Moderation: three cheers and one question

The cheers are of course for the Muslim cleric Hassan Rouhani who has won the Iranian presidency without the hassle of a runoff.

His victory is being hailed around the world as a triumph of moderation, for Rouhani has this commendable quality in spades.

The question is: exactly what does moderation mean in this context?

You see, my moderation may be your radicalism, his license and their fascism.

Far be it from me to suggest that everything is relative, but some things definitely are. Such as moderation, especially – and I hope you won’t report me for religious intolerance – when it’s ascribed to a Muslim cleric.

You see, since the 1979 Islamic revolution Iran has been generally regarded as rather immoderate even by Muslim standards.By comparison, the Shah with his torturing secret police began to look like a humanitarian trying to get in touch with his feminine side. At least he drank decent wines and never threatened to develop nuclear weapons and blow up half the world.

Alas, his commitment to universal suffrage was less highly pronounced than in America, the only country other than the erstwhile Soviet Union that knows exactly how the world should govern itself.

The Shah didn’t meet such exacting standards and was ousted with American – how shall I put it so as not to offend my American readers? – acquiescence. He was replaced by Ayatollah Khomeini who didn’t mind government by consent, provided he was the one who consented.

Since then the Ayatollah, first Khomeini, then after his death in 1989, Sayyed Ali Khamenei, has held the title of Supreme Leader.

Now ‘Supreme’ is by definition a superlative, and in this instance the word doesn’t lie. So a note to the Americans: it’s democracy, chaps, but not as you know it. The Ayatollah decides who’s allowed to stand for the presidency of the Islamic republic and, by a multitude of variously subtle mechanisms, who’s allowed to win.

Thus Rouhani is an appointee of his rival for this year’s Best Dressed List – Supreme Leader, the Shiite cleric to end all Shiite clerics. In this type of democracy, it doesn’t really matter who wins. It’s all the same Shiite.

Exactly how moderate is Rouhani anyway? Does his moderation soar as high as that practised in moderate Kuwait, America’s protégé?

Let’s see. A 37-year-old Kuwaiti woman Houda al-Ajimi, has just been sentenced to 11 years in prison for a tweet. Her crime was suggesting that the current emir of Kuwait, sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Djabir al-Sabah (presumably his friends just call him Al) isn’t exactly perfect.

Now I’ve heard of censoring the Internet, but this is ridiculous. Actually it isn’t. Kuwait’s moderate constitution specifically states that Al is ‘immune and inviolable’. Untouchable, in other words.

So the al-woman has only herself to blame: she broke a law of her moderate land. You know what I mean by relative moderation?

As a pious Muslim, and a cleric to boot, Hassan the Moderate has to be committed to such things as the murder of apostates. One has to think that he would kill them moderately, say by a quick bullet rather than slow torture, but still.

His Holy Book also says that if a Jew hides behind a tree, not only the Jew must be extricated and killed, but also the tree must be chopped down. Perhaps as a moderate Hassan will leave the tree standing.

What I’m trying to suggest in this flippant way unbefitting such a solemn occasion is that the finely nuanced demarcation between moderate and immoderate Muslims is sometimes hard to discern.

Well, for me anyway. And I’m proud to live in a country whose leader (not quite Supreme, but as near as damn) has no such problems.

Dave has stated that he knows exactly who among the Syrian rebels are at heart democracy-seekers opposed to Assad’s tyranny and who are Al Qaeda militants. The former merit aid, including our weapons in their arsenals; the latter merit opprobrium, including American drones on their heads.

Dave must have a nose of bloodhound sensitivity to smell the fine shades in the stench emanated by the rebels. Or else he has iron-clad intelligence at his disposal, which also tells him with dead certainty that Assad is using Sarin gas to sort out the opposition.

Personally, when evaluating such data, I’d consider its source, which is the same one that assured us that Saddam was stockpiling WMD. But Dave is a trusting soul. He believes in the goodness of man, even those men who publicly cut out and consume their enemies’ internal organs.

I’m not suggesting that Hassan Rouhani’s dietary habits are similar to those of the moderate elements in the Syrian opposition. I just hope that his ‘moderation’ isn’t yet another canard being shoved down our throats to justify our governments’ craven spinelessness in the face of Iran’s nuclear threat.

Anyway, he can prove his moderate credentials by dismantling his country’s nuclear facilities and allowing international experts to verify that he has done so.

Five gets you ten he won’t. So let’s hope that the nuclear bombs Iran may acquire in short order will be of only a moderate yield.

How the state drives us crazy

Yesterday I mentioned a Russian columnist’s mistake in stating that there are no drink-driving laws in the West, only dangerous-driving ones.

On her part it’s an error; on mine it’s wishful thinking. But it’s not my thinking that matters here but the government’s, and we proceed from entirely different premises.

I assume that traffic laws should make driving safer, more sensible and less troublesome. HMG assumes that drivers must be punished for the temerity of using such an un-PC mode of transportation.

If in the process of administering punishment the state can extort more money from the populace, then so much the better. After all, as my friend at the local garage put it, explaining why he had to charge me a £100 VAT on a set of tyres, “We have all those immigrants to pay for.” He used a modifier before ‘immigrants’, but decorum prohibits reproducing it here.

What’s the purpose of a drink-driving law, automatically banning motorists for at least a year if they exceed the allowable blood-alcohol limit by even a minuscule amount?

Presumably, it’s to save lives, and a worthy goal it is too. Then the assumption is that even a bloke like me, who has driven about 750,000 miles in his life (quite a few of them over the limit), becomes dangerous after drinking a couple of glasses of wine.

That, even though I’ve never been convicted of dangerous driving, never caused an accident and was last done for speeding 25 years ago. (The traffic cop didn’t accept the excuse that I was distracted by Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations.)

Now what’s this assumption based on? That alcohol slows one’s reactions and therefore response time. True, it does. But what if my reaction time when tipsy is still shorter than that of a stone-sober 75-year-old granny?

Moreover, what if I’m demonstrably aware of my temporary impairment and therefore drive much more carefully than I do normally, meaning that my reaction time is less likely to be tested after dinner than before?

The government will say that statistically driving over the limit is more likely to cause an accident. Again, true. But that means that a banned motorist has been punished not because he has committed an offence but because he’s statistically more likely to do so.

Let me ask the lawyers among you: does this not constitute preventive arrest? If so, then why limit the concept to drinking? I hope you won’t think me a racist if I mention that statistically a black unemployed person is more likely to commit a crime than an employed white one. Does this mean that the former should be subjected to preventive arrest? Of course not.

You might say that driving over the alcohol limit is a crime in itself. Which gets me back to the original question: why should it be?

If the purpose of this law is to save lives, rather than for the state to put its foot down, fleecing people in the process, then this can be achieved much better by other means.

For example, by treating alcohol as an aggravating circumstance in any traffic violation, especially those resulting in injury and death: a driver killing someone while over the limit could be charged with homicide and put away for 15 years. Don’t you think this would be a stronger deterrent than a year’s ban?

Ditto, dangerous driving. Treat it as a felony if there’s booze involved, and you’d be amazed how many people would be separating the bottle and the throttle. Many more than now, I’d suggest.

Incidentally, in France and elsewhere on the continent the alcohol limit is half ours but, and this is critical, they don’t ban you on first offence. Moreover, as I can testify on personal experience, in the countryside, where the car is the only mode of transportation, there are hardly ever any spot checks.

If the cops got bolshie about it, social life in rural France would effectively die. So they are sensible about a solid citizen drinking a glass or two of bubbly before dinner, half a bottle of Burgundy with it, and perhaps a cognac afterwards. Provided of course he doesn’t do anything stupid. C’est la vie, n’est ce pas?

Now what about the proposed law, punishing driving in the middle lane of a motorway with a £100 fine? I’d call it idiotic if it weren’t dictated by a perfectly rational desire to squeeze more money out of taxpayers.

First, the traffic in the left lane usually moves under the speed limit. And a good job too, considering that many of those slow coaches are indeed coaches, juggernauts and other lorries. So what are we supposed to do? Inhale diesel fumes belched out of an HGV for 50 miles or an hour, whichever comes first?

No, if we want to drive at the legal speed limit, what the government wants us to do is cut in and out of traffic, changing lanes all the time. Any driver will tell you that this is a factor of danger – there’s a risk involved every time you change lanes on a motorway. So it’s not our safety that the state is concerned about – it’s its own arbitrary power and depleting finances.

And speaking of the legal speed limit on motorways, why is ours so low? Why are people allowed to drive at 81 mph in France, 74.5 mph in Italy but only 70 mph in Britain?

Take it from someone who does at least 12,000 miles on continental motorways every year, we’re much better and safer drivers than either the French or the Italians. Or if you don’t want to take it from me, take it from accident statistics – they’ll tell you the same thing.

Hand on heart now, do you always observe the 70 mph limit? Ever? Most people don’t, which means most people are law-breakers.

I’d suggest that a state that criminalises most people with its silly laws is in itself criminal, or at least tyrannical. But I won’t: it pains me too much to think that HMG may be more tyrannical than the government of a revolutionary republic.







Merkel wants to talk to Putin about sex

This isn’t to suggest that the dynamic duo are having a relationship unbefitting world leaders. Nor is this to imply that Angie is in any way implicated in Putin’s recent divorce.

It’s just that Frau (formerly Comrade) Merkel wants Col. (also formerly Comrade) Putin to repeal the recent Russian law banning the propaganda of homosexuality among children.

According to Angie’s spokesman, the law means that homosexuals “may ultimately be subjected to discrimination”. “We do not abandon the hope,” he continued, “that the Russian state… will repeal this law. It runs contrary to the spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

So according to the Convention there’s nothing wrong with propaganda of homosexuality among children? Mind you, there’s plenty wrong with the Convention, but this is off my topic today.

My topic is the response of the Russian ‘opposition’ media to this law. There are quite a few good writers in these media, and they have some things in common.

First, they all detest Putin, which is good. He is indeed detestable and his state, created and run by an elite made up of KGB and mafia types, even more so.

Second, they all look to the West in search of a model Russia should follow instead, which is problematic. Nor is this problem particularly new.

Bad things are always easier to pick up than good, and ever since Peter I Russian ‘Westernisers’ have been learning all the wrong things from the West – partly because they caught it at a bad time, namely during the Enlightenment.

Thus the Russians violently rejected the West’s formative religion, its respect for the law, accountable government and individual dignity. Instead they imported revolutionary afflatus, ignorance of philosophy, rampant atheism and vague liberal phraseology designed to conceal the underlying subversiveness. Planted on the traditional Russian soil, these seeds sprouted to luxuriant growth in 1917, with well-publicised results.

Such selective borrowing was partly due to the Russians’ endemic ignorance of the West, what with reliable sources of information having been systematically suppressed. This ignorance still perseveres, and it’s the third characteristic shared by today’s journalists in general, and ‘opposition’ journalists in particular.

This is revealed even through inconsequential details, such as reaction to drink-driving laws. When the Duma debated criminalising any amount of blood alcohol, one of the best-informed Russian journalists, Yulia Latynina, attacked the government citing the West as an example of lenience.

In the West, she wrote, there’s no law against drink-driving; there’s only one against dangerous driving. It’s clear that Miss Latynina hasn’t clocked in many miles on European roads. Otherwise she’d know that spot-checking is routine everywhere.

The Russians also don’t realise that the Leftie, touchy-feely, PC ethos doesn’t run unopposed in the West. The West to them is a homogeneous entity enviably committed to such lovely Western things as political correctness, multi-culti national suicide, homomarriage and so forth.

Few of their anti-Putin pundits are capable of enunciating the conservative position on such matters (Latynina is one of the few, by the way). They uncritically pick up the views sanctified by American and EU Lefties and, for lack of indigenous vocabulary, express such views in Guardian language at best.

Thus they’ve picked up the non-word ‘homophobic’, which they apply to the current legislation. Rather than campaigning for the rule of just law, which would severely punish and thereby prevent violent attacks on homosexuals (endemic in Russia), they support allowing homosexual propaganda among children simply because Putin opposes it.

The Russian Orthodox Church could have offered advice here but, having over the last century turned itself into a KGB stooge, it has lost whatever little credibility it ever had with the Russian intelligentsia. The ROC hierarchy is seen as being in cahoots in Putin, which of course it is. Instead the Russians look to the West for guidance – and get it from the likes of Matthew Parris and Polly Toynbee.

Yet a real Christian Church could provide a coherent position on this matter. Christianity regards homosexuality as a mortal sin, pure and simple. However, it’s neither the only nor the worst such sin. For example, breaking any of the Ten Commandments, regrettably including adultery, is even worse.

Any sin can be forgiven if sincerely repented – hence the Christian concept ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’, which goes back to St Augustine’s ‘Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum’. The problem with homosexual propaganda is that it spreads the diktat that homosexuality isn’t a sin at all, that it’s as normal as sex between a man and a woman.

Allowing and encouraging such propaganda, Western-style, is a reliable symptom of all-pervasive decadence known to be deadly to society. It sends the same message to West-haters as raised hands send in battle: we surrender.

Russian journalists, lamentably including those who seek to be on the side of the angels, don’t understand any of this. Nor can they rely on any tradition of indigenous conservative thought or any filtering mechanism they can apply to the West, dividing the righteous wheat from the Leftie chaff.

Hence their arguments on most political subjects, including this one, tend to be exceptionally primitive and unsound. Thus one influential pundit, who spent years in a Soviet camp, says there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality (and therefore its propaganda) because “at least 1,500 species of animals do it.”

Fair enough. But do let’s decide to what extent we want to be guided in our behaviour by examples set by animals. For instance dogs eat faeces, drink from puddles and chase cats – are we going to emulate them? Lions kill other lions’ cubs to prevent dynastic competition – are we going to do it too?

The exclusivity of man is the founding principle of our civilisation – too bad Putin’s opponents don’t know this. Nor do they seem to be aware that it’s not just “communists, Nazis and Islamic fundamentalists” who find anything wrong with rampant homosexuality and its propaganda.

It would also be useful for them to realise that just because “70 percent of female bats practise oral sex” it doesn’t follow that governments should condone marriages based on such or similar practices.

Even banning polygamy, an injunction that’s still in force in the West (for how long?) is to the columnist in question tantamount to Nazism. After all, Muslims allow it, all religions and ‘cultures’ are equal, ergo on what grounds do we ban polygamy?

On the grounds of traditional Western morality, one could suggest. Alas, Russian ‘liberal’ pundits would neither understand nor accept this reply. With opponents like these, it’s hardly surprising that Putin’s tyranny is enjoying a free ride in Russia. 









Bring on the Turks

Dear oh dear, the Turks do take their urban projects seriously, don’t they?

In London all sorts of giant phallic symbols are plonked smack in the middle, and no one bats an eyelid. The mayor charges admission for entering the city centre, as if it were some kind of theme park, and what do we do? We grumble and pay.

Yet propose some redevelopment of an Istanbul park, and the denizens are up in arms – and it’s not just a figure of speech.

Fire bombs, smashed shop windows, overturned cars, flares and heavy objects hurled at the police, the latter returning fire with tear gas, stun guns, water cannon – do you ever get the impression that other people are having all the fun?

Yet much as one would like to believe that the Turks are protesting against an affront to their heightened aesthetic sensibilities, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the reshaping of Gezi Park isn’t the reason for the riots. It’s merely a pretext.

If that’s the case, then any spark could have set off the powder keg. The repertoire of the local theatre, unavailability of some vegetables and abundance of others, the cut of policemen’s clothes – you name it.

But why Gezi Park specifically? The park was originally designed during Atatürk’s lifetime and laid a few years after his death. In the process, the old artillery barracks were pulled down, and there were protests even then.

To many Turks the barracks represented the glorious times when their country, flying the green flag of Islam, had threatened to dominate Europe. To Atatürk, however, the barracks symbolised every obstacle on the way to turning Turkey into a modern, quasi-Western nation.

He was a clever enough man to see that his lifelong dream was incompatible with any kind of Islamic power. He was also probably aware of the link between Christianity and all those lovely things he wanted to implant in Turkey.

But Christianity was a sore subject at the time, what with the systematic genocide of Christians in the later stages of the Ottoman empire, culminating in the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Young Turks in 1915.

Atatürk therefore sought to combine the reformist zeal of Luther with the carnivorous methods of Lenin to push Islam to the margins and replace it with the modern creed of secularism. In that he largely succeeded, and Turkey eventually become a reasonably successful country by regional standards.

Now Prime Minister Erdogan is, not to cut too fine a point, seeking to prove Atatürk wrong. According to him, there’s nothing incompatible between Islam and westernisation – no contradiction between Mullahs and moola.

By re-Islamising the country, while making it rich, he wishes to set an example for the rest of the Islamic world, thereby becoming its natural leader. That is an ambitious undertaking, and there’s only one problem with it: it can’t possibly work.

The extent to which a country is modern is inversely proportionate to the amount of power wielded by Islam – to this general rule there are no exceptions. When it comes to Islam and Westernisation, it’s not ‘both… and…’. It’s ‘either… or…’.

Sooner or later the Westernisers will clash with the Islamists, and the riots in Istanbul and Ankara are the living proof.

No wonder the disturbances were triggered by urban development. This isn’t just any old redesigning of a city park. The plans call for the Sultanate’s artillery barracks to be rebuilt, and also for The Atatürk Cultural Centre in Taksim Square to be pulled down.

This shrine to the westernisation that The Father of the Turks had pushed through is to be replaced by monuments to Erdogan’s eclecticism: a mosque (Islam) and a trade centre (westernisation). No doubt he’ll get his symbols. Nor is there much doubt that he’ll fail to achieve what they’re supposed to symbolise.

Most city folk in Turkey have no difficulty with the Western part. It’s the re-Islamisation part that they find vexing, and Turks have traditionally displayed their vexation in muscular ways. Hence the riots.

Obviously not every stone thrower in Taksim Square has pondered the incompatibility between Islam and modernity in much philosophical depth. As is always the case with mob violence, many utterly objectionable elements come for the ride, and their presence gives the authorities some justification for using no-holds-barred methods of suppression.

But it’s clear that the anti-Islam sentiment is strong, at least in the major cities, and we haven’t seen the end of violence yet. The cleft is both deep and wide enough to bring about a full-blown civil war, but that’s for the future.

At present, the government will succeed in slapping a lid on the violence and letting it seethe below the surface. A defeat for the protesters, a great opportunity for us.

Just as the Romans would import some vandals to keep other vandals at bay, we could grant temporary visas to all those Turks who’ll have plenty of spare time on their hands once the riots have been put down.

They’ve shown the kind of resolve we clearly lack to fight the Islamisation of our own country. So when in England, do as the Romans did: get the mercenaries in who have plenty of the spunk we lack.

Bring on the Turks, I say. From Taksim Square and Gezi Park to Trafalgar Square and Green Park – they are the kind of immigrants we really need.








Good job we don’t have to choose between Griffin and Mandela

One has to hurry up writing about Nelson Mandela while he’s still alive. When he dies, and he’s after all 94 and in poor health, any comment this side of hagiography will be considered blasphemous and possibly illegal.

Nick Griffin, head of the crypto-fascist BNP party (the ‘crypto’ part is barely discernible) no doubt felt that way, which is why he decided to get his licks in early.

Now, in the good if recent tradition I must declare a personal interest. Namely that I despise the BNP in general and Griffin in particular.

These chaps give you two heresies for the price of one: they’re heretics both to conservatism and socialism (more to the first than to the second). In that they resemble the Nazis who also fused racial hatred with devotion to essentially socialist economics and what is mistakenly described as rightwing or ‘extreme conservative’ values.

There’s nothing conservative about the Nazis or the BNP, for conservatism is animated by love – for those things it wishes to conserve. Attendant to that may be loathing of everything that threatens such things, but love is primary and loathing not just secondary but tertiary.

The BNP types, on the other hand, are clearly driven by hatred – of Jews, blacks and most of the same groups that were also singled out by the Nazis. For them love of England, which they profess, is strictly tertiary, if it exists at all. If they did truly love England, they’d learn to develop ideas consonant with the traditional English polity, rather than with the febrile rants of continental extremism.

Having said that, it doesn’t automatically follow that everything they say is wrong. In fact, all heretics usually say some things with which exponents of the original creed would agree. Arius, for example, was right to say that Jesus was a great man. Mohammed was right to say the same and also that God was one, omnipotent and kind. Calvin was right to say that the Catholic Church needed to be reformed.

Any sensible person would have agreed with them. What made them deadly enemies to the original faith was shifting the accents, stressing some aspects at the expense of others and distorting the vital balance. Thus Arius denied that Christ was also God, so did Mohammed, and rather than reforming the Church Calvin did a good job trying to destroy it and promote atheism, if by delayed action.

In that spirit, if I found myself by accident having a pint next to a BNP chap, and if he opined that excessive immigration of cultural aliens isn’t good for Britain, I’d agree. Only when I realised that for him this more or less circumscribed his political philosophy, whereas for me it’s only a small fragment, would I move to the other end of the bar.

Nick Griffin is being vilified in the press not for what he should be vilified for (being Nick Griffin) but for what he said about Mandela. No attention whatsoever is paid to what he actually said, no attempt made to argue or deny.

Saying that Mandela is ‘a towering figure in world history and an inspiration to millions’, as some Labour councillor did, and Griffin ‘isn’t fit to tie his shoelaces’ isn’t an argument. It’s an exercise in hagiography and ad hominem invective.

Mandela is a hard-left activist and a communist sympathiser, which is why the ‘millions’ he’s an ‘inspiration’ to are either those of similar political convictions or, in most instances, simpletons who’ve been brainwashed to worship Mandela as a secular saint.

So what is it that Griffin said about Mandela that’s actually wrong? He called him a ‘murdering old terrorist.’ Which one of these three words is untrue? Mandela was indeed a terrorist, he did murder and, this side of some Biblical figures, 94 is an advanced age.

Of course the old cliché says that one side’s terrorist is the other side’s freedom fighter, and clichés grow old precisely because they’re generally true. A lot depends on which side one calls one’s own, and in the case of South Africa the choice isn’t easy.

Apartheid was doubtless nasty, and few conservatives ever supported it. But Mandela’s hard-left beliefs were even worse: he was, for example, committed to fighting private property.

And he did kill for his convictions. I don’t know if he personally administered necklacing, to which Griffin referred, but his people – including his then wife Winnie – did, and as their leader Mandela is responsible. (Come to think of it, Lenin didn’t personally execute millions either.) In my book anyone who does that sort of thing, for any cause, is a terrorist, not a freedom fighter.

Then Griffin said that the ANC, inspired and for years led by Mandela, turned South Africa from a “safe economic powerhouse” to a “crime-ridden basket case”. Is that not true?

South Africa used to be one of the world’s most successful economies, leading in many categories. The only category in which it’s among world leaders today is the number of murders per 1,000 population (31.8, compared to 1.2 in Britain).

One suspects that even if South Africa still remained a “safe economic powerhouse”, and Mandela hadn’t been implicated in any violence, Griffin would hate him anyway. The chap is genuinely vile – but then Mandela, who’s as much of a black supremacist as Griffin is a white one, is no saint either.

Personally, I’d hate to live in a country run by either Griffin or Mandela. So by all means, do let’s demonise Griffin – he’s a nasty bit of work. But that doesn’t make Mandela an angel. The two of them really deserve each other.



Does Hollande read the French papers?

Trying to drum up some business for France, François went to Japan where he reassured the business community that Europe is in rude economic health.

“What you need to understand here in Japan is that the crisis in Europe is over,” he said, unwittingly explaining why he had to travel so far to deliver this pronouncement. Closer to home he would have been pelted with rotten tomatoes.

The eurozone is in the grip of its longest recession, with five continuous quarters of shrinkage and close to 20 million out of work. For example, in Spain a quarter of the young labour force is no longer in the labour force – and that’s an official, meaning dressed up, estimate.

France’s own unemployment rate is the highest in 15 years, and her economy would welcome mere stagnation as a huge improvement.

Moreover, the dire economic situation is contributing to growing social unrest, with riotous demonstrations breaking out all over southern Europe, including France.

To be fair to François, not all riots are caused by his harebrained economic measures. Some are triggered off by his social activism, specifically his ‘success’ in shoving homomarriage down people’s throats.

Hardly a day goes by without violent protests, raging in numerical strength from hundreds of thousands to a few intrepid individuals, such as those who disrupted the French Open finals yesterday.

Yet it would be unfair to single out such protests – after all, opinion polls suggest that most French people have been successfully brainwashed not to care about the destruction of marriage. What they do care about is the destruction of their economy, which is proceeding briskly under François’s sage guidance.

He took office last year with a clear understanding of how the French economy could regain its health: expropriating the rich (faire payer les riches, was how François put it) and spending on the poor. François was undeterred by the outcome of similar measures taken throughout history in many countries, including France.

Nor did he heed the warnings of those who didn’t learn their economics from Lenin. Unjust tax rates (such as François’s pet levy of 75 percent on high income), they were saying, won’t increase tax revenue. They’ll lower it – by driving wealth producers out of the country and depressing consumer spending.

Sure enough, the naysayers were right, and this weekend’s Le Figaro devoted several pages to showing just how right they were.

Since April 2012 France’s budget deficit has grown from €59.9 billion to €66.8 billion, which is pretty good going for just over a year.

Meanwhile, receipts from consumer taxes have gone down dramatically, up to 10 percent in some categories (more than a billion euros less in VAT alone). Predictably, people who get to keep less of their money end up spending less.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. François should be given credit for a huge, indeed 5-fold, increase in one indicator: economic emigration. Rather than sit around waiting to be punished for their success, France’s wealth producers flee in droves.

What they take out with them is vast amounts they would otherwise have pumped into the country’s economy, and also jobs, which they’ll now create elsewhere.

“I believe that the crisis, far from weakening the eurozone, will strengthen it,” declared François to his perplexed Japanese audience. No doubt they all nodded politely, as the Japanese tend to do.

The French, adhering to a more Occidental etiquette, mutter the French equivalent of ‘tell it to the marines’ (quelle connerie). Of course, the eurozone will be strengthened by its present recession. A depression would be even better. And just imagine how much stronger the economy would be in case of a total collapse.

All Europe needs to achieve such a bonanza is to act on François’s economic insights across the continent. Always provided that it’s he who gets to judge the results – prudently 10,000 miles away from home.

Amazing things one can overhear in a London pub

“Hi, Tim’s my name, contact’s my game.

“Me friends call me Yo-Yo, on account I help me mates unwind, djahmean?

“You look like a proper gentleman, mate. Lots of energy, sunny smile, like in solar, am I wrong? And a well handsome bloke you are too, nice whistle.

“Looks like you need some company, am I wrong? What, you already have a company? So how about some company for your company, djahmean?

“So what’s your pleasure then? Women, men, other? I know’em all, mate. In Westminster, Notting Hill, Islington – you name’em, I know’em. Just ask around in Whitehall – they’ll tell you everyone knows Tim and Tim knows everyone, djahmean?

“What you after then? Right you are, mate. I hear you: someone top-heavy, well keen, knows how to pull your strings like, am I wrong? Oh you mean not pull your strings but pull strings for you? Not a problem. You crack the whip, I make the trip. I’m your Yo-Yo, mate. They don’t call me that for nothing.

“Where you staying, mate? Know it, nice place that, well posh. Well, me contact will meet you in the lobby, how’s that for you? Cost you, but then a nice gentleman like you isn’t short of a bob or two.

“How much? Well, that depends, mate. A quick flowjob will cost you seven bags, me old china. You understand? It’s London, mate. Bag of sand, grand. Way we talk here.

“What’s a flowjob? Just told you, seven bags. Oh what is it? It’s like me contact is pulling a train and there’s lots of blokes in a queue. You want to get to the top, that’s quick flow. You get ahead of other blokes, the rest is down to you, djamean? Quick flowjob, we call it.

“Then there’s half-and-half, cost you another three bags. It’s like you make contact, I twist an arm, make sure you get done like you never been done before, like.

“Another five bags, and you get full English, djamean? We call it round-the-world. You get done not just here in London but everywhere you go. Get you on the map, mate. China, Africa, you name it. The sun never sets, me old china. Like in solar.

“So it’s a deal then? Me contact meet you in your lobby, fifteen bags, all in. Half now, half when you get done.

“No, no cheques, mate. Got to be bangers. You know, bangers ‘n mash, cash… Ta, mate.

“Let’s have a drink on it. Oi, dahlin! Giz a couple of Mahatmas, love. That’s brandy to you, guv. You know, Mahatma Gandhi… Yeah, it’s London, mate. Way we talk here”

Throughout this conversation, taking place in a booth next to mine, I was trying to steal a peak at the man delivering this soliloquy. But he was well hidden from view by the back of his seat.

I finished my drink and headed for the exit, not daring to look over my shoulder. One never knows with these chaps – they catch you staring, they may turn violent.

I walked out and shielded my eyes from the bright sun shining across the Thames. What a lovely place Westminster is, I thought. Full of good people always ready to help a stranger. 





We’re all Yanks now, but not quite all the way

The Chinese mind tends to uniformity, which is partly why Chinese bodies are so often clad in uniforms.

Back in the old days the uniforms were either military khaki, patterned after the Soviet model, or paramilitary blue of Identikit design. The impression was eerie: it was as if the whole nation was cut to the same stencil.

These days those Chinese one encounters outside China have discovered the joy of Dior and Ferragamo, along with other Western delights, such as public drunkenness. So much more upsetting it was to see President Xi Jinping pose with President Obama this morning.

Both men were wearing identical dark suits, accessorised with white open-collared shirts and plastic smiles. My first thought was that perhaps the Chinese commie ‘prevert’, to use the preferred American locution, had imposed his taste for sartorial uniformity on the running dog of American imperialism.

That misconception was, however, dispelled by the next bit of Sky News footage starring Obama as chairman of a cabinet meeting later the same day. Every man at the table was wearing exactly the same clothes as the participants of the US-China summit: dark suits with open-collared white shirts.

Now call me an old fogie or something worse, but as a matter of general principle I don’t think suits should be worn without a tie. A blazer, yes; a tweed jacket, possibly; a suit, no.

However, as a matter of particular principle, a tall, reedy Italian under 30 can look quite dashing in a dark suit with an open-collared shirt. An Englishman or an American who could pass for an Italian, and who’s also young, tall and reedy, may sometimes pull it off without looking stupid, but seldom.

Middle-aged men dressed that way look frankly pathetic, especially if they aren’t Italian, and the chaps around Obama’s table probably employ image consultants who told them this very thing. Like they tell them never to wear a white shirt on camera (glare), never to appear in a hat (wimpish) and always to eschew umbrellas (ditto) unless it’s a real downpour, in which case they shouldn’t be outdoors anyway.

Yet in this instance the ministers ignored their consultants’ advice. They chose to look ridiculous – and what’s worse, identically ridiculous. It’s as if the Chinese affection for uniforms had rubbed off on Obama and from him on his subordinates.

Why, I wondered. And then I remembered: yesterday was Friday. On that day all American office workers pledge allegiance to the great, if rather recent, American institution: the Dress-Down Day.

Every Friday chaps who throughout the week have to suffer the imposition of the traditional dress code, are told to come to work in jeans, trainers and checked shirts. In the southern reaches of the US of A, trainers may be replaced with cowboy boots and Western shirts may make an appearance. In either case, all employees must wear the prescribed uniform on pain of mockery, ostracism and eventual sacking.

Even men who grow up wearing suits and feel awkward in denim must toe the line – or else. Similarly, even men who’ve received an expensive education and therefore can express themselves with proper grammar and extensive vocabulary are expected to use solecisms and malapropisms, even – especially! – if they know those for what they are.

By the same token even politicians educated at Andover and the Ivy League are expected to converse in folksy asides and the odd swear word, along with locutions like ‘there’s lotsa folks out there who’s hurtin’ right now.’ Old Dubya spoke that way naturally, or rather did a darn good job pretending he did.

He desperately needed  the ‘folks’ to forget that his senator grandfather was named Prescott, rather than say Bubba or Billy Bob, that his president father couldn’t for the life of him do the populist bit, that they like him went to Yale – and all three belonged to the quasi-Masonic Scull and Bones society.

A politico is just about allowed to be posh in America, but only if the ‘folks’ see that he’s tryin’ to do his goddamnest to be just like’em. They know he’s dissembling, and he knows they know, but the game has to be played by certain rules, with every ritual observed.

This is the US equivalent of Tony studiously dropping his aitches when speaking to some audiences and reclaiming them when addressing others. Or Dave calling himself Dave, using words like ‘chillaxing’ and wearing casual clothes whenever there’s a TV crew in the vicinity. Dave of course also underscores his modern, populist, with-it credentials by wearing the odd black suit with no tie, and he’s not even Italian.

Being half-black, Obama is allowed more leeway than, say, Dubya was, and he don’t even have to sound like no Texan roustabout, Californian grape-picker or Brooklyn trader. He can actually wear his Ivy League education on his sleeve – provided that the sleeve doesn’t look like it comes from anywhere in Europe, especially, God forbid, Savile Row.

But there are limits. Obama may do posh, but it has to be ‘merican posh. That means no long words within the folks’ earshot, no disdain for the folks’ taste in music (Country and Western is OK, jazz just about OK, classical ain’t – unless it’s Aaron Copland or John Philip Sousa) and hotdammit no tie on a Friday. OK, no jeans if it happens to be a state occasion, but definitely no tie.

What’s distressing is that we’re picking up American things here, like baseball caps, verbs made out of nouns, Coke and KFC – and the Dress-Down Day. Thus Dave, who spent his student days drinking Bollie with or without Stollie, now has to feign affection for the Ye Olde English pint – especially when a lens can be espied anywhere within a mile.

Somehow, though, we balk at such American habits as enterprise, hard work and short holidays. But hey, a chap has to draw the line somewhere, what?

‘Free trade’ is the EU for protectionism

Between the 14th and 18th centuries the English changed the way they pronounced  their vowels and hence spelled their words.

The Danish linguist Otto Jespersen called this upheaval the Great Vowel Shift and described it in detail. This achievement earned him countless curses by every subsequent student of English who, like me, had to spend his hormonally active years learning the convoluted zigzags by which every vowel moved from Middle to Modern English.

A much more significant language revolution is under way now, yet taxonomists have so far failed even to find a name for it. I propose to fill this void by describing it as the Great Meaning Shift (GMS), and I hope posterity will treat me more kindly than it has so far treated Jespersen.

Admittedly English words have always been able to change their meaning over time. For example ‘skirt’ and ‘shirt’ used to denote parts of the same garment, and ‘bride’ used to mean ‘cook’, which these days would be wrong not only semantically but also factually.

But what’s going on now is different. Words don’t just change but reverse their meaning – and they do so not gradually but instantly.

Yesterday I observed that in Davespeak the words ‘legal tax avoidance’ now mean their exact opposite: ‘illegal tax evasion.’

But that’s small beer compared to many other terms. ‘Tolerance’, for example, now stands for ‘intolerance’. Specifically ‘religious tolerance’ means intolerance to any public manifestation of the Christian faith and a virtual ban on the display of even discreet Christian symbols. And by ‘intolerance’ I mean not just tacit disapproval but aggressive action, like sacking stewardesses who wear a cross or nurses who pray for their patients.

Or take the word ‘liberal’. In America it denotes an utterly illiberal individual who’s in favour of as much state power as is achievable this side of concentration camps. Alas, across the pond our own Liberal Democratic party does nothing to restore the word to its original meaning.

The EU is among the most active agents of the GMS. According to those Brussels linguists, ‘pooling’ means ‘abandoning’, as in sovereignty. ‘Integration’ means ‘disintegration’, as in nation states. ‘Bailout’ means de facto colonisation. And, as we’re finding out, ‘free trade’ stands for ‘trade war’, while a ‘free-trade zone’ in reality means a ‘protectionist bloc’.

EU fanatics will talk your ear off about freedom of trade being the principal reason for their beloved political setup. To the accompaniment of that deafening bleating the EU introduces one protectionist measure after another.

Some, such as those aimed at destroying the British finance industry and thereby our whole economy, don’t provoke retaliation in kind. But countries retaining more gonadal fortitude than a Britain led by Dave and Nick don’t mind going to trade war if sufficiently provoked.

Back in the 90s the US and the EU were engaged in a trade shootout over B & B (as in beef and bananas). Now the Chinese have responded to EU anti-dumping tariffs on solar panels by imposing a levy on European wine.

This measure is likely to have the same effect on say France, as the Franco-German taxes on financial transactions will have on the City of London. In both instances the blow will fall on the country’s key industry.

The Chinese warned they had ‘many other cards to play’, clearly referring to slapping a customs duty on the import of German cars – another attack by a key market on a key industry.

The EU has been for years accusing China of not being a free market, with government subsidies for financial services and raw materials cited as the most blatant offences. The accusations are of course true, but the words ‘kettle’, ‘teapot’ and ‘black’ immediately spring to mind.

What about all sorts of European banks, including our own? Didn’t they receive a bit of a leg-up, just as their customers were finding themselves on the receiving end of a leg-over? Of course they did.

And what about the EU’s cherished Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)? You know, the subsidy that amounts to a third of the EU budget, the one that pays the French to grow and harvest their wine, while paying the Italians to grow and not to harvest their vegetables?

Of course you know it – after all, you contribute your share to the billions paid into CAP by British consumers.

 It’s interesting to note that the Chinese are ready to take the EU at its own word. Doesn’t the EU claim it’s a tightly knit unit in which different components are all fused into one, a sort of de facto United States of Europe?

Fine, say the Chinese. So if Germany moves to protect her solar-panel industry, we’ll retaliate against those French clarets and Burgundies. In other words, any protectionist action by one EU member can trigger off a massive trade war against all.

In such a war Britain can find herself among the collateral damage, a bit like an innocent bystander hit by a stray bullet in a Mafia shootout. This is something we can ill-afford, considering that China is almost as a big a market for us as the EU itself.

This is as good a reason as any for us to show this abomination a clean pair of heels. Then we’ll be able to remind the world what free trade really means – after all, Britain practically invented the concept. As a result the UK would become much more and the GMS considerably less. Worth having, if you ask me.

“Honey, I shrunk the language!” says Dave

The title of the American film to which I’m obliquely referring, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, shows what happens when people are encouraged to express themselves outside any intellectual or linguistic discipline.

This opening of the sluice gates is supposed to make our language bigger by letting in a rush of verbal creativity. In fact it makes it smaller all the time – in this instance by fusing the Past Indefinite and Past Participle of the verb ‘to shrink’ into one illiterate locution.

Though regrettable, this is innocent enough. Much more pernicious are efforts to reduce the language in a deliberate attempt to trick the public into accepting ill-advised government action.

Such is the case with Dave’s pathetic attempts to obliterate any semantic, and therefore legal, differences between ‘tax avoidance’ and ‘tax evasion’. Until Dave assumed the role of a Latter Day Dr Johnson, the semantic distinction between the two had been clear-cut.

‘Tax avoidance’ meant variously creative legal attempts to shield from the clutches of Inland Revenue some of the income that it would otherwise claim. The government itself kindly set up quite a few tax-avoidance schemes, such as some pension contributions, ISAs, some bonds and so forth.

Such generosity on the part of our politicians is only partly explicable by their innate munificence. At least some of the motivation had to come from its congenital desire to keep our money within their expropriatory reach. Thus the first prime-ministerial action of Dave’s role model Tony was to raid pension funds to the tune of five billion pounds.

The unease modern states clearly feel about money in people’s pockets makes the people feel uneasy about taxation. No one doubts the need for fair taxes, but ‘fair’ is the operative word.

It’s manifestly unfair for the state to rob people of half of what they earn during their lifetime – and then rob them again after death by taxing the already taxed money they leave their families. It’s also unfair for the state to double-tax people’s earnings by charging 20 percent on top of the price we pay for what we buy.

Moreover, ways in which the state spends the money it extracts, or rather extorts, from us makes all taxation both unfair and detrimental to our society’s health. For the state uses our tax money chiefly to bribe into voting the right way those who won’t work and therefore don’t pay any tax.

It also uses our money to import vast numbers of grateful voters from culturally alien areas. This hits two birds with one stone, first by creating a whole class beholden to the present government and second by diluting the capacity of the rest to resist.

Therefore taxpayers try to augment the government-controlled shelters by others, legally provided by foreign governments and also by some British territories and crown dependencies. Such activities are collectively known as ‘tax avoidance schemes’, and their legality has until now been as universally accepted as the state’s extortionate taxation has been universally despised.

‘Tax evasion’, on the other hand, is an illegal failure to pay tax. Since the way we’re taxed is grossly unjust, most people will refer to evasion as malum prohibitum rather than malum in se. But one way or the other, malum it undoubtedly is.

The difference between avoidance and evasion is clear, and it’s this difference that our amateur lexicographer Dave first sought to blur and now seeks to obliterate.

His motives are obvious. Like any socialist ‘leader’, he’s incapable of devising and implementing policies that would stimulate growth, thereby expanding the tax base and increasing tax revenues.

Coming much more naturally to him and his ilk is the urge to squeeze as much as possible out of the already suffocating taxpayers – this though any half-competent economist knows that excessive taxation has exactly the opposite effect to the one professed. It frustrates workers, discourages them from trying to earn more, shrinks the tax base and thus reduces the state’s income.

Yet all their pronouncements notwithstanding, modern governments aren’t about the economy. They’re about increasing their power, and fleecing taxpayers serves this end famously: by controlling people’s money the state controls their lives, at least their physical lives.

Therefore in the apiary Dave keeps in his bonnet the bee of tax ‘evasion’, now supposed to include avoidance as well, buzzes right next to his compulsion to destroy what’s left of the institution of marriage.

To tackle what he calls ‘the scourge of tax evasion’ he has summoned every official who was likely to honour such a summons to blackmail them into docility. Specifically, next month he’ll demand that 10 territories commonly known as tax havens sign up to greater ‘tax transparency’. In other words, he wants them to spy for Inland Revenue, thereby betraying their investors and destroying their own principal livelihood.

Dave will also make this thorny issue a priority of the G8 summit he’s hosting in Northern Ireland on 17 and 18 June. This stands to reason: given the booming state of the world economy, what other priorities can there be?

Dave, one suspects, will find greater sympathy among his likeminded spivs in the G8 than in the territories that survive by providing discreet financial services. Russia is the only G8 member whose dedication to money laundering easily matches Dave’s passion for confiscatory taxation, but the Russians know they’ll find a way no matter what the summit decides.

At the same time Dave has reassured the 10 territories in his trademark mendacious way: “I respect your right to be lower tax jurisdictions. I believe passionately in lower taxes as a vital driver of growth and prosperity for all.

”Dave believes in lower taxes about as passionately as Kim Jong-un believes in democracy, Ahmadinejad in religious tolerance and Boris Johnson in marital fidelity. As passionately, actually, as he believes in using words in their time-honoured meaning.