Russian dope runners

 Russia faces a ban from the Rio Olympics for running a state-sponsored doping programme. Blood samples, 1,417 of them, destroyed, officials bribed, the unbribable ones threatened along with their families – naughtiness all around.

The scandal gathering momentum now has been brewing for a year, and it was a year ago that I wrote about it. Looking at that article now, I realise that every word still applies – so here it is, almost every word of it:

There I was, thinking that nothing the Russians do can possibly surprise me. How wrong I was, and I thank Putin’s sports establishment for reminding me of the dangers of complacency.

In this instance what surprised me wasn’t so much the revelation that Russian athletes cheat, but the scale of this activity – quantity rather than quality.

The fact itself is yesterday’s news, or even the day before yesterday’s. For example, one remembers the glory days of the Soviet Union and its satellites, when a dozen top women athletes turned out to be something else.

Oh they were athletes all right, but they weren’t quite, well, women. Some were hermaphrodites, some practically men, and none really qualified for the women’s events they had been dominating.

When chromosome testing was first introduced at international events in 1966, many ‘female’ athletes from communist countries (the Soviets Tamara and Irina Press, Tatiana Shchelkanova, Klavdia Boyarskikh, the Rumanian Iolanda Balàzs, the Pole Ewa Klobukowska and many others) announced their retirement.

It wasn’t just sex, or rather trans-sex, games. Soviet fencers were caught rigging their foils to set off the touché lamp when no contact was made. Doping was rife. Soviet judges routinely cheated in gymnastics, figure skating and diving competitions.

The wartime slogan ‘Everything for victory!’ was smoothly shifted into the sports arena, and nothing was off limits.

For example, when Soviet sports scientists established that a woman’s body is at its physical peak shortly after terminated pregnancy, this opened all sorts of exciting opportunities.

Shortly before the 1968 Olympics the gymnast Natalia Kuchinskaya was impregnated by her coach and made to abort the baby, specifically to enhance her performance. She repaid the loving attentions of the Soviet state by winning four gold medals.

I must compliment Putin for his honesty. Speaking at last May’s military parade in Red Square, he proudly declared that “Continuity of generations is our chief asset.” It most certainly is.

Not to let the national leader down, the Russian sports establishment dutifully retained and built on the Soviet version of sportsmanship.

A well-researched German documentary has just alleged that as many as 99% of Russian athletes are guilty of doping. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) possibly, and the Russian Athletics Federation (RAF) definitely, have been accused of being in cahoots with the scheme.

The (extremely) latent Russian patriot in me desperately wants to believe that the country’s sports officials acted purely for the glory of the motherland, with no pecuniary interest involved.

Alas, that’s not exactly the case. For example, Liliya Shobukhova, winner of the 2010 London Marathon, admits paying the RAF €450,000 to cover up a positive drug test.

The Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko denies the allegations, but then he would. Such slander, he said, is yet another attempt on the part of the West to besmirch Russia’s pristine honour. Recorded testimony of both athletes and former anti-doping officials counts for nothing, as far as Mr Mutko is concerned. It’s all beseless.

Perhaps. Allegations of wrongdoing, baseless or otherwise, are a standard weapon of Cold War, something that’s unfolding in front of our eyes.

It’s just that some allegations are more, and some are less, credible than others. For example, few would take on faith an allegation that 99% of, say, British athletes are doped up to their eyeballs every time they compete. Yet the same allegation about Russia, given both her history and current evidence, rings true.

The Russian sports establishment is run by the same amalgam of the KGB/FSB and organised crime that runs the whole country. Expecting probity, sportsmanship and fair play from that lot is like expecting statesmanship from Dave Cameron.

I’d go as far as to suggest that even in the absence of state sponsorship, Russian and Eastern European athletes would be doing the same things, if possibly on a smaller scale. Thus most doping bans in professional tennis have been imposed on Eastern European players – even though they are relatively independent from their federations.

Westerners simply don’t comprehend the full scale of moral degradation suffered by a nation under communist rule. Four generations of Russians and two of Eastern Europeans were brainwashed to believe that morality is coextensive with the good of the state.

Even assuming against all evidence that things then changed drastically, it’ll take at least as many generations – and I’m being uncharacteristically generous – for these countries to recover from the trauma.

They haven’t yet, not by a long chalk. This should (but won’t) give our own rulers some second thoughts about all those Eastern Europeans, millions of them, settling in Britain.

One hears many good-natured people saying that, when all is said and done, those people are products of Christian civilisation. Hence we shouldn’t be unduly concerned about being inundated with them.

Wrong, my friends. These people come from a civilisation so corrupted by communism that lawlessness has penetrated their DNA.

There are exceptions of course; there always are. But as the Russian version of sportsmanship shows, these exceptions are the kind that prove the rule.



Oh to live in Israel


Israelis claim they don’t think about terrorism and, if so, my hat’s off to them. If I lived there, I’d be quaking in my boots.

Yes, I know one should never project one’s own feelings onto other people, especially those living in extreme circumstances. And I do understand that danger activates protective mechanisms that drip antidotes into the bloodstream.

For example, when I lived in the Soviet Union, I feared arrest for various anti-Soviet activities. But that was a background fear that didn’t really affect my day-to-day life.

The fear was there somewhere, beneath the surface, and it only came up when, say, someone I knew was arrested or imprisoned. But, in the vegetarian early 1970s, such events were relatively rare.

How would I have felt had they happened every day? I probably wouldn’t have displayed the casual, nonchalant courage of today’s Israelis.

For in Israel acts of individual terrorism do happen on most days, with a collective disaster always lurking around the corner. Both the everyday occurrences and the potential for disaster spring from the same source, one that both Dubya and our own Dave have described as a ‘religion of peace’.

Israel is the bulwark of our civilisation faced with the threat of an impassioned Islam. She struggles not only for her own survival, but also for ours, and it’s lamentable that so many in the West fail to realise this.

It’s as if war has been declared, and only one side has shown up. We sit in the relative security of our island, listening to assorted Corbyn clones pontificating on the Palestinians’ plight. That’s what drives Muslims to violence, they claim.

This doesn’t quite explain why most armed conflicts all over the world, from Africa to Timor, from India to Indonesia, from Chechnya to Azerbaijan, have in the post-war years involved Muslims, with nary an Israeli in sight.

Israel may be the focus of Muslim violence but she isn’t its cause. She just happens to be in the forefront and hence in the line of daily fire.

Daily has a slight connotation of once daily, but outbursts of Muslim brutality often come in twos or threes. Yesterday was typical in that respect.  

First a Palestinian terrorist rammed his car into a group of hitchhikers, injuring four people including a pregnant woman. Then a Palestinian lass stabbed a security guard, a knife being a natural fashion accessory to accompany a hijab.

Both terrorists were shot on the spot, the man fatally, the woman not quite. So far I haven’t read any articles in our press castigating Israelis for wantonly taking the lives of two peaceful Muslims (I haven’t seen today’s Guardian yet).

However, whenever Israel protects herself with a larger-scale action, there’s wailing and gnashing of teeth all over our newspapers and airwaves.

Our flaming conscience can just about handle, at times, acts of individual self-defence, with only a few people threatened at a time. When the whole nation strikes out to thwart extinction, we throw our hands up in horror.

Look, another bombing raid – how dreadful. Look, another foray into Palestinian territory – how brutal. Look, another peaceful terrorist base razed – how uncivilised.

This gets me back to the beginning, my hopeless attempt to picture myself living in Israel. My imagination has proved insufficiently acute, but perhaps you can do better.

So picture a normal day in Tel Aviv or somewhere near the West Bank or anywhere in Israel. You wake up to reports of multiple rockets fired at your country’s villages by exponents of the religion of peace.

None of them hit your house; you heave a sigh of relief. You go out into the street, not consciously thinking about danger, but inwardly tensing up nonetheless.

Will this black-clad woman plunge a knife into your belly? Will this car swerve into you deliberately? Will your bus be blown up by a bomb? Will your family be kidnapped while you’re out? Will a crazed mullah order a nuclear strike on your country?

Now multiply this day by 365, then by the number of years you’ve been around and imagine how you’d feel. Can you do that? Well, you’re a better man than I am.





Russian Christianity goes Nazi

That the Russian Orthodox Church is an extension of the government is a truth universally acknowledged, as Jane Austin would say.

Moreover, considering the CVs of all its top hierarchs, including Patriarch Kiril, one can pinpoint the exact slot into which the Church fits within the governmental structure: the KGB.

When this organisation still went by that testosteronal name, His Holiness (then head of the Church’s foreign affairs) had a codename ‘Agent Mikhailov’. This appears in numerous KGB reports, each invariably ending with a pat on Agent Mikhailov’s back: “the assignment was successfully completed.”

However, none of those assignments was as important as the Patriarch’s present mission. Agent Mikhailov’s assignment today is to link Christianity with today’s government, or, to personalise the task, Jesus Christ with Vlad Putin.

As a theologian, the patriarch is aware of certain differences between the two: Jesus was an hypostasis of God, but Vlad is at this stage only semi-divine, although he too is an hypostasis – of the KGB junta running the country.

But this problem isn’t insurmountable for someone who, in addition to the Orthodox catechism, is well-versed in Marxist dialectics.

As part of the job, Kiril must do a St Matthew and trace back Putin’s genealogy, a task simplified by the lamentable, yet indisputable, fact that Vlad was made, not begotten. Meaning, to translate from the ecclesiastical, that both his Mum and Dad were human beings, each complete with a birth certificate and CV.

Establishing Vlad’s spiritual lineage is trickier, and it’s Kiril’s expertise in doing so that makes him a model KGB prelate.

Here the desired parallel with Jesus begins to break down. God is eternal, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. Vlad can, at a stretch, claim the last three distinctions but not the first – he had a human Dad and he also had spiritual predecessors.

His Holiness’s KGB assignment was formulated in terse terms leaving no room for interpretation: Lenin begat Stalin, Stalin – skipping a few intermediate steps – begat Putin. For ever and ever, amen.

Therefore Stalin must be without sin, even as Putin is without sin. Whatever Kiril’s ostensible subject may be, that is the message of every sermon delivered by His Holiness ex cathedra or otherwise.

It’s in this context that the speech he made on 4 November must be understood. As you read the Patriarch’s ringing words, notice the distinctly Nazi vocabulary His Holiness chose:

“Today’s Russia would not exist without the heroism of the previous generations who in the 20s and 30s not only tilled the land, although that too was important, but were also creating industry, science, the country’s military might. [The virtue of a leader in charge at the time] cannot be doubted even if said leader committed evil acts. Where he showed will, strength, intellect, political resolve, we point out his indisputable successes…” And where he murdered tens of millions we rebuke him with filial deference.

Leni Riefenstahl, where are you when we need you? Can’t you just see it?

Black and white footage, with the set lit only by a torch held high above Vlad’s muscular torso. The title comes on: The Triumph of Will, Strength, Intellect and Political Resolve. Cut to a giant double portrait of Stalin and Putin projected onto a cloud. Background music segues from the Horst Wessel Lied to the Russian anthem.

Just imagining such a scene brings tears to my eyes, but not so much as to obscure the obvious: never in history has any church suffered as much as the Russian Orthodox Church suffered under Stalin and his precursor Lenin.

Millions of parishioners apart, at least 40,000 priests were shot in the first few post-revolutionary years, and in many instances ‘shot’ was a figure of speech. Priests of all ranks, from bishop down, were horrendously tortured, quartered, burned alive, crucified, castrated, turned into pillars of ice by having water poured over them in -40 weather, flayed alive – well, you get the picture.

In 1937-1938 alone, 80 per cent of the episcopate were culled, accompanied by the lesser ranks. Come the war, the Church, now slimmed down and house-trained, happily blessed Stalin, sanctifying him as the nation’s Saviour.

By establishing apostolic succession, the Patriarch made sure that some of that sainthood would rub off on Putin. This at a time when Russian churches bless icons of Stalin and put them up next to the Virgin and St Nicholas – and when school textbooks describe Stalin as an able administrator, occasionally strict but always fair.

Bugles are blowing and drums are rattling all over Russia, with Nazi-style vocabulary muscling in on the language of state propaganda, otherwise known as the Russian press.

Putin is doing his bit by striking the poses of antique semi-naked gods, displaying his prowess at martial arts, diving to great depths and otherwise auditioning for a role in a Leni Riefenstahl film.

The Patriarch appears in a supporting role, and, though his part is important, he won’t be allowed to upstage the leader. But to see a major Christian prelate acting as Dr Goebbels and even sounding like him is painful, wouldn’t you say?



Give me a dishonest politician any day

I reached this unorthodox conclusion upon reading that the host of Pienaar’s Politics on Radio 5 commended James Cleverly, MP, for answering his questions honestly.

Honesty is of course a laudable quality — but it’s not a redeeming one. Much depends on what one is honest about.

For example, Jeremy Corbyn (the leader of the Labour Party, for my foreign readers) is widely praised for honestly holding views that, if acted on, would turn Britain into a Greece with bad climate.

Call me a moral relativist, but I’d rather our politicians advocated and executed good policies even if in their hearts of hearts they’d rather destroy Britain with a couple of well-aimed blows. I’d forgive them such hypocrisy.

As I would have forgiven Mr Cleverly for having uttered the usual dishonest platitudes instead of the honest replies he chose to give to the interviewer’s questions.

For example, he was forthcoming about having looked at hard porn on the Internet. Even allowing that such viewing practices resulted only from adolescent curiosity, one wishes he had kept such revelations to himself.

After all, MPs pass laws affecting our lives. In a sense, this is a paternalistic relationship: we are like children whose daily lives are in their parents’ hands. Of course we can vote politicians out, even as a child can run away from home.

But if we choose to stay put, we expect those in a position of authority to convey an image of strength and probity. No son would have much respect for a Dad who sobs every night after work and openly two-times Mum. Decorum matters.

So does taste. Mr Cleverly readily proffered the information that he would love to snog Home Secretary Theresa May and marry Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP, who happens already to be married to another hare-brained politician.

Whatever one thinks of Mrs May’s political performance, it’s hard for anyone with a modicum of taste to see her as a sex object. And even if one’s tastes do run towards middle-aged women with bad dress sense and an overbearing personality, it’s best to keep such preferences private.

This way one is entitled to ask whether Mr Cleverly fantasises about Mrs May or indeed Mrs Balls (the name by which Miss Cooper is known outside Parliament) when watching hard porn — and whether or not he smokes marijuana (which he also admitted to having done) while doing so.

An MP should not make public admissions that wouldn’t necessarily jar only if coming from a pop star, an actor or even some philosophers. They, unlike parliamentarians, represent no one but themselves.

If their listeners are appalled by their pronouncements, they can simply shun their work. Mr Cleverly’s constituents don’t have such an option, at least not until the next election. Neither do the rest of us, those on whose behalf he part-governs the country from the height of his mind, character and morality.

Though he harbours ambitions of becoming a Tory leader one day, one wonders how such an obvious lightweight could ever be elected to Parliament in the first place.

But then one remembers that the chap he defeated was caught sending naked pictures of himself to an undercover journalist. I couldn’t find out whether the targeted hack was male or female, but either way my opinion of politicians didn’t improve much. Nor has Mr Cleverly’s honesty done much to help.

Would it be preposterous to suggest that our modern democracy fails on the most significant desideratum of any political system: elevating to government those fit to govern?

What is so scary about our rulers isn’t their dishonesty, corruption and unbridled egoism but their total lack of any serious substance. One recalls with nostalgic longing such politicians of yesteryear as Messrs Talleyrand, Metternich and Disraeli.

None of them had an honest bone in his body, a skeletal deficiency for which they compensated by possessing statesmen’s mind and character. Our lot today is to applaud chaps who honestly say what they think, revealing how little they really do.


The crash wasn’t accidental but criminal

Autumn is called ‘fall’ in the US (as it used to be in England), which is a good word, evoking leaves gently flapping in the breeze – not airliners tumbling out of the sky.

Alas, that very fate befell the Russian Airbus A321 that crashed over Sinai, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board.

When such a tragedy happens, the natural question is why. Sometimes the answer is clear, as in the case of the Malaysian Boeing brought down by a Russian BUK missile over the Ukraine.

Since that incident implicated the government of a large country armed with nuclear weapons, it took a year-long investigation before fingers got to be pointed in earnest, but let’s face it: only fanatical champions of Col. Putin refused to see the obvious straight away.

The Sinai crash is still being investigated, and its cause is still unknown. But certain conclusions can already be drawn, certain options ruled out or in.

One of the former is the ISIS claim of responsibility, with pride and glee dripping from ever word. A display of such feelings over 224 innocent deaths says a lot about champions of the religion of peace, but that’s a separate subject. Yet ISIS still isn’t equipped with missiles boasting enough range to hit a plane flying at 31,000 feet, which is what they claimed.

Of course ISIS could have planted a bomb before the airliner took off from Cairo, and such a trick can’t be as hard to pull off there as at a Western airport: in a Muslim country there has to be more ambient sympathy to the ISIS cause among the staff.

The crash is consistent with this theory. The plane didn’t experience any engine failure, and the pilots didn’t send any distress signals. The analysis of the debris shows that the Airbus broke in half in the air, which of course could have been caused by an explosive device.

But there may be an explanation both more innocent and as criminal: an aircraft passed as flight-worthy really wasn’t.

Russian airlines lead the world by a wide margin in both the number of the deadliest crashes and their death toll. Even the state-owned Aeroflot has an appalling safety record, to say nothing of smaller cowboy airlines, such as the one that owned the A321.

If you believe Putin’s propagandists, the mysterious Russian soul is too preoccupied with matters of the spirit to pay sufficient attention to such mundane matters as air safety. Hence Russian pilots routinely shorten to zero the distance between bottle and throttle, and quite a few drunk fliers have been prevented from climbing into the cockpit at Western airports.

In one instance, a Russian pilot was actually arrested in Denmark. In another colourful tragedy, albeit one that happened quite a few years ago, a pilot gave his little son a ride in the cockpit. When the plane was over Siberia, he put the plane in autopilot and let the boy play with the controls while he himself answered a call of nature. The tot accidentally disengaged the autopilot, and the airliner plunged to its death.

Another frequent reason for crashes is the lackadaisical work ethic of ground crews, who also like the odd lemonade before dinner (or a gulp of antifreeze when lemonade isn’t available).

Though this plane was registered and serviced in Ireland, it was owned by an iffy Russian company Kogalymavia, and I can’t help thinking that Russian practices just might have rubbed off on the Irish – especially since the A321’s service record is consistent with the accident (if that’s what it was).

In 2001 the plane suffered a tailstrike, which technical term describes the tail end hitting the runway on landing or take-off. This usually happens when the pilot either pulls up or raises the nose too aggressively, which Russian pilots, with their daredevil nature preoccupied with metaphysical concerns, have been known to do.

Usually a tailstrike leads to no immediate danger, but the effect may be delayed. The subsequent repairs, if done in a slapdash manner, may cause a later structural failure of the airframe after repeated cycles of pressurisation and depressurisation at the weak point.

Such damage is historically hard to detect at certification checks, and many a Russian plane has come apart in the air due to structural defects or metal fatigue.

All this is of course speculation. But the possibilities aren’t limitless: planes don’t just happen to disintegrate in the air for no reason, giving the pilots not even a second to scream ‘Mayday!’.

Whether the crash was caused by a criminal act or criminal negligence, criminal remains the common denominator. The numerator is the 224 corpses. RIP. 

Target for female representation in bedrooms

Over a lifetime I’ve assumed that women add up to roughly 50 per cent of our bedroom population. This has certainly been the case in my own sleeping quarters practically ever since I started wearing long trousers.

Tempora mutantur and all that, but simple arithmetic would suggest that, when males and females share such quarters even nowadays, they add 50 per cent each to the sum total. Even if they prefer solitary slumber, the proportion will still remain roughly the same, with a slight allowance for the greater number of women in the population.

Lest you might think I’m a stick-in-the-mud, I hasten to reassure you that I’m well aware of the growing tendency of men sleeping with men, and women with women. Here one’s calculations become more difficult, for one never knows whether such unisex bedrooms attract more male or female couples.

That is, such calculations used to be more difficult.

A government-backed report has proudly announced that female representation in bedrooms now “modestly exceeds” 25 per cent, which counterintuitive figure represents a vast improvement over a paltry 12.5 per cent in 2011.

I never realised things had changed that much. I’ve vaguely heard of the new-fangled practice of men marrying men, but reducing female representation in bedrooms to a risible 12.5 per cent strikes one as lamentable.

So much happier does one become on hearing that the proportion now stands at 25 per cent, which to one’s traditionally trained eye still looks low, but at least the vector seems to be pointing the right way.

It won’t be long before female representation in bedrooms will reach…. Oh my God, I’ve done it again.

My wife has just looked over my shoulder, called me a dyslexic twat, and pointed out that the report I’ve read talks about female representation not in bedrooms but in boardrooms – specifically those of FTSE 100 companies.

How silly of me, must talk to that nice girl at Specsavers. Oh well, this changes the story from slightly titillating to downright menacing.

Apparently the government mandates that, unlike our bedrooms that are still randomly split more or less 50-50, the chromosomal composition of our boardrooms is actually for the law to decide. Nothing is to be left to chance.

Even though FTSE 100 companies are supposed to be owned by their shareholders, who historically decide how and by whom the firms are run, it’s up to the government to rule who should be elevated to the board.

The only whiff of disagreement one observes in the rarefied HMG atmosphere seems to be whether the number of women sitting at the long oval table should be measured absolutely or proportionally. While acknowledging the dire and indisputable need for regulation, Lord Davies, Minister of State for Trade and God Knows What Else, favours the former.

However, His Lordship mournfully explains that ‘gender inequality’ (I had to look the term up, for at first I thought he was talking about grammatical categories) is far from being the sole problem. ‘Ethnic inequality’ is a parallel and equally pressing concern.

“In order to combat both issues,” says The Times, “he urged graduates not to work for companies which were not diverse.”

This strikes me as slightly wishy-washy. The government should never leave such vital matters to be decided by personal choice. Urging isn’t good enough – ordering works so much better. Where does Lord Davies think we live, a free country?

Here’s my modest proposal. At a cost to be calculated but not to exceed £10 billion, police details must be placed at the entrance to all companies (not just the FTSE 100 ones) where diversity isn’t up to desired levels.

All young persons walking in should be subjected to a quick police interview, according to this sample questionnaire:

“Where do you think you’re going, sunshine?” [If the answer indicates that the entrant is a job seeker, proceed to the next statement.]

“Keep walking, mate [or, if female, ‘love’], and if you ever show your face here again, I’ll do you.” [Should the interviewee  enquire where he/she should seek employment then, proceed to the next statement.]

“Not my department, mate/love. Call Lord Davies’s office, they’ll sort you out.”

I feel confident that, should this proposal be taken up and acted upon, the current target of 33 per cent female representation by 2020 will be exceeded, as will be the target for a pleasing racial and ethnic mix.

Of course, to facilitate matters, it would help if the government were simply to nationalise all FTSE 100 companies and, ideally, all others as well. As the example of such economic powerhouses as the Soviet Union shows, this would not only simplify control but would also increase productivity and hence the living standards in the nation.

But I realise with quite some chagrin that this decisive step may be slightly premature. We’ll have to wait until Corbyn’s premiership for such benefits to be bestowed on the nation.

I wish I could offer not just sound advice but also tangible help. Alas, I no longer have any involvement with boardrooms.

I do, however, retain some control of my bedroom, and I hereby undertake to make sure its own ‘gender composition’ will stay at least 50 per cent female for the foreseeable future.