The C of E finally did something right

Anglican bishops have declared that, since sex outside marriage is a sin, couples living in civil partnerships (heterosexual or otherwise) should remain celibate.

What the Hell is Amanda Platell talking about?

To paraphrase, the Church simply said that Christians should observe all ten Commandments, not just those they find painless.

For it to say that the nuptial bed is the only acceptable arena for sex is no different from reminding us that murder and theft are sins. Thus the Anglican bishops were simply doing their job, for once.

However, our pundits would rather the Church shied away from its core job and instead did the job of other institutions, such as social services, the entertainment industry or amusement parks.

This preference has come across in numerous comments in the press, and Amanda Platell’s rivals any for sheer ignorance. Since Miss Platell calls herself “a paid up Christian”, her ignorance of basic doctrine is as lamentable as it is, alas, widespread.

“Bejesus,” she writes, “where does that leave me, a woman who isn’t married… but one who, whisper it, occasionally shares her bed?”

Then, in the very next sentence, she answers her own question: “In one sense the Church is right: the Bible is clear that sex outside marriage is a sin.”

What other senses are there for bishops? Their latitude in commenting on this issue is narrower than that of, say, lifestyle columnists. But do let Miss Platell continue:

“Yet half of all couples with children are not married. Are the bishops condemning them all to the fires of Hell? Doesn’t sound very Christian to me.”

Since Miss Platell is a self-admitted regular churchgoer, either she hasn’t asked her vicar to clarify what is and what isn’t Christian or, which is possible, the vicar wasn’t up to the task. If so, I hereby appoint myself to take up the slack.

Miss Platell’s demographic statistics are both correct and catastrophic, accompanied as they are by another related datum: almost a quarter of British families with dependent children are made up of single mothers.

Miss Platell evidently believes this situation is just part of nature, like the rain. And, since the Church wouldn’t comment on the elements, neither should it bemoan the aforementioned social and cultural disaster.

She isn’t good at discerning causative relationships. Otherwise she’d realise that the general debauchment of marriage is a direct consequence of the Church being too feeble, rather than too forceful, in resisting the more objectionable aspects of modernity.

Bishops should have been screaming the message that so vexes Miss Platell every day for decades, rather than debating the delights of civil unions and same-sex marriages.

Here Miss Platell commits a rhetorical fallacy known as argumentum ad populum: because many people do it, it has to be right.

If any Christian institution functioned according to that logic, one would wonder what it’s for. After all, many people don’t just have a bit of how’s your father out of wedlock. They are equally cavalier about the other commandments too: they kill, steal, bear false witness and so on.

Shouldn’t the Church remind them every once in a while that such behaviour is wrong? Not according to Miss Platell.

Since she grudgingly accepts that the Bible regards sex outside marriage as a sin, perhaps she should remind herself that the second part of that book is even stricter on that subject: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Before you get red in the face and cast a furtive look at your wife, let’s ponder what was really said there.

If any adult male with a palpable pulse, regardless of his religious convictions, looks into his own heart, he’ll find that during his daily ride to work he commits that brand of adultery every time a good-looking woman gets on the train.

And given the easy availability of flattering clothes, cosmetics, healthy diets and exercise regimens, most women whose locomotion isn’t boosted by a Zimmer frame can look good enough to consign our commuter to an eternity in hell.

Since no one could possibly observe that Commandment as rendered by Jesus, then no one will be saved; everybody is a blasphemous law-breaker to be consumed by the fire of hell (I know I am). At least that’s what Miss Platell thinks.

But Jesus clearly thought otherwise, for such blanket cruelty would go against God’s loving essence. What we are witnessing here is a veiled reference to the Christian dialectic of yes-no-yes.

Jesus was saying that by all means, do try to observe the law (the ‘yes’ thesis). But without God’s help you’ll never succeed (the ‘no’ antithesis). Therefore you can’t be saved by your own efforts only. You must seek God’s help, which means putting God first (the ‘yes’ synthesis) – exactly the message of the first and most important Commandment.

Miss Platell’s take on this is so ignorant and vulgar that one wonders exactly what makes her a Christian. For Christians aren’t just supposed to believe; they must also understand what they believe, and why.

To traditional theology, hell isn’t a giant frying pan on which Miss Platell could be cooked to the desired degree of rareness. In fact, that utensil isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Bible. Hell means being left to one’s own devices, imprisoned in one’s own conscience outside God.

A church isn’t a court of justice meting out punishment, nor is a sin a regular crime to be punished. Christianity treats sin as a wound that can fester into separation from God. Hence a church isn’t a prosecutor, but a doctor – someone who offers a cure for a disease.

Miss Platell further demonstrates her deafness to causative relationships by observing that most Anglican churches are quite empty. That’s true. But does she think that’s because the Church is too Christian or not Christian enough?

Evidently the former. For otherwise she’d mitigate her indignation, if not necessarily her behaviour. But at least she’d be able to put her occasional tendency to “share her bed” in a proper Christian context.

Liberators or occupiers?

Putin took full advantage of one of his rare opportunities to pontificate on a world stage. The stage was kindly provided by Israel, hosting a forum to celebrate the liberation of Auschwitz 75 years ago.

The Nazis didn’t own exclusive rights to genocide

Though attended by many world leaders, including our own Prince Charles who had sorted out the climate problems en route, one such leader was conspicuous by his absence.

President of Poland Andrzej Duda chose to boycott the event because he didn’t want to hear Vlad playing world leader on this particular occasion. The truculent Pole still insists that Stalin’s Russia was, along with Hitler’s Germany, responsible for the war and, by inference, the Holocaust.

The Poles, along with some other sore losers, such as the Balts, always remember the First of September, when Germany attacked Poland from the west. However, they also remember the 17th of the same month, 1939, when the Nazis’ Soviet allies stabbed Poland in the back from the east.

Nor are they prepared to forget the Nazi-Soviet Pact that divided Europe between the two predators. They even still mention that, after the first few days of the war, most of the ordnance the Nazis rained on the Polish army was of Soviet manufacture (the same, incidentally, goes for the Luftwaffe bombs falling on London).

What makes matters even worse is that the EU at large went along with this view of history and passed a resolution daring to mention Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the same breath.

Vlad, who is busily putting together an ideological cocktail including equal measures of Stalinism and Russian Orthodoxy, is incandescent. How dare those bastards “rewrite history”! Why, he’s going to “shut their filthy mouths” if that’s the last thing he does.

However, while the filthy mouths still remain defiantly open, he has subtly changed his propaganda. Until the present attempts to “rewrite history” in agreement with historical facts, the Russian mantra was “we liberated Europe from fascism”.

Alas, every time this refrain is sung, the aforementioned filthy mouths demur. The Soviets, they say, simply replaced the brown hue of fascism with the red variety. That scarcely qualifies as liberation. It’s more like substituting the rock for the hard place.

Fine, says Vlad. We’ll sort out those naysayers later. Meanwhile, here’s one fact no mouth, however filthy, will dispute. Stalin saved the remaining European Jews from certain death, by liberating Auschwitz and other such hellholes.

To reinforce that message, he out of the blue referred to Poland’s forgotten ambassador to Nazi Germany  as “scum” and “anti-Semitic swine”, thereby claiming virtue by dissociation from sin. The implication was that the Poles provoked the German attack because they wanted to enlist the Nazis in the cause of slaughtering Jews.

By boycotting the conference, President Duda communicated his refusal to buy that message. He isn’t the only one.

The dichotomy of the philo-Semitic Stalin saving Jews from the anti-Semitic Hitler may work marginally better than the image of Soviet liberators, but not well enough.

For, once liberated, those Nazi camps weren’t decommissioned. The Soviets continued to use those purpose-built facilities for the purpose they had been built for.

Many skeletal inmates, those who didn’t pass ideological muster, stayed put. Many others were shipped to the Soviet equivalents. How many of them were Jews, I don’t know. Definitely some.

After the war, that philo-Semitic Stalin planned a final solution of his own. The Doctors’ Plot trial of 1952 was a prelude to the wholesale deportation of all Jews to Siberia, where new camps were being built to accommodate the influx.

The doctors, most of them Jews, were accused of planning to murder the entire leadership of the Soviet Union. Most of them, unable to withstand diabolical torture, admitted their guilt. Some died before trial.

The plan was to hang the doctors publicly in Red Square, after which the Soviet government would kindly step in and save the Jews from the ensuing outburst of public wrath by shipping them far out of sight.

The trial was accompanied by the kind of anti-Semitic propaganda that would have made Julius Streicher turn green with envy, had he lived to see the day. In parallel, similar campaigns were under way in the newly liberated Eastern Europe, where many Jewish leaders were executed on trumped-up charges of Zionism.

Soviet Jews were saved by Stalin’s timely death, after which they had no more cause to fear for their lives than the rest of the enslaved population. But the Soviet Union remained virulently anti-Semitic.

Percentage quotas were introduced in universities, varying from three to zero per cent (the latter at the more prestigious institutions). A whole raft of jobs were off limits to Jews, whose ethnicity was specified in their identity papers. Outbursts of spontaneous anti-Semitic violence went unpunished.

For today’s heirs to Stalin et al. to claim the mantle of saviours, they must as a minimum repudiate Russia’s communist past, naming, shaming and punishing the surviving perpetrators of Soviet crimes. As part of that cleansing experience, they should ban from government any members of oppressive, blood-stained organisations, such as the KGB.

Eastern European countries have done just that, with variable success. But at least they’ve made an honest attempt to atone for their sins. The Russians not only have made no such attempt, but they are governed by a group 82 per cent of which – including you know whom – have KGB links.

In Putin’s Russia, Stalin isn’t so much exonerated as glorified, with his genocidal peccadillos glossed over and put down to the vicissitudes of history. And that’s genocides that actually happened, those of Poles, Finns, Chechens, Russian Germans and many others, never mind those that were merely planned, such as that of the Jews.

Well done, President Duda. I wish others followed suit, but they won’t, will they?

“To get the best results, you must talk to your vegetables”

Prince Charles expressed this sentiment quite some time ago, and he manifestly practises what he preaches. After all, if one talks to vegetables, one must expect that at some point they will talk back.

“Before long, dear, Harry may be looking for another wife thingie…”

In that spirit, HRH had a long conversation with Greta Thunberg, for whom and for whose cause he feels unbridled admiration.

Perhaps it’s unkind to refer to Greta as a vegetable, but she might not mind. After all, she feels such close affinity to all things biological that she’d probably be proud to be described in such botanical terms.

On a more metaphorical level, Greta merits that taxonomic tag thanks to her impressive array of mental disorders, including Asperger’s, bipolar depression and, by the sound of her, perseveration (the urge to repeat the same thing over and over again), along with her inability to cope with the intellectual demands of secondary school.

Yet the poor thing beamed from ear to ear when listening to HRH talk about the vital need for a “paradigm shift” to sustainability and planetary concerns.

If pushed to its logical extreme, that of reverting to a world both pre-industrial and largely pre-agricultural, said shift would make us all march to the soup kitchens, singing in chorus “Brother, can you paradigm?” (If you don’t get the pun, you’re too young for your own good.)

However, neither Greta nor, regrettably, her grownup interlocutor gave much thought to the likely consequences of the desired paradigm shift. Their shared sense of impending doom overshadowed all else.

Greta’s subsequent opinion of Uncle Charlie has gone unrecorded. But HRH was effusive: “Well, she’s remarkable, she represents one of the main reasons why I’ve been trying to make all this effort all of these years, because, as I said, I didn’t want my grandchildren to accuse me of not doing something about this in time.”

All these years? The time element doesn’t seem to be working out, unless of course some star, invisible to others, guided Charles to Greta when she was still a babe in arms. But it’s true that he has been preoccupied with that climate thingie for a while.

In common with all partakers in that particular Damascene experience, Charles could never understand why some others were blind to the light shining so brightly into his eyes. Once, for example, he said: “It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we accept what science tells us about everything – until, that is, it comes to climate science.”

This lament sounds as if it had indeed come from a babe in arms. For few people have ‘blind trust’ in science, certainly not in every hypothesis science concocts.

Thus physicists argue passionately about such thingies as the string theory, the existence of parallel universes or schizophrenics being able to predict the future because they are actually envoys from those other universes.

When a chap I know was waxing ecstatic about that last possibility, I wondered why in that case schizophrenics never won the lottery. Such facetious remarks aside, arguments about recondite scientific theories are best left to the experts.

Most people do just that, unless the theory has far-reaching political implications. Darwinism is one such hypothesis, for it overturns – on flimsy to nonexistent evidence – the intellectual, spiritual and religious certitudes Darwinists detest.

Climate science is indeed another such politicised area, where the reliability of evidence isn’t even an issue. That’s where blind trust is mandated by anomic activists who detest just about the only arguably good thing modernity has produced: scientific and technological progress.

Notice that Greta and her ilk don’t just protest against carbon emissions per se. They rail against the profits energy companies derive from fuelling our comfortable lives. If that weren’t the case they wouldn’t be opposed just as hysterically to nuclear energy, which leaves next to no carbon footprint.

(The zealots’ usual argument is that nuclear power stations are too expensive to build. That may be so, but it doesn’t explain why they force European governments to shut down the stations that already exist.)

Climate change to them is what the Judaeo-masonic conspiracy is to another batch of fanatics, and fanaticism is mostly the lot of immature, often deranged, youngsters with minds more gonadic than cerebral.

To see our future king talking earnestly to one such prepubescent zealot is most disconcerting. I realise that he is constitutionally prevented from taking political sides, which is why HRH only ever pronounces on things like architecture and organic produce.

I only wish he were bright enough to realise that the issue he has now inscribed on his banners is as political as they come. And he has chosen the wrong side.

No faith in education

Those di- words are clashing all over the place.

Isn’t modernity fun?

As we know, DIVERSITY is a social virtue than which nothing greater can possibly be conceived. Conversely, DISCRIMINATION and DIVISIVENESS are the gravest of sins because they undermine DIVERSITY.

If you accept this premise, then you’ll be ready to overlook the sheer inanity of Rachel Sylvester’s diatribe in The Times. She argues against Boris Johnson’s plan to create state-funded faith schools.

The plan isn’t sacrosanct. One could easily come up with several valid arguments against it, starting with ‘faith’ being so inclusive as to be nebulous.

Valid, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean correct. It only means sound enough not to engender serious concerns about the enunciator’s mental health.

Miss Sylvester’s arguments, however, fail even such a rudimentary test. Faith schools, she writes, are DIVISIVE. For our society to be properly integrated, all schools should be the same for everybody.

After all, “Nobody would dream of setting up a hospital that catered only to Christians, Muslims, Jews or Hindus…” That’s right, nobody would. Yet many people would, upon reading that sentence, be tempted to call for the men in white coats.

Most humans, regardless of their faith, are born with one head, the same internal organs and the requisite number of limbs. Therefore segregating hospitals on the basis of faith would be pointless – therapies and surgical procedures are blind to the contents of people’s heads.

Education, however, isn’t. The Christian view of the world is as different from Muslim, Judaic or Hindu as they are different among themselves. Such differences may affect the teaching of certain subjects, such as history, literature, philosophy, politics, biology and so on.

This distinction escapes Miss Sylvester, which is worrying. For the sake of the august paper that employs her, I hope her problem is psychiatric and therefore treatable. It’s unfathomable that a compos mentis writer would come up with statements that could be instantly debunked by an average pupil of a faith school.

While we’re on the subject of The Times’s hiring practices, its sports columnist Matthew Syed generously allows that Margaret Court shouldn’t be banished from attending the Australian Open.

Mrs Court (an aptonym if I ever saw one) won more Grand Slams than any other tennis player, male or female. However, her views on homosexuality have poured a pot of black paint on that feat.

In broad strokes, Mrs Court, who’s a Christian, believes that homosexuality is a sin, and marriage is a union of one man and one woman, rather than any other combination of mammals.

While laudably insisting that Mrs Court’s achievements should still be acknowledged in spite of her “antediluvian views”, Mr Syed, less laudably, puts forth a narrative of moral relativity that again treads the fine line between inanity and insanity.

Morality, opines Mr Syed, is shifting sands, and a good job too. What was considered moral five minutes ago is seen as bestial now, and we must all march (more appropriately, run) in step with this race towards amorality.

Alas, “One of the ironies of moral education is that many children are taught to consider ethical norms as absolutes.” Perish the thought. Moral absolutes accepted by a whole civilisation as inviolable are anathema to Mr Syed and the vandal counterculture called modernity.

“It is possible, for example,” he writes, “that eating meat will be considered the genocide of our time.” I’d suggest it’s not just possible but guaranteed. What’s merely possible, though perhaps not guaranteed, is that heterosexuality will be considered the sin of our time.

Margaret Court, who dares enunciate views that went unchallenged for millennia and have only become “antediluvian” within the latter part of Mr Syed’s not particularly long lifetime, is to be pitied, not ostracised, as far as he’s concerned.

Mr Syed is prepared to treat her with compassionate understanding. You see, there are “the psychological ironies at play when the moral sensibilities of a society evolve faster than the moral sensibilities of its (ageing) members.”

Hence Mrs Court is allowed to get off with her head. Her fault isn’t inherent evil, as many would aver, but only a lamentable inability to keep pace with the minute-by-minute changes in public morality.

Mr Syed doesn’t answer, nor even ask, the question of what happens when my relative morality is different from yours, ours is in conflict with his, and his with theirs.

How do we settle such disagreements in the absence of absolute moral norms? Brute force seems the only realistic option, but that doesn’t occur to Mr Syed, for reasons either intellectual or psychiatric, I’ll let you decide which.

When I get on my hobby horse of modern insanity, there’s no dismounting. In that vein, a history textbook produced for France’s Grandes Ecoles has this to say about 9/11: “This world event was undoubtedly orchestrated by the CIA (secret services) to impose American influence on the Middle East…”

I especially like the “undoubtedly” part, appearing as the word does not on a madcap conspiracy website but in a textbook to be used by Science Po, l’Ecole d’Administration and other top universities acting as hatcheries of the French elite.

I wonder if their students are also taught to hail every overnight change in morality, while regarding faith schools as a threat to society. I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

Paris or London?

I have it on Dr Johnson’s authority that I’m not yet tired of life. For, after 32 years’ living in London, I still haven’t grown tired of it, and nor am I ever likely to.

Human mind at work

Yet, truth be told, Paris has never really grown on me, even though I’ve always made a concerted effort to love it as much as I love the rest of France. That has never quite worked, other than with some of the Left Bank.

So what does London have that Paris doesn’t? Many writers have tried to compare the two cities, either in the form of a novel (Dickens), memoir (Orwell) or essay (Chesterton).

Chesterton singled out the street names in central Paris as compared with those around the Strand in London.

Many Paris streets are named after key historical dates, revolutionary events or Napoleon’s victories, which too were revolutionary events in some ways. On the other hand, the streets around the Strand are mostly named after aristocrats, such as the Earl of Essex, the Earl of Southampton or Lord Burleigh.

Some noblemen rate two such names: Norfolk Street and Arundel Street both honour the same man. And London is even more generous to the favourite of James I and Charles I.

George Street, Villiers Street, Duke Street and Buckingham Street all pay tribute to his Christian name, surname and title. And the latter two used to be linked by the prepositional Of Alley, until it was renamed York Place after another patrician.

That’s five street names for one nobleman, which shows where British priorities are. Nothing like those Parisian thoroughfares called 18 June, 11 November, 25 August, 8 February or whatever.

Then again, London’s – and England’s – history was never diverted by a revolutionary upheaval, not permanently at any rate. The city and the country developed organically, which makes it impossible to signpost their history by a compendium of dates.

When did the English state begin? We don’t really know. It just is. Yet any schoolboy will know that Israel started in 1948, united Germany in 1871, the USA in 1776 – and France, in its republican incarnation, in 1789. And a road that has a definite starting point demands numerous landmarks along the way.

However, whatever aristocratic character London had in Chesterton’s time, now, 100 years later, it has lost it to modern – which is to say aggressively plebeian – architectural vandalism, ably assisted by city councils and the Luftwaffe. Paris’s eyesore quotient is much lower, although its present socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo is doing her best to catch up.

This isn’t to say that central Paris was spared modern vandalism. It wasn’t. But in its case the vandals came earlier, starting in 1789 and continuing throughout the 19th century. The revolutionaries got the ball rolling, and Baron Haussmann used it for wrecking purposes, reshaping the right bank of the Seine to agree with the Zeitgeist.

But even discounting London’s modern monstrosities, and in spite of Haussmann, Paris is still the more beautiful city, one blessed with more aesthetic highlights. And even comparable sights, such as Notre Dame and Westminster Abbey, both Gothic, are incomparably more beautiful in Paris.

However, cities aren’t exhibitions. They are living organisms and as such can’t be judged on aesthetics alone.

Thus a Greek statue of Aphrodite is more beautiful than most women I’ve ever met. Yet, however much people admire statues, they, Pygmalion apart, don’t fall in love with them. Love slides off the cold marble and reaches out for warm flesh.

Chesterton also wrote that an alien falling into Paris from the moon would instantly know it was the capital of a great nation, something that wouldn’t be as immediately apparent in London.

I agree. That’s why I admire Paris, but love London.

Whenever art reminds me that it’s a cognate of artifice, it leaves me cold; and cities are partly works of art too. As such, they should have an emotional impact, leaving no room for rational decortication. Afterwards, having caught one’s breath, one can ponder the masterpiece and try to figure out how it was made.

Paris doesn’t do that. The first thing one sees are the workings of the human mind, informed by a rational idea of how cities should look, how people should live, and how they could be prevented from obstructing rational ideas.

One can almost see Haussmann and his underlings looking at the city plan and saying: “Bien, let’s have a small roundabout here, with five straight streets running into it in such a way that, standing in the geometrical centre one could see all the way to the bottom of each street.

“No, Monsieur, five would work much better than either four or six. I wouldn’t want to pisser on a roundabout with anything other than five streets. And l’Etoile? Now there nothing less than 12 streets will do.”

Statist modernity strives for perfection, which, it was assured by one of its midwives, Rousseau, is achievable. That is reflected in the design of Paris, with its wide, straight avenues, ideal for marching troops and mostly treeless, not to provide a hide for those wishing to snipe at the troops.

Modernity also strives for uniformity, which is why all those avenues look identical, each lined with massive apartment houses built in the same style of the same stone. The ground floors are mostly commercial, with many Parisians (as opposed to few Londoners) living above shops, banks or cafés.

Unlike Paris, London is flawed because it reflects human nature which, contrary to Rousseau’s musings, is never flawless. And London thinks small.

While Paris architects were at their best operating on a large scale, especially with institutional buildings, their London colleagues were at their most expressive with small-scale, mostly residential construction.

When circumstances forced them to act out of character, they often fell flat. Sir Christopher Wren is a prime example. I can never understand how the same man who built the sublime, yet smallish, Royal Hospital Chelsea could also design the hideous St Paul’s Cathedral, which must have inspired the equally awful Panthéon in Paris.

That’s why, whenever I offer tips to visitors, I always suggest they go first to London’s residential areas, which in my view display the English genius at its most poignant.

The architecture there is eclectic, with at least half a dozen different styles forming a visual potpourri in stone, brick, terracotta and stucco: the Regency of Belgravia, the Georgian of Chelsea, the Victorian of Knightsbridge, the neoclassical of Covent Garden and so on.

Little there screams “this is architecture to admire”. Everything whispers “this is the city to love.”  Oh well, vive la différence.

Vlad keeps analysts guessing

The Russian constitutional game is really three-card Monte, and its latest round reminds us that Vlad plays it with consummate skill.

Tsar Vladimir II, anyone?

Even many Russians can’t really keep track of the ‘money card’. But Westerners labour under the additional handicap of their own constitutional experience, making them seek analogues where none exists.

The more knowledgeable among them realise that the Russian constitution isn’t quite like any in the West, the Russian Duma is largely a bogus parliament, and the meaning of political nomenclature (‘president’, ‘prime minister’ and so on) isn’t exactly the same as in the West.

But few commentators are ready to replace the adverbs ‘quite’, ‘largely’ and ‘exactly’ with ‘at all’, ‘totally’ and ‘remotely’. Their viscera go on strike when dangled before their eyes is the picture of a constitution that’s nothing but an elaborate charade designed to dupe the credulous in Russia and especially abroad.

If anyone ever had any illusions on that score, they should have been dispelled in 2008, when Vlad displayed his virtuosic sleight of hand by shifting Article 81 of the Russian Constitution.

Paragraph 3 of that Article says that no one can serve three consecutive presidential terms. I emphasised the word ‘consecutive’ because it’s the only one that matters.

Had that word not been there, Vlad would now be enjoying his purloined billions somewhere warm – that is, if allowed to get away with his money and his life, which, given the vagaries of Russian politics, wouldn’t have been a foregone conclusion).

As it was, he hung the presidential shield on his PM poodle Medvedev and continued to exercise dictatorial powers as prime minister. Come 2012, Vlad reclaimed the presidency and kicked Medvedev back into his old chair.

In parallel, he extended the presidential term from four years to six, effectively giving his dictatorship 12 more years of phony legitimacy. However, since that period expires in 2024, Vlad has had to run his nimble hands over the cards again.

Thus his poodle Medvedev yapped that he and the rest of the government were resigning, not to impinge on the presidential power required to enact sweeping constitutional changes. Anyone who has ever seen Medvedev as an impediment to the exercise of said power doesn’t really understand Russia.

The well-trained poodle got the bone of a newly created post, that of Deputy Chairman of the Security Council, chaired by Vlad himself. The latter then hinted that the post of president would become purely ceremonial, with the real authority vested in the office of prime minister, appointed directly by the Duma in its customary independent fashion.

Hypnotised by Vlad’s fleet fingers, Western commentators try to guess what it all means, without arriving at the right answer: nothing of any significance whatsoever. Their problem is that they approach the problem from the wrong end, inductively rather than deductively.

Induction is a trusted method of political analysis, but it’s useless in Russia. Deduction is more productive, proceeding in this case from an ironclad a priori premise: Putin will never relinquish power voluntarily. His tenure will expire only when his life comes to an end, natural or otherwise.

Once we’ve realised this, all those constitutional shenanigans become reduced to mildly amusing irrelevancies. Each of those has been amply covered in the press.

Putin may indeed transfer all power to the office of prime minister, which he will then occupy. Such a seemingly sideways move has a precedent in Russian history, provided by Vlad’s role model, Stalin.

On 6 May, 1941, he appointed himself prime minister, having before run the country as only Secretary General of the Communist Party. Many commentators think that seemingly meaningless step was taken as a prelude to a Soviet assault on Europe, for which Stalin wished to take full credit.

Be that as it may, it stands to reason that changing the dictator’s job description may indicate a shift in policy.

If, for the sake of argument, Putin is planning another act of blatant aggression, such as an attempt to occupy the rest of the Ukraine, he may wish to pull the wool over the observers’ eyes by being able to accept the credit for such a mission if it succeeds or pass the blame if it fails.

Another possibility is that he may vest de facto presidential powers into the office of Chairman of the Security Council, keeping his trusted poodle in the same place he always occupied. Or else he can appoint himself Chairman of the Duma, with the power of appointing Medvedev or another underling as figurehead president or prime minister.

Yet one possibility hasn’t yet been mooted: Vlad could restore monarchy, with himself on the throne as Tsar Vladimir II. This isn’t as preposterous as it sounds.

Putin has been trying to refashion the Russian ethos by fusing some elements of Romanov rule, Stalinism and Orthodoxy into a quasi-monarchic entity, the modern answer to Mother Russia with her imperial reach based on her enhanced spirituality.

Perhaps he finds that the time has arrived to get rid of the prefix ‘quasi-’ and add finishing touches to the picture drawn in the sand of mendacious propaganda. By appointing himself tsar, Putin might be able to present to the world the image of a squared circle, taking the credit for that mathematical feat.

Confused by his speedy hands, Western observers have trouble pinpointing the ‘money card’. Hence they don’t realise that the cards are marked. The money card isn’t the queen, king or any other denomination.

It’s a criminal and dangerous state uniquely formed by a homogeneous blend of secret police and organised crime. Its chieftain, Putin, can’t be second-guessed because his power is arbitrary and not structured in any way a Westerner may recognise.

So the president is dead, long live the tsar? I don’t know. No one really does.   

Manny Macron kindly proves my point

The other day I bemoaned yet again modernity’s ravenous appetite for vulgar vandalism. I doubt that Manny and his foster mother Brigitte read my scribbles, but their take on interior decoration justifies my lament with room to spare.

The Elysée Palace before and after

Far be it from me to aver that Manny has no taste or, for that matter, no brain or no morality. He may be richly endowed with all or some of those. Then again, he may not. One way or the other, that’s irrelevant.

For all such faculties are in him – as in most modern politicians – subjugated to, and therefore negated by, political Darwinism, a struggle for supremacy or at least survival. Therefore, what to you or me would be a barbarous lapse of taste is, to Manny, a political statement.

On purely aesthetic grounds, one may prefer modern art to the ornate excess flaunted by the Elysée Palace. In fact, my own taste can’t accommodate the French proclivity for over-ornamentation, which was especially manifest during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Neither Baroque nor Empire style is, to me, sacrosanct. Nor does my knee jerk in an a priori rejection of any modernism, although I do find much of it to be solipsistic, nihilistic and undisciplined. Yet I realise that the language of modern art may be as intelligible and eloquent to some people as Byzantine iconography or early Renaissance art is to me.

However, it’s inconceivable that anyone with a modicum of aesthetic discernment would be blind to the bracing vulgarity of lurid cubist paintings, electric-blue carpets and Miró lithographs punctuating the traditional décor of the Elysée Palace.

I happen to dislike both styles on offer, for different reasons. But even someone who’s passionate about them must be sensitive to the nihilistic clash of the two mixed together. This just isn’t an aesthetic statement that even a marginally civilised person could make.

But Manny wasn’t sending aesthetic messages by taking down Gobelin tapestries. He wished to communicate urbi et orbi that traditional certitudes, political, economic or aesthetic, have no place in a youthful and thrusting France ushered into modernity by her youthful and thrusting president.

If a different political message required a different aesthetic expression, Manny would oblige with alacrity. If the fortune cookie baked by France’s fickle electorate yielded a preference for communism, the Elysée Palace would be adorned with Che Guevara silkscreens. If Nazism offered a clearer path to political ascendancy, we’d be regaled with depictions of muscular lads brandishing swastikas.

This is a caricature, but that’s what caricatures do: they overemphasise reality, but they don’t create it. In any case, I sense that redecoration may be on its way.

Recent polls show that Manny’s support is shifting from left to right, which, in the French context, means from the extreme-left to centre-left. The shift is caused by Manny’s reformist zeal, as reflected in his aesthetics.

In general, his reforms make sense. However, politics lives or dies by particulars, not generalities – and by emotions, not reason.

The current labour unrest in France is caused by Manny’s attempt to reform the pension system in the direction of more fairness and sustainability. He isn’t proposing to go all the way to those destinations, but even a few tentative steps have caused an outburst of public rage, especially in the public sector.

The state-owned SNCF rail network has been on strike since early December, the longest such period ever. This has paralysed much of France, especially the gridlocked Paris area forced to operate without surface and underground trains.

Manny realised the insanity of a system wherein 500,000 SNCF employees have to support more than a million retirees, many of whom spend more time in retirement than they ever did in employment. Yet even his timid attempts at reform ran headlong into the stonewall of human nature.

Yesterday’s aspirations become today’s privileges and tomorrow’s entitlements. Once so entrenched, they can’t be displaced by gentle reformism. To communicate to the rail workers that retiring at 52 at others’ expense is morally shabby and economically ruinous, Manny would have to smash union power first.

Such Thatcherite activism would require Thatcherite convictions and Thatcherite willpower, neither of which Manny possesses. That’s why he has already stepped back from his original intentions, although not yet far enough back to mollify the unions.

Nevertheless, he has been largely abandoned by left-wing voters, with centrist ones moving in to fill the lacuna thus formed. More concessions on Manny’s part may disappoint his new fans enough to drive them away, but at least they are detecting – rightly or wrongly – some emotional kinship to Manny.

Hence he’d be well-advised to start putting those Gobelin tapestries back into the spaces currently occupied by Miró et al. New politics may demand old aesthetics, and Manny is lucky that the demand for communist or fascist institutional symbols seems to be tepid at the moment.  

Modernise (v.t.): vulgarise, vandalise, destroy

Modernity is supposed to sprinkle gold dust on whatever it touches. More often than not, however, it slaps on grime – and then swings a wrecking ball.

Is Tyburn Hill still there?

Certain material, transient things can indeed be modernised to great effect. For example, I have many reasons to be thankful for modern drugs. This, in the knowledge that generations to come will view today’s medicines as we view the ubiquitous panacea of blood-letting.

That’s how the world of things is: in with the new, out with the old. Joseph Schumpeter described that process as ‘creative destruction’, and much of modernisation fits that term.

However, when we leave the world of the transient for that of the transcendent, modernising destruction stops being creative and becomes very destructive indeed.

Painters can’t heed the call of modernity and paint over Mona Lisa’s vestments to dress her in Gap casuals or, if the spirit moves them, nothing at all. Stage directors can’t modernise Shakespeare’s language. Composers of liturgical music can’t give the Jesus part to a soprano.

Or perhaps ‘can’t’ is a wrong word – what I really mean is ‘shouldn’t’. For they very much can: sacrilege and vandalism have become artistic stock in trade, with invariably devastating results.

Still, I have it on good authority that those who detest such outrages have the option of boycotting exhibitions of vandalising art, performances of vandalising productions or churches featuring vandalising music.

However, none of us has the option of boycotting our country. There’s the rub: while the original Mona Lisa still hangs in the Louvre, the original Shakespeare texts adorn most bookshops, and some churches still play real music, vandalising a country’s institutions destroys the original – totally and irretrievably.

Look, for example, at the triad of British patriotism: God, king and country. Paraphrasing it as the church, monarchy and other ethos-forming institutions, we’ll find that they are all like poppies – to be enjoyed only as they are. Trying to modernise such institutions will eventually destroy them. They’ll wilt, like a poppy picked out of the field.

If our aspiring modernisers don’t realise this, they are stupid. If they do and still persist, they are evil. Some combination of the two is possible; in fact, most committed modernisers are so stupid that they become evil, if only unwittingly.

This leaves us to decide which category Harry and Meghan belong to, for they have explicitly stated their desire to modernise the monarchy. I for one find such intentions breathtakingly refreshing.

There we have a young couple of very modest, well-nigh non-existent, intellect and, certainly in Meghan’s case, the moral sense of an alley cat. Both of them are ignorant in general and of the essence of British statehood in particular, Meghan totally, Harry largely.

Yet they dare declare that they have the wherewithal to improve this ancient institution by modernising it. Neither of them has the mind to foresee the possible ramifications.

When another modernising vulgarian, Tony Blair, tried to modernise the constitution by eliminating the post of Lord Chancellor, he found out the sheer impossibility of that task: it was like chopping off one leg of a three-legged stool.

But the office of Lord Chancellor is secondary, not primary. It derives from an intricate constitutional settlement based on the monarch. Now imagine what would happen to the whole settlement if ham-fisted modernisers start taking swings at the monarchy. I’d rather not.

The House of Lords has already been vandalised and vulgarised beyond recognition, which deals a blow to the constitution. Now a candidate for Labour leadership, and therefore our potential PM, states her intention to get rid of the Lords altogether – all in the name of modernisation, no doubt. Given the chance, she will.

The church should be another modernisation-free zone. Like the monarchy, it’s either a traditional, conservative institution or it’s nothing. And nothing is what the Church of England is rapidly becoming under the tutelage of its modernising hierarchy.

Female bishops and priests at the altar, pop music blaring in the choir, liturgy conducted in street talk, homosexual unions blessed – all that was supposed to fill the Anglican churches. Instead it’s emptying them.

Both the monarchy and the established church are headed by the Queen, and one wonders if they’ll survive her. The Prince of Wales has already stated his intention to become defender of faith rather than the faith, which is a deplorable bow to the vulgarity of multi-culti modernity.

But at least Charles was brought up as heir to the throne, which makes it remotely possible that he is aware of both the significance of the monarchy and its growing fragility. One shudders to think what those inane Sussexes will do the monarchy with their modernising appetites.

They should be treated the way the Duke of Windsor was: not just deprived of royal privileges, titles and income, but thrown out of the country and only allowed to come back on special occasions.

But that isn’t going to happen, is it?  Modernising modernity is a juggernaut that keeps rolling on.

Russian SAMs seem to love airliners

Two airliners downed by Russian missiles within five years, with the Ukraine involved both times – those SAMs are definitely playing favourites.

Nice accidental shot, chaps. Vlad is proud of you

That the first missile was fired by the Russians themselves and the second by their Iranian stooges may be an important distinction. Then again, it may not.

Both crimes were followed by the perpetrators’ lying denials. The Russians were more creative with theirs.

Flight MH17, according to them, was downed by the Americans themselves. Or the fatal shot was fired by the Banderite Zionist fascists running the Ukraine. Or it was a bomb on board the aircraft. Or it might have been pilot’s error. Or it was spontaneous combustion.

I don’t recall any UFOs mentioned, but every other possibility was explored and put forth as realistic. Except what actually happened: a terrorist act committed by Russian troops in the process of invading a sovereign European country.

The Russians still persist with their lies, but they are doing so in autopilot, as it were. It’s as if they were saying: “Fair cop, we did it. We know it, you know it, the whole world knows it. But we’ll continue to deny it half-heartedly for decorum’s sake. Anyway, the sooner you forget about that incident, the better for all of us.”

The Iranians at first lied that the Ukrainian airliner had suffered an engine failure. However, when videos emerged of a SAM actually hitting the aircraft, they owned up to having fired the fatal missile, albeit accidentally.

Case closed? As far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t even been opened.

Too many coincidences have been ignored, too many questions left unanswered or indeed unasked. Far be it from me to claim a special investigative talent, but a few things bother even this rank amateur.

First, why did the ayatollahs lie in the first place? Doesn’t Allah proscribe perjury? And, having defied Allah, why didn’t they persist? After all, their Russian friends could have shown them how to deny obvious facts, including those about downed airliners.

Yet their resolve lasted only two days. Once the evidence came out, the ayatollahs immediately offered their profuse apologies: “Sorry, lads, deepest condolences and all that. We confused the 737 with an in-coming cruise missile. Accidents do happen.”

Yes, they do. But so do crimes their perpetrators try to pass for accidents.

Even assuming the ayatollahs had to admit their guilt, why couldn’t they hold on for a bit longer? What was the rush? Most likely, it wasn’t they who were in a hurry, but Messrs Trudeau and Trump.

Even before the ayatollahs made their clenched-teeth admission, the two leaders stated that the airliner had been accidentally hit by an Iranian Russian-made TOR missile. How did they know it was an accident before any investigation was even started?

Their underlying assumption seems to be that Iran wouldn’t have committed such a heinous act deliberately. If so, one wonders about the basis for such confidence. We are, after all, talking about one of the world’s most evil and deranged regimes.

Quite apart from sponsoring terrorism around the world, the ayatollahs are feverishly trying to acquire nuclear bombs and then use them. This, in the certain knowledge that the resulting retaliation would be apocalyptically devastating.

Do Messrs Trudeau and Trump believe that a regime prepared to kill millions, most of them in their own country, would balk at killing a paltry 176 passengers and crew? One hopes not, for otherwise the West is in even deeper trouble than I thought.

But do let’s assume that it indeed was an accident. After all, following the assassination of Gen Soleimani, the situation in the region was chaotic, and chaos encourages trigger-happy fingers.

However, that plausible assumption has to come packaged with several implausible ones. One of them is that a trained operator could have confused a Boeing 737 with a cruise missile.

Just like the BUK system of MH17 fame, TOR comes equipped with a modern radar. And I can’t help thinking that an airplane 138 feet long looks rather different on a radar screen from a cruise missile that’s almost seven times shorter. And surely a plane taking off is instantly distinguishable from a missile coming in?

Then again, Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport is a target-rich environment. Planes take off every 20-30 minutes, and only one a day belongs to the Ukrainian International Airlines.

However, the fateful Boeing was operated by a country that Iran’s biggest ally and sponsor, Putin’s junta, hates with unmitigated passion. A curious coincidence, isn’t it?

My objective is only to point out a certain incongruity, not to explain it. Yes, it’s reasonably clear that, considering the relationship between Iran and Russia, the ayatollahs would have been in no position to deny their friend Vlad a little favour should he have asked for it.

But why would he have asked for it? I don’t know. Yet neither do I know why Putin ordered the seemingly senseless murders of Litvinenko, the Skripals, at least a dozen others in the West and several dozen within Russia herself, including such internationally known figures as Politkovskaya and Nemtsov.

Putin runs a state formed by history’s unique fusion of secret police and organised crime. Both constituents operate according to their own code, which says that those they hate don’t deserve to live, and those who cross them must be punished.

This may be as simple as that. Or else, there may be more rational motives involved, such as an attempt to distract public attention from Flight MH17, which still comes up in international discussions, if with an attenuating frequency.

The opportunities for conjecture are many. However, no conjecture is necessary to explain the indecent haste with which Messrs Trudeau and Trump accepted the ayatollahs’ mea culpas, which they themselves had cued in.

Trump’s Iranian strategy, such as it is, is apparently to ignore the general beastliness of the Islamic Republic, while punishing specific crimes against US citizens on an ad hoc basis. The president must believe that Iran, for all its ostensible bellicosity, is so suffocated by Western sanctions that she’s ready to negotiate.

This must be Trump’s desire as well: after all, he thinks that all the world’s little problems can be solved by a handshake. Accusing Iran of yet another egregious crime against humanity simply doesn’t fit into that context.

I rather doubt the merits of this strategy: evil regimes don’t believe in deals. They only believe in using deals to their nefarious ends.

Thus the Russians violated every disarmament treaty they ever signed, including those SALT agreements they used as a screen for their massive military build-up in the 1970s. Iran used Obama’s awful Nuclear Treaty the same way, by coming close to developing a nuclear capability, with a little help from her friends.

However, Trump’s administration has a store of information to which I have no access. Hence it’s possible that their strategy may be the right one.

One just wishes they didn’t take us for fools. All those red herrings leave a nasty taste in our mouths, and the tooth fairy never does come around. Let’s hear the truth of Flight 752 – and truth, as we know, will make us free.      

Sheer piggery

Dogs are said to acquire the characteristics of their owners. If that’s true, then what about other domestic animals?

That question was answered the other day, when a sow and her two piglets escaped from a small farm and broke into a supermarket in the Siberian city of Tyumen.

Pigs can sometimes be oh-so swinish

Had they done so some 50 years ago, they would have found only a few tins on otherwise empty shelves. But today’s Russian supermarkets feature all sort of foods other than the ziggurats of tins I recall from my childhood.

The pigs must have been impressed by the cornucopia on offer, especially since, unlike cows, they are omnivorous. The happy family could have thus helped themselves to meat, fruit, vegetables, pastries – the selection was vast.

Yet the trio unerringly made their way to the alcohol aisle. There the mother used her snout to knock two bottles of brandy to the floor. The bottles smashed, and the pigs happily lapped up the boozy puddle.

The staff, who must have been deeply concerned about underage drinking, ejected the piglets and also, unfairly, their mother, who was demonstrably of age.

One should refrain from drawing far-reaching conclusions on the basis of that episode, but it’s conceivable that the Russians’ fondness for drink might have rubbed off on their animals.

For the sake of impartiality, it’s important to note that the Russians aren’t the only bibulous nation. Decades ago their supremacy in that area went unchallenged, but these days the British could give them a good run for their money – especially in the new Tory areas of the North.

In fact, personal observation shows that on a Saturday night one sees more drunks in, say, Liverpool or Hull than in Moscow. However, Tyumen isn’t Moscow any more than Hull is London and, compared to Siberians, our northerners would look positively abstemious.

In fact, I’m sure that, given the chance, our Berkshire or Saddleback pigs wouldn’t head straight for the booze aisle in a supermarket. Their taste would run more towards potatoes and apples, but, in the absence of empirical evidence, that’s only a guess.

While we are on the subject of comparing Russia and Britain, we ought to extrapolate from the porcine context and look at humans. Here I’m proud of my former countrymen’s ingenuity.

Having been exposed to the West en masse for only 30 years or even less, the Russians have proved to be remarkably quick studies. In fact, many of them have plumbed the depths the native populations left untapped throughout their history.

One ought to remark with some chagrin than most of those depths have to do with criminal behaviour, especially money laundering. Now in that area, if no longer in drunkenness, the Russians are leading the world by a wide margin.

Alas, the ground-breaking ingenuity of Russian ‘oligarchs’ seldom comes up to the surface. Yet, credit where it’s due, I for one am in awe.

Everyone knows that money can be laundered through financial institutions and estate markets. Though not blessed with much practical nous, even I can figure out how to do that.

Yet it would never have occurred to me that British courts could be used to that end too. So much more do I admire those Russians who expand my horizons.

‘Oligarchs’, which is the Russian for organised criminals, agree to sue one another in British courts, with the sums awarded for phony damages then emerging squeaky clean. Not only that, but they sometimes also sue themselves, through anonymous shell companies somewhere offshore.

Apparently, hundreds of millions have been processed through our legal system in this fashion, although no one can pinpoint the exact amount.

The Russians have thus demonstrated their ability to corrupt all our institutions, not just the financial and political ones. Goddess Themis is happy to turn a blind eye too.

Such creativity would of course be impossible without at least acquiescence, and more likely active complicity, on the part of our legal firms. They seem to be as happy to take the dirty rouble as their financial and political colleagues.

Those Russian criminals are toxic, but British institutions are avidly spreading that poison around. Now, that’s what I call piggery.