feel my sanity threatened only mildly. During that time the grateful public was regaled with two human-interest interviews, involving a housewife outside her bungalow and a hard-hatted chap on a building site.

They both acknowledged that it was worryingly hot, and the resultant fires nothing short of terrifying. “If it goes on like this,” said the hard hat, “nobody will be able to work”.

That wasn’t an unreasonable conclusion for someone engaged in manual work outdoors. An accountant crunching numbers in an airconditioned office may feel differently, but no such person was asked.

The interviewer then decided to give millions of viewers the benefit of his interviewees’ expertise in climatology. Was this calamity caused by global warming? But of course, what else, said the hard hat. The housewife just smiled ruefully. It went without saying.

If pressed, I’m sure these experts would have explained that, just as the heat was caused by global warming, global warming was caused by our rapacious use of hydrocarbons. As a result, copious amounts of CO2 are released and hey, presto, Al Gore is your uncle and also your aunt. We’re all going to burn.

The interviewer then explained helpfully that before long the residents of Palm Springs would have to move somewhere cooler. He then made a feeble attempt at humour by recommending Greenland as a desirable destination.

I know that the hatching of new pernicious orthodoxies is my recurrent theme. But it recurs precisely because each day brings new evidence of this orgy of fire-eating anomie.

No one seems to seek facts. It’s enough for the knee to jerk vigorously enough and in the right direction. And in this case the only right direction is towards scaremongering about climate change, accompanied by entreaties to impoverish all Western economies for the noble cause of saving ‘our planet’.

Never mind the facts, feel the passion. True enough, it’s hard to argue against passion. But it’s still possible to invoke the facts.

And these say that CO2 is a trace gas, contributing only one in 85,000 molecules to the atmosphere. And only three per cent of our CO2 is anthropogenic, making it a small trace of an infinitesimally tiny one.

Moreover, thanks to the belated industrialisation of China, anthropogenic CO2 emissions have grown 10 per cent in the past 25 years. However, world temperature practically hasn’t increased over the same period.    

No evidence suggests that we are going through an unprecedented global warming. In fact, ‘our planet’ has been warmer than it is now for about 80 per cent of its existence. Serious scientists – as opposed to assorted shills of man-made apocalypse – identify numerous factors affecting climate, with CO2 playing a walk-on role, if indeed any at all.

Analysing climate properly is impossible without a thorough knowledge of every contributing factor. Solar activity, for example, accounts for some 95 per cent of such factors. Other disciplines essential to proper understanding are astronomy, geology, solar physics, astrophysics, palaeontology, tectonics, oceanography, geochemistry and volcanology – just tell me where to stop.

If that burly Californian builder isn’t, as one suspects, an expert in those subjects, then his opinion is no more valuable than that of an averagely intelligent cat. But our media don’t seek such outdated things as knowledge and truth.

They are slaves to this new piety, as they are to any other that reaches the status of an orthodoxy within five minutes of being hatched. Happy in their bondage, they are desperately trying to enslave us all too – and they must be congratulated on doing a good job.

P.S. Speaking of congratulations, today is 14 July, the national day of France. Now, I love both France and my French friends, but I’m not going to wish them a happy Bastille Day.

On this day in 1789, 300 thugs stormed France’s most celebrated prison, pushing the button for a revolution. The Bastille was the centrepiece of what they saw as the cruellest tyranny. Yet they found only seven prisoners held there, most of them doing time for murder.

That’s pretty thin for a cruel tyranny. In fact, the prison in our regional centre, Auxerre (p. 30,000), is currently holding 715 prisoners, and no one thinks that’s especially despotic.

So, with apologies to my French friends, I’m withholding my congratulations. It’s nothing personal – I don’t recognise any revolutionary holidays, including 4 July in the US, 7 November in Russia or 1 October in China. Turkeys don’t wish a happy Christmas to one another, do they?

Do you like peeking into other people’s letters?

Admit it, you do, as do most people, though few will ever admit it. Well, now is your chance.

This morning I wrote a reply to a friend’s letter, whose key points can be easily inferred from my response. However, having pushed the SEND button, I realised that the missive may be of general interest. That, coupled with my congenital laziness, settled the issue of today’s piece.

So here it is. I’ve withheld my correspondent’s name, along with the personal references that might reveal his identity, familiar to some readers.


I’m so sorry you fell out with the Catholic Church, but those things happen. I do, however, have a few disagreements with your treatment of it – and not just because I am a Catholic and you no longer are. For facts are facts, and they should be impervious to personal beliefs or absence thereof.

First, if you write down everything Jesus said in the Gospels, you’ll get 1.5 hours’ worth of text. Yet his ministry lasted about three years. All that time he was teaching – his apostles, his adversaries, the priests, the multitudes. Surely he said a lot more than 1.5 hours’ worth?

Also, decades passed between Jesus’ death and the appearance of the first Gospel (probably Mark’s, although the conventional sequence puts Matthew’s first). Yet the Church survived during that hiatus and expanded exponentially. Clearly, it subsisted on oral tradition, things the 12 vouchsafed to their disciples, and they to theirs.

Most of them were seeking converts in the Hellenic world, and people raised in the rational Greek tradition were bound to raise many questions and express many doubts. We know this from Paul’s epistles to various congregations.

That’s why oral tradition, exegesis and interpretation are essential parts of Christianity. Reducing it strictly to the Gospels smacks of Protestant sectarianism torn to shreds by even great Protestant thinkers.

Christians believe in a living God, which makes Christianity a dynamic, evolving religion. We don’t think revelation was (or rather had to be) given all at once, and some of history’s most sublime minds created a body of work to that effect.

The upshot of it is that Christianity isn’t only the teaching by Christ, but also, some will say mostly, the teaching about Christ. It’s that teaching that created a world religion, which in turn created the greatest civilisation in history.

Even a cursory look at the history of Europe after the disintegration of the Western Roman Empire will show that the Church was the only institution that survived more or less intact. And it was the Church that bridged the 500-year gap between the Classical and Western civilisations.

Europe overcame the barbarian onslaught thanks to the monastic orders: the Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Cistercians, Jesuits, Carmelites etc. For something close to a millennium, they carried the burden of building a new civilisation on the ruins of the old one.

They founded hospitals, shelters, charities, schools, universities and laboratories. They made immeasurable contributions to science, technology, education, medicine, agriculture, art, music, architecture – not just philosophy and theology. (The first foundry in Europe, for example, was built in an abbey not far from us here in Burgundy.)

European politics at its best also owes much to the ideas and practices of the Church, specifically its principle of subsidiarity, devolving power to the lowest sensible level.

I’d define the key political conflict of modernity as a struggle between proponents of the big or small central state. The conservative idea of localism over centralism owes much to Catholic thought. That’s why I always argue with my French friends that the EU, which pushes the notion of a giant central state to grotesque limits, is as aggressively anti-Christian – and consequently anti-European – as any socialist country.

Depicting the Church as so many obscurantist fanatics hellbent on burning people alive is good knockabout fun, but it doesn’t agree with the facts. And they, as John Adams said, are stubborn things. This tendency goes back to the first Protestants, and it was further developed by the Left, atheist fringe of European politics. The names of Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno you take in vain are invariably mentioned in support.

To begin with, these men weren’t opponents of the Church but its products. All three were educated at Catholic universities. Copernicus was a Catholic canon, Bruno a Dominican friar, Galileo a pious Catholic.

Pope Urban VIII was Galileo’s friend and patron, and he always took Galileo’s side in his disputes with the local church. The disputes were mainly caused by Galileo’s rudeness and combativeness, not so much his theories. No solid agreement on heliocentricity existed within the Church, although the majority opinion ran against it.

In the end, Galileo ungratefully and rudely turned against his friend the Pope. His punishment was to live out his days in a comfortable villa, which is risible by the standards of the atheist 20th century.

Bruno was active at the time when the Reformation threatened the survival of the Church, and a survival mechanism is built into any human organisation. Compared to his vicious attacks on the Church and its key figures, Galileo comes across as a charity worker. That’s why the Church reacted violently to Bruno’s heretical animadversions, which attacked Christian doctrine wantonly and stupidly.

Desperate times, dangerous measures and all that. The times were as desperate as they get, and the little pyre in Rome’s Campo di Fiori was the 16th century equivalent of the more recent executions for wartime treason, such as that of William Joyce in 1946.

The Church isn’t only a divine institution, but also a human one. And all human institutions make mistakes, sometimes commit crimes – we are all sinners. However, it takes a wilful deception not to see that the Church’s balance sheet of rights and wrongs is more positive than that of any other human institution I can think of, emphatically including modern democracy.

You are right that most voters can’t grasp nuanced arguments – hence politicians’ tendency to reduce the entire complexity of life to simplistic sound bites. However, between us boys, life doesn’t lend itself to such reduction, and neither does its political aspect.

A simplistic (as opposed to simple) idea is always wrong simply becuase it’s indeed simplistic. That’s why the people who win the masses with unsound and usually dishonest clichés are themselves powerful arguments against unchecked democracy run riot, the kind that’s not counterbalanced by other forms of power – and not the kind that Churchill knew.

He was a man of Edwardian, not to say Victorian, time, when the word ‘democracy’ meant something different from what it means today. In fact, in the 19th century it had no currency whatsoever. For example, American founding fathers never used it, and neither did Lincoln. (The word isn’t one of the almost 300 in his Gettisburg Address.)

That’s why Churchill’s much-quoted adage about democracy being better than anything else ever tried must be taken with a pinch of salt and, ideally, a shot of tequila. The man lived a long life, talking and writing throughout. He said many things, and many of them were mutually exclusive.

On the subject of democracy, I prefer another Churchillism: “The greatest argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with an average voter.”

This is roughly what you are saying too, isn’t it? That an average voter can’t grasp the complexity of the issues on which every election hinges? If that’s so, then it should be possible to subject democracy to critical analysis (I wrote one such in my book Democracy as a Neocon Trick) and go wherever it’ll take us, possibly all the way to finding our modern democracy systemically flawed.

All that explains why I could never seek a political office, and would reject one if it were miraculously offered. As another American politician put it, “If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.”

That in no way diminishes my admiration for the noble role UKIP played in getting Britain out of that abomination. But UKIP wasn’t so much a political party as a pressure group, thankfully an effective one. Its single issue was indeed beautifully binary: Yes or No, In or Out.

Alas, most problems of life aren’t like that, and popular appeal hardly ever coincides with truth. In fact, I’d say the Catholic Church between 500 and 1500 AD is one of the few examples of such an overlap.

As ever,


Sweet FA

The initials of our Football Association can also stand for a colloquial expression meaning ‘nothing’. That’s exactly what England got last night. That’s exactly what England deserved.

Nice man Southgate

The other day I wrote that winning a football match shouldn’t be a cause for a jingoistic orgy of triumphalism. Neither is losing a match a national tragedy.

However, football is a microcosm of life in many ways, especially since the game is run by a giant public corporation, the FA. Hence football isn’t impervious to problems besetting life outside its grass pitch, and some of those problems doomed our team to defeat.

In the good tradition of Aristotelian induction, let’s start from observable facts. One of them is that England is currently blessed with the greatest pool of talented players I’ve ever seen in the 50 years of following English football.

Many a ‘golden generation’ came and went, but none has glittered as bright as today’s lot. Yet the FA and its faithful stooge Southgate, the England manager, never learned something any child would know.

A country may boast a regiment of Beckenbauers, Maradonas and Messis, but they aren’t going to win a football game unless they are on the pitch. Now, we have several young players who are the match of anyone in the world tactically, creatively and technically.

Yet of these, only two, Foden and Grealish, made the squad, even one enlarged to 26 players due to Covid. Foden started just two matches; Grealish, none – this though he changed the game every time he came on as a late substitute. He did that in the semi-final too, only for the substitute to be instantly substituted.

Our commentators ascribed that boycott to Southgate’s deep strategic insights. In fact, it’s corporate CYA (Cover-Your-Arse) thinking at its most blatant.

Big corporations, especially public ones, distrust idiosyncratic flair. Safety first is their motto, and brilliant talents tend to be unsafe or, in the corporate lingo, high maintenance. They try the unconventional, they take risks. And risks sometimes don’t pay off. Also, their lifestyle may fall short of the monastic standards fulsomely proclaimed by the FA.

Someone like Grealish may hit a pass no one else in the team would even see but, every time such a pass goes awry, the corporation man sees a redundancy notice flashing before his mind’s eye. When the pass connects, the team scores, but that’s not much of a consolation for the functionary.

It’s that type of thinking that shaped Southgate’s team selections throughout the tournament. The idea was to get the odd goal and then hang on for dear life.

Anyone who has ever followed football would have known that such a strategy wouldn’t work against top teams on form. There were several top teams in the tournament but, other than England, only two were on form: Spain and Italy.

England lost the final to Italy and would have lost to Spain too if the luck of the draw hadn’t pitted those two teams against each other in the semis. Other than Italy, England had to play only two top teams, Croatia and Germany, but they are both aging and in transition.

Southgate did his corporate best at the press conferences, which is part of his appeal to the FA. Any England manager must have the panache of a PR flack and the CV of a monastic novice. In relatively recent years, two managers, Venables and Hoddle, each miles better than Southgate, were dismissed for failing to meet such exalted criteria.

Unlike them, Southgate willingly toes the FA line. Unlike Venables, he wasn’t touched by a shadow of fiscal impropriety in an earlier job. Unlike Hoddle, he didn’t impose esoteric faith-healing practices on the team, nor make public statements out of tune with our woke times.

Also unlike them, he doesn’t emit a single spark of creativity, but that doesn’t matter to the FA. Like any giant public corporation, it has higher concerns than its core business.

What matters more than attacking, entertaining football is conformity to the woke diktats of modernity. That’s why the FA demanded that the players ‘take the knee’ to signal their solidarity with a subversive Marxist group. And that’s why they are encouraged to take active part in all sorts of social initiatives, some worthy, some otherwise.

The players are supposed to be the models our youngsters will follow, and, under Southgate’s tutelage, they try their best. Yet I’d suggest that illiterate chaps covered head to toe with horrendous tattoos set a bad example even before they open their mouths.

I’d also suggest that both they individually and the England team collectively would do better if they devoted more effort to their craft and less to ‘issues’. Thus Rashford, according to one admiring hack, is “a force for such good in English football and society”. Well, he should have spent more time practising penalties than being a force for good. As it was, his miss contributed to England’s defeat.

When England began to scrape through the early stages, Southgate was hailed as a genius. This decent but boring man did his best to respond. England was playing a game shaped in their manager’s image, decent and boring. But, Southgate explained to the uninitiated, “we are here to win, not to entertain”. Yes, Gareth, but, with a few exceptions here and there, the two go hand in hand at the top level.

Southgate’s selections for the final reflected his disdain for entertainment. Eight of England’s 11 were defenders by trade, one was a goal-to-goal midfielder, and only two did attacking for a living. Every team needs a balance, as Southgate never tired of repeating. It was hard to detect one there.

Amazingly, that idea worked initially. The Italians gasped with disbelief when seeing a team made up almost exclusively of defenders and, before they got their breath back, England scored in the third minute. Italy was shaken, and a dedicated surge could have easily produced another goal or two, putting the game to bed.

But that’s not how corporation men think. Venables or Hoddle would have thrown men forward; Southgate pulled them back.

England began to put 10 men behind the ball, especially in the second half. Players who could keep hold of the ball weren’t on the pitch, and Italy enjoyed over 70 per cent possession (68 per cent for the whole game). Another lesson for the corporation: it’s hard to put the ball in the net, if the other team has the ball most of the time.

Predictably, the Italians eventually equalised, and England managed to hang on by the skin of their teeth long enough to take the game into a penalty shootout. When their defenders got the ball, they were ordered to punt it upfield, Hail Mary style. Those world class players were displaying a style usually seen only in the lower divisions of English football.

Then Southgate tried a trick that, had it worked, would have earned him a peerage, not just the knighthood he’ll probably receive.

He put three substitutes on late in extra time specifically with the penalties in mind. One of them came on some 10 minutes before the end and barely had a touch of the ball. The other two came in the last couple of minutes and only caught sight of the ball from a safe distance.

No wonder all three missed – it’s hard to keep your nerve when you aren’t in the swing of the game. Scoring just two out of five penalties is Sunday pub league, not world class football.

Afterwards Southgate magnanimously allowed it was all his fault. You don’t say, Gareth.

Under the FA’s darling Southgate, England players may yet learn the much-praised art of losing gracefully. Had, say, Venables or Hoddle been in charge last night, they would have walked away with the trophy. But in the process they could have left a certain portion of the FA’s anatomy uncovered. That was out of the question.

I recall the story of the American admiral Ernest King, who was pushed into semi-retirement in the 1930s, mainly for his recalcitrant and insubordinate nature. Yet immediately after Pearl Harbour he was brought back as Chief of Naval Operations. “When the shooting starts,” commented the admiral, “they send out for the mean sons of bitches.”

I wonder if the FA has heard this story.  

The mystique of pure evil

Post-revolutionary Russia is a cautionary tale, a lesson for all of us. But we never learn it.

Some people, whose number is dwindling, do appreciate how much the history of Russia in the last century teaches about politics and revolutions. Few realise that it teaches as much about human nature.

That’s why, whenever I write about Russia, I’m not writing just about Russia. For I always treat it as a concave mirror into which the West can look to see its own vices and misconceptions grotesquely exaggerated and so much more visible for it.

One such misconception is produced by pure evil. Whenever Westerners encounter it, they are so baffled that they refuse to recognise it for what it is. Proud of being empiricists, they nevertheless allow their emotions and biases to throw a dense fog over the evidence before their eyes – even when they are familiar with the evidence.

Most aren’t though, and we have our education to thank for it. If in the past, teachers, especially at university level, saw their task in overriding their charges’ prejudices, today they feel duty-bound to cater to those prejudices. All are laid down together on a flat table, and all enjoy the same space.

It’s as if our moral compass was put next to an iron bar and is now going haywire. Discrimination has become a dirty word, and people have been brainwashed not to discriminate against anything: fallacies in favour of truths, ignorance in favour of learning, ugliness in favour of beauty – against anything at all.

The greatest crime committed by modernity is the fostering, and increasingly enforcement, of the presumption of equality between everyone and everything. And, alas, this egalitarianism works most of the time when it comes to judging human character.

For most people, some 90 per cent from personal observation, fall into the broad mid-range of human qualities. They are neither too good nor too bad; neither too bright nor too dim; neither too strong nor too weak. A few personal idiosyncrasies apart, they are much of a muchness. They seek equality so much, they indeed end up being equal to one another.

When such people evaluate others in the same 90 per cent bracket, they may achieve insights by projecting themselves onto them. That leads to reasonable understanding, for in most cases this epistemological method is justified.

Yet there exist two five per cent margins on either side of our mid-range. Finding themselves there are saintly and evil individuals, geniuses and imbeciles, giants and weaklings, along with close approximations of those extremes.

Those people are outside the ken of those in the mid-range, who find themselves unable and reluctant even to acknowledge that such extremes can possibly exist. They have been house-trained to believe that everyone is like them, give or take.

So they perform their trusted trick of self-projection on the outsiders only to find, to their consternation, that it doesn’t quite work. The top five per cent stubbornly refuse to be dragged down, the bottom five per cent are as resistant to being pulled up.

Those in the majority abandon their efforts. As far as they are concerned, the extremes might as well not exist. It’s best not to think about them for fear of upsetting the applecart of presumptive equality.

This gets my train of thought back on the track of Russia, specifically the man I consider history’s clearest embodiment of pure evil. Lenin, in my judgement, beats to that distinction everyone’s favourites, Hitler and Stalin.

Those two villains run Lenin close, but they don’t quite manage to catch up. For both tried to achieve something they saw as positive. Yes, they were criminal in their aims and evil in their methods, but their evil may be perceived by some as a dry martini: almost neat gin but not quite.

That’s why they both still have their champions, especially Stalin, whom many Russians still identify as their greatest compatriot. Yes, he murdered millions, but he left his country as a superpower bristling with nuclear weapons, goes the popular refrain. Above all, there was order under Stalin and, say the German loonies, ordnung under Hitler too, which is so much preferable to today’s chaos.

In Britain, outside the two lunatic fringes, those two personages, especially Hitler, are seen as the distillate of evil. Our mid-range 90 per cent have been told that in these two cases such an uncompromising judgement is justified.

Lenin, however, gets off. Most Westerners are simply too ignorant to assess him properly, which is fair enough. Not everyone has to be an expert on Russian history – there exist many more interesting subjects to study, and a plethora of more useful ones.

Yet even those who know the facts, and such people are understandably more numerous in Russia than in the West, still detect a romantic halo over Lenin’s head, gleaming so bright that the contents of his head are outshone. He was a revolutionary, and there’s always a warm spot in the mid-range heart for such heroes.

That’s an interesting psychological phenomenon. A middle-of-the-road person is generally satisfied with his life. In fact, self-satisfaction is a marker identifying that group. However, even though he himself is perfect, not everything in his life and surroundings is ideal.

He has to wait three months for a doctor’s appointment, money is tight for him while the fat cats are rolling in it, the bloody taxes are going up, politicians are useless, the missus is doing the dirty with her boss – whatever.

Out of despondency arises hope, just a glimmer of it. One day, a secular saviour will pop up like a genie out of the bottle, and suddenly all the chap’s troubles will melt away. Doctors will be queuing up to see him, his bank account will be bursting at the seams, his taxes will go down, the missus will recognise the error of her ways.

Yes, he knows that most, perhaps all, past attempts to wave such a magic wand have failed. Still, those who wielded that stick deserve to be marked up for trying. And who knows, perhaps one day another genie will succeed in granting the poor chap his every wish.

Such people refuse to admit that most revolutionaries in history have been driven by mostly evil, destructive impulses – and Lenin exclusively by those. I shan’t repeat myself by presenting the prima facie evidence of this. Those who are interested may want to look up my earlier piece on this subject (http://www.alexanderboot.com/how-could-i-forget-his-birthday/).  

What’s interesting here is watching the presumption of equality kicking in. Everyone knows that his overall goodness is offset by some bad traits. The balance differs from one person to the next, but there is always a balance.

Yet in Lenin there was none. From his barely postpubescent days he was driven by pure evil, the desire to destroy so strong that there was no room left in his heart for wishing to create something as well. When it came to positive desiderata, Lenin spoke in generalities that appealed to the masses without being able to withstand 10 seconds of rational scrutiny.

It’s only when Lenin lay down his evil designs that he spoke in concrete terms: “I don’t care if 90 per cent of all Russians perish, as long as the remaining 10 per cent live under socialism”. His much-vaunted modesty prevented him from acknowledging that he’d accept even a higher proportion of jetsam, leaving only himself and his accomplices to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Given a few more years, Lenin could have reached the allowable limit. As it was, only some 10 million Russians were dispatched by various methods on his watch. That was a higher murderous efficiency than Stalin’s, considering that Lenin was in power for barely five years.

And, unlike Stalin, he couldn’t have had even a tenuous claim to leaving Russia stronger than he had found it. The country was thoroughly devastated, its industry, agriculture, social and cultural life lay in ruins. Millions of desperate, hungry, disease-ridden skeletons roamed about, stumbling on the smoking fragments of the world they used to know.

I mentioned that even some people who know all the facts still have to issue Lenin a more or less free pass. One such is Edvard Radzinsky, popular as both playwright and historian whose works in both genres have been translated into English.

A Russian friend of mine has directed me towards Radzinsky’s YouTube channel, where his talking head shares his thoughts and recollections. My friend said Radzinsky was an excellent raconteur, and sure enough he is. Now in his eighties, he has seen and written about most Russians of interest, and he talks about them in a lucid and entertaining, if slightly histrionic, manner.

In fact, Radzinsky has inspired this piece because Lenin is his recurrent subject. He treats him mainly as the precursor of Stalin, and here Radzinsky promulgates the usual misconceptions that are more prevalent in the West than in Russia.

Speaking with his usual bonhomie oozing humour and the milk of human kindness, he describes Lenin with unmerited gentleness. The diabolical ghoul emerges as an idealist who genuinely wanted to create paradise on earth, but unwittingly laid the groundwork for Stalin to create hell on earth.

Radzinsky movingly talks about Lenin’s heart-rending misery at watching his beloved revolution turning into something he had never envisaged: the rule of bureaucracy. The nice man refuses to acknowledge that Lenin had envisaged nothing other than extermination and destruction.

Those were the only things for which his evil loins ached. Everything else was just window-dressing for mass consumption.

Radzinsky’s talent and erudition ought to be sufficient for pulling him out of the morass of middle-of-the-road mediocrity. Yet his inability, or perhaps reluctance, to recognise pure evil drags him back in. Such a stumbling block evidently can’t be bypassed by intellect and erudition alone – pure evil is shrouded in mystique, impenetrable to secular knowledge.

Easy, lads, it’s only footie

It’s customary these days to preface an unpopular or controversial statement with a disclaimer, followed by a ‘but…’.

Anybody have a sickbag handy?

For example, “Some of my best friends are Jewish, but…” or “I have nothing against women, but…” or “I passionately believe in diversity, but…”

I feel compelled to follow this fine tradition by saying that I like football as much as the next man. I played it to a reasonable standard in my youth and have followed it ever since, much to the disapproval of my high-flying friends.

The team I’ve always supported even before moving to London is England, and I’ll be rooting for it tomorrow. I hope it’s a good game but, as long as England wins, it won’t matter.

Is that a convincing enough disclaimer for you? Good. Because here comes my ‘but’.

Football is lovely, but do let’s put it in perspective. What we’ll witness tomorrow is a spectacle of 22 heavily tattooed men with learning difficulties (I hope we all realise that an ‘intelligent player’ isn’t the same as an ‘intelligent man’) kicking an inflated leather balloon.

What emphatically won’t unfold before us is a nation coming together to display the Blitz spirit, show multi-cultural solidarity transcending race and class, vindicate any of the fashionable pieties, strike a blow for any cause other than kicking an inflated leather balloon, give hope to the disadvantaged and terminally ill, expunge the havoc of Covid – nor do anything at all other than watching a game of football and hoping the right team wins.

Such is the sane view. Yet, as I never miss an opportunity to point out, sanity has gone the way of all flesh. We live in a parallel universe of virtual reality, and in that universe tomorrow’s game has at least the significance of the Battle of Britain, with an added dimension of wokish probity.

You can find proof of this madness or idiocy (take your pick) in any newspaper or TV account of the forthcoming event. They all say more or less the same things, so the article perpetrated by Henry Winter, chief footie writer for The Times, can be used as the blueprint.

“This final matters,” he writes, “because it is even more than a game, even more than England’s most important sporting moment in 55 years. This final also matters because it offers a chance for all ages and communities in this country to reacquaint themselves with hope.”

Hope of what exactly? Clearly of something that soars above just winning a football tournament. Earthly riches? Eternal salvation? Everlasting love? Sometimes, Henry, a cigar is just a cigar, and a game is just a bleeding game, innit?

Not to him though, and not to any of the hacks writing on this subject. Our national team isn’t just a group of good ball kickers, far from it:

“England are also a model of diversity, a timely lesson to a society that too often seems divided. It’s why they are right to take a knee. And it also mattered that Kane wore a rainbow armband against Germany, and that Jordan Henderson wears rainbow laces. The less enlightened in England’s fanbase or society may look and learn from their footballing idols’ stance.”

Since I’m one of those who fall short of Mr Winter’s stratospheric standards of enlightenment, his cretinous musings have a distinctly emetic effect on me… Sorry, they make me wanna puke, in the less enlightened idiom.

According to Mr Winter, the transcendent value of tomorrow’s footie lies in the propaganda of Marxist or otherwise seditious causes held in fulsomely reverential esteem by our faux… sorry, I mean half-arsed, liberals.

That nauseating (puke-making) genuflection acts as a pledge of allegiance to the self-admittedly Marxist, which is to say subversive, group, BLM. And the rainbow colour scheme is the flag of the Gay Pride movement, seeking to elevate sexual perversion to a civic virtue.

Pride in general isn’t always a commendable emotion, especially when it’s expressed by shoving various parts of one’s body into the various orifices of one’s fellow man. I don’t think Messrs Kane and Henderson are themselves that way inclined, so they are merely expressing solidarity with identity politics at its most revolting.

What Mr Winter et al. don’t realise, or rather don’t care about, is that they lie when claiming that identity politics can unite a society divided upon itself. Anyone with a modicum of honesty and common sense will know that this insanity has exactly the opposite effect.

A hodgepodge of faddish issues, taken either singly or collectively, can never have the effect claimed by the wokers of the world. Only a shared belief in a transcendent entity infinitely higher than our transitory concerns can do that, and that no longer exists as a social dynamic.

Severing, systematically and wantonly, the ties holding society together within a single edifice of spirituality, morality and civic solidarity is a crime. And everyone who bends the knee to black racial extremism or displays the colours of aberrant sexuality is an accomplice.

However, even if I were the champion of diversity I sometimes claim to be in jest, I certainly wouldn’t want my noble cause vulgarised by propaganda via footie. I’d seek the dignity and the high moral plateau that’s alien to ball-kickers.

For the same pundits who ascribe a higher purpose to the game also praise our players for their ‘pragmatism’.

In that spirit, when an opponent’s hand barely brushes a player’s cheek, he falls on the ground as if poleaxed by Mike Tyson in his prime. Any slight contact in the penalty area makes the player roll on the grass like tumbleweed on a windy day. Any foul, no matter how mild, and the player fakes a life-threatening injury in the hope of getting the other chap carded.

That sort of thing used to be called cheating. If that’s pragmatism, give me idealism any day. Our players would do more good by conducting themselves with dignity during the game than by spouting wokish rubbish.

Having said all that, I hope England wipes the pitch with the Italians tomorrow. Go, lads – even though the survival of our commonwealth doesn’t really hinge on tomorrow’s result. Ingerland!

History written by losers

Today’s article on Garcia Lorca in The Times gives the lie to the old adage “History is written by the victors”. For the victors’ voice is no longer heard in any discussion of the Spanish Civil War and its key figures.

That narrative is dominated by the single-minded champions of the losing, Loyalist, side. Franco is universally reviled, with the excesses of his regime flagged as the only testimony to the brutality of the Civil War. The Republican cause is invariably portrayed as just.

One has to search high and wide for any balanced account, never mind one sympathetic to Franco. No one gives the Caudillo any merit points for stopping a communist takeover of Spain that, had it succeeded, would have turned the country into the Pyrenean version of Bulgaria.

Nor is Franco given credit for what’s colloquially known as “The Spanish Miracle”, the country’s economic revival in the late ‘50s, when Spain reversed centuries of decline to become a player in the global economic games.

History, in other words, is these days written neither by the victors nor by the losers. It’s written by socialists, or liberals if you’d rather, regardless of which side they supported in which war. They use powerful binoculars when looking at the atrocities suffered by the Left, then flip the instrument the other way around (or better still, put the lens covers on) to look at the atrocities committed by the Left.

In that spirit, the article in question waxes tragic about the execution of Lorca by the dastardly Nationalists, adding that he was one of the 140,000-150,000 people executed by Franco between 1936 and 1947.

I’m not going to dispute the numbers given, even though I could mention some history books that cite figures closer to 50,000. Nor am I going to exonerate Franco from even the lower number of executions – shooting defenceless people isn’t nice.

But ‘nice’ isn’t an adjective that can be honestly applied to any civil war in history. These are traditionally fought with bloodthirsty passions by both sides.

Some 200,000, for example, died in the English Civil Wars of the 17th century (out of a population of about six million). In the American Civil War, the country suffered almost a million casualties, more than in all her other wars combined. The internecine violence that erupted during and after the French Revolution claimed hundreds of thousands of deaths, tens of thousands by execution in the Vendée region alone. The Russian Civil war took uncountable (and uncounted) millions of lives.

No number of wrongs make a right, but Franco’s atrocities should be put in context. The left side of a broader picture must include the murders perpetrated by the Loyalist side, whose number was similar to Franco’s, but whose targets were different. For example, the Left murdered, in variously baroque ways, 6,832 priests (including 13 bishops), monks and nuns.

The article mentions casually but accusingly that: “Spain remains neutral as war breaks out in Europe but Franco’s sympathies lie with the Axis powers”. Fancy that, who could have thought.

Is the implication that Franco should have sympathised with Stalin, who had attempted to turn Spain into his communist colony, rather than with Hitler and Mussolini, who helped him thwart that tragedy? It’s the first part of the quoted sentence that’s significant, not the second, especially if left unqualified.

For Franco indeed managed to withstand the tremendous pressure applied by the Nazis to enter the war on their side. And he even refused the Nazis right of passage for an attack on Gibraltar. In fact, keeping Spain out of that war was one of Franco’s great achievements. (His Blue Division did fight at Stalingrad, but all its soldiers were volunteers who couldn’t forget Stalinist crimes committed on their soil.)

Coming from a country in which hundreds of great cultural figures were either murdered by the Soviets or forced into exile, I deeply regret Lorca’s death. He was a fine poet, although, having read his work in translations only, I can’t really judge how fine.

The Times writer knows no such limitations: “Alongside Picasso, Dalí and Miró, he was a key figure in a cultural renaissance of a stature that Spain had not seen since the 17th century.” This means one has to look at painters to find cultural figures of a stature comparable to Lorca’s. No other writers need apply.

That view is worse than wrong; it’s ignorant. For Lorca’s Spanish contemporaries included such seminal thinkers and essayists as Ortega y Gasset, Miguel Unamuno and George Santayana, along with poets as accomplished as Lorca himself, such as the Machado brothers, especially Antonio.

None of them could match Lorca’s iconic status as a martyr to the left-wing cause, but when one talks about cultural renaissances, such factors ought to be discounted. But they never are, are they?

Perhaps history is indeed written by the victors, even if they lost on the battlefield. For the Left have won their surreptitious revolution, a victory gained not by martial valour but by gradual subversion through the media and educational institutions.

And if you don’t believe me, compare The Times of 100 years ago with the same paper today.  

Sugar and spice and all things nice

Girls aren’t what they used to be, and I suppose that’s what all old curmudgeons are saying.

Laurel Hubbard, at age 35

In the times long since passed, some girls were nicer than others. Some were tomboys, others unapologetically feminine. Some were pretty, others described as ‘beautiful eyes’ or ‘great personality’. Some were clever, some just bubbly. Some played chess when others played with fluffy toys. Some were virtuous, others less so.

But one thing uniting them all was that they were all girls, born and bred. While some of them, mainly those from the sunnier climes, had more facial hair than others, very few had bushy beards at any time of their lives.

Those who were so cursed sometimes turned that defect to pecuniary advantage by performing at county fairs, sharing the limelight with men sporting breasts or women who could smoke cigarettes without using their lips.

All that has changed. According to the modern ethos, some girls may have beards and even penises. And some can even compete against other women weightlifters in the Olympics.

This brings us to Laurel, née Gavin, Hubbard, 43, who is to represent New Zealand in the upcoming Olympic Games. Laurel will be a firm favourite in the women’s superheavyweight division, mainly because she had been Gavin until ‘transitioning’ at age 35 (don’t you just love those neologistic coinages?).

I don’t know if Laurel, née Gavin, still boasts the male appendage but, as far as the International Olympic Committee is concerned, that doesn’t matter one way or the other.

Men don’t have to undergo complete surgery to qualify for women’s events. All they have to do is keep their testosterone count below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months.

Now, given the pharmacological advances of which modernity is justly proud, I’m sure a quick course of testosterone suppressors can do the trick well enough. Yet someone who had a full dose of that hormone for the first 35 years of his life still possesses a body built by male biochemistry.

Since, all else being equal, men are inherently stronger than women, I’m even ashamed to make the point about the unfairness of it all – stating the blindingly obvious isn’t what writers should do.

No such compunctions for Kereyn Smith, New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive. “We acknowledge,” she allowed, “that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play.”

No, dear, the issue isn’t, or rather shouldn’t be, at all sensitive and complex. And the balance required isn’t one between human rights and fairness. It’s between madness and sanity. Or, if you’d rather, between seemliness and unseemliness.

Yet, while it’s still marginally permissible to discuss the fairness of the issue, it never occurs to anyone that the topic should never even arise in any sane society. Hence 96 per cent of the 2,418 respondents in an Australian poll thought it was unfair that Hubbard should compete against women.

Did any of them suggest it was cloud cuckoo land for this subject even to come up? I bet many felt that way, but then decided that valour wasn’t the only thing discretion was the better part of.

Discretion is also mandatory for anyone finding himself at odds with a prevailing orthodoxy. That juggernaut can crush anyone, once it gets rolling. Best to keep out of its way.

Thus an intrepid soul daring to use such outdated words as ‘seemly’ and ‘unseemly’ is likely to be mocked and ostracised. The orthodoxy has spoken, and it has stated in no uncertain terms that nothing is unseemly, provided it serves to knock out the last bricks of civilisation still standing.

Defiance of everything seen as normal and decent for millennia is not only welcomed but actively promoted – starting at the elementary school, or even kindergarten, level. No one even considers the long-term devastation such anomie will wreak on society. No one even recognises that such a thing as society exists, and that it’s a garden worth tending.

And no society can survive without a set of norms: moral, legal and aesthetic. In fact, it’s such norms that keep the atoms of individuals from spinning out of the social molecule to create chaos.

That said, a norm isn’t an umbrella under which everyone can fit. Some people can’t, and others won’t, do so. Yet it’s up to society to decide which deviation may or may not be tolerated. A free society will allow any number of them, but an enduring society will also know how to protect itself from disintegration.

Gender dysphoria in itself presents no more danger to society than phocomelia (being born with no limbs) does. Sufferers from either deformity deserve our love, compassion and support.

What they don’t deserve is a claim to normality and exemption from any natural restrictions. When transsexuals insist on being accepted on their own terms, and society concurs through its subversive mouthpieces able to impose a new orthodoxy, norms are no longer seen as normal. Society tries a flipflop and lands smack on its head.

I dare anyone, even a fully paid-up ‘liberal’, to claim he doesn’t wince, at least inwardly, at the sight of a sideshow like Laurel-Gavin. Natural instincts aren’t always laudable, but sometimes they are more honest and noble than pseudointellectual contortions passing for morality. This is one of those cases.

P.S. In a parallel development, now it’s Boris Becker’s turn to fall foul of the new orthodoxy. When he was doing commentary on a Wimbledon match involving a Hungarian player, the camera lingered on the player’s fiancée.

Boris remarked: “They do say they have the most beautiful women in Hungary. I wouldn’t know that, but she’s certainly very pretty.”

The transgressor didn’t realise that any comment on a woman’s appearance is these days prohibited. The ensuing public outcry, with words like ‘sexist’ and ‘chauvinist’ most salient, must have reminded him of the way the strudel crumbles. Boris is fortunate that the lady in question isn’t a converted man, for in that case he would have been accused of mockery.

Mac gets the knife

In addition to his first-hand knowledge of tennis, John McEnroe has the gift of the gab, otherwise known as a big (or motor) mouth. This he has parlayed into a successful career as tennis commentator.

It’s not a laughing matter, John

For my money, he is the best there is, although a part of me misses our dear old Dan Maskell. Who can forget his long silences interspersed with the occasional “I say” and “A rather immature shot, that”?

McEnroe’s style is more effusive, reflecting his temperament and American Irishness. He talks a lot, which loquacity sometimes gets him in trouble. As it has this time.

But first, let’s set the backdrop to the story.

Emma Raducanu is an 18-year-old British tennis player ranked somewhere in the 300s. Her ancestry is typical of female British players.

She was born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother. The family moved to London when Emma was two, and she took up tennis soon thereafter.

Though she grew up in England, Emma pays homage to her eclectic heritage by claiming a fondness for Romanian food and Taiwanese TV series. Yet she never mentions ice hockey, leaving Canadians wondering where they went wrong.

This year Emma got a wild card into Wimbledon and used it brilliantly: she got to the fourth round, which is rare for someone playing only her second professional tournament.

Her achievement instantly served a useful reminder that professional sport seldom brings out the best in human nature. Thus, every time a fly-by-night sports star rises, our papers burst with hysterical enthusiasm liberally tinged with faux patriotism.

Emma, they said this time, is well on her way to making millions in endorsement contracts. The papers may well be right. She has everything going for her: solid game, good looks, effervescence, background that screams diversity. Did we say millions? Make it billions, especially if she gets into the quarters.

Boris Johnson sent little Emma a message saying the whole country was behind her, even though most of the country didn’t have a clue who she was. Quarters? That’s setting our sights way too low. She’s going to win the whole tournament, and then it’s “Arise, Dame Emma”.

She didn’t win the whole tournament, nor even the fourth round. Playing on a show court for the first time in her life, and carrying the weight of the entire United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on her slender shoulders, Emma dropped a close first set.

The poor girl then hyperventilated in the middle of the second. Experiencing dizziness and difficulty breathing, she had to quit after a medical timeout. Emma was then accompanied to the exit, holding her stomach and barely acknowledging the tumultuous ovation.

And then Mac got in trouble. I’ll quote his statement in full for you to figure out what was so offensive about it:

“I feel bad for Emma, I mean obviously it got – it appears it got a bit too much, as is understandable…

“How much can players handle? It makes you look at the guys that have been around and the girls for so long, how well they can handle it. 

“These guys that can keep their composure and the girls out there are absolutely amazing – so we have to appreciate the players that are able to do it so well and hopefully she will learn from this experience.”

This sounds like a sympathetic comment by a man who knows what it takes to play on Centre Court for the first time. Mac was Emma’s age when he made it to the Wimbledon semis, and he knows that mental strength is as essential to success as a big serve and an armour-piercing forehand.

Not the most insightful or original of comments, I’d say, but how was it offensive? I mean, Mac didn’t say the trouble with Emma was that she was a girl, and a Sino-Romanian one to boot. He didn’t even suggest she must have been having her period or suffering from PMT.

Had he said anything along those lines, public decapitation would have been the only fit punishment, everyone is in agreement on that. But he didn’t, so where’s the problem?

If you have to ask, you must have been living on some faraway planet outside our galaxy. Here on Planet Earth, any comment about a woman is borderline criminal if it falls short of describing her as a giant able to lead a bayonet charge over the top against a machinegun encasement.

The social media screamed with demands that McEnroe be summarily sacked, and the messages highlighted in all caps words like DISGUSTING and REVOLTING.

Harriet Minter, a London hack who specialises in such vital areas as women’s rights and general diversity, wrote: “Is there anything more annoying than a man telling a woman she’s not hurt she’s just emotional? No, no there isn’t. Please ask him to stop.”

Er, let me think. Is there? Actually, there is, and I’d be happy to give Harriet a long list of worse annoyances, with her close to the top. No, not a good idea. If I did that, I’d probably have my collar felt.

Chloe Hubbard, the executive editor of The Independent, a paper only marginally to the right of the Pravda of my youth, added practical advice to scathing criticism: “Feel like the producers could have given McEnroe a bit of a better mental health briefing ahead of him sharing ALL the views there.”

One wonders what such a briefing would contain. I got it: “John, you can talk about men’s mental pressures to your heart’s content, but when it comes to women, keep your big mouth shut.”

The gist is that women aren’t just as sturdy as men – they are much, infinitely, more so. Every woman, even a very young one, is a superwoman impervious to the same pressures that can paralyse all those male wimps. Hyperventilation? You say that H-word again, and…

Emma herself interrupted this imaginary monologue by posting a message in which she implicitly exonerated Mac from his slanderous comment about pressure having got to her. “I was playing the best tennis of my life in front of an amazing crowd this week and I think the whole experience caught up with me.”

The upshot? The message is clear enough, reminiscent of Miranda Rights: “You have the right to remain silent, but anything you say about women can and will be used against you in a court of public opinion – if not one of law.”

Let me tell you, the list of things one can’t say is getting longer than in the Soviet Union, circa 1970. You know, the totalitarian state known in some quarters as the ‘Empire of Evil’?

Those bubbly Russians

International laws say that only the sparkling wines produced in the French province of Champagne are to be called ‘champagne’ – with the marque ‘cognac’ reserved exclusively for the brandies produced in Cognac. All other similar beverages must be called, respectively, ‘sparkling wine’ or ‘brandy’.

Tradition lives on

The Soviets, however, treated those laws with their customary blithe contempt. Hence I grew up drinking ‘Soviet champagne’ and ‘Armenian cognac’ (sometimes in the same glass).

The memory isn’t altogether pleasant: the lighter beverage was a treacly, gassy concoction that got stuck to one’s gullet and refused to go any further. As for the ‘cognac’, it too was sugary with a smell of bedbugs that stayed in one’s nostrils for weeks after consumption – not that such long intervals were ever customary in my practice.

Since leaving Russia in 1973, I’ve made sure neither beverage would cross my lips ever again. Actually, some 30 years ago a friend gave me a bottle of Soviet ‘champagne’, but it has remained unopened. However, it has proved jolly useful in my cooking: I use it as a mallet to pound chicken or veal escalopes. The possibility of this particular mallet exploding in my hand adds some welcome frisson to the procedure.

The collapse of the Soviet Union has done little to heighten the Russians’ respect for international trade laws. Hence they’ve been stubbornly labelling their sparkling wines as champagne, even though these days the real thing is widely available thanks to French imports.

Yet the other day Putin decided to go the Soviets one better. The Duma passed a federal law confirming that the Russian sparkling wines would continue to be called ‘champagne’, and the French could go boil un oeuf. However, a new twist was added: henceforth it’ll be only Russian champagnes to be so designated, while the imported French products must be labelled ‘sparkling wines’.

In other words, champagnes are no longer champagnes, but Russian sparkling wines are. Orwell’s dystopic fantasies come together with Dali’s paintings and Golding’s Lord of the Flies to create a parallel reality.

The French predictably screamed bloody murder, and at first it looked as if they might bring the identity thieves to account. Last Friday, Moët Hennessy announced it was suspending supplies to Russia, meaning that those Russian ‘oligarchs’ would only be able to bathe their whores in water, rather than in Dom Perignon produced by the obstreperous firm.

But then things went back to normal. It turned out the suspension didn’t come from any principled stance. It’s just that Moët Hennessy needs some time to print new labels for the bottles to be exported to Russia, expurgating the C-word that now belongs to Russia by (her own) law. The reports don’t mention whether the cognacs produced by the same company will now be labelled ‘French brandy’, although this sounds logical.

Other ideas spring to mind that Russian legislators may find attractive, especially if Vlad likes them too. Scotch whisky may now be called ‘Scottish barley vodka’, BMW cars could be renamed ‘Bavarian Lada’, and parmesan could go by ‘Italian cheese-like product’.

If the Russians like such ideas, I’ll be happy to provide many others. Meanwhile, I’d rather draw your attention to the general tendency of which this thievery is indicative.

Putin clearly wishes to establish Russia’s status as a rogue state, mostly defined by its hostility to the West. But more important, he wishes to impose his will on the West by a chain of escalating steps.

The escalation is both implicit and inevitable. If the West accepts the theft of its historic trademarks, it may also, in due course, accept the theft of European territories.

Many techniques are used to that end, including, in this case, one described by Orwell in one of his essays on Nazi Germany (written at a time when he still hadn’t identified the Soviet Union as a parallel evil). As I recall, he wrote that the Nazis indulged in ridiculous pageants and rituals as a way of saying to the people: “We know this is ridiculous, you know it too, and we know that you know. But you’ll still be forced to do as we say, and wipe that sneer off your face.”

In other words, surreal displays like the rebaptising of champagne are important not so much for what they are as for what they communicate. The subtext trumps the text.

And the subtext is exactly the same as, for example, in the on-going ransomware attack on Western businesses around the world, launched by Russian hackers with, as a minimum, their government’s acquiescence.

I just wonder if the thousands of American businesses held to electronic ransom fall into the 16 categories specified by Biden as being off-limits for Russian hacker raids. If they don’t, there doesn’t seem to be much the Americans can do about this: the Russians aren’t overstepping the boundaries set by El Swifto in the White House.

Not that there is any appetite discernible anywhere in the West for stopping Russian banditry in its tracks. The cowardly, supine submission of French champagne producers is only one in the long series of surrenders, accompanied by open mouths, closed eye and raised arms.

The Russians have got away with many other electronic attacks, trade thefts, illegal territory grabs and murders committed with variously sophisticated weapons in the middle of Western cities. Each time the West first threw up its collective arms in horror, only then to do so in surrender.

The cumulative consequences could be dire, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.