Putin’s thugs go Dutch

“Throughout 2013 many renowned institutions will participate in the Netherlands-Russia Year, celebrating the rich bilateral relations between these two countries. A busy events calendar is underway throughout the year.”

Congratulations to the Amsterdam website for this clairvoyant quote of last year. The events calendar of the Netherlands-Russia Year has indeed been busy, if perhaps not quite in the way the author anticipated.

One event involved a senior Russian diplomat (a euphemism for an SVR, previously KGB, spy) Dmitry Borodin.

In the good tradition of Russians certain of their impunity, Dmitry and his wife were making life difficult for their neighbours in The Hague. Reports of their noisy, drunken escapades were piling up, but there was little the police could do: the louts were protected by diplomatic immunity.

Finally, the police had no choice but to act. Mrs Borodin arrived home, driving in an erratic way suggesting that the car wasn’t being operated by someone in full command of the vehicle, or indeed herself.

This supposition the inebriated Mrs Borodin went on to prove empirically by playing pinball with four parked cars before staggering home. The assault on their property proved too much for the frugal Dutch. The police were called and this time they responded.

They arrested the woman and then visited her flat, where they found Mr Borodin drunkenly abusing the couple’s little children, pulling their hair and slapping them around. Now no cops in the world would stand by idly watching this sort of thing, diplomatic immunity or no diplomatic immunity.

The officers got into the act, only to have the drunken brute turn against them. In the ensuing fracas, the diplomat was roughed up and arrested.

Acting on the letter of the 1961 Geneva Convention governing such matters, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern protest, demanding an apology. Diplomats, according to the note, are off limits for criminal prosecution and their bodies mustn’t be confused with punching bags.

Not being an expert on diplomatic law, I can’t judge its letter, but I’m intrigued by its spirit. Suppose Borodin had been actually killing his children, rather than merely brutalising them. Wouldn’t the police have been within their right, at least moral right, to do whatever it took to stop the outrage?

Where do you draw the line beyond which human laws have to be superseded by humane ones? Anyway, as is the diplomatic convention, the Dutch government dutifully apologised. Case closed?

If both countries in the conflict were civilised, it would be. But since Russia was one party involved, it wasn’t.

Onno Elderenbosch, the deputy head of the Dutch embassy in Moscow, is 68 years old. I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Mr Elderenbosch, but on general principle I’d venture a guess that his domestic behaviour differed from Mr Borodin’s.

I may be too hung up on ethnic stereotypes, and if you feel that way I’m sorry. But I just can’t imagine a Dutch diplomat on the cusp of old age getting pissed out of his mind and brutalising little tots, while his wife was drunkenly smashing her car into several parked vehicles.

Anyway, when Mr Elderenbosch got home yesterday, he saw two electricians tinkering with the fuse box in the staircase. When the diplomat opened his door, the ‘electricians’ pushed him inside, tied him up with tape, beat him up savagely and trashed his flat. Then they wrote ‘LGBT’ in lipstick on a mirror and rushed out, leaving the diplomat with what the reports describe as ‘light wounds’.

I’m amazed they didn’t write ‘KGB lives, okay?’ If the thugs were indeed LGBT activists, they’d have little reason to single out a representative of the country where their kind have had a free ride longer than anywhere else.

Holland was the first Western country to legalise, well, just about everything, including homomarriage, drugs (albeit consumed on designated premises), euthanasia – you name it. Gay Day parades, while repulsive everywhere, raise enormity to a whole new level in Amsterdam. Same-sex couples copulate in every imaginable fashion, with the police looking on with indulgent smiles; the city’s picturesque canals swell with discarded condoms.

Moreover, none of this is a secret. Everybody knows that LGBT activists love Holland more than any other country on earth. So I’m going to stick my neck out: there’s no way Mr Elderenbosch was assaulted by chaps identified by that acronym.

The incident bears every hallmark of tit-for-tat retaliation, reviving the memory of the Cold War. In those days, any time a diplomat was roughed up in Russia, his counterpart would be roughed up in the diplomat’s country.

A broken arm in Moscow spelled a broken arm in Washington, as everyone knew would be the case. Secret services often acted outside official channels, and the Geneva convention had no jurisdiction in the clandestine battlefield.

But the battlefield has been converted into luxury condominiums, hasn’t it? The Russians, though regrettably still a bit rough around the edges, are just like us now, aren’t they? Democracy and all?

If these are the questions you ask, you ought to thank Col. Putin and his sponsoring organisation. Their answer is as informative as it is unequivocal.


Visas for Chinese slave-drivers (and I don’t mean the credit cards)

George and Boris are falling over themselves to ingratiate Britain to the Chinese. Actually, they’re also falling over each other, for the Chancellor cunningly scheduled his China trip for the same time as the Mayor.

Can’t let that overambitious chap steal the whole show, can we now? So George stole Boris’s thunder by declaring that visas for rich Chinese will henceforth be fast-tracked.

Boris was furious. His show can have only one star! Crikey! Gosh! Bloody nerve! Who the bloody hell does he think he is, God bloody almighty?

But Boris is no pushover. He wasn’t going to bend over and take it like a man. George’s generosity, he complained, doesn’t go far enough. As far as he’s concerned, anybody with a fat wallet is welcome, regardless of how the wallet got lined.

“We will have to see how this scheme actually works,” Boris hissed, gnashing his teeth. “The detail is a little bit unclear to us at the moment.”

That may be, but the underlying principle is clear enough. In fact, it was first enunciated with soldierly directness by the Roman emperor Vespasian. Pecunia non olet” (money doesn’t stink), he quipped when questioned about charging tax on the urine sold to tanners by public lavatories.

It’s disconcerting that after two millennia of subsequent civilisation we still haven’t outlived this rather crass philosophy. Utility reigns, okay? The greatest good of the greatest number of spivs. What’s there not to like?

If our olfactory sense were sharper, we’d detect the stench of slavery emanating from Chinese money. But we don’t want our noses to be sensitive. We pinch our nostrils and ask Chinese visitors to sign on the bottom line.

The bottom line is all that matters. Never mind the scruples, feel the wealth.

In fact, China’s population is consigned to what only Protagorian sophistry would prevent one from calling slave labour. But in the good, if relatively recent, tradition of materialistic amorality, we choose not to ponder the ethical implications.

When paying £1 for a pair of cotton underpants made in China, where the average labour cost is one-thirtieth that in America, we refrain from doing simple mental arithmetic. Most of us would be incapable of such mental exertions anyway, after a couple of generations of comprehensively equal education for all.

Yet if we were to add up the cost of the cotton, utility prices, depreciation of the factory plant, manufacturer’s mark-up, cuts taken off the top by various middlemen and retailers, cost of transportation and storage, customs duties and many other things I’ve undoubtedly left out, we’d realise that the poor devils who stitch those underpants together probably still subsist on a small bowl of rice a day.

Without splitting legal hairs, they are slaves – to exactly the same regime that has unapologetically murdered 60 million of its citizens and brutalised the rest. But hey, show us piles of money and we’ll overlook piles of corpses. They don’t smell either.

In the past, before Jesus Christ became a superstar, England took a dim view of slavery. A report of a case as far back as 1569 states that: “… one Cartwright brought a slave from Russia and would scourge him; for which he was questioned; and it was resolved, that England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe, and so everyone who breathes it becomes free. Everyone who comes to this island is entitled to the protection of English law, whatever oppression he may have suffered and whatever may be the colour of his skin.”

Chinese slaves don’t travel to Britain these days – they can’t afford to. It’s their masters, the Chinese answer to the Cartwrights of yesteryear, who are welcomed with open arms by the spivs who govern us.

Rather than barring entry to anyone whose fortune has been made by criminal means, be that slavery or racketeering, our ‘leaders’ want to spare them the inconvenience of waiting for a visa. Moral considerations need not apply when a few bob are on the line.

So fine, pecunia non olet. Money doesn’t stink. It’s only our political class that does.  


America the ungovernable

The temporary closure of the US government has opened the floodgates to all sorts of diatribes in our newspapers, regardless of their political preferences.

Just this once there’s no divergence of opinion: all commentators, Right, Left or Centre, agree that it’s the obstinacy of the Republicans that threatens the wellbeing of America and of the world she’s supposed to lead.

Obamacare, which most commentators generously admit is flawed, nonetheless reflects the will of the people. Democracy has spoken, and now those rightwing nutters are trying to sabotage it.  

Such unity would be touching if the underlying judgment weren’t so flawed. And as is usually the case, a silly underlying judgment produces arguments unworthy of otherwise intelligent men.

In his article America Is Becoming Ungovernable Max Hastings describes Obamacare as “the major achievement” of the current administration. In the process he dismisses out of hand (that is, without bothering to argue the toss) the Republicans’ claim that the plan “will make medical care more costly for middle America, and extend the reach of the hated federal government.”

Rather, the bill will put “health insurance within reach of the poorest Americans… Long-term, it is intended to lower the horrific costs of public healthcare.”

Now this long-term benefit is a matter of pure conjecture, whereas the short-term hike in healthcare costs is a matter of fact: since the bill was passed they’ve already increased by roughly a third. Wait till it goes into effect.

I’d also be tempted to mention that Obama’s project puts medical care on a slippery slope to nationalisation. Republicans may or may not hate the federal government but, the example of our own dear NHS before them, they see no compelling reason to love state control over medicine.

Mr Hastings gets so emotional that he slips into ignorant tirades most unfortunate in a professional historian. For example he accuses the Republicans of defying “the intentions of the Founding Fathers of the constitution as flagrantly as the gun nuts who exploit the 1776 provision for militias to bear arms, to enable modern mass murderers to equip themselves with machine-guns.”

The US Constitution was adopted in 1789 and its Second Amendment in 1791, not 1776, the year America issued her Declaration of Independence. Historians shouldn’t confuse the two documents. Hastings may like or dislike this amendment but it’s part of the constitution, which is to say the law. By citing it, people therefore uphold their constitutional liberties, which ipso facto doesn’t make them ‘gun nuts’.

Mr Hastings then broadens his attack on American constitutional arrangements, which according to him made the Tea Party possible – and God forbid any political mix should feature a conservative component. “Most Republicans,” he writes, “hate 2013.”

“They want to reset the clock to around 1955, when the world lived in terror of nuclear annihilation, but when Dwight Eisenhower occupied the White House, women and blacks knew their place, there was no swearing on TV, and sex was kept in its proper place under the carpet.”

Run for the hills, chaps. If those gun nuts ever take over, there will be so little swearing and sex on the telly that nuclear annihilation will loom large. The only thing to save us will be wholesale nationalisation, starting from healthcare in the States or, ours already being nationalised, taking off from there in Britain.

Both Hastings and the chap in The Times, whose name escapes me, bemoan the subversion of democracy allegedly perpetrated by those dastardly Republicans. Do they realise that the Republican majority in Congress is doing nothing illegal? That the rule of law supersedes abstract principles, including commitment to democracy über alles?

Neither American nor our democracy is direct. People are supposed to govern through institutions, not by plebiscite. Specifically, all modern democracies feature a separation of powers among three branches of government of which two, the legislative and the executive, often find themselves at odds. This is especially true of presidential republics, such as the USA, where the top executive doesn’t automatically have a parliamentary majority.

Such conflicts are normally resolved by what Americans call horse trading. This is exactly what is going on at the moment. The Republicans are prepared to suppress their better instincts and vote for increasing the public-debt ceiling above its current suicidal level of $16.7 trillion. In exchange they demand that the White House either suspend or, ideally, scrap its ill-advised plan.

One also detects that not all Republicans lose much sleep over the possibility of the government defaulting on its debts. That, they predict with much justification, will come sooner or later anyway, so the sooner the better. The consequences will be abhorrent, but not as much as they will be when the debt is twice as big, which it’s confidently expected to be in the near future.

Unlike the Second Amendment, democracy, by which Messrs Hastings et al. swear, isn’t part of the US constitution. If the distinction between a republic and a democracy escapes Hastings, he should really read up on it before committing his thoughts to paper.

In fact, the Founding Fathers, to whom Mr Hastings refers but with whose work he seems to be unfamiliar, knew the distinction very well. Thus In 1806 Adams wrote, “I once thought our Constitution was a quasi or mixed government, but they had made it… a democracy.” Thomas Jefferson then echoed Plato by going even further than Adams: “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”

Suppose for the sake of argument that the people voted for reintroducing slavery. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if some parliamentary mechanisms could be activated to countermand the majority?

One wonders how Mr Hastings would answer this question. We already know how US Republicans answer a different but related one.










Elephants never forget, but science reporters do

New, they say, is long-forgotten old. In the past this old adage used not to apply to scientific discoveries, but times change.

Our time in particular is becoming exceedingly more politicised, and science isn’t off limits for this observation. This is especially true of any findings that bring into doubt the key assumptions of our soulless, materialistic modernity.

One assumption modernity can’t do without is that man originates from the ape. Never mind that Darwin’s slapdash theory, and certainly the part of it that deals with the descent of man, has been debunked by just about every modern science you care to mention.

No other theory, and not even its staunchest supporters claim Darwinism is anything more than that, would have survived beyond one generation, two at most. But since without the crutch of Darwinism modernity has no philosophical leg to stand on, dissenting scientific data are brushed aside towards oblivion.

This amnesia, either deliberate or enforced, explains the noise accompanying the recent ‘discovery’ that elephants boast an intelligence far superior to that of primates, such as chimpanzees.

Apparently, when a researcher points at one out of ten buckets, an elephant picks the right one 67.5 percent of the time, falling just short of year-old babies (72.7 percent) and putting primates to shame. This discovery is being hailed as just that, and the impression given is that we’ve learned something new.

We haven’t. The data pointing in the same direction have been in the public domain for decades. But they have been hushed up for obvious reasons: if man is the most intelligent mammal and the chimp is his immediate ancestor, the chimp has to be seen as the intellectual giant among animals.

Many experiments have been staged on the basis of the a priori knowledge that the chimp has to be clever, and that was all there was to it. Many a Darwinist has set out to prove the intelligence of apes, allegedly so much superior to other animals’, if ever so slightly inferior to man’s.

It’s only when primatologists untainted by evolutionary afflatus became involved that any such claims were disproved. A conclusion has been reached that primates don’t differ from other mammals as much as was believed in the past. In fact, many scientists place chimpanzees lower on the intelligence scale than some other animals such as dolphins – and elephants.

For example, elephants and wild dogs bury their dead, whereas apes don’t. In fact the primatologist Jane Goodall showed that chimpanzees have no concept of death. Female chimps carry their dead young with them, and other siblings in the same litter continue to play with the corpse when it’s already in the late stages of decomposition.

Also, unlike whales who look after their aged and sick, apes often attack their defenceless old, setting a useful example for our ‘socioeconomically disadvantaged’ underclasses to follow. 

Much has been made of the fact that apes can use a few primitive tools. After all, Engels, another demiurge of modernity, more or less equated this ability with humanity.

“Man was created by labour,” he wrote. Labour was therefore used as the simulacrum of God, though a straight swap has never quite caught on. One doesn’t hear many people praying to Labour, our Lord. Nor do many people insist that there’s no God other than Labour, and Richard Dawkins is its messenger.

However, thanks be to Labour, apes aren’t the only nonhumans who can use tools. For example, the Galapagos woodpecker (Cactospiza pallida) grips a cactus thorn in its beak to pluck insects out of the tree bark.

Some birds of prey attack ostrich nests by dropping stones from a great height. Eagles drop turtles onto stones to break the shells and eat the contents. Actually, Aeschylus is said to have been killed when one such turtle-lover mistook his bald pate for a stone. And there are many other examples of some animals being equal, and often superior, to primates.

When yet another bit of news emerges that suggests that this is the case, such as today’s reports about the elephant’s superior intelligence, it’s dutifully published and quickly forgotten.

Even before this onset of amnesia, no one dares suggest that perhaps the new experiments cast doubt on Darwinism. This isn’t to say that such reports lie by distorting facts. They don’t. They merely deceive by omitting to mention some obvious inferences and conclusions.

Meanwhile, children, in as much as they’re taught anything, are being taught Darwinism as unchallenged fact. You can set up your own experiment to prove this.

If you have a child of school age, ask him who the most intelligent animal is. If he doesn’t say ‘the chimp’, I’d be very much surprised – and you’d be well-advised to disabuse the youngster of such notions.

Bucking modernity doesn’t get one far in our modern world. At some point, the skies will open and Labour will smite the precocious tot with its mighty hand.








‘Slut’ and other two-letter words

The other day MEP Godfrey Bloom lost his UKIP whip for referring to a group of female party activists as ‘sluts’.

Since I wasn’t there I didn’t have a chance to verify the validity of that description. However, my previous observations didn’t give me the impression that UKIP conferences are ideal hunting grounds for good-time girls.

However, if Mr Bloom has information to the contrary, he’s duty-bound to post the names and phone numbers of the ladies in question on his website, to enable the lads with conservative, anti-EU leanings to authenticate or disprove his claim.

It turns out Mr Bloom didn’t mean it the way it sounded. “It was a joke,” he said, “and most people in Britain have a sense of humour.”

I must belong to the humourless few, for I can’t for the life of me see how calling someone a slut is funny, justified or not. What’s the joke, Godfrey?

Now we get to the crux of the matter. It transpires that Mr Bloom is an etymologist of no mean attainment. He used the word not in its current meaning, but in the original one, dating back to the early 15th century, when it was spelled ‘slutte’. “It means you’re untidy, you leave your kit lying around,” he told BBC’s Newsnight.

This makes his invective less offensive, though it still falls short of being a knee-slapper.

Anyway, the whole thing got me interested, and not just because both meanings of the word presuppose a lady ‘leaving her kit lying around’. You see, in my student days I was made to take an exam in the history of the English language, which was the only exam in six years that I failed and had to re-sit.

The examining professor gave me an English word, can’t remember what, and asked me to identify its origin. I was then supposed to show how the word evolved from Old English to Middle English to our time, specifying the exact time and cause of each change.

My answer demonstrated a great deal of creativity but precious little knowledge. The professor commended me, somewhat facetiously, on the former and failed me for the latter. Having then spent a few sleepless nights swotting up, I managed a B in the replay.

In spite of that traumatic experience, I share Mr Bloom’s keen interest in comparative etymology. His predicament got me thinking.

What is it about the combination of the letters s and l? Many languages use them in words conveying something or someone dirty, both in the hygienic and amorous senses of the word. Some of those words are clearly cognates, but most aren’t.

Just look at English. We begin with ‘slovenly’, ‘slime’, ‘sleaze’, ‘slush’, ‘slob’, ‘slop’ and proceed to ‘slattern’, ‘slapper’, ‘slag’ – and of course ‘slut’.

Now the German for ‘slime’ is Schleim, which is an obvious cognate. However, I can’t discern an immediate link between ‘slattern’ and the German Schlampe, which means the same thing and features the same two letters.

Or look at French. The word for ‘dirty’ is sale, and the one for ‘slapper’ is salope – the same two offensive letters keep cropping up, and in the same sequence. Add to this the Russian word for ‘slag’ (shlyukha), and one becomes really puzzled.

Someone who, unlike me, passed the requisite exam in one go and then developed his interest professionally may have all the answers. I don’t. I just wonder if there exists some hidden onomatopoeia to which we aren’t privy.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the phonetic shape of a word has an intrinsic link to its meaning. This may or may not go back to the Indo-European protolanguage, whose existence has never advanced beyond being an interesting hypothesis.

Or if one is so inclined, one could trace the whole thing back to God who must have created language roughly at the same time he created man.

Of course men then used language for sinful purposes, such as chatting up women in the hope of turning them into, well, sluts. God got angry and scattered them all over the world, with the subsequent disintegration of their single language: “Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

This may be a loose interpretation of Genesis, and even a looser one of historical linguistics. But this is as far as I can go. Any further attempt to slake my thirst for arcane knowledge, and I begin to slouch in my chair, my jaw goes slack and I fall asleep. Slowly.

And then I see a Sloanie slut in my slumber.




Comprehensively illiterate Britain: I blame myself

An international study of literacy and numeracy among 24 industrial nations has made me feel guilty.

The guilt isn’t so much direct as vicarious: I didn’t actually make anyone illiterate or innumerate, but I might have put the jinx in.

Judge for yourself: I have lived in the USA for 15 years and in England for 25, the last 13 of which featured a timesharing arrangement with France. Before going to America I had spent six months in Italy.

Well, it just so happens that the four countries cursed with my malevolent presence all found themselves close to the bottom of the table.

In the chronological order of my life, Italy ended up at No. 24 in literacy and 23 in numeracy; the USA at 18 and 24; England at 22 and 21; France at 17 and 19. At the same time Holland, where I often go to see friends but where I’ve never stayed longer than a few days, finished in the medals: bronze for literacy, gold for numeracy.

Now, I hope my friends elsewhere don’t take umbrage, but England is the only country with which I’m involved emotionally. Putting it in the language of real life rather than tabloid reports, I like quite a few countries, but England I love. That’s why I hate to see what’s happening to her.

Grave as my guilt is, there are those who are even more responsible. Conservative politicians and papers immediately set out to score points by blaming Labour for this unfortunate situation. Specifically, they singled out Messrs Blair and Brown, along with their entire cabinets, everything they stand for, the horses they rode in on and the air they breathe.

Sure enough, those chaps made the problem far worse than it had been. But they didn’t create it.

What created the problem was the wanton, criminal demolition of grammar schools and the creation of comprehensives in the mid-60s. That evil deed was also perpetrated by a Labour government, but at the time Tony was still at school (a prestigious independent one of course). It’s also useful to remember that the saintly Margaret Thatcher, in her tenure as Education Secretary, shut down more grammar schools than any dastardly Labourite ever did.

Overnight England’s education was converted from being the envy of the world to being its laughingstock. By turning schools into a laboratory for social engineering, the Bollinger Bolsheviks, most of them privately educated, concocted several generations of functional illiterates.

Consequently, England is the only country in the developed world where those aged 55 to 65 showed better literacy and numeracy than those aged 16 to 24. This wouldn’t have anything to do with the introduction of comprehensives in the 1960s, would it?

This giant social experiment removed from the lower classes their traditional social and economic hoist: good education. A clever child, regardless of his background, used to be able to go to a grammar school and emerge ready to take on all comers in the workplace rough-and-tumble. Even more important, he’d acquire the intellectual, aesthetic and spiritual refinement that separates us from animals and Millwall supporters.

The whole thing flew in the face of the universal law to which there are no known exceptions: any state embarking on a vast programme inspired by ideology will produce results diametrically opposite to those intended (or rather declared).

A war on poverty will make more people poor. A war on drugs will increase their use. A ban on handguns will lead to more handgun crime. An attempt to redistribute wealth will destroy it. Policies aimed at reducing the income gap between bosses and employees will widen it. An all-out effort to end all wars will lead to more, and bloodier, wars.

And an attempt to introduce equal, comprehensive education will always result in equal, comprehensive ignorance. Hence it will reduce social mobility and cast in iron every privilege conferred by wealth.

If you’re seeking empirical proof, just look at the other report published in today’s papers. Social mobility in England is among the worst of all developed nations, and surely our idiot-spewing education is the principal culprit.

When will the bastards learn that people aren’t guinea pigs or other test animals? We aren’t to be used for experiments and trials. Any state is evil that treats people as material, rather than an end in itself. Please, will somebody tell Dave.




Heard the one about a priest and a Muslim?

There’s this Episcopalian priest who celebrates mass every Sunday, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

And then there’s this Muslim who five times a day lies on the floor facing Mecca and prays to Allah, other than whom there’s no God and Mohammed is his messenger.

The priest is a collar-wearing woman, but that’s perfectly fine. The Church thinks so, and if you don’t, well, you don’t belong in civilised society. Whether you belong in prison is a different matter, to be decided soon.

The Muslim is a woman too, which means she covers her face and takes abuse from her male co-religionists. We don’t know whether, when walking past a building site, she hears whistles and shouts of ‘get your face out for the lads’, but it’s likely.

Both the priest and the Muslim are black or rather, since they live in the USA, Afro-Americans, but this is neither here nor there.

The erudite priest teaches the New Testament as a visiting assistant professor at Seattle University, and why not? Biblical studies is a valid academic discipline and, for an ordained person, also a form of proselytism.

The Muslim only converted to Islam 15 months ago, so she’s still in the learning, not teaching, mode.

So far so good. But I can sense you getting impatient. Get on with it, I hear you say. What’s the punch line?

Well, here it is. The priest and the Muslim are one and the same. Ann Holmes Redding, of Seattle, Washington, 51, recovering alcoholic, single as she ever was.

This is the joke, and it’s on all of us.

“At the most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible,” explains… Father Ann? Mother Ann? Well, Ann in any case. “I am both Muslim and Christian, just like I’m both an American of African descent and a woman. I’m 100 percent both.”

Unimpeachable logic, that. If Jesus is fully divine and fully human, why can’t Ann be fully Christian and fully Muslim? The ability to reason in such a rigorous way is amply covered in psychiatric literature, though the more scriptural sources have so far been less forthcoming.

“It wasn’t about intellect,” added Ann. Really? Could have fooled me.

Ann’s bishop, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, has no problem with this timesharing arrangement. It’s replete with interfaith possibilities, which the good prelate finds exciting. Nor does he see anything wrong with Ann’s daring take on Christianity.

The Gospel according to Ann may not be the one you know, but who’s to say it’s any less valid? In our egalitarian times? You have your theology, I have mine, they have theirs, and because we originate from the ape we can all love one another, amen.

To Ann, Christianity is the “world religion of privilege.” Of course it is. Didn’t Jesus tell us to get rich quickly, buy some political clout and marry into aristocracy? Well, perhaps he didn’t. But that’s what he obviously meant.

Ann has never believed in original sin. The Trinity is an idea about God and cannot be taken literally. Jesus is the son of God insofar as all humans are the children of God, and Jesus is divine just as all humans are divine.

Ergo – and I’m beginning to get the hang of Ann’s relentless logic – we are each of us God. So I want to know which of you Gods created the Seattle diocese? Own up, you bastards.

So there we have it, the perfect Anglican priest for our times. There may be a deanery vacancy at Durham Cathedral, if Ann would consider relocating.

However, she might first have to change her stand on race if she’s to qualify. You see, Ann has a problem with having too many white people in the Episcopal Church. Walking into her Islam prayer group, on the other hand, is “to be reminded that there are more people of colour in the world than white people, that in itself is a relief.”

This may be construed as racialism in some quarters, but as long as it’s just black racialism those quarters had better shut up. The same goes for St Paul with his ‘neither a Jew nor a Greek’.

“Islam doesn’t say if you’re a Christian, you’re not a Muslim,” says Ayesha Something or Other in Ann’s support. True. Neither does it specifically disavow gymnasts, scientists and lathe operators. They can all combine Islam with whatever else they are.

The Koran does say, “Fight against such as those to whom the Scriptures were given [that is, Jews and Christians]… until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued.” But whoever feels this presents an irreconcilable problem, let him cast the first stone – preferably at adulterers.

It’s just that Ann could step aside and let her Muslim half fight it out with her Christian half. The way the cookie crumbles these days, her Muslim half will probably blow up her Christian side and – in the recent tradition of suicide bombing – itself as well.

It will then go to heaven, leaving us relieved and ever so slightly bemused on earth.

With 73% taxes, who can afford to be middle class?

Simon Walker, the director general of the Institute of Directors, got into my good books. Alas, he chose not to stay there for long.

First, Mr Walker took issue with the Chancellor, who in his last budget scrapped child benefit for households where one member earns over £60,000.

Mr Walker spotted with his eagle eye that as a result such a family would be effectively hit with a 73-percent marginal tax rate.

That is, HMG would take 73p out of the next pound such an overachiever earned, which, Mr Walker correctly surmised, would rather dampen his ardour to earn that next pound.

My new friend Simon then doubled the size of type in which his name appears in my good books by claiming affection for a flat tax rate. There was a man after my own heart.

But then he had to go and nip our burgeoning friendship in the bud. “You should never pay more than 50p on the pound you bring in,” said Mr Walker. “If you are doing that you are doing something that is wrong and that degrades the motivation to work.”

The state extorting half of what we earn is all right then. No degraded motivation anywhere in sight. We work for the government until the end of June, then start working for ourselves. What can be fairer?

No one stops to think that even the most absolute of Western monarchs would not have dreamed of taxing people at that confiscatory rate. Why, this is a good starting point for contemplating the delights of democracy.

Strip it of the usual cocoon of slogans and shibboleths, and democracy emerges in its nudity. Promising self-government, implicit in its name, it delivers something entirely different.

By transferring all their sovereignty to the political elite in the capital, the people make its power truly absolute. All those Edwards and Henrys are turning green with envy in heaven, or wherever they are.

A government voted in by a third of the electorate (at best) presumes to have a mandate to do as it wishes: taking as much of the people’s money as the spirit moves it, debauching the rest by increasing the money supply ad infinitum, creating or importing a huge underclass for the sake of which such outrages are necessary.

All this is accompanied by incessant brainwashing, subtler than Goebbels’s but more effective in the long term. As a result people assume that this travesty of democracy is richly covered with the patina of time.

It isn’t. The shift to this total, not to say totalitarian, democracy is relatively recent. For example, Freedom House, a Washington think tank, claims that not a single democracy existed in 1900. By 2007, according to the same source, we had been blessed with 123. If true, this is a revolution to rival the French and Russian versions.

The parallel extends naturally. Those two revolutions first exterminated whomever they had revolted against. Then, however, came the turn of the revolutionaries themselves. The French and Russian firebrands were massacred by the guillotine and the TT pistol respectively.

In the same vein the democratic revolution was perpetrated by the middle classes. To begin with they watched gleefully as the upper classes were being put to the metaphorical sword. By the time they realised they would be next it was too late.

The government confiscating half of their earnings (in effect much more, if we consider the inheritance tax, VAT and other less visible duties) by itself would be sufficient to shorten the lifespan of the erstwhile bedrock of our society.

But it’s not by itself. The last 50 years of the twentieth century saw an inflation of 2,000 percent – as opposed to a mere 10 percent in the last 50 years of the nineteenth.

All of it was perfectly democratic, but the people still were aghast. Their money falling victim to institutionalised promiscuity, they rushed to put whatever was left into property.

As a result, asset inflation outstrips money inflation by a factor of 10. Putting this into everyday language, before long a family house, that presumed entitlement of the middle class, will cease to exist – no one will be able to afford it.

Another essential asset of the middle classes was the decent education they could give their children. That too was taken away by the double whammy of creating idiot-spewing comprehensives and destroying grammar schools.

The middle classes rushed to public schools, only to find that it would take a gross income of £100,000 a year just to educate two children there – that’s before any other expenses, including the confiscatory taxes. Read medicine for education, the NHS for the comprehensives and BUPA for public schools, and the situation in healthcare is exactly the same.

As a result, a growing proportion of public school pupils come from foreign families with rather shady sources of income. The same families are increasingly becoming the only ones able to afford living in safe neighbourhoods or being treated in safe hospitals.

More and more, the middle classes are squeezed out of existence. Britain is clearly moving towards a third-world social structure, with a small elite ruling the roost and the rest amalgamated into an impoverished déclassé mass of humanity.

If you can afford to remain middle class, congratulations. If you can’t, you can console yourself by living in a democracy.

Did I malign the Pope?

The other day I wrote a knockabout spoof of an interview given by Pope Francis to a Jesuit magazine, as it was reported in the press.

However, a highly respectable Catholic thinker took exception to my having based the spoof on newspaper reports and not on the full text. Since I do respect him highly, I was suitably contrite: it is indeed lazy and slipshod to ignore primary sources.

My friend kindly provided the full text of the interview. In the good Christian tradition he clearly expected me to atone for my sins by acknowledging how wrong I was. “You may still not like what you read,” he said, “but you will at least do him justice.”

Well, as far as the first part is concerned, my friend got it in one: I don’t like what I’ve now read. As to the second part, the only thing I can do is comment on the text. If my justice happens to be of the rough variety, then so be it. Dura lex, sed lex, as His Holiness would say.

At the very beginning, Pope Francis issues a disclaimer, “I have never been a right-winger.” Then he goes on to prove that he’s indeed exactly the opposite of that.

However, he reassures the readers that he’s no populist. Sorry, Your Holiness. It’s just that we were misled by such statements as, “The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people.” 

I’m not sure I understand the denotation, but the connotation is clear enough, and if this isn’t populist, I don’t know what is. In general one has to go more by the overall tenor of the Pope’s pronouncements, rather than by what he actually says. For he doesn’t say very much.

Left-wing theologians, like left-wing politicians, seldom say anything of substance, right, wrong or indifferent. Their stock in trade is platitudes, truisms and bien-pensant generalities.

Some of the Pope’s truisms are indeed true, as when he says that, “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”

Verily, a Christian is someone who believes he was saved by Jesus Christ. Similarly, a footballer is someone who kicks the ball and a musician is someone who plays an instrument. All of those things are true. So true in fact that none needs saying.

When asked a question demanding a meaty answer, the Pope sticks to marshmallows instead. For example, when ecumenism comes up, the Pope mentions the importance of ‘dialogue’.

“The joint effort of reflection, looking at how the church was governed in the early centuries, before the break-up between East and West, will bear fruit in due time. In ecumenical relations it is important not only to know each other better, but also to recognise what the Spirit has sown in the other as a gift for us.”

And specifically, Your Holiness? ‘The joint effort of reflection’ has been going on for over a millennium, and the two Churches still cordially loathe each other. If continuing dialogue ‘will bear fruit in due time’, when is the time due? Another millennium? Two?

Such shilly-shallying looks particularly lamentable by contrast to the way the Pope’s predecessor tackled such thorny issues.

Pope Benedict didn’t limit himself to ‘dialogue’. He extended a generous offer of the ordinariate to those Anglicans who’ve had enough of female lesbian priests and similarly progressive innovations. But then conservatives do tend to prefer talking in concrete terms.

Unsurprisingly the Pope is an enthusiastic supporter of Vatican II: “Vatican II was a re-reading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture,” he says. “Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation.”

The Gospel, Your Holiness, doesn’t need to be re-read ‘in light of contemporary culture.’ Let’s identify the dog and the tail, and then we’ll know what should be wagging what.

The Gospel is there to shape contemporary or any other culture, not to be shaped by it. And yes, the fruits of Vatican II are ‘enormous’, in the sense in which the word is a cognate of ‘enormity’, especially if we ‘recall the liturgy’.

One such fruit is effectively driving out the ancient Tridentine and Latin mass. If in the past a Catholic could travel the world and always go to mass knowing it’ll be exactly as at home, now, unless he’s a polyglot, he’s lost when abroad. Rather than being all-inclusive, the new mass is all-divisive.

Also lost is the grandeur of the liturgy, its sublime beauty. Every vernacular into which liturgical Catholic texts have been translated since 1965 has only succeeded in rendering these texts mundane. Comparing the English of the Anglican 1662 mass to the French of modern Catholic liturgy tells us all we need to know.

And what was found to replace what was lost? Approval by proponents of ‘contemporary culture’? Most of them are atheists anyway.

Then on to homosexuality: “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. 

“During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge… it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”

If the living embodiment of the apostolic tradition is ‘no one to judge’, then who is? The rest is populist demagoguery at its most soaring. Of course, ‘a gay person’ must be loved – because he’s a person, not because he’s ‘gay’. God indeed loves repentant sinners, but He hates sin.

So the Pope yet again says nothing. He could, for example, have stressed repentance as a sine qua non of forgiveness. Does he think that a homosexual repents when insisting on the right to marry, march in public demonstration of perverse lewdness or flaunt his little predilection to offend traditional decency?

If not, what is the Church’s position on unrepentant sinners? Those seeking an answer to such questions, shouldn’t ask the Pope. He won’t say anything of value.

The same goes for the subject of women in church. Does the Pope’s receptiveness to ‘contemporary culture’ extend to potential acceptance of female clergy?

“It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church…We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman.”

But such a theology already exists, certainly in the Catholic Church, where Mary’s status almost equals that of her son. What does ‘a stronger presence’ mean? Female priesthood? Female episcopate? If not, what then?

Oh well, what can one expect from a man who admits to admiring Caravaggio, Chagall and Wagner. I suppose we must be thankful that His Holiness didn’t go for Amy Winehouse and Damien Hirst instead.

For that’s what ‘contemporary culture’ is all about. Do let’s hope that under this Pope’s guidance the Church won’t gravitate towards the clerical equivalent.

America is doing the splits

If one listens to the commentators, American politics is going through so many splits it’s amazing her crotch muscles are still intact.

The temporary shutdown of most state business may well be followed by the country defaulting on her debts, with unforeseeable consequences for global economy. Gloom is here, with doom soon to follow.

Depending on who’s talking, this unfortunate situation is blamed either on Obama’s health policies, rightly perceived as going against the grain of the American ethos, or else on the bloody-mindedness of the American Republican Right.

The American Republican Right is thereby split away from the American Republican Left, both are split away from the Democrats of any description, who too are split up among themselves.

All commentators without exception are ascribing such fractiousness to minor transient differences or else to jockeying for electoral position. All these are no doubt a factor, but the problem may well be more fundamental than that. If so, America is yet again teaching us all a lesson, this time in how not to do things.

The fact is that the USA has rightwing politicians galore, but it has precious few conservatives. The difference between the two points at the crucial problem of today’s politics everywhere in the West.

Conservatism starts from an intuitive predisposition, which a man then relates to various aspects of life. In each case he must answer for himself the lapidary $64,000 question: “What is it that I wish to conserve?”

A conservatively inclined American can find cultural outlets for his inner inclinations without much problem. Even social life wouldn’t be unduly unreceptive. But what about political outlets?

Here America and France have the same problem: both are constituted from birth as revolutionary republics inspired by Enlightenment principles. An American who answers the crucial question with “the Constitution of the United States” thereby reaffirms his commitment to the destruction of every aspect of Christendom, including its political legacy.

A revolutionary republic suffers from a congenital, incurable defect: it doesn’t reach all the way up to heaven. It thus lacks, if you will, the eschatological legitimacy of a monarchy, which may claim it’ll end in heaven because it started there.

Burke, the guiding light of what passes for American conservatism, was unequivocal on this point: God willed the state. De Maistre put it more cautiously and possibly precisely: the origin of a monarchy goes so far back that we can’t trace it all the way to its inception. Therefore we may as well believe it’s willed by God.

The philosophical ambivalence of American or French conservatism explains its practical weakness. At least in France it’s possible to look back nostalgically at the glorious history of the pre-revolutionary state. Americans doing the same thing would in effect be denting the country’s sovereignty, which is no longer possible.

This explains why for all intents and purposes conservatism doesn’t exist in America, certainly not as a discernible political force. Filling the hole thus formed, various simulacra of conservatism step in. Alas, the hole turns out to be bottomless.

Falling into it are economic libertarians, the closest an American can come to conservatism. To justify his intellectual existence, a libertarian has to attach undue importance to commercial activity, relying on it as a be-all and end-all.

Yet we see time and again that what I call ‘totalitarian economism’, when it’s not underpinned by universally accepted metaphysical dicta, sooner or later begins to resemble a snake biting its own tail.

This is the true origin of both the 2008 crisis, the current one, and of the suicidal debt most Western countries have had to run up to keep up with their post-Enlightenment egalitarianism. Conservatively inclined Americans look to sound bookkeeping as a solution to their economic ills. Instead they should be looking to sound metaphysics – everything else will follow.

Other faux conservatives, the neocons, are simply frauds. Their politics is much closer to Trotskyism. Specifically, they are committed to the aggressive proselytising of the American secular religion of democracy – and only to that. Any such effort presupposes an increasingly powerful central state, which is about as unconservative as it’s nowadays possible to get.

In the process the neocons mouth utter gibberish along the lines of ‘conservative revolution, ‘conservative welfare state’ and so forth. They have neither the mind nor the taste to detect the oxymorons there. More worryingly, the public doesn’t possess such admirable qualities either.

The American, or any other, Left, on the other hand, has a coherent promise to make. It may be utterly stupid and subversive, but it is indeed coherent. Whatever wording leftwing politicians prefer, in effect they are saying, “Don’t worry. If your own efforts don’t enable you to keep up with the wealthy Joneses, we’ll look after you.”

Such promises are backed up with cash – hence the US national debt of $16.7 trillion. All those libertarians who call themselves conservatives react to this outrage churlishly by tossing their toys out of the pram. Deep down they know that promiscuous spending will always be popular with a large, and growing, part of the population.

Reducing the whole argument to dollars and cents means losing it. It also means that complete nonentities like Obama can not only win elections but justifiably claim high intellectual ground.

They are trying to help those who won’t help themselves, and what are the ‘conservatives’ doing? Courting economic collapse with their brinkmanship.

Hence all the acrobatic splits that so excite the imagination of commentators, who then propose all sorts of ad hoc solutions. None will work, not in the long term, in the absence of a proper conservative platform from which effective opposition can be launched.

Such a platform is impossible to build in a revolutionary republic, and it’s becoming increasingly unlikely even in what’s left of British monarchy. On this pessimistic note, I’ve got to split.