Scared of a world war over the Ukraine? Read your Romans

What have the Romans ever done for us? As posed by Monty Python, the question was never meant to be serious.

The Romans have given us quite a lot, including some basic lessons in how to avoid war.

Back in the fourth or fifth century, when neither Russia nor the Ukraine existed, the Roman military thinker Vegetius wrote “Si vis pacem, para bellum”. If you want peace, prepare for war.

The saying became proverbial, and the Germans even blended the last two words together to name their 1913 MG14 machine gun. Perhaps they thought the weapon would prevent the impending war. More likely, they thought the gun would help them win it.

Neither thing happened, the machine gun became obsolete, and the word ‘parabellum’ moved on to describe some new pistol rounds. However, the lesson taught by the original words was still valid.

Unfortunately Western powers ignored it, and parabellum rounds were then used by the Germans to pierce uncountable heads, many of them belonging to innocent victims.

The lesson is still there, and it’s still being ignored. If you want peace, prepare for war. The adage holds just as true in reverse: if you want war, prepare for peace.

The proverb works so unfailingly both ways because predators are always on the prowl. They may be outnumbered by their potential victims, but that doesn’t matter.

Predators always look for an opening to pounce, but the potential victims, especially if no one has pounced on them for a while, grow soft.

They don’t want war and they don’t prepare for it. They thus vindicate Vegetius by making sure it’s going to come. Examples of this are numerous throughout history, none so dramatic as the Second World War.

In the run-up to it Europe was cursed with two major predators, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, both dreaming of world conquest and gearing up for it.

Western nations, still demob-happy after the previous carnage, didn’t prepare for war. That’s why they were denied peace.

The two predators set the world on fire by joining forces to attack Poland, with the West unable to respond properly until most of Europe was overrun and German planes (flying on Soviet fuel) were raining bombs (many of them Soviet-made) on London.

Since at some point the two predators jumped on each other’s throats, some four years and 50 million deaths later their number was halved: Nazi Germany was put down.

Yet the Soviet Union, the other equally culpable predator, survived and thrived. It’s still going strong, even though for a short while, some 20 years or so, the wolf had shed its grey fur and was sporting a designer sheepskin.

The West again went demob-happy; again it refused to prepare for war. Even the United States, the backbone of NATO, was cutting its defence budgets drastically. In Europe they were almost peace-dividended out of existence (the average EU spend on defence is a puny 1.4 percent of the budget). 

The diminution of arsenal was accompanied by the erosion of will, with the West again growing soft and complacent. Once that became obvious, down into the bin went the designer sheepskin – the old predator, its fangs bared, has re-emerged.

Ever since the transfer of power from the Communist party to the KGB (the operation going by the codenames of ‘glasnost’, ‘perestroika’ and ‘collapse of the Soviet Union’), Russia has been run by the inner sanctum of the KGB, at present fronted by Col. Putin.

It was these men, rather than the token Russian government at large, who used their professional expertise to assess the situation and decide that the time had come to put the Humpty Dumpty of the old Soviet Union together again. For starters.

The decision to “probe Europe with a bayonet”, in Lenin’s phrase, was specifically taken by a small cabal including Col. Putin himself, Sergei Ivanov, his chief of staff, Nikolai Patrushev, head of the security council, and Aleksandr Bortnikov, the current director of the KGB (codename FSB). All of them served together in the KGB Leningrad branch in the 70s and 80s.

In their professional capacity these officers judged that the West was unprepared both physically and morally to stop the predator in its tracks. So far their judgment has been vindicated.

Yet again the West is inviting war by failing to prepare for it. Yet again Westerners are asking the same question they asked in 1939: “Will he or won’t he?”

Wrong question. The right one would be “How can we make sure he doesn’t and, if he still does, how can we wipe him out?” But we lack strength, cerebral, muscular or testicular, either to pose this question or certainly to answer it properly.

“It’s déjà vu all over again,” in the words of the American answer to Mrs Malaprop, the baseball coach Yogi Berra. Let’s just pray it won’t be exactly that.


Earth-shattering news: lower taxes are actually good for the economy

This is the message delivered by our Chancellor, who claims that the modest upturn in Britain’s economic performance was caused by his cosmetic cuts in some tax rates.

In other words, well, see the title above. I’m sure when you first heard the news it hit you with the power of a nuclear blast. Your mouth stayed agape for hours and respiration was coming in stops and starts.

Now that you’ve got your breath back, here’s some more staggering news:

Night follows day. Water is wet. The sun is hot. Hold on, I’d better stop here lest you gasp yourself into a coma.

The point is that we don’t need politicians or economists to tell us something that’s blindingly obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense.

In fact, whenever economics ventures into an area unreachable by common sense, it turns into self-perpetuating gibberish. For economics is nothing but a study of human behaviour at its most basic.

Everybody who wasn’t born rich knows he has to work hard in order to eat. That requirement satisfied, he needs to work even harder to create a better life for himself and his family.

Working hard is, well, hard. People need an incentive to do so, and the more of their money they get to keep, the greater the incentive to work harder and make more.

Hardly cutting-edge stuff, isn’t it? Neither is the simple deduction that the harder people work, the more they produce. And the more they produce, the higher the tax revenue they generate.

However, if the government gets greedy and tries to extract a higher percentage of people’s income in various taxes, the whole process begins to work in reverse.

People have less incentive to work hard, their output shrinks and so does the tax base. And when the government gets downright extortionist, the most enterprising and hardworking people flee for sunnier economic climes.

Seriously, do we need economists to tell us all this? Still, it’s nice when they do.

First came Arthur Laffer who made a startling observation. If you take two tax rates, 100 percent and 0 percent, they both produce the same tax revenue: zero.

Taking these two rates as the starting points, Laffer grabbed a napkin while having dinner with Reagan’s advisors and drew a curve plotting various points between the extremes. His conclusion was that the government would optimise its tax revenues at a flat tax rate somewhere between 17 and 20 percent.

Another American economist, Richard Rahn, drew another curve showing that when government spending increases beyond 20-25 percent of GDP, long-term economic growth will suffer.

The briefest of looks at the greatest economic success stories of recent times, especially those of the ‘Asian tigers’ Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, with Japan of 20 years ago thrown in for good measure, will vindicate both curves.

Those countries all kept their taxation reasonable and their government spending under 25 percent. Starting from an abysmally low point, in a few short post-war years they prospered to (or beyond) the level of the great industrial nations.

Similar, if lower-scale, stories were later told by some newly liberated Eastern European countries, such as Poland and Estonia.

Opposite and equally compelling examples have been provided by Hollande’s France where extortionist tax rates have driven every economic indicator down and the best income producers out, with London becoming the fifth largest French city.

Yet our Exchequer continues to defy both curves, if with slightly less vigour than under Labour.

Our public spending is somewhere around 45 percent of GDP, and actually higher if you discount some creative accounting practices for which all modern governments are so justly famous.

And middle classes, known to be the greatest producers of tax revenues, are being taxed at over half of their income, all in.

Rather than patting himself on the back, the Chancellor should try to explain why he still taxes and spends at a level incompatible with sound economic practices. Hasn’t he seen all those rather compelling curves? Why is he bucking human nature?

This is precisely the reason Keynesian economics fails. Keynes advocated a short-term boost in government spending as a way out of recession or stagnation.

The assumption is that the government will put the ailing economy on the intravenous drip of this powerful stimulant and, once the patient has recovered, it’ll pull the needle out. All fine in theory, but then human nature kicks in.

Any modern government will happily increase public spending. But reducing it would mean reducing its own power, and no modern politicians will accept that – it’ll go against their nature.

This brings us to the real reason all European governments continue to tax at such suicidal rates and spend at, or above, 50 percent of GDP. They don’t do this to increase the people’s economic performance. They do so to increase their control over the people.

There are three basic control techniques known to politics. One is slave-master, based on violence. Another is guru-flock, based on brainwashing persuasion. The third is parent-child, rooted in the latter’s dependence on the former. Most modern governments use all three, but in different proportions.

If we look at so called democracies, their principal crowd-control stratagem is burgeoning paternalism, underpinned by propaganda and thought control. Violence is kept in reserve, though it’s getting to be used more and more, with thought and word criminalised increasingly more often.

The most important part of paternalism is economic. Putting it crudely, the more of our money the government takes away and spends (in however wasteful a fashion), the greater our dependence on the state, and the greater its power over us. High taxes also have a punitive purpose: just like a parent uses a rod not to spoil an unruly child, so does the state use tax rates to punish those who dare try to be independent of it.

So Messrs Laffer, Rahn and their ilk can draw all the curves they want. They’ll run out of napkins before modern politicians run out of resolve to pursue their inner imperative – state, and therefore their own, power.







Ed Miliband: theologian, historian, thinker – and God

Ed Miliband has my sympathy. His bulging eyes suggest he may be suffering from a thyroid disorder, and that sort of thing can make one deluded.

Specifically, he appears to have delusions of grandeur – to the point of thinking he is some kind of deity, possibly the Almighty himself.

It’s hard to interpret the remarks he has made on faith in any other way. But judge for yourself.

First Ed said he didn’t believe in God, which is par for the Labour course. But then he claimed he still had ‘faith’.

Now everyone has faith in something, even animals do. A dog has faith in its power to keep intruders away by barking. A cat has faith in its ability to outrun a dog. Both have faith in their owner’s commitment to feeding them.

But when a man uses the word ‘faith’ in the same sentence as ‘God’, then he must be talking about some sort of religious faith. So what’s Ed’s? Thought you’d never ask:

“In terms of faith for me, it’s a faith about how you change the world. And that is actually true for a lot of religious people as well.”

Thanks for making it clear, Ed, and in such stylish English. There is no God, so it’s Ed Miliband’s remit to change the world.

But a slight correction, if I may. ‘A lot of religious people’ don’t think they can change the world. A lot of lunatics do.

‘Religious people’ set much less grandiose tasks for themselves: keeping faith in God and living according to his commandments. Whether or how God will then choose to change the world is entirely up to him.

What Ed effectively says is that he has faith not in God but in himself. This activates a simple syllogism: Only God can change the world. Ed can change the world. Ergo, Ed is God.

Now that we’ve deduced that fact, let’s acknowledge that Ed isn’t alone in suffering from this delusion – madmen seldom are. Loonie bins are full of Jesus Christs, Napoleons and Hitlers.

Ed’s co-sufferers are much more numerous, but they’re all children of the same parent: the Enlightenment. That catastrophic development was all about knocking God out of the edifice of Western civilisation and pretending that man himself is big enough to fill the hole thus formed.

The most salient thing man has demonstrated since then is his ability to do murder on an ever-accelerating scale. But there are gradations within that talent, as there are within any other, and socialists, whether national or international, are without close seconds.

I’m not suggesting that Ed has personally perpetrated any crimes – only that his devout allegiance to that pernicious doctrine makes him an accessory after the fact. It’s really that allegiance that he tried to communicate so awkwardly by dragging God in.

Having demonstrated his grasp of theological nuances, Ed proceeded to establish his credentials as both historian and logician.

His intention, he said, is to become “the first Jewish Prime Minister”. Ed has probably heard of Benjamin Disraeli, who definitely served as Prime Minister to Queen Victoria. Hence one has to surmise that, according to Ed, Disraeli doesn’t qualify as a Jew.

True enough, Disraeli didn’t espouse Judaism. But then neither does Ed, which doesn’t prevent him from regarding himself as a Jew.

Of course Ed made his profound remarks on a visit to Israel, where a Jewish convert to another religion isn’t viewed as a Jew. Disraeli was baptised into the Church of England at age 12 and, if he were alive today, he wouldn’t be automatically entitled to an Israeli passport.

This is a perfectly valid, if not indisputable, view. But the thing is that Ed doesn’t share it: “I’m Jewish by birth origin and it’s a part of who I am,” he said in the next breath.

This presupposes a purely ethnic view of Jewishness, which is as valid as the one wholly based on religion. The problem is that the two views are mutually exclusive.

Disraeli was Sephardic Jewish on both sides of his family, just as Ed’s family is Ashkenazi. They’re both ‘Jewish by birth origin’. Disraeli believed in God, Ed doesn’t. But he tries to disavow Disraeli’s Jewishness on the basis of a strictly clerical definition.

Such a disastrous failure to think logically is sometimes symptomatic of a mental disorder, but we oughtn’t try to medicalise everything. Simple common or garden idiocy is a much more frequent and plausible cause.

I for one welcome this explanation for it tallies with my lifelong observation that lefties aren’t only misguided but actually stupid. Or else so wicked that they’ll say or do anything to advance their cause.

One can only hope that Ed won’t become Prime Minister at all, Jewish or otherwise. That way he’ll be spared querying on such subjects as Judaism, faith, history and logic. And we’ll be spared the calamity he’d certainly visit on Britain given the chance.


A letter to a friend

I don’t know what possessed me. A friend e-mailed me, attaching a recent article by the American conservative pundit Pat Buchanan. The article asks a question that seemingly presupposes a yes answer: “Is God on the side of Putin’s Russia?”

Since such questions unfailingly make me see red, I replied at a greater length than my normal blogs. Not to let all that impassioned effort go to waste, I’m reproducing it here.


Pat Buchanan is a good man, but either he’s getting too old or, more likely, he suffers from the traditional Western malaise of not being able to see through Russia’s knavish tricks.

Even to ask the question he poses in his piece betokens woeful ignorance liberally laced with wishful thinking.

What exactly does Buchanan chalk up in Putin’s credit column? That he doesn’t allow homomarriage and homosexual propaganda?

This, ipso facto, means nothing in terms of assessing Putin’s regime. If this were a crucial criterion, we’d have to praise, say, Hitler and Osama bin Laden who didn’t favour homosexuality either.

Soviet Russia, incidentally, was the first country to decriminalise homosexuality – in 1917, when the bolsheviks were already murdering people on a scale never before seen in history. Then they recriminalised it in 1936. Are we going to evaluate either period on this basis? Not if we have half a brain.

A Western politician who campaigns for homomarriage is by definition an unprincipled, possibly evil, definitely not very bright, opportunist. But that doesn’t automatically mean that any non-Western politician pursuing a different agenda is on the side of the angels.

So what else? Oh yes, Putin has made a couple of speeches Pope Benedict would have happily signed. That, however, doesn’t make Putin a Benedict clone.

Russia and America are the only major countries that have for centuries been driven by messianic zeal. Old Pat certainly is a great champion of the ‘manifest destiny’ ideology of American exclusivity and he must be detecting a kindred spirit in Putin.

It’s kind of him to explain what Third Rome means, but that claim was based on Ivan III marrying the Byzantine princess Sophia Paleologue just as Byzantium was going to the dogs (or rather to the Turks). Thus the claim that Russia was thenceforth the flag-bearer of Eastern Christianity, and hence the modifier ‘Holy’ often attached to the country’s name.

In practical terms this led to chronic hostility towards the West and occasional attempts to defend Orthodox Christian lands, such as Bulgaria, usually from Muslim attacks.

But this ideology went much further as a unifying slogan, a sort of justification for things like serfdom, deadly famines (on average, one every seven years), general internal oppression. Russia was Holy, God was on her side, so it seemed churlish to complain that 80 percent of the population were slaves in all but name.

I’m not going to go deep into Russian Christianity here. Suffice it to say that it was always tinged with paganism, Eastern Gnostic mysticism and anti-clericalism. In my day peasants still jumped over and danced around camp fires on high holidays. All sorts of diabolic sects, such as the Flagellants and Emasculators, always thrived (Rasputin, for example, was a Siberian Flagellant who quickly developed a huge following among court aristocracy, including the royal family).

One way or the other, it took Russia’s ‘holy’ peasants, in round numbers, about five minutes after the bolshevik coup to start looting and destroying churches, and murdering priests en masse. About 40,000 were murdered in all sorts of imaginative ways (I’ll spare you the details) on Lenin’s watch, and Stalin ran the score up to about 100,000. Add to this whole parishes gassed or machinegunned, and you’ll realise that this sort of thing would have been impossible without millions of erstwhile Christians lending a helping hand.

Yet the need for a messianic ideology was more pressing than ever, what with millions being murdered, starved to death or slowly (usually not that slowly) killed in labour camps. We all know what the new ideology was, but bolshevism’s key premise, and promise, was a world revolution.

Lenin banged on about that from the very beginning, saying things like “Soviet Russia won’t survive more than 10-20 years unless the whole world joined her.” The world didn’t and Soviet Russia didn’t survive – as a Soviet state. That is, the name and the set of shibboleths remained, as the ideological raison d’être, but in 1937-1938 Stalin murdered most of those who believed in that evil nonsense in earnest.

Instead, roughly at the time of his pact with Hitler, he began to weave the old nationalist strands into the ideology. The Church, along with the Holy Russia bit, had to be taken off the mothballs during the war, when it turned out that the army, mostly made up of those who had lost their families to bolshevik brutality, simply wouldn’t fight for bolshevism.

The catastrophe of 1941, when Red Army soldiers were deserting in droves, the Germans took 2.5 million prisoners in the first two months, and two more million shortly thereafter, spoke volumes. More than 1.5 million ended up wearing German uniforms (under the tsars, not a single serf soldier wore the French uniform in 1812).

The Orthodox Church was legalised, and its hierarchy staffed with priests at least loyal to the NKVD (as the KGB then was), more typically its agents. That provided the carrot, while mass executions both at the front and in the rear acted as the whip. The Soviets executed 157,000 of their own soldiers by tribunal verdicts, and at least three times as many by summary shootings and hangings. Altogether the Red Army suffered heavier casualties to its own side than the British army suffered altogether.

After the war was won at a horrific cost, the Church remained legal – and obedient. The Soviets kept it on tap for future need, which duly arrived when they decided to abandon the communist jargon and present a more civilised face to the West, the better to dupe it.

You’ll notice that, unlike Germany that repented Nazi crimes and thereby at least partially atoned for them, Russia did no such thing. The crimes weren’t repented, which means that all those glasnosts, perestroikas, free markets and democracies were no more than window dressing.

But since Russia can’t be without a messianic ideology, the only one available was the old imperial chauvinism underpinned by the Third Rome effluvia.

Just as 70 years earlier millions of yesterday’s Christians instantly began to murder priests, so now yesterday’s atheists instantly flocked into churches, sporting the same pious expressions they had the day before reserved for party rallies. Russian chieftains, from Gorbachev to Putin, led the way – even though at times they hadn’t been briefed that Russian Orthodox Christians cross themselves from right to left.

The church hierarchy played its part, especially since by now it was fully staffed with KGB/FSB agents. For example, all three candidates in the last patriarchate election fit that description, including the current patriarch Kiril (KGB codename ‘Mikhailov’). Those interested in details should read the two-volume Mitrokhin Archives published in the West a few years ago.

This isn’t to say that there is no genuine Christian revival in Russia. There is, but not within the official Church that’s in bed with the secret police. There exists a parallel, formerly underground, Orthodox Church, but by far the greatest numbers are drawn into various charismatic, and in my view dubiously Christian, sects introduced some 20 years ago by visiting American preachers.

Just as Putin was, is and will for ever remain a KGB thug (he said so himself: “There’s no such thing as ex-KGB. This is for life.”), so will every word out of his mouth be a lie enunciated mostly for the benefit of credulous Westerners, of the kind Lenin called ‘useful idiots’.

He is not, as Buchanan seems to believe, a “champion of traditional Christian values”. He is an utterly evil and corrupt tyrant trying to rally the Russian masses to his messianic banners, while at the same time attempting to build some following in the West, chiefly drawn from conservatives who have despaired of their own spivocrats so much that they’ll swallow any canard emanating from the mouth of a KGB thug.

In most immediate terms, Putin is clearly determined to rebuild the Soviet Union in all its past glory, a drama whose first act we’re currently watching with stoic detachment. To this end he has intensified the propaganda effort, of which claims to traditional Christianity are the most important part.

This way he hopes to disarm exactly the same segments of Western public opinion that in the past were staunchly anti-communist. Take care of those, and the lefties will take care of themselves, this seems to be his thinking. So when the final push comes, it’ll seem downright anti-Christian to resist.

To see good men like Buchanan falling for all this evil nonsense is most upsetting. He must be truly desperate, as we all are. But Putin’s kleptofascist regime isn’t the answer. It’s not God but Satan who’s on Putin’s side.





Don’t send me any e-mails after 6pm – you’ll get me arrested

Thing is, I’m currently in France, a country that wasn’t a paragon of laisser-faire even before my friend François took over. And then – oh là là.

To be fair to François, it wasn’t he who introduced the economically ruinous 35-hour work week. That happened back in 2000 courtesy of another socialist, then prime minister Lionel Jospin.

But François has more power than Lionel did, so he can tighten the screws even tighter. That’s what socialists do, tighten the screws.

Socialism isn’t about more power to the workers, more compassion and less oppression for everybody, equality, public ownership, social care. These are its slogans, not its essence.

Its essence, its guiding principle, is all about the state getting bigger and more powerful at the expense of the individual getting smaller and less powerful. C’est, as they say in these parts, tout.

Acting in that spirit, François took a long hard look at the 35-hour-week and decided it didn’t go far enough. Most employed, and all self-employed, people in France disagree with him, but what do they know, ces cons.

One of the people François no doubt regards as stupid is the nice woman Dorine who owns the hairdresser’s shop in our village. She does the women and her sole employee, another nice girl Amélie, does the men.

Their workload goes up and down, and in the run-up to Christmas it hits the ceiling. Naturally, Dorine wants Amélie to work longer hours, and Amélie definitely doesn’t mind the extra money. But the government won’t hear of it: never mind what the two women want. L’état says no more than 35 hours a week, so 35 hours a week it’ll be.

Fair, or rather unfair, enough. But not all employees wield combs and scissors. Some use e-mails and smartphones, and those bloody things can be used to get around the law. You see, a person doesn’t have to be physically present in an office to get an e-mail.

He may be at home, jammies-clad, un verre de rouge in hand. Suddenly an e-mail comes in, screaming, “Jacques, where the hell did you put the client’s brief, you stupid espèce de merde?” It may take Jacques a minute to reply or, if that verre de rouge isn’t his first, 10.

But that doesn’t matter: numbers don’t affect the principle. A chap may steal £100 or £100,000, but the law says he’s a thief in either case. So any way you look at it, both Jacques and his employer have broken this vital labour law. This, as far as François is concerned, has to stop.

Acting in that spirit, his government has just passed a law making it illegal for people to have their work computers and other such gadgets switched on in the after hours. I’m not sure how compliance will be monitored, or lack of it punished, but socialists can be relied upon to find a way. I’m sure they’ll eventually criminalise even thinking about work in the evening, and I can just imagine the futuristic sensors they’ll use.

This puts me in a precarious position while I’m in France. True enough, I’m not employed by anyone other than myself. But all that may mean – I’m guessing here – that I lead a schizophrenic existence: one half of me is the employer, the other the employee.

It’s as if I heard a commanding voice in one half of my head, telling the other half to write the reactionary stuff I like to write. So it’s possible that François’s mates may decide that the new law covers me along with all other EU citizens.

(After 1992 we aren’t British subjects anymore, and if you don’t believe me re-read the text of the Maastricht Treaty. How long before the French law extends to us, through the EU’s good offices? The average Brit currently overshoots the French diktat by 7.5 hours, which would criminalise the whole country.)

So what happens when I write something that, say, my favourite publication PinkNews finds objectionable? If experience is anything to go by, I get thousands of e-mails pitched at the refined intellectual level of ‘Eat s*** and die, you f***ing c***’.

Being by nature an inquisitive sort, I tend to open e-mails as they come and, I’m man enough to admit this, sometimes they arrive after six o’clock. Does this mean I break the new law every time I open yet another dietary suggestion?

Another thing: I seldom work more than the mandated 35 hours a week but, being self-employed, I take the liberty of deciding when I do so. For example, as I knew I wouldn’t have time to do much work today, I wrote this at 6.30 pm last night, and I received an e-mail from my publisher as I was writing.

Does this make me a law-breaker? I don’t know, but it’s possible. With socialists, anything is.

And out of interest, how is my friend François going to enforce the electronic law? I’m not a technological sophisticate, but the word ‘hacking’ springs to my mind as naturally as the above-mentioned culinary recipe springs to PinkNews readers’.

That’s how it should be: individual privacy – for that matter, anything individual – is nothing, compared to François’s socialist imperative to put his foot down.

Perhaps if Rebekah Brooks beats the hacking rap in Blighty, she can get a lucrative job in François’s government. Meanwhile, I’ll be opening my evening e-mails with bated breath.

What goes around comes around, Mr Murdoch

In the late 80s, when writing ads for The Sunday Times and other Murdoch papers, I had the pleasure of meeting the great man himself.

 An election was approaching, and someone asked Murdoch if he’d fire any employee voting Labour. “No,” he replied, “but I’d pay for his psychiatric examination.”

 “A man after my own heart,” I thought, thus proving that I hadn’t yet lost all my silly illusions.

 A few years later Murdoch threw the entire resources of his media empire behind New Labour in general and Tony Blair in particular, thus inaugurating the worst government in British history.

 Not only did Murdoch act as kingmaker, but in a way he himself became a co-ruler. For Blair’s government was the first one with no substance whatsoever, at least none that had anything to do with the good of the country.

 Blair’s sole purpose was first to grab power and then to hold on to it for as long as possible, paving the way to future riches (his own, not the country’s). To serve this worthy goal, his brain, whatever little there was to begin with, had to be replaced with focus groups, telling him which way the wind of public opinion was blowing.

But the public, especially after a couple of comprehensively educated generations,  doesn’t form opinions all by itself – it’s more or less told what to think by the media.

 Hence the Blair-Murdoch duopoly, ascending to dictatorship or something near enough not to make a difference.

 It’s the free press that curbs the dictatorial instincts of any government, and all of them have those. When the press forms a pact with the government, this critical check is removed, and both the government and the press begin acting with unrestrained spivery.

 In the case of Blair’s government, this resulted in an orgy of constitutional vandalism ultimately aimed at perpetuating the power of the new elite.

 In the case of Murdoch’s News International, this resulted in an orgy of unethical and often criminal investigative techniques, and we’re all still suffering from the hangover. Like all true co-dictators, Murdoch’s underlings had delusions of impunity and acted accordingly.

 Tony and Rupert remained in close contact throughout Blair’s tenure, and the closeness wasn’t just professional but also personal. It was probably a marriage of convenience rather than love, but a close-knit one for as long as it lasted.

 And speaking of marriages of convenience, in 1999 Murdoch married Wendi Deng, a pretty girl 37 years his junior.

 By and large (and I realise there must be exceptions), when a pretty young woman marries a much older and richer man, he’d be deceiving himself if he believed she was solely driven by passion.

 This point was wittily driven home when Debbie McGee, the young wife of the wealthy magician Paul Daniels, appeared on The Mrs Merton Show. The first question the sly hostess famously asked was, “So, what first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?”

Rupert Murdoch was a billionaire, not a millionaire, and the age difference between him and his wife was almost twice that between the Danielses. Considering that young Wendi had previous in marrying an older man and cuckolding him with someone closer to her own age, the newlywed Rupert shouldn’t have expected unwavering fidelity from his young bride.

Nor should he have expected loyalty from his friend Tony – the word just doesn’t appear in the modern political vocabulary. Still, when the news of the putative affair between the two was splashed all over gossip magazines last year, Murdoch claimed he was shocked.

Blair denies that he and Wendi were ever more than close friends ( I would too if I were married to a battleaxe like Cherie), but both he and his ex-friend Rupert know it’s the appearances that count.

And the appearances certainly suggested hanky-panky. The couple had been sneaking away together for secret weekends at Murdoch’s California ranch, his New York apartment, his London house, hotels and friends’ yachts.

The penny dropped when Wendi, obviously not on top of modern technology, hit a wrong button and sent to a wrong address an e-mail detailing one such weekend at Murdoch’s Carmel ranch.

Murdoch immediately flew to California to interrogate his staff, who were apparently uneasy about the whole thing. They divulged such details as Blair going into Wendi’s bedroom and shutting the door behind him, the couple hand-feeding each other at dinner and so forth.

The New York staff told similar stories, and eventually Murdoch uncovered his wife’s diary in which she praised Tony’s “good body”, his “really, really good legs” and even his “butt”, while admitting she had a “crush” on him.

The way Murdoch described the subsequent events, they had a certain staccato rhythm: “I was in Australia. When I got back, I naturally asked the staff, and it opened up. That’s the story. And then, you know, a week later I filed. As soon as I could find a lawyer.”

The couple divorced last November, much to the chagrin of their two children (Blair is godfather to the second one). A tawdry story, if hardly a unique one, but I’m sure it does have a moral there somewhere.

Murdoch clearly forgot the old saw about supping with the devil and bringing a long spoon, except that in his relationship with Blair he too was cast in a diabolical role. He got what he deserved.






When bad people speak, good people should listen

Modern tyrannical regimes tend to proceed from an ideological premise, which makes them both stronger and weaker.

Stronger, because an ideology naturally lends itself to slogans behind which it’s easier to rally the masses. For example, Lenin’s slogan ‘rob the robbers’, usually mistranslated as ‘expropriate the expropriators’, instantly appeals to envy, described as a cardinal sin precisely because it’s so widespread.

Hoist it up the flagpole and it’ll work like a charm. And what could conservatives run up their mast in response? ‘Secure property is an essential cornerstone of a civilised settlement, while its absence paves the way to tyranny’? All true, but try to inscribe this on your banners and see how many will follow.

Yet an ideology also carries a germ of weakness. For, before it’s reduced to slogans, it has to be put down on paper as some kind of pseudo-philosophical doctrine, a sort of statement of intent.

That means a careful reader doesn’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes to figure out what a tyrant, current or potential, plans to do. And if the careful reader represents a side wishing to thwart the tyrant’s plans, he’ll have a head start.

That’s how it should work in theory. In practice, however, normal people usually find it hard to believe that there are others out there who aren’t at all like them.

Hence good Westerners often assume that, say, Russian politicians are like our own, rudderless ships drifting from one election to the next. If our politicians are incapable of strategic thought, then so are everyone else’s.

We know that our lot will say whatever is politically expedient at the moment, even if it’s at odds with what they said five minutes ago. So we tend to assume that, mutatis mutandis, evil tyrants are the same: they just say things without meaning them.

That’s why the good people both in Russia and in the West glanced at Lenin’s 1902 pamphlet What Is to Be Done and dismissed it as schizophrenic drivel. In fact it was the blueprint for a Bolshevik coup, which duly arrived 15 years later.

Three months before it arrived, Lenin published another pamphlet, The State and Revolution, in which he explained, none too cryptically, that mass murder was on the cards: “the State is a special organisation of force: it is an organisation of violence for the suppression of some class.” Actually, he meant ‘all classes’, but let’s not quibble about details.

Nobody took any notice, which shows that lack of focus while reading can be punished quite cruelly. Ignore evil at your peril.

The same thing happened with Hitler’s equally frank book Mein Kampf, published eight years before he came to power. The future führer honestly said what he was going to do – yet it all sounded so crazy no one took him at his word. The book was ignored because nobody read it properly.

Such pandemics of functional illiteracy haven’t gone out of fashion. Rewind back to 1992, a year after the Soviet Union ‘collapsed’.

That event caused such an outburst of triumphalism that the West, licking its chops in anticipation of getting fat on the ‘peace dividend’, simply refused to read accounts of what the perestroika chieftains were actually saying.

That’s a pity, for had Westerners been more attentive in 1992, they wouldn’t be surprised now, watching in stunned stupor Col. Putin’s aggressive drive to rebuild the Soviet Union in 2014.

Speaking at a 1992 OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) conference, Russia’s Foreign Minister Alexei Kozyrev issued the following statement:

“I must introduce some corrections to the concept of Russia’s foreign policy… The space of the former Soviet Union cannot be viewed as a zone in which OSCE norms can be applied in their fullness. It is in effect a post-imperial space in which Russia will uphold her interests by all available means, including military and economic. We shall firmly insist that all former Soviet republics immediately enter a new federation or confederation, and there will be some tough discussion of this…”

The ‘tough discussion’ was longer in coming than Kozyrev suggested, but at least it’s now going full speed ahead, much to the surprise of Western officials with reading difficulties.

It’s useful to note that personalities don’t really come into this. In fact, Kozyrev eventually lost his job for being too soft on the West, to the point of having ‘surrendered’ to it. And at the time he issued this clarification of Russia’s long-term policy, Col. Putin held merely the second-highest job in Russia’s second-largest city.

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.” 




Pull the other blade, Pistorius

These days one is supposed to greet any freak show with an outburst of cloying sentimentality.

The sight of a double amputee racing around the track on two futuristic blades is expected to fill spectators with pride about the indomitable human spirit overcoming adversity.

And so it probably would, if the poor chap did it in private. Done on an internationally televised show, the performance evokes the county fairs of yesteryear, with bored yokels paying to see a bearded woman or a pregnant man.

One woman apparently charged admission for the pleasure of watching her standing knee-deep in faeces. One kind soul told to her to stop humiliating herself that way and find something better to do. “What,” replied the woman indignantly, “and quit show business?”

This story is probably apocryphal, but the sight of Pistorius bouncing on his blades is there for all to see on YouTube. In both instances, made-up and real, one wonders about the performer’s mental health.

One may also wonder about our times, when a quest for cheap notoriety overrides any notion of taste, decency and self-respect in the performer and viewer alike. But this is a separate subject.

More immediately, I’d suggest that any cripple eager to put himself on display in this tasteless fashion has to be insane. Perhaps not much, but noticeably.

This, one would think, could constitute a plausible defence strategy: diminished responsibility due to temporary insanity, or some such. It probably wouldn’t be sufficient to get the killer off, but it could be seen as an extenuating circumstance.

But Pistorius and his team wouldn’t take this line. Nor would any judge (no jury trial in South Africa) accept starring in Special Olympics as prima facie evidence of insanity. The modern ethos wouldn’t let him.

Instead Pistorius maintains this was all an unfortunate accident. “I am not pleading not guilty because the scene was contaminated,” he stated. “I am pleading not guilty because what I’m accused of didn’t happen.”

Didn’t he shoot and kill Reeva Steenkamp, guilty only of poor judgment in choosing her bed mates? Yes, he did. But he didn’t mean to: “I made a mistake. My mistake was that I took Reeva’s life.”

This courageous admission of mistakes is accompanied by an unseemly spectacle of Pistorius refusing to look at photographs of his butchered girlfriend, weeping, sobbing and in general putting on a show similar in terms of taste to his Olympic feats.

I’m not going to second-guess the judge or his verdict. Just consider Pistorius’s version of the events.

Awakened in the middle of the night by a noise coming from his bathroom, Pistorius reached across the bed to grab his pistol. Somehow he failed to notice that Reeva, supposed to be asleep next to him, wasn’t there.

He then hobbled into the bathroom, gun at the ready. On realising that there was someone in the lavatory cubicle, Pistorius instantly fired four times through the door. Three of the bullets hit and killed Reeva who, amazingly, was the person inside.

Now as someone who used to own similar (legal) guns, I can tell you the story smells to high heaven. No one keeping such sophisticated kit at home would fail to get some training with it.

This would go beyond learning how to slam a magazine in, pull the slider back, release the safety, aim and fire. It would even go further than going to the range regularly and practising one’s accuracy.

The most important part of the training is learning how to keep the gun at home, when to fire and – most important – when not to. The training doesn’t have to be formal: anyone going to the range and hanging out with fellow shooters would pick it up from ambient air.

For gun enthusiasts are a talkative bunch, and the experienced ones will always insist on imparting their knowledge to a novice. I used to be such a greenhorn, so I know this for a fact.

But perhaps Pistorius just bought the gun and forgot all about it, until he was reminded of it by the noise? Maybe he never went anywhere near a shooting range?

Alas, he did. Regularly. Here he is, in a YouTube video, blowing a watermelon to bits, then telling the cheering and laughing onlookers, “It’s a lot softer than brains but f*** it’s like a zombie stopper.”

It is indeed. A 9mm pistol sensibly loaded with hydroexpansion rounds does have a lot of stopping power.

Such rounds are sensible for the purpose of self-defence because one doesn’t want the kind of bullet that can go through the intruder – and then hit an innocent party who happens to be on the other side of the window (or a flimsy wall).

And no gun owner who knows such arcana, buys an expensive 9mm automatic, loads it with expertly chosen ammunition, then practises on a range in the company of fellow sophisticates, would under any circumstances blindly shoot away through the door of his lavatory cubicle without first ascertaining that the person inside is a criminal intruder capable of doing him harm.

Such a scenario isn’t just unlikely but impossible. There are only two plausible versions here.

One, Pistorius is mad. Two, he quarrelled with his girlfriend, she tried to get away from him by locking herself up in the lavatory, he followed her there and, in a fit of criminal rage, shot her four times through the door.

I hope the judge won’t be swayed by the spectacle put on by the defence, showing how vulnerable Mr Pistorius looks on his stumps, claiming he was traumatised by his deformity, understandably feeling oversensitive about protecting himself.

My heartstrings refuse to be tugged in such a manipulative manner. As far as I’m concerned, a man who parades his disability in public forfeits any claim to sympathy even under normal circumstances. And murder doesn’t qualify as such.          

Feminists will be spelling Michael Buerk’s surname differently

The seasoned BBC veteran obviously feels that at this stage he has little to lose.

That’s the only possible explanation of why Michael Buerk broke ranks. Moreover, he practically broke the BBC Royal Charter by saying something that’s sensible and, much worse, at odds with his organisation’s deepest convictions.

This is a figure of speech: the BBC’s convictions aren’t really deep. They are a tasteless cocktail of silly, faddish shibboleths, of which feminism is so firmly entrenched that one questions it at one’s peril.

Yet that’s what Mr Buerk did, by saying that those who get their jobs solely because they look good shouldn’t complain about getting sacked when they no longer do.

By uttering this blasphemous statement, he struck at the very foundations of the feminist agenda. Its cornerstone is the belief that a woman should have it both ways.

First she’s entitled to fire every arrow in the traditional womanly quiver, densely packed with weapons of mass seduction. This would include wearing in business situations the kind of clothes that would have got a Victorian woman arrested, flirting and occasionally sleeping with powerful men, in general exploiting her sexuality to its limits.

I’ve know even brilliant women who sometimes did that sort of thing, mainly because in our sexualised, paedocratic culture they were expected to. Yet many women who exploit their looks to get ahead aren’t brilliant, though they’re clever enough to know how to capitalise on their more jutting assets.

The brilliant women, who may have given themselves a little extra boost on the way to the top, stay there in their mature age because they never really needed the boost in the first place. It was their way of cutting a few corners on the way to the destination they would eventually have reached anyway.

But when the other type’s assets stop jutting and begin sagging, they really have nothing else to fall back on – except of course the whole feminist ethos, these days propped up by all sorts of laws, domestic or more usually European.

Reaching in their quiver, now bereft of Eros’s arrows, they fumble for sharp verbal missiles, those labelled ‘ageism’, ‘misogyny’, ‘discrimination’, ‘rights’, ‘fairness’, ‘tribunal’ and ‘the European Court of Human Rights’. 

Sometimes these weapons misfire; more often they hit the mark. Political correctness is a bloodless form of fascism and, like any other fascism, it demands unquestioning obedience, with any revolt put down mercilessly.

One is amazed that Mr Buerk has been allowed to get away with similar remarks for quite some time now.

In 2005 he spoke out against the general feminisation of society, with “life being lived according to women’s rules”, masculine traits marginalised and men “becoming more like women”. (With the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ already being pushed out of legal documents and increasingly everyday speech by the androgynous ‘spouse’ or ‘partner’, how long before the very words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ become infra dig?)

Six years later Michael Buerk broadened his attack by aiming it against PC fascism in general, not just its feminist manifestation. Specifically he argued that “giving people jobs purely on the ground that we need another six Asians, or we need another six lesbians, or we need another six pensioners” is “almost worse” than age discrimination.

This sort of thing goes beyond the realm of the BBC or the entertainment industry in general. These days every aspiring political leader has to promise that the sex, age and demographic composition of his cabinet, parliamentary party or any institution he staffs will reflect the make-up of the nation at large.

Any sensible voter would much prefer being governed by people of intellectual and moral integrity, regardless of any other characteristics. But this same voter would know that such preferences can’t be voiced in polite society – by anyone who expects to remain its member.

We all breathe the same ambient air, and it has become poisonous. The antidotes are few and far between, but Michael Buerk has supplied one by appealing to the common sense that has become very uncommon indeed – and may soon become illegal.

One just hopes Mr Buerk won’t be flogged too painfully. Of course his approaching retirement age may do for him what a magazine stuffed into his trousers used to do for a naughty schoolboy about to be caned.





Sticks and stones are breaking Ukrainian bones

Will he? Won’t he? If he does, what will we…

The air is abuzz with speculations, all liberally laced with primal fear.

Will Putin do to the whole Ukraine what he has already done to the Crimea?

If so, will he stop there?

How forcefully should we oppose him? Surely not all the way to the brink of nuclear war?

Good questions. Wish I had good answers, but I’m all out. However, I can offer a few observations, for whatever they’re worth.

First, here’s an intercepted telephone conversation between two Russian ambassadors in Africa, Messrs Igor Chubarov and Sergei Bakharev. The audio has gone viral on Russian websites, and one of the ambassadors has since acknowledged its authenticity.

Speaking in the customary Putinesque idiom, Mr Chubarov boasted, “This is how I talk to EU ambassadors: ‘Lads, we’ve taken the Crimea but that’s early f****** days yet. Next we’ll take your f****** Catalonia, Venice, Scotland and Alaska. That’s when we’ll take a breather.”

The other heir to the Russian diplomatic tradition of Dolgorukov, Razumovsky and Golitsyn added his own penny’s worth: “Latvia, Estonia and other f****** Europeans, kick’em up the a*** all the way to where they belong.”

This private chat shouldn’t be taken for a coherent enunciation of Russia’s foreign policy. It is, however, symptomatic of the deafening din of imperial chauvinism that, expertly fanned by Putin, is drowning all other sounds in the country.

Parallels with Nazi Germany have been overused over the last month or so, but that doesn’t make them spurious. Then the air thundered with Sieg Heil! Hoch! and Heil Hitler! The air of today’s Russia echoes with the sort of stuff exemplified by the refined exchange between the Russian Metternichs.

The public enthusiasm wasn’t faked then and it isn’t now. There’s no need: the masses are lemmings who’ll follow anyone over the precipice, provided he screams loudly and with psychopathic self-confidence. Muffling all other voices also helps, and KGB Col. Putin is a well-trained past master.

Once we’ve taken a plunge into the murky waters of historical parallels, we might as well dive deeper. In 1938 pro-Hitler thugs, ably assisted by Nazi spies and agent-provocateurs, rioted in Czech streets. When the police timidly tried to quiet them down, Dr Goebbels screamed all over the world that the German minority was being oppressed, and it was Germany’s duty to march in and save it.

Exactly the same sort of thing is happening in the Ukraine, today’s equivalent of Czechoslovakia, and Russia, today’s answer to Nazi Germany (so far in this respect only, but give Putin time).

Over the last few days gangs of pro-Putin thugs have staged provocative pogroms in the Ukrainian cities cursed with large Russian minorities: Donetsk, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Luhansk.

The thugs were flying the flags of the Ukrainian Communist Party, the Soviet Union and Russia. The slogan they were yelling makes historical parallels even harder to resist: “One people! One history! One future!” Is that the Russian for Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer? Same rhythm, same tripartite composition – more important, the same moral impetus.

The hire-a-mob mostly wielded primordial weapons: sticks, stones, bricks, knives and, above all, the fascist ideology. But the Ukraine’s Security Service also reports having confiscated the sort of gear one can’t buy in a corner shop: bombs, 300 machineguns, RPGs, pistols, hand grenades.

Other than taking some of their toys away, the police passively watched as the thugs occupied administrative buildings and decorated them with their favourite flags. A few of the buildings have since been reclaimed, even though they remain engulfed by a sea of frenzied human refuse.

According to some reports, ex-president Yanukovych has returned to the Ukraine, to supervise the pro-Russian riots and beg his good friend Vladimir for help. You know, the sort of help Hitler so generously gave to the Sudeten Germans.

This is where the comparisons must stop. For we don’t know yet whether the parallel lines will follow Euclid by remaining separate or Lobachevsky by converging. Will he or won’t he?

If he doesn’t, he’s not yet a Hitler circa 1938, though he may well be a Hitler circa, say, 1936. Though we’ll do well to remember that it wasn’t just chronologically that 1938 followed 1936, let’s stick to what we know for sure, shall we?

Fanning the toxic fumes of imperial chauvinism to a point where they poison the whole country (90 percent of Russians side with Putin) is a complex business. Tyrannical leaders seldom undertake such projects just for the fun of it, and Putin is like any other tyrant in this respect.

When deafening domestic propaganda is accompanied by provoking and organising riots in foreign cities, the task becomes even more daunting. If Putin has taken it on, it’s not just for the sake of winning the next election – he’s not a Western politician after all.

There’s no doubt whatsoever that Putin’s plan is to recreate the Soviet Union or a close simile thereof, thus going down in history as the Man Who Made Russia Great Again. Gaining control of the Ukraine has to be an essential part of this plan, and this is what’s currently under way.

I don’t know whether Putin will offer fraternal help (the Russian for tanks) to the oppressed Russian minority immediately, in the near future or some time down the road. A lot will depend on the West’s resolve to stop him in his tracks.

The West’s craven response so far must have emboldened Putin no end. He feels he can be reasonably sure that today’s West will echo the 1939 Left Bank intellectuals with their shrugs of “Mourir pour Danzig?”.

Today’s Westerners are no more prepared to die for Kiev than their grandfathers were to do so for Danzig. Yet in due course the choice was taken away from the granddads. Will it be taken away from the grandsons?

I don’t know. But, having grown up fighting Russian bullies, I do know they tend to recoil when hit on the nose before they’ve gone too far.

Yet it takes courage to throw that first punch, and this quality is in short supply in today’s West. So far.