POS or SOS? Ask the Russians

America’s third-largest retail company, Target Corp, suffered a virus attack on its POS (point-of sale) system at Christmas.

The intimate-most details of 110 million charge cards thereby became public property, or rather the property of criminals, most of them from Eastern Europe.

This alerted computer-security firms, and their investigation revealed that Target was only one of three national retail companies whose computers were burgled at Yuletide with hitherto unmatched virtuosity. One of them apparently is the luxury retailer Neiman Marcus Group, to which I used to give some custom when in America.

The US government stepped in and classified the findings, which means I can’t share with you the names of the other companies unwittingly raising transparency to a whole new level. Still, you have to make up your own mind, but my glass-half-empty inclination would be to assume that criminals can now access my details every time I use a charge card anywhere in the world.

Also classified are the suspects in this case, or rather their names. However, some information has seeped out, and this has had a profound effect on me.

You see, some 25 years ago, when all that business with perestroika started, I was certain it would take the Russians several generations to produce enough people capable of running, or indeed operating in, a Western-style economy.

Generally speaking, I pride myself on getting most things about Russia right long before others do, but in this case – you can’t imagine how it pains me to admit this – I was wrong.

The Russians have learned how to operate on the margins of Western economies in record time, turning their country into the greatest crime syndicate in the West’s history. There’s nothing we can teach them any longer about money laundering, racketeering, drug trade, prostitution rings – and cyber crime.

Here’s another admission: even though I’ve spent most of my adult life in the West and therefore don’t consider myself a Russian, the current debacle made me feel a twinge of residual pride for the country of my birth.

For there are strong indications that the devilishly elaborate virus software was designed in Russia. Dubbed KARTOKHA (‘spud’ in Russian) by hackers, the virus first appeared on the black market last spring, showing traces of the Russian language all over the place, particularly in the comments accompanying the programme.

According to the cyber-security company iSight, the ‘spud’ attack on Christmas sales is “unique”. “The intrusion operators displayed innovation and a high degree of skill,” the company’s desiccated report says. Professional appreciation touched with envy shines through, especially in their praise for the near invisibility of the programme.

This is due in part to the programme’s unique feature: unlike other such viruses that all operate around the clock, ‘spud’ is active only during the prime shopping hours between 10 am and 5 pm. 

The Target hacking worked as a double whammy. First, the firm’s card payment devices were infected with the virus, which made them transfer all data on Target’s own servers. Then the hackers breached the servers’ firewall and collected the stolen data.

Another security company, IntelCrawler, went further in its investigation. Apparently the virus was designed by a 17-year-old denizen of Petersburg. Now that’s what I call precocious: the youngster isn’t just a computer genius but also a smart business operator.

The tyke has sold more than 60 versions of the virus on the black market and, though according to IntelCrawler his name is “well-known to experts”, presumably including the police, he hasn’t yet been arrested.

Part of the reason is that the lad isn’t greedy: he flogs his software but doesn’t use it himself, even though he must be sorely tempted. Then of course, with a perspicacity amazing in one so young, he has probably learned how to keep Russian authorities sweet by sharing some of his ill-gotten gains.

(Back in the USSR the West was described as a place where ‘everything can be sold and bought’. Replace ‘everything’ with ‘everyone’, and you’ll have an accurate idea of Russia today.)

I don’t know if this bit of news will make you take scissors to your charge cards. Probably not – our purchasing habits are now too ingrained to abandon altogether.

But if you’re planning to visit Russia in the near future, perhaps to find out how it’s possible to stage cross-country skiing events in subtropical Sochi, it may be a good idea to take a large amount in cash.

That is unless you’re prepared for the good news of a monthly statement listing a few thousand’s worth of goods you never bought. If the brand names are in Russian, you’ll know what’s what.


My new book How the Future Worked is available from www.roperpenberthy.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk and the more discerning bookshops.








You can always count on sex to keep you going

Have you noticed how our newspapers are full of sex stories? Some involve celebrities, but at a pinch anyone will do.

One can understand the tabloids – this is after all their stock in trade. But our broadsheets do their bit too, especially on a slow news day.

For the last couple of days they’ve been filled with lurid accounts of a universally known actor (whose name I’d never heard until the naughty stories came out) being tried for twice raping an innocent 15-year-old girl who didn’t know where babies come from.

Presumably she has learned by now, for the alleged offences took place 50 years ago. Now in her sixties, the erstwhile 15-year-old is understandably hazy about the details, such as whether or not she was indeed 15 at the time.

Apparently she went to the actor’s house to get his autograph, but got raped instead. The thespian, according to her, used no coercion, verbal or physical, so we’re really talking about statutory rape, defined as unlawful sex with a minor.

Anyway, the young lady was given a material lesson in birds and bees, which apparently she didn’t learn well. For several months later she went to the actor’s house again – with the same lamentable result.

This makes the victim so dim-witted that I wonder if the jury will see her as a reliable witness. Given the obvious fact that no forensic evidence has survived the intervening half-century, one wonders why the CPO saw fit to bring the case to trial at all. One also wonders what makes this utterly uninteresting story such big news.

Even assuming that most people are better than me at staying abreast of popular culture (now there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) and therefore know who the alleged offender is, at best this should warrant half an inch on Page 57. But I did say it was a slow news day.

Then hardly an issue comes out without yet more earth-shattering news about a female teacher in her mid-twenties having her wicked way with a schoolboy of 16 or 17, thereby traumatising him for life. Please spare me.

It’s only one man’s experience, but a zillion years ago I too was 16 or 17. Most of my energy in those days was spent on desperately, and as a rule unsuccessfully, trying to fulfil assorted sexual fantasies.

Women teachers figured prominently in those – as they do, I’d suggest at the risk of being accused of generalising, for most straight boys that age. Once or twice I tried to make a tentative pass at a teacher, only to be rebuked with richly deserved contempt.

Now, indulging in a bit of retrospective fantasy, had one of my advances succeeded, I would have been ecstatic, grateful, proud, self-congratulatory, elated – choose your own adjective. One thing I absolutely guarantee I wouldn’t have been is traumatised.

It’s hard to believe that today’s teenagers, who are much more savvy and precocious in such matters than I was at their age, will forever bear emotional scars after doing a pretty and, to them, sophisticated 25-year-old woman in the back of her car. More likely they’ll remember her with warmth and gratitude for the rest of their lives.

I’m not suggesting that a grown-up in a position of authority shouldn’t be punished for doing something unethical or illegal. But the severity of punishment ought to be commensurate with the crime, and surely any just jurisprudence must distinguish between malum prohibitum and malum in se.

The latter, such as murder or theft, is a transgression going against higher law; the former, such as driving after a couple of glasses of wine, contravenes only made-up, what Aristotle called positive, laws, not all of which are just.

So why are testosterone-drunk youngsters encouraged to report on girls only a few years older than they are, those whose favours they’ve enjoyed? Why do school boards bar those girls for life and why does the CPO often charge them with felony?

Why do our broadsheets, to say nothing of tabloids, cover such cases at inordinate length and with obvious approval of any draconian punishment? Do the hacks, many of them young men themselves, seriously think that those teenagers suffered serious trauma?

There’s a one-word answer to all these questions: modernity. Specifically the post-Enlightenment modernity that has to proceed from Rousseau’s assumption that we’re all born perfect.

If most of us demonstrably don’t grow up perfect, it’s somebody else’s fault: our parents’, our schools’, capitalism’s, socialism’s, society’s, the climate’s – choose your own culprit.

This puny mindset naturally encourages seeing everyone as a potential victim, which in turn intensifies a search for perpetrators.

Youngsters are reared in that poisonous atmosphere and, being impressionable, inhale it with their lungs wide open. Victimhood is top of the mind, which naturally makes it top news.

This is illogically and hypocritically combined with the blanket sexualisation of education, mass communications and society at large. Children are implicitly invited to plunge headlong into a life of sexual activity, and yet they’re somehow told to see themselves as victims when their paramours are older than they are.

Boys and girls acquire sexual experience at an age when in the past they still used to play, respectively, with trains and dolls. Then those same boys and girls, now a few years older, go to teachers’ training colleges and consequently find themselves surrounded with attractive, adoring and eager teenagers in their care.

Expecting them to remain prim under such circumstances is presuming too much on human goodness, à la Rousseau. So by all means, they should be reprimanded. But treating them as criminals is hypocrisy at its most soaring.

The more capable of those boys and girls – who were nonetheless brought up in exactly the same environment – eschew teaching for journalism. In due course they get to decide what stories are big news and how they should be covered.

The culture of victimhood thus gets a steady influx of fresh blood, while a similarly educated public gets its prurient instincts properly satisfied. The circle becomes truly vicious and it’s society that falls victim, not those randy teenagers.


My new book How the Future Worked is available from www.roperpenberthy.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk and the more discerning bookshops.

François Hollande adds a whole new dimension to pluralism

I’ve been spending much time in France for 14 years now but I still can’t figure out French voters.

They elected my friend François, presumably because they like his promised policies. We’ll leave aside the question of how anyone with an IQ above room temperature (centigrade) could possibly fail to see that the policies were asinine and subversive. That’s not the point.

The point is that, as president, François proceeded to do exactly as he had promised – with entirely predictable results. The French economy is rapidly descending to the level of England’s c. 1975.

One would think the French should be happy: they’ve got what they voted for. “Tu l’as voulu, Georges Dandin,” as Molière wrote, which can be loosely translated as “You’ve made your bed, you lie in it.”

Yet against all logic the French turned against pauvre François within weeks into his presidency. His popularity rating instantly dropped way below Pierre Laval’s after his execution for treason, or so it seems.

But you have to hand it to François – he has found a way to fight, or rather shag, his way out of trouble. Defying logic yet again, the current scandal has actually made him more popular, or rather less unpopular. Not by much, but still.

If before one had to question the intelligence of French voters, now one has to doubt their taste. For, rather than being a slightly naughty but piquant ménage à trois, the whole affair is but a sleazy reminder of what’s wrong with French, or more broadly Western, modernity.

First, the very presence of Valerie Trierweiler as First Lady is obscene. French media unkindly refer to Valerie as the Rottweiller, in homophonic reference either to her aggressive nature or to her amorous preferences, I’m not sure which.

Yet no one had ever questioned her status, or indeed the €1,000,000 she costs French taxpayers every year, until my friend François played away from home. This shows what 100-odd years of laïcité has done: the French no longer perceive any valid difference between marriage and cohabitation.

No wonder that 56 percent of French children are born out of wedlock: family can now be defined in any which way, usually to exclude the father. A fine achievement, that, but the French shouldn’t rest on their laurels: we’re catching up with them fast.

It has to be said that François has made his own modest contribution to this statistic: he produced four children in 30 years with his fellow socialist Ségolène Royale, without ever popping the question.

Enough is enough, decided François after Ségolène failed in her own bid for the presidency. Out went the loser, in came the Rottweiler who, upon François’s ascent to the Elysée, became more royal than Royale.

Now François co-stars in the tasteless spectacle being played out before a drooling public, although the Rottweiller has managed to upstage him.

When she allegedly found out about his affair with the actress Julie Gayet, that is after the rag Closer blew the whistle on it, the Rottweiller took a finely judged overdose of pills, enough to put her into hospital but not enough to do much harm.

It’s true that the wife, or in this instance the mistress, is always the last to find out, but this is ridiculous. Le tout Paris has known about this affair since it began in 2011, before François’s electoral triumph.

I knew about it, and God knows even London gossip usually passes me by. In this instance, I found out a few months ago from a friend who owns an exclusive Paris shop patronised by all the president’s women.

I can bet my house against your pint that the Rottweiler, who’s friends with every gossip journalist in France, knew about the hanky-panky from the word aller.

She clearly didn’t mind – for as long as she continued to receive that million’s worth of perks and have her picture taken with heads of state. It’s only after the exposure threatened her unwarranted status that the Rottweiler decided to make a last stand.

François, on the other hand, has demonstrated yet again what we already know: our ‘leaders’ everywhere act as if they’re above all considerations of taste, decency or indeed legality. They lie through their teeth to us, so why not to their women? At least those in Anglophone countries are usually more discreet.

A couple of American presidents were involved in sex scandals too. But they were never photographed sneaking around Pennsylvania Avenue wearing an oversized motorcycle helmet and riding a Vespa.

Their girls were delivered to them, suitably camouflaged, at the White House and then ushered out post-coitally. When the news of such dalliances broke, the presidents looked immoral but never ridiculous. By contrast, François, the unlikely penile jockey, comes across as an unfunny dirty joke.

Meanwhile the new First Squeeze Julie Gayet went into hiding, content to be appearing on the cover of Elle magazine above the headline Une passion française. To keep herself in the news during her widely publicised absence, she has sued Closer for breach of privacy.

This seems like a logical thing to do, but the amount Julie wishes to claim in damages is suspiciously low: €50,000. What happened to those seven-figure tort suits for which modernity is so justly famous?

Well, you see, €50,000 is a small enough claim to be settled quietly. Had Julie demanded her seven figures, the case would have gone to court and all sorts of interesting details would have come out.

Even in a permissive France that would have spelled the end of François’s tenure, and there would have been no point in supplanting the Rottweiler (somehow one doubts that Julie’s love is wholly disinterested). Smart girl, Julie, which is further proved by the judiciously leaked rumours of her pregnancy.

Seems like François is about to boost the statistic of illegitimate births, which is easier to do than making those economic indicators curve upwards for a change.

What a sorry lot politicians are. What a sorry time we live in. Alas, we’re powerless to change either.


My new book How the Future Worked is available from www.roperpenberthy.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk and the more discerning bookshops.










France’s armed forces are stronger than Britain’s because we spend more

According to Robert Gates, America’s former defence secretary, Britain no longer has ‘full-spectrum military capabilities’.

In other words, we’re strictly second rate in military muscle, which doesn’t sound all that bad. Second-rate would be a shining ideal for our third-rate healthcare and fourth-rate education.

So in a way Gates was paying us a compliment. Your military strength, he implied, far outpaces your capacity for treating cancer or teaching children how to read and add up.

One would expect that Dave would smile and say, “Thank you, Mr Gates. Yes, we’re cutting our army to a risible strength of 82,000, while the Royal Navy is losing 6,000 men and the RAF 5,000. But the military remains the only public service we provide with any kind of competence. And anyway, as I say to Sam, it’s not the size that counts.”

However, for some inexplicable reason Dave & Co. decided to take offence. Predictably, they came out fighting with their favourite weapons: empty phrases and statistical larceny.

“We are a first-class player in terms of defence,” said Dave, “and as long as I am Prime Minister that is the way it will stay.” Re-elect me, in other words, and Britain won’t disband her military forces altogether. We’ll always have the TA to rely on.

Politicking out of the way, it fell upon our former Defence Secretary Liam Fox to fill in the blanks with technical detail. Mr Fox left the front bench under ever so slightly murky circumstances and he’s waging a full-blown campaign to return on the back of his technical expertise.

“We’d be able to carry out an enduring stabilisation operation at brigade level – that’s about 6,500 personnel – while conducting a complex non-enduring one of about 2,000 personnel plus a simple one at the same time,” he reassured the nay-saying Yank.

Sounds good and appropriately informed. Even those of us who don’t know the difference between enduring and non-enduring will be impressed by the terminology. That is, until we recall that we had 23,000 soldiers at Waterloo, which is almost three times more than Fox says we can field at the same time now (that’s assuming he’s not playing fast and loose with numbers, never a safe assumption with politicians).

“We’re one of only four or five countries inside Nato to meet our 2 per cent GDP spend commitment. So I don’t think we can be questioned on that,” continued Mr Fox.

True enough, we spend £6 billion a year more than, say, France does. Nevertheless, France has a bigger navy than we do – and an operational aircraft carrier, which we no longer possess. This means that not only would we be unable to match our numerical strength at Waterloo but, closer to our own times and technologies, neither would we be able to launch an equivalent of the South Atlantic operation of just over 30 years ago.

Not only that, but France’s armed forces have 72,000 more personnel, 51 more jets and 2,000 more armoured vehicles. This suggests that a revolution in military thought is under way: the less a country spends on defence, the stronger it becomes.

Taking this discovery to its logical extreme, it should give Dave food for thought: perhaps if we eliminated the defence budget altogether, we’d become much stronger, possibly even to the point of being able to afford a carrier or two.

Then there’s an outside chance we’ll be able to restore the naval status quo in relation to France, whose navy until recently had never been a match for ours since 1805. You know, one of those dates our children no longer learn at school.

The children’s time can be more profitably spent on learning how to use condoms in variously inventive positions, and we know how important that is for the future strength of our country. Meanwhile, the money saved from the defence budget could find better uses too.

Dave and his jolly friends from all political parties aspiring to government could use it to bribe more voters into voting the right way. We could build up our dependent underclass, pay more benefits to Romanian pickpockets and Bulgarian beggars, send more foreign aid to African billionaires, hire more administrators for the NHS, make greater contributions to the EU, conduct more studies on the use of condoms in elementary schools… Why, the possibilities are endless.

Of course such ambitious goals couldn’t be met simply by eliminating the defence budget. We’d still need to print more cash and dip even deeper into the money markets.

But at least nobody would be able to moan, as some unreconstructed reactionaries still do, that the cost of servicing our existing national debt is already greater than our defence budget.

Spend nothing on defence, and this problem will solve itself. Dave will be walking tall, reactionary fossils will have to shut up and Robert Gates will be happy with our growing military strength. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?


My new book How the Future Worked is available from www.roperpenberthy.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk and the more discerning bookshops.







Osborne doesn’t mean it the way it sounds

You have to hand it to our politicians: they’ve raised dissembling to such a dizzying height that any normal person would get nauseous vertigo.

Today our Chancellor will deliver a virtuoso performance to do any conjurer proud. He’ll pretend to stand in judgment of the EU while lying prostrate at its feet.

(Knowing what he’ll say doesn’t make me clairvoyant. It’s just that in the good, if rather recent, tradition of our politics, the text of the speech has been leaked. Our ‘leaders’ have to know in advance which of their heart-felt, immutable principles they must change to make them more palatable to more voters.)  

If you haven’t been following British politics closely, I congratulate you. But such laudable detachment means you must be brought up to date on the context of the speech. After all, in modern political oratory it’s the context, not the text, that matters.

In this instance the Tories are heading for yet another chasmic rift over Europe. Much of the parliamentary party detests the EU, and even some cabinet members make decidedly anti noises.

Under normal circumstances a bit of internecine jousting could be absorbed, but next year’s election makes the circumstances far from normal. It’s already predicted that the presence of an anti-EU UKIP will cost the Tories 50 parliamentary seats. Another internal squabble could easily double that number – with the inevitable result of Dave and George retiring to the dinner-speech circuit.

As such a calamity has to be averted at all costs, D&G must play both ends against the middle.

On the one hand they have to mollify some of their own voters and most of Labour’s and LibDems’ by screaming love for the EU. On the other hand they must reassure potential UKIP voters that they hate the EU. This of course runs the risk of D&G coming across as the unprincipled spivs they actually are – and speech circuit, here we come.

Aware of the dangers, Dave has been indulging in footwork to put a tap dancer to shame. Don’t worry, he has been saying. Elect me and George again, and we’ll hold a referendum on Europe. Of course if you don’t, no dice. It’s up to you.

Meanwhile, don’t listen to those UKIP Little Englanders. We – you! – don’t want to leave the EU. If we do, Nigel Farage will be the only Brit left with a job. The rest of us, those who aren’t doing the speech circuit, will be queuing up at soup kitchens.

What we want isn’t to leave the EU but to reform it. We want all those federasts to abandon their principles as readily as we abandoned ours years ago, when we were still pissing it up at the Bullingdon.

We want them to grant us enough autonomy to please those UKIP nutters. We want them to let us pass some of our own laws – not many, but some. Perhaps they could also find it in their heart not to destroy every European economy with miles of red tape wound up around the idiotic single currency. And in an especially kind mood they could also let us keep a few – very, very few – Romanian pickpockets out.

In other words, D&G want, or rather pretend to want, the leopard not just to change its spots but to stop being a leopard. They feign confidence that an organisation set up with the explicit purpose of concentrating all power in the hands of utterly corrupt ex-Trotskyists will suddenly embrace moral goodness.

Oh they do know this isn’t going to happen. They’re just begging the EU to play along long enough and with sufficient verisimilitude for D&G to win in 2015. After that, let all hell break loose, see if they care. Thus in every speech D&G deliver on the subject they only sound like critics. In fact they’re supplicants.

This brings us back to George’s speech today. He’ll start by laying some numbers on the listeners. The EU, he’ll say, accounts for seven percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of its economy, but – are you ready for this? – a whopping half of its welfare spending.

“We can’t go on like this,” George will say, meaning that if we do go on like this, as he knows we will, UKIP’s case will become strong enough to put D&G on the speech circuit.

Every fourth person in the EU is out of work, George will continue, and why is that? Because of its “failure to reform and renegotiate”, that is to pretend to reform while pretending to renegotiate with enough conviction for D&G to stay in that Downing Street terrace for a little longer.

“Over the last six years, the European economy has stalled,” George will thunder. “Over the next 15 years Europe’s share of global output is forecast to halve. Make no mistake, our continent is falling behind.”

A highly credible prognosis, I’d say. And one that’s guaranteed to be fulfilled, for the EU is no more about competitive economies than the USSR was. It’s about political domination, just like the USSR.

If some countries within the EU can rely on their own resources to keep their economic heads above the general morass, fine. If not, that’s fine too – as long as the EU’s raison d’être isn’t threatened.

The only sensible solution for Britain would be to get out immediately, without the benefit of plebiscite, leaving the EU to its own vices and devices.

Rather than munching on that old chestnut about ‘reforming and renegotiating’, that’s what George should be saying today, and if our electorate has been sufficiently corrupted to recoil in horror, then so be it.

Don’t call for the men in white coats. I know how insane it sounds, this suggestion that our politicians should stand on principle. Or indeed have one.


My new book How the Future Worked is available from www.roperpenberthy.co.uk, Amazon.co.uk and the more discerning bookshops.







Milibandit raid

A strong case can be made that our last four prime ministers have been the worst Britain has ever been cursed with.

Yet there’s no limit to perfection and Ed Miliband, given the chance, has a good shot at outdoing them all. His Mili-mouthed Telegraph article shows he’s already anybody’s match in mendacious cynicism, and that’s no mean accomplishment considering the stiff competition he faces from Tony and Dave.

The article’s title alone is enough to secure Ed’s leadership in the cynicism stakes: Only Labour Can Rebuild Our Middle Class.

The whole raison d’être of the Labour party is… well, I don’t know what that might be. Personally, I see no reason for it to exist at all, but I realise that others might come up with one.

Yet whatever it is, every policy Labour has ever advocated when in opposition or enacted when in power has been aimed at destroying the social, economic, cultural, moral, spiritual and religious foundations of the middle class.

This isn’t really a party-based observation: destruction has been wrought not specifically by Labour policies but by socialist ones, and Dave for one shows that Labour’s patent to subversive ideology has lost its exclusivity.

However, the patent was first issued to Labour, the party that, unlike the Tories, has never in its history deviated from the socialist course. Much of it was charted by Marx who was fanatically dedicated to wiping out the ‘bourgeois’ (middle) class.

As has been amply demonstrated in every place where Marx’s theories have been tried in practice, the middle classes can only be destroyed at a terrible cost to the whole society. This includes total enslavement complete with judicial murders, democide, genocide and concentration camps.

This isn’t the cost Western countries are prepared to bear at the moment, so socialists (in Britain specifically Labour) have had to adapt their tactics to their political environment, which in Britain is still defined by seeking votes.

Thus, for example, rather than simply confiscating all private property in one fell swoop, the socialists surreptitiously undermine it by shifting more and more wealth into the state domain, creating a huge and growing dependent underclass, tangling up businesses in miles of red tape and extorting exorbitant, confiscatory taxes.

In the process they make sure such policies will thrive in perpetuity by saddling future generations with ruinous debts and systematically reducing people’s savings to worthless paper.

Family, that bedrock of middle-class values, has also fallen victim to socialist vandalism. The state assuming the father’s provider role for millions of families has pushed the real father into oblivion, with almost half the children in Britain being raised without him. Total, not to say totalitarian, advocacy of variously degenerate forms of sexual promiscuity unerringly works towards the same worthy goal.

Even most feeble protests against any such outrages are met with institutionalised mockery, ostracism and, increasingly, legal action. At the same time many offences covered by the Decalogue are becoming effectively decriminalised. A burglar, for example, only goes to prison, on average, after 15 known offences and about three times as many unknown ones.

To make sure that the populace meekly submits to such Milibanditry, the socialists have devised an educational system specifically and deliberately aimed at creating a nation of unthinking, illiterate lemmings ready to follow one another over the precipice. The abyss isn’t just economic: the religious, moral and spiritual bases of the traditional middle class have all fallen into the gaping hole.

Morality based on Judaeo-Christian doctrine is routinely held to ridicule, and the illiterate population doesn’t notice that every attempt to introduce a new morality instead has failed catastrophically.  

Lest the people be reminded of their nation’s history of self-sufficiency, industry and enterprise, the socialists have always, and not just in the last couple of decades, tried to yank the country off her national roots.

This glorious purpose has a two-directional vector built in: on the one hand, Labour has always promoted the eternal socialist dream of denationalising government by transferring sovereignty to an international bureaucracy (in our instance the EU); on the other hand, the party has always – self-admittedly! – pushed for diluting Britain’s nationhood with an unsupportable influx of foreign, preferably alien, immigration.

So which of these outrages does the Mili-mouthed Marxist propose to reverse in order ‘to rebuild the middle class’? Silly question.

What’s happening is that Labour’s lead in the polls has been reduced to three points, and Alistair Campbell, Blair’s strategist, has told Ed that he must shift closer to the middle ground from his customary position of proximity to Lenin and Trotsky.

To this end Ed wrote (or rather signed, would be my guess) this revolting article promising to reverse ‘the cost-of-living crisis’. A man with a modicum of decency would have owned up to his own complicity in creating this crisis in the first place, but hey – it’s politicians we’re talking about.

The Labour government in which both Eds, Miliband and Balls, served with so little distinction inherited an economy in which no such crisis existed. By way of legacy for the incoming Tory-led coalition, Labour left an economy sliding towards a collapse.

A party led by the likes of Dave Cameron could never stop the slide, but at least the Tories have marginally slowed it down. However, even if HMG were led by a composite figure comprising the best of Pericles, Palmerston and Adam Smith, no improvement at all, regardless of how marginal, could have been achieved without some diminution in the standard of living financed by the printing press.

The shambles left by Labour was too fetid to be fumigated in a few short years. And yet now not just the same party but actually the worst offenders in the same party have the gall to preach the cause of the middle class.

“The British middle class is being squeezed as never before…,” writes Ed. “The motors that once drove and sustained it are no longer firing as they used to. Access to further education and training, good quality jobs with reliable incomes, affordable housing, stable savings, secure pensions: they have all been undermined.”

Quite right. By socialists. Like Ed and other Milibandits.

Mind you, nothing about our political class surprises me anymore. I’m not even surprised that by most calculations next year’s election will be Labour’s to lose. The socialists of all parties have laid the ground work and the road to hell is being paved.  

Alas it’s not good intentions that act as the cobbles but wicked, mendacious, harebrained politicking. If de Maistre is to be believed, this is all we deserve.

It’s the middle bit that matters

In 1965 the critic Kenneth Tynan ushered in a new era by saying the ‘f’ word on television. “I doubt,” he pronounced in an interview, “if there are any rational people to whom the word ‘f***’ would be particularly diabolical, revolting or totally forbidden.”

Tynan gets bottom marks for social commentary, for public opinion still frowned on public obscenity at the time. But what is a true pioneering effort if not blazing new trails?

Tynan thus gets the highest marks for self-fulfilling prophecy. As a true seer he clearly envisioned that time would arrive when various cognates of the ‘f’ word, sturdily reinforced by its cultural equivalents, would become common currency in public discourse. That time is now.

We are generously treated to prime ministers’ bonhomie of calling their cabinet colleagues ‘f***ing idlers’ – all in the best possible taste of course. And in this realm, if not always in economics, one can always rely on the trickle-down effect.

No one these days bats an eyelid when hearing 3-year-olds use the kind of language that could have got their great-grandfathers arrested. We see nothing wrong when the tots’ mothers scream at them in the same idiom on public transport. And we giggle when walking past a Chelsea Thai restaurant called ‘Phat Phuc’.

In fact, speech profusely adorned with foul language is seen as a sort of password separating friend from foe. Now largely devoid of any semantic meaning, four-letter words send a semiotic signal of kinship, an implicit Mowgli-style assurance “We be of one blood, ye and I.”

What Tynan didn’t anticipate, and we must mark him down for this lapse of prescience, is that in another generation or two lexical rectitude would be stood on its head. While obscene references to complex sexual variants elicit avuncular, indulgent smiles, perfectly common words now draw opprobrium and variously severe punishment.

Last season the footballer John Terry was banned for four games and fined £220,000 (a fortnight’s salary) for publicly calling a colleague a ‘f***ing black c***’. Of the three components of the triad, only the middle one can be used non-elliptically in a respectable publication – and yet it was this seemingly inoffensive word that got Terry into all sorts of trouble.

For he transgressed against the Eleventh Commandment that has more or less superseded at least half of the other 10: “Thou shalt not offend any member of any minority that thou art told qualifies as such.”

Had Terry simply called the other chap a ‘f***ing c***’, no one would have noticed. But sneaking the word ‘black’ into the middle bespoke racism, so off with his head.

Fair enough: we all know that any sin ending in an -ism or -phobia is of the mortal (and probably illegal) variety. Or rather we’d think we all know that – until we’re shaken out of our complacency by yet another incident. Suddenly we realise that our understanding of written and unwritten codes is lamentably incomplete.

The skies open yet again and a booming voice thunders from high above: “What you thought was unacceptable is actually fine – and (are you listening, you callous reactionary?) vice versa!”

The Newcastle manager Alan Pardew had this Damascene experience yesterday when, arguing about a disallowed goal, he called the Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini a ‘f***ing old c***’.

As in the Terry incident, directional microphones at the pitch obligingly put the tirade into public domain, much to an outburst of public indignation. How dare he use such language! He has no respect for decency! Throw him to the wolves!

By now you realise that what upset the public so wasn’t either of the words Pardew put on the wings. It was the one he played through the middle: ‘old’.

By using this imprudent diction Pardew forever branded himself as an inveterate sinner against new morality. His sin is another one of -ism variety: agism.

Actually, the public ought to have been more lenient, considering that Mr Pardew is only four years Mr Pellegrini’s junior. I mean, if an overweight gentleman like me calls a similarly proportioned chap a ‘big, fat c***’, then surely he’d be guilty only of boorishness, rudeness and bad taste, not the mortal sin of weightism or some such.

A penny would drop, one hopes, that every word used in such situations is desemanticised, not just those Kenneth Tynan pioneered in mass media. By all means, denounce such people as ill-mannered brutes (at times I myself qualify – mea culpa), but don’t accuse them of mythical offences against bogus morality.

The danger is very real: by exchanging old certitudes for new ones we risk abandoning the time-honoured notions of virtue and sin, and replacing them with awful caricatures. As the caricatures grow bigger and more ferocious, the may well devour our society.

Risk? Wrong word. This situation is upon us already, and isn’t it a f***ing shame?


My new book How the Future Worked is available on www.roperpenberthy.co.uk,  Amazon.co.uk and at the more discerning bookshops.



Songs of praise

When I was little, my mother taught me never to say nice things about myself. Like many of her lessons this one scored high on the moral or aesthetic scale and rock bottom on the scale of useful practical advice.

These days it’s hard to get by in any field of endeavour without blowing one’s own trumpet. People have become more credulous than ever in the past; they’re prepared to accept others’ self-assessment on face value – naturally expecting that the same courtesy will be extended to them.

Thus a self-effacing lady or gentleman is unlikely to get far in life, especially in a field where few objective criteria exist. People assume that any modest person has to have a lot to be modest about. Conversely, as so many artists and musicians prove, putting on fine airs paves the road to success much more reliably than any real mastery of their art.

Alas, this is one of the very few of my mother’s commandments that I have followed (with minor and infrequent deviations). That’s why I won’t say what I think of my new book How the Future Worked (available on www.roperpenberthy.co.uk), leaving gasps of delight to others:  

“Alexander Boot explains what it is to be Russian. Reared in the hell that was Brezhnev’s paradise, he writes about his homeland with a kind of benign despair, giving so vivid a portrayal of a Soviet childhood and youth we could almost be there, while being very glad we weren’t. Entertaining and informative too.” Fay Weldon

“A brilliant evocation of life in the Soviet Union after it had settled down into its oppressive-drab phase, which will tell you more about Russia than a hundred academic volumes. Boot plunges us imaginatively into the Gogolian-Leninist Russian world as if we were there ourselves.” Dr Theodore Dalrymple

“A gripping, intelligent and masterly narrative that flows naturally while revealing the truths of Soviet and Russian life like no other memoir I’ve ever read… Boot is a superb writer.” Vitali Vitaliev

Anyway, enough of all that. Normal service on this blog resumes tomorrow.

The blind leading the sighted

This is another in a series of excerpts from my new book How the Future Worked, available on www.roperpenberthy.co.uk or on Amazon.co.uk.

Another member of that narrow circle was Zhenia Kapman, a top student at our German-language department. That took some doing as Zhenia was blind from birth. He lived with his girlfriend Valia whose heart was bigger than her body, which was saying a lot. She looked after Zhenia without ever complaining and was effusive about his amorous stamina which, according to her, wasn’t so much hampered as enhanced by his disability.

Zhenia was a slim man of about 5’5” whose pockmarked face was of indeterminate age and ethnicity, a condition I’ve often observed among blind people. In his late twenties at the time, he could have passed for 50. And, though Jewish on both sides of his family, Zhenia could easily claim to be anything else. As I once found out, he often parlayed that ability into material gain, not only his own but also his friends’.

It was yet another bitterly cold winter and Muscovites were all wearing fur hats with earflaps down, fluffy scarves wrapped around their faces and layers of clothing under their heavy overcoats. That made us look like a nation of brown bears, but even those four-legged animals would have found it hard to negotiate the sheet ice covering every pavement – while dodging icicles falling down from the roofs. Some of those projectiles were two feet long and ten inches in diameter, which made them good to avoid.

As everything else in Russia, winter clothing, especially fur hats, was in short supply. Thus those hats acted as status symbols, ranging from patrician mink for 150 roubles to plebeian rabbit for 12. No one who was anyone would have stooped below nutria. I myself never rose above a succession of rock-bottom rabbits, as I was so absent-minded that every winter I’d leave at least one hat behind on a bus. Finding a replacement was never easy and I often had to brave Moscow frosts wearing an inadequate cloth cap worn over a heavy scarf protecting my ears from an otherwise guaranteed frostbite.

It was during one of those cold spells that Zhenia asked me what kind of fur hat I had. ‘None actually,’ I admitted ruefully. ‘How come?’ ‘Lost it. You know how I am.’ ‘Now that was a stupid thing to do.’ Zhenia liked to state the bleeding obvious.

‘You’ll end up like Van Gogh, missing an ear or two. But not to worry. If you have twelve roubles on you, we can go to any fur shop and buy you one. You’re size fifty-nine, aren’t you, big-headed bastard that you are?’

I laughed with the bitterness that only a fellow Russian would have understood. ‘You a tooth fairy, or a magician? How are you going to pull a rabbit hat out of a shop when not a single counter in the city displays one?’

‘Sasha, Sasha, Sasha,’ reproached Zhenia. ‘You have no faith in your friends. I’ve done this a million times. Come on. Let’s go.’

Not knowing what to expect, I led Kapman to the fur shop in Stoleshnikov Lane and pointed him towards a pretty salesgirl with smudged mascara disfiguring her baby-blues. ‘One twelve-rouble rabbit hat, please. Size fifty-nine,’ said my friend nonchalantly.

Kapman was fortunate not to be able to see the contemptuous smile that made the girl’s face look rather less pretty. ‘Which planet are you from, comrade?’ she asked rudely. ‘Can’t you see… oops, I mean, don’t you know that we hardly ever have those things?’

‘But you are a fur shop?’ asked Kapman who liked to dot all the t’s and cross all the i’s. ‘Yes we are.’ ‘You are a fur shop and yet you have no fur hats.’

The girl’s voice effortlessly went from ennui to irritation. ‘That’s right, comrade. We’re a fur shop and yet we have no fur hats. Will there be anything else?’

By contrast, Zhenia’s voice was deadpan. ‘I’d like to see the manager please.’ ‘A whole lot of good that will do you. Well, all right. Pal Palych!?!’ shouted the girl who by then had had enough of us.

Pal Palych, a bald fiftyish man whose face looked liked a blob of butter propped up on top of a giant jumper-clad ball, appeared instantly, no doubt smelling trouble. ‘What can I do for you, comrade?’ Talking to a blind man, he was making an effort to sound polite.

‘One twelve-rouble rabbit hat, please. Size fifty-nine,’ repeated Zhenia affably, turning his whole body in the direction of the manager’s high-pitched voice. ‘Sorry, comrade. Didn’t get our supply this month. Try us in April. Or in May.’

‘You sure you don’t have just one, somewhere?’ Zhenia was still calm and collected. ‘Sorry,’ repeated the manager as he turned to go back to his office.

‘Right,’ said Zhenia, taking a step back. Suddenly a horrible convulsion distorted his face, white foam appeared in the corners of his mouth, his whole body began to shudder like a Pobeda that wouldn’t start, his fingers curled each at its own angle, and he screamed louder than I’d ever heard anyone scream indoors: ‘Thieves!!! Robbers!!! Jewboys!!! One thief on top of another!!! Nothing but blood-sucking thieving Yids!!!’

 hat last accusation was rich coming from someone named Kapman, but then his audience didn’t know Zhenia’s surname. He then went into a shamanistic dance, ending up on the floor, frothing at the mouth and jerking his limbs in uncoordinated directions.

‘Christ killers!!!’ he bellowed, showing a well-tuned psychological insight. ‘D’you know who I am?!? I burnt in my tank in the battle of Rzhev! I lost my eyes protecting kikes like you!!! Should’ve let Hitler finish the job!!! Bloody Yids!!!’ Zhenia was actually born in the year of that historic battle, but his face, as I’ve mentioned before, was ageless.

His audience were stunned, and so was I. The manager and his employee, neither of whom looked Jewish, carefully helped Kapman to his feet, as if handling a precious statue. ‘Please, comrade, please,’ implored Pal Palych, ‘everything will be all right. You’ll be fine, just please calm down…’

Calm down Zhenia did, instantly. ‘Right,’ he said as if nothing had happened. ‘One twelve-rouble rabbit hat, please. Size fifty-nine.’

‘Well, you see, comrade,’ the manager sounded nervous and contrite, ‘we really, really don’t have any today. Wait,’ he begged hastily as Zhenia produced a grimace that looked even more awful than the one before.

‘Just come tomorrow. I promise we’ll sort it out, comrade. As God is my witness,’ he added in a most un-Soviet way.

Throughout this whole scene I felt like fading into the wallpaper, thinking that losing my ears to frostbite would have been the easier option. But the manager was as good as his word. The next day I stopped by the shop and walked out wearing my new hat. Everyone in the store was polite to the point of servility, asking after my friend’s health.

A fortnight later I lost my fur-lined gloves, a loss almost as irreplaceable – and potentially as perilous – as the loss of a hat.

‘How come your hands are so cold?’ asked Kapman as we greeted each other at the university. ‘Lost my gloves,’ I answered unthinkingly before I could stop myself.

‘Buy yourself another pair,’ suggested Zhenia. ‘I can help, as you well know.’ I assured my friend that no help was necessary. I’d wear my father’s spare gloves.

‘As you wish,’ frowned Kapman. As far as he was concerned, the sighted were an ungrateful bunch.

How to learn English in a few easy glasses

This is another in a series of excerpts from my new book How the Future Worked, available on www.roperpenberthy.co.uk or on Amazon.co.uk. Here I talk about my university life and a few colourful freinds.


The most agreeable lad in the bunch, Tolia Dostenko, was in the same class as I. Unlike the others, he always showed up every morning, toting his ubiquitous guitar and a tattered briefcase containing two bottles of red. He’d sit in the back row, quietly plucking the silvery strings, taking the odd pull from the bottle, not bothering anyone and being seldom bothered himself, except by our conscientious phonetics instructor.

Of the six periods of practical English we had every day, four in that first year were devoted to phonetics. We had to learn pages upon pages of English texts by heart and enunciate them as closely to the received pronunciation as we could manage. Most texts featured as the principal character a fictitious Mr Sanford, the local rep for the communist paper The Daily Worker, as The Morning Star was then.

‘I say, Mr Dixon,’ we’d intone dutifully. ‘Do you receive TheDaily Worker at all?’ ‘No, I can’t say I do, old chap, can’t say I do.’ ‘Oh, what a shame! Surely you wouldn’t mind trying it for a month or two, what-what?’ ‘Not at all, old chap, not at all. Oh bother, it looks like rain.’ ‘It does indeed, it does indeed. Terrible nuisance, that.’ ‘Well, the English climate isn’t at all changeable, is it, Mr Sanford? Ha-ha-ha…’ No one told us that people who employed the diction we were trying to emulate were unlikely to flog The Daily Worker door to door, although they were perfectly capable of funding it behind the scenes.

The phonetics instructor faced the tall order of reshaping our speech-producing organs, inured to throaty Russian. To that end this pleasant, blue-haired lady would stick her nose into our mouths, making sure our tongues were properly retracted in the direction of our hard palates. She attempted that trick with Dostenko a few times, only to be thwarted by the industrial-strength smell of good vodka and bad teeth.

Before she gave up on him she once asked if he could recite Text Five by heart. The question was posed in English, but the reply came in Russian: ‘Fraid I can’t.’ ‘Well, Text Four then.’ Galina Stepanovna wasn’t getting the message. ‘Can’t do that one either.’ ‘What can you do then, Tolia?’ demanded Galina Stepanovna in a Russian as pure as Dostenko’s own. ‘I can sing you a song,’ he offered. ‘Please do, by all means,’ said the instructor with what she thought was devastating sarcasm.

Undevastated and undaunted, Dostenko strummed his guitar and went into a hoarse, drunken rendition of the Russian folk song At the river, the river, the o-o-o-other bank, Marusia was washing her darling white feet. He knew it in its never-ending entirety. Galina Stepanovna, who had never heard anything quite so surreal in her 40-year career of hard-palate searching, was so stunned that she stopped the song only after four verses, each followed by the eponymous refrain.

Petia Shuruyev, the fifth musketeer, once made a pass at another phonetics instructor, a beautiful girl who had just taken her degree and was several years his junior. When rejected, Shuruyev, a wayward offshoot of a good family, took revenge by employing his rare talent of being able to vomit at will.

Every time the comely Liudmila Nikolayevna demanded some kind of performance from him, be that reciting a text or pronouncing a phrase, he’d gag theatrically and throw up his daily intake of red and white wine into the aisle. As the girls in his class knew he was going to perform that charming trick, they’d sensibly take their seats as far away from him as the smallish classroom allowed.

Before long Shuruyev was summoned to the dean’s office and asked to account for his behaviour. ‘I can’t help it,’ he explained in his refined Moscow accent. ‘It’s an involuntary reaction, comrade dean. Every time she calls out my name, it just happens. Hard as I try I can’t keep it in.’ The dean dismissed him, saying it was more than high time something was done about him and the other four degenerates who belonged in front of a firing squad, not in a university auditorium.

To their credit, the Alkies never got drunk unless there was an important occasion to celebrate. It was just that in the Russia of my youth there was at least one such occasion every day. All one had to do was open the calendar.

Some, such as May Day, November 7 (Revolution Day), February 23 (Red Army Day), March 8 (International Women’s Day) were huge national holidays when no one worked. Some were less important: Printers’ Day, Railway Workers’ Day, Scientists’ Day, Teachers’ Day, Steel Workers’ Day and so forth, ad infinitum.

And that wasn’t all. For we also had anniversaries: of every battle in the war, of every speech Lenin ever delivered, of every important Party Congress (such as the Tenth in 1921, when all opposition was banned), of – well, you get the gist. There was a pecking order to the anniversaries, and there was a sacrosanct protocol involved in the festivities.

Once our university’s Party Secretary ordered that on such and such day we were to present ourselves at the conference hall to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the 1905 revolution. An occasion of that magnitude clearly called for a rally, not just a piss-up. And no rally of that type could have been complete without at least one eyewitness of the glorious event, proudly displaying himself in the presidium on the stage.

That was the tough part: what with the average life expectancy for men stuck at 57 and declining, finding a superannuated veteran was no mean task. But, according to Lenin’s well-known pronouncement, ‘there are no fortresses that Bolsheviks can’t storm.’ Impressive detective work by the Secretary tracked down a senile octogenarian Cossack. The veteran swore he had been an active participant in the 1905 revolt before covering himself with glory in the ranks of Budyonny’s cavalry during the Civil War.

When the hero staggered onto the stage, even the Party Secretary’s face showed some doubt. The man had a vacant look that suggested he wasn’t in complete command of his faculties. That impression was enhanced by the saliva dripping out of his toothless mouth and onto his already dirty tie.

But beggars can’t be choosers. The Secretary braced himself and got the ball rolling by delivering a formulaic half-hour speech at the end of which he introduced the veteran. ‘So let’s give a warm welcome to Maxim Ivanych!’

We clapped enthusiastically, anticipating some good fun. Maxim Ivanych didn’t disappoint. He got to the microphone, tottered a bit but then straightened himself up.

‘I remember that day azh if it wazh yeshterday,’ he said and tottered again. ‘There wazh a rally in the shquare. Lotsh of red flagzh, all shorts of people, shtudentsh, workerzh. They wazh all shouting, one Jew climbed on top of a shoap boksh to give a shpeech.’ He smiled apologetically for having inadvertently identified the orator’s ethnicity.

‘Then the shquadron commander yelled “Shabresh out! Charge!!!” And,’ he ended on a triumphant note, ‘we chopped’em all up to ribbonzh!!!’.

In the ensuing tumultuous ovation Maxim Ivanych was whisked off the stage by the despondent Secretary whose face had turned beetroot-red. The poor sod had made a career-ending mistake: he hadn’t checked the facts, having satisfied himself that the Cossack had indeed fought with Budyonny. It escaped his attention that Maxim Ivanych had only seen the Bolshevik light in 1917, not in 1905 when he had been doing his normal Cossack service in the imperial security troops.