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Now let’s plug in 10 million cars

Regrettably, Britain stayed in the dark both about and on my birthday.

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind… Or perhaps not.

That the country was ignorant of so momentous an event is understandable. That more than a million Britons were plunged into darkness by a National Grid failure is worrying.

Boris Johnson has ordered an investigation into the power outages, and until it has been completed one shouldn’t venture too many guesses.

However, troglodytes who love to find fault with renewable energy will gloat because the blackout was made worse by Hornsea Wind Farm cutting off from the grid.

Yet this will in no way dampen my enthusiasm for saving the planet (aka the Earth) from global warming. We’re in the midst of this cataclysm, caused by aerosol sprays, hydrocarbons and Margaret Thatcher.

The goal of saving the planet is so noble that I’m prepared to freeze in the dark if that would help. However, some people don’t share my selfless commitment to this cause. They bitch about their lives being disrupted, as if spending a few pleasant hours stranded in traffic jams or on tube trains has ever hurt anybody.

They forget that it’s largely because of their selfishness that National Grid failed in the first place. Those egoists don’t think twice about the consequences of their actions.

They callously turn on their chandeliers at mealtimes, ignoring the romantic appeal of a candlelit supper. They sybaritically take public transport to work, even though they could score a double whammy by walking.

The exercise they’d get by a brisk 10-mile walk would improve their health and reduce pressure on the NHS, whereas National Grid wouldn’t have to overstrain its every sinew wheeling them around.

And as to people who drive to work, or for that matter anywhere else, don’t get me started on this. Leeches! Hedonists! Global warming deniers! Criminals! Sorry, I can’t remain dispassionate when this subject comes up.

Oh well, until our next government criminalises self-interest, I suppose cars will be with us for a while. However, in common with all other planet-savers, I look forward to the time when all our cars will be electric.

This is what our government wants, and whatever our government wants has to be good and just. Especially since that commitment is shared by our high nobility, such as the Duchess of Sussex. So we can confidently look forward to the near future, when all 32.5 million cars in the UK will be replaced by their electric equivalents.

However, playing not so much devil’s advocate as the devil himself, one may mischievously juxtapose this coming bliss with the seams at which National Grid is creaking. This yields a chastening question: where’s the extra energy going to come from?

I don’t know exactly how much more energy will be needed. But, in round numbers, it has to be an awful lot.

Hence, if National Grid is at the end of its tether now, it’ll have to be boosted tremendously to cope with millions of cars recharging their batteries at the same time.

Where will the boost come from? I know it’ll have to come from somewhere because surely our wise government must have considered all the ramifications of its policy.

Let’s see. Nuclear is out because it’s deadly – even though there has never been a single fatal accident at a nuclear power station anywhere in the West. But facts shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with a noble principle and anyway, there’s always a first time.

Coal, oil and gas are the work of the devil because they, along with aerosols and Margaret Thatcher, are responsible for destroying the planet in the first place. So they’re out as well.

That leaves the sun and the wind as the clear winners. Scientists, those who work for neither governments nor the UN and therefore have no vested interest in saving the planet, doubt that those turbines and panels can do the job even if they densely cover every square inch of Britain.

But even those hirelings to capitalists and planet-rapists can’t deny that wind and solar energy is friendly to the environment, making its efficacy a moot and subversive point.

So let’s hear it for electric cars and Elon Musk – they are our near future. Also in our near future is a vastly increased mining of lithium, cobalt, nickel and other rare metals involved in the production of those zillions of car batteries.

Most of the world’s supply of such metals comes from places where the miners are slaves or as near as damn. But we planet-savers are blessed with a sufficiently elastic conscience to look on the bright side: those Congo miners may be digging themselves into a premature grave for a pound a week, but without those cobalt mines they’d die of hunger even sooner.

Then of course there’s the polluting effect of all the extra mining, which makes global warming deniers question the net effect on the planet. Naysayers! Virtue must be impervious to actuarial calculations – it has to do with high morality, not low arithmetic.

However, undeterred by my wrath, those enemies of the planet keep piling on questions. Mercifully, answers are always close at hand.

Q. What happens to those who can’t afford the expensive Elon Musk products? A. Patience. In due course, they’ll become cheaper.

Q. What if some of us can’t afford the £7,000 cost of replacing a car battery? A. Patience. The cost is bound to come down.

Q. What will happen to those tens of millions of discarded batteries full of acid? Won’t disposing of them hurt the environment? A. Patience. Our government will think of something.

So you see, patience is the answer to every doubt, provided one’s heart is in the right place and one’s head isn’t.

Corbyn must learn from Stalin

Now that the possibility of a Marxist in 10 Downing Street is looming large, perhaps we should remind ourselves of the more endearing features of Marxism.

“Call yourself novelists, Mr Barnes and Mr McEwan? Well, I have news for you…”

First, a general point: Marxism tries to force society into the procrustean bed of a contrived political philosophy based on a monstrously fake view of human nature and reality in general.

Both human nature and reality tend to be stubborn: they resist the surgical procedures required to squeeze them into the bed of Procrustes, and they’ll never submit voluntarily.

Hence, for a Marxist government to hold on to power, it has to be totalitarian, meaning using unrestrained coercion to control every aspect of life – with every being the operative word.

Mention totalitarianism to most people, and they’ll have images of concentration camps flashing through their minds. Such images are true to life, and they are perhaps the most horrific pictures ever painted on the canvas of history.

But history isn’t a single canvas; it’s a kaleidoscope with multiple pictures. Thus there’s more, much more to fear from totalitarianism than just its satanic violence.

The first warning was sounded by that great anti-totalitarian in the early days of the Roman Empire: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

That means, in today’s parlance, fear Marxist totalitarians, for if they are unable to destroy the soul, it certainly won’t be for any lack of trying. We all know how they destroy the body, but their other aspiration is sometimes ignored.

Here the experience of people like me, those whose souls were subjected to totalitarian assault and somehow managed to survive, may prove instructive.

Now I was only five when Stalin died, but totalitarianism didn’t die with him. It was going strong when I left Russia 20 years later, and it’s still discernible today.

Let’s forget for a minute the 60 million victims massacred by the Bolsheviks (as if it were possible to forget that). Instead let’s just look at some more vegetarian aspects of totalitarianism, here illustrated by three stories.

The first one goes back to 1957, when I was first forced to study physics at school. Our textbook, produced when Stalin still ruled the roost, taught that nuclear physics was a “bourgeois science” and “the atom is the smallest and further indivisible particle of matter”.

Though my interest in natural science was tepid at best, even I knew that wasn’t so. Rutherford split the atom in 1932, and his discovery had been put to good use in Japan 12 years before my teachers were insisting that the atom was indivisible – but I did tell you that Marxism is all about fake reality.

Two other stories didn’t involve me directly, but their indirect impact was huge. For Comrade Stalin, along with other comrades both before and after him, took a hands-on interest in things that more or less circumscribed my life: art, history, literature, linguistics, philosophy.

Not so long ago I read a volume of correspondence between Stalin and his second-in-command within the Party, Kaganovich. The letters were exchanged in 1934-1936, a time when millions were starving as the country was feverishly preparing for war. Yet I was amazed to find that the two leaders devoted perhaps a third of their epistolary space to the arts, particularly theatre.

Knowing this, you won’t be unduly surprised by these two stories.

The first one involves the celebrated basso Mark Reizen, the Bolshoi star and a permanent fixture at Kremlin concerts, whose programmes were endorsed, and often dictated, by Stalin personally.

During Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans” in 1948-1953, many of those Jews who weren’t executed or imprisoned were summarily purged from their jobs, which fate, unbeknown to Stalin, also befell his favourite singer, Reizen.

A few days after he was sacked by order of Kharchenko, Chairman of the Committee for the Arts, Reizen received a phone call from Poskrebyshev, Stalin’s secretary, inviting him to perform at the Kremlin that evening.

“I can’t,” replied the singer. “Why on earth not?” wondered Poskrebyshev. “Because Kharchenko fired me.”

Poskrebyshev swore and asked Reizen to wait by the telephone for a few minutes. He then rang back to tell the singer that Comrade Stalin would like to see him in the Kremlin, and a car would pick him up in an hour.

When Reizen walked into Stalin’s study, Kharchenko was already there, ashen and sweaty.

“Who’s this?” Stalin asked him in his heavy Georgian accent, pointing at the singer. “This is Mark Reizen,” replied Kharchenko, trembling.

“Wrong,” frowned Stalin. “This is Mark Osipovich Reizen, People’s Artist of the Soviet Union, Laureate of the Stalin Prize and soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre. Repeat.”

Kharchenko made a heroic effort to get the words out: “This is Mark Osipovich Reizen, People’s Artist of the Soviet Union, Laureate of the Stalin Prize and soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre.”

“Correct,” nodded Stalin. “And who are you?”

“I’m Kharchenko, Chairman of the Committee for the Arts.”

“Wrong,” said Stalin. “You’re shit. Repeat.” “I’m shit,” shouted Kharchenko with alacrity.

“Correct,” agreed Stalin, pointing at Reizen again. “And who’s this? Repeat.” “This is Mark Osipovich Reizen, People’s Artist… [and so on],” mumbled Kharchenko, looking at Stalin but seeing barbed wire.

“Correct,” said his tormentor. “And who are you? Repeat.” “I’m shit.” This time Kharchenko made no mistake.

“Correct,” said Stalin again. “You can go.” When Kharchenko staggered out, the Great Leader said to Reizen: “Mark Osipovich, I look forward to your performance tonight.” Like Göring, Stalin reserved the right to decide who was and who wasn’t Jewish.

Another story involved similar vocabulary, but a different art: literature.

In 1946, Alexander Fadeyev, Chairman of the Writers’ Union, published a novel The Young Guard about the wartime Komsomol underground in the city of Krasnodon. Having read the novel, Stalin was unhappy: the role of the Communist Party didn’t come across vividly enough.

He summoned Fadeyev to the Kremlin and asked his lapidary question: “Who are you?” “I’m the writer Fadeyev.”

“Wrong,” said Stalin. “Chekhov, now that was a writer. And you’re shit.” He then ordered that the novel, that had already sold hundreds of thousands of copies, be rewritten.

From what I’ve heard, Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell don’t quite share their fellow Marxist’s keen interest in art. But, if they find themselves running the country, they should learn fast: Marxists can’t afford to leave any turn unstoned.

Men who get pregnant are women

In 1970, Charlie Saatchi (of Nigella Lawson fame) produced a powerful ad for the Family Planning Association. The power derived from the shock value of an impossible situation.

The Pregnant Man ad won many first prizes, but today it wouldn’t merit a second look. Reality outpaces not only satire but also, on this evidence, advertising. A man getting pregnant? So what? No big deal.

To date, 228 transsexual ‘men’ have given birth, which brings into focus such disciplines as physiology, biology, philosophy, sociology, jurisprudence and – most interesting to me – lexicology.

One is forced to reconsider the meaning of not only ‘man’, ‘woman’, but also of ‘transsexual’ (I don’t use ‘transgender’ on principle). Starting from the end, ‘transsexual’ used to designate a person who underwent certain surgical operations and hormonal treatments.

I’m in sympathy with the view that one’s sex is determined by a set of chromosomes only. Thus a man can’t become a woman and a woman can’t become a man, although either can become a freaky sideshow.

But leaving aside this impregnable argument, as it were, the wrong body in which the unfortunate individual was trapped could for many years be replaced with the right one by following the procedures I’ve outlined so sketchily.

That’s the general concept. But modernity can always be relied upon to come up with embellishments. Hence, according to Dr Lauren Rosewarne of the University of Melbourne, someone who is biologically female can become male even without surgery.

“They may not have necessarily had an operation, but they now identify as male,” she explained.

Let me see if I’ve got this right. A woman can keep all her primary and secondary sexual characteristics, use them the way they were designed to be used, and still be considered a man simply because she says so.

In that case, one would think that neither ‘man’ nor ‘woman’ has any definable meaning whatever, other than the perfectly arbitrary one anyone wishes to assign to it. This constitutes a trailblazing breakthrough in linguistics: words can mean whatever we want them to mean.

Thus a chap can be allowed to carry a pistol through an airport scanner because, as far as he’s concerned, it’s a pencil. A driver can beat a speeding fine because his car is to him actually a dog he was taking walkies. A man can insist there’s nothing wrong with squeezing a canary into his Bloody Mary because the bird is actually a lemon.

Some may think that such linguistic latitude makes discourse impossible, for who can guarantee that both parties agree that a canary is actually a lemon or a Ford is in reality a dachshund?

Dr Rosewarne proved to be as alert to that possibility as she was undaunted by it. When queried on the meaning of masculinity, she said: “Masculinity means different things to different people… It’s not just about what bits you have.”

For once I have to agree. For example, Jake Barnes, a character in Hemingway’s book The Sun Also Rises, lost his ‘bits’ to a war wound. That, however, didn’t turn him into a woman: he remained a man, but one without his ‘bits’ – and we must thank the Aussie academic for using such a precise medical term.

It’s also true that, like atoms with a high valence, words may have many different meanings, some of them mutually exclusive. (If you’re in the market for recondite terminology, linguists refer to the sum total of a word’s meanings as its ‘paradigm’.)

For example, ‘liberal’ used to designate an advocate of a small state incapable of infringing on personal liberties, such as freedom of speech. The way it’s used now, the word means its exact opposite: a proponent of an almighty state eager and able to silence every proponent of personal liberties, such as freedom of speech.

Therein lies the problem: when the valence is too high, words get to mean so much as to mean nothing. That’s precisely what will happen to ‘man’ and ‘woman’ if they lose their strict chromosomal definition: XY, you’re a man; XX, you’re a woman.

Being a simple chap, I like to keep things simple. A woman can call herself a man or anything else she wishes, including, say, a dachshund, a gazelle or a hummingbird. But if she gets pregnant, she’s nothing but the female of the Homo sapiens species.

If she calls herself anything else, she’s still both a female and a Homo, but she’s definitely not sapient. And neither is anyone who, like Dr Rosewarne, has set out to make the world even madder than it already is.

Exactly how, Mr Khan?

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has tweeted a message I struggle to understand offhand: “African cultures have shaped London into the vibrant city it is today.”

“All those dull Elizabethans, Shakespeare, Jonson, Sidney, Byrd, Gibbons. Call that cultural vibrancy?”

I’m convinced that a man occupying such an important post would never utter an unfounded statement. And, as a multiculturalist of lifelong standing, I sincerely hope Mr Khan is right.

Hence, if queried, he’ll doubtless be able to produce ample support for his assertion. My point is that such support is necessary because some naysayers, especially those whose commitment to multiculturalism is less robust than mine, may question Mr Khan’s veracity.

Especially pedantic reactionaries might even argue that the mayor’s statement is more correct politically than factually.

There are also a couple of semantic points worth pondering. First, the underlying assumption seems to be that vibrancy is an invariably desirable characteristic.

But is it really? The public at a football match is considerably more vibrant than at a classical concert, but the latter group is less likely to have a mass brawl after – or perhaps even during – the proceedings.

Closer to the business at hand, the annual Notting Hill carnival is hard to beat for vibrancy, yet last year it featured a stabbing and 30 assaults on police. De gustibus… and all that, but on balance some people may feel that vibrancy just may have its downside.

Then there’s the implicit suggestion that, before a massive influx of people from Africa and the West Indies, London had been a stagnant cultural backwater with no vibrancy whatsoever. Multiculturalists like me will welcome this notion, but they’d have a hard time finding historical proof for it.

Quite the contrary, London has been one of the world’s cultural centres for centuries, with magnetic attraction for outlanders like Holbein, Rubens, Van Dyck, Handel, Haydn and Mozart (who was stopped from emigrating to London only by his untimely death).

And when in the 1960s the word ‘culture’ acquired – laudably! – a broader meaning than in those staid times, the city got to be known as ‘Swinging London’, not ‘Sleepy London’.

Yet one struggles to recall a black, much less specifically African, input to that development that can even remotely match Carnaby Street, mods and rockers, the miniskirt, Twiggy, the King’s Road, Jean Shrimpton, the Rolling Stones and other rather monochromatic icons.

There were black singers like Shirley Bassey and Cleo Laine, but only a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon would regard those gifted British women as culturally African. Miss Laine did sing much jazz, but she was no more African than her husband and co-performer John Dankworth.

I’ve now lived in London for 31 years, yet other than once being driven out of a West Indian restaurant by its deafening reggae din, I don’t recall ever coming in contact with any African culture, even, as in that case, at one remove.

One man’s experience is always limited, but one’s power of observation and ability to absorb statistical data are less so. Activating those faculties, and sharing information with friends and acquaintances, I can’t detect any noticeable African component in London’s cultural life.

This saddens me no end, for every political instinct in my soul screams that it can’t, shouldn’t be so.

I’m even more upset by the demographic breakdown of crime statistics. But before we plunge into those, I must state emphatically and almost hysterically that race has nothing to do with a propensity to commit crimes.

As a multiculturalist of lifelong standing, I’m convinced that black people are disproportionately represented in crime statistics not because of any failing on their part, but because of racial discrimination, poverty that’s no fault of their own, Tory austerity in general and Margaret Thatcher in particular.

It’s with this understanding and a heavy heart that one finds out that, according to the latest data available, though blacks make up just over 13 per cent of London’s population, they account for most men accused of violent crimes.

According to the Metropolitan Police Service, blacks represent 54 per cent of those accused of mugging; for robbery, that proportion stands at 58 per cent; and for gun crimes, 67 per cent.

I’m sure that this isn’t the cultural vibrancy Mr Sadiq Khan had in mind, but there’s no denying its high amplitude.

Then of course there’s also the most unfortunate olfactory aspect: it’s mostly heavily ethnic areas of London that display graphic signs banning public defecation and urination. The need for such signage in the King’s Road or even Carnaby Street apparently hasn’t yet arrived.

This is simply an observation, for which I’m sure there must be a perfectly innocuous explanation. But it’s off the topic, for bodily functions tend to be rather static and with little potential for vibrancy.

In fact, everything I’ve written here is either a personal observation or an implicit request for our mayor to clarify his point by answering the question in the title.

Otherwise, even I, the founder, chairman and so far the only member of the Charles Martel Society for Multiculturalism, can get terribly confused.

Bums on pews and how not to get them

As a Christian non-golfer, I’m happy to announce great news for non-Christian golfers: the nave of Rochester Cathedral is being converted into a nine-hole golf course.

“And have you forgotten your clubs, my son?”

The likely outcome of this pioneering effort is that lovers of the game will deepen their affection for golf, while developing none for Christ’s message to the world.

This is all especially galling because Rochester Cathedral is one of the oldest and most important seats of English Christianity. St Augustine himself founded it in 604, and over the centuries the cathedral has boasted a long list of great bishops and martyrs.

The Catholic St John Fisher was martyred by the Protestants during the Reformation, while the Protestant Nicholas Ridley was then martyred by the Catholics during the Marian Counter-Reformation.

And some 10 years ago, Michael Nazir-Ali, the 106th Bishop of Rochester (who kindly wrote a flattering preface to one of my books), resigned his seat to do what he can for the persecuted Christians in his native Pakistan.

Prostituting any church is an outrage; doing so to a site as venerable as Rochester Cathedral is a crime. This cheap, blasphemous gimmick isn’t going to fill the pews, even if it may fill the golf course.

As part of the secular crusade, each hole will be decorated with a model of a different type of bridge, which according to those chaps will serve a dual purpose, both educational and symbolic.

Andrew Freeman, from the Rochester Bridge Trust, says: “The idea behind the course is to try and encourage young people and families to come into such a beautiful place to learn about the structures of different bridges.”

And, presumably, to work on their swing at the same time. Worthy ends, both, but it’s not a cathedral’s core function to act as either a golf club or a school of architecture. But silly me, I didn’t grasp the implied symbolism.

Cathedral spokesmen have corrected this failure of perception: visitors will learn how to build “both emotional and physical bridges”. Much as I deplore my own lack of sensitivity to subliminal messages, somehow I doubt many golfers will think about emotional bridges when teeing off.

But the Rev Rachel Phillips, canon at Rochester, disagrees: “We hope that, while playing adventure golf, visitors will reflect on the bridges that need to be built in their own lives and in our world today.”

Quite. Alternatively, they may associate golf links with links between them and God. Or associate an eagle with the bird symbolising the Holy Spirit. Or think of getting closer to Jesus when hitting an approach shot.

The Rev Rachel must be a hit at parties that involve playing charades, but she does little to make me reassess my view of female clergy.

I haven’t made any surveys, so I’m sure exceptions must exist, but every female priest I’ve seen is as unfit to serve God as she is to provide the kind of services that, according to Herodotus, women used to offer in Babylonian temples.

Another Rochester canon, Matthew Rushton, invoked a higher authority: “The Archbishop of Canterbury said to us that if you don’t know how to have fun in cathedrals then you’re not doing your job properly.”

I’d say that not doing his job properly is any priest, never mind a prelate, who’s capable of mouthing such vulgarity. Cathedrals aren’t places to have fun, although they can bring joy – a nuance that some clergymen evidently can’t grasp.

Sinking a long putt is fun; feeling the presence of God is joy, which may be further enriched by the beauty and majesty of his bride, the Church. Our churches are empty largely because so many prelates and priests debauch the dignity and splendour of worship, which alone can fill the pews.

People who don’t yet believe are more likely to attend services that raise them conspicuously higher than their everyday life – not those that strain to provide a phoney imitation of it.

Priests can only attract communicants by doing their real job well, not by loosening the strings on a bag of obscene tricks. To do their job well, they must help people to sense a reality that goes far beyond this world – to rise from the transient to the transcendent.

If the end is thus defined, the means will suggest themselves, and they won’t include pop music, raves, golf or priestesses in sexy cassocks.

(This isn’t a flight of mocking fancy: the designer Camelle Daley specialises in sexing up female clerical garb. According to her, the Church of England’s 2,000-odd priestesses have been “complaining about the boxy, shapeless shirts on offer.” She satisfies the holy ladies’ demand by offering “clothes that accommodate the female shape in cut and fit.” Alleluia.)

One just hopes that whoever decides such matters at Rochester Cathedral will curtail his fecund imagination at driving golf balls under miniature bridges. I for one would hate to see that great altar converted to a bar complete with inverted bottles and beer pumps.

El Paso, Dayton and Washington, D.C.

You seldom have to wait long for mass shootings in the US, and then two come around together.

Amazing how people manage to kill even when guns are unavailable

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 251 mass shootings there in 2019, and the year is still young. Other, less partial, sources put that number at 36. Both agree that the one in El Paso, claiming 20 dead, is so far the bloodiest of all.

That’s why it’s perhaps not surprising that the reactions to it have been the inanest of all, with meaningless clichés dripping from every word.

Thus President Trump showed his inimitable sense of style by describing the El Paso and Dayton murderers as “really very, very seriously mentally ill”.

Mr Trump needn’t bother to apply for a position on Rees-Mogg’s staff. The latter enforces stylistic rectitude in his office correspondence, and preceding a noun with five modifiers, two of which are ‘very’, just wouldn’t cut the mustard.

As to the substance of his statement, Mr Trump’s qualifications for diagnosing a psychiatric condition aren’t immediately obvious. He has merely succumbed to the widespread temptation of trying to medicalise every social problem.

This is a cop-out that avoids serious analysis, without which Mr Trump’s stated objective of “doing more to stop mass shootings” can’t be achieved.

Once platitudes took hold, there was no stopping them. He described the El Paso shooting as “an act of cowardice,” adding that “there are no reasons or excuses that will ever justify killing innocent people.”

Those two murderers are many things, few of them nice. But one thing they definitely aren’t is cowardly.

I’d suggest that going to an almost certain death testifies to great courage. However, many people make the mistake of regarding bravery as an unconditional virtue, regardless of what purpose it serves.

However, if bravery serves an evil end, as in these cases, it’s itself evil – whereas cowardice becomes a virtue if it restrains a potential murderer from perpetrating his evil deed.

Then the president added that “hate has no place in our country”, which is false both factually and metaphysically.

Factually, hate manifestly occupies a prominent place in the US and elsewhere. Metaphysically, hate will have no place anywhere only after the Second Coming. Until then, original sin will continue to operate.

That also makes nonsense of Mr Trump’s platitudinous reference to there being no excuse for murdering “innocent people”. Until the aforementioned event has arrived, few of us will remain truly innocent.

Also, the implication is that it would be justified to shoot up a crowd wholly made up of bigamists, prostitutes and paedophiles. One does wish our rulers were able to find better words to convey their outrage and, more important, to suggest preventive measures.

But at least the president refrained from coming up with more spurious explanations for the tragedy, other than ascribing it to the murderers’ lunacy, as one does.

Now, someone wantonly killing and being killed clearly commits an aberrant, violent act. But not all violent acts are a result of a diagnosable psychiatric condition – in fact, in the US, less than five per cent of them are.

The explanations proffered by Mr Trumps’ detractors are even less sound. Some political southpaws even blamed the El Paso shooting on his anti-immigration rhetoric.

Yet such rhetoric was never muted even when I lived in Texas (1974-1984). Though since then El Paso’s Hispanic population has grown from about 60 to over 80 per cent, the city remains one of the safest in the country. Hence this act of random violence hardly reflects a link between demographics and murder.

The El Paso shooter explained that he was responding to the Mexican “invasion” of Texas, which shows an insecure grasp of history. After all, Texas was originally Mexican, and it was white settlers who invaded and ethnically cleansed it in an unjust 1848 war.

Nor does one see any persuasive evidence of a rise in white supremacism. On the contrary, such organisations as the Ku-Klux-Klan and the John Birch Society, if they’re still extant, have certainly lowered their profile to virtual invisibility.

During my time in Texas, I heard anti-Mexican sentiments expressed every day, yet no one discharged assault rifles in supermarkets. Ethnic animosity may sometimes be a constituent of criminality, but in this case it’s best to sheathe one’s Occam razor: this explanation is too simplistic to elucidate a trend, though it may account for a single incident.

Then naturally there’s a thunderous choir of voices clamouring for a ban on firearms, the Second Amendment or no. To be believed, such vocally endowed persons would have to find fault with the detailed and copious research presented by John Lott in his book, whose title is also its conclusion: More Guns, Less Crime.

Prof. Lott analyses reams of data for every state, reaching the conclusion that the availability of firearms is in inverse proportion to the crime rate. Yet, taking their cue from Rousseau, anti-gun fanatics insist on the inherent goodness of man, with each vile act therefore attributable to external reasons only.

Alas, that’s demonstrably not the case. It’s an immutable fact of life that people kill – with guns, if they are available; without, if they aren’t. London, for example, has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, which doesn’t prevent someone being knifed to death practically every day.

Moreover, since the US gun laws were liberalised in the early ‘90s, firearm homicides have decreased by about fifty per cent, vindicating Prof. Lott’s findings.

However, mass, showcase shootings (defined as producing four or more victims) have skyrocketed during the same period: from an average of just over three a year back then to one a week now, even if you only accept the lower figure cited above.

It takes more research than I can conduct to understand why. Conceivably, there’s some kind of Herostrates complex at play, a morbid desire for notoriety at any cost.

Since celebrity and achievement have gone their separate ways, obscurity may strike some losers as unfair. If someone can become an international star simply because her gluteus is very maximus, why can’t they? This is an injustice, which may be correctable by a few well-publicised shots – even at the cost of one’s own, hitherto worthless, life.

Drugs may have a role to play too, especially if the wrong ones are in fashion. Thus the murder rate in New York dropped appreciably when heroin replaced crack as the drug of choice. Heroin, being a downer, makes one less violent; crack, being an upper, more so. Currently popular crystal meth is an upper too, and it may encourage violence.

A constantly fostered culture of entitlement may also be a factor: the sense of being denied one’s perceived due may create a grudge against the world in general and the usual culprits in particular.

All this is sheer speculation, but the issue must be studied seriously, for the findings will shed light not just on crime, but on the world as it now is. Using these tragedies as an opportunity for mouthing banalities or scoring political points is in itself a tragedy.

P.S. While we’re on the subject of mental disorders, my cracker-barrel diagnosis is that Peter Hitchens suffers from perseveration, the urge to repeat the same things over and over.

His two idées fixes are the evil of drugs and the virtue of Putin. Displaying an enviable agility, he’s capable of squeezing one of those into any seemingly unrelated context.

Yesterday, for example, he wrote a good article about the sorry state of policing in Britain. Suddenly, out of the blue, came the conclusion: our police present a greater threat to our freedom than Putin ever will.

This is a blatant non-sequitur, and experienced writers know how to avoid those. That Hitchens was unable to do so surprised me no end – until I realised that the whole piece had been written for the purpose of emphasising Putin’s harmless nature.

I’m sure that if Mr Hitchens were to write a cookery book, he’d find a way of saying that Putin is excellent for one’s digestion.

Nietzsche was right: God is dead

For that coroner to divinity, God wasn’t a person whose life had come to an end. He was dead because clever people could no longer believe in him.

“God is dead, but he must be revived for the benefit of the stupid people.”

Nietzsche was absolutely right: scientific advances, social and political developments, new eudemonic philosophy with man as its fulcrum had all conspired to vindicate his conclusion – and it’s even truer now than it was then.

So yes, clever people can no longer believe in God. However, supremely intelligent people, serious thinkers, can’t function at any level above quotidian concerns without faith in a supreme being.

The tragedy of Nietzsche’s time, and even more of ours, is that many brilliant people who would otherwise be lavishly equipped to make the next step into supreme intelligence are held back by their atheism.

I can’t blame them, especially since some of them are among my closest friends. A man can no more be blamed for having no faith than for having no musical gift. For faith is a gift too, in the strict sense of something presented by an outside donor.

This is a blanket observation, one that applies equally to the lowliest of peasants, the loftiest of intellectuals and everyone in between. However, though none of the atheists can be blamed, some can be pitied.

These are clever people who really do try to understand the world, not just to survive in it comfortably. If they’re serious in that effort, sooner or later they’ll reach an impassable barrier with a sign saying ‘thus far but no farther’.

This isn’t to say that an equally intelligent believer will have no limit to his intellectual reach. He will, but for him it’ll appear farther down the road.

An atheist, however high off the scale his IQ, is by definition deficient in his ability to ask the next question. To paraphrase Wittgenstein, he may get as far as wondering how the world is – but not that it is, and especially not why it is.

Such questions aren’t answered, nor indeed asked, by natural science, politics, sociology, economics or double-entry accounting. The questions of being and existence are the domain of metaphysical philosophy and, ultimately, the highest of all sciences, theology.

This is a matter of fact, not opinion, and any intelligent atheist will accept it. The admission would be easy for him: he has implicitly agreed to apply dampeners to his thought and doesn’t see that as a problem.

He’ll usually just say that such things are so far beyond human understanding (meaning his understanding of course) that one might as well not bother. Being able to figure out today’s trials and tribulations is both hard enough and rewarding enough. Life’s too short.

That’s where he does a disservice not only to himself, but, if he has an audience, which some of my brilliant friends do, also to others. For, without understanding that, rather than being short, life is eternal, it’s impossible to solve even the simple problems he has set out to solve.

In my book The Crisis Behind Our Crisis, I analysed the far-ranging effects of atheism on economic behaviour, specifically the kind of behaviour that had caused the 2008 crisis – or rather the crisis that had come to the fore in 2008, the year in which it neither began nor ended.

It takes a book, rather than an article, to cover such issues adequately – and even a longer book to expand beyond economics into such areas as law, education, crime, social interactions, public morality and so on.

All such areas are beset with problems, and any ultimate solution can only come from an approach springing from fundamental philosophical verities. Intelligent atheists know this, and even a cursory investigation makes them realise that, in the West, such verities can only be found in Christianity.

The investigation doesn’t have to be more than cursory because ample empirical data, their ersatz deity, are in plain view.

Any honest observer will know that every attempt to replace Christianity with a secular alternative has failed miserably and catastrophically. The twentieth century, the first atheist one from beginning to end, spilled more blood than all the prior centuries combined – and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to predict that the worst may yet come.

That’s why Douglas Murray most recently and many brighter atheists before him have concluded that a return to Christianity is necessary to anchor reality and prevent it from being cast adrift.

At this point, I stop pitying atheists and start blaming them. For they effectively return to Nietzsche, with themselves cast in the role of der Übermensch.

Yes, they imply, of course God is dead, but only for us extremely or, as in Murray’s case, moderately clever people. We know better than to believe in all that mythical nonsense. However, our better knowledge can’t keep hoi polloi in check, maintaining social order, stability and liberty.

The masses need to be kept on the straight and narrow, for if they’re allowed to deviate, they may well threaten the existence of the clever people who know better. And centuries of trial and error have shown that only Christianity can steer the human herd into the right avenue.

I’ve stripped this kind of thinking to its essentials the better to show its hubristic, megalomaniac dishonesty.

After all, these people are atheists. Hence they believe that Christianity is false. To them it’s a lie, but a socially useful one, the kind they, clever people who know better, can use to build a successful society.

Well, I’ve got news for them: if a society is built on a lie, it won’t stay successful for long. And conversely, if it stays successful for long, it’s built on truth.

Christianity can only deliver a lasting social success if it’s true. And because it’s true, it did indeed deliver such success for centuries. Things only went terminally awry when God died – that is, when clever people could no longer accept the truth of Christianity.

Thus these neo-Nietzschean atheists can’t solve the problem for the simple reason that they themselves are the problem.

They should really stay off the subject of God altogether and concentrate instead on social commentary or, as in Murray’s case, the dangers of Islamic homophobia. They just might do some good that way.   

Sticks and stones

My oh my, aren’t we sensitive. Use the word ‘man’, singly or in compounds, and you brand yourself as a troglodyte everywhere, Personhattan and Personchester alike.

Liberalism in action

Tell a joke along the lines of “an Irishman, a Jew and a black man…”, and you’re a racist troglodyte.

Mention in jest that one can tell a gay bar by the fact that the stools are upside down, and you’re a homophobic troglodyte and, quite possibly, a criminal.

Universal scorn is your immediate punishment, accompanied with suggestions that “there ought to be a law…” Calm down, dears, the law already exists. Or if it doesn’t, it soon will. No one says anything we’re mandated to regard as offensive and gets away with it.

Thing is, most people aren’t really offended by masculine personal pronouns and some such. To think that they are would be tantamount to diagnosing a pandemic of madness, and one has yet to hear a government health warning to that effect.

People react that way because they’ve been brainwashed to do so. The combined efforts of the state, the media and our non-education create a zeitgeist that plays by contrived ethical rules.

Though it’s false through and through, most people have no mental strength to swim against the zeitgeist current. They are vulnerable to propaganda, both overt and surreptitious.

So no, no pandemic of madness is under way. But there’s no question that such vulnerability testifies to at least a mild form of mass idiocy.

Because everything about modernity is supposed to be progressive, this is a progressive condition. When it comes to mandated and affected sensitivity, what was a silly quirk when I first came to Britain, 31 years ago, has become unassailable etiquette.

In those days, a few chaps from the office and I often went for lunch to a local pub that had two pool tables and its own team. Since hustling pool was part of my misspent youth, I could hold my own and even once won a pub tournament.

That earned me the affection of the landlord we called Big Al on account of his girth. He’d always flash an avuncular smile when I walked in and say, good-naturedly: “Here comes the Russian c***.”

In response, I’d order a pint and ask Al how the fatties were doing. We’d then play a frame or two, which I’d usually lose.

Today something like that would be classed as a hate crime. I’d be expected to froth at the mouth, threaten to call the police or report Big Al to the Equality Commission.

It’s hard to escape the observation that, as people get thicker, their skin gets thinner. In the process, one of the most endearing traits of the English, a sense of humour and an ability to laugh at oneself, is falling by the wayside.

People are denied the right to say anything they wish as a joke, for shock value or simply because they like the line. We’re held responsible for every word we utter, and every word is taken at face value regardless of the speaker’s intent. Nothing is a joking matter any longer.

For example, if the IRA is discussed in mixed company, some people will look askance at anyone saying “I could murder a McGuinness”. A joke? A pun? Not on your nellie. It’s the utmost in crudeness at best, and quite possibly a statement of murderous intent.

And if the object of a quip is a member of an ethnic minority, a cripple, a mentally retarded person or a homosexual, the wag can confidently expect everyone present to contort his face in a gurning grimace of sanctimonious opprobrium.

The other day I was watching my lapidary five minutes of Sky News, where some lachrymose gorgons were waxing cloyingly sentimental about a boy with “special needs”, who, according to them could still have a rewarding career.

“Yeah,” I said to Penelope. “As a doorstop. Or else, with some rudimentary training, he could learn to bring you your slippers in his mouth.”

My long-suffering wife is used to such humour. But had I said the same thing at a large dinner party, I’d be seen as a ghastly man, which I probably am. But I’m not so ghastly as to hold such views in all their literal seriousness.

It was simply a line I thought funny at the time (I know opinions may differ on that score). That was the top layer. Underneath, however, it was Newton’s Third Law of Thermodynamics at play: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

When the zeitgeist pushes, some intrepid individuals will push back, and this doesn’t just apply to jokes, funny or otherwise. The counteraction may have far-reaching social consequences.

People will always bend under the weight of the zeitgeist. However, when the weight becomes oppressive, they may spring back to action.

Racism may well strike back at hysterical anti-racism, misogyny at fire-eating feminism, xenophobia at enforced ideological internationalism, fascism at ‘liberalism’ run riot and so forth.

Because human nature isn’t a physical phenomenon, the problem with an opposite reaction may be that it won’t be equal. It hardly ever is when popular resentment spills out.

The reaction to a king who didn’t respect Parliament wasn’t a king who did. It was Civil War.

The reaction to France’s weak monarchy wasn’t a stronger monarchy. It was revolutionary terror.

The reaction to the wishy-washy liberalism of the Provisional Government in Russia and the Weimar Republic in Germany wasn’t a better liberalism. It was Bolshevism and Nazism.

One detects all over Europe an incipient reaction brewing against the ideological influx of cultural aliens and the frenzied effort to erase the borders of nation states, with national laws overridden by international bodies. What form this reaction will take is anyone’s guess.

But not mine. I’m loath to impose on you my inveterate pessimism. Cracking irreverent jokes is safer – and certainly better than speculations about the cracking of human skulls.

Hug trees, hate avocados

Three news items have caught my eye this week, and, in a radical departure from my usual format, I’ll comment on all three.

Delayed-action bombs ticking away underneath the planet

But first an admission: when in France, I watch Sky News at breakfast. Each morning I bet with myself how long I can stand it, and I’m pleased to announce that the other day I broke by 25 seconds my previous personal best of nine minutes.

Part of the reason for this record-breaking endurance was that I was confused. A professional dietician and a full-time environmental activist were preaching nutritional and moral goodness, the kind of lesson I, keenly aware of my own deficiency in both virtues, always welcome.

The dietician praised avocados for their taste and high content of good fats, adding that it’s a quarter of an avocado, not a gluttonous whole, that constitutes a proper portion. However, it was the activist who led the discussion.

He agreed that avocados taste good and are good, but we shouldn’t eat them anyway because doing so destroys the planet (presumably the Earth). My breakfast that morning actually was avocado on toast, so I felt suitably shamed. Still, an explanation of some sort was in order and it duly came.

It turned out that avocados aren’t cultivated sustainably, which destroys the environment and therefore the planet. And the undestroyed part is then finished off by the need to transport avocados from Mexico to England, thereby trampling the planet under a giant carbon footprint.

Since we don’t grow avocados in Britain, explained the activist, they should be replaced with things we produce locally and don’t have to transport across the planet.

The dietician readily betrayed avocados and crossed over to the other side. Saving the planet was high on her agenda too. The nutrients we derive from this offensive fruit, she said, ought to be replaced with olive oil for moral reasons.

That confused me twice over. First, I couldn’t quite figure out a way of replacing avocados with olive oil in my guacamole. Second, I couldn’t for the life of me remember ever seeing many olive groves anywhere in England.

The activist spotted the geographical contradiction too and objected that, to improve our diets and save the planet at the same time, avocados must be replaced not with foreign olive oil, but with home-grown animal products, such as red meat and cream.

My confusion deepened. Both virtuous substitutes are full of cholesterol, which, as we all know, rivals cyanide for deadly potential and crystal meth for moral decrepitude.

As to red meat, I wonder what animal rights people will have to say about the recommendation to devour the carcasses of murdered creatures. Since man is nothing but an animal, such a diet is a moral equivalent of cannibalism.

I was again confused, and so was the dietician. The urgent need to save the planet clashed with the need to eat ethically, sensibly and without annihilating whole herds of innocent animals who are just like us.

Since I could bear neither her confusion nor mine, I switched to another channel, where Prince Harry was being praised for his own commitment to saving the planet.

Harry spoke, barefoot for some unfathomable reason, at a Google climate retreat in Sicily, where HRH was joined by swarms of A-listers, including every Hollywood actor and pop star I know and dozens of others who are so universally famous that I’ve never heard of them.

The A-listers pledged to do all they could to save the planet from warm weather, which, we must remember, is caused by carbon emissions.

Fair enough, the participants in this worthy event should redouble their planet-saving efforts just to counteract the effect of the 114 private jets and an armada of superyachts on which they had arrived in Sicily.

In addition, Harry also promised to save the planet by having no more than two children. I don’t know about the planet, but the royal family and all of us should be saved from having to cope with too many sprogs of Harry and Meghan.

Harry has clearly inherited his brains from his mother and possibly also his father, if those malicious, vindictive and manifestly false rumours are true. Ever since Harry met Meghan, he has been ignoring the anatomical fact that the thinking organ is located between the ears, not between the legs.

On an unrelated subject, I was privileged to receive the transcript of Joe Biden’s opening remarks at yesterday’s debate among more Democratic candidates than you can shake a machete at. Mr Biden used the opportunity to attack President Trump’s record. This is what he said:

“Friends, Americans, countrymen, lend me your ears. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown of US presidency, and Trump’s head has been lying throughout his elitist tenure.

“Never in the field of US politics was so much taken from so many by so few. That’s why I come to bury Trump, not to praise him.

“Trump has nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. He creates a desert and calls it peace. Hence we have before us many long months of toil and struggle until the next election. But we shall not flag or fail… We shall never surrender!

“The buck stops here – this man, the first Biden who has ever gone to university, is not for turning. And it’s time my opponents stopped banging on and on about my having plagiarised that Neil Kinnock speech. Immature politicians plagiarise; mature politicians steal. That brings me back to Trump…”

Following the news is such fun, isn’t it? I’m happy to be able to share my enjoyment with you.

‘Greatest’ Britain as defined how?

First a modest suggestion to our new Home Secretary Priti Patel.

The Rt Hon. Very Priti Patel

She’s good at rallying cries, but one should never underestimate the potential of rallying songs, especially those with catchy tunes.

Fortunately Leonard Bernstein has already written one to fill the bill. All Home Office employees can start every morning by singing: “I feel Priti// Oh, so Priti// I feel Priti and witty and bright!// And I pity// Any girl who isn’t me tonight”.

Miss Patel will need time to ponder the ramifications of such vocal team building. Meanwhile, she has adopted the rallying cry already issued by her boss, Boris Johnson: “We want to unequivocally make Britain the greatest country on Earth.”

Now, since I can split hairs almost as well as Miss Patel can split infinitives, I’m asking the question in the title above.

Her statement goes further than Donald Trump’s “Make America great again” and our own “Putting the ‘Great’ back into Great Britain”, first used for the trivial purpose of promoting Olympic Games.

Now great is no longer enough: nothing but the bombastic “the greatest country on earth” will do. Whenever such terms are bandied about, my first instinct is to head for the hills.

What does ‘great’ mean? What are the objective criteria, if any? And if the criteria are subjective, who’s the subject?

Now, as far as I’m concerned, Britain already is the greatest country on earth. I’ve lived in several, and Britain is the only one where I feel at home.

I don’t like everything about Britain. In fact, I never tire of pointing out things that are wrong with her. But Britain’s problems are existential, not ontological. There’s a reservoir of goodness from which we can still draw, even though successive governments have done their level best to poison the waters.

Few of the things I love about Britain have to do with economics. Such things matter less to me than those I consider truly important.

However, most people will probably rate money and the physical comfort it buys above all. And Britain certainly isn’t the richest country in the world. Her GDP per capita places her at Number 26, behind not only the usual suspects but, at Number 5, even Ireland.

Hence most Britons will perhaps feel that putting the ‘Great’ back into Britain means putting more money into their pockets. Is this what Miss Patel and Mr Johnson mean?

Some countries apply different criteria. Unable to serve Mammon, they try to mollify their disgruntled populations by pretending to serve God. Russia has used that trick since time immemorial, and she continues to claim, on no obvious evidence, to be the most spiritual – and therefore greatest – country on earth.

This is accompanied with a claim to imperial greatness: Russia is eager to force the benefits of her sterling spirituality onto her neighbours, by violence if need be.

Do Miss Patel and Mr Johnson judge greatness on this basis? Do they want our Toms, Dicks and Harrys to outdo everyone else in spiritual attainment and imperial muscle? Somehow one doubts it.

Whenever a nation claims or aspires to be the greatest in the world, it’s usually a sign of provincial cultural insecurity. Yet Britain has never been provincial, and she has nothing to be culturally insecure about.

Her cultural capital is being squandered, but this is the case everywhere. Britain has enough left to remain one of perhaps three or four most cultured countries around. Given the state of the world, this may not be saying much, but it’s still saying something.

Britons still possess enough taste not to make megalomaniac claims about themselves. They retain enough self-confidence not to toot their own horn, perhaps realising that, when a nation does so, the horn produces nothing but goose-stepping marches.

But we aren’t talking about the Britons here. We’re talking about the British government, and that’s a different matter altogether.

British, or any other modern, government isn’t in the business of using words to convey serious meaning. In this case, if probed, our leaders will probably admit that making Britain the world’s richest, strongest or perhaps the most spiritual country falls into the domain of wishful and shallow thinking.

However, Miss Patel and Mr Johnson aren’t putting forth a thought or, God forbid, a policy. They are shouting a slogan.

And whenever British ministers shout a slogan featuring the adjective ‘great’, especially in its superlative form, it usually means only one thing. They’re going to spend more of the money they haven’t got.

I haven’t tried to cost the promises Mr Johnson has made already and is continuing to make. I doubt he has either.

In that he follows the logic of all the recent governments: print and borrow promiscuously. Eventually the fiscal chickens will come to roost, but the next general election will come sooner.

Mr Johnson is already talking about ending austerity, as if it has ever begun. By analogy, a man who incontinently spends 30 per cent more than he earns doesn’t become more austere when that number goes down to 15 per cent. He becomes slightly less irresponsible.

Priti Patel used the promise to make Britain the greatest country on earth as a way of promoting her immigration policy based on the Australian-style points system. Yet this lofty aim can’t quite be achieved merely by asking immigrants what they do for a living.

In fact, this aim can’t be achieved at all because it’s always ephemeral and usually pernicious. Before a country becomes great, it should become good, and the two objectives are at odds as often as not.

Unlike great, good isn’t hard to define. The standards of personal goodness are laid down in Matthew, 5-7, whereas the standards of consistent political goodness have been indelibly written into Britain’s history by her sages and statesmen of the past centuries.

No other country in Europe can make the same claim. France, for example, has had 17 different constitutions since the seventeenth century, while England has had one. A mere 80 years ago Spain was being torn apart by a civil war, and Italy was a fascist dictatorship. And Germany… well, we know about her.

Britain is suffering from existential problems, threatening to enter the nation’s gene pool and become ontological. So instead of shouting empty phrases about greatness, a truly conservative government should try to make the country good again.

It has illustrious partners to co-opt: the sages and statesmen of Britain’s past, those who made her good and therefore, for a while, indeed great. And what do you know: they did so without opening the sluice gates to millions of immigrants, especially cultural aliens.

When foreigners like Holbein, Handel, Freud or for that matter the Duke of Edinburgh wished to settle in Britain, they didn’t have to score a certain number of points to gain entry. They – even Freud – just came and were cordially welcomed.

I doubt this government can make Britain great. However, I do pray it’ll be able to achieve simpler goals: getting out of the EU and defeating Corbyn. That would be good.

P.S. LibDem leader Jo Swinson has promised to fight Brexit tooth and nail even if a second referendum produces the same result. It’s good to see such strong convictions in someone so young, but what strikes me as slightly incongruous is that Miss Swinson’s party is called Liberal Democratic.