I blame the Enlightenment

Have you noticed that in modern wars the losses in the civilian population are similar to the military casualties?

The Light shone on Hiroshima

You may just shrug: war is war. It is. But it hasn’t always been like that. Deliberate targeting of civilians as a legitimate tactic is strictly a modern innovation. Hence the title above.

As a former adman, I admire the chap who first described as ‘the Enlightenment’ a systematic destruction of history’s greatest civilisation. It’s even better, and certainly simpler, in French: la lumière, the Light.

All sensible people prefer light to darkness, both physically and metaphorically. Waking up to a sunny morning puts a song in one’s heart, bounce in one’s step. Anything called ‘the Light’ has to be brilliant. There’s nothing to argue about.

There is, actually. And the arguments against that abomination are much stronger. They deal with facts (what happened as a direct result of the Enlightenment), not ideologies that the other side typically expresses in the subjunctive mood (what would have happened but for the Enlightenment).

Such as: but for the Enlightenment, we wouldn’t have the science and technology of which we are so proud. This subjunctive argument sounds good but it’s really unsound.

The Scientific Revolution began in the pre-Enlightenment 16th century with Copernicus and gathered momentum in the 17th with Newton, Leibnitz et al. There is no reason, other than an ideological one, to insist that, but for Diderot and d’Alembert, science would have run aground. Ascribing cars and computers to the Enlightenment is a typical example of a widespread rhetorical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Nor is science a free ride to public virtue. The same energy that can heat your house can also incinerate it, and which it does depends on how fallible men use it. Thus scientific and technological progress isn’t unequivocally laudable unless it’s accompanied by a similar advance in morality and matters of the spirit.

These took a huge hit from the Enlightenment, which instantly widened the limits of the allowable. For mankind began to act as if it set out to prove the folly of Rousseau’s postulate of innate human goodness. Left to his own devices, man quickly vindicated the old belief in the inherent sinfulness of human nature.

That’s why war has changed beyond recognition after the Light shone on man. In the past, wars were fought between princes. Now they got to be fought between nations.

Before the Enlightenment, nation states in our meaning of the term didn’t exist, and different princes had more things uniting them than those setting them apart. Wars did happen – boys will be boys. But, even when protracted and bloody, they were more in the nature of local feuds than the all-out wars of extermination we’ve got to know and hate.

Princes would raise armies, typically numbering in the tens of thousands, and let them get on with it. Civilian populations might have suffered a tax pinch, but otherwise they just went on with their daily business. Ideally, wrote Friedrich the Great, civilians shouldn’t even be aware there’s a war going on.

When the Enlightenment produced nations as geopolitical phenomena, it effectively replaced subjects with citizens, each endowed with inalienable rights. Yet rights come packaged with duties, and army service is one of them.

Universal franchise presupposes universal conscription. If rulers of the past had to beg their vassals to spare a few hundred men to sort out yet another princely quarrel, today’s presidents and prime ministers can conscript the whole population at the drop of a hat (or rather of the ballot paper into the box).

A refusal to fight is treated as a criminal offence, and nor do people have a right to choose the sovereign to fight for. If they are citizens of a country, allegiance to any other is treated as treason, often punishable by death.

Just imagine what would have happened to Montgomery or Patton had they taken command of the Waffen SS in the Second World War (I’ll give you a hint: William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, was strung up merely for Nazi propaganda broadcasts).

Yet in the 17th century nothing of the sort happened to Prince Condé, who twice led foreign armies against his cousin, Louis XIV. Once defeated, he only suffered the ignominy of a short banishment to his wedding-cake castle in Chantilly.

Limited, princely, wars of the past became total, national, wars of today, a development that contributed at least as much to the death count of modern wars as did advances in killing technology. Moreover, if it’s nations and not just armies that fight wars, the whole nations become legitimate targets.

The line of demarcation between soldiers and civilians fades away. A munitions factory may be bombed even though it employs no military personnel. So may an engine factory. So may a steel mill. So may even a textile plant, whose yarns may be used to make uniforms.

And if those facilities are surrounded by residential areas, that’s not a problem either. Carpet bomb the whole thing and let the devil take the hindmost. Or everyone, if such is his wont.

Yet a war is sustained not only by the physical plant but also, perhaps above all, by the nation’s spirit. And if a nation is treated as a combatant, then breaking this spirit is essential. To that end, residential areas may be obliterated even if there are no military installations in the vicinity.

At the same time, the citizens living in occupied areas may well be subjected to the type of atrocities we are witnessing in the Ukraine. Raping a little girl and then defecating into her bed can damage the whole nation’s morale (not an imaginary example: so many murders and rapes of civilians in the Ukraine have been adorned with faeces that one can be justified to believe this is a deliberate stratagem ordered from above).

This isn’t to say that no atrocities were ever committed against civilians before the Enlightenment. War, as we’ve agreed, is war. But they were never systematic parts of military strategy. After all, there was no hatred involved: why would a subject of one German or French prince hate the subject of another?

Dehumanising the enemy is also a distinctly modern phenomenon. Describing citizens of another country as ipso facto vermin or cockroaches, was impossible when nations didn’t exist in any other than the recondite cultural sense. A Florentine didn’t regard his Sienese adversary as pond life, just a chap fighting under a different banner.

This tendency is based on a false Enlightenment dialectic. Thesis: human beings, according to Rousseau, are inherently good. Antithesis: yet citizens of another nation are fighting mine. Synthesis: they have to be sub-human.

The Light shining on the world blinded even intelligent men. Thus, for example, Kant: “The Revolution… may end in success or failure, it may be so full of disasters and evil deeds that a reasonable man, even if hopeful of a benign outcome, would not dare embark on such a costly experiment again – and none the less, I am saying, this revolution finds in the heart of all observers the kind of sympathy that borders on enthusiasm.”

Obviously, Kant was unfamiliar with the works of either Edmund Burke or Joseph de Maistre, to name just two observers whose hearts weren’t exactly overfilled with enthusiasm. But that’s not the point.

What’s important is the devastating corrupting effect of the Enlightenment on the hearts and minds of men, even great ones like Kant. The more I think about it, the more does the Light resemble the searchlight on an Auschwitz watchtower.


Will no one rid us of this troublesome hack?

The Mail has a fine tradition of rooting for evil regimes. That goes back to the 1930s, when the paper, owned at the time by Lord Rothermere, was a champion of appeasement.

Bucha, c. 2022.

It refused to acknowledge that, translated into plain English, that policy screamed “Give Hitler what he wants, whatever he wants!” In reality it was a pro-Nazi effort, emetically masked as abhorrence of bloodshed and desire for peace.

Munich happened as a result – and I don’t have to remind you of what happened as a result of Munich, not so soon after the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The Mail is proving that, whatever else it might be, it’s certainly not inconsistent. Almost a century later it’s lending its pages to the typological equivalent of the pro-Hitler propaganda of ‘peace’, meaning surrender to evil.

The perpetrator is Peter Hitchens, who seems to compete against himself in how many disgusting lies he can concoct to shill for Putin’s fascist regime, one he used to describe as “the most conservative and Christian in Europe”.

Week in, week out Hitchens tests himself to see what new depths of mendacity he can plumb. Week in, week out I think that’s it, he can’t possibly sink any lower. Yet every week he proves me wrong.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the new layer of depravity Hitchens (affectionately called Haw-Haw on Instagram) has dredged up out of what passes for his soul.

Deflecting the charge that he denies Putin’s monstrosity, Hitchens protests in his own well-drilled manner: “Far from ‘denying’ Russian atrocities, I underline the fact that (as is horribly normal in war) both sides have done wicked things.”

This sentence alone should one day put Hitchens in the dock next to the Kremlin monsters – and I pray for that outcome every day. For no one can genuinely be so detached from reality as to put an equal sign between the Ukraine and Russia in this war.

I’m singling this sentence out because the rest of the article is a monotonous rehashing of Putin’s propaganda. It drifts from the Kremlin straight onto Hitchens’s keyboard, bypassing any mediation from his mind and conscience.

Nato provoked Russia, “offensive weapons” being supplied to the Ukraine may well trigger a global Armageddon, Ukraine is no better than Russia, its “democratically elected president was lawlessly overthrown” in 2014, it’s “run by billionaires”, the war is a local conflict of no interest to us, the Russian army is so weak that there’s no danger of the conflict escalating beyond the Ukraine (perfect timing: in the past two days Russian missiles crossed into Moldova, forcing her government to resign) – that sort of thing.

By now you know this guff as well as I do. And if you don’t, look up the Kremlin’s English-language website – it’s all there, chapter and verse. All Hitchens does is add his inimitable megalomaniac touches.

In today’s piece he yet again uncorks his patented anaphora, with three consecutive paragraphs starting with “I’ve shown…”, “I’ve pointed out…” and “I’ve noted…” The only stylistic flourish missing so far is “Verily I say unto you”, but I’m sure it’s coming.

Anyway, you know all that – from Hitchens, if you read his output; or from me, if you read my comments on it, which by now must be running into dozens. (I consider it my duty to oppose evil, even at the risk of boring you to tears.)

But the sentence I’ve singled out today reaches new lows, unprecedented even in Hitchens’s oeuvre. Let’s savour it again, I love it so much: “Far from ‘denying’ Russian atrocities, I underline the fact that (as is horribly normal in war) both sides have done wicked things.”

Suppose you’ve had a year-long holiday on Mars and hence know nothing about the ongoing war. You’ve read nothing about it, not Hitchens’s pieces, not mine, not anyone else’s. All you know is what you get from that one sentence. So what would that be?

There’s a war going on. “As is normal in war,” neither side is especially nice. “Both sides have done wicked things”, and there’s nothing to choose between them in that department.

What wicked things might they be? Oh well, attacking a sovereign state with the declared aim of destroying its sovereignty, launching genocidal bombing raids on cities, trying to annihilate the infrastructure hoping that thousands of civilians will freeze to death, looting private residences, torturing both civilians and POWs, murdering civilians en masse with bullets or anything else that comes in handy, raping people of both sexes (victims’ ages range from four to 81), deporting thousands from occupied territories and forcing them to change nationality, threatening the world with nuclear holocaust…

Having looked up all those wicked things, you go back to my favourite sentence to satisfy yourself that both sides have done them all. Then your eye slides a couple of paragraphs up and you agree with the author that one shouldn’t “see the war as a simple battle between good and evil”.

It’s a battle between two evils and, since the Ukraine’s corruption is mentioned explicitly and Russia’s isn’t, you’ll have to assume that Russia’s is the lesser one. One way or the other, “is war – savage, merciless, atrocious war – with its handmaids of poverty and relentless state control, so wonderful that we cannot even contemplate a negotiated peace?”

But you haven’t spent the past year taking in the cultural highlights of Mars, have you? So you know that only one side, Putin’s, has done and is doing all those “wicked things”.

You’ve seen piles of corpses with their hands tied, in Bucha, Mariupol, Severodonetsk, Kherson and everywhere else where Putin’s bandits invaded. You’ve seen TV coverage of cities reduced to ruins. You’ve heard the weeping of orphaned children. You’ve seen pictures of Putin’s mercenaries executing their own stragglers with sledgehammers.

Hence you can see through Hitchens’s lies. Why can’t his paper?

The Mail returneth again according to its circles. It championed the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s, and, through its star columnist, it’s championing the appeasement of Putin today. The situations are eerily similar, as are the two gentlemen mentioned.

Yet today, any peace treaty that doesn’t result in Putin withdrawing his murderers, looters and rapists from every inch of Ukrainian territory is tantamount to abject surrender to evil.

Hitchens acknowledges as much: “Of course, that means give as well as take. Sometimes we might give more than we want.” Quite.

Sometimes a country might swap its freedom and honour for servitude to an evil conqueror. Sometimes it might hand victory to a brutal invader when it’s still perfectly capable of fighting and winning. Sometimes it might embolden the conqueror to march on, setting the whole world aflame.

All those things might happen. But if Hitchens and other Putin flunkeys genuinely think they’ll happen to the Ukraine, they are stupid and ignorant, in addition to being mendacious.

Death penalty is back

Supporters of the death penalty shouldn’t rejoice, and nor should its opponents lament: capital punishment hasn’t been reintroduced.

Lee Anderson, MP

However, thanks to Lee Anderson, new deputy leader of the Tories, it’s again being discussed. That is a step in the right direction.

Since I don’t follow political rough-and-tumble with unremitting intensity, all I know about Mr Anderson comes from the articles written about him since last week’s cabinet reshuffle in which he gained his post.

I know he once threatened to beat up a heckler, but I’m not sure fisticuffs is a proper way of dealing with opposition. I do like parliamentary brawlers, but only when they are that way figuratively. This is England after all.

Then Mr Anderson visited Calais, didn’t like what he saw and proposed that all illegal migrants crossing the Channel should be put on a naval frigate and shipped back the same day.

He also helpfully explained why those people want to come to Britain: “They are seeing a country where the streets are paved with gold – where, once you land, they are not in that manky little fucking scruffy tent. They are going to be in a four-star hotel.”

I’m more comfortable with the essence of that statement than with its form. Five modifiers before the word ‘tent’ are at least three too many, and one I’d drop first is the sexual intensifier. However, I can see that it’s stylistically consistent with physically threatening Mr Anderson’s detractors.

And then there is the death penalty, which both Mr Anderson and I both support – he, unequivocally; I, with some reservations.

Anticipating your question, no, the idea of marrying the two subjects, the death penalty and his distaste for illegal migrants, didn’t seem to have crossed Mr Anderson’s mind. He didn’t suggest those lawbreakers be summarily executed.

Nor, more to the point, did he say what we should do if the French refuse to take them back. Shell Calais? Just a thought.

As for the death penalty, I’ve listed my own pros and cons often enough, and Mr Anderson mentioned some of the same, one of each.

I always dismiss arguments against the deterrent value of capital punishment by pointing out that it undoubtedly deters the executed criminal. Mr Anderson expressed the same thought: “Nobody has ever committed a crime after being executed. You know that, don’t you? 100 per cent success rate.”

The most obvious objection to hanging is the possibility of a mistake. One can say, using the same logic, that no man unjustly executed has ever come back to life either.

However, that doesn’t prove that the law providing for the death penalty is wrong – only that it’s sometimes abused. I always suggest that the way around that would be to tighten the standards of proof required whenever capital punishment is on the table.

I’d be happy to see “beyond reasonable doubt” replaced in such cases with “beyond all doubt”, which condition would be met, for example, if a murder was caught on a surveillance camera or seen by numerous eyewitnesses.

Mr Anderson illustrated that argument by citing the example of Lee Rigby, the fusilier murdered by Muslim fanatics:

“Now I’d be very careful on that one because you’ll get the certain groups saying: ‘You can never prove it.’ Well, you can prove it if they have videoed it and are on camera – like the Lee Rigby killers.”

All these are sound arguments (I would say that, wouldn’t I?), but they skirt around the issue, avoiding the ultimate question: Do fallen and therefore fallible people have the moral right to take a criminal’s life?

The moment the world ‘moral’ comes up we should backtrack to the source – or at least the code – of our morality: Scripture. Whichever Testament one chooses to peruse, one won’t find an injunction against the death penalty.

Moreover, when Scripture was indeed recognised as the source – or at least the code – of our morality, the validity of the death penalty for murder was never in doubt. People knew then that capital punishment wasn’t a denial of the value of human life but its assertion.

No length of imprisonment was then deemed sufficient to offset the wanton taking of a life. Justice could only be served by a punishment commensurate with the crime.

When people still relied on reason rather than emotions to ponder such issues, they saw it was illogical to deny the state’s right to impose the death penalty while at the same time recognising its right to wage war. If sending thousands of good men to die for a just cause was moral, then how could executing a bad man for a just reason be wrong?

The morality of most people is selective. It’s not that we consciously decide to obey some moral dicta and ignore others – it’s just that we all tend to have in our heads some pecking order of moral laws.

Even the Decalogue’s commandments are arranged in descending order of importance, but our own order isn’t necessarily the same. Few of us, for example, see being nasty to our parents as a sin worse than murder, and yet the latter is further down the list.

Yes, we all have our preferences, but only the Church can preserve the entirety of the Revelation in a cohesive form. And no apostolic confession, nor traditional Protestantism, nor any other Abrahamic religion, has ever proscribed the death penalty.

Because life was assumed to be eternal, physical death wasn’t seen as the worst punishment. Everlasting damnation was, and a criminal could avoid or mitigate it by repenting his evil. The only crime that couldn’t be repented was suicide, which is why suicides were denied Christian burial, but murderers weren’t.

I realise how little such – or as a matter of fact any other – arguments from tradition matter to the modern lot. I’ve had the occasion to debate this issue with them on the BBC, only to realise there was no point.

It’s not just capital punishment they see as abhorrent, but any punishment as such. They come precious close to denying any punitive function of imprisonment, for example, seeing it as merely an extension of a self-improvement session by other means.

This line of thought was pioneered by Leo Tolstoy, who insisted that “no one has ever been made better by imprisonment”. First, that statement was factually incorrect. For example, Dostoyevsky clearly emerged from his penal colony a better man.

Second, that missed the whole point of punishment. It’s to make lives better for the good people outside, not for the bad people inside. And a valid argument can be made that the death penalty serves this end well.

Mr Anderson clearly thinks so, although I’m not sure he is capable of dwelling on this issue in sufficient depth. A punch in the snout seems closer to his preferred debating technique.

But hey, it takes all sorts… Just as I wrote that I remembered my late friend Bill Campbell who told me some forty years ago: “It doesn’t really take all sorts, we just have all sorts”.

I’ll leave you with Bill’s words of wisdom (he, by the way, not only supported the death penalty, but would have been happy to administer it personally). Especially since he looked like a dead ringer for Mr Anderson. 

Chancellor taught a lesson

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt shares his surname with several people I know, but he is the only one whose name is often mispronounced in public, hilariously if somewhat rudely.

A note to newsreaders: it’s H-unt

That will soon give rise, if it hasn’t already, to new rhyming Cockney coinages, such as “he’s a big fat Jeremy” and “don’t be such a Jeremy”. It’s only at that level of public discourse that his economics may make sense.

The Chancellor is obviously in need of a remedial course, and he ought to be thankful to AstraZeneca for having provided it. That company, the second biggest on the FTSE 100 list, has announced it’s building a £330 million factory in Ireland.

The company originally planned to build it in England, which seemed to make sense considering it’s based in Cambridge. But then the AZ brass got their trusted calculators out and did some arithmetic.

In Ireland, the corporate tax rate is 15 per cent. In the EU it’s 19 per cent on average, which it currently is in England. But Mr Hunt is raising it to 25 per cent in April, at the same time putting an end to a tax relief scheme.

AZ head, Sir Pascal Soriot, cited that disparity as the reason for changing his original plans, much as he’d love to build that facility in England. But that blasted calculator won’t let him.

Sir Pascal then called for a cut in corporate taxes and other levies stunting growth in the UK. That call has gone unheeded.

Mr Hunt said he was “disappointed that we lost out this time and we agree with the fundamental case they’re making which is that we need our business taxation to be more competitive and we want to bring business taxes down.”

Splendid. So what’s keeping you? Oh well, you see, “the only tax cuts we won’t consider are ones that are funded by borrowing because they’re not a real tax cut. They’re just passing on the bill to future generations.”

That worthy belief hasn’t prevented successive governments, including this one, from running up a public debt approaching £2.5 trillion. That’s a hefty bill for future generations to pick up, isn’t it?

But at least that belief isn’t wrong. What is tragically wrong is the Chancellor’s evident conviction that borrowing is the only way to fund a tax cut. That conviction is unsound for two reasons.

First, lower corporate taxes stimulate investment and therefore growth. If Mr Hunt doesn’t believe that, he should ask Sir Pascal. And then he should get his own calculator and count the amount of tax revenue the Exchequer has lost – and will continue to lose for years – from this one fiasco.

Then he should multiply that number by however many counterparts of Sir Pascal are, or will be, making a similar decision. Done? Suddenly a teeny-weeny doubt about the advisability of high tax rates is beginning to creep in, isn’t it?

This is the kind of arithmetic that enabled Arthur Laffer to construct his famous curve, showing that lower tax rates produce higher tax revenue. But they don’t, as Reagan’s OMB head David Stockman found out. Not by themselves.

Parallel cuts in public spending are also essential. Yet that option isn’t even on our spivocrats’ table.

They bemoan two extraordinary developments, Covid and the war in the Ukraine, as force majeure precluding such cuts, much as they would dearly love to make them. A fair point, that.

Desperate times call for dangerous measures, to cite Guy Fawkes’s explanation of why he wanted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. And measures like high taxes and runaway borrowing are very dangerous indeed.

Yet our times may be legitimately considered desperate enough to justify such temporary aberrations, temporary being the operative word. Hence HMG used Covid as a sufficient reason to shut down the whole economy, or as near as damn.

Add to this the billions, 2.5 of them so far and climbing, in aid to the Ukraine and exactly the same amount in fines being extorted from the UK by the EU, and yes, the strain on the Exchequer is unusually great. Sacrifices have to be made, with higher taxes and spending the most obvious ones.

But they aren’t the only possible ones. For the cost of Covid, the war, and the EU fine, is pocket change compared to the trillions the government’s commitment to net zero will cost, is already costing.

So, if we can’t afford cutting taxes and public spending, which would be sound economics, how come we can afford to spend infinitely more on going along with an ideologically inspired fraud? Are these times desperate or aren’t they?

The questions are rhetorical, but I’ll answer them anyway. Lower taxes and public spending reduce the power of the state over the individual, while ruinous eco-posturing has the opposite effect. And all modern politicians, regardless of their self-identification or party affiliation, pursue power not only above all else, but also to the exclusion of all else.

That’s why the Chancellor is being such a Jeremy (sorry, couldn’t resist). If pursuing his inner imperative involves beggaring the country by a combination of economic incompetence and extortionate virtue-signalling, he is game.

Why should Mr Hunt go against the raison d’être of his profession? Why indeed. Still, AstraZeneca should charge him for that lesson in economics for people with learning difficulties.

Why is masculinity always toxic?

The French government is worried about road fatalities, and with good reason.

Twice as many people die in road accidents there as in Britain, although common sense suggests it should be the other way around. For traffic is comparatively light everywhere in France, except in and around Paris. No wonder: they have ten times the number of road miles per car, and most of those road miles are much better quality.

Clearly, a problem exists, and the French have been trying to solve it by posting warnings on motorways. These vary from matter-of-fact ones, such as “Wear a seatbelt”, “Slow down when wet” and “Tiredness kills” to surreally sentimental ones, such as “Mummy and Daddy, I love you” or “Mummy and Daddy, I’m waiting for you”.

Many country roads are tastefully adorned with black plywood silhouettes of men with busted heads and signs saying things like “14 killed on this road since 2020” or “I was 41”.

Nothing works. A growing number of mummies and daddies, mostly the latter, never make it home. But rejoice: the French government has finally got to the bottom of the problem. The culprit is toxic masculinity.

That condition supposedly forces men to treat their cars as penile extensions designed to enhance their virility, or else as Viagra on wheels. Hence those toxic, sperm-blind males do stupid things and end up killing themselves and others.

This is supposed to be proved by the statistics. Men cause 84 per cent of fatal accidents in France and account for 78 per cent of fatalities.

No sub-sets are provided, making it hard to determine what percentage of those men are toxic. The assumption has to be that masculinity is toxic ipso facto, and no XY carrier is immune. A dose of feminising oestrogen is essential, either literally or figuratively.

The literal option hasn’t yet been mooted, although I wouldn’t rule it out in future. For the time being the French government must be aware that not many men would willingly submit to a course of hormone therapy, fashionable though it is.

But the figurative option is currently exploited in a public service TV campaign set in a maternity ward. A father talks to his new-born son, telling him he ought to grow up “a sensitive man, a man who cries, a man who knows how to show emotion”.

The underlying assumption seems to be that every male driver is a callous, unfeeling creature who keeps his nicer emotions (if they at all exist) bottled up, only to display the beastly ones when driving. That strikes me as woke rubbish.

To begin with, the statistics of men causing accidents are meaningless unless juxtaposed with the data on how many miles men drive compared to women. Going by my own experience, when Penelope and I travel long distances, I always drive. She tends to use the car only for short local trips.

Our French friends are all Parisian couples with second homes in our area. Whenever they travel from Paris to Burgundy, it’s the man behind the wheel, with rare exceptions. Moreover, I know several women who won’t drive in Paris, but not a single man as timid as that.

Also, peeking at other drivers on French motorways, one can see that men are much more likely than women to travel on their own. That may partly explain why more of them are killed in accidents.

Comparing the British and French men I know, I can’t see how French masculinity is any more toxic than ours, certainly not enough to account for the double fatality rate. And nor do French lads drag or play chicken on public roads the way young Americans do.

Now I’ve driven some 750,000 miles in my life, a quarter of them in America, two quarters in Britain and the rest on the Continent, mostly in France. On the basis of that experience I’m sure it’s neither drink driving nor fast driving nor toxically male driving that kills. It’s bad driving.

That same experience allows me to compare drivers in the US, Britain and every European country from Holland down to the south of Italy and Spain. The verdict is that the British drivers are the best, tending to combine aggressive skill with prudence and courtesy. And their French counterparts are by far the worst.

Italian drivers are crazy, but predictably so. If you don’t get killed in the first couple of hours in Italy, you’ll get the hang of it and fit into the pattern: running red lights (people behind you will honk if you don’t), overtaking on blind curves and using the horn in lieu of brakes.

You know it’s coming and you make allowances for it. The French, on the other hand, keep you guessing, and if you guess wrong you may well die.

Almost nine years ago, I lampooned French driving in a satirical piece: http://www.alexanderboot.com/french-manual-of-defensive-driving/. Yet the points I was making were dead serious (the pun is intentional).

To begin with, many French cars wouldn’t be deemed road-worthy in Britain. Our cars get their first MOT at three years, and then each year thereafter. In France, the first MOT is at four years, and then every two years thereafter. Thus a 5-year-old car would have been thoroughly checked three times in Britain and just once in France.

I don’t know what kind of driving test the French take to get a licence, but it clearly omits certain basics. Such as lane discipline on the motorway.

The speed limit on our motorways is 70 mph, in France it’s 81 (130 kph), which is more sensible. I don’t think there’s any speed that’s too fast – only a speed that’s too fast for the conditions (car, road, driver’s skill).

Since traffic on French motorways is light by our standards, going just over the limit, say at 90-95 mph, is comfortable and safe, whatever the cops have to say about it. Or it would be safe if all drivers on French roads were British.

Alas, we have to contend with the unfortunate situation that most of them are French. Hence they unwittingly – and routinely – veer into the overtaking lane at 90 mph or faster. It’s not toxic masculinity that’s to blame there. It’s an inability to concentrate on what they are doing.

When you drive at 90-95 mph in the fast lane, there’s always someone who feels you are pussyfooting. He wants to push you out of the way and go faster, to which end he stays a foot behind your rear bumper, flashing his lights and blowing his horn.

This, with no regard for the line of traffic both in front of you and on your right, meaning you wouldn’t be able to let him pass even if you wanted to. That creates a situation where, if you as much as touch your brakes, you are dead.

British drivers don’t do that sort of thing, not as a routine practice at any rate. Yet I’m sure their testosterone count is similar to the French, making their masculinity just as toxic.

This is yet another reminder that the text of government messages is seldom as important as the subtext. Whatever the ostensible message, the government always pursues its own, usually nefarious, objectives.

In this case, all Western governments are demonstrably committed to feminising the men, filing away the immutable physiological and psychological differences between the sexes. (I almost wrote “and intellectual” but then remembered that Penelope is much smarter than me.)

Advice to French men: you stay alive on the road not by becoming less of a man, but by becoming more of a driver. And whatever you do, please don’t follow that woke diktat to become “a man who cries, a man who knows how to show emotion”.

Take it from a very experienced driver: the less emotion you show behind the wheel, the safer you’ll be. And for God’s sake don’t cry while driving: you have trouble watching the road as it is.

Russian Orthodox Church goes Muslim

There is no God but Allah and Putin is his prophet”

Thanks are owed to Moscow Patriarch Kirill (aka Vladimir Gundyaev, aka ‘Agent Mikhailov’) who has taken the Orthodox doctrine to a new height. His church, explained His Holiness, is more Muslim than Christian.

This startling doctrinal admission would have baffled any Russian theologian of the past, from Sergius of Radonezh onwards. But life doesn’t stand still, especially when Kirill’s sponsoring organisation, KGB/FSB, turbocharges it with its insights into divinity.

It must have been hard for His Holiness to admit the truth, and I for one admire his honesty. This, though I see the indisputable proximity he acknowledged as different from what he perceives.

But then His Holiness is blessed with unique inspiration coming from his KGB colleague Vlad Putin. Hence the scales fell from the patriarch’s eyes, and he saw not only that Russian Orthodoxy is close to Islam, but also that it’s especially close to the Shiite version thereof as practised in Iran.

When an inquisitive journalist asked His Holiness about that rapprochement, Kirill was happy to acknowledge the source of his revelation:

“Once our president Vladimir Putin answered a journalist by saying ‘We are closer to Islam’. I think so too. Both Islam and Russian Orthodoxy belong to the same eastern group. It so happens that the East has turned out less receptive to innovations… [ROC and Iran share the same enemy:] pursuit of material goods and carnal pleasures.”

It fell to one of his minions, archpriest Andrei Kordochkin, the Orthodox abbot in Madrid, to explain how this tendency translates to the kingdom of this world: “An ideal Russia built on ‘traditional values’ is a Russian Orthodox Iran,” explained Fr. Andrei.

“Within that paradigm the head of state isn’t just a manager, but an ayatollah independently interpreting spiritual matters to be then communicated by the church. That’s precisely why he [Putin] said that Russian Orthodoxy is closer to Islam than to Catholicism. That’s precisely why he proclaimed the shahid principle: ‘We as martyrs will go to heaven, while they will simply croak’.”

(For the uninitiated among you, the Russians, including on this evidence priests, tend to describe all Western Christianity as Catholicism, as if Protestantism didn’t exist. Since Britain is a predominantly Protestant country, I feel relieved: we, if not I personally, are absolved from collective guilt.)

This theme is by no means new to the leader of the Moscow patriarchate. Some six years ago he explained that “both Christians and Muslims appeal to the same Creator God, receiving palpable help in return.”

This seems to imply a slight misreading of Islam, which to the best of my knowledge doesn’t appeal to the Trinitarian God, with Jesus Christ as one of the three hypostases. If that’s the case, then Islam has as little to do with Christianity as does, say, the worship of the African god Olodumare.

I suspect that His Holiness is more familiar with KGB tradecraft than with Scripture. Hence he may not know that the New Testament specifically identifies worship of any other god as the work of antichrist.

To wit: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” (1 John, 4:2)

Koran contains similar injunctions against worshipping any god other than Allah, specifically identifying the Holy Trinity as an offensive cult. Thus it takes not inconsiderable doctrinal agility to twist together any Christian confession and Islam – or Russia and Iran as the purest guardians of both religions.

That is, if one chooses to remain within the confines of theology. Yet both Kirill and his real deity, Putin, find such restraints suffocating. They prefer to paint on a broader canvas, one where this world subsumes the heavenly kingdom.

And there they are absolutely right: Putin’s Russia and today’s Iran do have much in common. The overarching similarity is their shared hatred of the West, which both insist on seeing as nothing but one continuous LGBT crusade.

Iran is one of the few countries that support Putin’s bandit raid on the Ukraine (also, incidentally, an Orthodox country), and not just with blessings and prayers. In addition to providing its own suicide drones to Putin, Iran also acts as one of the conduits for Chinese military supplies.

We can also widen our focus to see that both Russia and Islamic countries have always relied on the use of aggressive force to get ahead in this world. Neither is unique in this respect, but the violent tendency is more pronounced there than anywhere else.

That doesn’t mean that a respectful theological dialogue is impossible between Christianity and Islam. Such a dialogue was intense in the late Middle Ages, when Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholasticists pondered doctrinal subtleties together.

Even in our own times, serious religious thinkers seek a path to mutual accommodation (as a less serious one, I see that as a sheer impossibility). Thus in 1986 John Paul II led a joint prayer of Christians and Muslims in the lovely Umbrian city of Assisi. But this kind of ecumenism isn’t what Putin and his ‘Agent Mikhailov’ have in mind.

The ecumenism they are after is expressed not with prayers or theological exploits but with guns, bombs and diabolical criminals running states created in their image. His Holiness Agent Mikhailov and Ayatollah Putin have made that clear with commendable honesty.

Turns out China isn’t our friend

Sanctions, what sanctions? Not as far as China is concerned.

The other day The Wall Street Journal blew a story that exploded with the puff of a Christmas cracker, not the bang of a blockbuster it merited.

Having scrutinised 84,000 items that had gone through Russian customs, the journalists found out that China bypasses Western sanctions by surreptitiously supplying vital weapon technologies to Russia.

Spare parts for SU-35 fighters, guidance and navigation equipment, jamming devices, radar units, quadrocopter drones all get on the road in China and follow a meandering route through third countries all the way into Putin’s genocidal arsenal. The third countries mentioned are Uzbekistan, UAE and Turkey (a Nato member in case you’ve forgotten).

Singled out in the report were such Chinese companies as Fujian Baofeng Electronics Co., Ltd., AVIC, China Taly Aviation Technologies, and DJI, but specific names don’t really matter. They all do as they are told.

China – and I know this will come as a surprise to anyone who follows our media uncritically – is an evil communist dictatorship. That is her essence and, no matter how assiduously the Chinese spread a camouflage net over it, the essence remains unchanged.

That’s why Xi and his gang have to be sympathetic to what Putin openly calls his war on the West. China is fighting exactly the same war against exactly the same enemy, but her strategy is more flexible – and so much more dangerous for it.

Both anti-Western dictatorships have tried to bring the West to its knees by economic means, Russia with only moderate and transient success, China much more menacingly.

The only weapons of economic blackmail at Russia’s disposal came in the tubular shape of hydrocarbon pipelines. However, over the past few months the West has shown that, at a pinch, it can do without Russian oil and gas. There goes that weapon, kicked out of Putin’s hand and turned against his own people.

China, on the other hand, has moulded herself into the West’s manufacturing base, something that would be hard, not to say impossible, to replace. Even worse, the country’s success in that area has created a benign aura around it.

Every conservative primer on political science will tell you that only private enterprise can create lasting economic success. And an economy based on private enterprise has to produce political virtue as well. Free up the markets and everything else will fall into place, say our libertarian economists from Hayek to Friedman to Gilder.

They share this faith in the absolute redemptive power of economics with the Marxists. Like Orwell’s animals, the two groups reduce everything to a single issue. They just can’t agree on the number of legs.

What I call economic totalitarianism can be refuted with a single word: China. The country did free up her markets, but not her people. Second only to the US in the number of billionaires, China is second to none in diabolical oppression, including her genocide of the Uighurs.

But Xi has also set his sights on Taiwan, as did all his predecessors from Mao on. Chinese maps identify Taiwan as Chinese territory, temporarily occupied by pro-Western insurgents. It’s only a matter of time before China moves in to claim what she sees as her rightful property.

Taiwan is to China what the Ukraine is to Russia, mutatis mutandis. An evil dictatorship can’t tolerate the adjacent presence of an ethnically similar free country that used to be its part. Such countries set a bad example for the dictators’ subjects who one day may rise in revolt.

Comparisons between West and East Germanies, North and South Vietnams or North and South Koreas are never favourable to the communists. China and Taiwan are another pair that makes the same point.

But the Chinese aren’t Russians. If the Russians are only half-Asian, the Chinese are fully so. Hence they tend to think on a much loftier timescale, displaying the kind of prudent patience that’s not the most salient trait of the impetuous Russians.

The Chinese do plan to rape Taiwan, but they are prepared to wait for the most propitious moment to do so. That’s why they doubtless regard Russia’s bandit raid on the Ukraine as a godsend, an invaluable testing ground.

Both the Ukraine and Taiwan have had defence treaties with the USA. For the former it was the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 (Britain was the other Western guarantor); for the latter, the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 that replaced the Sino-American Mutual Defence Treaty of 1955.

That gives the Chinese pause to think. What if an amphibious raid on Taiwan provoked a destructive American response? That question has had a restraining effect on China’s predatory ambitions, and only a satisfactory empirical answer would be good enough.

By pouncing on the Ukraine, Putin has provided that answer, and Xi has to be grinning from ear to ear. The West will respond to evil aggression with condemnation, sanctions and arms supplies. But – and here Xi’s smile is getting wider – it won’t interfere directly.

A few threats of a nuclear strike and Mao’s your uncle, Jiang is your aunt. The West will stay put. Thanks, Vlad, that’s all Xi needs to know.

Everything else is just details. One such is that China has a vested interest in the war being as prolonged and sanguinary as possible. Ideally, both Russia and the West should emerge greatly weakened, the former economically and strategically, the latter morally.

Russia has already been downgraded to the role of China’s junior partner. Whatever the outcome of the on-going war, she’ll become China’s vassal, ceding vast tracts of Siberia to China de jure, as they’ve already been ceded de facto.

Then there is the logistical consideration: the Western arsenal is large but not limitless. As America showed in the Second World War, it can become limitless, but only when the West is involved directly. The requisite effort is unlikely to be made on behalf of any third party, defence treaty or no.

Coming to the fore there is the mathematical problem of a swimming pool with two pipes, one bringing water in, the other taking it out. I don’t remember the solution, but in this case it’s simple: the more armaments the West sends to the Ukraine, the less it’ll have left for Taiwan should the need soon arise.

Yet the moral arsenal is more vital than weaponry, and one detects signs of it being depleted in the West. Congressional support for helping the Ukraine is noticeably going down in the US, although it’s still robust at the grassroots. But for how long?

I’m sure China’s military computers are whirring round the clock, with the operators waiting for just the right intersection of all the relevant curves. I wouldn’t be surprised if those screens went on the blink later this year, screaming NOW!!!

I hope that smug nonagenarian Kissinger is satisfied with his handiwork. It was largely thanks to his heroic efforts that the West began to drag China up to her present status of a global powerhouse. Earlier in the last century, Kissinger’s predecessors provided the same service for the Soviet Union.

The mantra beloved of Putin’s historians is that “Stalin found Russia with a wooden plough and left her with the atom bomb”. A remarkable metamorphosis indeed. But it would have been impossible without the West, mainly America, industrialising Russia after the devastation wreaked by the Revolution and the Civil War.

Replace “the Revolution and the Civil War” with “the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward”, and America did exactly the same for China.

The two evil powers, Russia and China, have had their differences, which have been widely publicised in the West, but they were minor compared to the towering similarity: hostility to the West. This can be overt, as with Putin, or implicit, as with Xi. But it’s equally febrile in both cases.

We inevitably come to our senses in the end, but never in time to avert a disaster before it strikes. And then it turns out that the much-vaunted peace dividend is too dear at the price.

The West was in an ideal position to keep those two evil empires down. Now they are on the march, and one senses Taiwan will be the next victim to pay for our geopolitical myopia. Brace yourself: things may well get to be even more interesting before long.

Saints and demons of taxes

After her rather inauspicious 49-day tenure as PM, Liz Truss, the Slayer of Taxes, pulled the poisoned arrows out of her body and crawled into political wilderness to recover.

Her wounds have now healed sufficiently for her to come out firing. Miss Truss says the left-wing economic establishment never gave her a realistic chance to implement her tax-cutting policies. Nevertheless she still stands by them.

Miss Truss positively sounds like Martin Luther who declared: “Here I stand; I can do no other.” Such obduracy has led to her being branded as a saint by some of her colleagues and a demon by others.

This serves a useful reminder that the difference between the two is like beauty – it’s in the eyes of the beholder. An adherent of one religion may well regard the saints of another as demons, and vice versa. In that sense, tax policy is like any other creed.

Those who worship at the altar of wealth generation swear by lower taxes. Their general point is irrefutable: the more of their income people are allowed to keep, the harder they’ll work to earn it and the more they’ll produce.

What’s true for individuals is also true for corporations. Taxes cut into their profits and, the deeper the cut, the more likely they will be to take their business elsewhere. Hence they’ll attribute saintly qualities to any economist or politician who preaches low taxes.

That creed clashes with its opposite: the worship not of income generation but of income redistribution. That aim can be achieved either illegally, by highway robbery, or legally, through high taxes (sometimes the two methods are indistinguishable).

Politicians preaching and levying high taxes are the saints of this creed. It stands to reason: the more money the state extracts from income generators, the more income it’ll have to redistribute.

Neither faith exists in its simon-pure, absolute form. Income generators tend not to demonise all taxation without exception, only the extortionate kind. Conversely, even fervent income redistributors begrudgingly accept that, if no income is produced, none will be redistributed. Like in so many areas of thought, it’s a matter of relative weight, not absolute virtue.

As a fly-by-night PM, Liz Truss came up with a policy that combined tax-cutting with no reduction in public spending, a combination known not to work since Reagan’s first term (I’m using an American reference because this kind of thing had never been tried in Britain).

The markets rebelled, Miss Truss was demonised and hastily hounded out of office. One can understand her detractors: even a good policy becomes awful when badly thought through and clumsily executed.

However, committed income redistributors led by today’s PM and Chancellor now use that unfortunate stint as a way of demonising tax-cutting as such. Mr Sunak called Liz Truss “delusional”, although it’s not immediately obvious what her delusions are.

For example, she calls Sunak’s corporate tax increase from 19 to 25 per cent “counterproductive” because it has an adverse effect on both people’s wages and foreign investment in the UK.

If that’s a delusion, then Mr Sunak has to believe a higher corporate tax actually encourages foreign companies to invest and enables all companies to pay higher wages. I’m not a professional economist (neither is Mr Sunak, come to think of it), but that notion strikes me as counterintuitive.

Let’s say you are the chairman of a large Japanese company planning to establish a European base. Having considered all options and weighed numerous factors, you’ve narrowed the choice down to Britain or France.

Surely a 19 per cent rate of corporate tax would be more attractive than France’s 25 per cent? I’m sure all sorts of variables come into play, and the lower tax rate is only one of them. Still, implying it hardly matters strikes me as ignoring both common sense and human nature.

The same goes for wages. If the company’s income equals X, then X minus 19 per cent leaves more cash to play with than X minus 25 per cent. So how is it delusional to suggest that the higher rate just may push salaries down? Beats me.

Some Tory MPs have attacked Miss Truss’s re-emergence as politically divisive and therefore destructive to Tory unity. What Tory unity? The kind where most MPs calling themselves Conservative close ranks behind frankly socialist policies?

If Miss Truss does destroy it, then good riddance I say. As for the laments that she jeopardises the party’s chances at the next general election, those MPs don’t need to worry. The party has already lost the next election, and I can’t find it in my heart to say undeservedly so.

That’s proved by some of the criticism of Truss’s policies. This isn’t to say they were above criticism, far from it. But the criticism has to be sound, which is more than I can say for the typical accusation enunciated by a senior MP:

“Up and down the country council candidates and MPs are still meeting folks dealing with the real-world consequences of Truss’s time in power, like increases in mortgage rates.”

That’s just economic ignorance. Mortgage rates went up because the Bank raised the prime rate of interest. That had to be done because of the runaway inflation rate, imposing a much higher real tax than the one officially announced by the government.

If that MP and others in agreement with him believe that lower taxes are inflationary, they should read some textbooks on economics, the basic ones.

Inflation is essentially too much money chasing too few goods. Lower taxes don’t increase the money supply, they simply keep more revenue in the private, which is to say productive, sector. Hence they are more likely to lower inflation than to increase it. Conversely, it’s high public spending that’s known to be the main reason for inflation.

Business Secretary Shapps made the only intelligent comment I’ve read: “I think she’s right about the need for a long term, lower tax. But I think it rubs up against the reality of two or three years of Covid and £400 billion cost of that, followed by a war and the enormous cost and pressures of energy and inflation.”

It’s true that conventional economic wisdom may have to be put on hold when force majeure strikes. Now, Covid was indeed force majeure. However, the government’s response to it wasn’t. Not all countries afflicted by Covid reacted by totally shutting down their economy for almost two years.

Neither were “pressures of energy and inflation” an uncontrollable hurricane whose force is beyond human control. The former was a direct result of the government’s inability to develop energy independence – largely because of the ideological commitment to eco-zealotry.

And the latter came from the decades of HMG piling up one deficit budget on top of another – again because of an ideological commitment, this time to the welfare state and such money-devouring Leviathans as the NHS.

None of this is an endorsement of Liz Truss – she went about her tenure without the decisiveness, competence and intellectual rigour the job requires. A saint she isn’t — yet she isn’t a demon either. She says many correct things and the louder she says them, the better.

Someone should keep reminding our Tories that they aren’t Labour. Left to their own devices and vices, they tend to forget.

Trump’s ride to perdition

A couple of days ago, I used logic to arrive at a right conclusion about Trump’s plans for the Ukraine.

I’d feel smug about that tour de force of deductive reasoning, but for one thing: my effort was superfluous. Had I done the research properly, I could have relied not on speculation but on facts, for they were in the public domain. But let’s take things in turn.

I’ve long been convinced that Trump and Putin have been in cahoots practically since the start of Putin’s tenure and long before Trump’s. The other day, I touched on that conviction in passing: “The two men did enjoy a relationship, some (most?) of which was concealed from prying eyes”.

The subject came up because Trump had boasted that, if he were in the White House, he’d stop the war within 24 hours. I wondered what trick he might have up his sleeve and concluded that:

“I can only think of one such: a threat to cut off all American supplies, including armaments. That would leave the Ukraine on her own and eventually disarmed in the face of a Russian onslaught. Zelensky would either have to sign Trump’s peace treaty or commit his people to decades of hopeless guerrilla warfare.”

I should have done more reading before writing. For last week Trump spelled it all out in so many words. When talk show host Hugh Hewitt asked him if the US should be sending warplanes to the Ukraine, Donald came out fighting for his friend Vlad.

“I don’t think they should be sending very much, they should be negotiating peace,” he said. The war, he added, was “not going to stop” if the US continued to “just load something up”. In case you aren’t fluent in Trumpist, peace in this context means Ukrainian capitulation.

Americans, Trump added elsewhere, are “suckers” for assuming the heaviest burden of arming the Ukraine against Putin, whom Trump used to describe as a “genius”, the latest time a year ago.

In the past, he also stated his faith in his friend Vlad’s veracity, whom he trusted much more than America’s own intelligence services. Last week he reconfirmed that pecking order.

Using his own social platform, Trump wrote: “Remember in Helsinki when a 3rd rate reporter asked me, essentially, who I trusted more, President Putin of Russia, or our ‘Intelligence’ lowlifes… Who would you choose, Putin or these Misfits?” He clearly considered that question to be rhetorical.

To use the popular American phrase, Trump may be dumb, but he ain’t stupid. He knows he has got in trouble throughout his political life for his never-ending show of support for Russia’s fascist regime and Putin personally. At one point during his presidency he came precious close to impeachment for arbitrarily holding up $400 million in arms supplies for the Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress.

An investigation at the time failed to corroborate any criminal links between Trump and Putin, and in his own book Donald was out of the woods. His whole life taught him to believe that anything that’s legal is also moral, so there.

Yet, in spite of being supported by an army of zealots who adore him with nothing short of erotic passion, Trump didn’t get re-elected, and his links with Putin had to be a factor in that fiasco. He knows that and, if he doesn’t, his advisers certainly know it.

So why is he flogging that horse with renewed vigour at the start of his new presidential bid? The answer is simple: the horse is far from dead. On the contrary, Trump and his team evidently see his links with Putin as a vote getter.

For, after Republicans regained control (however tenuous) of the House of Representatives, their hard core of aforementioned Trump zealots have been gnawing away at support for the Ukraine.

Using Tucker Carlson of Fox News as their PR mouthpiece, those so-called conservatives are busily trying to win Putin’s war for him. Nauseatingly, they try to pass that devil’s work for their love of peace, aversion to bloodshed and fear of nuclear war. At the same time, they keep tugging at the financial strings of the Americans’ hearts.

The first stratagem was exemplified last week in Trump’s campaign e-mail: “Joe Biden is doing what he said ten months ago would cause World War III, sending American tanks into Ukraine… Such a tragic waste of human life, when you look at all that’s happening there. Those cities are obliterated. First, come the nukes. Then, come the tanks.”

If I read that text correctly, and one never knows with Trump, he means that before American tanks have reached the Ukraine, his friend Vlad will launch a preemptive nuclear strike. In any case, hiding behind Trump’s typically clumsy prose is that first stratagem I mentioned.

The second one has come across in the House, where the new Speaker Kevin McCarthy warned there would be no “blank cheque” for the Ukraine. That wasn’t strong enough for another Trump acolyte, the conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene. She promised that “not another penny” would go to “the neo-Nazis in Ukraine”.

This propaganda, which is suspiciously consonant with the torrent of lies rushing out of Russia, is working. If a year ago a Pew poll showed that only nine per cent of Republicans felt the US was providing too much aid to the Ukraine, now that proportion has grown to 40 per cent.

If Trump knows anything, it’s how to do sums. Hence he is whipping up his troops to a frenzy, realising that, if the current tendency continues, he’ll have a lock on the Republican nomination. For once, his loyalty to Putin may make political sense.

As the well-nigh unanimous congressional support for the Ukraine begins to erode, I pray for that beleaguered, blood-soaked country. That means I also pray for the defeat of Putin’s American poodle, Donald Trump.

That’s why, whenever I’m asked who I think should be the next US president, my reply never varies: Whoever is standing against Trump. Should he win his party’s nomination, I’ll even root for the Democrats, for the first time ever.

Since Trump’s domestic policies are more sound than any Democrat’s, another Democratic term would be bad news for America’s next four years. However, a new Trump tenure may well adumbrate the triumph of evil in the world. An easy choice, as far as I’m concerned.   

Grandmas and Grandpas

When I was little I’d pester grownups with hypothetical questions starting with “If…” or “What if…”.

Does she or doesn’t she? Only her surgeon knows for sure

My parents indulged my curiosity, but whenever I got to spend time with my uncle, I was in for a let-down. He was a no-nonsense practical man with no patience for silly questions and little formal education, other than the school of hard knockers followed by Screw U.

Hence, whenever I started a sentence with a conditional clause, he’d cut me short: “If Grandma had balls, she’d be Grandpa.” Since I never heard rude words at home, they fascinated me in a morbid sort of way, and I never minded the rebuke. Nor did I get to ponder the literal meaning of his seemingly self-evident statement.

It’s only now, decades later, that I realise how hopelessly behind the times my uncle was. And not only he: everybody I knew was in agreement on the fixtures specific to each of the two [sic!] sexes.

We don’t even have to look so far back: even a single generation ago it wouldn’t have occurred to any sane person to insist that Grandma or even a woman of reproductive age could have testicles. That’s how it just was: the issue wasn’t up for debate.

Did I say a generation ago? I was too generous. Even a decade ago a politician didn’t have to fear for his job if he gave the wrong answer to the question “Can a woman have a penis?” Moreover, the question was unlikely to come up in the first place.

Yet the march of progress is unstoppable, and it’s up to us to stay in step. Hence that sacramental question isn’t only posed routinely, but it has also become a mass-produced trap to snare politicians.

Had you put that question to my uncle, he would have told you to perform a ballistically improbable act on yourself. That would be a good answer even today, but our politicians realise to their horror that there are no good answers. It’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

A Labour politician answering ‘no’ would be drummed out of his party faster than you can say traitor to the cause. A Tory providing the same answer would be pilloried as an insensitive troglodyte typologically similar to Hitler.

The yes answer would be less problematic for a Labour MP than for a Tory one, but that’s not to say the former would enjoy a free ride. A lot would depend on his constituency, how solidly Labour it is.

If he represents, say, Camden, where the locals would indeed vote for Hitler before they’d ever contemplate voting Tory, their MP would score points by stating unequivocally that yes, women can have penises, men can have vaginas and either group can have both together if they so choose.

But give the same response in a constituency where the Labour majority is wafer-thin, and the wafer could well be gobbled up at the next general election.

So even a Labour politician has to watch his step; even for him equivocation is the best way out. For a Tory, especially one in a high cabinet post, it’s the only way.

He wouldn’t want to alienate his core support by saying it’s perfectly normal for a woman to have a penis, with testicles attached. But then neither would he want to narrow his appeal by saying it’s all about chromosomes: if it’s XY, a penis is de rigueur; XX makes it impossible.

And of course he’d lose his whole electorate (with the exception of die-hard retrogrades like me) if he gave an answer similar to the one my uncle would have offered.

It’s against that backdrop that one can fully appreciate the replies provided by the leaders of our two major parties, PM Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer.

His fellow Tories have hailed Mr Sunak for giving a straightforward reply: a woman, said the intrepid politician, is an “adult human female”. Now, while complimenting the PM for his mastery of evasiveness that doesn’t appear evasive, one may still take issue there.

No one, not even that fishy Nicola Sturgeon, would object to that definition. Of course that’s what the word ‘woman’ means. But that doesn’t obviate the possibility of an “adult human female” having testicles. After all, an adult person with a penis could identify as a female, which is as good as being one – and hey presto, Bob’s your aunt, or Grandma if you’d rather.

Neither did Mr Sunak’s next phrase clarify matters. “Biological sex matters,” he said. Again, that Scottish fish could agree: saying it matters isn’t quite the same as saying it’s all that matters. Only the chromosomal statement above would be free of equivocation, and Mr Sunak wisely refused to make it.

As for Sir Keir, he chose not to go there at all. When asked the lapidary penile question, he warded it off as the “usual, toxic political football”. That may well be, but the hack would have been within his right to say no, it was a serious question requiring a serious answer.

Boy, am I glad I’m not a politician. I’d have to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort to build a career, only to lose it in the next second after that question was asked. A charge for grievous bodily harm would also be hard to avoid.

P.S. Jokes aside, here’s how I’d answer the question in a thoughtful and civilised way.

It’s a father who embodies what theologians call the ‘principle’ of procreation. That’s why a man procreates outside his own body, and that’s why he stands outside and above his creation in the sense in which a woman doesn’t.

She conceives and gestates the child inside her body, and in that sense the child is a part of her, even though the man also contributes his DNA.

Symbolically the couple imitates the act of divine creation. The man is both transcendent (standing outside and above his creation) and immanent (present within it). The woman, on the other hand, is only immanent. That’s why a woman can’t have testicles not only biologically, but also philosophically and theologically.

Then again, no one capable of asking that question would be able to understand this answer.