His Eminence should stick to things he understands

A week ago Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s senior Catholic cleric,delivered the kind of courageous message Anglican prelates tend to save until their retirement.

He referred to same-sex marriage as a ‘grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right’, adding that Dave’s chosen re-election stratagem would ‘shame the United Kingdom in the eyes of the world’. It represents, he said, ‘an attempt to redefine marriage for the whole of society at the behest of a small minority of activists’.

Truer words have seldom been spoken. And the man who spoke them is qualified to do so: marriage being an ancient Christian sacrament, His Eminence was clearly staying within his remit. It is part of his job to comment on any moral choice we face, and such a choice is discernible behind everything in life.

Economic decisions, for example, can – or rather should – never be amoral. Whenever they are, they backfire not only on morality but also on the economy. The present state of the economy was caused precisely by divorcing economics from morality, be that on the part of our governments, financial institutions or indeed us, the public.

But while morality should be an integral part of economic policy, it can’t be the only part. Moral decisions must be taken side by side with purely technical ones, and a true test of statesmanship is the ability to make sure the two aren’t in conflict. Hence a Christian, and especially a clergyman, should refrain from comments on the economy unless he is able to show that Christian moral goals can coexist with successful economic policies.

Cardinal O’Brien’s comments on the economy show that he simply doesn’t understand how Christianity relates to the economy. His Eminence has attacked Dave’s economic policy (and God knows it’s eminently attackable) at just about its sole strong point: opposition to the EU’s tax on financial transactions.

‘I am saying to the prime minister, look, don’t just protect your very rich colleagues in the financial industry, consider the moral obligation to help the poor of our country,’ declares the cardinal. With all humility and respect, this is nonsense. Not the commitment to helping the poor – this is basic Christianity. What is nonsensical is the cardinal’s belief that this or any other tax will serve this purpose. In fact, it’ll achieve exactly the opposite.

His Eminence correctly counts among the poor, or rather the poorer, those pensioners whom the current crisis has robbed of their life’s savings. However, what little money is still left in their pension funds is at the mercy of exactly the kind of transactions the economically illiterate cardinal wishes to tax and thereby hurt. This is just one specific example of his insufficient grasp of economic realities. But the cardinal’s real problem is deeper than that.

While, as we know, the poor will always be with us, the success of an economy is measured by how few of the poor still remain. The briefest of glances at any successful modern economy will provide irrefutable proof that it’s not wealth redistribution but wealth generation that reduces poverty. And the two are at odds: the more redistribution, the less growth. This stands to reason: a free-market economy is not a cake that’s baked to a set zero-sum size, and anyone grabbing a large slice will consign everyone else to smaller ones. A dynamic economy doesn’t stay the same size; it grows.

In such economies it’s hard, though not quite impossible, to become rich without helping others to stop being poor. One has to admit sorrowfully that the pre-Christian Chinese understood this simple give-and-take of economics much better than His Eminence does. ‘When the rich lose their money, the poor starve,’ they said, and if modern history proves anything at all, it’s this folksy wisdom.

One hears in the cardinal’s pronouncements the echoes of the harebrained belief that Christianity has much in common with socialism, which is usually held by those who love the latter and hated the former. If they understood either, they’d realise that in essence Christianity isn’t just different from socialism but opposite to it. Good works, of which charity takes pride of place, serve not just a material purpose but above all a spiritual one. A gift generously offered and humbly received doesn’t just improve the recipient’s finances – it elevates both parties’ souls and moves them a tiny step closer to salvation.

Socialism, on the other hand, is by definition materialist and therefore atheist. Its objective isn’t salvation but ‘happiness’, understood in the vulgar modern way. Socialism makes recipients of state handouts not grateful but resentful. And it makes the overtaxed rich run away, leaving the economy so much worse off and the poor so much more numerous.

Nor will His Eminence find many examples of socialist countries where Christianity has thrived. I, on the other hand, could cite dozens where Christians have been persecuted. Those same lands have also multiplied poverty by orders of magnitude, compared to countries where it was understood that the great success of the few produces a moderate success of the many.

‘My kingdom is not of this world,’ said that famous proto-conservative, meaning that his kingdom was higher than this world. But Christ also showed in his own person that the two kingdoms are in fact one. This is the essence of the Christian doctrine, a general guide as it were. However, figuring out the details of how the two worlds interact is no easy matter. By his ill-judged pronouncements Cardinal O’Brien has shown just how difficult it is.



Democracy in action: death doth not them part in Egypt

Americans, lovable as they generally are, have this annoying tendency to suggest, explicitly or implicitly, that they’ve solved every little problem in life. Out of morbid curiosity hordes of them do visit that overseas country called Europe every year, only to remind themselves how much better the US of A is.

An American reader of one of my books, a professor of something or other, once wrote to me, ‘You Europeans are welcome to your music and cathedrals. Here in America we have something much more important.’ He didn’t specify what that was, leaving me to infer that he probably meant that panacea for all ills: democracy, American style.

Americans, especially those of the neoconservative persuasion, have lifted universal suffrage to the moral perch of universal goodness hitherto reserved for God. In a way that’s understandable: in the absence of real God a surrogate is desperately needed.

By way of proselytising their quasi-religion, the neocons have whipped up a hysterical worldwide campaign for the so-called Arab Spring, which is a cryptic term for replacing unsavoury secular regimes with even more unsavoury fundamentalist ones. But never mind the substance, feel the form: as long as them folks down there vote like us, everything’s hunky-dory.

The underlying idea is that the moment Middle Easterners and other foreigners start emulating Midwesterners in their political techniques, they’ll eventually become PLUs – People Like Us. And, like the real thing, the quasi-religion won’t suffer much from contradicting evidence.

For democracy is the neocon God, and God never fails – never mind all those democratically elected Hitlers, Peróns, Mugabes, Putins and Macîas Nguemas (who gratefully murdered a third of Equatorial Guinea’s population that had voted him in). Nor will the God of democracy fail those A-rabs – a voting booth is all they need to become Western, if not quite Midwestern yet.

In the light of that one wonders how the neocon press will cover the news that Egypt’s parliament is about to pass a law allowing men to have sex with their dead wives for up to six hours after their death. I struggle to think of a way in which such developments show a closer proximity of Egyptians to the West – unless one wishes to suggest maliciously and falsely that the ensuing acts will be ballistically similar to those practised by some proper English ladies.

Not even such facetious arguments will be applicable to another piece of legislation about to go through Egypt’s newly westernised parliament. To make sure that couples will postpone necrophiliac sex until a very distant future, the new law will lower the minimum marriage age to 14. And to make sure those barely post-pubescent girls won’t be distracted from their mission in life, another law will deprive women of any rights to employment and education.

Let US neocons and their followers elsewhere talk their way out of this one. On the one hand, Egypt is now laudably democratic. On the other hand, their laudably democratic parliament will soon pass lamentably misogynist laws, those consistent with Islamic rather than Western jurisprudence. A case of clashing pieties if I ever saw one: democracy good, misogyny bad. Which one should come out on top? Beats me, but I’m sure neocons won’t let facts interfere with a good story, or rather fairy tale.

Perhaps they’ll point out that some American states also have quaint sex laws, so what’s the difference? Well, the difference is in the degree and nature of quaintness.

For example, in Illinois it’s illegal for a husband and wife to have sex while out hunting or fishing on their wedding day. Juxtaposed to that Midwestern law is the one recognised in most Middle Eastern countries, stipulating that, after having sexual relations with a lamb, it’s a mortal sin to eat its flesh. In Arkansas, adultery is punishable by a $100 fine. In Indonesia autoeroticism is punishable by decapitation. Moreover, one has a sneaky suspicion that some of the bizarre American laws are enforced less rigorously than their counterparts in the newly democratic lands.

Nowt as queer as folk, as they say upcountry. And the queerest of all are the folk who base far-reaching geopolitical decisions on silly pieties, woolly thinking and ideological afflatus. Come to think of it, that describes our neocon friends with startling accuracy.

The economy is running aground – full speed ahead, says Dave

In 1989 the Nobel-winning economist Paul Samuelson confidently predicted that in a few years the Soviet economy would lead the world. Two years later the Soviet Union ceased to exist, as if to remind us all that economists’ predictions should be taken with a bag, not merely a grain, of salt.

This time the economists almost got it spot-on. They predicted a 0.1-percent growth in the first quarter of 2012; instead we got a 0.2 slump, and the difference is more significant politically than economically. Not bad, as far as predictions go. One only wishes they had told us that either figure spells disaster.

This is the first double-dip recession since 1975, when Harold Wilson’s socialist government was on its last legs. It’s 2012 now, and David Cameron’s socialist government is also… Sorry, I forgot. There are still three years before the next election, and Dave isn’t a socialist but a Tory. He’s also living proof, as if any more were needed, that one doesn’t preclude the other.

Admitting sportingly that the figures are ‘disappointing’, Dave manfully agreed not to ‘seek to try to explain them away’. He’s right: explaining them away is impossible. However, simply explaining them is part of a PM’s job, the one we pay him to do. And the next part is to reverse them, let’s not forget that. ‘Right hand down a bit’ won’t do any good.

The so’s-your-aunt-Tilly explanation offered by Dave’s Treasury doesn’t really wash. Yes, Britain isn’t the only European country in recession, and it’s nice of the Treasury to remind us that Slovenia and Greece, not to mention a few EU A-listers, are in the same boat. It would be even nicer if they owned up to why the boat is heading for the sand bank.

Dave stated, correctly, that it would be ‘absolute folly’ to reverse the austerity course, as Labour is suggesting. You can’t get rid of the debt by borrowing even more, he said, and truer words have never been spoken. Labour-style borrowing isn’t a solution; it’s the problem. Now the Coalition’s quantitative easing, presumably ‘queasing’ for short, is a wholly different matter. Yes, the government has borrowed the better part of a third of a trillion pounds trying to ‘quease’ the economy back to health. But that wasn’t real borrowing – it was ‘queasing’. And ‘queasing’ doesn’t count.

No, we must stay the course of ‘austerity’, and let those Labour spoilsports scream themselves hoarse. Austerity will produce growth faster than you can say George Osborne. And how do we define austerity? Or rather what definition can we infer from the government’s policies, not its rhetoric? Well, austerity according to Dave is increasing government spending more slowly than before. Not really reducing it, God forbid. That sort of thing could lose Dave the next election, even though it’s still three years away.

It’s time we admitted to ourselves that what we are witnessing isn’t a transient dip, single, double or whatever. We are hearing the crunching, crashing noise of an economy hitting the rocks. We are hearing its desperate pleas: Please, please, don’t let misconceived politics steer me any further. Find a skipper who is a statesman, not a PR flak. Reverse my course, rather than choosing which rock I should hit first.

In more prosaic terms, we can no longer afford – never really have been able to afford – an economy that’s little more than a Ponzi scheme run by self-serving politicians. Balance a pyramid on its point, overload the top, and down it will come with one mighty thud every time. To put it even more prosaically, neither we nor any other European economy can any longer afford the welfare state.

We can afford some welfare, making sure that nobody loses too badly in the game of life. But we can’t afford the economy-busting welfare state making sure that no one will ever lose. For if we try, no one will ever win – except the PR flaks on the state payroll, and their trusted friends.

I know this cracker-barrel economics is less impressive than all those curves, graphs and computer models our macroeconomists can lay on you at the drop of a hat. But it’s true – and theirs has been proved to be false.

Real austerity, as opposed to the bogus kind peddled by Dave and George, would definitely produce growth. May I suggest halving income tax, reducing corporate tax to 10 percent, eliminating inheritance tax altogether, making the welfare Leviathan redundant by encouraging charitable donations (say, by making them tax-free, rather than merely deductible), offering bigger tax incentives to overseas investors, and capping government spending at 20 percent of GDP? For a start? Of course I may. Except that no one will listen.

You see, such radical ideas are impractical. They aren’t politically feasible. Therefore they are insane.

That’s true, they are all those things. The only policies that are practical, politically feasible and sane are those that are beggaring us all. That means they’ll continue, and there’s nothing we can do about it. I just wish we could be spared the nauseating, mendacious hypocrisy. 









Globalised people do learn from one another (alas, all the wrong things)

Tattooed feral boys, drunk and awash with testosterone, terrorising the city centre. Teenage girls throwing up in the street, then passing out in the gutter. Air reeking of obscenities and urine. Boys cheering as girls punch each other in the face. Smell of decaying civilisation and rotting civility – or is it vomit? – filling your nostrils.

The picture is all too familiar, but where was it drawn? Cardiff or Sheffield on a Friday night? Well, you’re half right. It is Friday night all right. But it isn’t Cardiff. It’s Bordeaux. We can no longer claim exclusive rights to teenage binge drinking; the French are catching up fast.

The CHU, Bordeaux hospital trust, has harrowing stories to tell. Every Friday and Saturday night, its casualty departments are filled to bursting with middle-class boys and girls suffering from acute alcoholic intoxication or drunkenness-related injuries. On average, two girls are treated for alcohol-induced coma every weekend.

The pattern is slightly different from the one we know and love. Our youngsters may tank up before going out, but they do their terminal drinking in pubs, taking advantage of deals like ‘all you can drink for £20’ or ‘each shot £1’. The French adolescents get smashed at home, playing drinking games. For Bordeaux girls, their beverage à la mode is Desperado, a volatile mix of beer and tequila. Who can drink the most? A quick competition, the proud winner is picked up by an ambulance, the runners-up go out to apply a few finishing touches and then to catch up with their copine at the hospital – unless they first get lucky on a park bench with foul-smelling males.

Good to see that the French have learned something from us. Not our legal system, which, for all the fine work done by our successive governments, is still superior to theirs. Not our politics – ditto, though that’s not saying much. Not our labour laws – ditto. Not our sense of fair play, badly eroded but still vestigially observable.

No, what they learned is barely post-pubescent Lolitas drinking themselves rigid and then falling into bed with multiple strangers. And they’ve learned to appreciate the aesthetic refinement to be found at piercing and tattooing parlours, almost nonexistent in the provinces 10 years ago and now doing brisk recession-defying business everywhere. Lord of the Flies all over again: it’s children’s time, and there are no rules.

The French have also learned from us how to explain this beastliness, the trick we ourselves learned from the Americans. Our youngsters have become little savages not because our anomic, materialist, ignorant adults have created a Walpurgisnacht in their own image – no, the real reasons are deeply psychological, in fact too deep for us to understand.

‘It’s an act of rupture from reality, of discontinuing the state of suffering,’ says Dr Xavier Pommereau, a CHU psychiatrist in Bordeaux. Of course it is. The little barbarians act that way because they suffer. And they suffer because they act that way. A young Cardiff nurse explained in similar fashion her typical Friday-night routine of doing a bottle of vodka first and a few nameless boys second. Mercifully, however, she eschewed the psychobabble: ‘I do it,’ she said, ‘because my life is shit.’ You can figure out for yourself the complex interplay of cause and effect.

The French have learned binge drinking form us, we’ve learned political correctness from the Americans. Just before leaving New York for London some 25 years ago, I talked to my friend’s sister at a party. An earnest girl in her early 30s, she worked at one of those do-good UN agencies that do no good. The conversation veered towards racial issues, with the UN person citing the heavily ethnic population of American prisons as proof of the country’s unwavering commitment to racial discrimination.

‘That,’ I allowed, a fish trying to avoid the hook, ‘is one possible explanation.’ The girl wouldn’t let me get away quite so easily. ‘What other explanation can there be?’ she reeled me in. ‘That they commit more crimes.’ That was the end of the conversation. My friend’s sister didn’t speak another word to me at the party, and hasn’t since then. I was an infidel to her religious fanatic.

Arriving in London after 15 years of that madness, I felt like a fish that had wriggled off the hook. People’s minds hadn’t yet been numbed by meaningless, semiotic mantras – it was still possible to presume that one’s interlocutor was a sentient, thinking adult rather than a child who does an impression of Pavlov’s dog with its reflexive responses to external stimuli.

That, however, didn’t last. I thought I had escaped the loony bin, but it had caught up with me: in a few years the British learned how to insist that a man chairing a meeting is actually a piece of furniture. They didn’t learn the Americans’ affable equanimity, their respect for hard work and the success it delivers, their intuitive distrust of big government. They learned none of the good things, just the rotten ones: verbs made out of nouns, baseball caps worn backwards – and PC jargon.

Call me a pessimist, but it’s hard not to conclude that, as the West becomes one giant melting pot, the resulting alloy rejects everything worth keeping. Only the beastliness remains. 









A Europe diseased will never choose real austerity – until there is no choice

The disease is called statist corruption, and every country in Europe is an acute sufferer.

Germany pretends to be a doctor, but in fact she’s one of the patients. Admittedly, she is an experienced patient, one who had an attack in the past and got over it. But recurrence is upon her, and this time the same cure isn’t available.

The post-war Germany inherited by Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard was a far worse shambles than Greece is today. Moreover, the occupying powers pushed for the Keynesian way out of trouble – state activism funded by the printing press.

Yet Adenauer and Erhard explained to the Germans that no deficit spending was on the cards. Until the economy got up on its feet, the Germans were told to tighten their belts, work hard and count their pfennigs. The ploy worked, and within a few years the country climbed up to the economic summit.That was the nature of Germany’s economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder for short), spearheaded by two sage men.

Glancing around, one has to acknowledge mournfully that no Western government is blessed with such leaders at this troubled time. To be sure, Angela Merkel, the genetic memory of Wirtschaftswunder coursing through her veins, keeps insisting, in rather imperative tones, on pan-European austerity. Little does she understand that even Adenauer and Erhard, should they miraculously resurrect, would be unable to impose anything of the sort on the EU in general or any member in particular, Germany included. The lady simply refuses to accept that the post-war West has suffered a genetic mutation, and it’s nothing short of catastrophic.

To put it bluntly, today’s governments can’t eliminate promiscuous spending because their survival depends on it. They haven’t just created a dependent class; they’ve created a dependent mentality, and for this disease there is no cure.

Merkel can scream all she wants about austerity, and others may even listen – only then to go their own way. So it’s no surprise that on the same day Angela reaffirmed her commitment to Ludwig Erhard’s memory, the EU announced a proposed 6.8-percent increase in its budget.

Each EU member is obligated to cut public spending and cap its annual deficit at three percent. And yet the same organisation that has imposed the obligation is raising its own spending by almost seven percent. The message is do as I say, not as I do, but it won’t be heeded. Public overspending, both national and supranational, will continue because without it every European government will be swept away. For yesterday’s aspirations have become today’s entitlements all over Europe – corrupt governments have succeeded in creating corrupt populations.

Witness all those politicians whose actions belie their supposed ‘rightwing’ or ‘leftwing’ tags. Holland’s Geert Wilders, for example, is supposed to be conservative because he likes neither EU power writ large nor Islamic immigration run riot. Suddenly, as if to prove that this condition isn’t sufficient even if it’s necessary, he threw his toys out of the pram when the Dutch government tried to reduce public spending, or rather to slow down its growth. As a result, the Netherlands is about to get a government just barely to the right of Castro’s – and the same may well happen in Germany.

Further south, all principal players in the French election, divergent as they may be on this or that issue, are roughly in agreement on the state’s role in the economy. Just compare the next president, Hollande, with his supposed opposite, Marine Le Pen.

Now that money markets have treated France so shabbily, Hollande has declared war on them, claiming he’ll keep his borrowing internal. However, there won’t be much to borrow from people’s savings if he acts on his promise to increase public spending from stupid to deranged levels, while taxing wealth producers out of France. He’s also committed to ‘growth’ at the expense of ‘austerity’, meaning inflating the public sector until the real economy blows up.

Meanwhile, Marine le Pen yesterday told her supporters not to vote for Sarkozy in the run-off. Granted, she hasn’t yet told them to vote for Hollande, but there’s no need: they know that le Pen’s economics are a blueprint of Hollande’s. Marine too hates money markets and loves internal borrowing, she too believes in high spending. The difference between red and brown socialism is purely chromatic.

Admittedly, François likes the EU more than Marine does, but it’s useful to remember that most animosity towards eurofederalism in France comes from the left. There are as many opponents to it among Mélenchon’s neo-communists as among Le Pen’s nationalists. Since Hollande will need all their votes on 6 May, he’ll have to accommodate their idiosyncrasies in his rhetoric, if not necessarily his actions. And once he’s elected his economic actions will be even more insane than Sarkozy’s have been.

Introducing real austerity anywhere in Europe will lead to social collapse; not introducing it will lead to economic collapse. Either way the EU is moribund, and we’ll go the same way unless we prepare ourselves in advance.

So far, by way of preparation, George Osborne has committed yet another £10 billion of our money to the IMF, which has assumed the laundering function for the EU. That sum is considerably higher than the cosmetic cuts resulting from the Coalition’s mythical austerity. But real austerity is no more possible in Britain than anywhere else in Europe. We’ll never accept it – until it comes down upon us as red-hot shards from an imploding world.




















None of this first-round stuff: Hollande is in

Yesterday France elected a new president, and his name is François Hollande. The socialist came in first with 28.6 percent of the vote, with Sarkozy trailing at 27.1 percent – the first time an incumbent lost the first round. Marine Le Pen’s party, the French answer to our own dear BNP, scored a worrying 18.1. Add to this those who voted for, not to cut too fine a point, the communist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the loony fringe polled about 30 percent.

Yes, I know this was only the first round, and Hollande’s bubbly must stay on ice until the run-off on 6 May. But for anyone who understands what’s what, the second round is a formality: François will walk it.

Sure enough, assorted commentators are suggesting that all Sarko has to do now is attract the rightwing vote. That suggestion is scuppered by a simple question: What rightwing vote?

The mistake people make is in describing Le Pen as a rightwing candidate. She’s nothing of the sort, and neither is our own dear BNP. She is, and I’m in the mood for calling a spade a spade, a national socialist, the yin to the yang of the international socialist Mélenchon. Their economic programmes are well-nigh identical: Mélenchon wants to nationalise everything de jure, and Le Pen merely de facto. They really differ on immigration only: Marine says there’s too much of it, and Jean-Luc says there isn’t enough. C’est tout.

As Hollande’s views on the economy, which is understandably the swing issue in the election, are similar to theirs, most of the hardcore leftwing and soi-disant rightwing vote will go his way. Why, even Chirac said he’d vote for him, which is like Lord Tebbitt publicly endorsing Ed Miliband. How can François lose?

Here I disagree with the great political thinker Joseph de Maistre who said that every nation gets the government it deserves. The French just about deserve Sarko, whom I’ve always regarded as an unfunny joke. But they don’t deserve the likes of Hollande – nobody does.

I’d like to draw your attention to a perverse palindrome. You know, a word or phrase that reads the same in either direction, like Madam, I’m Adam. The perverse one I’ve mentioned is FLN. Read it the other way, and you get NLF. This isn’t a proper palindrome, but then I did say it was perverse. For both acronyms mean National Liberation Front, except one set of initials comes from the French for it, and the other from the English. The former has to do with Algiers; the latter with Vietnam.

These initials have been shown to act like a magnet for those who are sometimes called courageous iconoclasts and whom I, given my mood today, would describe as subversive morons. These are the people who detest the cultural, political and social tradition of our civilisation in general and their country in particular. If pressed, they’ll say they love their country, but hate ‘the establishment’, ignoring the fact that they themselves have become the establishment. Iconoclasm lives long after the icons have been smashed.

They can drape that animus into all sorts of banners, and during the Vietnam war the American variety marched through the streets, chanting, ‘Ho, Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF are gonna win!’ Considering that Ho was one of the worst mass murderers in history, this might sound odd. But it isn’t: to paraphrase slightly, violence attracts, and absolute violence attracts absolutely.

But the Americans were beaten to the perverse palindrome by the French who had been voicing their support for the FLN, the terrorist Algerian organisation ostensibly committed to independence, but in fact, like all such groups, really attracted to mass murder: the true purpose of mass murder is to murder masses.

As France was withdrawing her troups, the FLN murdered, after stomach-churning tortures, tens of thousands of veterans whom their sage government had kindly left behind. On 7 October, 1961, jubilant ‘iconoclasts’, egged on by the FLN, marched through Paris cheering the murderers. The ‘manif’ escalated to violence, the police fired live rounds, and a few people got killed.

Now the Left have always wanted to turn this day into a bank holiday, but even the previous socialist president Mitterrand (1981-1995) thought this was a rotten idea. Not so the incoming one, François Hollande. One of his first acts as party leader was to take part in a ‘manif’ commemorating the event. I wouldn’t put it past him to turn it into a bank holiday, especially after a week ago he expressed his tear-choked condolences on the death of the FLN leader Ahmed Ben Bella, and I didn’t even know he was ill.

This tells me everything I need to know, but, since the campaign is all about economics, it’s worth saying a word or two about Hollande’s ideas, and one or two really is the number of words they merit.

He undertakes to balance France’s budget by 2017 – so far so good, as the man said, falling past the 20th-floor window. This aim is as noble as it is hard to achieve, considering that France’s debt-to-GDP ratio is close to 200 percent, when everything is taken into account. And why is France’s debt so high that just servicing it would make it almost impossible to balance the budget? You don’t have to be an economist to know the answer: the French government spends more than it takes in.

And François’s remedy? Why, to spend even more of course. Specifically, he wants to hire 60,000 more teachers and dieu only knows how many more public-sector workers. And if this logical step doesn’t get him to a balanced budget, he also wants to lower the retirement age for many employees from 62 to 60.

Now even a socialist must realise that such steps have a low budget-balancing potential. Where’s the money going to come from, Mr Hollande? Why, from the rich of course. Squeeze them until they squeak and cough up their ill-gotten gains – you know, the gains they ill-got while creating jobs for millions of tax-paying Frenchmen (not too many millions, it has to be said, for only about 40 percent of them pay any income tax at all).

It’s tempting to say that this is simply illiterate: increasing tax rates is known to reduce tax revenues, as happened with our own 50 percent rate, which Vince says has ‘symbolic value’. It had better have symbolic value, for it certainly has no other.

Many of our commentators don’t think the French election matters much to us, but I beg to differ. Britain has nothing to gain from the collapse of Europe’s economic and social order – and much to lose. And it’s hard not to notice that the ‘iconoclasts’ are on the march. Merkel is wobbly in Germany, the Dutch ruling coalition has collapsed, with the party that until a couple of decades ago had been financed by the Soviets likely to form the next one – and now France voting for a man exuding from every pore hatred for Western tradition and disdain for common sense. (And let’s not forget our own awful coalition, pouring socialist petrol into the economic fire.) All this under the aegis of the EU, which is essentially the Third Reich minus the violence (yet).

Action produces reaction, and the relative success of the French extremists shows where the reaction is likely to come from. Mainstream parties no longer represent the mainstream – so where is the disfranchised majority going to go? A little push, like the most probable collapse of the euro, and there well may be blood in the streets. I for one would hate to see that happen.















What a strange trial, what a strange verdict

In 1994, after a massive race-based campaign in the press, the ex-footballer (American variety) OJ Simpson was found not guilty of murder. Commenting upon the case, the columnist George Will suggested that any sane jury would have convicted on ten percent of the evidence presented – with the defence deciding which ten percent. This proves, he added wittily, that a black man indeed can’t get a fair trial in America.

At the time I thought that the case brought into question the validity of the jury system, as it is today. Don’t get me wrong. In this world we aren’t blessed with perfect institutions, and every system of human justice will be flawed. However, of the available choices, I’m convinced that the jury system is the best – in theory. Actually, best in practice too, or rather it was during the centuries we could easily find 12 just men who understood what justice meant. It’s debatable whether this is still the case, and the verdict in the McDonald and Evans case strengthens the contra arguments.

The facts, as established at the trial, are clear-cut. The professional footballer Clayton McDonald picked up a girl in the wee hours of morning. The girl was the worse for wear, and her clothing was in disarray. Uncoerced, she got into a cab with McDonald, who then took her to a hotel where they had sex. Another footballer, Ched Evans, then walked in to catch the act in progress. Being a sharing kind, McDonald invited Evans to join in, which he did, while his brother and another man were trying to film the action with their phone cameras.

The next morning the girl woke up naked in bed and reported rape. The two footballers were arrested and tried, and now we know the verdict. I’d like to emphasise here that the verdict was passed on their criminal culpability, not their moral character. I wouldn’t hold them up as role models for children to follow, but they are after all footballers, not residents of Mount Athos. The question is, did they commit a crime?

The prosecution claimed they did, as the girl was in no condition to consent to sex. The defence countered that, though drunk, the girl could have said ‘no’ and therefore wasn’t raped.

As far as I’m concerned, there were only two possible ways out of this impasse. One, the prosecution is right, the girl didn’t consent, in which case we’re dealing with a vile crime whose perpetrators should be locked up for as long as the law allows (while those filming their crime can legitimately be charged with complicity). Two, the defence is right, the girl did consent, in which case the defendants should walk.

One would think that these are the only two logical options. However, the jury of 12 Solomons found a third one: they acquitted McDonald and convicted Evans, who was then sentenced to five years.

I don’t get this. The acquittal of McDonald suggests that his sex with the girl was consensual, meaning she was sober enough to have played along. However, when Evans’s turn came, the girl, now presumably drunker than before, had lost the ability to consent and was therefore raped.

It is of course plausible that the same woman who willingly went into a casual fling then balked when her new-found love invited his friend to jump aboard, thus turning the fling into an orgy. I can see her covering herself up and screaming, ‘Hey, what’s going on there?’ If Evans then forced her, he is a criminal and should be imprisoned – while McDonald and the two cameramen are accessories. But that’s not what the prosecution claimed, if the press accounts are to be believed. Their claim was that girl was too drunk to say no to the second act, though not the first.

Now I’ve been known on occasion to drink more than is good for me. My experience suggests that, rather than becoming more intoxicated, a drunk person sobers up with the passage of time. This means that the girl (whom the jury obviously found to be sober enough to agree to get into a cab with a stranger, go to a hotel with him and then have sex) would have been unlikely suddenly to become so drunk during intercourse as to lose the ability to say ‘no’.

Hence either she was incapacitated throughout, in which case the whole gang are guilty of a ghastly crime (possibly to varying degrees), or she was sufficiently compos mentis to have consented to both acts, in which case they are both only guilty of vulgarity. And that, in my view unfortunately, hasn’t yet been criminalised.

It’s possible, indeed likely, that the press coverage of the trial omitted some key facts that had swung the case the right way. But it’s also possible, indeed even more likely, that the jury had been brainwashed to accept politicised arguments in cases such as this. And such arguments have been known to make people put their critical judgment on hold – provided they were capable of it in the first place.

If that is what really happened here, then justice has suffered. Also suffering will be those victims of vicious rape whose plight has been put into the same category as highly dubious cases and thereby trivialised. One wonders about today’s jury system.   









Good job I don’t have to vote in the French election

Today is the last day of campaigning in France’s presidential election (no campaigning is allowed on the last day before the big event, which is on Sunday). Party activists are swarming all over the place, and one tried to shove an Hollande leaflet into my palm this morning.

Absolument pas,’ said I, trying to sound as French as I could (two words being the maximum length of discourse at which I can attempt that trick). ‘So who are you going to vote for then?’ asked the activist in a tone of feigned surprise that suggested that François was the only possible candidate. ‘Sarkozy?’ He couldn’t have conveyed more contempt had he said ‘Hitler’. ‘Not at all,’ I said. ‘Who then?’ ‘The Bourbons,’ I said, expressing my heartfelt monarchist convictions. I then walked away fast, before the chap could act on his first impulse and call for the men in white coats.

Actually, considering the options, one might as well cast a protest vote for one of the royals, who these days keep a rather low profile. Choosing between two manifestly lightweight candidates is never easy, so good job I don’t have to. Being an outside observer is so much more fun.

It has to be said that, though the national choice does boil down to the two principal candidates, neither will carry our province, if history is anything to go by. Though I have yet to meet a local who ever admits to having voted for a La Pen, be that père or fille, they always win here by a landslide.

But it’s the national election that matters, and one can observe that both candidates seek to appeal to young, preferably teenage, voters. That’s understandable: grown-ups are better equipped to examine their policies and realise that there’s nothing but mendacious demagoguery behind them. That’s par for the course – why should French politicians be any different from ours?

‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man,’ the Jesuits used to say. The point is clear: catch them early, and they are yours for life. Socialists of various hues don’t share the Jesuits’ religion but they do follow the same strategy. After all, Trotsky, who is still revered by many in France, once said that ‘the young are the barometer of the nation.’ More appropriate would be to say that the young are putty in the hands of assorted demagogues.

The two main contestants in Sunday’s election both want to make youngsters’ lives easier. Specifically, Hollande promises to make it easier for them to smoke cannabis, while Sarkozy vows to make it easier for them to get driving licences. Considering the standards of driving on French roads, Sarkozy’s proposed policy probably presents more of a public hazard. That, however, didn’t prevent him from claiming that Hollande’s policy is ‘irresponsible’, which of course it is.

Anything for grown-ups, gentlemen? ‘Mais oui!’ assures Sarkozy. Things aren’t so bad as they seem. Yes, the unemployment rate is still 10 percent officially, and dieu only knows what it is in reality. And yes, that rate among Sarko’s beloved young is nearer 25 percent, but that’ll improve now they’ll all be able to drive to work, while still abstaining from cannabis. And yes, France did lose her AAA rating. But look on the bright side, citoyens: the euro may be ‘convalescing’, but ‘there is no risk of it imploding.’ He’s right about that: there is no risk. There may be a certainty, but that’s not at all the same as a risk. All in all, the promise writ large on Sarko’s banner is France forte! A strong France. Yeah, yeah.

Your turn, Mr Hollande. What have you got in your locker? Apart from your slogan Change is now? What François has is his conviction that now is no time for austerity. The accent must be on growth. Splendid idea, that. And how will the growth be financed, you might ask, the price of borrowing being what it is?

François is ready for you. Since austerity, meaning a cut in public spending, isn’t on the cards, growth will be bankrolled by borrowing. Yes, but isn’t it awfully expensive these days? Here Hollande hits you with the second part of his double-whammy. Of course, thanks to Sarko’s having frittered away France’s credit rating, it’s expensive to borrow from the money markets. That’s why – are you ready for this? – François won’t go anywhere near them. He’ll borrow from the people’s personal savings – doesn’t France have the highest rate of them in Europe, Ireland apart?

Now things are becoming clearer. If, contrary to Sarko’s prediction, and in accord with that of just about every serious economist, the euro does collapse in a year or two, and Hollande has borrowed against people’s life savings, what do you reckon will happen to those savings?

Will François get the chance? Well, he is ahead in four out of six first-round polls and 7-14 points ahead in the second-round ones. But, with about 25 percent of the electorate still undecided, anything can happen. Suspense is still in the air, and the noise is deafening.

So deafening, in fact, that no one has noticed that ‘the barometer of the nation’ (the unemployed and unemployable young) is about to fall off the shelf and smash. I do hope the grown-ups don’t cut their feet on the shards of glass.   

Anders Breivik is absolutely right: three months for murder is pathetic

The calculation is simple even for a numerically challenged person like me. The Nazi murdered 77 people in cold blood. Now that court-appointed psychiatrists have found him sane, the maximum punishment he can receive is 21 years. Let me see: 21 times 12, that’s 252 months. Divided by 77 – yes, that’s right: the vile taking of each human life rates 3.2 months in prison.

Such a risible punishment makes me agree with Breivik who, sensible for once, said that there are only two possible verdicts in this case: acquittal or death. I know which one I’d vote for. But Norway’s courts don’t have the option of the death penalty. Neither can they put the murderer away for life, unless they do find him insane after all and have him committed indefinitely.

The time Breivik will spend in prison will be most civilised. Norwegian prisons aren’t hellholes like Greek ones, and they don’t force inmates to do hard (or for that matter soft) labour, as they do in Russia. Of course, the demographics of Norwegian prisons are almost exclusively – how shall I put this without offending anyone? – multicultural. Considering how forcefully Breivik has conveyed his views on multiculturalism, he won’t last a week if put into general population. That’s why I’d venture a guess that he won’t be put there: to do so wouldn’t be tolerant, humane, liberal or any such commendable thing. So some logistical accommodation will be found, which won’t be hard since Norwegian prisons are half-empty and there’s plenty of space.

When Breivik is released he’ll be 53, with decades of untroubled life ahead of him. But the lives of his victims’ families will never be untroubled again; they’ll for ever be waking up in the middle of the night, pursued by the nightmarish visions of the well-fed monster grinning as he kills those they loved so much. They’ll never find peace, but neither will they find justice, for three months for murder isn’t justice. It’s mockery. That brings into focus the issue of the death penalty.

Contrary to a widespread misapprehension, rather than denying the natural right to life, the death penalty affirms it. The underlying assumption is that the value of a human life wantonly taken is so great that it can’t be balanced against any term of imprisonment. And of course this issue, just like everything else, is these days politicised. To prove that, ask yourself these questions: Is the death penalty a violation of the right to life? Is abortion? How is it that the proponents of the latter are almost always opponents of the former and vice versa, with this right invoked in each case?

The death penalty was never regarded as cruel and unusual punishment in Scripture, the ultimate moral code of the West. When society was more than just a figure of speech, the moral validity of the death penalty was never in doubt. It was understood that murder sent shock waves throughout the community, and the amplitude of those destructive waves could be attenuated only by a punishment commensurate with the crime. Without it, the agitated community would run the risk of never recovering its peace.

That is one salient point in favour of the death penalty; deterrence is another. While the deterrent value of the death penalty is often, and spuriously, disputed, one thing is beyond doubt: it deters the executed criminal. This is no mean achievement considering that since the death penalty for murder was abolished in Britain in 1965, dozens of people have been murdered by killers released from prison after serving their sentence for another murder.

The issue isn’t entirely clear-cut. One may legitimately argue against the death penalty, citing, for example, the corrupting effect it has on the executioner – or else doubting the right of mortal and therefore fallible men to pass irreversible judgement. Such arguments are noble, but they aren’t modern arguments. For it’s not just the death penalty that modernity is uncomfortable with, but the very idea of punishment.

More and more, one hears arguments that people are all innately good and, if some behave badly, they must be victims of either correctable social injustice or a treatable mental disorder. More and more, one detects a belief that justice is an antiquated notion, and law is only an aspect of the social services.

And so it now is, for it appears to be subject to the same inner logic as welfare, whereby a government activity invariably promotes the very mode of behaviour it is designed to curb. If the single-mother benefit encourages single motherhood and the unemployment benefit promotes unemployment, then by the same token it’s the crime-fighting activity of the modern state that makes the crime rate climb.

Breivik is admitting his acts, but not his guilt. There’s no repentance; he’s proud of what he has done – in his mind he has served his cause well. Those of us who disagree only wish he could be disabused of this notion in the most decisive manner.

For there is such a thing as society, and it has a right to defend itself. But to do so properly a society must have the self-confident power of its convictions, for that’s what it takes to stamp out a threat. But we in the West have no convictions left, and therefore no power. Throughout the West the law of self-preservation has been repealed.

Sorry, Sir, we’ve cut off the wrong leg

In the judgment of his peers, my friend, let’s call him Boris, was one of the most brilliant neurosurgeons in Houston, Texas. That was no trivial accolade, considering that at that time, some 30 years ago, Houston was to neurosurgery what Paris is to haute cuisine or Barcelona to football.

Boris’s colleague at the hospital readily, and reverentially, admitted that my friend’s skill was much superior to his own. Dr Thomson was modest, but his income wasn’t – he made well in excess of $1,000,000 a year. Boris made $22,000.

You see, Boris was from Russia and, though a genius with a scalpel in his hand, he had no linguistic ability whatsoever. Alas, the qualification exam foreign-trained doctors had to sit in America consisted of two equal parts: medicine and language. Sitting the blasted thing year after year, Boris would sail through the first part and, with the certainty of night following day, fail the second. After a few years he gave up trying and accepted his role as surgeon’s assistant, in effect a paramedic, though his million-a-year colleagues had no reservations about letting Boris operate every now and then.

One day he showed me the examination papers, with several hundred questions designed to test the prospective doctor’s English. Until then, my impression had been that the test would merely determine the doctor’s ability to understand and be understood, and quite right too. That impression turned out to be wrong. For the test covered the kind of grammatical and stylistic subtleties that would defeat most native speakers.

I recall one example. Choose the right word: He is one of those people who [a) demand, b) demands] attention. I have no doubt whatsoever that you’ve unerringly picked the right answer, which is a). But I’ll bet my $1,000,000 against your $22,000 that you know many Englishmen who wouldn’t. Now imagine several hundred similar questions together, and you’ll probably agree that only an infinitesimal minority of even native Anglophones would pass such an exam.

You may think this is going a bit too far, and I may agree with you. You may further think that, to keep foreigners out of a highly lucrative field, the test was designed partly as a sort of protectionist tariff – and I may agree with you again. But there’s no doubt that, since a doctor’s ability to communicate with patients can be a matter of life or death, this ability must be an essential part of his qualifications.

Not to test it at all before letting a doctor anywhere near a patient isn’t just stupid; it’s mad and criminal. Now that’s where the EU comes in.

Its laws mandate free movement of labour throughout the ‘zone’, a desideratum that presumably precludes any testing of a doctor’s command of English. The EU gauleiters feel so strongly about this law that they’ll defend it to the death – though naturally not their own. They’ve already defended it to the death of the pensioner David Gray, who died after wrongly receiving an industrial dose of diamorphine (heroin, in common parlance) from a Germany-trained locum.

That’s why I grasp at the rare opportunity to congratulate a minister on a job well done. Unlike his Labour predecessors, Health Secretary Andrew Lansing is prepared to introduce sanity into the asylum. According to his proposed policy, EU-trained doctors wishing to practise in the UK will be tested on their command of English. And those of the 23,000 already practising here whose command is inadequate will be struck off.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Lansing will be able to get away with trying to be sane in an insane world; I’ll have to check on the odds at my local betting shop. But if this policy goes through, we shouldn’t stop there.

For equally deadly may be nurses who, like a foreign godfather, make you an offer you can’t understand. If you’ll forgive another personal recollection, a few years ago I was in hospital, receiving some 40 drugs at the same time. In addition to intravenous diamorphine (in the right dose), one of them was a cocaine mouthwash, brought to me by a nurse twice a day in a 50 ml tub.

One of the nurses could speak very little English and, my propensity for infantile jokes enhanced by boredom, I asked her if I should drink the mouthwash in one gulp. ‘Trink?’ she asked, obviously perplexed. ‘Trink in vun gulp? Yes, trink in vun gulp.’ Had I followed that medical advice, you wouldn’t have the dubious pleasure of my company.

Perhaps, if we let our fantasies run away with us, a time will come when not just doctors, but anyone having to communicate with people in his line of work, will be expected to do so in comprehensible English. For example, I’ve met many waiters in France who can’t speak English – but have yet to meet one who can’t speak French, and that includes those who manifestly aren’t French.

Would it be too much to ask for something similar in Britain? Yes, it would, if we let the EU have its way. So Godspeed, Mr Lansing. You may be in for a rough ride.