Never mind the planet – save our sanity

I ought to have known that, when it comes to our politicians, no rock bottom exists. Even if it did, our governors would somehow find an even lower level to which they could sink.

To wit: not only did a minister of the Crown agree to talk to Greta Thunberg, a mentally unstable Swedish girl fanatically spouting voguish rubbish, but – and I swear I’m not making this up – he actually apologised to her for the Industrial Revolution.

Out of curiosity, how did Greta get from Sweden to London? Must have been a Viking boat, for any other form of transportation leaves a carbon footprint

When young Greta told Michael Gove that Britain had accrued “a mind-blowing carbon debt” over the 200 years following the Industrial Revolution, any responsible adult would have told her to stop talking nonsense, take a quick number one and go to bed.

Instead, our Secretary for the Environment said: “As I listened to you I felt great admiration but also a sense of responsibility and guilt because I recognise I am of your parents’ generation. I recognise we have not done nearly enough to deal with the problem of climate change.”

The previous day Greta, all pig tails and the glistening eyes of a dangerous fanatic, addressed Her Majesty’s Parliament. To give you an idea of the general level of her audience, let me remind you that within that august body Mr Gove is seen as a conservative (!) intellectual (!!!).

Hence it’s no surprise that they allowed the disturbed youngster to lecture them on the facts of natural life, most of which aren’t facts but ignorant rants.

“We just want people to listen to the science,” declared the poor girl, without specifying which particular science people ought to listen to.

The implicit claim is that all scientists support Greta’s extravagant claims as absolutely true and universally valid. However, that simply isn’t the case.

In fact, such claims are mainly supported by scientists who receive climate-change grants from the UN and its affiliated institutions. Those who haven’t been blessed by the laying on of UN hands tend to evaluate the issue of anthropogenic global warming more critically.

Actually, we know that some 80 per cent of climate change, one way or the other, is due to solar activity that has nothing to do with anything man does on ‘our planet’. We also know that the graph of global temperature has had peaks and troughs throughout history.

For example, when Julius Caesar conquered the Tin Islands, grapes grew abundantly in Scotland, which suggests a climate somewhat different from what it is now. Yet I don’t think the Scots overindulged in aerosol sprays and air travel.

Also, non-UN scientists have identified the Medieval Warm Period lasting from about 950 to 1250 AD, when global temperatures were higher than they are now, though the carbon footprint was rather lower.

It’s also true that any serious attempt people have ever made to feed and clothe themselves has resulted in some release of heat. This happens, for example, during extensive agriculture, when the soil is turned over.

So I’d like to take this opportunity and apologise to the unhinged girl for the anonymous inventor of the plough all those centuries ago, who unfortunately doesn’t sit in Parliament and thus can’t apologise for himself.

In general, science should be left to scientists. Let those qualified to study such issues in sufficient depth do so, publish results in arcane journals and then get together at conferences and try to reach a consensus.

However, the problem of climate change (they no longer say ‘global warming’, having found out that science invalidates that term) has been taken out of scientists’ hands. It has been transferred into the sweaty palms of young fire-eating revolutionaries who have to channel their destructive, nihilist impulses into some sort of conduit.

Communism provided one of those for a few decades, but all those photographs of piled corpses and skeletal concentration camp inmates have made it somewhat less productive.

Yet, as the First Law of Thermodynamics tells us, energy doesn’t disappear; it simply transforms into another kind of energy. Thus much of the same animus has been alternately bursting into other channels: anti-nuke today, animal welfare tomorrow, homomarriage the day after, climate change the day after that.

Never mind the cause, feel the energy, seems to be the general rule. The young, whom the Satanist-in-Chief Trotsky called ‘the barometer of the nation’, are ideal agents of upheavals, what with their perfect combination of unformed brains and abundant vitality.

Yet it takes grown-ups to harness vitality and steer it towards the desired ends – and rather few grown-ups at that, provided they are trained in the dark arts of venomous propaganda.

Such chaps are seldom in short supply. That’s why youngsters swelled the ranks of Bolsheviks and Nazis, the Red Guards and Khmer Rouge, the CND and Greenpeace – and now of the Extinction Rebellion.

Greta Thunberg is typical in this sense, if rather tending towards the more precocious end of the range.

According to her, she first became concerned about warm weather when she was nine years old, which points at an unfortunate oversight on her parent’s part. Greta’s father ought to have noticed that his little girl was going off the rails, thrown her over his knee and given her a good spanking.

Then again, such a time-honoured treatment might not have worked because little Greta is clearly deranged. She admits openly that she has been “diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and selective mutism,” which should have put her into psychiatric care long ago.

“I see the world a bit differently, from another perspective…,” she adds. “I can do the same thing for hours.” Yes, quite. Loony bins are full of patients making similar claims.

By the time she reached the ripe old age of 15 the poor girl began to skip school every Friday, camping outside Sweden’s parliament with a hand-written sign saying “School Strike for Climate”.

The idea of ideologised truancy appealed to millions of youngsters worldwide, who avidly followed suit.

I’m not surprised about Greta’s popularity among young idiots worldwide. Madness attracts, and absolute madness attracts absolutely. Deranged fanatics must emit a contagious miasma that has a hypnotic effect on susceptible masses.

Just watch videos of Hitler’s speeches, and you’ll know what I mean. A modern Western man in the throes of shamanistic ecstasy should have immediately attracted men in white coats. Instead Hitler attracted millions of hypnotised dummies bellowing their Heils!!! in unison.

Greta is typologically similar. She too talks in frankly apocalyptic terms: “We probably don’t even have a future any more. That future has been sold so that a small number of people can make unimaginable amounts of money.”

Notice the appeal to envy. It’s osmotic rather than rational because even a youngster, assuming some degree of mental competence, would know that it’s modern science and technology that keep an extremely large number of people in clean water, food, decent quarters and medical treatment.

The same large numbers who before the Industrial Revolution would have died now not only live but have enough leisure time on their hands to listen to crazed prepubescent creatures.

Unsatisfied by the havoc caused in London by the Extinction Rebels she inspired, Greta is now calling for a general climate strike in Britain. It’s not enough that London traffic is at a standstill, now they want to paralyse the whole country in the name of Greta’s lunacy.

And people – MPs! – listen. Not just Gove, but also Berkow, Corbyn, Cable and countless others are falling over themselves to meet Greta, genuflect and kiss her ring.

Having detected a mind and temperament similar to his own, Jeremy Corbyn provided a perfect accompaniment to Greta’s rants: “Young people will be the most affected by climate change – seeing them take charge of their future is inspiring. Labour’s committed to working with young people campaigning to save our planet.”

I bet it is, just like Trotsky and Pol Pot. But I wonder – as Corbyn never does – what he means. For young people to be ‘the most affected by climate change’, the end has to be nigh fairly soon, say in a few decades, which isn’t a claim even most activists make. Jeremy should have said ‘those yet unborn’, which would have been more sound if just as stupid.

My guess is that most Greta admirers among our politicos don’t give a damn about either her or her crusade. What they do care about is staying on the right side of orthodoxy.

One distinguishing feature of modernity is its capacity for effecting overnight metamorphoses. Yesterday’s perversions become today’s norm; yesterday’s villainy, today’s morality; yesterday’s lunacy, today’s orthodoxy.

And each orthodoxy has its figureheads who must be lauded as a signal of virtue. Greta is one such – and she has already been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s official: the world is mad.

Fire burn, cauldron bubble

I wonder about the symbolic significance of the Notre-Dame fire, coming as it did in the sixth month of gilets jaunes riots, and delaying as it did Macron’s coming announcement that the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (Ena) will be closed.

It’s not just what it is. It’s also what it symbolises

But first let’s remind ourselves that, in European history, whatever happens in France doesn’t just happen in France. For France is in many ways the reference country of Western civilisation, one destined to act as a perennial schoolmistress.

The lessons she teaches are both in how to do things and also in how not to do them. At the time Notre-Dame was built, it was the former.

The European genius was then manifested mainly through theology and its lapidary expression in church architecture. That was when France told the world to sit up and listen.

In the twelfth century the scholastic theologian Pierre Abélard shone at the school of Notre-Dame, roughly on the site of the current cathedral. In the next century, as the cathedral was going up, the University of Paris was unquestionably the cultural centre of the world, with Albertus Magnus paving the way for Thomas Aquinas.

And then sublime cathedrals sprouted, like the giant trees of history’s greatest civilisation. Their saplings were then transplanted all over Europe – for example, the same team that built Sens cathedral then moved on to give Canterbury cathedral its current shape.

Fast-forward five centuries, and the lessons France taught Europe became toxic. That egregious misnomer, the Enlightenment, began to inject venom into the West’s veins, of the slow-acting kind that poisons by gradual corruption.

The country itself became a picture of political instability, producing since then 17 different constitutions – to Britain’s one. Only corruption remained stable, with the bogus notion of liberté, egalité, fraternité dripping in drop by drop at an accelerating speed.

Remove Christianity from such desiderata, and they become bacteria spreading the contagion of nihilism. In due course, 80 per cent of the magnificent Romanesque and Gothic churches fell to wanton destruction or scornful neglect; the great University of Paris has become a hatchery of vacuous pseuds, homespun revolutionaries and Third World butchers.

France has now added a new function to her didacticism, that of a mirror into which other European countries can look and see themselves. The mirror is concave and convex, so that not every reflection is perfectly accurate. But all are close enough.

Hence the symbolic significance of the Notre-Dame fire, and the very real significance of the mooted plans for its restoration.

Apparently, the overall stewardship of the project has been entrusted to a five-star general, whom my tennis partner, himself a general, describes as a salaud (bastard). But what matters here isn’t so much the good general’s moral character as the vandalism already planned higher up the chain of command.

Worryingly, Manny Macron has vowed to rebuild Notre-Dame “even more beautifully”. Now neither the French nor anyone else have managed to produce anything even remotely as beautiful as Notre-Dame in the 850 years elapsing since the cathedral was completed.

Hence Manny’s undertaking to improve on the work of medieval architects within five years sounds ominous, especially since he also promised to consider a “contemporary architectural gesture”.

Allow me to translate: what’s being considered is yet another act of vandalism, akin to those decapitated statues on the cathedral’s façade, the work of newly enlightened and liberated savages. Or, for a more up-to-date example, look at the glorious Louvre courtyard disfigured by that awful pyramid, a monument to the hubristic vandalism of modern architects.

The prospect of aesthetic sabotage has even excited Lord Foster, and one would think he has perpetrated enough architectural monstrosities in his 83 years. “The spire is an interesting challenge,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to create something which is of our age.”

Like topping the cathedral with a glass dome? Just guessing. (For whatever little it’s worth, my own preference for the spire is no spire: I never saw what that 19th century structure added to the two magnificent towers.)

The fire also elicited an emotional response from the rioters who’ve been turning Paris and other major cities into hell for some six months now. But their emotions are negative.

“I’m not crying for stones,” said one comely gilet jaune. “I’m crying for people who are poor and hungry and don’t have anywhere to live.”

She and so many others feel that the billion euros pledged for the reconstruction of one of the world’s greatest treasures yanks bread out of the mouths of the hungry. That money, they scream, should be used to ease poverty instead.

Yet none of the billion will come from the state treasury. The money has been pledged by private firms and individuals, who ought to be able to decide how best to dispose of their wealth.

This shows that the riots have little to do with higher taxes on fuel and rubbish disposal. And even Macron’s resignation seems to be only a slogan reflecting a more profound yearning.

The rioters – and millions of their sympathisers – don’t just want a different version of Manny Macron in power, nor for that matter just lower taxes for themselves and punitive taxes for les riches. They ache to implode the whole political and social system.

The chickens hatched by decades of systematic political and cultural corruption have come to roost. Socialist politicians (which is to say politicians) have systematically nurtured for their electoral gain a sense of mass entitlement, inevitably accompanied by envy and pent-up resentment.

Now resentment refuses to stay pent-up – it’s ready to splash out.

At the beginning of his presidency, Manny, who has a good head for numbers if for nothing else, did his sums and calculated that the wealth tax and other anti-business millstones were pulling the economy down to the bottom.

However, when he tried to introduce rather timid reforms aimed at alleviating the problem, he acquired the reputation of a stooge to the rich. The suitably corrupted masses don’t care about improving the economy if that also means greater profits for les riches. (French is actually the only language in which the word ‘boss’, patron, has pejorative connotations.)

They won’t be mollified by arithmetic; the brewing social and cultural revolution can only be stopped by effective counterrevolution. However, the classes that could conceivably provide counterrevolutionary leaders are extinct; they too have been corrupted, if in different ways.

Manny, who has grandiose ideas far above his intellectual station, doesn’t realise that his willingness to consider a vandalising gesture in the reconstruction of Notre-Dame has exactly the same roots as the gilets jaunes’ more visible vandalism in France’s streets.

He himself is a suited and booted specimen of the same species, which he has further proved by his intention to shut down Ena, the finishing school of France’s administrative elite with strict selection criteria.

Even though they are prepared to compromise on the liberté and fraternité, the masses are braying for more égalité, and Manny’s genetic makeup prevents him from resisting in a resolute and principled way.

“If we want to build a society of equal opportunity and national excellence,” goes Manny’s leaked speech that has been delayed by the fire, “we must… change the system of training, selection and career development by suppressing Ena and several other institutions.”

Manny doesn’t realise that ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘national excellence’ are oxymoronic. That’s why he wants to sacrifice France’s grandes écoles at the altar of egalitarianism consecrated by the mob – driving the ablest youths out of French universities and out of the country (a process that’s already under way).

Before we sneer at France’s troubles in the good British tradition, let’s remind ourselves of two literary references: one to John Donne’s bell that also tolls for us, the other to Nikolai Gogol’s character who says: “Who are you laughing at? You’re laughing at yourselves!”

And then of course there’s that Shakespearean cauldron that keeps bubbling – and not just in France.

Trust the Muslims

Muslims have earned the right to be trusted. Perhaps not in everything they say or do, but whenever there are warnings that they might blow something up, we must take such warnings on faith.

Is it still a religion of peace? Mr Bush? Mr Cameron? Mrs May?

Sri Lankan authorities didn’t. The police there were warned about the impending attacks a fortnight in advance, but did nothing.

Now they have 290 reasons to acknowledge the error of their ways: that’s how many people were murdered in synchronised suicide attacks on churches where Christians celebrated Easter, and hotels where visitors, mostly Christians, stayed.

Add to this another 500 reasons, equal to the number of people also injured in the explosions, some of whom will doubtless die, and Sri Lankan police must now realise they were wrong in their lackadaisical treatment of those security tips.

Now their government spokesman has treated us to the earth-shattering revelation that the bombers had links to some unidentified international terrorist organisations. However, those responsible for carrying out the attacks have been tentatively identified, as admittedly a local jihadist group, National Thowheed Jamath.

The nature of the said international organisation wasn’t specified; the word ‘jihadist’ only appeared in the reports many hours after the explosions, and I have yet to see the adjective ‘Muslim’ mentioned anywhere. However, one can make the connection without much effort: after all, one doesn’t hear much of Methodist or Mormon jihadists.

We can make all the connections we wish, but the media won’t help us. The word ‘jihadist’ is nicely limiting, while the word ‘Muslim’ is dangerously broad. Bandy it about too much, and this may shatter the pristine image of the religion of peace we like to cherish in our hearts.

Since our media are committed to the preservation of that peaceful image, they’ll use particular rather than general descriptions: fundamentalists, jihadists, extremists or at a pinch Islamists. Never Muslims – as if the religion had nothing to do with it, the religion, may one add, that has been at war with Christianity ever since the first sabre-waving swarms burst out of the red-hot Arabian deserts 1,400 years ago.

Ask the hacks about such reticence and they’ll tell you that not all Muslims are suicide bombers. Fair enough, they aren’t. If they were, the problem would be solved in one generation, although the cost would be exorbitant.

Moreover, most Muslims aren’t even belligerent fanatics. By the same token, most Germans weren’t Nazis, nor most Russians communists. And even most Nazis and communists didn’t kill or torture anyone personally.

I’m sure that thought provided much consolation to the millions killed by the Nazis, the tens of millions killed by the communists – and some 300 million who have been murdered over the centuries to the accompaniment of deafening shrieks of ‘Allahu akbar!’

At the time when Christians were building the great cathedrals whose architectural genius has never been even remotely approached since, their terminology wasn’t as nuanced as ours. They didn’t care what percentage of Muslims harassed, robbed and killed Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.

They just sold all their possessions, left their families behind and joined the Crusaders’ hosts, to fight and probably die in the Outremer to protect their people. Their definition of ‘their people’ was broad: all who espoused Christianity, regardless of their race, place of birth or native language.

St Bernard helpfully came up with the term exonerating the violence they were about to commit: malicide, the killing of evil. That dovetailed with the earlier doctrine of just war enunciated by St Augustine and developed by St Thomas Aquinas: violence was wrong – unless it prevented a greater wrong.

Nor were the Crusaders involved in actuarial calculations of the percentage of Muslims who actually cut pilgrims’ throats, even though they were doubtless aware that it was relatively small. They just felt physically the pain of their fellow Christians and were prepared to die to prevent that pain or, barring that, avenge it.

One gets the impression that such acute, visceral empathy is no longer widespread in what used to be Christendom. We aren’t going to do battle to save Christians abused and murdered all over the Third World. Why, we aren’t even going to identify their abusers and murderers by their real designation.

We choose to forget that mass murder always has some scriptural justification: that hand wielding a knife, an axe or a pistol may grow limp without it. Bolshevik murderers followed The Communist Manifesto as faithfully as Nazi murderers followed Mein Kampf – and as faithfully as Muslim murderers follow the Koran.

Yet we aren’t bashful about saying ‘Bolsheviks’ or ‘Nazis’. We don’t point out that not all communists were Lubyanka executioners or Kolyma overseers, nor that only some Nazis operated those gas chambers. But we can’t bring ourselves to saying ‘Muslims’.

So let’s be brave and declare openly that those who wish us dead aren’t just fundamentalists, extremists, fanatics or even Islamists. They’re Muslims, and they can be trusted to kill again and again – unless given a compelling reason not to.

Pope Urban II, ring your office.

Easter is no joke

I pride myself on my ability to make people laugh, but usually such an effect is intentional. Yesterday it wasn’t.

“On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures…|

A dozen French people and I were having a beer at my Burgundian tennis club. One of them invited me to play doubles at noon today, which invitation I politely declined, saying I’d be at mass.

Everybody present laughed. They found it risible that a seemingly intelligent man would indulge such a ludicrous superstition. They thought I was joking; I thought they were barbarians – and not just because they were atheists.

For it was Easter Sunday 2,000-odd years ago that changed man and his world for ever.

Hellenic man had always struggled with death, its finality, its cruelty, its nothingness. Death seemed to render life meaningless, deprive it of any sense of purpose.

Life itself had to be regarded as the purpose of life, and the Hellenes, weaned as they were on logic, couldn’t fail to see a self-refuting paradox there.

To be sure, there were all sort of Orphic fantasies about afterlife, but that’s what they were and were seen to be – fantasies.

And then, on this day, 2,000-odd years ago, people weren’t merely told but shown that, just as there is death in life, so there is life in death.

Now they knew there was no such thing as a happy end to life. If it was to be happy, it was not the end.

There had never been such rejoicing, never such an outburst of hope and liberating energy. Imitating God in Christ became more than just man’s moral commitment. The ability to do so had become his ontological property.

Man was no longer a lodger in the world; he had become its eternal owner. He could imitate Christ not only by being good but also by being creative. And create he did.

Thus, on this day 2,000-odd years ago a new civilisation was born, the likes of which the world had never seen, nor ever will see. More important, a new family came into existence.

Universal brotherhood became a reality: all men were brothers not because someone said so, but because they all had the same father.

This unity was a bond far stronger than even the ordinary, what is today called ‘biological’, family. And it certainly betokened a much greater concord than any worldly alliances, blocs, contracts, agreements, political unions – or for that matter nations or races.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” explained St Paul, making every subsequent, secular promise of equality sound puny and vulgar.

It has not always worked out that way. Just like the ancient Hebrews, who were dispersed because they broke God’s covenant, the world pushed aside the lifebelt divinely offered.

It tried to find unity in itself – only to find discord, devastation and the kind of spiritual emptiness for which no material riches can possibly make up.

But the lifebelt was not taken away. It still undulates with the waves, still within reach of anyone ready to grasp it.

This makes today the most joyous day of the year – regardless of whether or not we are Christians, or what kind of Christians.

On this day we can forget our differences and again sense we are all brothers united in the great hope of peace on earth and life everlasting. We can all, irrespective of where we live, rejoice on hearing these words, ringing, thundering in whatever language they are uttered:

Christ is risen!

Le Christ est ressuscité!

Christus ist auferstanden!

Cristo ha resucitado!

Cristo è risorto!

Kristus on üles tõusnud!

Kristus er oppstanden!

Xристос воскрес!

Chrystus zmartwychwstał!

Kristus vstal z mrtvých!

Cristo ressuscitou!

Kristus ir augšāmcēlies!

Christus is verrezen!

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!

Krisztus feltámadt!

Kristus är uppstånden!

Kristus prisikėlė!

Kristus nousi kuolleista!

Hristos a înviat!


The presence of evidence

The absence of evidence isn’t the evidence of absence, say scientists. However fruitful this notion could be when applied to scientific research, it doesn’t quite work in criminal investigation – certainly not in a country ruled by law.

Birds of a feather?

We’re in a discussion forum, and in this arena the evidence presented by Mueller is damning.

That’s why it sounds so strange to my ear when the Mueller report states that Trump can’t be indicted for collusion with Russia. He can’t even be indicted for obstruction of justice, but then neither can he be exonerated.

To this rank legal amateur, the absence of evidence for an indictment in itself means exoneration – as far as criminal proceedings go. But we aren’t in a court of law here, are we?

This, even if we don’t speculate about the contents of the redacted 12 per cent of his report – and ignore Mueller’s frank admission that, though he would have liked to subpoena both Trump and some of his Russian friends, he couldn’t do so. Trump could have fought the subpoena indefinitely, and the Russians involved wisely don’t venture anywhere near the US.

Let’s just deal with known facts. Thus it’s a fact that Russian intelligence services actively interfered in the presidential campaign to get Trump elected.

The interference, which Mueller calls “sweeping and systematic”, involved hacking the e-mails of Trump’s opponents, using thousands of fake accounts to bombard American voters with false messages about Hilary Clinton and offering such information to Trump’s confidants.

Heirs to the KGB don’t offer such assistance just for the hell of it. Putin’s junta clearly felt it stood to benefit from Trump’s election and, when he did get elected, champagne was broken out in the Duma. Russian media, mostly controlled by the state, were openly talking about “Operation Trump”, “Our Trump” and some such.

Yes, no evidence has been found that Trump or his people criminally conspired with the Russians to set those wheels in motion. However, they did happily accept the help.

Throughout the campaign, Trump’s closest associates, such as Donald Trump Jr., regularly met with Russian operatives and retweeted the fake information they provided. Claims that such contacts could have happened without Trump’s authorisation or at least knowledge stretch my credulity to snapping point.

Following a tip from Russian spies, one such aide, Michael Flynn, who later became Trump’s first National Security Advisor, was specifically ordered to recover Clinton’s deleted e-mails. Later he and half a dozen other aides were convicted on a variety of criminal charges, with Russia figuring prominently in most of them.

Fourth, Trump for decades had business contacts with the Russian mafia, which term I use for brevity’s sake to describe the homogeneous fusion of government, security services and organised crime that rules Russia.

According to the testimony of his lawyer Michael Cohen, such contacts didn’t stop during the campaign, which Trump denies. One way or the other, Trump and the mafia got on famously, as he himself often boasted:

“But I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago… I got to meet a lot of people. [Quite. Photographs galore show Trump indulging in public foreplay with any number of Russian gangsters, such as the Agalarovs.] And you know what? They want to be friendly with the United States. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got on with somebody?”

[Such friendliness isn’t very much in evidence now, and wasn’t then. Russian state TV incessantly sputters venom about the US and its allies. Just the other day grateful viewers of Rossiya-1 (sort of like our BBC) were treated to this typical insight: “The Armenian genocide was commissioned by the Jewish Anglo-Saxon mafia.”]

And: “I was over in Moscow two years ago and I will tell you – you can get along with those people and get along with them well.”

And: “We’re going to have a great relationship with Putin and Russia.”

Asked how he felt about the cull of journalists in Russia, Trump replied: “Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he [Putin] killed anybody in terms of reporters.” At least 40 murders ‘in terms of reporters’ had taken place by then, and the victims’ names were all over the US press.

When queried about Putin ordering the Litvinenko murder, Trump said: “In all fairness to Putin – I don’t know. You know, and I’m not saying this because he says, ‘Trump is brilliant and leading everybody’ – the fact is that, you know, he hasn’t been convicted of anything.” [Does Trump think Putin could be tried and convicted in Russia while still in office? If he does, he’s too ignorant about America’s enemies to be president.]

Trump’s tweet on the leaked documents from the Democratic National Convention: “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC emails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”

And then an obvious lie (July, 2016): “I don’t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius. I said, ‘Thank you very much’ to the newspaper, and that was the end of it.”

So far Trump hasn’t uttered a single critical word about Putin. Many such words have been uttered in Congress, which managed to override the president’s vigorous protests to push through several packages of anti-Russian sanctions.

That, however, happened not because of Trump, but in spite of him. So far he has managed to stall the most sweeping sanctions from taking effect. All in all, his obvious pro-Putin stance is deeply immoral, even if it doesn’t violate the letter of the law.

Even now, when Trump has supposedly been exonerated, he hasn’t revised his stance publicly. All one hears from him is triumphalist braggadocio, which again brings into question his fitness for the office.

The Mueller report shows that Putin’s Russia actively subverted US presidential elections. That means Putin tried to subvert the US Constitution, which Trump has taken an oath to defend.

One would think that, as a minimum, a stern rebuke is in order, ideally accompanied by another batch of sanctions. If no such developments occur, it’s possible that Trump displayed clairvoyance when commenting on the announcement of the Mueller inquiry: “Now I’m f***ed!” Which of course doesn’t necessarily mean convicted.

Is Prince Charles a Yank in disguise?

The other day Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, asked Prince Charles what the weather was going to be like this month.

“Som man mai lyke of that I wryte”

HRH responded with alacrity: “Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote the droȝte of March hath perced to the roote and bathed every veyone in swich licour, of which vertu engendered is the flour; when Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth…”

“Are you quite off your rocker?” interrupted the duchess. “What’s that gibberish you’re spouting?”

“What’s the matter, wench?” said HRH. “Don’t thou understand Middle English, thou modern ignoramus?”

This dialogue is imaginary, but it’s plausible. For, as we’ve found out, Prince Charles favours fifteenth-century usage over Johnny-come-lately modern English. Or at least that’s what his staff claimed to ward off accusations of HRH’s crypto-Americanism.

The accusations surfaced in response to the letter of condolences HRH wrote to Manny Macron, in which he spelled words like ‘realise’, ‘agonising’ and ‘civilisation’ with the American ‘z’, rather than the British ‘s’.

Everybody is too quick to criticise [sic] the royal family, but this time the criticism was ill-founded, according to HRH’s staff and the experts drawn in to provide support. Don’t you know that the -ize suffix comes from Old Greek, which Prince Charles speaks with the fluency of an agora orator?

Moreover, the prince is so engrossed in England’s glorious past that he routinely prefers Middle English usages. So don’t be a royal pain.  

The conservative in me rejoices. For, betwixt you and me, now that our monarchy has been divested of executive power, its main function is to provide a sturdy axis around which England’s past, present and future revolve in unity.

Alas, so far HRH has manifested his commendable linguistic conservatism only in choosing -ize for -ise. And, even though his amanuenses claim this usage is “correct”, it isn’t. It was correct in the fifteenth century; in the twenty-first, it’s American.

It’s just that the first Anglophone settlers had arrived in America before the shift from -ize to -ise and other evolutionary changes occurred in the mother country. Hence some American usage and much of American pronunciation come from the time between Chaucer and Shakespeare, not between Kingsley and Martin Amis.

I doff my hat, or would do if I wore one, to any manifestation of conservatism, no matter how eccentric. It’s important, however, not to overstep the line separating conservative from obscurantist.

For sometimes it’s good for even reactionaries like HRH and me to make concessions to newfangled locutions, or as HRH would doubtless put it, “forthi good is that we also in oure tyme among ous hiere do wryte of newe som matiere”.

That way educated people earn the right to put a stamp of approval on some usages, while denying it to others. True conservatives resist only unnecessary and subversive – not any – change.

(Speaking of education, the only exam I ever had to re-sit at university was History of the English Language. I got hopelessly confused by the Great Vowel Shift, which the examiner pointed out with scorn.)

At this point, the conservative in me steps aside, and the cynic takes over. For I don’t really believe either in HRH’s affection for Middle English nor, if truth be told, in the depth of his classical education.

Assuming it was he, rather than his speechwriters, who wrote the letter in question, its orthography is more likely to reflect HRH’s urgent desire to come across as modern and upbeat, not at all lah-di-dah.

Since America is the reference country of modernity, the use of Americanisms is supposed to deflect any suspicion of upper-class snobbery. However, affection for Americanisms transcends class barriers.

Thus the word ‘kid’ has all but replaced ‘child’, for all my protestations that, in order to produce a kid, one has to have sex with a goat. Even then success is far from guaranteed – after all, all those Welsh shepherds have so far failed to sire a lamb, haven’t they?

Contrary to what many Americans, and now some of their British imitators, seem to think, ‘momentarily’ means ‘for a moment’, not ‘in a moment’.

‘Guy’ is a poor substitute for ‘chap’ or, if you will, ‘bloke’. ‘A penny for the Guy’ is the only acceptable use of that word in Britain, and then only on a single night in a year.

Contrary to so many speakers, ‘amount’ is used only in reference to uncountable nouns, such as ‘beer’, while ‘number’ is the proper way to refer to countable nouns, such as ‘pints – although, if my former colleagues are anything to go by, pints can be uncountable too.

And so forth, ad infinitum. This isn’t to say that all popular solecisms come to us from the US. The British themselves are perfectly competent at mangling their own language. They are, however, so good at it that they don’t need outside help, thank you very much.

Actually, if I wanted to find fault with the prince’s letter, I’d concentrate on other parts of it. For example, he addresses Manny Macron in French as Cher Monsieur le Président and signs off as Très cordialement à vous.

Everything in between is in English, which brings to mind Mark Twain’s brilliant travel book The Innocents Abroad that chronicles the first voyage taken by American tourists to Europe.

One of the ‘innocents’ was dismayed not to find any soap in his French hotel room, which feeling he expressed in a letter to the owner (I’m quoting from memory): “Monsieur le proprietor, Sir: Pourquoi n’avez vous pas du savon in your establishment? Est-que vous pensez that I’m going to steal it?…”.

That innocent traveller (who also thought that the French for it was travailleur) didn’t know better, but perhaps HRH should have done. It’s best to avoid an epistolary Babel and write either in French or in English, but not in a mixture of the two.

All in all, HRH’s speechwriting staff seems in need of freshening up, so that it myhte not in such a wyse expose the prince to mockery. I’m not volunteering my services; however, I did fail an exam in Middle English, and if that isn’t a proper qualification, I don’t know what is.

What if it wasn’t an accident?

The Notre-Dame fire was still raging when the French police already knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was an accident.

What does it have in common with Notre-Dame?

One must congratulate French detectives on their speed of action. They broke the previous record in institutional arson investigation that had stood for 86 years.

For it was on 27 February, 1933, when the Nazis’ hold on power was still tenuous, that the Reichstag building caught fire. The Nazis immediately declared that the communists were responsible, but their ‘immediately’ was nowhere near as immediate as the French record-breaking swiftness the other day.

Hitler’s men only pinned the blame on Georgi Dimitrov (head of Comintern espionage in Europe) and his henchmen hours after the fire had been put out. Obviously, the methodical Teutonic mind can’t move as fast as the impetuous Gallic one.

But once the Nazis settled on the culprits, they broadcast their findings to the world. They then used the publicity to suspend civil liberties and outlaw the Communist party, along with all other opposition.

All senior communists were thrown into Dachau and Buchenwald, and most of them perished there. The smaller fry were lucky enough to escape to the Soviet Shangri-La. They were then thrown into rather colder concentration camps, where most of them also perished.

The Nazis had a vested interest in publicising their, possibly bogus, findings at a hysterical volume. The word ‘accident’ was never mentioned, and wouldn’t have been even if it had described the incident accurately.

My contention is that the French authorities also had a vested interest in publicising their, possibly bogus, findings. The word ‘arson’ was never mentioned, and wouldn’t have been even if it had described the incident accurately.

There exists a whole genre of history called ‘What if…?’ What if somebody had assassinated Lenin in 1917 or Hitler in 1933? What if Japan had attacked the Soviet Union from the east just as the Germans were closing in on Moscow? What if France and Britain had invaded Germany in 1936, after the remilitarisation of the Rhineland?

Opportunities for speculation are endless, and it’s not always futile speculation. Analysing the unrealised possibilities of the past may help assess not only the situations of yesteryear, but also the lie of the land at present and in the immediate future. The ‘What if…?’ genre is legitimate, and, if used judiciously, it can be enlightening.

Now, I’m not invoking some freshly baked conspiracy theory. I possess no evidence that the Notre-Dame tragedy was caused by arson, and I do think the accident version of events is perfectly plausible. After all, it’s during restoration that ancient structures are at their most vulnerable.

Or not so ancient, come to think of it. Some 25 years ago, restoration was done on the building I live in, and it was built as late as 1898. One of the chaps working on the outside of my flat left his acetylene torch on and went off to exercise the inalienable right of the English worker to have a tea break. As a result, my bedroom, along with most of my clothes, was badly burned, and I smelled like a barbecue pit for a week thereafter (much to my colleagues’ hilarity).

So yes, the Notre-Dame fire could have been, probably was, an accident. But what if it wasn’t?

What if the police had taken longer than an hour or two to conduct their investigation? What if they had found out it was a case of arson? What if subsequent investigation had discovered that the fire was set – and I know my imagination is running away with me – by a group of Muslim zealots led by Mohammed Somebody-Or-Other?

Would they then have arrested the group and publicised their investigative breakthrough? Of course not. The Gallic mind may be impetuous, but it’s not as impetuous as that. The authorities wouldn’t have wanted to cause an outburst of public indignation.  

For the French tend not to internalise their rage. If it were revealed that Muslims tried to destroy France’s greatest cathedral, the rage would spill out into the streets. Can you imagine the ensuing mayhem, considering that a routine rise in diesel taxes could cause months of rioting?

Suddenly if temporarily, all those who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic would turn into Catholic crusaders. The spirit of St Bernard of Clairvaux and Louis VII would flare up in their hearts, and woe betide any Muslim they could lay their hands on.

At the very least, there would be mass disturbances complete with the usual French delights, such as barricades, cobbles and torches. What’s even worse from the standpoint of Manny’s government is that anti-Muslim parties, such as Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, would milk the situation for all it was worth.

Manny would joyously have every French cathedral blown up if that could extend his stay in the presidential palace. So what’s a little subterfuge among friends? An innocent ruse de guerre, that’s all.

Such speculations don’t have to come true to be awful. It’s bad enough that they are plausible.

P.S. And speaking of blowing up cathedrals, the past master of that art, Stalin, is regaining his erstwhile prominence in Russia. In a recent Levada Centre poll, 70 per cent of the respondents believe that the butcher in the Kremlin played a positive role, versus only 19 per cent who assess his role as negative. In 2008 these numbers were 39 and 38 per cent respectively.

Our abused Lady of Paris

I first saw Notre-Dame in 1979, and it was the first Gothic cathedral I had ever seen.

The spire is no more, and much of the roof is gone. But Our Lady still stands

Houston, where I lived then, wasn’t known for Gothic architecture. Moscow had only one, quite ugly, late-Gothic church, and even that had been converted to a recording studio. And my interest in Our Lady was at the time purely academic, which is to say tepid at best.

It so happened that in the evening of the same day the magnificent German organist Karl Richter was playing Bach at Notre-Dame, and my interest in both Bach and Richter (whose harpsichord performances I had heard at Moscow Conservatory) was closer to febrile than tepid.

There I sat for three hours, listening to music by the greatest composer played by the greatest organist in the greatest cathedral. That was as close to ecstasy as I had ever come – the combination shook me up, and at first I thought the effect was purely aesthetic. Yet the next day I realised it wasn’t that, at least not just that.

I’ve never had just one mystical, Damascene event that would open my eyes on the spot. Rather my road to Christianity was long and meandering, and it was cumulatively signposted by many experiences. But if I had to single out the most powerful one, that was it.

Since then I’ve visited most of the great cathedrals of Christendom, and a few of them are probably as glorious as Notre-Dame, some perhaps even more so. But none has come close to usurping the special place Notre-Dame claimed in my life.

How many others could tell similar stories? Thousands? Definitely. Millions? Probably. Tens of millions? Possibly.

For Notre-Dame, Our Lady of Paris, has stood, nay towered, for 850 years. It took a hundred years to build, from the mid-twelfth to the mid-thirteenth centuries.

As with all great cathedrals built at the time, some of the funding came from the Church, some from wealthy patrons – and much of it from private worshippers, many of them impoverished, who each donated what he could, if only a small brass coin or two. Most of them weren’t interested in French Gothic architecture. All of them adored Our Lady.

The Lady suffered through the ages, and how she suffered. Modernity was adumbrated by the Huguenots who expressed their urgent need to obliterate – sorry, I mean to reform –  Christianity by destroying and vandalising its ancient shrines. Notre-Dame was bruised and vandalised, but it wasn’t destroyed. Our Lady still stood.

In 1793, when modernity was in full swing, and cannibalistic revolutionaries were murdering thousands of people and devastating hundreds of churches, Notre-Dame was rededicated to the Cult of Reason and then to the Cult of the Supreme Being.

Intoxicated by their love of reason, the ghouls caused untold damage to Notre-Dame. Many of its treasures were vandalised or stolen. The 28 statues of biblical kings were mistaken by those champions of reason for French kings and summarily destroyed. As were all the big statues on the main façade, except that of the Virgin herself.

Those reasonable ghouls took their revenge on Our Lady by replacing her on several altars with the Goddess of Liberty, and then – as a taste of things to come in the Soviet Union – converting the cathedral to a warehouse.

All in all, some 80 per cent of Romanesque and Gothic churches perished during the revolution and the first post-revolution century. But Our Lady still stood.

The twentieth century, specifically in France, saw no pressing need to raze Notre-Dame: it was enough to vulgarise it, to abuse the cathedral’s sacred meaning. Ushering in their much-vaunted laïcité, the French government turned all churches, including Notre-Dame, into its possessions.

But not into their cherished possessions. Starved of funding and bereft of parishioners, hundreds of churches (including some in my neck of the bois) have gone to wrack and ruin.

Notre-Dame too has had its share of neglect. The Republic, in its munificence, has granted the monopoly of religious worship in the cathedral to the archdiocese. What it has never granted beyond a derisory level is funding.

And it takes money to maintain the ancient structure through the centuries. Visitors bring in some income, as do the few remaining communicants. But the government wouldn’t loosen its purse strings. Money is needed for more important things, like importing millions of immigrants, financing the catastrophic unemployment rate and saving ‘the planet’.

Let’s also not forget blowing countless millions on silly projects that seduce large wads of voters. And, in a country where 92 per cent of the population describe themselves as atheist or agnostic (one day someone will explain to me the valid difference between the two), the Catholic vote is trivial – certainly as compared to, say, the Muslim vote.

The archdiocese has managed to keep Our Lady upright thanks to its tireless fundraising all over the world, mostly in the US. But centuries of neglect have taken their toll.

Before now Notre-Dame has had only one major restoration, in the mid-nineteenth century. It was inspired by the popularity of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame – not by a sudden religious revelation. (I could never understand what made Hugo so popular, but then there’s no accounting for French tastes.)

Since then nothing, apart from sandblasting the grime off the blackened cathedral and restoring its limestone to its original colour. Still, black or beige, Our Lady stood.

But she tottered. She never had systematic loving care, which she deserves for both her spiritual meaning and her physical beauty. And when a major restoration project finally came, no thanks to the government, she was too frail to withstand it.

I don’t know what caused yesterday’s inferno – I don’t think anyone knows yet. But even assuming that no anti-Christian Herostrates set the cathedral on fire, neglect alone could have made the disaster possible, nay likely. Our Lady still stands, but only just.

Now Manny Macron and Anne Hidalgo, the socialist mayor of Paris, are shedding crocodile tears. They promise to spare no expense to rebuild the cathedral, having given none to protect it. Rebuild as what, one wonders.

A mosque? Another KGB centre, like the smaller one close to the Eiffel Tower? A warehouse, for old times’ sake? Or will Notre-Dame still be allowed to attract millions of Nikon-snapping tourists from all over the world?

Our Lady has stood for 850 years, come what may. Those who know how should pray that she will continue to stand in eternity, warding off all ill-wishers. Prayer is all that seems to be left.

Save our planet and win a valuable prize

“Fancy a torch-lit walk around Stonehenge? Fine, but first you’ll have to walk there from London.”

London isn’t quite burning, but it’s paralysed. Up to 30,000 Extinction Rebellion cretins are blocking major routes because they want the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025.

Essentially, these present-day Luddites want to revert to the ecologically pure world before the Industrial Revolution, when energy was solely produced by water, wind and muscle.

One suspects they’d still wish to keep certain benefits of industrialisation, such as, to mention a few, electric lights, painless surgery, computers, mobile phones and modern medicines, none of which would be possible to deliver without offending ‘our planet’, and the cretins’ delicate sensibilities, with carbon emissions.

They want to destroy scientific and technological progress, which is the only kind that modernity can boast. We’ve created a moral, social, intellectual and aesthetic hell, but at least we’re comfortable living in it. Now the cretins want to take even that away from us.

The former Archdruid of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams thinks bringing London to a standstill is a small price to pay if we really want to atone for our sins. I’m sorry to be quoting at length, but every word in the archdruid’s homily is pure gold (of the fool’s variety):

“We have declared war on our nature when we declare war on the natural world. We are at war with ourselves when we are at war with our neighbour, whether that neighbour is human or non-human.

“We are here tonight to declare that we do not wish to be at war. We wish to make peace with ourselves by making peace with our neighbour earth and with our God [or gods, as the case may be with druids].

“We confess that we have polluted our own atmosphere, causing global warming and climate change that have increased poverty in many parts of our planet. We have contributed to crises and been more concerned with getting gold than keeping our planet green. We have loved progress more than the planet. We are sorry.”

How this man acquired a high ecclesiastical office, not to mention a reputation for a towering intellect, is beyond me. But then modernity in general is beyond me.

One sine qua non characteristic of a sound, never mind towering, intellect is an ability to correlate one’s conclusions with the available evidence, sifting the latter to separate fact from interpretation and interpretation from speculation.

When it comes to anthropogenic global warming, never in history has so much mischief been caused by so many on so little evidence. (The archdruid says “global warming and climate change”, which to anyone who understands English should mean that climate change is distinct from global warming and thus may well include global cooling. But then this gigantic intellect is incapable of using language precisely.)

The only scientific discovery made not by scientists but by the UN, anthropogenic global warming doesn’t stand up to serious investigation, of the kind that involves comparative data gathered over millennia. In the very least, some doubt should persist, which would mitigate stridency.

But even supposing for the sake of argument that some warm weather has been caused by energy production, I’d say we should take the rough with the smooth.

Do we really want to go back to the times when most babies failed to reach their first birthday, when epidemics and famines killed more people than wars ever did, when every visit to a dentist or a surgeon involved excruciating agony that many didn’t survive, when a journey of 100 miles took a week, when… well, you don’t need me to explain what scientific and technological progress has done for us.

Let’s just say that, if the 10 million Londoners replaced every car with a horse, the resulting pollution would be a lot worse and much more malodorous.  

It’s an outrageous, idiotic lie to say that science and technology increase poverty. The good archdruid should check his facts before mouthing off. In his own lifetime, people in under-industrialised China and India used to starve to death in their millions.

Now they don’t, and anyone whose Christianity isn’t sullied with pagan admixtures should thank God for those polluting mines, wells and factories – and by the way it’s not Britain and other Western countries, but third-world powers that contribute most of the carbon emissions.

But the Extinction cretins, including clergymen who ought to know better, don’t realise, or refuse to acknowledge, that ‘our planet’ was created to serve man, not the other way around. If that concept is too difficult for them, then they should at least consider the polluting effect of gridlocking London traffic – and the possible cost to life incurred by crawling or stationary ambulances and fire engines.

I suggest that the police treat this madness as ecoterrorism and deal with it the same way they would deal with any other form of terrorism. Things like tear gas and water cannon would come in handy, and if our cops are too squeamish to use such expedients, they could have France’s CRS seconded to London.

The Christian in me balks at suggesting the use of live ammunition, but, as far as fantasies go, this one isn’t without a certain aesthetic appeal.

Social justice is injustice

Let’s hear it for social justice (personally, I’d rather not)

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan-Smith’s interview proves that he tends to say the right things, if not necessarily ground-breaking ones.

As I was ticking my imaginary boxes, he said that a Corbyn government would destroy Britain [tick], that the Labour lead in the polls is a temporary blip caused by Tory ineptitude over Brexit [tick, a hopeful one], that under no circumstances should the Tories contest the EU elections [tick], that Theresa May should go [tick, a big fat one], that Tories must deliver Brexit in one form or another [tick, a qualified one], that marginal pro-Leave parties may siphon off enough votes from the Tories to let Corbyn in [tick].

And then, as my mental pen was running out of ink, he used a term that has the same effect on me that the word ‘culture’ reputedly had on Dr Goebbels: social justice, something to which the Tories are devoted, and no one should forget that.

One would hope that a major politician would know how to use words in their real, as opposed to bogus, meaning. Alas, that hope is guaranteed to be forlorn.

Political words are these days never used in their true meaning – unless you think that ‘liberal’ really means increasing the power of the individual vis-à-vis the state; ‘conservative’ has anything to do with the Conservative Party; or Labour are indeed out to protect the rights of the working man.

Political vocabulary resides in the virtual world. In the actual world, justice means getting one’s due, what one deserves – as often distinct from what one desires.

Thus, though I’d like to be half a foot taller, I don’t think it’s unjust that I am not: I’ve done nothing to deserve the extra six inches. Conversely, I’d like to have a billion pounds, but I’m sure it’s just that I haven’t: I’ve never pursued money with sufficient dedication.

Justice is also another word for the law, which too is supposed to ensure that each individual gets what he deserves, conviction or acquittal, punishment or mercy. So far, so clear.

But what does ‘social justice’ mean, especially when uttered by a government official? This is yet another instance when a term is used in the exact opposite of its real meaning. For in this context ‘social justice’ means ‘social injustice’: people getting what they desire but don’t deserve.

This isn’t an argument against the welfare state – not because such an argument wouldn’t be valid, but because in this context it’s irrelevant. It’s language that concerns me now.

Forcible redistribution of wealth by the state (which is what its servants mean by social justice) may be right or wrong, merciful or corrupting, useful or useless, productive or counterproductive.

One thing it can’t be under any circumstances is just: those whose wealth is redistributed do nothing to deserve expropriation; many of those towards whom the wealth is redistributed do nothing to deserve such largesse.

In fact, if true social justice operated in Britain, millions of welfare recipients who now live in decent lodgings, eat three squares a day and have enough left over for a few pints, tattoos and a pair of designer trainers would be starving in the street.

By reaffirming his party’s commitment to social justice, Mr Duncan Smith in fact re-establishes its socialist credentials – as if we needed a reminder. Again, I’m not arguing pro or con. I’m simply upset about the gross lexical solecism.

P.S. So upset do I get about such matters that at times it’s best to forget about them and focus on the beauty of nature instead.

Driving through the gently undulating countryside of rural France the other day, I was happy to see violently lurid yellow patches breaking up the soporific monotony of green fields. As if by itself, drifting in from the crisp, scented air, a question floated into my mind: Is it rape or rape that’s in season?