Margaret Court beats Laura Robson hands down

Stars shine so bright these days, they are blinding. Our vision impared, we’re ready to accept that expertise in a narrow technical area, such as acting, sports or science, somehow adds brilliance to the expert’s views on other subjects as well. Thus we don’t flinch when a 40-23-40 film star regales us with her opinions on the global implications of warm weather, or when a tattooed footballer with a useful left foot declares that ‘we shouldnta went into Iraq.’

Still, when a 17-year-old girl who is still a long way from stardom chooses to expand on serious issues, one would think that her silly pronouncements would be laughed away. Yet Laura Robson’s publicity stunt for her flaming social conscience has attracted the kind of attention that her feeble tennis at the Australian Open wouldn’t rate.

Laura showed up for her first-round match wearing a rainbow-coloured hair band, which was her way of defending same-sex marriage from the attack launched in the press by the former champion, three-time Wimbledon winner Margaret Court.

Mrs Court, who upon her retirement from tennis became an evangelical pastor, told the Perth Tribune that, ‘Politically correct education has… escorted homosexuality out from behind closed doors… and is now aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take.’ It was this factual observation that in Miss Robson’s mature judgment demanded a stern rebuke.

Asked about her public display of the pro-homosexuality symbol, Laura explained, ‘I believe in equal rights for everyone, that is why I wore it.’ Now, normally I refrain from debating serious matters with barely post-pubescent people, whose brains aren’t even wired properly yet. But in this instance, the ensuing brouhaha is of such intensity that a comment or two would be in order.

‘Equal rights for everyone’ is a fraught notion, one to be used with caution, especially when taken out of its natural domain of jurisprudence. That everyone has equal rights before the law doesn’t mean that society can’t take issue with practices it considers objectionable. Homosexuality used to be one such practice, for reasons moral, aesthetic and demographic. But by now acceptance of ‘alternative’ sexual behaviour has become a new orthodoxy enforced by the state.

Though supposed to be a sign of tolerance, this is in fact its exact opposite: the modern state is no longer prepared to tolerate even vestigial manifestations of Judaeo-Christian morality. Propaganda of homosexuality is thus a weapon of aggression, not defence. Witness the fact that the first modern country without anti-homosexuality laws was Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1934, a place and time not otherwise known for a laissez-faire attitude to life or love of Western liberties.

Those reacting to Mrs Court’s remarks with anger singled out her description of homosexuality as a ‘personal choice’. People, they say, can’t be blamed for the way they are. That much is true: homosexuals shouldn’t be blamed, much less prosecuted, for their proclivity. Nor, for that matter, should a murderer be blamed for his propensity for violence as long as he controls it, or a kleptomaniac punished for his urge to steal until he actually does so. People must not be blamed for what they are; it’s for what they do that they must be held accountable. I’m not suggesting that homosexual acts ought to be criminalised the way murder and theft are — only that they are indeed a matter of personal choice.

Moreover, observation suggests that most people, including homosexuals with taste, are uncomfortable to see this personal choice exercised openly and defiantly. If our democracy were more than a figure of PC speech, politicians would listen to the voice of the very demos in whose name they supposedly govern. As it is, they do all they can to smash what’s left of the traditional order, knowing full well that in the old days the likes of them could only get to Westminster as tourists. The traditional order rests upon traditional institutions, and none is more vital than marriage. That’s why it finds itself under savage attack.

A tax system punishing marriage, various single-mother benefits discouraging fatherhood in any other than the physiological sense, divorce and abortion available on demand, sex education that’s not so much immoral as amoral are all prongs of this offensive. Homosexual marriage, so passionately supported by Laura Robson, is one such prong too, perhaps the most egregious of all. Marriage is thus being deprived of its procreative function, for which it was instituted in the first place.

There are enough legal tools in existence already to protect, say, the property rights of cohabiting homosexuals. A couple of wills ought to do it, accompanied by jointly taken mortgages, shared ownership of things like cars and furniture and so forth. Adding marriage to this armoury is superfluous in any other than a purely destructive sense. And it’s traditional marriage that’s at the receiving end.

It used to be a union of man and woman before God. First, in keeping with the spirit of the time, God was replaced by the registrar. Now man and woman are being augmented by man and man or woman and woman. How long before we’ll thus sanctify interspecial unions? After all, zoophiliacs can’t be blamed for what they are either.

All in all, Laura Robson would do much better trying to improve her sluggish movement on the tennis court. That way she may learn to win more than three games in the first round of a major tournament — and gain publicity for the right reasons.


Responsible capitalism and irresponsible politicians

Another day, another attempt by Clegg to do an impression of a statesman on TV. This time, speaking on behalf of the coalition, the Rory Bremner of politics introduced a shift from one set of buzz words to another.

Words like ‘responsible capitalism’, ’employee ownership’, ‘right to request shares’ and ‘progressive taxation’ were buzzing all over the Mansion House, where the DPM gave the world the benefit of his economic wisdom, springing no doubt from his own rich experience in business. 

About time too: ‘Big Society’ lost its buzz when it turned out it was nothing but buzz. Now we have ’employee ownership’, an idea that’ll supposedly end our economic woes once the TV star has worked out all the ‘details’, which he self-admittedly hasn’t quite done yet.

One detail I’d suggest he concentrate on is how to work out this imaginary scenario. Let’s say four chaps start a company, with each owning 25 percent of the shares. Within a few years the company has thrived, it now employs 100 people, and the owners’ shares are worth a lot of money, though each still owns 25 percent. So how is Clegg going to make them transfer part of the ownership to the employees? Assuming they haven’t seen the light of their own accord? There’s only one sure way: the state moves in, confiscates a portion of the company and distributes the shares. Thus we can reduce Nick’s buzzing ‘responsible capitalism’ to one prosaic word: confiscation.

As to the ‘right to request shares’, one would think no government action is required because this right already exists. In a plc, anyone can buy shares in the open market, no special dispensation needed. And in a privately owned company, an employee can always ask the owners for shares in the business — all they can do is say no. Still, if you never ask, you never get, and perhaps this same employee is valuable enough for the owners to give (or sell) him a small part of the company. Either way, there’s no harm in asking — is this what Clegg is saying?

Probably not. What he’s still too coy to spell out is that, for the employee’s right to request shares to mean anything at all, it must be matched to the owner’s obligation to satisfy the request. So this too means confiscation.

Sure enough, Clegg is suggesting some tax incentives for owners to go along. Again, that area where the devil resides needs to have some light thrown on it. Let’s say our hypothetical four owners have 1,000 shares each. It would then be no great sacrifice for them to give each of their 100 employees a couple of meaningless shares just to qualify for the tax breaks. To think they wouldn’t resort to such a ruse is to presume too much on human goodness.

Therefore, to prevent windows from being dressed in this way, the state would have to insist that the relinquished shares represent a significant chunk of the total. In other words, the state would reserve the right to decide who owns what, effectively turning business owners into business managers first, state employees second.

That would enforce the concept so dear to Clegg’s heart: egalitarianism. He hinted at this affection by yet again using ‘redistribution’ and ‘progressive taxation’ in the positive sense. To Burke ‘compulsory equalisations’ could only mean ‘equal want, equal wretchedness, equal beggary.’ To modern egalitarians like Clegg they are the shining beacon.

‘Progressive’, which is to say redistributive, taxation highlights this by setting up a conflict between two pieties. On the one hand, redistributive taxes represent an egalitarian attempt to push high earners down to a lower level. On the other hand, they are a flagrant violation of the principle of equality before law, which is the only equality that can be mentioned in the same breath as justice.

It goes without saying that someone who earns more should pay more tax in absolute terms. But to make him pay, say, four times the proportion of his income has as much to do with justice as the Korean People’s Democratic Republic has to do with people, democracy or republicanism. So at the heart of Clegg’s affection for ‘progressive’ taxation lies the same deeply felt conviction in confiscation. Bogus equality will trump the real kind every time.

One can detect the source of Clegg’s ideas (details presumably to be worked out after the next election). In Germany employees indeed sit on remuneration committees and take a more active part in management. This goes back to Walther Rathenau’s war socialism of the First World War, a practice later embellished and incorporated by the Federal Republic. It’s debatable whether Germany’s economic successes are indeed attributable to worker participation, as opposed to the superior work ethic and education of their labour force. But the German provenance of this arrangement is indisputable, and Nick does have this uncontrollable passion for things continental.

It’s far from certain, however, that, in the absence of superior work ethic and education, employee ownership would be universally successful in Britain. Still, as the success of John Lewis, much touted by Clegg, shows, the idea isn’t without merit in some situations and for some types of business (in this instance, retail trade). But Nick, Dave, George, Vince, Danny and the rest of the gang must learn that, when it comes to companies they don’t own, there has to be an uncrossable line between a promising idea and government action. 

If you want to help the economy, gentlemen, just halve taxation and government spending, leave the EU with its stifling regulations, and let us get on with it. We’ll sort ourselves out, thank you very much. The people who make a big success of the businesses they own don’t need your help — much less your diktats — to decide how to deal with employees.

And please — please! — spare us the waffle and buzz words. Keep those for your ghost-written memoirs.


Christmas roast, Dutch style

And you thought Big Brother was bad. Over Christmas the Dutch TV channel BNN ran a show called Proefkonijnen (Guinea Pigs) that introduced a whole new viewing experience: cannibalism, in living colour.

Two young presenters, Dennis Storm and Valerio Zeno, each had a small piece of his flesh surgically removed, Mr Storm from his buttock, Mr Zeno, paradoxically, from his belly. A professional chef, presumably the Dutch answer to Gordon Ramsay, then fried the delectable morsels in sunflower oil (recommended by the medical profession as a healthy alternative to butter), but, disappointingly, without any salt and pepper. The two cannibals then had a candle-lit supper on camera, all in the best possible taste, joyously comparing notes on the flavour of each other’s meat.

One hesitates to describe the repast as human flesh for that would imply that the two main participants, along with everyone else involved in the production and viewing of such entertainment, are indeed human — which in this case ought not to be taken for granted. But it’s beyond doubt that the BNN channel has outdone its previous achievements.

A few months ago it ran the show Shooting Up and Swallowing, offering for public consumption live mainlining of heroin, along with sex acts whose nature is implicit in the show’s title. And in 2007 BNN embellished the format of Big Brother (also a Dutch creation, by the way) by presenting The Big Donor Show, where the public was supposed to eliminate one by one gravely ill patients in need of a kidney transplant. All perfectly disgusting of course, but it’s the cannibalism that takes the biscuit — or the buttock, if you’d rather.

One hankers after the days olden when people were regarded, at least in the West, as consumers of food, rather than the main course. The human body was thought sacrosanct, but that prejudice was of course only prevalent before Jesus Christ became a superstar. It was assumed that the difference between man and beast was that of quality, not degree. Man wasn’t just more intelligent than the chimpanzee or more enterprising than the dolphin. He was created in the image of God, which salient characteristic might not have prevented him from killing or being killed, but it did prevent him from eating others or being eaten by them.

The universal acceptance of Darwin’s slipshod theory has put an end to such an outdated notion. Man got to be seen as other animals’ equal, no better than any if a bit cleverer than most. Within the boundaries of such a perception of humanity, any logical objection to cannibalism begins to fade away.

And it’s not just cannibalism. In 2008 Spain’s parliament passed a resolution granting human rights to apes. Specifically, it committed the country to the dictates of the Great Ape Project, founded by the ‘philosopher’ Peter Singer, professor of bioethics in Princeton. Henceforth, the 315 apes currently resident in Spain can’t be incarcerated without due process. That raises all sorts of irreverent questions, such as, where trial by jury is part of due process, who will serve on the juries of the apes’ peers. Presumably it’ll have to be other apes (Millwall supporters may be narrowly disqualified). Then how will the jury follow the barristers’ arguments, evaluate the evidence and pass the verdict? I’m sure Prof. Singer will figure it out, clever chap like him.

Earlier he allowed that humans and animals could have ‘mutually satisfying sexual relations’ because ‘we are animals, indeed more specifically, we are great apes.’ Therefore such sex ‘ceases to be an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.’ This may be bad news for sheep and poor Mrs Singer, but there’s some insane logic there. Why not have sex with apes if we aren’t all that different from them? We do share about 99% of our genetic material with chimpanzees, so what’s that extra 1% among friends? And if we eat bovine flesh, why not the human variety?

No reason at all, especially in Holland, where the legalisation of euthanasia in 2002 put paid to the ancient notion of the sanctity of human life. By some accounts, about 4,000 people have been done in by doctors since then, with the issue of consent somewhat blurred in many instances. And I know from numerous conversations with Dutch people that many of their elderly compatriots refuse to go to hospitals because they fear that doctors will kill them.

In that context, using human corpses as a source of protein is no longer unthinkable. They’re already used for medical research, and their organs for transplants, so the unused portion may add some welcome variety to our diets. And there’s no denying that a small steak cut out of a live person would be fresher, healthier and tastier than dead flesh. So yet again the Dutch have pioneered an important development in the concept of man, not to mention nutrition.

Can you imagine this? ‘And now, ladies and gentlemen, live, from the same wonderful people who gave you Rembrandt and Vermeer, another yummy treat: the devouring of human flesh!!!’ Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. You can watch it on YouTube.




Clegg’s usual Euro-nonsense, this time on TV

Normally I don’t watch TV news, instead relying on newspapers for information and books for knowledge. However, in rural France, where I am now, no British newspapers are to be found, and French papers aren’t worth reading. Not only is their writing poor but, for someone of conservative disposition, they’re actively irritating and medically dangerous. Politically Le Figaro is about like The Times, Le Monde is like the Guardian and La Liberation is Trotskyist. The whole range is shifted leftwards, and my blood pressure simply can’t handle it.

So there I was, watching, rather than reading about, our DPM doing a star turn on Sky News. And a decent TV performer he is too, almost as good as Rory Bremner. Clegg’s impersonation of a statesman was confident, polished and, apart from the odd ‘at the end of the day’, stylistically sound. And if only I had his looks… In other words, loved the delivery, shame about the content.

The jolly, rotund Irish interviewer asked Clegg if Britain would eventually sign everything Cameron refused to sign last month. No doubt about that, came the disloyal reply, provided some unspecified ‘safeguards’ are inserted into the document. After all, ‘three million UK jobs depend on our ability to export to Europe.’

How do politicians get away with uttering statements that wouldn’t survive 10 seconds of even half-competent and scantily informed opposition? What makes them so sure of their intellectual invulnerability? This kind of self-confidence borders on effrontery which, coupled with photogenic looks, seems to be the sole requirement for political success these days. But scratch their arguments, and you’ll find nothing but hot air inside. Scratch a bit harder, and you’ll hear a hissing sound.

In this instance, Clegg’s assumption seems to be that, should we, God forbid, leave the EU, we wouldn’t be able to trade with Europe, thereby losing the three million jobs supposedly derived from that activity. But that’s arrant nonsense, which Clegg probably knows but wouldn’t tell.

First, the EU would continue to export to Britain because 1) we buy more from them than any other country does, and much more than they buy from us, and 2) slapping protectionist tariffs on British exports to the EU would be contrary to the rules of the World Trade Organisation and indeed the EU’s own Lisbon Treaty. Witness the fact that the EU didn’t apply such restrictions to either Switzerland or Norway, both of which wisely stayed outside the Single Market. And yet, in per capita terms, the former exports to the eurozone three times more than we do, and the latter five times.

Clegg’s second assumption is that staying in the EU has a positive, indeed indispensable, effect on our economy. That too is nonsense. Our costs, hidden or otherwise, of belonging to the EU are far greater than the total value of our exports to the continental 26. These costs are variously estimated at four to a whopping 20% of our Gross Domestic Product.

Moreover, almost 90% of our unsustainable trade deficit is caused by trade with the EU. That means that at least two million jobs that would otherwise stay in Britain instead go to Germany, France, Italy and the rest (it takes jobs to make the goods we buy from them).

Also, it’s useful to remember that 90% of our economy has nothing to do with European trade — it’s either domestic or involving trade with other countries. And, while our exports to the EU account for about 40% of our total export activity, they are growing at a much slower rate than our exports to other continents.

To sum it all up, if we left the EU with immediate effect, we’d save at least 10% of our GDP and unshackle our businesses currently groaning under the weight of European regulations and red tape. Which is to say we’d be much better off even in purely arithmetical terms, never mind in the areas dealing with Britain’s ancient laws, national sovereignty and traditional rights of Englishmen. Those considerations alone would be sufficient for us to leave the EU even if the sums added up. But they don’t.

If we left now we’d be in a much stronger position to prepare for the toxic fallout of the economic catastrophe lurking just around the EU corner. Should the euro collapse, in its present form or altogether, as anyone with a modicum of economic education knows it will, we’ll suffer one way or the other, as will the rest of the world. But our exposure would be much smaller outside than inside, and smaller still if we had enough time to shift more of our trade away from the eurozone.

If Clegg doesn’t understand any of this, he’s a fool. If he does and still mouths his usual ignorant platitudes, he’s a knave. And if we have someone like him in a position of power, what does it make us?



Say it with jewellery: Lenin good, Hitler bad

Apart from female dignitaries accepting the odd diamond from unsavoury foreigners, jewellery tends to be rather uncontroversial. Well, not any longer. The other day a jewellery shop in Brooklyn put swastika-shaped earrings up for sale, and the $5.99 ornaments were sold out in a matter of hours.

A lively exchange followed, with Scott Singer, Manhattan Borough President, stepping outside his jurisdiction to demand that the offensive item be removed. ‘A swastika is not a fashion statement,’ he said, and Young Kim, the shop’s manager, agreed it’s so much more than that: ‘I don’t know what the problem is. My earrings are coming from India as a Buddhist symbol.’

That may be, but surely Mr Kim must be aware that this side of Tibet the swastika isn’t just a Buddhist symbol. I don’t know how long he has lived in the West, but if it’s more than a month or two he must be aware of certain sensitivities aroused by this particular ancient design. Also, while New Yorkers do tend to show a most unhealthy interest in Eastern cults, I doubt the swastika earrings became such a hot item solely on the strength of their association with reincarnation, Nirvana and disdainful detachment from this world.

So Mr Singer may be right when describing the swastika as ‘an insult to every civilised person’. However, one might observe that ‘civilised persons’ are these days rather selective in their reaction to offensive symbols. Witness the profusion of Soviet memorabilia, openly sold in shops all over the West. In the last few years I’ve espied such shops in Arezzo and Auxerre, London and New York, Paris and Amsterdam — and of course Moscow and Petersburg. Nowhere did I witness an outburst of outraged indignation, private or public.

One has to infer that the realities represented by, say, a hammer and sickle or Lenin’s profile are widely perceived as somehow being less offensive than those symbolised by the swastika or Hitler’s moustache. ‘Every civilised person’ seems to think that Soviet concentration camps and execution cellars were nice, clean fun compared to the horrors of Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers. Thousands of youngsters who wouldn’t dream of wearing SS uniforms in public proudly prance about in greatcoats exhibiting KGB insignia. The SS is nasty; the KGB, cool.

The families of the 60 million people murdered by the communists in Russia, as many again in China, and untold millions elsewhere may disagree. They are too uncool to see that murder done in the name of international socialism can’t be equated to murder done in the name of national socialism. But we, cool Westerners, know better. We are deaf to the uncool people showing, calculator in hand, that in the murder stakes the Soviets outscored the Nazis not just in absolute numbers but even in annual output. The souls of the shot, starved and tortured to death can scream all they want — we choose not to hear. But flash a swastika before a chap sporting a Lenin lapel pin, and he’s up in arms.

I wonder why the double standard. One explanation may be that people have been trained to respond to words, not  deeds. The deeds of the Nazis and the Soviets are equally monstrous, but, unlike Nazi rants, the Soviet propaganda rhetoric appeals to the largest and politically most influential sector of the Western public: well-meaning ignoramuses.

I wish I had £10 for each time a Westerner has told me that communist ideas are wonderful, if lamentably perverted by the Russians — I’d be rich. And what ideas might those be? Well, equality, sharing and caring, respect even for the downtrodden — in short, all the same things our own politicians spout every day. ‘Read the Communist Manifesto,’ I invariably suggest. ‘All the monstrosities are there in black and white. If Lenin and Stalin indeed perverted Marx’s ideals, it was by softening them.’ Just as invariably I get worried looks showing genuine concern for my mental health.

I’m not even sure that the sale of either Nazi or Soviet symbols ought to be banned: a demand will always find a supply. What I am sure about is that the only way to suppress the demand for such obscene trinkets is to educate our youngsters properly. The issue of good and evil, and how they are manifested in political theory and practice, is a vital subject to teach. As vital, one might suggest, as the use of condoms, which seems to be the cornerstone of our comprehensive education.




What Iran’s nuclear programme can do to you

Another month, another Iranian physicist blown up. The story is making a bit of a splash in the press, but it’ll be forgotten tomorrow, ousted perhaps by reports of a pop star overdosing on heroin or the price of spuds going up. NIMBY, shrug the British at every opportunity, implying that if it’s not happening in their back yard it doesn’t matter.

In 1938 Neville Chamberlain summed up this attitude by branding the conflict brewing between Nazi Germany and Czechoslovakia as ‘a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.’ And care even less, was the unspoken refrain. We know what happened next, and why the quintessentially British disdain for foreign affairs turned out to be ill-advised.

But that was yet another history lesson that went unheeded, another exam failed. Moreover, the inept pupil who failed the exam is still remembered fondly by some. For example, John ‘Maastricht’ Major once singled out Chamberlain as his role model among erstwhile British Prime Ministers. You don’t say, Sir John.

What was myopic folly in the age of Stukas and Messerschmitts can become suicide in an age of ICBMs and nuclear warheads. And yet Iran and Israel are today’s Germany and Czechoslovakia of 1938: two far-away countries that have nothing to do with us. Iran’s nuclear programme, which the Israelis are desperately trying to slow down, is being viewed with Olympic detachment. We don’t seem to realise that it’s not only the economy but also war that these days knows no private back yards. We’ve gone global, ladies and gentlemen.

There is no forensic evidence that it’s indeed Mossad that’s blowing up Iranian nuclear physicists and sabotaging factories, but we aren’t in a court of law now. Where we are, the ancient Cui bono? principle is as good as prima facie evidence. Whether Mossad is acting alone or hand in glove with the CIA is the only question still unanswered in the realm of common sense.

Most accounts of the assassination campaign one reads in the press feign impartiality, tinged with barely suppressed opprobrium — as if a country led by a frenzied homicidal madman and one living in constant fear of extinction compete on a level playing field. Are we out of our minds? Just imagine Britain being ringed by countries explicitly committed to driving her into the sea, to use Nasser’s phrase. Would we still think the odd assassination an exorbitant price to pay to delay the aggression? Rather than turning our noses up at the Israelis’ desperate attempts to stay alive, we should pray they succeed.

For the consequences of a possible nuclear war in the Middle East could well go beyond the radiation fallout that, with the winds blowing the wrong way, could affect us all. The whole world could go up in smoke, and only the Israelis and possibly the Americans can operate the fire extinguisher.

Russia’s role in the events isn’t a minor walk-on. After all, any turmoil in the region, never mind a full-blown war, is going to drive oil prices sky high. Since much of Russia’s economy and most of her exports are based on hydrocarbons, the country doesn’t want peace in the Middle East — it’s that Cui bono? again.

So it stands to reason that the Russian physicist Dr Vyacheslav Denisenko played a key part in Iran’s nuclear programme from its inception (something he denies most unconvincingly). One of his major contributions was the development of the half-sphere-shaped detonator, a device whose importance to peaceful atomic energy isn’t immediately obvious. And Denisenko isn’t the only one: the Bushehr nuclear plant on the Persian gulf has many Russian employees. Exactly how many no one knows, but, whatever the number is, it was reduced after the plane flying from Bushehr to Russia crashed last June. Five top Russian nuclear physicists died, and rumors of Israel’s complicity began to circulate instantly. I certainly hope the rumours are right.

Israel has been singled out for rough treatment in the press everywhere. Out of 196 countries in the world Israel is the only one whose legitimacy is ever questioned, and Palestinian Muslims, with their plight, are the PR stars of the anti-Israel show. We hardly ever hear much of the plight of Jews driven out of most Muslim countries, or brutally oppressed there. No one ever mentions that, say, Baghdad, whose population between the World Wars was one-third Jewish, now has exactly seven Jews left. Nor is our indignation aroused as reports of Christians being murdered in Muslim countries, from Nigeria to Pakistan, reach our ears. Give us Palestinians any day.

This almost universal attitude is usually put down to anti-Semitism, and it’s probably as much of a factor as it was during the Second World War, when Western countries weren’t exactly falling over themselves to save Jews from genocide. But worldwide propaganda waged by Muslim regimes does much to encourage such less than commendable sentiments. Bookshops even in such supposedly modern places as Dubai and Abu Dhabi are full of virulently anti-Semitic literature, with that notorious fake Protocols of the Elders of Zion displayed most prominently. Muslim radio and TV stations spew venom all over the world, expertly linking Israel’s occupation of the West Bank with the West’s colonial past. They know which guilt buttons to push, and we aren’t unduly bothered by their lack of subtlety.

Israel isn’t perfect — no country is. However, I’d say that, by every measurement that counts, it would be in the top 10% of the world’s 196 countries. Moreover, it’s the West’s staunch ally and an oasis of Western liberties in a region where they are despised. That’s astounding in a country that’s permanently in a state of war, either simmering or flaring up. By the standards of war time, Israel’s record on human rights is exemplary, though of course it’s different from ours. But just remember that the West’s most civilised countries suspend many civil liberties whenever the shooting starts. In 1941-1945 America interned all its Nisei Japanese (native-born Americans, most of them); Britain locked up all German refugees (including, illogically, German Jews) in the Isle of Man.

War wreaks havoc on traditional precepts, and Israel for all intents and purposes has been at war since it was founded. Every country has a right to defend itself, and for real politik reasons if no other, we must support Israel’s right to do so. It’s good not only for Israel but also for us that nuclear physics has become a high-risk science in Iran.







Communities are being offended all over the place — Cameron, beware

Dave ‘David’ just can’t win. No, I’m not going to bang on about his failure to gain an outright victory against the worst government in British history — that dead horse is water under Westminster bridge, as John Prescott could say. What I’m talking about is Dave’s current problems with assorted communities (don’t you just love this word?).

First, he offended the Tourette’s community by likening Ed Balls to a sufferer from that condition (any community would be offended if likened to Ed Balls). And it could have been worse. Dave could have referred to the Labour front bench as a gathering of subversive idiots, thereby offending several communities at once: subversive idiots,  non-subversive idiots and non-idiotic subversives.

Worse still, he could have made any number of crude puns based on the Shadow Chancellor’s surname, and don’t tell me he and Cleggers don’t bandy those about every time they take a quiet glass of Chateau Petrus together. A big pitfall to have avoided, that: Dave could have aroused the ire of the broad community of all those who are similarly disadvantaged with names carrying vague genital connotations, be that Cox, Clapp, C.O. Jones, Dick, Candida or — in more literary families — Goneril. I don’t know if this community is represented by a competent lobbyist yet or even if it identifies itself as a community, but if so Dave could have ended his political career there and then.

Not that such a development would be universally seen as an unqualified calamity. For just about everything Dave does offends a large, disfranchised, unlobbied-for community of true conservatives, and there are still a few left. Speaking for myself (I haven’t been authorised to speak for the whole community, but then such a snag doesn’t stop others), I was offended by Dave’s stated intention to sort out the way in which top executives are compensated. I do agree that some of their pay packages are obscene and often, these days usually, out of kilter with their performance or their firms’ success. Hence it would be a good idea to curb their appetites and to empower the shareholders to do the curbing. After all, it’s their money.

But in even a vestigially free country there ought to be a dividing line between a good idea and government diktat. The public sector’s remit doesn’t include shoving good ideas down people’s private throats. Thus our MPs should put a sock in it whenever they feel the urge to tell us to have two alcohol-free days a week. Yes, even though one doesn’t espy too many teetotallers in the House of Commons bars, for us to drink less may be a good idea. But it’s none of their business.

Similarly, the only way for our politicians to ensure that every good idea is acted upon by companies trading in the UK is to nationalise the lot, as they’ve already nationalised most banks. Then they could decide who gets how much; you pay your money, you make the music. But that would be a bit of been there, done that (remember the seventies?). Moreover, wholesale nationalisation would offend the conservative community even more that it’s offended already. Not to mention the offence caused to the much larger community of those who want a semblance of a healthy economy.

And then there’s the most egregious offence that just won’t go away: the EUSSR. Just imagine a Tory minister going behind the PM’s back to tell the world that the government’s key policy decision was a gross and easily reversible mistake. Such a minister would become an ex-minister faster than it would take him to write a Dear Dave letter of resignation. But when Cleggers does it, Dave is helpless.

This is a coalition government after all, one based on ideological kinship and united by an overriding high principle, otherwise known as powerlust. Cleggers, of course, has to keep his own LibDem community sweet — he’s not just any old Deputy PM, like John Prescott was. Too much loyalty to the PM and Cleggers won’t be able to hang on as party leader until 2015, when he’ll move to Brussels with the satisfaction of a job well botched.

One can understand his predicament, but then Dave has one of his own. Sound too much like a true-blue Tory, and there goes the much bigger wet community, offended all the way into Red Ed’s camp. Make too many pro-EUSSR noises, and not only will real conservatives be offended into Nigel Farage’s embrace, but even some undecideds may feel insulted. You know, members of the politically inert community who nonetheless incline towards euroscepticism, which they prove by chanting ‘if it wasn’t for England, you’d all be Krauts’ at football matches.

Communities, there’s no getting away from them. Whenever you please one, you upset another, so what’s a poor politician to do? One might suggest ignoring this madhouse and trying to do the right thing, provided of course he knows what that is. But such a suggestion would be offensive to the madhouse community.

Big Olympic event: throwing money out of the window

You have five seconds — all right, ten — to tell me which was the only country to have staged both summer and winter Olympics in the same year. Was it, a)… hell, never mind multiple choice, this isn’t Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and you can’t call a friend. Just tell me. But a confession first: when I was asked the same question, I didn’t have a clue. Well? Sorry, your time’s up. It was Germany in 1936.

I’ve never seen any footage of the Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. But I’ve seen plenty of the Berlin Olympics, including that of England’s football team doing the Heil Hitler salute at the box where the führer himself was beaming ear to ear. I also remember that grin becoming ever so strained each time Jessie Owens punched medal-sized holes in the Arian myth. But then the Germans won the Games handily, and the smile became warm again.

Above all, I remember Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, the first ever documentary film about Olympics. Another first was the now familiar Torch Run introduced by the Nazis who loved their torches. There was something sylvine about them, something evoking Erlkönig, hobgoblins and Wagner. Riefenstahl filmed the torches with gusto and a great deal of lamentably misused technical mastery, only matched by her earlier film about the Nuremberg rallies.

Interestingly, both the Nazis and the Soviets were at the time the greatest pioneers of cinematic tricks, and there were several Soviet directors who could give Leni a run for her money (Kuleshov, Vetrov, Dovzhenko et al). Both regimes recognised the propaganda value of cinema, which Lenin explained in so many words. And that’s what I remember most about Olympia: not the innovative tracking shots, but the propaganda.

When the Olympic torch fell out of the Nazis’ hand, it was picked up by the Soviets and their stooges. Gold medals now served to convey ideological rather than racial superiority — every time Soviet hermaphrodites, such as the Press sisters, ascended to the podium, they were seen not as a side show but as a triumph of a murderous political system. Every time female East German swimmers gave interviews in basso profundo, their voices and their bodies monstrously distorted by massive doses of steroids, a blow was struck for concentration camps.

From then on the Olympic ‘ideals’ got a divorce from not only the Greece of that Marathon chap, but also from the France of Pierre Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic movement. It married propaganda instead, till death do us part. In that context, and it’s the only one extant, it saddens me that London has won the race to stage this year’s Games. Winning a victory ought to imply a gain. Instead, we’ll suffer tremendous losses.

We’ll lose what little is left of our integrity: picking up the relay baton from the Nazis and the Soviets is a dubious honour. The Olympic ‘project’ is irrevocably tainted, and its use as propaganda for whatever the Dave-Nick coalition stands for (will someone please tell me what it is?) doesn’t add much lustre, even if their regime hasn’t yet graduated to camps. At least Boris Johnson looked slightly embarrassed when trying to sound gloriously triumphant at the award of the Games to London; nothing embarrasses Dave and Nick. The Nazis and the Soviets were trying to gain international credibility; we’ll lose the last vestiges of ours.

And we’ll use a great deal of money too, at a time when there’s no money to be lost. How much money? No one knows. Yes, of course there are budgets, but those are more honoured in the breach than the observance. Every month brings glad tidings of Olympic budgets going over the estimates, but hey, no cost is too great for Dave-Nick to be seen as world statesmen. The suffocating, billion-losing effect on London’s (and Britain’s) infrastructure is so hard to predict that no one even tries. Suffice it to say that Montreal is still paying for the 1976 Games, and Canada has a healthier economy than we do.

Still, even though budgets are no more than a statement of intent, one of them is particularly impressive. Security alone is estimated to cost in excess of £1 billion. Estimated, get it? So double it in your mind. And it’s not just a few extra coppers on the beat. According to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, surface-to-air missiles will be deployed to protect the Olympics from too much international enthusiasm.

Since by then our armed forces will have dwindled away to nothing, I wonder who’ll fire those rockets should the need arise. Presumably it’ll be social workers, the only public servants this side of HMG/EUSSR who have secure job prospects. I do hope they’ll be trained to tell the difference between a jumbo jet descending on Heathrow and one about to crash into Wembley stadium. Just in case, remind me not to fly during the Games.

Throwing money out of the window has become a major Olympic event. However, it’ll be different from the likes of javelin, discus or hammer throw in that there won’t be any winners. There will, however, be losers: you and me. I hope you’ll join me in planning your summer holidays to fall between 27 July and 19 August. Just a symbolic gesture of course, but a satisfying one.


How our ‘Great Leader’ can sort out the NHS

Some 30 years ago I saw a copy of a North Korean propaganda magazine in English. My eye was immediately drawn to the glossy photograph accompanying one of the features. It showed a white-gowned Kim Il-sung talking to similarly clad scientists in a lab. The caption said, ‘The Great Leader teaching biochemists how to set up experiments.’

In a refreshing current development Dave ‘David’ Cameron chose to emulate this role model by offering nurses rather imperative advice on how to do their job. What with the so-called cuts in public services, he must have felt that his image needed some compassioning up. The downbeat in the rhythm of politics called for the upbeat of Dave showing us that he cares.

Call me morbidly sensitive, but I felt queasy at the sight of Dave ‘David’ doing a Kim impression by offering guidance in an area outside his area of competence. Actually, it’s hard to see what that might be (he couldn’t even score an outright victory against the worst government in British history). Fine, let’s call it his remit.

But I’m not here to criticise Dave. I’d like to offer a solution to the conundrum that’s but a PR opportunity to him and a matter of life or death to us. For the problem with NHS nurses isn’t that they don’t take patients to the lavatory often enough. The problem is that they are NHS. They are a symptom of a systemic disease.

Even as most believers refuse to discuss the existence of God, NHS worshippers treat any such suggestions as a heresy. They are ready to light the pyre, for the time being only figuratively. And yet the NHS is only a system of financing medical care. It shouldn’t be an unquestionable cult claiming a moral high ground. In fact it has no moral implications whatsoever, though it does have quite a few immoral ones, those based on universally discredited socialist premises.

If we look at it dispassionately, as we would with any other system of financing anything else, then we’d have to see its gross inadequacy straight away. Compared to medicine in any other developed country, the NHS, which is in essence people paying for medicine through their taxes, rather than direct, is simply not good enough. It’s only in our virtual world that it’s taken seriously.

In a real world, if medical care could indeed be financed by the state, it would be by expedients other than robbing Peter to pay Paul. The state could do a much better job by introducing what I call negative taxation for positive purposes. The underlying principle is that, rather than taking money away from the people and then supposedly using it for their benefit, the state would leave the money in people’s wallets and let the citizens fend for themselves. Rather than taxing people into submission, the state would exempt from tax the full cost of premiums paid for medical insurance. This would make private medicine tax-free, and consequently affordable to just about everybody.

Every taxpayer would have the choice of either handing his money over to the government or using the same amount to provide for his own health. The choice isn’t difficult: most patients even now would rather keep themselves out of the state’s clutches if they could afford it. The North Korean standards of medical care in the NHS are hardly news any longer, and people would welcome the alternative system. Not only would it be more efficient, but it would also be more moral — if merely by eliminating all those tax collectors and optimisation-facilitating, facilitation-optimising directors of diversity cum equality.

However, those who don’t pay tax anyway, for whatever reason, would derive no immediate benefit from negative taxation (they’d derive a vicarious benefit though, as the quality of medical care would improve). If they don’t pay tax for reasons of incapacity or poverty, they must be helped in other ways. For example, help could come from private charities that would be awash with money if the same negative-taxation principle could be applied to them. The state would only step in to help those who slip through the net altogether. As the number of such individuals would be small, this arrangement would place no unduly heavy load on the treasury.

Moreover, before long the state would begin to shrink to manageable proportions, and much of the power currently vested in it would be transferred to the people. They themselves would decide where they want to be treated and by whom. And, with the negative-taxation system in place, they’d be able to back up their decisions with cash. Reducing the state’s capacity to extort tax is thus tantamount to reducing its capacity to impose tyranny.

As someone cursed with rich first-hand experience of hospitals, both private and state-owned, in four countries, I can assure you that private works better. If you could afford it, and I’ve suggested one possible way, you’d have comfortable private rooms, the best doctors, equipment and drugs, good food, and nurses who really look after you. You’d be spared waiting lists — and the nauseating spectacle of our politicians doing a Kim impersonation.





What do you do when war is brewing? Disarm.

Faced with a calamitous economic situation, all Western powers are cutting their military expenditure to risible levels. They are becoming small-time players, but they are still talking a big game.

Announcing the better part of $500 billion in cuts over 10 years, and hinting at another $500 billion soon, President Obama warned all potential adversaries: the US military will be leaner, but even meaner. ‘The United States will maintain our military superiority,’ he promised, without at first specifying over whom. But then he made that clear, after a fashion: ‘We’ll be strengthening our presence in the Asia Pacific and budget reductions will not come at the expense of this critical region.’ The implication is that they’ll come at the expense of other, less critical, regions, which is encouraging news for the rest of NATO, and also Israel.

Assuming the US isn’t fearing Japan, it’s clearly China over which they’d like to reaffirm their military superiority. The idea isn’t without attraction: All those aircraft carriers rolling off China’s production lines aren’t exactly cruise liners. They’re going to threaten the Philippines and Taiwan, Japan and Malaysia — possibly even Australia. In all likelihood they’ll be used as a blackmail weapon, the same way the Soviets used their nuclear capability in the good old days. Be nice to us or else, is the unspoken message. But meanwhile, last week China’s Defence Minister told the army to prepare for war, which fact was widely covered in the Chinese press, but not in the West.

The once and future President Vladimir Putin doesn’t do unspoken messages: the Russians are no match for the Chinese in the inscrutability department. Practically every speech he delivers includes a kind reminder orbi et urbi that Russia is still a nuclear power. And it’s not just words; Russia’s military buildup is proceeding apace. The Russians have just conducted a series of successful firing tests for their submarine-launched missile system Bulava (‘mace’ in English). They plan to deploy 170 Bulavas in 2012, which will put a big pow into their already mean punch. Considering that each Bulava will be MIRVed to carry up to 10 independently targeted warheads with a yield of 150 kt each, Russia will be able to overpower all Western European countries put together with even greater ease than it can do so now.

This doesn’t mean that, with the US busy in the Pacific, Russian tanks will sweep across the plain. They won’t have to — it’s not for nothing that curricula in Russian military academies invariably include the study of the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu. Back in the 6th century BC, he taught that ‘to win without fighting is the acme of skill’, and the Russians are able students.

In the face of the opponent’s overwhelming superiority, a chess player doesn’t play to the bitter end. He resigns, which is precisely what the EU, bereft of America’s protection and devoid of what the Spanish call los cojones, will do. Col. Putin and his KGB colleagues will simply dictate the terms of surrender — much to the delight of the British press that by that time will be owned mostly, as opposed to merely in part, by KGB thugs. In any region, at any time in history, the dominant military power has always been able to ride roughshod over its neighbours. And I do hope you don’t think for a second that the ruling KGB camarilla fronted by Putin would have qualms about pressing their advantage home.

Our repsonse is truly logical: we disarm. Our army has dwindled away to the numerical strength it last had when little Ollie wasn’t even a twinkle in Mr Cromwell’s eye. And the Royal Navy has lost its carriers, a weapon known since the battle of Medway to be the key to naval warfare. In its present state our navy wouldn’t even be capable of launching another South Atlantic operation, never mind matching up to hundreds of Russian nuclear submarines armed with Bulavas. (Incidentally, when Britannia ruled the waves in the 19th century the Navy Department in Whitehall had a staff one tenth of what it has now.)

And it’s not just Russia, at least not directly — the world has many other threats and many other flash points, the Middle East prime among them. Considering that the most powerful European country has a vested interest in much turmoil there (trouble means higher oil prices, and Russia’s economy is based on the exports of hydrocarbons), and America doesn’t seem to regard the Middle East as critical any longer, who’s going to keep peace in the region? Italy? Greece? Are we prepared to live with the consequences of a nuclear conflagration a few miles south of Europe?

Britain and the rest of Europe have been relying on the US for their protection far too long. Money that should have gone into defence of the realm has instead gone into social programmes that have succeeded where the Luftwaffe failed in destroying the country. At the same time France has been talking up its puny force de frappe and slagging off les Yankees, while sponging off US military spending. And Germany neither is nor wishes to be a serious military power. It no longer wants to conquer Europe. It would rather just buy it.

Well, now that the US is taking an Asian slant in its strategic presence, what’s going to happen? Shall we continue to regard our military budget as a soft touch for debilitating cuts? You bet we will. We can’t cut social spending or foreign aid, can we now? Our politicians know how to get elected, but that’s all they know. They don’t realise that such strategic myopia may mean that soon they won’t be elected but appointed. By foreigners.