A damp squib, damn scary

The world drew its breath in, opened its mouth agape and eyes wide, stiffened its back against the chair and prepared itself.

The Victory Day parade, and Putin’s momentous speech to be delivered in Red Square, kept the world on tenterhooks. No one hoped for another Sermon on the Mount, but at least a version of Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar was coming, the world knew that for sure.

Analysts were having a field day, confidently predicting the contents of the much-anticipated address. Minor differences notwithstanding, most of them agreed on the main points.

Putin was going to abandon the mendacious term ‘special military operation’ and officially declare war on the Ukraine. That would enable him to introduce martial law, call up the reservists and declare a total mobilisation. It was also possible that…

Well, all sorts of things were possible. Or rather probable. Or even definite. And none of them happened.

Putin’s voice was getting hoarser the longer the speech went. Those who regularly propose pessimistic bulletins on his health felt vindicated. Everybody else felt bored.

No war was declared. No mobilisation was announced. No threat to turn Nato into smouldering radioactive ruins was made. Instead Putin regurgitated the propaganda heard around the clock on Russian TV, making me wonder who was plagiarising whom.

Heroic Russian troops were fighting to protect the security of the motherland. The special military operation was a preemptive strike. It was absolutely necessary because Ukrainian Banderite Nazis, in cahoots with those Nato vermin, were planning a genocide of Russians, to which end they were trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

Is that it, Vlad? Give us a break, lad. You are president, not a talk show host on the First Channel of Russian TV. Tell us something we haven’t heard a million times already. Please?

And you call that a Victory Day parade? Half the usual complement of military hardware was on show – even when the Germans were rolling on to Moscow, Stalin managed to put on more of a display on 7 November, 1941.

Foreign leaders must have been warned that the spectacle wasn’t worth the price of admission. For that, or perhaps also some other reason, none of them was in attendance. They must have known they wouldn’t even get to see an Air Force fly-by, a constant feature of such festivities in the past.

The Russians cited bad weather as the reason for that omission. What kind of excuse is that? First, the video of the parade shows a few clouds in the sky, but no rain. But even assuming there was the odd sprinkle here and there, that shouldn’t have been a problem.

Back when I was a child, the Soviets used special planes to chase rain clouds away. It never rained on their parade, that was guaranteed. So where’s the pomp, Vlad? Where’s the circumstance?

There was a nice touch though, if not without a healthy dose of cynicism. Granite slabs were laid out, with the name of a hero-city chiselled on each. That was a status awarded to the Soviet cities that suffered most during the Second World War.

Two of them were Kiev and Odessa, and Vlad ceremoniously adorned all slabs, including those two, with flowers. Just as he was paying his floral tribute to Odessa, the Russians hit the city with a barrage of missiles, thereby testing the present state of its heroism.

Putin must have realised that his thunder had been stolen the day before by one of his closest accomplices, Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos.

The former deputy PM didn’t beat about the bush. “Nato is waging war on us,” Rogozin announced. Here’s a man who tells it like it is.

Capitalising on his hands-on knowledge of rocketry, Rogozin then explained that, in a nuclear war, Russia could destroy all Nato countries in half an hour. But, he added magnanimously, Russia wasn’t going to do that.

Why not, pray tell? Whenever Lenin discussed some forthcoming bestial act, his favourite formula was “we can and therefore must”. And here is one of his spiritual descendants saying we could but won’t? I don’t get that.

Rogozin helpfully explained. “But we must not allow it, because the consequences of the exchange of nuclear strikes will affect the state of our Earth. Therefore, we will have to defeat this economically and militarily more powerful enemy with conventional armed means.”

As an environmentalist of long standing, I welcome Russia’s commitment to the Earth’s ecological health. Over the past 100 years or so, such dedication has been nowhere in evidence.

Back in the ‘60s, for example, Japanese physicists came to a Moscow conference equipped with Geiger counters. They then refused to leave the hotel because those counters were going haywire (the hotel was a few hundred yards from where I lived).

But hey, better late than never. However, jokes aside, both Putin’s and Rogozin’s speeches make me worried.

For by now everyone in the world knows that Russia can’t “defeat this economically and militarily more powerful enemy with conventional armed means.” That leaves only two options: either admitting defeat or achieving that objective by unconventional means, meaning WMDs.

Far be it from me to doubt the veracity of Russian leaders, but observations suggest that what they say doesn’t always accurately reflect what they do – or are planning to do. Putin’s refusal to declare an all-out commitment to the war and his silence on nuclear weapons dovetail with Rogozin’s denial that such weapons would ever be used. The effect is spooky.

If we know that Russia won’t defeat the Ukraine, never mind Nato, in a conventional war, then Putin knows it too. He also knows that he can’t afford defeat – his political career wouldn’t survive it, and neither in all probability would he.

I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but heaving a sigh of relief is premature. For the time being, let’s keep our powder dry – and marvel at the videos showing murderers, looters and rapists goosestepping on the Red Square cobbles.

There goes the neighbourhood

These words popped into my mind uninvited the other day, as we walked up New King’s Road past Eel Brook Common, where Fulham is about to become Chelsea.

The eponymous brook is long since gone, and one doesn’t expect to see many slippery fish in that patch of greenery. But then neither does one expect to see hundreds of kneeling Muslims, their backs heaving to muezzin chants piped through giant speakers. Yet that was exactly what we saw – and, most annoying, heard.

You may not know my neighbourhood, but take my word for it: diversity isn’t its most arresting feature (no pun necessarily intended). The only Muslim one typically sees is the chap who runs the corner shop, and even he may be Indian for all I know.  

It was the last day of Ramadan, as I found out later. Yet the calendar still doesn’t quite explain the show. Bethnal Green, yes, as Penelope suggested, talking about an impeccably multi-culti area of East London. Eel Brook Common, or anywhere else in our street, well, no.

Still, the words in the title, and especially the genuine feeling behind them, call for an explanation. After all, troglodyte thoughts on race seldom grace me with a visit and, if they still insist on coming, I try to chase them away. So why such visceral rejection?

I first heard the title words in Houston, c. 1974. The chap who uttered them explained that, whenever a black family moved in next door, the house prices went down. He then proceeded to enlighten me further by asking: “What are the five most dreaded words in English?” I didn’t know, so he answered his own question: “Hello, I’s your new neighbour.”

Since then I’ve read a few serious studies on the subject, with the authors united in their conclusion: such sentiments usually originate not in race hatred, but in class resentment. Few Americans object when a black doctor or lawyer moves into the area – yet even fire-eating liberals hate the sight of a neighbour sporting half of Fort Knox on his body and in his mouth.

From a purely empirical observation I can testify that pure racism unsullied by social or economic considerations does exist in Houston, generally in Texas and, even more generally, everywhere else in the world. Yet I know for a fact that I don’t dislike other races.

When living in America, I often preferred blacks to whites in social situations. They were full of life and good cheer, which was more than one could say for dour chaps clad in double-knit polyester. Their speech was rhythmic and idiosyncratic, and one seldom heard my black friends and colleagues mouth the off-the-peg, ready-to-wear clichés Americans (other than my readers, that is) seem to favour in small talk.

In London too I easily mix with blacks and Muslims. Why, once I even complimented a young PLO fundraiser on her legs, which were indeed sensational and amply visible as I walked up the stairs behind her at a dinner party. I did mind the PLO, but I didn’t mind her.

So why that kneejerk NIMBY reaction in Eel Brook Common? What’s so sacrosanct about my back yard that makes me respond that way to a large group of outsiders?

It can’t be concerns about Muslims driving the house prices down by moving in. For one thing, they weren’t moving in – there wasn’t a trace of their presence the next day. Then I don’t really care about the price of my flat since I don’t ever want to sell it. My plan is to be carried out of it feet first, though, God willing, not just yet.

Nor is it class resentment. I have close friends whose social backgrounds are different from mine, and they aren’t reticent about proving that phonetically and sartorially. Being classless myself, I’m at ease with Kipling’s entreaty (“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,/ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch…”), even if I’m ill at ease with Kipling.

Then it occurred to me: my resentment of the huddled Muslim masses was neither racial nor social nor economic. It was emotional, linked to the unique role played by my home and, by extension, its back yard.

I expect and welcome excitement at work, at a party, in a foreign land, even simply talking to Penelope or friends. But the less outside excitement I have in my immediate surroundings, the better. What I seek at home is peace, tranquillity, contentment – that aura of inviolable, perhaps even slightly boring, predictability that’s no less impenetrable for being invisible.

If you have ever driven a car in a foreign country, you’ll know what I mean. For myself, I’m much more relaxed driving around Hyde Park Corner than through the blissful French countryside. In London, I know what to expect from other drivers – their behaviour is predictable and hence unthreatening.

Where we are in France, there are never many other drivers on the road. Yet I’m tense there because I expect something dangerous from every one. The cultural differences between us are small, but they are big enough to punch holes through the protective aura one expects from one’s home.

By the same token, had I seen a crowd of Muslims at prayer somewhere in the East End or, better still, Istanbul, I’d welcome the exotica. Seeing the same crowd of cultural aliens invading my home is a different story. The sight not so much punches a hole in the aura as tears it to tatters.

This may be a case of xenophobia in the real sense of the word, irrational fear of aliens. Or it may simply mean emotional dependence on the safety of home. One way or the other, I’d rather not see such collective devotions within swearing distance of King’s Road ever again.

KGB as a Christian denomination

The other day, Patriarch Kirill, known in the KGB archives as ‘Agent Mikhailov’, indulged in historical revisionism. His servile cynicism turned my mind to history, specifically one episode.

The one on the right doesn’t believe in God. Does the one on the left?

Before the Bolsheviks built that ziggurat eyesore in Red Square, Lenin’s mummy was kept in a jerrybuilt wooden structure. Upholding the fine tradition of Russian workmanship, one builder accidentally punctured a sewer, flooding the place with foul muck.

Patriarch Tikhon, then under house arrest, quipped: “The incense fits the relics.” A few months later he was dead.

That was the last gasp of the Russian Church, annihilated or at least driven underground by the advent of universal justice and liberty. At least 40,000 priests were murdered under Lenin, who told his hit squads that “we must teach that scum a lesson so that they will not even dare think of any kind of resistance for several decades.”

In general, Lenin didn’t pull punches when pronouncing on matters religious: “Any god is necrophilia… any religious idea, any idea of any god, even only flirting with god is unimaginable filth.” He also opined that, of all the disgusting notions mankind had concocted, the idea of God was by far the most revolting.

Stalin, who used to be a seminary student, agreed in principle, but not in every detail. Unlike Lenin, he was a practical man who realised that an ersatz Church could be useful.

Under him the Church vindicated the Resurrection by first dying and then rising from the dead in a new body. Already in 1922, as Stalin was taking over, the Soviets created a house-trained ‘Living Church’ operating under the aegis of the CheKa.

That sinister organisation has undergone seven name changes on the way to its current role of running the country. So has the Living Church, until it became known as simply the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Or rather that was its official name. Unofficially, it was a department of the KGB – not de jure but de facto.

When Stalin realised in 1941 that the Russians were reluctant to die for communism, he reinstated some traditional bric-a-brac, including the Church. Since then its hierarchs have been under KGB control as its full-time agents.

Thus all three candidates for the office of patriarch in 2009 were run by the KGB. Vladimir Gundyayev, ‘Agent Mikhailov’, won and assumed the name of Kirill.

His KGB dossier, first published in The Mitrokhin Archives, was impeccable. Whatever Gundyayev’s mission, his case officer invariably concluded that “the assignment was fulfilled successfully”.

According to Gen. Kalugin, head of the KGB department that ran Agent Mikhailov, piety wasn’t deemed an essential qualification for Gundyayev’s job. Kalugin, who has been living in the US since 1995, recalls once asking Gundyayev if he actually believed in God.

Between you and me, Volodya, tell your old friend, that sort of thing. Gundyayev could only manage a vague reply: “Well, you know, that depends on how you look at it…” Kalugin laughed in his face.

His Holiness’s current assignment is glorifying and blessing Putin’s bandit raid on the Ukraine. That too is being successfully fulfilled.

The other day, Agent Mikhailov declared that “Never in her history has Russia ever attacked anybody. She has only ever defended her borders.”

That was almost verbatim what Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, said on the same subject: “Let me remind you that throughout her history Russia has never attacked anybody. And Russia, which has suffered so many wars, is the last country in Europe that wants even to utter the word ‘war’.”

The words ‘special operation’, on the other hand, are perfectly utterable. Yet Peskov isn’t known as His Holiness. Gundyayev is, which makes his blanket statement particularly impressive.

Now, Agent Mikhailov is an educated man whose family features several generations of priestly theologians. He has no excuse of ignorance, which failing wouldn’t necessarily disqualify him as a man of God. Gundyayev is simply lying to vindicate mass murder. That does disqualify him not only as a priest but even as a half-decent man.

Any educated Russian, and certainly he, knows that Russia has been pouncing on her neighbours ever since the 16th century, when various principalities united under the auspices of Moscow.

Livonian wars pitted Russia against Lithuania first, then also Poland and Sweden. The last two remained off-and-on targets for 150 years, with Russia usually the aggressor.

Since then the country fought several offensive wars with Turkey, conquering the Crimea under Catherine the Great. At roughly the same time, Russia initiated three partitions of Poland, with the fourth one to come later, under Stalin.

Under Alexander I (d. 1825), Russia grabbed Finland, which managed to gain her independence only after Versailles. Also, every Russian schoolboy and certainly Gundyayev, knows the story of Gen. Suvorov’s exploits in the early Napoleonic wars. His army crossed the Alps to engage the French in Italy, doubtless trying to defend Russian borders there.

What every Russian schoolboy also knows is that throughout the 19th century Russia fought the Caucuses Wars, grabbing the territory traditionally occupied by the Chechens and other local peoples.

This gets us to the 20th century, when the Bolsheviks outdid the tsars with room to spare. In 1920 the Red Army attacked Poland, specifying that reconquering that land was only the first stop on the road to Paris and Berlin.

That didn’t quite work out at the time, and the Soviets hastily turned all of Russia into a combination of two camps: army and concentration. Stalin embarked on a massive militarisation effort, swapping millions of Russian lives for tanks and planes. Those were put to good use following the 1939 Pact with Hitler.

Red hordes occupied the bigger part of Poland (which Molotov called “an ugly creature of the Versailles Treaty”), helping the Nazis win the rest. They then grabbed Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and a large chunk of Romania. An attack on Finland followed, presaging the current war in the Ukraine. The Reds got a bloody nose and had to settle for just Karelia, rather than the whole country they had planned to occupy.

After the war, the Soviets defended their borders by sending tanks to quash popular uprisings in East Germany, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Then came Afghanistan, where the Soviets killed a million locals for purely defensive purposes. And let’s not forget the two Chechen wars, in which those infidels paid a high price for wanting independence.

Georgia in 2008 and the Ukraine in 2014 also threatened Russia’s territorial integrity so much that troops had to be sent to annex large tracts of those lands. And of course only a timely thrust on 24 February, 2022, prevented those Judaeo-Banderite Ukie Nazis from marching all the way to Moscow.

But who am I to take issue with His Holiness? His reading of history must be divinely inspired, and God’s truth trumps man’s version every time.

All the holy father had to do was to accept Putin as God, Lubianka as His temple, and then repudiate all other Gods. Including the one he doesn’t believe in.

P.S. Congratulations to President Biden on his creativity. By appointing a black lesbian as his new press secretary, he ticked two vital boxes with one stroke. Or, if you will, killed two birds with one… bird.

Johnson and I are both ignorant

Unlike the PM, I won’t pay for my ignorance at the ballot box. He, however, is too uninformed to stand a chance at the next election.

Janet Street-Porter

So spoke Janet Street-Porter, who writes a regular general-interest column. Her remit is to be an expert on everything, except, judging by the photographic evidence, corrective dental surgery.

However, it wasn’t ignorance on that subject that, according to her, disqualifies Johnson from any public office. It’s something much worse.

In an interview on Good Morning Britain, Johnson casually and unapologetically admitted he didn’t have a clue who Lorraine Kelly is. That, explains Street-Porter, “is just another sign he is out of touch with people struggling to make ends meet.”

“A failure to know the price of a loaf or a pint of milk is a vote-losing disaster,” she continues. This made me glad I am not in the business of soliciting votes.

For I have never heard of Lorraine Kelly either. That gaping hole in my education was plugged by Street-Porter, who identified Lorraine as a wealthy star of day-time television. Learn something every day.

As to the price of daily staples, such as milk and bread, I actually buy my own, which must set me apart from Boris Johnson. But I still can’t tell you the exact price of either a pint or a loaf. On that basis, I’ll resist the temptation of standing for any public office – the humiliation of being blackballed by Street-Porter would be unbearable.

Actually, ignorance of daytime TV sounds like a feather in a politician’s cap. One would like to think that the people who run the country have better things to do during the day than to watch soap operas. One would also expect them to be sufficiently successful in life not to care how many pennies on either side of 50p they pay for a pint of milk.

Street-Porter inadvertently identified the systemic problem with rampant political populism, otherwise known as universal franchise. Voters are expected to want politicians to be just like them: ill-educated, underpaid, uncultured, not especially bright – ideally tattooed and facial-metalled dwellers of council estates.

The assumption peddled by the likes of Street-Porter is that ‘toffs’ can’t possibly understand the needs of voters who fit that description. Neither can ‘toff’ politicians understand ethnic minorities, feel the pain of cripples and drug addicts, or relate to the needs of any of the 70+ sexes other than their own.

This is ideologised tosh. A politician, especially a PM, should have a broad range of qualifications that council-estate dwellers are unlikely either to acquire or to appreciate. Some such dwellers may rise above their circumstances, and my hat’s off to them. But such overachievers represent an exception, rather than the rule.

A successful statesman should possess certain intellectual tools that are in short supply at council estates, comprehensive schools and polytechnics. A statesman doesn’t have to be a professional intellectual – in fact, it’s best that he isn’t.

But he should possess a working knowledge and understanding of history, political science, religion, economics, foreign relations, his country’s constitution, law, sociology, philosophy.

This kind of knowledge presupposes (with the odd exception here and there) at least a middle-class family background, education at a good school and decent university, ideally hands-on experience in a profession where such knowledge is at a premium.

It’s preposterous to claim that any person so qualified is unable to understand the needs of common folk. A higher system can always understand a lower one, though the reverse isn’t true. And anyway, the needs of common folk are neither astrophysics nor differential calculus.

One doesn’t have to know the exact price of milk or bread to realise that such staples shouldn’t be out of anyone’s reach. One doesn’t have to live in a tower block to sympathise with those who do. One doesn’t have to use the NHS to know that it fails most people.

It’s not that some ‘toff’ politicians find common folk incomprehensible. It’s that some politicians, whatever their wealth or social origin, don’t care about people, common or otherwise. Actually, replace ‘some’ with ‘most’. Most of our politicians are self-serving spivs who only care about power.

Now we are talking about a deficit of character, not of knowledge. Yet this failing isn’t the exclusive property of the upper classes. A potential for crass, selfish insensitivity is an essential human characteristic. And it has long been my observation that modern politics encourages this trait to come to the fore.

However, a successful politician learns how to put on a sympathetic face even if he feels no sympathy. He knows there’s a class war going on – in fact, he belongs to the professional group that’s largely responsible for whipping up these hostilities. But he intends to claim victory nevertheless.  

That’s why politicians systematically corrupt voters into believing they are winning every battle of the class war. To that end most chaps on either side of the aisle profess intimate knowledge of football formations, prole music and TV, pub grub, cheap lager and other badges of the winning side.

This, unfortunately, is a two-way street. Even as they corrupt the electorate, the electorate corrupts them — such is the democratic feedback.

Before long they don’t have to pretend. They may still not know how much a pint of milk is, but they do develop proletarian tastes. I don’t think, for example, an earlier Tory Chancellor feigned an affection for a particularly revolting rap group. That’s exactly his cultural level, regardless of the number of millions his family has.

Only in a thoroughly corrupt political culture could someone like Angela Rayner rise to the top tier of politics. Whether or not she crosses and uncrosses her tattooed legs deliberately to lead Johnson astray at PM Question Time is immaterial.

What matters is that she is exactly the type of politician to satisfy Street-Porter’s stringent requirements. Angie became a mother at 16, a grandmother at 37, she did indeed grow up on a council estate, and she can’t string together a single grammatical sentence (“Was you or was you not at that party, Boris?”). And I bet she can still recite the whole price list of Asda’s goods.

She understands common folk, in other words. Yet every time she opens her mouth, it’s clear she understands nothing else. An ideal politician, as far as Janet Street-Porter is concerned.

Hitler, a Yiddishe bocher

Did you know Hitler was a Jewish lad (Yiddishe bocher, in his real mother tongue)?

Adolf Hitler, on his day off

Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov can educate you on this point. As far as he is concerned, there’s no doubt: Hitler was an orthodox Jew, who in the privacy of his own bunker must have spoken the German equivalent of Jackie Mason’s English.

Historians are still undecided whether or not Adolf went to shule every Sabbath, studied at a Yeshiva and forswore pork. Come to think of it, since he didn’t eat meat of any kind, he certainly didn’t eat pork either. There you have it: for all intents and purposes, he was a kosher Jew.

True, Hitler professed hatred of Jews and actually acted on his feelings. But that doesn’t prove he wasn’t Jewish, quite the opposite.

As Otto Weininger, himself a converted Jew, explained in his 1903 book Sex and Character, “the bitterest anti-Semites are to be found among the Jews themselves”. To prove that point, when he was 23, Weininger shot one Jew dead – himself. It’s a known fact that Hitler kept Weininger’s book on his bedside table, next to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

By implication, the Holocaust (if it happened at all, Lavrov was vague on that point) was largely perpetrated by Jews themselves. It was an exercise in self-hatred, not racism.

Since Mr Lavrov doesn’t speak off the cuff, his startling historical discovery must have been prompted by his boss’s explicit instructions. There goes the only good thing one could say about Putin.

He is many rotten things, in fact most of them. But one rotten thing he hasn’t been until now is an anti-Semite. Some of his best friends are indeed Jewish – in his case, that’s not the typical excuse of a Jew-hater. So in this one area he used to break the fine tradition of all post-Lenin Soviet leaders, none of whom escaped that charming trait.

Lavrov’s little foray into modern history has achieved the unlikely diplomatic feat of turning a reliable ally into an enemy. Israel, practically alone among the civilised nations, has been reticent in introducing sanctions against Russia and criticising her too vehemently.

There are two realpolitik reasons for this. One is that millions of Israelis come from Russia, and a large swathe of them have left their motherland only physically, not spiritually. The other reason is more tangible: there are Russian military bases next door, in Syria, which is a good reason not to upset Putin too much.

Nevertheless, after Lavrov’s diatribe, the two countries are on the verge of breaking diplomatic relations. A real triumph of Russian diplomacy.

So why has Putin, speaking through his dummy Lavrov, decided to pull the anti-Semitic card out of his sleeve? That has nothing to do with his personal feelings and everything to do with the corner he has painted himself in.

You see, President Zelensky is Jewish. He also presides over a country described by Russian propaganda as institutionally Nazi. And Putin’s original casus belli against the Ukraine was the de-Nazification of that hotbed of fascism.

He has since moved the goalposts, with Ukrainian Nazism receding into the background of hysterical Russian propaganda. But Putin’s fans in the West are still banging on the distinctly brown tint of Ukrainian politics and national character.

I shan’t name anyone in particular, but you know them as well as I do if you ever read ‘conservative’ publications or visit the social media. Those shills still can’t mention the Ukraine without adding ‘institutionally Nazi’.

While so far they’ve refrained from pinning the yellow star to Hitler’s tunic, they do mention those thousands of Jews who fought with the Nazis. The implication is one I mentioned earlier: the Holocaust didn’t happen. But if it did, it was the Jews himself who did a collective Otto Weininger.

Those who don’t mind arguing with morons, never a productive activity, counter with Zelensky’s ethnicity. How can you say the Ukraine is Nazi if both her president and defence minister are Jewish?

Funny you should say this, reply the morons. Don’t you know that Hitler himself was Jewish, and at least 150,000 Jews were Wehrmacht soldiers? QED.

Putin couldn’t leave his Western admirers fending for themselves and eventually running out of ammunition. Hitler simply had to become Jewish in the latest twist of Russian propaganda.

At least this twist has some novelty appeal. Threats of nuclear annihilation don’t: this is a constant theme on Russian TV and has been for years. Back in 2014, Putin’s top Goebbels, Dmitry Kisilyov, embellished Khrushchev’s threat to bury the West with a visual image.

Russia, he said, could easily turn the US into radioactive dust. That was a step in the right direction, but the imagery still lacked the pow factor. Mr Kisilyov corrected that oversight the other day.

He spoke on Russia’s equivalent of the BBC against the backdrop of an outline map of Britain, identified in large type as a “Sinkable Island”. Mr Kisilyov didn’t mean that figuratively.

According to him, Russia could explode a 100-megaton underwater charge off the coast of Britain, which would create a radioactive tidal wave 1,600 feet high. The wave would turn Britain into a modern-day Atlantis, and if by some chance a few people survived the water, they’d be finished off by the radiation.

I’ll leave you to decide what kind of country can countenance such threats on its government TV channel. To help your thought process, try to imagine a BBC, Sky News or for that matter CBS talk show host saying that Nato could turn every Russian city into a smoking charnel house.

Can you imagine that? No? That’s exactly my point.

Begging the question and other fallacies

Few things have pleased me recently as much as the news that the US Supreme Court is to overturn Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalised abortion throughout the country.

Few things upset me as much as people relying on rhetorical fallacies to make a point, and in general using English without the glorious precision it affords.

You might think that, inasmuch as my second paragraph doesn’t follow from the first, I myself am guilty of a logical fallacy, in this case that of a non sequitur. If you do think so, you are the kettle calling the teapot black.

The fallacy you thereby commit is called ‘hasty generalisation’, reaching a conclusion on insufficient evidence. For I’m guilty of no non sequitur: my first two sentences are logically linked.

According to Justice Samuel Alito, Roe v Wade was “unconstitutional” and “egregiously wrong from the start”. Its “reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences”.

One damaging consequence Justice Alito didn’t mention was forcing pro-abortion fanatics to violate the fundamental rules of logic and rhetoric. Just look at the photograph above.

The obviously incensed young lady is holding up a placard, saying “My body my choice”. She omitted a comma after ‘body’, which is bad grammar. She may even know it, but probably feels that punctuation is elitist and uncool.

Her logical error is much worse. She has committed the rhetorical fallacy of begging the question (petitio principii) – using the conclusion of the argument as its premise.

As a quick aside, the expression ‘begging the question’ doesn’t mean ‘raising the question’, as it is often misused. Whenever I hear that solecism uttered, I feel like killing the transgressor – in fact, I’ve already killed several, but that’s strictly between you and me.

But never mind English, feel the fallacy. The whole argument about abortion boils down to the issue highlighted in the illiterate placard. Is the foetus merely a part of the woman’s body, like her appendix or gall bladder? Or is the foetus a being endowed with the potential of gaining sovereignty, in which case the woman’s authority over it can’t be absolute, extending to life and death?

I shan’t bore you by reconstructing the logical chain I create in support of the second proposition. I’ve written on this subject quite a few times, including about a month ago. Just tap ‘abortion’ into the SEARCH feature on the right, and you’ll find what, to me, constitutes an irrefutable argument.

By contrast, the pro-abortion fanatic in the photograph, and many more like her, probably don’t even know what a cogent argument is. This supports my lifelong observation that political passions cancel out whatever intelligence the fanatic possesses, which usually isn’t much to start with anyway.

I like not only the morality and logic of the forthcoming ruling, but also its political aspect. The key choice of conservative (which is to say sound) politics is that of localism over centralism.

The former is devolving political power to the lowest sensible level; the latter is concentrating it within the central state. The second option was highlighted by Roe v Wade, which divested the states of the political power that should be theirs as of right.

Overturning that constricting legislation means transferring more power to individual states, which should put a song into every conservative heart. The issue is critical – so much so that the bloodiest war in American history was fought over it.

Then, in 1865, the centralists won their victory over the localists. The forthcoming ruling will redress some of the imbalance – and more power to the Justices’ elbows.

Tories can work miracles

One of today’s most insightful thinkers, Thomas Sowell, points out that no institution in history has ever achieved a balance accurately reflecting the country’s demographics.

Barring a miracle, he insists, such a balance has never been achieved because it is unachievable. Prof. Sewell doesn’t realise that, in England, there is no need to bar miracles. Our Conservative Party can wave a magic wand and hey, presto.

According to PM Johnson and Party Chairman Dowden, the Tories intend to make sure that exactly half of their MPs are women. That’s not good enough to disprove Sowell’s observation.

After all, women make up not 50 per cent of the population, but 50.59. So, though the stated intention is a step in the right direction, it’s only a first step nonetheless. Our ruling party should set its sights 0.59 per cent higher.

The Tories saw the light after Neil Parish, MP, was caught watching porn on his phone while sitting on the venerable green benches during a parliamentary debate.

Mr Parish explained that, looking for a website selling combine harvesters, he pushed a wrong button and instead found himself watching a woman corrupting the morals of a sheepdog, or some such. Can happen to anyone, I suppose, we’ve all done it.  

Yet Central Office didn’t accept Mr Parish’s excuse, and he is being hounded, as it were, out of politics. Now, a normal reaction to that incident would be to tell all MPs to concentrate on the proceedings and refrain from watching videos of any kind, but especially those depicting unconventional sexual practices.

Yet normal reactions no longer exist in our abnormal world. Hence Chairman Dowden, his mind sharpened by the shrieks from the Labour benches, constructed a Hegelian syllogism in his mind.

Thesis: Most porn viewers are men. Antithesis: Women are offended, presumably because they fear being made redundant by men’s focus on DIY sex. Synthesis: Ergo, says Mr Dowden, the Tories need to ensure their candidate list “reflects the fact that half the population are women”.

The synthesis strikes me as a bit of a non sequitur, but the road to hell is paved with the bodies of pedants trying to discern logic in modern politics. Mr Dowden then went on to reinforce this melancholy observation.

“I’ve reopened the candidates list,” he said, “and I want to get the brightest and the best.” As a UK voter and Her Majesty’s subject, I welcome this intention. Yet as a rational man, I smell another logical rat there.

What if the desideratum of getting “the brightest and the best” clashes with the one to “reflect the fact that half the population are women”? I’m not saying women can’t be the brightest and the best. They can be and often are.

It’s just that the probability of filling the desired 50 per cent quota (let’s not quibble about the missing 0.59 per cent) with women meriting that description is statistically negligible.

In fact, the same observation would hold true for any quota: men, women, other, white, black, anything in between – you name it, any woke quota guarantees that “the best and the brightest” will fall by the wayside.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries went Chairman Dowden one better. She said that the only way of tackling Westminster sleaze would be to ensure a parliamentary “majority of women”.

We aren’t talking proportional representation any longer. Unless Secretary Dorries is merely concerned about the 0.59 per cent shortfall in Chairman Dowden’s plan, she wants to discriminate against men. She also wants to draw “more people from diverse backgrounds into politics.”

This commendable desire was promoted by reports of sordid behaviour in Parliament, of a kind that makes Anatomy of a Scandal look like a G-rated film about a Sunday school outing.

MPs get drunk, throw up in a Commons’ bar, have noisy sex in parliamentary offices (one hopes before throwing up), send what they call “dick pics” to female colleagues, liken them to prostitutes because of the way they dress, cavort with real rather than sartorial prostitutes for the sake of comparison, make unwanted and physical passes, and in general act in a manner incompatible with the dignity of the Mother of All Parliaments.

If such incidents are indeed regular occurrences, we have a problem. Yet I’m confused by Secretary Dorries’s confidence that drawing “more people from diverse backgrounds into politics” will provide an effective solution.

Logically speaking, this confidence has to be based on the certainty that people from such commendable backgrounds are less capable of swinish behaviour than those of a more unfortunate lineage. This tallies with neither empirical observation nor statistical evidence.

My confusion deepens. There I was, thinking that Conservative Central Office worships in the temple of demographic statistics. Now it turns out that very different deities sit at the top of their totem pole.

One of my pet observations is that our democracy run riot manifestly doesn’t elevate to government those fit to govern. The problem with Parliament, therefore, is systemic, not symptomatic.

Trying to solve it with quotas or any other ad hoc measures will therefore be like treating a brain tumour with aspirin. Yet I am sure that neither Secretary Dorries nor Chairman Dowden is overly concerned with solving the problem of scum rising to the top of our politics.

They just want the Tory Party to appear wokier than thou, or rather than Labour. This, they hope, will pave their way to another electoral triumph.

If they are right, then our electorate is unfit to elect. If they are wrong, then we get Labour, which will again prove that our electorate is unfit to elect.

Those unfit to elect voting in those unfit to govern. What a miraculous metamorphosis from the days of Disraeli and Gladstone.

Vulgarian of London on the Shroud of Turin

Why is it that the scribbling ‘community’ seems dead-set on reaching the level of their incompetence? They must belong to a cabal devoted to vindicating the Peter Principle.

Good sports writers make pronouncements on politics, only succeeding in coming across as blithering – and, worse, ideologised – idiots. Insightful political commentators sound like philistine ignoramuses when talking about art. And then they all join forces to pronounce on matters religious with the élan of Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, head of Lenin’s League of the Militant Godless.

Yet Giles Coren, an entertaining restaurant critic, topped them all by adding vulgarity, rudeness and monumental stupidity to the ignorance normally expected of atheists passing judgement on Christianity and its artifacts.

Mr Coren didn’t attempt to score a direct hit on the Christian faith. Instead, he aimed his shots at the Shroud of Turin, no doubt hoping to hit the faith by ricochet.

That Mr Coren rejects the Shroud’s authenticity isn’t objectionable in itself. Many people considerably more knowledgeable than him share this incredulity.

Yet most of such doubting Thomases have the decency, sensitivity and elementary good manners not to write about the Shroud in the gutter language chosen by Mr Coren.

He opines that “the notorious Italian J-cloth is a fake” and “an entirely random piece of crap that is not related to anything real”. He could show “that the image on the shroud, if you tilt it through 90 degrees and squint a bit under UV light, is by no means the face of the Son of God, but a mandrill’s arse.”

I’d dearly love to see Mr Coren write in such terms about anything Muslims hold sacred. If recent history is anything to go by, he’d be instantly shortened by the head, which, on this evidence, should have no adverse effect on his writing career.

To be fair to Mr Coren, he is in good company. When even brighter and more erudite men than him try to take issue with faith, they sound, to quote Chesterton, like village atheists talking to village idiots.

Now, since the Shroud was discovered in the 14th century, some scientists have disputed its authenticity. In fact, a whole branch of science, sindonology, is devoted to the study and analysis of the cloth.

I’m no expert in such arcane disciplines as biological forensics, photoimaging and radiocarbon dating to have a strong view one way or the other. I doubt Mr Coren’s recondite expertise is significantly greater than mine, but, unlike me, he doesn’t let ignorance interfere with a strong opinion.

The current scientific consensus is that there is a 95 per cent probability that the cloth dates from the Middle Ages. While bowing to that landslide victory, I can still understand those who’d rather go by the remaining five per cent.

The Church has never declared that the Shroud is definitely genuine. It is, however, genuinely iconic.

Thus Pope Pius XII cautiously stated that the Shroud is a “holy thing perhaps like nothing else”. He approved of worshipping the Shroud simply because a representation of Jesus’s face deserves devotion.

John Paul II referred to the Shroud as “the mirror of the Gospel”, which it undoubtedly is. The three synoptic Gospels agree that Jesus’s body was wrapped in a burial cloth according to the Jewish custom. And the Gospel of St John identifies the fabric as linen.

Benedict XVI also refrained from authenticating the Shroud the way a scientist might. Instead he accurately described it as “an “icon written with the blood of a whipped man, crowned with thorns, crucified and pierced on his right side.”

However, many people who believe in Jesus Christ insist that the Shroud is his authentic burial cloth. Even if scientists proved with a 100 per cent certainty that the cloth is medieval, such believers wouldn’t budge.

They would simply say that God might have had his reasons for concealing the authenticity of the shroud. Surely, if Jesus was capable of raising the dead and turning water into wine, it wouldn’t have been beyond him to fool modern radiocarbon daters.

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter one jot or tittle whether the cloth is authentic or not. The Shroud, as the Popes explained, is iconic, and icons are worshipped not for what they are, but for what they represent.

The nature of Christ, who was not only fully divine but also fully human, removed Judaism’s injunction against producing images of God. From the moment God became man, believers have been able to depict him in graven images.

Inasmuch as the graven images aren’t worshipped as such, such depictions violate neither Biblical commandments nor common sense. Yet Protestants, especially fundamentalist Calvinists, such as English Puritans or French Huguenots, still castigated such depictions as idolatrous.

That explains headless statues or even empty niches on the facades of great cathedrals. Fanatics tend to express their brand of art criticism with sledgehammers and dynamite.

In that proclivity they converge with fanatical atheists, like those ‘enlightened’ French revolutionaries or Soviet ghouls belonging to the aforementioned League of the Militant Godless. This confirms my feeling that Protestantism is the anteroom to atheism, but that is a subject for another day.

In any case, I’d venture a guess that Mr Coren is neither an English Puritan nor a French Huguenot. He’s probably not even an atheist fanatic in the Robespierre or Yaroslavsky vein.

I’d peg him as a typical media atheist who shares most superstitions of that undereducated yet ‘cool’ class. Prime among them is the belief that expertise in one area, no matter how narrow, automatically entitles its possessor to pontificate on subjects about which, to use Mr Coren’s preferred idiom, he knows bugger-all and understands even less.

If you can stand a piece of avuncular advice, Giles, stick to grub, a subject on which you write well. When you broach more involved topics, you sound neither grown-up nor clever. Crude flippancy is a poor substitute for intellect, especially outside the smarter areas of North London.