They don’t call it Highlands for nothing

Turns out the wee dram isn’t the only poison for which Scotland is justly famous. The country is also way ahead of England in the number of drug-related deaths.

The number of drug-related deaths has tripled during the SNP tenure

And not just England: no other European country comes remotely close to Scotland in that rubric either. No doubt they are all eager to welcome the Scots into the sanctum of the EU.

Not that England and Wales are too shabby in that department. Last week’s figures show over 4,500 such deaths in the past year. That isn’t quite Covid levels, but still sizeable, relative to most other European countries.

The findings instantly gave rise to the lapidary British cry of “What are we going to do about it?”. Well, considering that even the almost total closing of national borders during the pandemic did little to stem the influx of drugs, there’s precious little we can do.

After all, a good chunk of the prison population regularly test positive for various controlled substances. This shows that demand will find supply even in extreme unfreedom. Therefore even replicating prison conditions throughout the country won’t solve the problem, though I wouldn’t put it past our government to try.

Such pragmatic considerations have led to vociferous demands for partial or total decriminalisation, which would at least destroy the criminal infrastructure propping up drug sales. Before I explain why I’m opposed to such permissiveness, I have to admit that rational arguments in its favour are sound.

In fact, the only rational argument against that I can think of is that the consequences of decriminalisation are unpredictable. Those in favour argue that, if anything, the consumption would be likely to go down, but no one knows. It may also shoot up, creating a social problem from hell. But such conjecture doesn’t amount to an irrefutable rational argument.

After all, we don’t ban alcohol, which is responsible for more deaths than drugs and is more addictive than most of them. Cold turkey can peck an alcoholic to death, whereas coming off even opiates is comparatively easier – regardless of the nightmare stories one hears from addicts who simply don’t want to quit.

I once spent a month on an intravenous drip of diamorphine, medicalised heroin. On release from hospital, I was given a good supply of Oxycontin, a milder opiate currently enjoying much street cred. When after a fortnight or so I decided I no longer needed such powerful painkillers, I stopped taking Oxy – only to find that I had developed an iatrogenic addiction.

Since I had written about drug addiction before, I recognised the withdrawal symptoms, similar to those of a bad cold, for what they were. I immediately went back on Oxy and then gradually titrated the dose down to nothing. There went my addiction.

Having observed alcoholics trying to quit, I know their anguish is real. They experience unbearable pain, especially if their liver is already calcified. And yet booze can be freely scored at any street corner, in any volume – this though alcohol is physiologically, and not just psychologically, addictive.

Milder drugs like marijuana aren’t physiologically addictive at all. That’s why people talk about a habit, rather than addiction. Users may develop an habitual dependence on marijuana, but this is a psychological problem, not a medical one.

Heavy use over time may lead to brain damage, which I observed years ago, when a good friend, who smoked spliffs the way I used to smoke cigarettes, was inexorably slowing down day to day. However, there’s no evidence that moderate use of soft drugs is especially harmful – even if much evidence exists that immoderate use of anything, including tap water, may kill you.

Since few of us are Mormons, we don’t mind starting a day with strong coffee and ending it with a strong drink, both artificial stimulants. Hence even a moral case against drugs isn’t exactly open and shut. In fact, those who make it may be accused of hypocrisy.

That’s why my objections to decriminalisation are neither moral nor medical. They are cultural and aesthetic.

The Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920 criminalised opium and cocaine possession. Until then, no stigma was attached to such drugs, as any reader of Sherlock Holmes stories will confirm. The great detective smoked opium like a chimney and snorted cocaine like a suction pump, and yet even the straitlaced Dr Watson raised no objections to his hero’s way of winding down.

Yet in the intervening century things have changed. For it’s not only a criminal infrastructure but also an ugly sub-culture that has grown around narcotic substances, especially since the ‘60s, with their cretinous slogan of “Turn on, tune in, drop out”.

Though, aside from my iatrogenic experience, I’ve never used any drugs, I’ve observed others do so on many occasions. Such exposure was hard to avoid in the advertising industry. Once, looking at a white cloud hanging at the ceiling of the men’s loo at my agency, I even suggested that the urinals be taken out: no one was using them anyway.

At after-work parties, cocaine was used ubiquitously, with a certain ritual meticulously observed. Even though I’d be the only non-user, others would wink at one another conspiratorially and withdraw to the bathroom, where the requisite paraphernalia had been prepared on the marble top: razor blades to cut lines, plastic straws to inhale them and so forth.

I’d be left alone in the room, drinking my whisky and thinking that it wasn’t so much the drugs I disliked as the ritual. And the friend I mentioned earlier would invite me to parties where he and other budding lawyers would sit on the floor in a circle, though chairs were in ample supply.

They would then pass single joints around, even though there was plenty of stuff for each to roll his own. The budding lawyers dutifully followed the “turn on” and “tune in” commandments, but they weren’t going to drop out: there was a lot of money to be made practising law.

Show business, modelling and particularly pop ‘music’ are all sub-cultural aspects of the drug trade.

Pop especially, while devoid of any musical content, heavily depends on pharmacology for both its inspiration and appeal. That deafening, incoherent, vaguely satanic din can be neither produced nor appreciated in the absence of things like blow, poppers, horse or E, to give those drugs their cult names.

Drugs and the derivative sub-culture come as a package. Hence decriminalising the former is tantamount to countenancing the latter, which would be administering a coup de grâce to our already moribund civilisation.

So a message to the Scots: if you have to kill yourself slowly, drink copious amounts of whisky, your great creation, and go to the accompaniment of music composed by James MacMillan, your great compatriot. It’s better than overdosing while listening to the musical equivalent of sewage.

Enjoy France, 20 per cent of it

On my birthday yesterday, we took a 200-mile drive through the northern half of Burgundy. Auxerre, Flavigny, Semur-en-Auxois, Fontenay Abbey, Noyers – each a poignant reminder of a great civilisation that once was, each a monument to the glory of medieval France.

Fontenay cloisters (sorry about the human eyesore)

Or rather to the 20 per cent of medieval France that still survives. The other 80 per cent was swept away by the advent of liberté, egalité, fraternité. The great medievalist Régine Pernoud describes that sustained vandalism so poignantly, she might as well have been writing in blood.

That French revolutionaries were systematically trying to destroy every manifestation of the civilisation they hated is well known. What is seldom mentioned, however, is that the destruction continued apace throughout the nineteenth century, with its Napoleons, Bourbons, and assorted republics.

And even in the previous centuries, the Huguenots were gleefully destroying, in the name of Christian purity, the great testimony to Christian culture. Catholicism disappointed them by falling short of some trumped-up ideal, so it was natural to take their frustration out on statues, paintings and buildings.   

So if you gasp, as I do, at the sight of France’s splendours, do a little mental arithmetic and multiply them by five. Then try to imagine what the country looked like before it was vanda… sorry, liberated from the strangulating yoke of Christendom. If you can do so, congratulations. Because I can’t.


Bach inscribed his every work with the words Soli Deo gloria (Glory to God alone). The same motto can be attached to the whole of Western civilisation, otherwise known as Christendom. The subsequent modern civilisation, a sort of Antichristendom, should identify itself with another motto: Soli Deo odium (Hatred to God alone).

For the founding impulse of the new civilisation came from hatred and the urge to destroy. If Christendom became what it is by absorbing and building on the legacy of its Hellenic antecedents, modernity came to life as a violent mutiny against the civilisation it supplanted.

It couldn’t kill Christianity – nothing and no one can do that. But it succeeded in killing Christendom, history’s greatest civilisation. Beheaded champions of it have long since turned to dust, but some beheaded statues are still there, bearing witness to an orgy of vandalism.

And there sits the sublime Fontenay Abbey, turned into a museum, but mercifully not razed like Cluny, the intellectual and cultural centre of medieval Europe. At the time it was demolished, just a handful of monks lived there. But for the victorious modernity, even a handful were too many.

A bittersweet experience, driving through France is. Delight and awe, mixed with mournful sadness – with the latter deepened by the realisation that perhaps one has had too many birthdays.

Save Geronimo and win a valuable prize

Geronimo has been sentenced to death – this in a country that abolished the death penalty as far back as in 1965.

No wonder 90,000 people have signed a petition demanding a stay of execution from the PM. And thousands will march on Whitehall today trying to save the life of Geronimo the Apache… sorry, Geronimo the alpaca. This unless the dastardly authorities kill him first, preemptively.

If our papers are to be believed, the fate of Geronimo has split the nation, thereby achieving the effect that proved beyond the Luftwaffe in 1940. The nation then stood united in the face of the Blitz, when thousands of Britons were dying. Now death threatens only one exotic animal, and yet a deep fissure has rent the country asunder.

I congratulate the country. How free it must be of all the usual problems besetting the world to get so worked up about so trivial an issue.

Covid, creeping inflation, looming energy crisis, national debt spinning out of control, illegal immigrants arriving in droves, racial tensions, social disintegration, illiterate populace, consistently clueless government – none of this causes such a self-righteous public outcry.

This is to be expected. Reverting to pagan cults such as animal worship is a distinguishing feature of our progressive modernity. Regressive is the new progressive.

The reason for the current affront to the pagan sensibilities is bovine TB for which Geronimo twice tested positive. The disease can quickly destroy whole herds of livestock, which is why 500 cows are culled every week for that very reason.

Considering that every year some 77 billion animals are slaughtered for food worldwide, that number doesn’t strike me as cause for much hand-wringing. And yet Environment Minister George Eustice had to agonise over the “soul-destroying” decision to cull Geronimo before approving it.

He could have saved his soul from destruction by delegating the decision to a local vet, which would certainly have happened if we lived in a sane world. Yet in the world we do live in, no one is surprised that the fate of one alpaca should be decided at ministerial level.

It’s also par for the course that the owner of the moribund Geronimo accused Mr Eustice of having “blood on his hands”, thereby casting him in the role of Macbeth. Neither the owner nor the multitudes supporting her seem to discern any moral difference between human and alpaca blood. Anthropomorphism rules.

It’s useful to remember that it’s not only nature in general but also human nature in particular that abhors, and tries to fill, a vacuum. Hence, even though men stopped believing in God, they still have to believe in something, some – any – external good higher than themselves.

What it is doesn’t matter. It can be animal rights, global warming, transsexuality or any other sexuality, anti-nuke, women’s right not to be called ‘sweetie’, universal equality, European federalism — you name it.

As Chesterton put it with his usual epigrammatic brilliance, “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

Hence the tendency to zoomorphism, worshipping animals as some sort of perverse deities, the way some cults worship cows or cats. Hence also anthropomorphism, assigning human characteristics to animals.

To paraphrase Mark Twain ever so slightly, the less people like men, the more they deify dogs and other species of life’s fauna. And why not? If man is but a marginally cleverer ape, what’s to distinguish him in principle from, say, an alpaca?   

“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad,” wrote Euripides, a cleverer pagan than today’s animal lovers. In today’s world, that aphorism sounds like reportage.

P.S. No rain was in the forecast yesterday, yet it bucketed down most of the day. No point blaming the meteorologists – that’s like blaming marathon runners for not breaking 100m records.

Our meteorologists and climatologists are rubbish predicting tomorrow’s weather, but they come into their own with the weather of 100 years from now. Lengthen the distance, and their doomsday predictions are bound to come true, aren’t they?

How to get rich quickly

Don’t invest in electronic currency, gold, shares or any other securities. Spurn pension funds. Shun the property market, either residential or commercial.

Get a room!

Instead, buy a caravan dealership in Holland and watch the money roll in, pile upon pile. As long as you can keep the supply end up, you’ll never run short of demand. For the caravan has replaced the tulip and the windmill as the national symbol of Holland. At least so it seems.

If you don’t believe me, come to our neck of the Burgundian woods. For every holiday season, swarms of Dutch caravans descend on France. One gets the impression that Dutchmen wouldn’t be caught dead in anything other than that hut on wheels. If they ever compromise on that devotion, it’s only to hitch a trailer to their car or at least put a huge box on its roof.

Once, driving from Paris to Calais, we tried to count the Dutch caravans we overtook. We stopped counting at a hundred, with as many miles still to go. So not only are most Dutch vehicles on French roads caravans, but most caravans on French roads are Dutch.

It’s not as if the locals welcomed them with open arms. These are seldom proffered to tight-fisted visitors, for obvious reasons. And parsimony explains the Dutch love affair with those unwieldy vehicles. They obviate the need to stay at a hotel, eat at a restaurant or buy any essential supplies.

Massed tourists are seldom liked anywhere, but they are tolerated for the money they pump into the local economy. Yet the Dutch refuse to pay for love. Our local shop owners call them “mooi-moois” – mooi is the Dutch for ‘lovely’, which is what caravan owners say when ogling the goods on offer without ever buying anything.

They pack their caravans with everything they need for a holiday, including, amazingly, mineral water. How much do they save, considering that a 1.5 litre bottle of French mineral water costs about 35p?

So yes, parsimony is the likeliest explanation for the profusion of Dutch caravans. But the Dutch aren’t the only people known for frugality. Neither the Germans nor the French are famous for being promiscuous spendthrifts, and yet the 17 million Dutchmen seem to operate more caravans than all other Europeans combined.

It’s not as if Holland were poverty-stricken. In fact, it’s one of Europe’s wealthiest nations, enjoying a higher GDP per capita than Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and all other European countries this side of Norway, Denmark and a couple of pocket-sized principalities.

History doesn’t provide an obvious explanation. In fact, Britain and Holland have much in common in that respect. Both were mercantile, sea-faring nations. Both used to be colonial empires. Both lost their colonies at the same time. It’s true that Spain was more successful conquering Holland than England, but then one could argue that Holland got her own back by then conquering England.

The ousting of James II in 1688 and the subsequent arrival of the Dutch stadtholder William and his Stuart wife Mary as English monarchs is called the Glorious Revolution. But in fact it was nothing short of a rather inglorious Dutch occupation of England.

The English took their revenge by coming up with all sorts of pejorative idioms featuring the Dutch, including some focusing on their tightfistedness (“going Dutch”, “Dutch treat”) and drunkenness (“Dutch courage”, “Dutch bargain”). But you know what they say about sticks and stones.

Considering that William III was a devout Calvinist, it’s tempting to explain Dutch parsimony by the tenets of that confession. Indeed, only Calvinism treats wealth as God’s reward for piety and virtue.

However, though the spirit of Holland might have been Calvinist in the past, today’s Dutch cities show few signs of characteristic abstinence and austerity. Amsterdam, for example, has a good shot at being twinned with Sodom and Gomorrah and having a sign to that effect proudly posted at every entry to the city.

And in any case, Catholics, at about 20 per cent of the population, outnumber Calvinists (15 per cent) in today’s Holland. Hence one can’t say Calvinism continues to exert a mitigating influence on Dutch spending patterns.

So why do the Dutch insist on turning themselves into the laughingstocks of Europe by travelling in droves with their houses strapped to their backs? I have neither enough space nor, truth to tell, enough knowledge to explain this.

I can, however, venture a guess, solely based on personal observation. Holland strikes me as a thoroughly bourgeois country, showing few signs of being, or ever having been, a monarchy.

Spain, Britain and even the quasi-republican France, Austria and Italy exude aristocratic fluids from every crack in their buildings’ masonry. On the other hand, Holland shows few signs of ever having been a true monarchy. Everything about her gorgeous urban architecture screams middle class, and the scream resounds in the hearts of the Dutch.

With aristocracy relegated to a purely antiquarian status, money becomes the most reliable social hoist. And for money to be accumulated, incomings must exceed outgoings. Keeping the debits down is thus half the solution to life’s challenges, and it’s the half wholly under one’s control.

Hence those fleets of Dutch caravans inundating France. Each one is conned by a middleclass driver proud of his bourgeois rectitude, smugly certain that middleclass isn’t just the best thing to be, but the only one.

If there exists a better explanation, I’d like to hear it. Such an odd social phenomenon cries out for one.

Who wants to tickle the plastics?

The elephant never forgets, and the animal rights activist never learns.

The very term ‘animal rights’ is meaningless to the point of being idiotic. Rights exist in a dialectical union with duties. For example, my right to the state’s protection is contingent on my duty of allegiance to the state.

Since animals have no duties, they can have no rights. That doesn’t mean we should treat them with gratuitous cruelty. In fact, Britain has had laws against that sort of thing for two centuries, long before ‘animal rights’ were first bandied about.

However, killing animals for the benefit of man doesn’t ipso facto constitute cruelty. We shouldn’t forget that animals were created to serve people, which is explicitly stated in the only valid moral code of our civilisation (the part of it that’s called Genesis).

That moral code has many different postulates, and mankind does a rather patchy job following them. Yet, while flouting the true moral laws, some people insist on concocting false ones. Such as those based on their mawkish devotion to the lives of wild beasts.

This is strictly a characteristic of the urban middle class. People who live surrounded by life’s fauna are never sentimental about it. Peasants, farmers, hunters, fishermen, African or Australian natives invariably treat animals in a purely utilitarian manner.

This brings me to Carrie Johnson and Hillary Clinton, who are consumed with a passion for the plight of elephants. Since those animals are killed for their ivory tusks, Carrie and Hillary proceed from the inferable assumption that banning the ivory trade will make elephants immortal.

Poor Bill Clinton’s wife got the ball rolling by demanding that the Japanese government end ivory imports “as the world watches the Tokyo Olympics”. And poor Boris Johnson’s wife lent her unequivocal support to that demand, even though it dangerously teeters on the edge of a diplomatic incident.

The two women punch at different weights. First, the wife of an American president has an official status, and the wife of a British PM has not. We have no First Lady.

Second, Mrs Clinton in her own right held senior positions both in the legislative and executive branches of the US government. The only political position Mrs Johnson has ever had, other than the harridan henpecking her hubby-wubby, is that of a PR flak for the Conservative Party.

Hence she’d be well-advised to reserve her all-abiding love of all living things strictly for home consumption, leaving the sovereign governments of Britain’s allies alone. Wishful thinking, that. Once people predisposed to fanaticism get a bee in their bonnet, they devote their whole lives to nurturing that insect.

But do let’s take a dispassionate look at the face value of the two ladies’ argument. Several countries, regrettably including Britain, have issued a total or partial ban on the ivory trade, supposedly to prevent the elephants from becoming extinct.

However, allowing their population to increase uncontrollably may lead to just such an end. Yes, elephants and other species must be protected from irresponsible poaching. But that doesn’t mean they have to be sanctified.

My beloved Richmond Park has several herds of deer roaming around for the delectation of visitors. Yet every year the herds are selectively culled to maintain their viability – this without the Carries of this world raising a hue and cry.

In that sense, a memory of elephants is no different from a herd of dear. Some culling is essential for their survival.

However, even in the absence of those rifle-toting cullers, elephants do die a natural death. When dead, they have no further use for their tusks, which can, however, provide a good service for humans.

This obvious thought never crosses the ecofanatics’ minds. That’s why a few years ago they publicly burned stacks of tusks, which was a stupid gesture. Those tusks had already been harvested, and their previous possessors were already dead. Provided that no more precious elephant lives were being lost, what was the harm in selling that ivory?

The usual argument one hears is that ivory has only a decorative value, and it’s morally wrong that those gorgeous creatures should die for rich women to pin cameos to their chests (class rancour is always implicit). Since one doesn’t often hear similar indignation over alligator shoes or ostrich handbags, the logic of that argument appears muddled. But fanaticism isn’t about logic.

Anyway, ivory has a perfectly functional and extremely important use. It’s the only material really suitable for the making of piano keys. Any pianist (such as the one I’m married to) will tell you that plastic substitutes don’t work nearly as well.

Not to cut too fine a point, a pianist’s hands sweat during a performance. Since ivory is a naturally porous material, it absorbs the moisture, preventing the fingers from sliding. Not so with plastic. The surface of plastic keys is smooth and slippery, which makes a big difference for musicians.

I maintain that the real good of pianists is more vital to our culture than the mythical good of elephants – and infinitely more so than the good of hairbrained animal righters.

On a personal note, has Carrie ever even seen an elephant this side of the Regent’s Park Zoo? Then again, it’s conceivable that she has never attended a piano recital either.  

Love people, hate crowds

Those professing love for mankind in general are often incapable of loving anyone in particular. I’m the exact opposite of that.

I tend to love people individually, at least until they give me a strong reason not to. But assemble them into crowds, and I despise them collectively.

Some of this contempt might have been caused by a childhood experience. My cousin, a boy of 14, was trampled to death by a stampeding crowd at a Moscow football stadium. I was only one at the time, so I never knew him. But my mother always used that tragedy as a cautionary tale, a lesson in how brutal crowds could be.

I don’t know whether my hatred of multitudes is rooted in that experience or some innate inclination. One way or the other, I learned from an early age either to avoid crowds or else zigzag through them at speed, neither jostling nor jostled.

Even now, decades later, I dash through our local market at twice the speed of the ambling crowd, only ever slowing down when something tasty catches my eye. Other shoppers, most of them unhurried country folk, look at me as if I were mad.

I don’t think I am. It’s just that I’ve had plenty of time to post-rationalise that natural instinct, turning it into knowledge. Perhaps one could argue that most knowledge is like that, an intuition thought through. Most rationalisation is in fact post-rationalisation.

Hence, over all those decades, I began to understand why I love people and hate crowds. For a crowd is less than the sum of its parts – less intelligent, less moral, less kind, less human.

Every one of us is created in the image and likeness of God. That’s why we possess some inchoate godlike gifts: free will, moral sense, creative ability, a mind that’s a particle of God’s mind. The more a person develops those gifts, the closer he gets to God – and the more human he becomes.

The reverse is also true. When a person wantonly rejects those gifts, by word and especially by deed, he becomes less human and more simian. Darwin got it the wrong way around: the ape isn’t our past, it’s our future. It’s an illustration of what happens when human beings abuse their humanity. It’s not for nothing that Augustine called Satan “the ape of God”.

My point is that, assembled into a crowd, individuals trample their humanity to death, the way that Moscow crowd trampled my cousin’s body. They put their free will on hold; they ignore their moral sense; they replace their creative ability with destructive urges; they switch off their minds.

It has always been thus for, while individuals die, in this world at any rate, crowds are immortal. They are always on their eternal rampage like a herd of wild beasts, and they always want to drag others in – banishing or even killing those who cling on to their humanity.

Long before the non-term ‘peer pressure’ was coined, great thinkers wrote about the destructive magnetism of crowds. Both Plato and Aristotle, who miraculously escaped the fate of Plato’s teacher Socrates, warned against it. And Suetonius wrote about grex venalium, a venal throng. He didn’t make the next logical step to say that any throng is always venal.

That step was later taken by Gustave Le Bon, in his book A Study of the Popular Mind. Writing about crowds, he singled out their “impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason, the absence of judgement of the critical spirit, the exaggeration of sentiments…”

The temptation to dissolve oneself in a crowd is strong, and few of us have suppressed it successfully over a lifetime. We often don’t find out until later that the bandwagon we jumped on with such alacrity has turned into a runaway train, hard to jump off.

Or perhaps the metaphor of a tidal wave is more precise. It grabs a hapless bather and carries him off to sea. Unless he is a strong and determined swimmer, he’ll be lost for ever.

Man may have been a gregarious animal to Aristotle, but he isn’t gregarious in the way of herd ruminants. That’s why I feel so uneasy watching people seek tribal association, whereby they can pool (and hence lose) their individuality with thousands of others. They betray their humanity and, vicariously, mine as well.

Advertising shows how easy crowds are to manipulate. For it’s never individuals of flesh and blood who are the targets of ads. It’s always faceless numbers, ticks on a statistical chart.

That’s not quite as innocuous as it sounds. For if a crowd en masse has a set of toggle switches that can be flicked to elicit the urgent desire to buy a tube of toothpaste, it also has a set of buttons that can be pushed to trigger a catastrophe.

Those beefy burghers who screamed Heil Hitler through thousands of hoarse throats, or their Russian equivalents glorifying Stalin just as thunderously, could have been made to swap places with ease.

Flick a few switches, push a few buttons, and those Russians would have glorified Hitler with the same gusto as those Germans would have yelled Heil Stalin. And the flags flapping in the wind would have been the same red colour, if with different superimposed symbols.

It’s not just the nasty regimes that encourage herd instincts. Modernity as such promotes, nay dictates, collectivism at the expense of individuality.

This is noticeable in modern manufacturing, with its automated assembly lines and masses of interchangeable, dispensable workers sticking to minute, stupefyingly fractured and monotonous tasks. If in the past most of the things people used or consumed came from farmers and artisans, today they come from depersonalised and dehumanised mega factories.

Trained throughout their working life to be ‘team players’ working in concert, the same people follow the herd in the after hours too. They sink the same swinish number of pints as everyone else and join the stampede to the football grounds, where they’ll scream obscenities at the fans sporting a different strip.

The steady expansion of franchise in modern democracies is part of the same problem. The wider the franchise, the less significant is each individual vote.

It stands to reason that political operators use the same polling techniques as admen. They don’t look at men and women; they look at percentages. They care only about creating blocs of votes, which is tantamount to shepherding human sheep together, using empty phrases as prods.

All the same sheep can easily float from one flock to another and back again, depending on which empty phrases are more effective as prods at this moment. The underlying assumption sold to the masses is that throwing millions of selfish interests (or rather contrived perceptions of such interests) into the same bubbling cauldron will produce a uniform stew of political virtue.

It doesn’t. Rising to the top instead, surely and predictably, is the scum of demagogues who, deep down, despise the malleable crowds as much as admen do. They don’t see the trees of individuals for the forest of percentages.

I shudder with equal revulsion at the sight of Labour activists singing the Internationale in chorus and one of Trump activists yelling “Make America Great Again”. The second group probably contains more individuals I could like, but they aren’t acting as individuals. Rather, they are baying beasts in a herd.

That’s not what creatures made in the image and likeness of God should be. And every time I see them being exactly that, I imagine the mangled body of that boy stamped into the dirt by thousands of human hooves in Moscow, circa 1949.

Do you speak European?

Manny Macron, thunders Le Figaro, has relegated France to the lower league of “small nations”, and French to the status of a “regional, provincial language”.

That mournful assessment has to do with the new French identity cards that aren’t, well, wholly French. Some rubrics feature the English translations of such bog-standard words as nom, prénoms and nationalité. And England isn’t even in the EU any longer.

This assails French national sensitivity, which is on the extreme side of brittle under the best of circumstances. Hence the cri de coeur in Le Figaro, followed by a similar outcry in all other media.  

Most of the diatribes are animated by nostalgia for the good old times, when French was the world’s lingua franca. When German and Italian academics conversed even 100 years ago, chances are they were doing so in French. Today they are almost guaranteed to be speaking in English, such as it is.

That hurts, for the French love their language more than the English love theirs, and they attach even more weight to it as an essential part of their national identity. Yet people who love something are often dismayed that others may not share their feelings. And dismay leads to bitterness.

So this kind of resentment has been seething for quite a while. Yet those French hacks who resent les anglo-saxons for their cultural appropriation and linguistic imperialism are missing the point.

For the record, I share their anger over English becoming the universal medium of discourse. Yet my problem isn’t the downgrading of French or other tongues, but the damage this promiscuous use of English does to the language itself.

Every lingua franca in history has suffered attrition first and extinction eventually. Admittedly, English is unlikely to disappear the way, say, Latin did.

It will, however, suffer systematic oversimplification and vulgarisation. Since we are told, incessantly and wrongly, that language is nothing but a means of communication, it has to be reduced to a basic level for a communication between two foreigners to take place unimpaired. Otherwise a game of Chinese whispers may ensue.

(I recall asking a fishmonger in Amsterdam if he could prepare my red mullet for me. He laughed at what he thought was a funny joke – in Dutch, as in Russian, ‘to prepare’ also means ‘to cook’. On another occasion, I agreed with an English-speaking Frenchman that our times are indeed rotten – only to recall that in French temps means both ‘time’ and ‘weather’.)

But this is neither here nor there. The problem that the French feel so acutely has nothing to do with English. It has everything to do with the EU.

The immediate explanation for the new French identity cards saying nom (name), not just nom, is that the EU has issued a directive that all identity cards within its borders should feature at least two languages. Yet one has to delve deeper to find the real problem.

The EU seeks to create a single European superstate, which in effect means a single European empire. And a single empire presupposes a single official language, tying all the disparate groups together.

Every European empire in history has always had a central metropolis with outlying nations radiating from the centre. The languages of those peripheral nations were reduced to the status of local dialects used mostly by the lower classes.

Thus Latin was universal within the Roman Empire, with some Greek used in academic discourse. And all denizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had to know at least some German – if only to be able to follow commands in the army. (The Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek has much fun with that in his classic satire Good Soldier Švejk.)

Now, my friends may refer to the EU as the Third Reich, but it really isn’t, is it? Germany is the most economically virile and technologically fecund nation in the EU, but it certainly isn’t its strongest military power – France is.

And in any case, German, or for that matter French, can’t be adopted as the single language of a single state for all sorts of cultural and political reasons. That means in effect that not only French but every other language in the EU is reduced to the lowly status of a “regional, provincial language”. With the fine nuance that no central language exists.

Hence the demand for all EU identity cards to be at least bilingual – and English is only one possible candidate for the second language. I can’t quite see, say, Finnish cards featuring Romanian translations, can you?

Though the issue may seem trivial, it’s anything but. Rather it’s an indication of the cultural time bomb ticking away under the EU.

The desire to cock a snook at les anglo-saxons is all good and well, but it can’t function as the cultural adhesive binding the EU together. Christianity could conceivably act in that capacity, but no one considers this possibility seriously these days.

And in any case, relations among Orthodox, Catholic and various Protestant confessions, all present in the EU, have never been sufficiently cordial for any of them to have much unifying potential. None as hostile as divergent exponents of the same creed.

No one knows the time setting on the aforementioned bomb, but it’s bound to go off sooner or later, and my guess is sooner. The EU is a dead state walking – and it hasn’t even been properly born yet.

Western energy policy is a gas

I’m not going to quibble with the need to save our planet. All things considered, it’s a nice planet and, if it’s in danger, it deserves to be saved.

And I’m even prepared to accept, against all evidence, that fossil fuels present just such a danger, one from which our planet needs saving. What I find hard to get my head around is the logic of it all.

Looking at the energy policies of just two European countries, Germany and France, one finds much of what misogynistic Russians call ‘women’s logic’, meaning, misogynistically, no logic at all.

Both countries, especially France, have large deposits of shale gas that they refuse to explore for fear of endangering our planet. Fine, I understand: natural gas is the work of the devil.

However, both countries have either shut down their coal mines and, more important, nuclear power stations or have undertaken to do so soon. Considering that nuclear energy hasn’t caused a single death in the West, it’s hard to understand what the problem with it is.

After all, nuclear is by far the safest form of energy, of those that can realistically be expected to fuel a modern economy. It hurts me no end to admit this, but neither wind nor sun can do that – at best, they can only complement the amount of energy produced by realistic means.

Then again, most Western countries are phasing out vehicles powered by fossil fuels. Instead, they are saving the planet by switching to electric cars powered by batteries. Presumably, the planet would thank them if it could talk.

But here’s the rub: our planet is quite large. In addition to Western countries, whose burning concern is saving our planet, it also houses any number of downmarket places, or even whole continents, where the burning concern is saving their people’s lives.

Those countries understand that the two objectives may be in conflict and, when they clash, survival wins every time. That’s why those countries, some of them quite large, such as China, India and Russia, continue to produce and use oodles of hydrocarbons, such as coal, oil and gas.

Moreover, some of them stubbornly hold on to their nuclear power stations, where the safety levels aren’t quite up to Western standards. And since we all share the same planet, a meltdown in a low-rent part of the world may well produce radiation sickness in wealthier neighbourhoods. If you don’t believe me, talk to the Swedes who found themselves downwind from Chernobyl.

Logically, if we all share the same planet, we also share the same atmosphere. If it’s true that carbon monoxide poisons the atmosphere, then our planet doesn’t care where CO2 is produced, in Britain or China. The supposed effect is the same. We are all going to be fried by global warming (and ‘global’ is the operative word).

Regarded in that light, Germany’s eagerness to get the Nord Stream 2 pipeline going strikes me as incomprehensible. Whether or not those Russian pipes carry atmospheric poison is debatable. Yet there’s no doubt that pumped through them will be large amounts of political poison.

But forget about politics. Let’s concentrate on the good of our planet.

Currently, Germany gets 49 per cent of her natural gas from Russia. Yet the new pipeline, which will bypass the Ukraine and Eastern Europe to pump directly into Germany, will double that proportion.

I don’t get this. It’s an article of woke faith that burning fossil fuels is steadily turning our planet into a fiery hell. And it’s actually the burning of them that’s diabolical, not getting them out of the ground. 

Hence, I must file a ringing protest on behalf of our planet. For Germany, France and Britain don’t seem to be in any hurry to stop burning fossil fuels. They only want them to come from elsewhere – even at a vast political and strategic cost.

Will someone please explain to me the logic of it all? Our planet doesn’t care where the gas that’s poisoning it was extracted from the ground. It only cares about the amount of CO2 dumped into it.

I can see that, from the standpoint of politics (that dread word again), Britain, Germany, France and their friends feel good about themselves. They make all the right noises about saving the planet and brainwash their populations accordingly, while continuing to perform dastardly violence on our planet that’s supposed to be creaking at the seams.

The same goes for electric vehicles. These are powered by large batteries using rare metals. In addition to driving up the costs, these metals are quite toxic to those who mine them, to the areas surrounding the mines and consequently, over time, to our planet.

Here Western countries practise the same NIMBY attitude. Most of the world’s cobalt is produced in the Congo, most of the lithium in South America, and about half of all manganese in South Africa and China.

Since those miners, many of them children, don’t vote for Western politicians, our leaders don’t care about their mortality rates. But what about our planet? When the number of electric vehicles reaches, say, nine digits, so much unhealthy stuff will have to be dug out that the planet will suffer even more than it is already.

One has to conclude, mournfully, that the West is displaying most refreshing hypocrisy. It has devoured its own canard of global warming so avidly that it has instantly entered the West’s gastrointestinal tract. But, by way of reflux, all we are getting is meaningless twaddle.

People’s brains have been scoured so thoroughly that they are expected to believe that the fuel used by the German economy doesn’t harm our planet if it comes from Russia and not, say, from France, which has Europe’s largest deposits of shale gas.

But the dumbing-down PR campaign has been won. Not only do people accept the climate hoax as reality, they are also prepared to overlook the gaping holes in the intellectual trousers of the ecofanatics.

Propaganda corrupts, ladies and gentlemen, and total propaganda corrupts totally.   

Illiteracy ain’t nothin to be proud of

BBC sports presenter Alex Scott is the quintessential modern woman. She is illiterate and proud of her illiteracy.

Alex Scott, speakin on camera for the Bay-Bay-Say

That unfortunate situation was highlighted by the exchange between the former footballer and Lord Digby Jones, the former minister in Gordon Brown’s government.

Lord Jones took exception to Miss Scott’s inability to pronounce her g sounds at the end of words like ‘runnin’ and ‘playin’. “Competitors,” he tweeted, “are NOT taking part, Alex, in the fencin, rowin, boxin, kayakin, weightliftin & swimmin.”

Kaboom! The skies opened, thunder roared and a million tweeted lightnings smote Lord Jones for what another ball-kicker turned presenter, Gary Linaker, identified as his snobbery.

Not that Miss Scott needed much help – she’s perfectly capable of looking after herself. She fired back by saying: “I’m from a working class family in East London, Poplar, Tower Hamlets & I am PROUD.”

I wonder what the object of her pride is. The neighbourhood she mentioned isn’t especially nice even now, after millions have been pumped into redevelopment over the past couple of decades. And 36 years ago, when Miss Scott was born, it was a regular hellhole.

Still, we aren’t responsible for where we start in life. However, we are definitely responsible for where we end up. One would think that the distance separating runnin from running could be covered in 35 years even from such an inauspicious start. And failure to do so is cause for shame, not pride.

It’s just that neither Miss Scott nor her defenders think that trip is worth making. They see nothing wrong in butchering what T.S. Eliot called “the dialect of the tribe” with their barbaric phonetics, grammar and lexicon. On the contrary, functional illiteracy is something they proudly wear on their sleeve as a badge of belonging.

In my younger days, BBC presenters, including those who presented sports, used to speak in educated accents gravitating towards the upper end of the social spectrum. They were then replaced by a new breed enunciating their vowels in a flat middle-class manner.

Now some BBC correspondents and sports presenters are increasingly and proudly communicating in the patois of the urban underclass. And I don’t mean, say, former footballers offering their insights as expert commentators.

I may have a laugh at the solecisms with which, say, Glenn Hoddle liberally peppers his speech, but I don’t really mind it. One doesn’t expect the same elocution and syntax from retired midfielders as one does from TV journalists fronting BBC shows.

Miss Scott also used to be an expert commentator, although, unlike Mr Hoddle, she didn’t offer any penetrating insights into the men’s game she never played. Yet the god of diversity, Multi-Culti Almighty, demands that women enjoy equal time with men in the commentary booth.

Since then, Lord Jones’s sensitive ear has been sacrificed at the totem pole of that deity. For Miss Scott has been promoted to the ranks of full-time presenters, professional BBC journalists who used to set the standards of spoken English.

Now no standards exist, and those few that still hang on are being expunged. Whole generations of young people, whose language is shaped by television and Twitter, grow up as little Mowglis, communicating in grunts and interjections not resembling English even remotely.

To his Lordship’s credit, he didn’t take his public flogging lying down. “This has got nothing to do with her upbringing. This is not about accents,” he said. 

“It is about the fact that she is wrong. You do not pronounce the English language ending in a ‘g’ without the ‘g’ and I don’t want her as a role model…”

Lord Jones then somewhat spoiled the impression by establishing his impeccable credentials (he is a Labour Lord after all): “I came from very modest beginnings in Birmingham… I am not someone who was born with a silver spoon in my mouth and is standing here as a snob.”

Fine, he’s qualified to defend proper English. But God forbid someone like Rees-Mogg offered similar criticism. Good luck to him trying to plead that he too is common as muck.

P.S. Speaking of footballers, it’s not only how they speak, but also what they say that bears the approval stamp of modernity.

In the runup to the European championship, many fans didn’t think defender Tyrone Mings was good enough to play for England. As a result, he says his “mental health plummeted”.

If you aren’t fluent in modern, that means he was upset, or ‘gutted’, as he’d probably describe it if he weren’t such a sensitive soul. But not to worry: help was on its way.

“So I did a lot of work on that with my psychologist. I was given a lot of coping mechanisms – whether it was breathing, meditation, or just learning how to bring yourself into the present moment. To stop letting your subconscious take over.”

Tyrone, never mind the psychobabble bollocks. Let your subconscious take over and go on breaking strikers’ legs for England. Do what comes naturally.

Yes, but what’s thicker than blood?

Blood is thicker than water, goes the old saying. Yet that maxim doesn’t always hold true. For example, any civil war provides countless examples of men killing their brothers, parents and any number of their countrymen with whom they were at ideological odds.

Every time I see them, I scream

Perhaps that adage should be amended to say that blood may be thicker than water, but ideology is thicker than blood. And if you don’t believe me, look at Bennett Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the Ben & Jerry of the ice cream fame.

The eponymous Ben and Jerry sold the chain to Unilever in 2000, but they still take it close to heart. And, using the same organ, they “unequivocally support” the company’s decision to boycott Israeli settlements by refusing to sell ice cream in the West Bank.

“We are the founders of Ben & Jerry’s. We are also proud Jews…, supporters of the State of Israel,” explained Ben and Jerry. “But it’s possible to support Israel and oppose some of its policies, just as we’ve opposed policies of the U.S. government.”

By way of a nuance that’s beyond that duo’s comprehension, boycotting trade with a country goes beyond political disagreement. For example, I despise most EU policies, which doesn’t prevent me from washing down my pasta with burgundy.  

Anyway, no ice cream for the “occupied territories, which the international community, including the United Nations, has deemed an illegal occupation… Ben & Jerry’s took the step to align its business and operations with its progressive values.”

One of the ironclad progressive values is sympathy with the Muslims’ sacred vow to wipe Israel off the map and exterminate every Jew living there. This stands to reason: progressive values are always aligned in opposition to Western civilisation, of which Israel is the sole bulwark in the Middle East.

It’s in those Arabian sands that the line is drawn between those who support Israel and hence the West – us – and those who detest both.

The first group, in addition to most Jews, includes everyone committed to the defence and preservation of a civilisation that used to go by the name of Judaeo-Christian. Such people may be conservatives, Christians, Christian conservatives, secular conservatives or simply decent folk who are appalled by the Holocaust and don’t wish to see a repeat performance.

The second group includes most Muslims, most anti-Semites, most lefties, and idiots who recognise UN directives as moral dicta or else don’t realise that Israel is in the vanguard of a civilisational clash.

Muslims apart, such is the composition of the group that’s these days called progressive or liberal, whereas in fact it’s the opposite of both. And, as Ben and Jerry prove, their ideology can indeed be thicker than blood. It may well triumph when clashing with other allegiances.

Messrs Ben and Jerry also bear out my lifelong observation that business acumen doesn’t always go together with general intelligence. To wit:

Equating opposition to American and to Israeli policies is simply daft. Unlike Israel, America isn’t involved in a day-to-day struggle for physical survival. Some of her policies may be worse than others, but none has a life-or-death significance. Even the invariably inane policies of the present administration will only make America poorer and more crime-ridden. They won’t make her non-existent.

Why, America can even afford to lose the odd war, such as the one in Vietnam, and still live to tell about it. No such luxury for Israel: any lost war will spell Holocaust Mark II.

This ought to determine the angle from which one looks at Israel’s policies, including the occupation of the West Bank. The advance that so upsets Ben and Jerry was made possible by Israel’s stunning six-day victory over Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967.

That war ensued after the Arab coalition, armed, trained and supported by the Soviet bloc, decided to make good its promise to “drive Israel into the sea”. Israel – and the Israelis – managed to survive, claiming some territories as spoils of war.

Most of those have since been returned to the Arabs, but Israel has kept some of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Those areas have since become home to about 400,000 Israelis, who have turned that arid desert of hateful barbarism into an oasis of civilisation.

Quite apart from securing more space for Israel’s burgeoning population, the settlements have a strategic significance. They prevent that area from becoming a springboard for yet another barbaric onslaught, with the settlers acting as the first line of defence, or, if you’d rather, a tripwire device.

I’m not privy to the fine points of Israeli strategic planning, and neither, I’m sure, are Ben and Jerry. However, I think a country that in my lifetime has fought and won six wars against its enemies – our enemies – deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to survival.

But Ben and Jerry haven’t formed their views on the basis of strategic analysis. Their double knee simply jerked in the direction of ‘progressive’ values.

“We believe this act can and should be seen as advancing the concepts of justice and human rights, core tenets of Judaism.”

So they think that the murderous wild-eyed fanatics advance human rights every time they fire a rocket at Israelis, or indeed when they stone adulterers and push homosexuals off tall buildings. How about their terrorism in Europe? Is that just too?

As to the core tenets of Judaism, I wonder when they last read, say, Exodus. I don’t think Moses, Aaron and Joshua were overly concerned with the human rights of the pagans inhabiting the Promised Land. But then of course they weren’t champions of progressive values.

I hope you’ll join me in boycotting Ben & Jerry ice cream. Buy Häagen-Dazs instead – it’s better anyway.