Manny, meet Alex

One wouldn’t expect the presidents of France and Belarus to have much in common. Yet they do, very much so.

But before we explore the similarities between Manny and Alex, it’s only fair to point out the differences.

Manny would like to become a dictator, but can’t. He is looking wistfully at the French political system that seems to offer no loopholes for governing by fiat. True, a French president has more clout than, say, a British PM, but his powers still don’t quite reach dictatorial level.

Manny’s dream is Lukashenko’s reality. He has been a dictator since at least 1995 and by now has planted his feet firmly under that desk. His power knows no internal constraints, which Manny can only envy.

However, Manny’s power sits on a much stronger historical foundation. France’s history of statehood is measured in many centuries; Belarus’s, only in a few decades.

Moreover, France relinquishes much of her sovereignty to the EU voluntarily and, one hopes, reversibly. Belarus’s sovereignty is largely contingent on Russia’s munificence, and Lukashenko doesn’t really have much choice in that matter – without Russia’s cash, resources and, if needed, bayonets he can’t survive.

Then France is considerably stronger than Belarus in every respect: economically, militarily, culturally and every which way. She boasts 71 Nobel laureates (15 for literature), to Belarus’s two (one for literature). And the salient difference is that France is a nuclear power and Belarus isn’t, although Alex has aspirations along those lines.

France’s economy isn’t doing particularly well, if we are being totally honest. Still, it’s far from being the basket case that Belarus is.

Given such differences, one wouldn’t expect to find too many similarities. Yet they exist, unfortunately.

Both Manny and Alex seek to punish Britain, although Lukashenko casts his net wider. If Britain provides the sole outlet for Manny’s bile, Lukashenko also sees in his crosshairs all other Western and semi-Western countries.

Where the two presidents really converge is in the methods of punishment they seek to mete out. The methods are twofold in both cases: a rapid increase in the export of undesirable aliens and a threatened reduction in the export of desirable energy.

Almost half of our electricity (and 95 per cent of Jersey’s) comes from France, which makes Britain vulnerable to pressure, if not outright blackmail. France is alive to the ensuing possibilities. Hardly a month goes by without a French official, often Manny himself, threatening to cut the supply off should Britain refuse to play ball by the rules Manny and his German friends lay down.

This is accompanied by branding Britain as a “historical enemy”. The history in question is quite ancient, considering that the two countries have been allies since 1815. However, undeniably more history happened before 1815 than after, so perhaps Manny has a point.

Lukashenko doesn’t invoke history because his country has little of it. But he makes similar threats to Europe, which includes us – having left the EU, we still can’t change the hard geographic reality of being European. Since a Russian gas pipeline runs through Belarus, Lukashenko has the technical means to act on his threat, especially if Russia gives him carte blanche.

Such a measure would hit the EU directly and Britain by ricochet. If the French can raise their room temperature a few degrees by lowering ours in equal measure, it’s hard to see them acting in the spirit of Christian charity. More than a century of laïcité would have put paid to such impulses.

Then there are undesirable aliens, whom both Manny and Alex are turning into punitive scourges. Lukashenko is getting most of the publicity this month, but Manny deserves his fair share.

Last week some 1,200 illegal Muslim migrants were shipped to our shores by the French, with about as many expected this week. All right, putting it this way admittedly bends the truth a little, but not too much.

The French didn’t technically put those wild-eyed Musl… sorry, I mean poor refugees on boats and escort them to the Kent coast. However, the French did little to prevent the boat people from making that voyage on their own, and their current threat is to do even less in the future.

Neither Alex nor Manny is likely to run out of Muslims soon. So far they’ve mined mostly Iraqi and Syrian resources, but Afghanistan boasts a vast reservoir yet to be tapped fully.

Lukashenko gets higher marks for honesty though. He openly talks about his intention to “flood Europe with migrants”, whereas Manny approaches his task with stealth. While closing his eyes on the thousands of Muslims boarding cross-Channel boats in Normandy, he laments fulsomely his unfortunate inability to stop this transmigratory outrage – and the French call us perfidious.

Manny’s disgruntled former employees, however, are openly talking about his intention to punish Britain with an influx of illegal Muslims. After all, we committed the sacrilege of leaving the EU, which these days more or less circumscribes the French political outlook.

Institutions that have few rational reasons for their existence often try to survive by self-sacralisation. The EU is one example of that tendency, our own dear NHS is another. And sacrilege is a greater crime than mere dissent, one to be punished more severely.

Lukashenko seeks to punish Europe for taking a dim view of his regime’s brutality and air piracy. He also acts on behalf of his puppet master Putin, who is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to destabilise the West.

There we have it, two presidents of two very different countries embarking on punitive missions simultaneously, and using similar weapons, logistics and threats.

I’m sure neither Manny nor Alex would welcome being likened to each other. Both see themselves as sui generis, if for different reasons. Yet the similarities are glaring.

Since Lukashenko isn’t exactly a free agent, he can’t do much to stop acting like Manny. On the other hand, Manny could easily stop acting like Alex, but I’m not sure he can help himself. The desire to punish Britain is too overwhelming.

Lest we forget how great our soldiers still are

This day of remembrance focuses our TAPs (‘thoughts and prayers’ has become such a cliché that the acronym should suffice) on the fallen, all those millions of human sacrifices at the altar of human folly.

However, if we do mean to add prayers to thoughts, we leave a world of death in life, to enter one of life in death. There is a celebration in every mourning, a feast in every plague, a triumph in every dirge.

So we should direct our TAPs not just to the million soldiers of the British Empire killed in the First World War, and not only to those other millions who fell in that war and all others, but also to the handful of servicemen who make up our truncated military forces.

There are only a handful of them because our government puts defence of the realm low down on its list of priorities. When the Leviathan of social services, the NHS and foreign aid demands another shovelful of fiscal nourishment, it’s the defence budget that gets starved.

That’s why it’s good to remember that the army, Royal Navy and RAF are the only British public services that can be ranked with the best in the world, the only ones that never let us down.

Moreover, I can’t think offhand of any other large group that embodies so thoroughly the very essence of Britishness: steadfastness, emotional continence, quiet courage, dry humour, calmness under pressure, self-sacrifice, patriotism deeply felt rather than loudly proclaimed – all those things that today aren’t so much praised as mocked.

That’s why they are dying out, and we are only ever reminded that they aren’t quite dead yet when some conflict is under way, with soldiers, flyers and sailors replacing social workers and NHS administrators on TV news.

Yet those who fight side by side with British soldiers know what they are about. Here’s the testimony of their American comrade:

“Those Brits are a strange old race, they show affection by abusing each other, they think nothing of casually stopping in the middle of a fire fight for their “brew up” and eat food that I wouldn’t give to a dying dog! But fuck me, I’d rather have one British squaddie on side than a whole battalion of spetznaz! Why? Because the British are the only people in the world who when the chips are down and there seems like no hope left, instead of getting sentimental and hysterical, will strap on their pack, charge their rifle, light up a smoke and calmly and wryly grin ‘well are we going then you wanker?’”

The syntax could do with a bit of work, but there is no gainsaying the sincerity of the American’s sentiment, nor the sharpness of his observation. Happy Remembrance Sunday!

(As I was writing this, the sound of a marching band drew me away from the keyboard and to the window. It was the ceremonial annual march along the King’s Road and towards Putney, with soldiers and RAF flyers leading the way, followed by policemen, Chelsea Pensioners and mufti-clad veterans of wars past. Thank them for their service.)   

Powder kegs and matches

Putin probably doesn’t want to set off a world war. Neither does Lukashenko. Neither does anyone else, really.

Satellite photo of Russian armour at Ukrainian border

By the same token, a chap starting a little campfire next to a powder keg doesn’t want to die in an explosion either. He only wants to keep warm. Yet in spite of his intention he may well be blown to kingdom come.

Extending the metaphor to history, wars have been known to start as if by themselves, with no manifest intention on either part. When the powder kegs of armed forces are primed, a few shots fired at some archduke can well strike a match.

Hence I don’t know if Putin is planning to invade the Ukraine again, and no one else does either, possibly not even the good colonel himself. Yet the White House’s intelligence sources warn that’s a distinct possibility.

But even if Putin is moving in 90,000 troops supported by tanks and artillery only as a scare tactic, a war may start anyway. A twitchy finger on some trigger or button may well explode the powder keg.

We know from both the theory and practice of war that mobilisations often reach a point of no return. When the juggernaut starts to roll in earnest, it acquires a life of its own. Sometimes even the best possible intentions can’t stop it.

That’s why Clausewitz, who knew a thing or two about such things, was unequivocal on this subject: mobilisation is war. So are systematic violations of a country’s territorial integrity, he’d add today, looking at the events on Russia’s western border.

In Belarus, Iraqis and Syrians are being flown, or rather trafficked, in their thousands. Most of them move to the border with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, with some dying of hypothermia in the woods.

Many others act on Peter the Great’s directive to “hack a window on Europe”, taking it literally. They are felling the ancient trees all along the border, with the immediate purpose of getting a steady supply of firewood. The less immediate but more sinister goal may be to clear the path for Putin’s armour in its Drang nach Westen.

Lukashenko is acting not only as Putin’s proxy but also his mouthpiece. His patron’s KGB training taught him to watch his words carefully. Hence, when Putin wants to issue a direct threat, he lets Lukashenko act as the dummy to his ventriloquist.

The latter obliges by pointing out, correctly as it happens, that Europe depends on Russia’s gas, which it gets through the pipeline traversing Belarus. Lukashenko thus has his hand on the control valve, and he is threatening to shut it if Europe gets ideas above its station.

This yet again emphasises the suicidal irresponsibility of letting hostile powers control our vital strategic resources, of which energy is the prime one. While Western governments play their anti-human and anti-scientific zero sum games, their enemies turn fossil fuels into guns aimed at our heart.

Lukashenko is also hinting at the possibility of arming those Arab lumberjacks not only with saws and axes but also with rifles. Since those lads aren’t normally given to concerns about the long-term consequences of their actions, they may well open a season on Polish frontier guards, again evoking that image of powder kegs and matches.

As it is, Belarusian troops are already firing blank shots at their Polish counterparts. They should ask Alec Baldwin about the possibility of live rounds mysteriously ending up among the blanks.

Another threat issued by Messrs Lukashenko and Putin is that those thousands of Iraqis and Syrians seeping into the EU are only a harbinger of things to come. Those things may come in the shape of not thousands but millions of lumberjacks from Afghanistan and possibly Middle Asia.

In case Europe contemplates taking a more active approach to the situation, Putin sent over two supersonic Tu-22M3 nuclear bombers to perform “tasks of combat alert for air defence” in the parlance of the Russian Defence Ministry. You get no prizes for guessing which targets those bombers have programmed into their onboard computers.

There’s no doubt that NATO air forces are ready to intercept and counter, but are the Western leaders? They tend to be long on expressions of “grave concerns” and short on resolute shows of strength. And concerns, no matter how grave, are unlikely to stop TU-22M3 sorties.

New sanctions doubtless planned by the EU will prove no more effective than the old ones. A total economic boycott of both Russia and Belarus may be a good lesson in manners, but as a result Europeans may have to shiver through the winter.

And whom do you think European voters will blame for their running noses? Politicians know the answer to that question, which is why they are unlikely to act until the powder keg goes kaboom. Their jobs come first, second and tenth, with the demos in whose name they supposedly govern following way down the list.

I could draw any number of historical parallels, but they are too obvious to mention. You know what they are, and so does everyone else who wishes to think along these lines. Which category doesn’t include our ‘leaders’.

What a sad day

Today, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we remember those who died in the blood-soaked battlefields of the First World War. (Two minutes of silence on Remembrance Sunday are coming, and Boris Johnson must brace himself for that trying experience.)

The memories are heart-rending – especially since a whole generation of young men was wiped out for nothing.

In 1914 Europe decided to commit suicide and, over the next four years, almost succeeded. It didn’t quite kill itself, but was left crippled, disfigured and vulnerable to the ensuing two-pronged onslaught of pure evil.

We all pin paper poppies to our lapels on this day because every summer that flower covers the killing fields of Flanders with a red blanket, as if they weren’t red already from all the blood spilled there. Yet the poppy has a symbolic value that transcends its colour.

After all, it’s not the only red flower, nor even the only red field flower. But it’s the only one that instantly withers when picked. The poppy is thus seen as a symbol of freedom, refusal to live under a tyranny.

So is this what that carnage was all about? Preserving freedom against despotism? To make this argument plausible, one would have to defend a whole raft of indefensible propositions.

Just look at the main warring parties, the Entente of Britain, France and Russia (with America kindly agreeing towards the end to eat the chestnuts others had pulled out of the fire) against the Central Powers of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires.

One could argue, if without much conviction, that Britain and France were marginally freer than the Central Powers. But Russia would be the piece falling out of that jigsaw.

In any case, how was Britain’s freedom threatened? I’m not aware of any plans mooted by Germany for an amphibious onslaught across the Channel or the North Sea. Even the Nazis killed Sea Lion before it was really born, and the Kaiser had nowhere near Hitler’s might.

France was consumed with a revanchist spirit after the Prussians chastised her in 1870. But in the intervening 40-odd years no new humiliations had been visited on her. Yet bygones weren’t allowed to be bygones.

And Russia? What dog did she have in that fight? The French extended massive loans to Russia in the 1890s in exchange for a defence treaty.

But neither France nor Russia was really threatened by anything other than its own ineptitude, so no defence was necessary. Yet Russia was the first major power to mobilise, when the echo of those pistol shots was still reverberating through Sarajevo’s air.

New weapons made their debut: high-calibre machine guns, tanks, airplanes, poison gases. But the tactics were still firmly frozen in the 19th century. Generals, as the saying goes, always fight the last war.

Dashing British officers, all educated at the better schools and armed only with swagger sticks, led soldiers over the top and into murderous fire – the Germans relied on more effective weapons. “Probably the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton,” wrote Orwell later, “but the opening battles of all subsequent wars have been lost there.”

After the first clashes, civilised people were no longer fighting a civilised war. They were killing for the sake of killing – only taking a break at Christmas to have a friendly football kickabout, as if the British and the Germans felt the urge to remind themselves that they were indeed civilised.

Cenotaphs have since gone up in every French, Belgian, German and British village ( I never saw any in Russia), preserving the names of the fallen for posterity. Each has chiselled in its stone a cautionary tale of human folly and its awful consequences – but no one was cautioned. No one ever is.

Driving through France (now that driving through England has become a tortuous chore) I often stop at those obelisks to read the names of the dead youngsters. Their number sometimes approaches the whole population of young men there at the time.

Sometimes one sees several names of the same family, three or four strapping sons mourned by their mother, friends and fiancées. The boys must have left the village to the accompaniment of fanfare, only to come back to the accompaniment of a dirge, if at all.

It sounds sentimental, I know, but this is one day on which sentimentality ought to be allowed. Especially if it’s followed by rage at those who let the carnage happen.

This was perhaps the only war where no one won. There were no winners, only losers.

And the biggest loser of all was Europe, whose civility, elegance, thought and beauty died along with the mangled bodies in those poppy-strewn fields. I miss it; don’t you?

A sad Armistice Day, everybody.

Weapons of mass migration

Belarus, egged on by Russia, is trying to shepherd thousands of Muslim migrants across the Polish border.

An amazing coincidence, or what?

Polish border guards are trying to stop them with barbed wire and tear gas.

Belarussian border guards are threatening to fire at their Polish counterparts.

The EU is trying not to notice. And I’m trying not to overstate certain troubling analogies. Yet the temptation is strong.

Hitler had a moustache; so does Lukashenko. Hitler was an ex-soldier; so is Lukashenko. Hitler was a dictator; so is Lukashenko. Hitler flouted international laws; so does Lukashenko. Hitler secured an alliance with Russia before striking out; so has Lukashenko. Hitler stirred trouble on the Polish border; so does Lukashenko. Hitler treated Western democracies with disdain; so does Lukashenko. Hitler imprisoned dissidents; so does Lukashenko.

True, there are differences as well. Unlike Hitler, Lukashenko is rumoured to have a full testicular complement. Unlike Lukashenko, Hitler saw action at the front. Unlike Hitler, Lukashenko is far from teetotal.

More to the geopolitical point, Hitler, though supported by Russia, attacked Poland of his own accord. By contrast, Lukashenko is Russia’s proxy. And while Hitler attacked Poland with masses of tanks, Lukashenko is attacking her with masses of Muslims.

Now we must all pray that Lukashenko, with Putin pulling his strings, will further diverge from Hitler’s path. By not triggering a world war.

Meanwhile, Minsk has become the favourite tourist destination for young Iraqis and Syrians. This though, having visited the place as an observer at Lukashenko’s first sham election, I can testify that Minsk has few tourist attractions to offer.

Moreover, flying to or even across Belarus is unsafe. Back in August, Lukashenko’s air force committed an act of piracy by threatening to shoot down a Ryanair airliner and forcing it to land – all to kidnap a single dissident journalist who had neglected to check his flight path with due care.

Since then Western airlines have severed aviation links with Belarus, and Western governments have imposed a raft of sanctions. That, however, has failed to deter young Muslims, and Minsk airport is still doing brisk business.

Eight full flights from Istanbul and five from Baghdad reach Minsk every week. And Baghdad isn’t the only Iraqi city with such departures. Basra, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah also offer weekly flights to Minsk, catering to the Iraqis’ hunger for that city’s meagre cultural highlights.

The migrants, most of them young men, jampack Minsk hotels and dormitories. But they don’t do much sightseeing. Instead, they form units that are then trained by Belarusian special forces. The locals report that the phrase “our march on the EU” is resonating through the chilly Minsk air.

Other arrivals bypass the capital and proceed directly to the country’s western border. There some settle in a refugee camp and many more hide in the thickets all along the Polish border.

Their exact numbers are hard to ascertain, but Poland has registered some 30,000 attempts to cross her border this year. According to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, some 4,000 have managed to cross Poland and reach Germany since August, almost 2,000 of them this month.

Łukasz Jasina, Poland’s foreign affairs spokesman, correctly observed that “nothing happens in Belarus without Russia’s complicity”, which raises the question about the exact plans hatched by Messrs Putin and Lukashenko.

For one thing, I doubt they wish to bring Europe to its knees by flooding it with Muslim migrants. The EU is doing a sterling job of it by itself, no outside help needed. Even if Belarus manages to ship 100,000 Muslims over, that’ll only add 10 per cent to the swarm that has already descended on Germany over the past few years.

Provoking an armed conflict at the border may be a part of the plan, and I suspect some skirmishes will break out, but I don’t think the two fascisoid dictators have far-reaching military designs. In keeping with Putin’s stratagem of hybrid war, their plans are not to conquer Europe but to destabilise it.

One time-proven trick is divide et impera: turning allied enemies against one another by exploiting potential tensions among them. The tensions are numerous, especially between the western and eastern parts of the EU.

The fissure could become even deeper if the EU doesn’t come to Poland’s aid. It hasn’t yet, with EU leaders limiting themselves to expressions of deep concern and threats of imposing even stiffer sanctions. Business as usual then.

If nothing more tangible is forthcoming, the Poles may lose what little affection they have for the EU, although their affection for the EU’s money is probably more enduring. But even that may prove weaker than their fear of again becoming Russia’s de facto colony.

Hence Poland may appeal to NATO over the EU’s head, and there too Putin-Lukashenko’s strategy may bear fruit. Unlike the EU, which is a strictly political contrivance, NATO is a collective defence alliance. It’s held together by Article 5 of its Charter, stating that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Even though Poland has still only suffered pinpricks, not sabre thrusts, major wars have been known to start over less provocation than what she is experiencing at the moment. NATO must act immediately and resolutely to forestall any escalation. If it fails to do so, and the conflict does escalate, Article 5 and consequently NATO will be dead.

Weaponised migrants are yet another prong in Putin’s hybrid attack on the West. The prongs are many: propaganda, energy blackmail, warplanes overflying Western countries, troops amassed at NATO borders, diplomatic offensive, financial and moral support of disruptive parties and movements.

The West responds by imposing mild sanctions with one hand and reaching out for Russia’s gas with the other. The latter encourages Putin (and Lukashenko), the former won’t discourage him.

So please stop me before I invoke Munich, circa 1938. Following Euclid, historical parallels shouldn’t be allowed to converge.

Disclaimers, disclaimers…

The phrase “Some of my best friends are [blank]” has become a proverbial tag-on to a ranting diatribe against the parenthetic group. The ensuing ‘but’ is always there, spoken or implied.

Censorship by any other name

People who deliver ranting diatribes are objectionable, whatever the object of their hatred. But, as Richard Littlejohn shows, even good people have to borrow the disclaimer trick from the bad ones.

Mr Littlejohn is a conservative columnist who does common sense better than anyone else I know. He seldom has a good word to say about any foreigner, but that’s a forgivable idiosyncrasy for a proud denizen of this island nation.

Other than that little affectation, I find his articles cogent, lucid, soundly argued and – most important – in agreement with mine.

This morning, for example, he wrote a long piece about the minority quotas imposed on State Street managers, saying essentially the same things that I wrote on this subject the other day – things that any sensible person would write.

However, while I normally agree with every sentence Mr Littlejohn writes, I have to take issue with one of his sentences today. Talking about the inane and discriminatory nature of any quotas based on race, sex or other incidentals, he felt called upon to introduce a disclaimer:

“For the record, I absolutely support any sincere attempt to ensure that the workforce reflects the people it is designed to serve.”

In other words, Mr Littlejohn implicitly supports the very quotas he so clearly despises. For how else can a company “ensure” such proportional representation?

The BAME population in London is roughly 40 per cent of the total. Does that mean 40 per cent of State Street fund managers have to be black or Asian? And 52 per cent of them female or 2.5 per cent homosexual? How many boxes does a black Asian lesbian tick? One, two, three or four?

Or let’s say the company, no longer prepared to contend with the extortionate cost of renting offices at Canary Wharf, were to relocate to, say, Bradford, where BAME population is merely a third of the total. Does that mean it’ll be expected to lower its BAME quota?

Wherever State Street is, what if its managers can’t find enough qualified candidates from such backgrounds (this is purely hypothetical, as I hope you realise)? There’s only one logical answer to that question.

They’ll have to bite the bullet and hire unqualified ones. Otherwise, in line with the incentive favoured by State Street, their bonuses will be slashed. And that would only be a warning shot across their bow, with a full broadside of dismissal to follow if they continue to disobey.

On the other hand, every unqualified employee will lower the company’s profitability and, consequently, the managers’ bonuses. I pity those poor souls. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. And the worst thing is that they bang their heads against the wall, trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist in real life.

As Thomas Sowell, himself black, shows so brilliantly in his books (such as Wealth, Poverty and Politics), proportional representation of any group has never been achieved in any country.

Moreover, he shows that discrimination against any group is more likely to occur at state institutions than at commercial companies. This stands to reason: firms stake their own money on each hire; the government, someone else’s. Since the laws of human nature haven’t yet been repealed, the government is more prone to bring extraneous considerations into its personnel policy.

Having spent decades in the business world on both sides of the Atlantic, I can testify to the truth of Prof. Sowell’s observation. I’ve met quite a few managers who were prejudiced against this or that group – but not a single one who let his biases affect his judgement on aspiring candidates.

On the other hand, how often do we hear of a political party nominating not the most qualified candidate, but one who fits a set of criteria having nothing to do with his ability to serve his constituency or govern a nation? This is especially noticeable in America.

Having followed US politics for the better part of half a century, I wish I had a tenner for each time I’ve heard of the dire need to balance a ticket with a woman, a man, a black, a Latino, a southerner, a northerner or some such. Never once have I heard of the need to balance a ticket with a true statesman.

Mr Littlejohn knows all this. Yet he also knows that even a conservative pundit employed by a conservative paper must watch his step. When taking a swipe at an asinine practice, he has to reassure the wokers of the world that he opposes only the excesses of their perverse ideology, not its very core. Disclaimers aren’t advisory; they are mandatory.

“You can’t say this” and “You must say that” are the pernicious phrases wafting through the air at every media outlet. And the worst thing is that they no longer have to be uttered. Such things increasingly go without saying, and every hack knows when to push the self-censorship button.

Self-censorship, like any other kind, can be proscriptive (things that can’t be said) or prescriptive (things that must be said). Some free speech can survive the former, just, but never the latter.

I hope our press won’t become similar to the Soviet papers of my childhood. I fear it may, for it’s unmistakably moving in that direction.

A happy International Pronoun Day!

These best wishes are belated. I’m getting absentminded in my dotage, which often leads to embarrassment. As it does now, for I’ve just realised I missed International Pronoun Day on 21 October.

Do I smell tattoos or is it Greta?

The fault for this regrettable oversight lies with government officials: their promotion of that salient milestone has been rather low-key. So you too might have failed to raise a glass of bubbly to yet another victory of madness over sanity.

Thank God not everyone is so negligent. Some people keep their fingers firmly on the pulse of modernity, and their fingertips transmit powerful pulses to their brains. Appropriately addled, the brains then command the hands to pour and raise that glass, if only metaphorically.

The other day a friend of mine who teaches at one of our better universities received an e-mail from a student. The missive carried the normal salutation and sign-off, but there was a parenthetic phrase under the signature: [they, she].

Those are the personal pronouns by which my friend can address them/her without incurring the risk of a disciplinary procedure or perhaps even prosecution. He was appalled, but they/she can be certain the law is on their/her side. (I’m assuming one can still decline prescribed pronouns without suffering opprobrium).

This madness enjoys not only legal but also medical support. If you believe the NHS, addressing people by traditional pronouns may have adverse medical effects.

The administration of that august institution has issued a circular saying that: “Trans and non-binary people, staff and patients, often feel ‘unseen’ in NHS, and can have significantly worse health and wellbeing outcomes.”

Their health and wellbeing outcomes would quickly improve, methinks, if the NHS had more doctors and fewer parasites who spend their days issuing illiterate and subversive memoranda. But who am I to trespass on matters medical?

It’s not only the saintly NHS that stays abreast of modernity, but also the world of crass commercialism, as personified by Marks & Spencer. As part of its “diversity and inclusivity” initiative, M&S has given its staff new badges, identifying employees by name and chosen pronouns.

The choices are so far limited to “He/Him/His”, “She/Her/Hers” and “They/Them/Their”. This not only shows a deficit of creativity but even ignores the pronouns already in use, such as hir, ze and zie. Still, any revolutionary undertaking should leave room for further expansion.

You may say this whole thing is idiotic, and I’ll agree with you. Or you may say it’s mad, and again there would be no disagreement in these quarters. But my principal objection to this idiocy or madness is aesthetic.

Whole generations of English speakers have developed a Van Gogh ear for language. They find no verbal contortions jarring, no warning signals go off in the brain to tell them that ugliness is destroying beauty.

That’s what upsets me most, this universal atrophy of aesthetic perception. It’s as if the whole Anglophone world were suffering from mental Covid, with the loss of taste one of its known symptoms.

Even a madman or an idiot will refuse to play the pronoun game if he has taste. Even clever and sane people may relish it if they haven’t.

They don’t really wish to assert the right of each of the 72 known sexes to have its own grammar. They simply weaponise pronouns to aim them at the heart of what they’ve been conditioned to hate: Western tradition.

I understand all that even if I find it hard to countenance. But still, if they had a scintilla of taste, they wouldn’t resort to such ghastly weapons. Surely the Geneva Convention must have something to say about that.

When people, especially young ones, spout nonsense, I may find it in my heart to smile indulgently. Not always, perhaps not even often, but sometimes. God knows I said enough stupid things when I was their age, and I doubt many people never did.

Yet even those who can’t put together a cogent argument against modern perversions should still have a sensitive enough aesthetic nose to be turned off by their putrid emanations.

Thus people of taste would eschew tattoos and facial metal not because they constitute a regression to our primitive past, but because they are in bad taste.

Those who haven’t read a single serious book on climate would still pinch their nostrils just looking at Greta Thunberg and listening to her hysterical animadversions.

And even individuals who don’t really care about music of any kind would still detest pop if they saw a video of a Nuremberg rally cum orgy that goes by the name of a concert.

Aesthetic sense can only go so far, but in most cases that’s far enough – and it can certainly take one to a point where it’s repulsive to have to list one’s chosen pronouns. One’s name alone should provide enough of a clue.   

Privilege is the new equality

City firms, such as State Street (headquartered in the US), are introducing minority quotas, explaining to demurring managers in crystal clear terms that failure to comply will reduce their own bonuses.

Vandals are operating in your area

Since these seven-digit afterthoughts are the bedrock on which our whole financial system rests, those troglodyte executives are offered the choice between life and suicide. I can see only one winner there.

But what’s a minority? Is it defined as percentiles or absolute numbers? Neither, is the answer to that naïve question.

In compliance with the current carte blanche to self-identification, minority is defined as any group perceiving itself as such, with no other qualifications necessary. Thus women, who are actually in the majority, qualify – and Russian-born holders of dual American-British nationality don’t.

But enough about me. Let’s talk instead about my constant bugbear: equality.

Let’s then narrow the problem by ignoring equality of outcome, only ever demanded by the primitive fringe of a primitively evil doctrine: communism. Let’s further put aside the more civilised but similarly unrealistic demand for equal opportunity, which, as I’ve often argued, is fully achievable only in prison.

At issue today is one type of equality seen as virtuous and desirable by the whole political spectrum: equality before the law. Fans of Enlightenment slogans insist that this is the sense in which the word or its cognates was used in variously subversive American and French documents of the 18th century.

The founding document of the US treats this type of equality as an inalienable right. This interpretation isn’t restricted to the New World. Every decent person anywhere in the West nods his agreement, and every Western government enshrines this right legally.

Equality before the law is then an indisputable legal right. Derivatively indisputable is the inference that violating this right is illegal.

The law, in the West at any rate, is like God. It looks down on people from such a lofty perch that all of them look the same. You have the same rights as I, we have the same rights as they, they have the same rights as anybody else. Are you with me so far?

Thus a member of any group possesses certain inalienable rights, the same for all because the law is the same for all. I know I’m banging on about the same thing, but hell, repetition is the mother of all learning (repetitio mater studiorum in the original).

Hence a woman, homosexual, black, Asian, transsexual and whatnot have all the same rights as all of us. We are all equal before the law.

Yet then it transpires that, in addition to the rights shared by all, members of the groups perceived as minorities have other rights, those the rest of us are denied. In other words, they enjoy privileges.

Thus I have no protection under the law from being publicly described as a colloquial word for pudendum, which I don’t resemble in any other than the metaphorical sense. I have no right to that protection.

By contrast, the law protects a black person from epithets specifically based on his race, or a homosexual from any epithets relevant to his sexuality. The other day, for example, a friend’s sister, a dainty woman of about 5’2’’ and seven stone, had a spat with a neighbour, as one does.

In the heat of the argument she called him a “poof”, rudely but, as it happens, justifiably. The man, who tops her by more than a foot, immediately filed a complaint, claiming he felt physically threatened.

That evening three burly coppers came to the woman’s house, arrested her and threw her in the cage at the nick, where she spent the next 24 hours before appearing in court.

If I were insulted by a reference to any of my characteristics, or even other people’s (it’s that pudendum again), I’d have no recourse. Should I file a complaint, I’d be the laughingstock of the policeman and all his friends. And no cop would turn up at my offender’s door.

Thus members of some groups have all the same legal rights I have – plus others that don’t apply to me. You may or may not consider this fair, but it’s certainly not just. Equality before the law is, after all, a universal principle of Western jurisprudence.

This explains the title above: privilege is indeed the new equality – in the same sense in which oppression is the new liberalism, uniformity is the new diversity and socialism is the new conservatism.

Modernity is one contiguous paradox and one ongoing spree of vandalism – cultural, social and linguistic. In pursuit of their wicked ends, the vandals are willing to stamp into the dirt even their cherished inaugurating principles. Such as equality before the law.

White squaw talk in forked tongue

Disadvantaged is the new advantaged, as Prof. Carrie Bourassa, of Saskatchewan University knows only too well.

Morning Star Bear

And advantages are worth fighting for. That’s why she first claimed to be a Métis (mixed Red Indian and European) and then fought a rearguard action when found out.

Prof. Bourassa accessorised her claim with an eye for authentic detail. She called herself ‘Morning Star Bear’ and sported the usual paraphernalia of her supposed tribe: beads, feathers, embroidered shawls.

She wisely refrained from reinforcing her claim by scalping her academic colleagues, for which reticence they should be grateful. Instead those ingrates circled their wagons and vengefully set up a genealogical test, which showed that Prof. Bourassa is a pure paleface of Eastern European stock.

The impostor was suspended, but she didn’t take punishment lying down. Instead she whipped out her trusted woke tomahawk and began laying about her with nothing short of Apache abandon.

Those palefaces, she cried, are conducting a “smear campaign” because they still operate in the antediluvian world. The postdiluvian world inhabited by Prof. Bourassa doesn’t rely on “blood quantums” to establish identity. You are what you say you are, what you identify as.

And identifying as an ‘indigenous’ inhabitant of Canada isn’t just a matter of a deeply felt imperative. For Canada is busily trying to atone for her colonial past, which she acquired vicariously courtesy of the British Empire.

For Canadian academic institutions, this atonement isn’t limited to a steady chorus of mea culpas. They also seek to compensate materially the poor souls whose ancestors were colonised 500 years ago. The pain of displacement knows no statutes of limitations. It never abates without the analgesic of prizes, grants and various other emoluments.

Morning Star Bear knows the game inside out and she plays it with virtuoso dexterity. Actually, she has a strong case, logically if not morally.

After all, if a man can identify as a woman, a woman as a man, and either one as any of the 72 sexes currently on offer, why can’t Morning Star Bear choose any racial identity she likes? No reason whatsoever.

The profusion of sexes springs from the rejection of the obsolete binary distinction. There are men at one end, women at the other, and then there are 70 intermediate sexes based on the degree of proximity to either end. Thus, for example, there are names for people who are 80 per cent men and 20 women or vice versa, although don’t ask me what those names are.

And the beauty of it is that anyone who talks the chromosome talk and walks the genetic walk instantly acquires the stigma of a stick-in-the-mud at best or a fascist at worst. Never mind the chromosomes, feel the identity.

If this approach is so productive with sex, why not with race? Most people have some sort of admixtures to their gene pool. Go back far enough and any Englishman can claim to be Celtic, Saxon, Danish or perhaps ancient Roman.

And don’t get me going on the Russians. Should they wish to do so, most of them could claim to be Mongols, Swedes, Germans – or even Jews. Actually, the last two claims became popular in the 1970s, when some members of those groups were allowed to emigrate.

I knew a snub-nosed Russian chap of pure peasant heritage who told the Interior Ministry that his grandfather confessed on his deathbed that he was a quarter-Jew. Even if true (which it wasn’t), that only made him one-sixteenth Jewish, but who’s to decide which part of one’s blood speaks in the loudest voice?

Another Russian friend of mine claimed to be a Volksdeutsche, a person born outside Germany, but whose culture and language has German origins. When queried, he proved to be familiar with Bach, Beethoven and Goethe, but the only German he knew came from Soviet war films. All he could say was Halt, Hände hoch and Ve have vays to make you talk.

My intrepid friend nevertheless claimed that all his dreams were in German, the language of his blood. The German consular officials were satisfied, and he got his travel documents (the Russians wanted to get rid of him anyway).

A more recent and relevant example dates back to my tenure at NASA, 1974-1975. As a government institution, NASA was in the vanguard of all the perverse trends, planting saplings that have by now blossomed into luxuriant trees.

Hence a young woman got a job in the documentation department on the strength of her claim of being half-Indian, half-black. In fact, she was neither, but the personnel department already functioned as a harbinger of things to come. Not only did Carol (not her real name) get the job, but she even got to keep it after doubts of her ethnicity began to creep in.

Morning Star Bear has to be on a winner there. Her detractors may throw the genetic kitchen sink at her, but she’ll crush them under a woke bathtub. Zeitgeist is her tailwind and she won’t be stopped.  

Spend a penny, save a penny

A friend of mine took this picture at Freemantle railway station in Western Australia.

As you can see, the loo roll is securely padlocked. One has to assume that, in the absence of this precaution, the roll would be nicked, thereby creating a problem with which every Russian of my generation is familiar.

In the old days loo paper didn’t exist in public lavatories, and it was a rarity even in private ones. Hence, if you’ll pardon a malodorous detail, most of such facilities were tastefully decorated with brown streaks on the walls.

Some 25 years ago, in post-Soviet times, the problem had been only partly eradicated. At that time Penelope and I visited the seat of Russian Christianity, St Sergius Trinity monastery some 40 miles from Moscow.

Since the high spiritual value of that institution didn’t quite obviate some basic physical needs, we had the chance to sample the facility in question.

Sitting at the entrance was an unsmiling Cerberus-like woman holding a loo roll. She’d size up the entrants and dole out exactly three squares each, which gave Penelope the kind of ethnographic insights that guide books didn’t provide.

I’ve never been to Australia, though I have a few Australian acquaintances and quite a few Australian readers. This sample is too small to reach any sweeping conclusions about something as complex as national character. Thus I can’t speculate on the Aussies’ frugality or lack thereof.

Moreover, since I’ve never shopped for this product Down Under, I can’t attach any monetary value to it. However, on general principle, I suspect it can’t be any less available or more expensive than here in the metropolis. A cheap roll retails for about 30p in London, and there are no supply problems (apart from the short period at the start of the pandemic).

So an item worth perhaps 20p wholesale in our money is deemed valuable enough to rate a padlock. It also must be desirable enough to bring out the worst in human nature, specifically its larcenous aspect.

Applying the inductive method of investigation that Conan Doyle mistakenly called deductive, let’s see if we can build a hypothesis or two on the basis of this small detail.

First, Freemantle station is operated by Transperth, a state institution. Such institutions are known throughout the West for their inefficiency and promiscuous squandering of public funds.

Publicly owned railway stations also depend on government subsidies, which warms my cockles every time I board a train in France. Knowing that the government subsidises my journey gives me an irrational feeling of revenge exacted, although I’m not quite sure for what.

Assuming that Transperth is also subsidised, the loo roll in question was financed out of the public purse. Hence I doff my hat to Australia’s government for evidently imposing a strict fiscal discipline on its branches.

Another inductive inference is that labour must be cheaper Down Under than Up Over. After all, someone has to open and close the lock when replacing the roll every hour or so. If this practice is followed in all Transperth outlets, it must add a few man hours to the arduous task of loo maintenance.

If the company’s cost-benefit analysis showed that the extra labour cost is offset by the benefit of securing the roll, and if the cost of the roll is negligible, labour must be cheap. This raises unpleasant questions about Australia’s immigration and racial policies, but I’d rather not go there.

On the other hand, it’s conceivable that no cost-benefit analysis was ever carried out. If so, my faith in public institutions remains unshaken: they all seem to act in character everywhere.

Moving right along, one can’t help noticing that at comparable facilities in England loo rolls are at the mercy of petty thieves. This may be construed as saying a lot about the people and public institutions in both countries.

First, Englishmen may be less likely than Australians to want to steal a 30p loo roll. If so, I’m proud of my countrymen. For the temptation must be strong, whereas the likelihood of punishment low to nonexistent.

So, if Englishmen resist nicking loo rolls, they may be made of sturdier moral fibre – especially since the purchasing power of an average Englishman is 16 per cent lower than that of an average Aussie.

It’s also possible that HMG has calculated that the probability of a loo roll being stolen is too low to justify the cost of providing and operating a padlock. Alas, HMG isn’t exactly known for such pernickety attention to detail. It’s better known for referring to, say, a loo roll as a ‘sanitary cleansing system’ and citing its cost at hundreds of pounds.

Also… no, no more. Please stop me before I unroll the object in the photo into a paradigm of general moral and cultural decrepitude. Let’s face it, Sherlock Holmes I’m not.