Happy, another word for dull

How can they stand so much happiness?

This is just one man’s experience, but I’ve never met an interesting happy person, at least no one I can recall.

I’ve met quite a few unhappy interesting people, and probably thousands of happy dullards. Though one has to be sceptical about taking the numerical path to truth, this sheer arithmetic disparity does point to some kind of causative relationship.

Happiness and the pursuit thereof only moved to the forefront of human aspirations in the midst of those two greatest misnomers in history: the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.

Enshrined in the founding document of modernity, the Declaration of Independence, happiness became something to pursue before anything else, such as virtue or truth.

Fair enough, those outdated pursuits seemed to be less conducive to happiness than to violent death, as shown by an even cursory glance at hagiography.

Saints accepted martyrdom not because they were after happiness, but because they were after salvation. Eudaemonic was seen as a near synonym of demonic.

Moving down from that lofty plain, Aristotle explained why truth seekers court a lifetime of misery: “The more you know,” said the Greek, who possessed one of the greatest minds in history, “the more you know you don’t know”.

Aristotle knew exactly what he was talking about. For truth is like a silk thread, shiny and slippery.

One catches the very end, and even that ability is given to very few, but as one tries to pull it in the end slips away. One grabs it again and this time manages to secure the end and perhaps another foot or so.

This is an incessant exertion; it would make Hercules look indolent in the stables. And there isn’t just one thread, but many.

They all lead towards the same point, but they wiggle on the ground, and as you catch one end, you lose another. The only way to succeed is never to stop. The moment one stops, the shiny strands will wiggle away, and one will never see them again, will never be able to weave them together into truth.

No one can be made happy by rubbing his mind to oozing blood by crawling on the flinty ground every minute of his life, knowing in advance that the closer one gets to the destination, the further away it really is.

Misery is bound to follow, but it’s the kind of sweet misery that a thinker wouldn’t replace with happiness for all the cheap clothes in China.

Yet with the advent of those two misnomers I mentioned earlier, truth no longer mattered, not vitally at any rate. The success of one’s life got to be judged on mostly philistine criteria, of which happiness, typically defined in economic terms, was foremost.

Unlike a truth-seeker, a pursuer of happiness doesn’t know how little he knows, which is why he’s convinced he knows everything there is. Today’s happy chappy is a Mr Know-Sod-All who thinks he’s a Mr Know-All.

Such a person can be all sorts of good things: nice, kind, sympathetic, clever even. One thing he absolutely can’t be under any circumstances is interesting. Someone who pursues happiness, and especially someone who has found it, is as dull as ditch water – and a rather shallow ditch at that.

In that context it’s interesting to see whether this observation holds true if extrapolated from individuals to countries. Here the current league tables come in handy.

According to them, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland are the happiest countries in the world, while both the UK and the US languish in mid-table. Now I don’t mean to insult those countries, nor especially the lovely, hard-working people who inhabit them, but…

Let’s just say that someone out to have an interesting life is unlikely to name any of those countries as his first choice of residence. I mean, Palermo or Madrid may be full of miserable gits, but wouldn’t you rather live there than in, say, Stockholm?

(However, looking at all those gorgeous blonde Valkyries roaming Stockholm, one may pause to ponder that choice – while wondering what they add to school milk there.)

Now what makes those people so happy? They do earn a lot of money (even if much of it is taken away in taxes), live long lives and have vast welfare states. Is that it? Possibly – likely even, considering modernity’s gravitational pull towards philistine bliss.

But, if we accept the direct, causative relationship between dullness and happiness… no, surely we mustn’t. We shouldn’t discount all those giants of culture and scholarship produced by Scandinavian countries in the past fifty years – I’m sure you’ll have no problem naming scores of them.

Those of us who can’t do that quite so easily remark that at least in the past Sweden and other Scandinavian countries had the world’s highest suicide rates, hinting at some hidden emotional depths.

Yet even that is no longer the case: six of the top ten suicide rates are boasted by countries of the former Soviet Union, with Russia herself in the silver medal position. Sweden, on the other hand, is in 68th place – how dull can they get?

Here’s a thought, and I wouldn’t be able to support it factually. But is it possible that Scandinavians have encouraged millions of exotic migrants to settle there specifically because they seek relief from their happy, humdrum routine?

I’d love to go to, say, Malmö and research this proposition, but, if half the things one reads about the crime rate caused by the migrants are true, I may not get out of there alive. Perhaps, dullness does have something going for it after all.

God save us from intellectuals

Intellectuals’ first entry into history

‘Intellectual’ is a word I hate, if only because it seems to have so many meanings as to mean nothing tangible, at least nothing good.

Most people popularly known as intellectuals are in fact bien pensant pseuds, trying to add an aura of sophistication to New Age fads that wouldn’t stand up to even a modicum of genuine intellectual inquiry.

People who use intellectual tools to search for truth are better described as thinkers, sages, philosophers or, if you will, theologians. Intellectuals, on the other hand, use their mediocre minds for the nefarious purpose of either obscuring truth or, more common, subverting it.

Britain has had her fair share of thinkers, sages, philosophers and theologians – which is why the British are rightly suspicious of intellectuals. The fallout from this may at times be excessive empiricism and suspicion of intellect, but this is the rough that comes with the smooth.

In any case, the metaphorical fees for joining the club of thinkers taken seriously are set at a higher level in Britain than on the continent, which enrages intellectuals who can’t come up with the requisite wherewithal.

Youthful James Marriott, the rancid flavour of the month at The Times, makes this very point, albeit unwittingly. He has a boundless respect for intellectuals and an obvious ambition to be seen as one.

“I reckon the French could teach us a thing or two here,” he writes with the national self-laceration that’s de rigueur for intellectuals.

“Slimani and Houellebecq are both provocateurs and intellectuals. They are serious thinkers who needle away at the moral values that underpin society with uncomfortable but important questions.”

Someone who regards Slimani and Houellebecq as serious thinkers simply has no concept of either seriousness or thinking. Nor do those writers provoke, although that’s their manifest aim.

I wrote about Houllebecq’s gynaecological prose the other day, citing such passages as “He laid his head on her thigh and began to stroke her clitoris. Her labia minora began to swell… He fingered her clitoris faster as his tongue lapped her labia eagerly.”

Slimani likes to tickle the same bits: “Adèle has been good, she wants to be devoured, sucked, swallowed whole.” Amazing what passes for goodness in some circles.

Anyway, Adèle also wanted other things, specifically to have her vagina smashed, leaving it “just a shard of broken glass now, a maze of ridges and fissures”. Well, de gustibus… and all that.

“The moral conundrums posed in the books of writers such as Slimani and Houellebecq demand serious engagement,” insists Marriott. “They are not as easily batted away as trolls and memes.” Mainly because one wouldn’t want to soil one’s bat, I’d suggest.

Only a pimply youngster can be provoked by such prose, but then, judging by his photograph, that’s what Marriott is. Grown-ups, especially those uncorrupted by intellectuals, will wince and dismiss such efforts as pornography – made even more pornographic by the accompanying pretentious passages of pseudo depth.

“In Britain,” laments Marriott, “we have exiled our intellectuals from public life.” A good job too, on cited evidence.

Marriott is palpably and, considering his apparent age, oddly nostalgic about the 1978 TV series Men of Ideas, “which consisted of 15 hour-long interviews with philosophers such as Isaiah Berlin, Noam Chomsky and AJ Ayer. We deplore the sexism of that show now (what about all the women of ideas?) but I miss its adventurous intellectual spirit.”

Using non-words to describe non-thoughts is of course the intellectuals’ stock in trade. Hence Marriott’s ruing “the sexism of that show”. The implication is that swarms of serious female thinkers were kept at arm’s length by male bias, now mercifully expunged.

But I can answer his parenthetical question. Alive and active at the time was the great philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, who had in every page more profound thoughts than the three gentlemen mentioned had in their total output combined.

Anscombe, however, was kept out not because she was a woman but because her thought was informed by Aristotle, Aquinas and Wittgenstein – not by Hume, Marx and Freud. She wasn’t an intellectual, in other words, and hence couldn’t be redeemed even by her sex.

“We are blessed to have Rowan Williams in public life,” continues Marriott, wishing there would be more room for the likes of the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

If such room were provided, there would be more intellectuals capable of writing sentences like this:

“In a church that accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous biblical texts, or on a problematic and nonscriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures.”

That’s intellectualism par excellence, both in style and substance (if you can figure out what it is, that is), and it’s exemplified by the man who, though already the Archbishop of Canterbury, adopted the name of Aneuri when he became a druid. The moniker was chosen partly in honour of Aneurin Bevan, rank communist and Dr Williams’s idol.

The word ‘intellectual’ does have many meanings, but by now we ought to be able to identify the key characteristics that are essential to the definition, as understood by trendy pseuds.

Atheism for preference, although pagan mysticism is allowed. Nihilism. Hatred of Britain. Absence of taste. Inability to think properly and deeply. Contempt for tradition. Unfounded intellectual and cultural pretensions. Leftie politics. Earnest commitment to every fad, the more subversive the better. Deracinated anomie.

Also, by the sound of it, certainty that any French pornographer is a serious writer and Noam Chomsky is a philosopher. And, ideally, being perceived by our newspapers as someone qualified to write on such subjects.

No wife beating today

Here’s a little something for you, love, and no, you don’t have to duck

What’s so special about today, I hear you ask. Well, look at the calendar, check the date, and then you’ll know.

For today is 8 March, the official No Wife Beating Day in Russia, which for no persuasive reason we too have begun to celebrate.

First we had Mothering Sunday, a religious holiday Western Christians celebrate on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Yet, as progress advanced, our delicate sensibilities could no longer accommodate any Christian festivals other than Christmas Shopping (just 292 days left, I’ll have you know).

Hence, under the cool influence of the US, Mothering Sunday was largely replaced by Mother’s Day, a holiday with no religious overtones whatsoever.

Now that secular but otherwise unobjectionable holiday has been supplemented by International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated by all progressive mankind on 8 March. Our delicate sensibilities aren’t offended at all.

Actually, though the portion of mankind that celebrates 8 March calls itself progressive, it isn’t really entitled to this modifier – unless one accepts a propensity for murdering millions as an essential aspect of progress.

For 8 March is a communist event, declared a national holiday by the Bolsheviks in 1917, immediately after they seized power and started killing people on a scale never before seen in history. A few wires were expertly pulled after the war, and IWD also got enshrined in Soviet satellites.

Outside the Soviet bloc, 8 March went uncelebrated, unrecognised and, until recently, unknown. I remember back in 1974, when I worked at NASA, visiting Soviet astronauts made a big show of wishing female American employees a happy 8 March, eliciting only the stock Texan response of “Say what?”

The event was big in the Soviet Union, with millions of men giving millions of women bunches of mimosa, boxes of chocolates, bottles of scent – and, more important, refraining from giving them a black eye, a practice rather more widespread in Russia than in the West.

But not on 8 March. That was the day when men scoured their conscience clean by being effusively lovey-dovey – so that they could resume abusing women the very next day.

For Russia was then, and still remains, out of reach for fashionable ideas about women’s equality or indeed humanity. As the Russian proverb goes, “A chicken isn’t a bird, a wench isn’t a person.”

Much as one may be derisory about feminism, it’s hard to justify the antediluvian abuse, often physical, that’s par for the course in Russia, especially outside central Moscow or Petersburg. Proponents of the plus ça change view of history would be well-advised to read Dostoyevsky on this subject.

In A Writer’s Diary Dostoyevsky describes in terrifying detail the characteristic savagery of a peasant taking a belt or a stick to his trussed-up wife, lashing at her, ignoring her pleas for mercy until, pounded into a bloody pulp, she stops pleading or indeed moving. However, according to the patriotic writer, this in no way contradicted the brute’s inner spirituality, so superior to Western materialistic legalism.

(A senior Russian official recently put that artistic insight on a scientific footing by explaining that the Russians possess an extra gene of spirituality.)

The Russian village still has the same roads (typically none) as at the time that was written, and the same way of treating womenfolk – but not on 8 March. On that day the Soviets were house-trained to express their solidarity with the oppressed women of the world, or rather specifically of the capitalist world.

As a conservative, I have my cockles warmed by the traditionalist way in which the Russians lovingly maintain Soviet traditions, including the odd bit of murder by the state, albeit so far on a smaller scale. Why we have adopted some of them, at a time when communism has supposedly collapsed, is rather harder to explain.

But why stop here? Many Britons, especially those of the Labour persuasion, already celebrate May Day, with red flags flying to symbolise the workers’ blood spilled by ghastly capitalists. Why not spread the festivities more widely?

The Russians also celebrate 7 November, on which day in 1917 the Bolsheviks introduced social justice expressed in mass murder and universal slavery.

I say we’ve been ignoring this glorious event far too long, even though it’s now coyly called Reconciliation and Agreement Day. And neither do we celebrate Red Army Day on 23 February – another shameful omission.

But at least we seem to be warming up to 8 March, an important communist event. At least we’re moving in the right direction.

In case you plan to accelerate down that road, here are some unmissable dates for your calendar. Lenin was born on 22 April, Stalin on 18 December, the Soviet Union was formed on 30 December.

And today, on 8 March, Penelope has nothing to fear from me.

Do the Bahamas need a new governor?

Has Wallis come back as Meghan?

Back in the old days, the mother of our Queen knew how to handle royals who brought the monarchy into disrepute.

She twisted the government’s arm into packing the Duke of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII) off to France and, after the war started, to the sinecure post of governor of the Bahamas.

The Duke thus lost three things because of his twice-divorced American wife: first his throne, then his manhood, and then his country. He got in trouble by flouting his duty as king and head of the state church, and then by expressing pro-Nazi sympathies.

His highly objectionable wife was the principal dynamic in the duke’s downfall, which ought to have taught a valuable lesson to the subsequent generations of the royal family.

A lesson was indeed taught but, judging by the latest shenanigans of the Harry & Meghan travelling circus, it hasn’t been heeded.

Though they haven’t yet declared support for Britain’s foreign enemies, arguably they’re causing as much damage by mouthing a never-ending torrent of New Age twaddle, with Meghan by all accounts acting as the active agent (and Harry’s speech writer).

At least the subversive cause championed by Wallis could be defeated by air raids and tank thrusts. But how do you counter the subversive campaign inspired by Meghan?

The campaign is being conducted on all fronts. Last week, Meghan and Harry announced that they would raise their child ‘gender neutral’, that is without imposing any male or female stereotypes on the poor tot.

According to Meghan, they’d practise a ‘fluid approach’, whatever that means. Actually, what does it mean?

‘Progressive’ parents used to make similarly inane statements about their children’s religious education. They claimed they’d keep the slate clean to let the children make their own choice when they grew up.

That was tantamount to forfeiting parental responsibility and almost guaranteeing that the child would opt for atheism. But, lamentable though such parental lassitude might have been, at least there was nothing degenerate about it.

Are we to understand that Meghan and Harry are going to let their child make a similar choice about his or her sex? If so, this is indeed a degenerate perversion teetering at the outer edge of New Age nonsense.

A child’s sex isn’t a matter of free choice, contrary to the lunatic propaganda in leftie circles. It’s a matter of chromosomal composition: XY is male; XX female. This is a physiological imperative, not a social construct.

Thus a boy should be taught what it is to be a man, and a girl what it is to be a woman. It’s more productive to work with physiology, rather than against it.

Harry should have been trained from birth, and Meghan should have realised by now, that they belong to a unique family, one in which children to a large extent belong to the whole nation, not just to their parents.

If Meghan wanted to have an unchallenged sway over her offspring’s upbringing, she should have produced children with her previous husband or one of her lovers.

In this case, physiology will probably trump ideology in that the child, no matter how fluid Meghan’s approach will be, is likely to be either a boy or a girl, rather than neither or an eerie mix of the two.

The real damage is different: it’s in members of our reigning dynasty fostering notions that undermine the dynasty and hence the whole constitutional dispensation. For a monarchy is by definition a conservative institution – or it is nothing.

Divested of any real executive power, it still performs a vital role, that of the adhesive bonding Britain together both horizontally, at present, and vertically, slotting today’s nation into the historical continuum of the generations past, present and future.

That’s why the trendy hare-brained platitudes spouted by Meghan are so detrimental: they rob the dynasty of its dignity and its umbilical links with the nation’s past.

This former Hollywood starlet, as feeble of mind as she’s strong of character, is effectively acting as ventriloquist to Harry’s dummy. Just like his henpecked great-great uncle, Harry dutifully enunciates the words put into his mouth by his domineering American wife.

The other day he made a speech to mark We Day, which encourages pimply youths to campaign for social issues. Rarely does one hear a speech in which the orator speaks so much and says so little.

First, Harry congratulated the youngsters on being “the most engaged generation in history”. Engaged in what exactly? Queueing up at recruitment offices and dying for their country, as the young men and women did at the time Wallis and her husband saw nothing wrong with Hitler?

No, of course not. Today’s youths are engaged in screaming the same platitudes Harry and Meghan favour, imposing fascist-style censorship on academic life, campaigning for every faddish cause coming round the block, cutting off (or sewing on) their vital bits on a whim, covering themselves with ‘body art’, getting all their education from smartphones.

If this is engagement, give me detachment any sweet day.

The mainstream media, explained Harry, are guilty of “distorting the truth” and “trying to manipulate the power of positive thinking”. I’d have to agree with this assessment, provided I agree with Harry’s (or rather Meghan’s) take on positive thinking.

Or, come to that, thinking in general. This cerebral exertion must by no means be confused with delivering a staccato of New Age slogans, a confusion that has manifestly and lamentably taken over Harry’s mind:

“Be braver. Be stronger. Be kind to each other. Be kind to yourselves. Have less screen time and more face-to-face time. Exceed expectations. Eliminate plastics. Conserve water. Protect wildlife and their unique habitat. Keep empathy alive. Ask your friends how they are doing and listen to the answer. Be honest. Take risks. Change your thoughts and change the world. Dare to be the greatest generation of all time.”

And what should be the impelling desideratum of the greatest generation of all time? “Every forest, every river, every ocean, every coastline, every insect, every wild animal. Every blade of grass, every ray of sun and every rain drop is crucial to our survival.”

Not belonging to the greatest generation, I’d like to know if I’m still allowed to mow my lawn (or rather have it mown, if truth be told). After all, that procedure puts paid to countless blades of grass.

Also, I’d like to know how I could protect “every ray of sun and every drop of rain”. Do I have first to die and then rise on the third day, or can I still serve the greatest generation of all time even in the absence of divine powers?

And finally, “As my wife often reminds me with one of her favourite quotes by Martin Luther King Jr, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that’.”

At least MLK evangelised some obscure form of Christianity. Harry and his wife are evangelising the secular cult pretending to fill the spiritual and cultural vacuum formed by our aggressively anti-Christian modernity.

However, if they’re running out of clichés, I may offer a few that are known to work miracles on youngsters. How about “the youth is the barometer of the nation”? That’s a more interesting way of flattering prepubescent audiences, and Trotsky was indeed an effective orator.

This brings me back to the question of the title. If that vacancy comes up, I do hope Her Majesty will fill it with Harry and his Wallis Mark II. Before it’s too late.

Justice on a knife’s edge

The cooler the boys, the cooler the toys

Knife crime is in sharp focus, as it were, with 279 people stabbed to death last year.

Applying the standard wartime ratio of three wounded to one KIA, the total number of stabbings must have been at least a thousand.

Hence the pile of newspaper pages devoted to the problem, with words like ‘crisis’ and ‘pandemic’ bandied about, complete with superlative adjectives. Most commentators regard the problem as difficult, if not impossible to solve.

So it is – within the confines of the ‘liberal’ bilge that now functions as a surrogate theocratic religion. (I often put the word liberal in quotes because its most common usage actually means ‘illiberal’.) Dropping those shackles, however, would put an end to routine knife crime in short order.

Much of the problem is due to Mrs May’s tenure as incompetent home secretary, from which she naturally graduated to her present position of incompetent prime minister. Acting in her previous capacity, she practically withdrew the power of stop and search from the police.

This was done in the name of multi-culti ‘fairness’ (this word too means its opposite the way it’s commonly used). For, supposedly driven by their febrile racial hatred, policemen were stopping and searching mostly non-whites.

How unfair was that? If they stopped a black youth sporting a hoodie and a feral scowl, they were duty-bound to search, say, my wife who looks, speaks and dresses like a prettier version of Princess Anne.

Since we can’t afford many cops on the beat, the conclusion made itself: if it was impossible to stop and search everyone, the police should stop and search no one. Even putative racism is a crime much worse than slitting someone’s throat.

Those dissenters against the ‘liberal’ ethos point out that the police have to act on the balance of probability. This isn’t hard to calculate, considering that two thirds of knife-possession offenders under 25 in London are non-white (38 per cent nationally).

But statistics shouldn’t affect principles, and Mrs May stuck to her guns and, evidently, knives. As a result, we’re regaled every day with gruesome stories about this or that 17-year-old A-pupil stabbed to death, for no apparent reason.

Have you noticed how the victim of every murder receiving national attention is an upstanding pillar of society boasting high academic achievement, sunny disposition and universal love?

One is almost compelled to infer that cutting the throat of a ne’er-do-well would somehow be less objectionable. Now I don’t care about the personality of the victim – every human life is equally valuable, and the wanton taking of it equally reprehensible.

It’s the personalities of the murderers that interest me, or especially how they are described. For example, in his sensible, if slightly self-serving, article, Boris Johnson refers to his success as mayor of London in promoting stop and search powers of the police.

As a result, he writes, knife crime went down, and I have no reason to doubt his claim. What I find actively irritating is his non-stop referring to knife-wielders as ‘kids’.

I’ve always been under the impression that, to produce a kid on this side of the Atlantic, one has to have sex with a goat. Though experimental attempts are doubtless made all over the countryside, none of these unions has so far been blessed with offspring – unless of course Jeremy Corbyn is lying about his ancestry.

Mr Johnson, educated at Eton and Oxford, knows this as well as I do, and I bet he never refers to his own children as ‘kids’ in private. He does so in public because he wants to come across as ‘cool’, probably to offset that Eton and Oxford bit.

But he must realise that the same desire to appear ‘cool’ takes ghetto youngsters into less innocuous areas, those in which consuming and selling drugs is as cool as carrying and using a knife.

Youth gangs are overrunning vast tracts of urban real estate, and many use random killings as initiation rites. But even those that don’t still attract countless youths who are evil by nature and have no social, cultural or religious counterweight to their evil.

However, the whole ‘liberal’ ethos, and the justice system as its subset, is based on the a priori assumption that no one is innately evil.

This goes back to Rousseau, with his arrant nonsense about every person being by nature a noble sauvage impeccable in his primordial virtue. And if some people demonstrably act in a less than impeccable manner, they are victims of correctable social conditions.

What I describe as arrant nonsense is to our powers-that-be a sort of secular scripture, with no heresy or apostasy permitted or tolerated. Hence the derisory sentences for criminals caught with knives in their possession – or for criminals in general.

The prevailing article of faith is that all of them can be rehabilitated by having their heads pumped full of New Age inanities. Ideally, this should be done not in prison but ‘in the community’, whose safety is thereby sacrificed at the altar of the new cult.

That’s why the death penalty has become unthinkable everywhere in Europe: it’s seen as what it isn’t, the denial of the sanctity of human life, rather than what it is, the assertion of that very sanctity.

By imposing the death penalty a society communicates with resolute finality that each human life is so sacred that no length of prison sentence can redeem its arbitrary taking. The secondary message is that some people are so evil that they can’t be redeemed, in this world at any rate.

You understand, of course, that I have in mind not our society, but one that has still retained the last vestiges of sanity and common sense. In such a society, the solution to the knife crime pandemic would offer itself.

First, the numerical strength of our police forces should be increased to a level necessary to combat crime. This being one of the few legitimate functions of the state, no expense should be spared.

Second, policemen should be authorised to do their job properly, with no regard for multi-culti perversions. If most people who are stopped and searched are off-white, then so be it – and so it should remain until such people no longer commit most knife crimes.

Third, our courts should pass much stiffer sentences. I’d suggest a mandatory, no-tariff sentence of 10 years for any crime whose perpetrator had a knife on him, even if the weapon wasn’t used; 20 years if it was used; and the death penalty if it was used fatally.

Again, we shouldn’t penny-pinch when it comes to building as many prisons as necessary and filling them to the gunwales.

I’d confidently suggest that only such measures could ever stop knife crime. However, I predict with even greater confidence that no such measures will ever be adopted. Instead we’ll be treated to more stories of ‘kids’ who are out to murder just for the hell of it.

A friend of mine once interviewed in a remand prison a chap who had fatally stabbed a man in the stomach. When asked how he felt about that act, the murderer admitted aptronymically to being ‘gutted’.

I don’t know what happened to him next, but I wouldn’t be surprised if, had he repeated that claim with sufficiently lachrymose passion at his trial, the evil creature got off with a light sentence.

By now he’s roaming the streets again, his trusted combat knife in his belt. The god of ‘liberal’ bilge has to be served.

Aptronyms run riot

You can have your aptronym and eat it too

An aptronym is a name particularly suited to its owner.

Thus we have Usain Bolt (sprinter), Thomas Crapper (inventor of various lavatorial fixtures), Russell Brain (neurologist), Jules Angst (psychiatrist) and so forth.

I’ve personally known a tennis player named Service, two unrelated financiers named Banks and, alas, a haemorrhoidectomy surgeon named Butts (his hospital was in Houston’s Drexler Street, which is a slightly more obscure aptronym, but one nonetheless).

According to one theory, those blessed with occupational surnames feel their gravitational pull and are subconsciously yet irresistibly drawn to those occupations.

The unexplored power of aptronyms may explain, at least partly, why the 39-year-old teacher, mother of three Brigitte Trogneux fancied her 15-year-old pupil Manu Macron. You see, Brigitte’s family owns Chocolaterie Trogneux, an Amiens company celebrated for its macaroons.

The French for that delicacy is macaron, just one letter apart from the name of that sweet schoolboy instantly smitten by Brigitte’s tight leather trousers. The aptronym and nature simply had to take their course, eventually steering Brigitte to her present honorary title of France’s First Foster Mother .

However, one would think that those who come up with company names would avoid aptronyms that make people laugh at the brand. Well, one would think wrong.

The other day, waiting for my train at Earl’s Court, I indulged my old habit of looking at all the ads. One poster showed the picture of a smiling young man next to the headline BYE BYE ED.

His beaming grin dispelled my first impression that the eponymous Ed was dead, and the poster advertised an undertaker’s service. Perhaps such ambiguity was intentional, designed to draw the reader in.

Well, this reader was indeed drawn in.

Turned out ED wasn’t the young man’s name. It stood for Erectile Dysfunction, a pandemic of biblical proportions, if the copy was to be believed. The advertised service promised to solve that embarrassing problem in short order.

Now I don’t know to what extent their promise stands up to scrutiny, as it were. Nor am I sure that such intimate issues ought to be discussed on 24-sheet posters, but then we do live in the twenty-first century.

Still, one has to accept that, if millions of young chaps like the one depicted in the visual suffer from this problem, it’s no laughing matter. However, the advertiser’s name is.

The email address for the company promising deliverance was given as Manual.co/ed/treatment.

The decision to be made here is whether or not this is an intentional aptronym. If so, then the company’s name hints at the treatment it advertises, making one wonder if it’s going to be merely recommended or actually administered.

Another possibility is that the ad is just a spoof, but this possibility is remote, what with hoarding spaces as pricey as they are.

Most likely is that this is just an unintentional aptronym producing an undesirable effect: making people like me laugh.

Now wouldn’t it be fun if Corbyn were named Jewson? And please don’t tell me that my name compels me to put the boot in every chance I get.

Hymns they sing in Russian churches

“…I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

Our churches are alive with the beautiful, moving sounds of such hymns as Abide with me, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, Lord of All Hopefulness and hundreds of others.

Yet as a life-long champion of diversity, I’m happy to report that in Russian churches one can be regaled with slightly different songs – also beautiful and moving, but in a somewhat different way.

The other day, St Isaak’s Cathedral in Petersburg housed a most spiritual and elevating choral concert.

St Isaak’s, in case you’re wondering, was designed by the French architect Montferrand and completed, at a cost of thousands of lives, in 1858.

Under the Bolsheviks, it was deconsecrated and used as a museum of atheism. Its centre piece, as I recall, was a Foucault pendulum, proving that the Earth rotates, rather than resting, as all Christians are known to believe, on the backs of three elephants or perhaps whales.

After the Bolsheviks restyled themselves as democrats, masses got to be celebrated in St Isaak’s again, but only on major feasts. The rest of the time, it still functions as a museum (though probably not of atheism) and an occasional concert hall.

The cathedral’s hideous neoclassical architecture is a more ornate answer to the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., which establishes an umbilical link between the two cities. This bond was further reinforced a few days ago.

A mellifluously polyphonic Petersburg choir delivered a rousing rendition of a song that, some purists may insist, was out of place even in a mostly deconsecrated cathedral, even though it does sound like a liturgical piece.

My feeble poetic ability isn’t up to the task of conveying the subtle nuances of the lyrics, so I shan’t even try to translate them in verse.

But this is what the first stanza says: “Our sub with a nuclear engine and some ten missiles each a hundred megaton, crossed the Atlantic and I tell the gunner, “Aim,” I say, “Petrov, at the city of Washington.”

And so forth, all in the same vein. (The Russophones among you can admire this work of art in the original: http://classic.newsru.com/russia/26feb2019/lodochka.html).

Someone must have forgotten to tell the Russians that Church Militant doesn’t necessarily mean Church Militaristic, but you must admit the lyrics do resonate, although perhaps not as much as the actual missiles would.

This is a clear case of art imitating life. For, in his message to the Federal Assembly the other day, Vlad ‘Botox Boy’ Putin expressed the same idea, though eschewing art:

“So that no one will blame me in the future, I’ll say it straight, to make it clear in advance what we’re talking about. Russia will be obliged to develop and deploy weapon systems that could be used not only against the territories from where a direct threat to us emanates, but also against the territories housing the centres where decisions are made to install missiles threatening us.”

Vlad then outlined the said weapon systems in some detail, but he didn’t feel compelled to spell out which objectionable centres he had in mind. Since he was responding to America’s decision to pull out of the INF Treaty, it went without saying.

Threats to nuke Washington and New York are common currency in Russia, and have been since Khrushchev, admittedly in his cups, boasted that Soviet scientists had created a nuclear device capable of wiping out the whole of the US in one blast.

But hysterical shrieks along those lines are now in a crescendo, making one wonder what kind of finale will follow. This may be nothing but empty bluster, but Western leaders would be ill-advised to treat it only as such.

One of the most hysterical shriekers is Dmitry Kisilev, the daily presence on Russian TV who’s known to his admirers as ‘Putin’s Goebbels’. In fact, he may be credited with striking the first chords some five years ago, when he explained that “Russia could turn America into radioactive dust”.

Then again, Mr Kisilev does sometimes talk too much, which loquacity has brewed some trouble in his family.

A few months ago, he proudly announced that his nephew Sergei had undergone some military training and then fought in the Ukraine. That bit of avuncular pride created a bit of a problem for the younger man.

You see, in common with many fire-eating Russian patriots he prefers to live elsewhere, perhaps because real beauty is best appreciated from afar. In that spirit, he became a German citizen, though evidently without breaking all ties with his motherland.

Now the German authorities were as impressed with Kisilev’s boast as his Russian audience was, although in a different way.

Sergei was arrested, charged with breaking arms laws and committing a crime threatening the security of the Federal Republic, convicted and sentenced to a long prison term.

This shows that ships aren’t the only things that loose lips can sink, which useful lesson I’m sure will go unheeded by Russian powers-that-be.

I’m not going to issue apocalyptic predictions, nor suggest how they may be prevented from coming true. My aim is more modest: outlining a background to the febrile bellicose hysteria gripping Russia.

This is being expertly whipped up by the Kremlin and its propagandists. Are they preparing the long-suffering population for war? Sorry, I did say I wasn’t going to broach apocalyptic themes.

Saying good-bye to André Preview

Previn, as he was when I met him

That’s how André Previn, pianist, composer and conductor who died yesterday, is remembered in Britain, if the obituaries are to be believed.

The man might have composed scores for 50 films, winning five Oscars for his pains, and led or conducted just about every major orchestra in the world, but the first two lines of every British obituary invariably mention his marriage to Mia Farrow and especially his 1971 appearance in a hilarious Morecambe & Wise sketch.

In that sketch Eric Morecambe plays a hapless pianist who makes a mockery of the Grieg Piano Concerto, driving the conductor Previn (to whom Ernie Wise refers as ‘Preview’) to distraction.

When Previn finally points out that Morecambe is playing all the wrong notes, Morecambe grabs the diminutive conductor by the lapels and says: “I play all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order. Get that, sunshine?”

The sketch was indeed funny, but putting it in the lead paragraph of just about every obituary strikes me as a bit parochial. I would have put it somewhere towards the end, along with the reference to Previn’s five marriages, one of them to Mia Farrow, another to the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Farrow was at the time a successful actress, while Mutter an even more successful performer. A good-looking woman, she pioneered playing in dresses that are best described as wardrobe malfunctions waiting to happen.

She had a particular taste in men, largely circumscribed by powerful conductors, otherwise known as stepping stones.

Karajan, Rostropovich, Abbado and of course Previn acted in that capacity, making Anne-Sophie the highest-paid classical soloist in the world, a position to which her rather modest talent alone wouldn’t have entitled her (although one never knows these days).

At the time of her affair with Rostropovich, irreverent Russian musicians indulged their propensity for risqué puns by calling him ‘mutterf***er’. No such pun was uttered about Previn, but then he wasn’t Russian.

It would be easy to mock the reviewers’ lowbrow treatment of the eminent musician (although none of them stooped as low as I just did), but one wonders if perhaps Previn himself encouraged such levity.

This immensely gifted musical polymath was a jack of all trades and, atypically, master of all. In addition to playing and conducting classical music, he was a virtuoso jazz pianist, and his film scores were rivalled by few composers.

Yet perhaps such versatility put some dampeners on his classical musicianship, stopping him just short of the greatness his lavish talent might otherwise have merited. Real music demands real, undivided commitment and punishes its lack.

It’s testimony to Previn’s talent that he wasn’t punished too severely, for his classical performances always were of a high, if not the highest, calibre.

Anyway, it’s thanks to his versatility that I had the pleasure of meeting this charming and witty man once. That happened in Houston, in the early 80s.

A friend of mine, Paul, was a jazz pianist whose trio was a fixture on the Houston club circuit. I went to their gigs often, partly because I liked Paul and partly because I fancied the singer who sometimes sang with his trio.

Previn was in town, with, if memory serves, the Pittsburg Symphony whose artistic director he then was. As was his habit, he liked to relax after a performance by listening to jazz and perhaps doing a turn himself.

When he approached Paul’s trio, they were having a break and chatting with me. “Do you mind if I have a go?” asked the conductor. Paul was never prissy about such things and, though he didn’t have a clue who Previn was, nodded agreement.

Previn sat down, exchanged a couple of words with the drummer and bass player, and went into a dazzling number way above anything ever heard at that club.

When he finished, the bass player said: “Gee, man, that was fantastic! Where d’you play, bro?”

“I got my own band,” said Previn, instantly becoming my friend for life – even though I’ve never spoken to him again.


Trump a liar? You don’t say, Mr Cohen

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, can this face lie?

As the House Oversight Committee listens to Michael Cohen’s testimony, I’m getting more and more puzzled.

Trump’s former attorney is about to start a three-year stint in prison for perjury. That, according to the ranking Republican Jim Jordan disqualifies his testimony.

“It’s the first time a convicted perjurer has been brought back to be a star witness in a hearing,” he said. “How can Congress even consider listening to the testimony of a man who has been convicted of, among other things, lying to Congress?”

One might think Mr Jordan can’t follow elementary logic.

First, no liar lies all the time – even the worst of them tell the truth sometimes. I’m sure that Mr Jordan, like George Washington, has never told a lie, but if such probity were an ironclad requirement for witnesses, we’d never have anyone testifying at trials.

Yes, when it’s a witness’s word against a defendant’s, the defence would be derelict in its duty if it didn’t draw attention to the witness’s person.

But Mr Jordan and his fellow Republicans seem to think that Cohen’s understated reputation for veracity makes this an open and shut case for the president’s innocence. It doesn’t, not by itself.

Cases should be decided not by mud slinging, but by hard evidence and credible witness testimony. I’d suggest that the evidence presented so far is rather soft, and some parts of Mr Cohen’s testimony are less credible than others.

Most of what he says proves that the president can’t readily be confused with a choir boy. Crikey. I’m sure this earth-shattering revelation will come as news to the 63 million Americans who voted for Trump.

You mean a big property developer building and operating Atlantic City casinos isn’t always above board? Who coulda thunk.

You mean an aggressive, high-powered billionaire running a travelling brothel called Miss Universe Contest has at some times acted less married than at some others? How out of character.

You mean he paid hush money to a few ladies of easy virtue threatening to blow the whistle on him? Incredible.

You mean he tried to appear wealthier to potential lenders than to the tax service? Unbelievable.

I’d venture a guess that not one of those voters would have changed his ballot even had he known all this in advance. And if the Democrats think that any of this constitutes an impeachable offence, I wonder about their frame of moral reference.

From what one hears, neither, say, John F. Kennedy nor Bill Clinton was exactly a eunuch. Moreover, the first came from a family widely believed to have organised crime links; the second was involved in questionable dealings while still governor of Arkansas.

Do let’s be fair. Either monasticism is expected from all presidents or it’s expected from none.

Incidentally, liar or not, Mr Cohen rings true on this issue. However, on the available evidence, this is a problem strictly for Mrs Trump.

As to the issue of hush money, I don’t quite get it.

On the one hand, Cohen has produced Trump’s personal $35,000 cheque made out to Cohen himself, who allegedly had been asked to pay off Trump’s porn star mistress out of his own accounts to divert suspicion from his client. This, he claims, was an instalment on the agreed sum of $130,000 supposed to make the blackmail go away.

On the other hand, he testified that: “I am giving the Committee today a copy of a $130,000 wire transfer from me to Ms Clifford’s attorney, [which sum] was demanded by Ms Clifford to maintain her silence about the affair with Mr Trump.”

So if the whole lump sum was paid by wire transfer, where does that $35,000 cheque come in? Until this confusion has been clarified, I’ll believe the president who says it was merely a retainer for Cohen’s services.

The whole thing is sleazy, but that’s not the same as illegal. However, Trump would get into hot water if the hush money had come out of his campaign, rather than personal, funds. That would have been illegal but, like all illegal things, it requires proof. So far we haven’t seen any.

What else? Cohen submitted documents showing that Mr Trump inflated his assets when trying to secure a loan from Deutsche Bank and deflated them to pay less tax.

That’s naughty, but the loan in question was secured in 2008, long before Trump’s presidential campaign. However, Deutsche Bank leads us to accusations that, if proved, could get Trump not only impeached but also convicted.

For that venerable institution boasts such heavy investments from the Russian mafia as to have no option but to do its bidding. (I use the term ‘mafia’ loosely, to describe history’s unique confluence of government, secret police and organised crime that’s otherwise known as the Russian state).

As widely suspected, in 2008, when Trump found himself bankrupt, the Russians transferred vast amounts into his coffers, using Deutsche Bank as the conduit. The books I’ve read on the subject, Russian Roulette by Isikoff and Corn and House of Trump, House of Putin by Craig Unger, claim this suspicion is amply documented.

One way or the other, Trump’s business dealings with Russian gangsters, such as Aras Agalarov, are indeed known through numerous documents complete with photographs. That’s where impeachable offences, if any, can be found.

I for one don’t believe it’s possible to lie with such dogs without catching fleas, but, I’m sad to admit, my belief doesn’t add up to proof.

Cohen claims that Trump was pursuing his megalomaniac project of building Europe’s tallest tower in Moscow well into his presidential campaign and possibly presidency. If proved, this claim would hurt the president for obvious reasons, with conflict of interests being the mildest possible charge.

Cohen also insists that Trump knew in advance, and was enthusiastic, about the imminent release of Hilary Clinton’s emails by Stone and Assange.

Now show me a politician who’d act differently on finding out that his rival’s campaign is about to be damaged, and I’ll show you someone who wouldn’t be elected proverbial dog catcher.

Judging such foreknowledge merely on moral grounds, I see nothing, or almost nothing, wrong with it.

However, if Trump had colluded with the Russians to procure and release such information, that would be not just wrong but criminal. Watergate would look like an innocent caper by comparison.

Cohen has offered no corroborative proof because the Committee told him to steer clear of the subject, at least within the media’s earshot. Then it’s also possible that no such proof exists.

Another allegation is that Trump is lying when he denies knowing about the meeting held by his son, son-in-law and another jailbird, Manafort, with a Putin emissary who had promised some dirt on Hilary.

Now I find it hard to believe that Trump’s closest confidants could have taken such a meeting without telling the boss first. However, such cases shouldn’t be decided on the balance of probability.

The reason the Committee chose not to explore the Russian theme with Cohen is that Special Counsel Mueller is due to submit his report in a few days. If it contains hard proof of Trump’s illegal links with Putin, that would be sufficient grounds for a charge of treason.

If not, Trump’s detractors should get off his back and let him get on with the job he was elected to do. For the dirt dished out by Cohen has so far soiled Trump only slightly.

Much of it is simply name-calling. “I know what Mr Trump is,” says Cohen. “He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.”

The last two epithets could have been replaced with one: international property developer. Few of Mr Trump’s colleagues couldn’t be tarred with the same brush.

The charge of racism is based on Trump supposedly having said: “Name one country run by a black man that isn’t a shithole”. The description is robust, but then the conversation, if it indeed happened, was private.

Cohen hasn’t divulged if he took the challenge on and actually named one such country that’s a lovely place to live. Instead he feigns indignation over the fact that Obama was president at the time. Surely he doesn’t expect anyone to believe the risible suggestion that Trump regarded the US as one such country?

As to Cohen’s insane suggestion that, if Trump loses in 2020, he may not allow “a peaceful transition of power”, it’s beneath a comment. How would he do that, out of interest? Declare the US Constitution null and void? Have Washington occupied by 82nd Airborne?

There’s little wheat in Cohen’s testimony, and much chaff. Perhaps Mueller’s report will have a higher content of the cereal. Let’s wait and see – something we’ve been saying for two years.

One good thing about Brexit mess

Brexit may die, but its lessons will live on

Every major political development, good, bad or indifferent, serves an educational end even if it serves no other.

People blessed with good political judgement can have it confirmed. People cursed with bad political judgement can have it dispelled. Those who predicted the development all along can have a smug smile on their faces.

The ungodly mess into which the political class has plunged Britain over the people’s desire to leave the EU works admirably in such didactic capacity – and not only for the British.

It was Edmund Burke who spelled out the proper role of an MP:

“To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgement and conscience, – these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.”

To put this into more up-to-date shorthand, an MP is his constituents’ representative but not their delegate. Once elected, he must act not according to the constituents’ wishes, but according to their interests – as he sees them.

These are vital distinctions, going to the heart of the constitution. Burke pointed out, and warned against, a potential dichotomy between delegates and representatives.

No such problems for today’s parliamentarians. They solve the dichotomy between delegates and representatives by being neither.

Most of them serve not bono publico, but their own bono – and that of their whole political class. This is made up of politicians, civil servants and journalists, and it’s entirely self-serving and self-contained.

By torpedoing Brexit this class has proved yet again that their own will trumps the will of the people with room to spare. If any divergence between the two exists, the people will simply be ignored.

Yes, but what about Burke’s prescription that MPs should act according to their own “judgement and conscience”? On the surface of it, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

The people expressed their desire to leave the EU; the political class consulted its own collective conscience and decided that wouldn’t be in the people’s interests. So it closed bipartisan ranks and came up with a whole raft of underhanded tricks to bypass the popular vote.

One can almost see the great Whig cheering from his grave, right? Eh, not quite.

Putting aside the blindingly obvious fact that most of our MPs are bereft in the area of “judgement and conscience”, Burke was talking specifically about the democracy he knew – the kind operating through institutions.

Referendum, plebiscite, opinion poll and other devices of direct democracy were alien to him. That’s why, much as we may venerate Burke’s political wisdom, this bit of it doesn’t apply to the issue of Brexit.

For, by calling a referendum, the political class abrogated its responsibility to make a decision of vast constitutional import. It asked the people to leapfrog the institutions of the state and decide the issue by a simple show of hands.

Though technically speaking the referendum wasn’t legally binding, the political class made it so by pledging to abide by the result. In other words, in this one instance, MPs agreed to act as people’s delegates, not just their representatives.

Their subsequent dishonest, perfidious chicanery aimed at subverting the will of the people should make any sensible person nauseated – and, paradoxically, grateful.

One should always thank teachers for a useful lesson, and few lessons are ever taught better than this one.

We’ve learned that there’s no bridge spanning the gulf between the political class and the people it’s supposed to represent. Neither people’s wishes nor their interests come into the political process at all.

On the contrary, the political class works tirelessly to widen and deepen the gulf, which explains its affection for the EU in the first place. Meek submission to that awful contrivance means that the people won’t be able to hold the political class to account.

If most of our laws are passed down from abroad, with the people’s representative acting at best only in a rubberstamping capacity, they represent no one but themselves. QED.

The term ‘political class’, as distinct from simply politicians, is useful. For, in addition to timeservers in various departments, this class is made up not only of politicians but also of journalists.

Witness how, in reshufflings reminiscent of the Soviet nomenklatura of my childhood, politicians effortlessly become journalists, and vice versa. The line of demarcation is very fluid indeed, with such dynasties as the Rees-Moggs, Mounts, Johnsons, Lawsons and Rifkinds, along with singletons like Gove, adorning both parts of the ruling class.

As a strong believer in hierarchies, I see nothing wrong with the principle of a ruling class – provided it coalesces and operates by constitutional means, and always acts in the public interest.

Today such a ruling class falls into the category of either an archaism or a pipe dream. Our lot are prepared to destroy the country’s constitution, social order and any chance for prosperity in pursuit of their own nefarious ends – for ends that can only be pursued by perfidious means are nefarious by definition.

Those who hadn’t realised this before the Brexit fiasco, surely must realise it now. That’s something to be thankful for, at least.