Gorilla warfare

War has broken out among gorillas. This should upset anyone who recognises the animals as our simian siblings.

If we believe the Darwinists’ frank self-assessment, chimpanzees, gorillas and other primates are basically like us. They share most of our genetic material and, since genetic material is all there is to a human being, they’re human.

Therefore we expect the same moral standards to apply to our simian siblings, holding them to account whenever they embark on unprovoked military…

Oops, sorry. My wife has just looked over my shoulder and said I was going soft in the head. I should read, not just scan, newspapers. The article that set me on the wrong track talked about guerrilla, not gorilla, war.

Mea culpa. But the bloody words are pronounced the same way, so that’s an easy mistake to make, especially for a person using English second-hand.

But not only for such an outlander. Apparently, millions of native-born, mum-and-apple-pie Americans can make the same error. Tennis commentator Doug Adler found that out the hard way, by receiving a sacking notice from the broadcaster ESPN.

The former player was commentating on a match involving Venus Williams, who was thrashing her opponent. Taking creampuff second serves on the rise, Venus would chip them deep and charge the net to put away a volley.

This ‘chip and charge’ tennis is also known as ‘guerrilla effect’, which was how poor Doug put it. Not only is the term precise, but it’s also widespread, having been first popularised by a 1995 Nike commercial. For example, Tennis magazine has used the word to describe Agnieszka Radwanska’s playing.

However, there’s a chromatic difference between Radwanska and Williams. The former is white, while the latter, well, isn’t.

Obviously, every decent person must vigilantly watch out for the slightest affront to the dignity of black… sorry, Afro-American persons. Short of murder, a Euro-American (is that the correct term? one gets so terribly confused) can commit no worse crime than uttering a racist word.

Or one that can be construed as such by the most ignorant listener. That’s the nature of egalitarianism, isn’t it? Catering to the lowest possible denominator?

Of course it is. If a battalion marches at the pace of the slowest soldier, language should advance at the pace of its slowest user.

Why, a few years ago a New York councillor had to grovel publicly for having used the word ‘niggardly’ in a speech. House-trained victims of mandatory free education cried foul. They didn’t know the word ‘niggardly’, but they did know – and deplore! – the racial insult that has nothing to do with it outside some vague phonetic similarity.

As the councillor was tearfully pledging to expurgate that unfortunate word from his provocatively large vocabulary, libraries all over America were tossing out copies of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn, from which, according to Hemingway, all American literature had come.

Henceforth American literature can come from elsewhere. For the explicitly and emphatically anti-racist novel features a character called Nigger Jim, Huck’s friend and a runaway slave.

Twain was depicting the way people spoke in those days. He would have happily called his protagonist Afro-American Jim, but unfortunately the term didn’t exist then. And even if it had, the people inhabiting Twain’s pages wouldn’t have used it.

If an American classic and a respected NY politician are treated that way, what chance did poor Doug have? The words ‘snowball’ and ‘hell’ spring to mind.

Thus, when poor Doug referred to Venus’s guerrilla tactics, the racially aware, educationally challenged citizens screamed bloody murder. The word they heard wasn’t ‘guerrilla’. It was ‘gorilla’, the yob insult levelled at blacks by the kind of white trash who, in England, toss bananas onto the pitch when a black footballer touches the ball.

Now let’s assume that poor Doug is such a man. Let’s further assume that, on his days off, he stuffs his pockets full of bananas and goes out to harass blacks, calling them what Twain’s characters called the runaway slave Jim.

Even then he’d never use a simian slur on air, unless of course he decided to commit professional suicide – at best. At worst he’d be charged with inciting racial hatred or some such. It would have taken a madman to do that, which poor Doug isn’t.

This he proved by trying to mollify the care-share-be-aware mob braying for his blood. Please forgive me, pleaded poor Doug, though there’s really nothing to forgive.

For all I know, he might have undertaken never again to use, in any context, such racially insensitive words as ape, black, yellow, brown, Nigeria, niggle, muzzle or chink in the armour. Just to be on the safe side, he might have foresworn the word ‘neglect’ too.

In any case it didn’t help. ESPN summarily sacked poor Doug for his subliminal insensitivity. He’s now suing the broadcaster, claiming that the capital charge of racism has caused him “emotional distress”.

This whole affair causes me distress too, of the moral and cultural kind. Is there any Western country that shows courage in the face of ‘diversity’ by eschewing such monkey business? Can one emigrate there?

Nato is about to attack Russia

That’s the impression one may get from reading Stephen Glover’s article. By the sound of him, he gets all his knowledge of Russia from his Mail colleague Peter Hitchens, from whom Mr Glover must also take lessons in logic and rhetoric.

First, a perfunctory de rigueur disclaimer that “Putin is evidently not a nice man. He has cracked down on a free Press, and locked up, and occasionally killed, his enemies… Russia behaved illegally when it seized Crimea from Ukraine in…”

The cause of sensible balance thus served, it’s time for inane apologetics. “However…the peninsular had been long part of Russia until given to Ukraine in 1954”.

He should have followed that erudite observation by saying that, give or take a couple of years, Britain acquired and lost India at the same time Russia acquired and lost the Crimea. Let’s annex Assam then – the logic is exactly the same.

Speaking of logic, would Putin be also justified to reclaim Finland and Poland? Both had belonged to Russia until 1917 and what more reason does he need?

“Then the West…” committed the faux pas of “…wooing Ukraine, which has a large Russian-speaking population, and is regarded by many Russians as the cradle of Mother Russia.”

India has an even larger English-speaking population and is regarded by many Englishmen as the jewel in the crown. Send the Royal Marines to Bengal.

Surely what matters about a sovereign nation is how it sees itself, rather than how it’s seen by acquisitive neighbours? Czechoslovakia regarded herself as a sovereign nation in 1937, which she stopped being in 1938 because Hitler regarded her as an extension of Germanic culture.

The Russians have a similar historical reason to feel that way about the Ukraine. Kievan Rus’ was more Scandinavian than Russian, and in any case it had disappeared centuries before the word ‘Ukraine’ crossed anyone’s lips. Modern Russia owes much more to the Golden Horde, which, following Mr Glover’s logic, should give her a valid claim to Mongolia and northern China.

And let’s not forget that “Putin has brought a degree of order to Syria, which the West signally failed to do”. Paraphrasing Tacitus, now that we’re in the realm of historical allusions, “they make a desert and call it order”. Mr Glover’s chagrin over Russia’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians is decidedly understated.

Russia, explains Mr Glover, is “a largely Christian country”, even if it does bomb civilians indiscriminately. I suggest that, on the basis of this ignorant statement (Russia’s church attendance is even lower than ours), Putin should occupy Istanbul. After all, the Scandinavian prince Vladimir got Russia’s religion from Constantinople, as Istanbul then was.

You see, I’m learning the art of shaping an argument from the best. Nothing like modern hacks to teach one how to reason logically.

“Nato… signed up the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – right on Russia’s borders… Suddenly, Russian leaders were faced with the reality of American and other Nato troops being stationed on their doorstep. You can hardly blame them for feeling paranoid.”

No one can be blamed for suffering from paranoid delusions – it’s a disease, and in Russia’s case one of considerably longer standing than Mr Glover fancies. Russia has always felt threatened by the West, an irrational feeling her rulers utilised to compensate for the dire conditions in which the Russians have had to live throughout history.

Ever since the reign of Ivan III, the last Grand Duke of Muscovy, the Russians have talked about the West presenting an imminent threat. That justified the consistently aggressive stance Russia adopted towards all her neighbours – including the Baltics.

In recent history they and the Ukraine suffered unimaginably at the hands of the Russians. A quarter of the Baltics’ population perished in the purges. Five million Ukrainians died in the artificial famine created by the Russians in 1932-1933. The culture of all those republics, including their languages, was stamped into the dirt. How much wooing do you think it took for them to want to shake Russia’s dust off their feet?

As to Russia being encircled by Nato, a small-scale example from quotidian life if I may. I’m surrounded on all sides by neighbours, most of whom are younger than me and some considerably bigger (and the men are bigger still).

Yet I don’t feel threatened, much less paranoid. All those youngsters are well-spoken and well-dressed, and none seems to harbour hostile intent. Extrapolating ever so slightly, Mr Glover’s statement would only make sense if he felt that the Russians have a justifiable fear of Nato aggression.

If he actually thinks that, it’s he who’s deluded. Nato is deployed strictly in a defensive formation, consistent with the doctrine of containment it has been practising vis-à-vis Russia since the 1950s.

Then comes another display of ignorance straight out of Hitchens’s book, verbatim. Russia’s economy is smaller than Italy’s, hence we have nothing to fear from Putin. One can infer on that basis that Italy could take Russia one on one in a war.

Mr Glover’s strategic thought probably provides for such an outcome. After all, Russia is pathetically weak because Nato spends more on defence, and “Nato troops (including 800 British soldiers) [are] being sent in sizeable numbers to Eastern Europe.”

It has been known since before the invention of gunpowder that it’s not the overall military power that matters, but its concentration on a critical strategic direction. The Germans, grossly outnumbered and outgunned by the Russians in 1941, proved this by routing the Soviet regular army and taking more than 4.5 million POWs between June and December, 1941.

So what “sizeable numbers” are there? The formidable force of 800 British soldiers is augmented by a US brigade of 3,500 recently deployed close to Russia’s borders.

By contrast, Russia has amassed 330,000 motorised troops on her western border. They are equipped with 10 times more tanks than Britain, Germany, France and the US contingent in Eastern Europe have altogether.

But wait a minute, Russia has a “sole 30-year-old aircraft carrier – a rust bucket… The U.S. has ten modern aircraft-carriers. Even Britain will soon have two.”

Fine, a carrier commissioned in 1990 is a rust bucket. But do let’s apply this agism to all of them. So what do we call those five US carriers that are older than the Admiral Kuznetsov and those four commissioned in the same decade? Why, we call them modern of course.

And saying that “Britain will soon have two” means that at present she has none, which makes a mockery of the country’s entire history: for the first time since 1815 France is stronger than Britain at sea.

Unlike Britain, Russia has never depended on being a major naval power. Neither did Genghis Khan’s Horde. Nevertheless both countries did reasonably well militarily by relying on an overwhelming land presence.

The only thing that makes even remote sense about Mr Glover’s article is its conclusion that the West, specifically President Trump, should try to find some peaceful accommodation with Russia before letting ICBMs fly.

He should have left it at that, sparing us his pathetic analysis. But then those column inches need to be filled, don’t they?

Who’s next?

Carter Page. Paul Manafort. Now National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. One Trump confidant resigning over intimate links with Putin is unfortunate. Two is suspicious. Three is bound to raise the question in the title.

After all, as Col. Putin was doubtless taught at the KGB academy, when coincidences number more than two, they aren’t coincidences.

My money is on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, proud possessor of Russia’s Order of Friendship personally presented by Putin. Said friendship was annealed during Tillerson’s tenure as head of Exxon, in which capacity he did billions’ worth of business in Russia.

Mr Tillerson leads the race to the next Russia-related scandal. If Michael Flynn had to resign over the possibility of being blackmailed by the Russians, Tillerson has a blackmail target painted over his whole body.

There’s this minor detail that, as a current holder of $151 million in Exxon shares, whose value would skyrocket if sanctions against Russia were lifted, Mr Tillerson has what in some quarters may be described as a conflict of interest.

Yet that detail is indeed minor, in that it’s common knowledge and, as such, can’t expose the Secretary to blackmail. Other things could, those we don’t know about but could confidently surmise.

I have yet to hear of a single massive deal involving Russia in whose consummation some backhanders didn’t change hands. If all those mega deals that earned Mr Tillerson Russia’s highest award for foreigners were pristinely clean, I doff my hat and bow to him in reverential admiration.

However, for the time being my hat remains firmly in place: I know how big business is transacted in Russia. A bribe is seen as a de rigueur courtesy there, a bit of grease on the wheels of private enterprise. Left unlubricated, the wheels will grind to a screeching halt, which Exxon’s manifestly didn’t.

Hence, if news broke tomorrow of Mr Tillerson resigning over malicious allegations involving his friend Putin, I’d be appalled but not surprised. As I’m not surprised about the news of Gen. Flynn’s resignation.

Late last year Gen. Flynn, then strictly a private citizen, had a series of conversations with Russian ambassador Sergei Kysliak, and by all accounts they weren’t just comparing the weather in Moscow and Washington D.C.

The subject of sanctions came up, or rather the promise to repeal them after Trump’s inauguration. In proffering that promise, or indeed discussing any foreign policy issues with an agent of a foreign government, Gen. Flynn might have broken the US law that allows only diplomats to be engaged in diplomacy.

Even worse, he was stupid enough not to realise that foreign diplomats’ phones are routinely tapped by US intelligence services. Those services immediately vindicated Luke 8:17, which says “For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest”.

The president-elect and his VP-to-be Mike Pence (who had vouched for Flynn) were informed. Mr Pence immediately reiterated that no member of Trump’s team had had any contact with Russia during the campaign.

To suggest otherwise, he added with righteous indignation, was “to give credence to some of these bizarre rumours that have swirled around the candidacy”. Yesterday President Trump confirmed he had “complete confidence” in Gen. Flynn. Translated from political into English, this was as good as a sacking notice.

A few hours later so it proved, with Gen. Flynn resigning, no doubt voluntarily. His parting words showed that he too is fluent in political. He had, admitted Gen. Flynn, “inadvertently briefed the vice-president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador”.

Yet again my translation is called for. In plain English this statement means “I lied through my teeth.” Yet it’s likely that this lie is a double bluff.

Gen. Flynn’s love affair with the Russians goes back quite a bit further than last December. On December 10, 2015, Flynn sat next to Putin at a gala reception for the 10th anniversary of RT, the Russian propaganda channel.

He then made a series of paid appearances on RT, each time advocating closer cooperation with Russia. If we employ the trick of moral equivalence so beloved of the left, that’s akin to, say, Cordell Hull preaching friendship with Nazi Germany on a Goebbels radio channel in 1937.

In a Washington Post interview, Gen. Flynn was brought to task. “Why would you go on RT, they’re state run?” asked the interviewer. “Well, what’s CNN?” replied Flynn, displaying an ignorance astounding in someone Trump then considered as a possible running mate and later appointed National Security Adviser.

CNN, General, is a division of Time Warner Inc., not of the US government. But even if it were a state network, like PBS, it would be run by a broadly civilised government, not the KGB/FSB.

But never mind Flynn’s ignorance of Time Warner’s corporate charter. Let’s also forget about US laws Flynn might or might not have broken. Instead let’s get back to the issue of double bluff.

Flynn had to be authorised even to talk sanctions with the Russian ambassador and certainly to promise that they would be lifted. Did he do so on his own behalf?

Believing that stretches my credulity even further, and it’s already at breaking point over Tillerson’s dealings with Russia. This brings us back to the question in the title.

Anyone who cherishes the West’s security, understands the critical role America plays in it and knows that Putin’s Russia endangers it should pray that the answer isn’t Trump.

Lording it over Brexit

The House of Lords, where the government doesn’t enjoy a majority, is threatening to delay, dilute and ultimately defeat Brexit.

Such underhand tactics put the upper chamber on a collision course with the Commons, threatening a constitutional crisis. At least one member, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, the former chancellor, is aghast.

On a personal note, I’ve bumped into Norman Lamont a few times at concerts in Wigmore Hall. That he’s a lover of classical music puts a feather in his cap; that his face communicates equal rapture regardless of the performance quality yanks the feather right out. His remarks on the brewing constitutional crisis show a similar clash of pluses and minuses.

Lord Lamont is a Brexiteer – chalk one up in the plus column. He hates the Lords for playing fast and loose with “a measure that had been passed by one of the biggest majorities in the history of parliament” – another plus, I suppose, but with certain qualifications (Parliament does include two Houses).

But then comes a downright threat: “I don’t think [the House of Lords] will deserve to survive if they wreck this bill” – a minus bigger than any plus.

The greatest argument against Britain’s membership in the EU is that it debauches the country’s sovereignty proceeding from millennia of unrivalled constitutional tradition.

However, the threat of abolishing the Lords effectively inflicts on our constitution a damage as devastating as any perpetrated by the EU. I’m sure Lord Lamont would have realised this had he thought things through. Instead, as has become customary on either side of the debate, he let his emotions take over.

The House of Lords goes back to the Witenagemot, the assembly of the kingdom’s leading nobles that predates the Norman conquest. The chamber is as essential to our constitution as are the monarchy, independent judiciary and indeed the Commons.

All those elements should – and in the past did – exist in equilibrium, a balance of carefully divided powers. The elected power of the Commons sits at one end of the seesaw, the hereditary power of the monarch at the other, and the unelected Lords make sure that neither end shoots up too violently.

Like water trickling onto a rock and eroding it, pseudo-egalitarianism wielded like a political dripper by a corrupt elite has been at work to distort that balance for ages.

First the monarch was divested of any tangible power, ceding it to crypto-republicanism that dares not speak its name. Then the Commons assumed well-nigh dictatorial powers. Then the House of Lords was systematically politicised by making it fling its doors open to assorted riffraff on the make.

The whole point about the Lords is that most of its members should derive their power from heredity, not political favour. Ideally, they aren’t beholden to any short-term political interests, instead upholding continuity in public affairs past, present and future.

In this world we aren’t blessed with perfect institutions and, even if we were, they’d still be manned by imperfect people. That’s why even in the past the Lords weren’t always true to their historical mission. Yet nonetheless the House has always remained essential to our constitution, the best the world has ever seen.

What has remained of it now is but a skeleton stripped of all living flesh. However, history knows many examples of new flesh growing on denuded bones – provided they stay intact.

Hence Lord Lamont’s threat of scattering those bones presents as egregious a menace to Britain’s constitution as does the EU, with its unconcealed intention of turning every European country into a gau of Greater Germany.

Britain’s constitution can’t be defended by destroying Britain’s constitution – this sounds axiomatic. Alas, the issue of Brexit has a seldom rivalled capacity for forcing passions to run sky high.

A dash of passion is a useful addition to ratiocination, provided its dose is carefully controlled by an in-built valve. When that mechanism malfunctions, much grief may result. That’s why I’m always wary of single-issue fanaticism, even if I happen to agree with the single issue.

My understanding of history generally, Europe specifically and Britain even more specifically leads me to regard the EU as an evil ideological contrivance that, rather than offering salvation, presents a mortal threat to Europe. Without going into detail, any powerful institution based on lies is evil.

Every argument I’ve so far heard in favour of the EU is spurious, none contains a word of truth, which one would expect from a purely ideological construct. Most of those falsehoods are deliberate lies, such as the one of the EU pursuing economic ends only. Thus moral decrepitude overlaps with intellectual debility to mix a foul-tasting cocktail.

Therefore any honest and informed thinker on such matters should oppose the EU – on this issue I have no argument with Lord Lamont. (His euroscepticism must result from a post-tenure epiphany. As Major’s chancellor, Lamont not only negotiated the Maastricht Treaty but also led the country into the abyss of the disastrous ERM.)

But spare us the fanaticism of those who allow their whole political, intellectual and moral being to revolve around this single axis. If put into action, such lopsided thinking can cause much collateral damage – such, for example, as destroying the very constitution the thinker wishes to preserve.

Atonic verses

Let’s assume you’re an atheist. You despise religion. You don’t understand how otherwise intelligent and cultured people can possibly believe that tosh. You yourself are way too intelligent and cultured to be so duped.

Fine. I accept your position, although, to be frank, I unfashionably don’t respect it. Nevertheless I’m prepared to sit next to you on the same high cultural perch, wherefrom we can both look down on those over-credulous simpletons.

It’s from that elevated plateau that we compare two versions of one New Testament verse, 1 Corinthians 13:12. Version A is from the King James Bible, Version B is from the New Living (actually stillborn) Translation.

A: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

B: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

Obscene Version B (along with all the other modern translations) destroys the majestic poetry of Version A. Anyone failing to see that not only despises religion, but also hates the English language, thereby proving he’s neither intelligent nor cultured. For the very essence of our culture is the unity of content and form or, for those to whom the Bible has more than just aesthetic significance, God and man.

Actually, at the time Paul wrote, mirrors were made of polished metal, not glass. But forget petty pedantry: just admire the beauty of Version A and cringe at the ugliness of Version B. Which subversive, tone-deaf, linguistic castrato thought that B was actually an improvement over A?

I know all the usual arguments. It’s all about accessibility. These days nobody talks in the KJB language, and most people can’t even understand it. So they’ll be driven away from the elitist and patronising Church and into… well, dissipation, atheism, jihad, you name it.

Alas, empirical proof for this assertion is conspicuously lacking. When the KJB was standard fare in Anglicanism, attendance was considerably higher than now. A church able to accommodate hundreds every Sunday may now welcome merely a dozen parishioners, each spared the hardship of obsolete phrasing.

Those ideological vulgarisers don’t seem to realise that nobody talked that way in 1611 either, when Lancelot Andrewes and the other 46 poet-scholars-priests finished the translation. They aimed to find words doing justice to the sublime poetry and majesty of the message, not words heard in the street.

The KJB was created during the greatest period in English poetry, one roughly demarcated by Henry VIII at one end and Charles II at the other. The English language as we know it then came to life, reversing the progression of human life. Born an aesthetic giant, poetic English has been growing punier ever since, shrinking to the stunted dimensions of modern scriptural translations.

That period was blessed with the greatest poets in English and one arguably the greatest in any language. Shakespeare (who many scholars believe translated parts of the KJB, specifically Psalm 46) towers over the rest but, reaching the same celestial height, stand two other peaks of our language: the KJB and The Book of Common Prayer.

Anyone may deny the divine truth of Anglican scripture, but only a barbarian would deny its aesthetic truth. And only a vandal would try to bowdlerise it, turning it into an exercise in humdrum, anti-musical triteness.

In addition to being inept and demotic, modern translations often distort the meaning. For example, they fail to correct one of the few failings of modern English, one that most other languages don’t have: its use of ‘you’ in both its singular and plural senses.

When God says ‘you’, does he mean me personally or mankind at large? The KJB avoids this misunderstanding by distinguishing ‘thou’ or ‘thee’ from ‘ye’ or ‘you’. Thus, when Jesus says to Nicodemus “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again,” he’s talking to one man about a duty of all. Replace ‘thee’ and ‘ye’ with the politically correct ‘you’, and the injunction becomes ambiguous.

And when the Lord’s Prayer says “thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven”, the earth isn’t the physical planet saved by Al Gore, but the earthly realm saved by God. All modern translations obtusely ignore this by using the demotic and inaccurate ‘on’.

The New KJB goes so far as to cast doubt on the divinity of Christ by referring to him as “God’s servant”, rather than “God’s son”. The former makes him like ordinary believers who are all God’s servants; the latter makes him God. “Le style” appears to be not only “l’homme même” but also evidently “dieu même”.

Let’s not be dogmatic about it, as it were. If the cultural degeneration of modernity has sunk so low that the language of the KJB needs freshening up, freshen away. But do engage a team made up of scholarly poets as accomplished as Lancelot Andrewes and his men.

Do we have such men? If yes, see what they can do. If not, rather than lowering ecclesiastical texts to the level of functionally illiterate readers, demand that the latter rise to the level of the former – and help them do so with education that actually educates.

As it is, it’s next to impossible to find an Anglican church where proper scripture is used. Only intrepid holdouts among the C of E clergy insist on the KJB and The Book of Common Prayer, and they are marginalised by the hierarchy.

But at least, Anglicans have the option of using proper texts – Catholics don’t, not since Vatican II (1962-1965) vulgarised the liturgy by effectively ousting Latin Mass. It’s still celebrated in a few London churches, but finding one is even harder than finding a 1662 Anglican church.

That transition from the Vulgate to vulgarity put Catholics in even direr straits than Anglicans. Since the KJB reflects Protestant theology (in, for example, eliminating seven books included in the Catholic canon) and is therefore off limits, Catholics have to subsist on the barely digestible fare of modern translations.

One would think it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility to ‘Catholicise’ the KJB by, for example, producing a stylised translation of the expunged seven books. But where there’s no will there’s no way. Both Churches have surrendered to modernity – not only in style but increasingly in substance.

Christianity has vanquished numerous deadly heresies. But it’s meekly ceding ground to the deadliest one of all: vulgarity.

Lives saved, life wasted

Two deaths have made the papers in the past few days. But the amount of space devoted to each in the Daily Mail (our most conservative paper) has been vastly different.

Now obituaries never just mourn death. They also celebrate an earthly life ended, and their length has to reflect the breadth of the path the deceased blazed through the lives of those still living.

Hence, looking at the coverage of the two deaths in question, a visiting Martian would be bound to conclude that one of the deceased made an immeasurably greater contribution to society, making the world a slightly better place.

After all, one death was covered on two full spreads in yesterday’s issue, not counting the actual obituary and a few OpEd pieces. The other death, on the other hand, only merited two column inches.

Then the antennae perched on the alien’s green head would twitch, and he’d actually read the articles. Having done so, he’d look around him fearfully, like a sane man accidentally finding himself surrounded by dangerous lunatics.

For the two-inch death is that of Professor Sir Peter Mansfield, a British Nobel Prize winner who pioneered the use of MRI scans. These pinpoint cancers, among other abnormalities, and thereby save lives.

The multi-spread death is that of the socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, 45, found dead in her flat. What would have caused our hypothetical Martian to cringe is the fact that, upon perusing all those thousands of words, he wouldn’t have found a single one suggesting even a minuscule achievement.

Tara, Prince Charles’s goddaughter and close friend, spent her life in the society pages that gushed over her hopping from one party to another, from one nightclub to another, from one rehab clinic to another, from one bed to another – a wasted life fuelled by mountains of cocaine and everything else going down (or up).

Realising that he found himself in a place where such things are held in infinitely higher esteem than a life dedicated to saving millions of people, our hypothetical alien would flee back to his planet.

Those of us who regrettably don’t have that escapist option, might spend a minute or two pondering the lunacy we’ve created, the mess we’ve made of a once-sublime culture. For Tara Palmer-Tomkinson is a modern icon.

So what does our most conservative paper have to say about her? Actually, what’s there to say, other than the brief but exhaustive summary above?

Katie Hopkins, the vox-populist conservative columnist, proved she’s a better man than I am by managing to find quite a few things to say. Alas, clearly designed to produce a lachrymose response, her words only succeeded in eliciting an emetic one in me.

“There’s a beautiful, bonkers part of her in all of us,” writes Miss Hopkins. “It might be an age thing; we grew up with her, watching her, laughing at/with her. Watching her be brilliant in a bikini and snorkel, or all fur coat and tiny white knickers, wishing we could be half so brave.”

Miss Hopkins isn’t a stupid woman, and she holds generally sound opinions on most issues. Having thus developed her mind, she should now switch her attention to her taste, which is the aesthetic equivalent of mental retardation.

Then she might realise that the picture she has drawn is that of puke-making vulgarity, a low-life’s idea of high life. And I do wish she stopped speaking for “all of us”. Count me out, Katie. I’m a man of many sins and failings, but I can unhesitatingly assure you that there isn’t a single atom, never mind “a beautiful part”, of Tara anywhere in my body.

“How we would all love to be so free,” continues Miss Hopkins. “We took shelter in our safe lives and sensible jobs, thought buying a lottery ticket was a risk – and often lived vicariously through her, instead.”

How someone addicted to cocaine can be described as free beats me. Addiction of any kind is self-inflicted, and therefore the worst bondage of all. And a reference to buying a lottery ticket as the outer limit of a risk is a clear indication of the readership demographics Miss Hopkins sees in her mind’s eye.

Only mindless, socially challenged voyeurs have ever lived their lives through Tara. And neither I nor anyone I know has ever bought a lottery ticket either, although some of us, me included, haven’t always lived particularly safe lives.

“She really was Alice in Wonderland, and she lived a fantastic dream,” concludes Miss Hopkins. A tragic, terrifying nightmare is more like it.

For all I know, Miss Palmer-Tomkinson really was as delightful a person as the eulogies describe her. And no doubt she’s an icon for our time. But an icon is worshipped not for the image itself but for what the image conveys.

This particular image conveys a tragic message of a life of mindless dissipation, free of thought, reflection, spiritual quest. A life of vulgar hedonism, decadence and waste.

We should echo John Donne and realise that the funeral bells that toll for Tara Palmer-Tomkinson toll for all of us – but not in the sense in which John Donne meant it.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, RIP.

Reply to a reply

When responding to my critical comments on his consistent exculpation of Putin’s Russia, Mr Hitchens succeeded in the difficult task of including logical solecisms, factual errors and crepuscular judgement in almost every sentence.

Replying to his reply in detail would mean writing a book under the working title of What Peter Hitchens Gets Wrong About Russia, which would easily compete in length with Leo Tolstoy’s collected works (50 volumes).

So here comes an abbreviated, if still regrettably long, response, with his words appearing in italics and his syntax preserved.

[Because we pursue business with China and Saudi Arabia, and refrain from criticising their despotism] our supposed disgust [at Russia] is a pose.

It’s not immediately clear why, if we appease two evil regimes, we should appease them all. But Mr Hitchens a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.

China is indeed a threat, but a less immediate one than Russia. She hasn’t attacked anyone since the 1959 rape of Tibet, while Russia has waged three aggressive wars during Putin’s tenure (2000-?). Also, specifically because China is doing massive business with the West, it’s not yet in her interests to rock the boat. This isn’t to say we should ignore the evil of Chinese communism – only that Russia is more dangerous at this moment.

Does Mr Boot actually believe that nuclear weapons are usable by anyone except madmen, or that Russia’s possession of them has any effect on the NATO/USA/EU push to diminish Russian power in Eastern Europe (the objective of German (and Austrian) policy for more than a century, and now of EU policy, the EU being the continuation of German Mitteleuropa by other means).

Historical references are often unsafe. Why for more than just a century? All European powers have been trying to contain Russia’s imperialism ever since she first evinced it, roughly in Elizabethan times.

And why single out Germany and Austria? For example, at the time Germany wasn’t yet unified, Austria, along with Sardinia, was junior partner to Britain and France in the Crimean War fought to check Russia’s expansionism.

One detects tacit disapproval of any attempts to contain Russia’s ambitions to regain control over Eastern Europe. Mr Hitchens chose a wrong audience for venting such feelings – he should talk to the Hungarians, Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians et al. See what they think.

As to the use of nuclear weapons, we must define both ‘use’ and ‘nuclear weapons’. One can argue that Russia has already used them, low-yield variety, in poisoning a British subject with polonium in the centre of London.

And what constitutes using nuclear weapons? Just nuking cities? That’s like saying that a bank robber didn’t use his shotgun because he merely brandished it to scare the staff into acquiescence and never fired a shot.

Nuclear blackmail has been part and parcel of Russia’s foreign policy from the beginning, and certainly since 1954, when Putin’s role models tried an atomic bomb on unsuspecting live targets at the Totsk testing grounds.

It worked as advertised, killing about 50,000 on the spot, God knows how many by delayed action, and scaring the West witless: if they can do that to their own people, what can they do to us? Since then the Russian nuclear cosh has hung over the West’s head like the sword of Damocles.

Had they not been so armed, the West would conceivably not have allowed them to drown the 1956 Hungarian uprising in blood, nor to push the world to the brink of extinction over Cuba in 1962.

The point germane to Mr Hitchens’s pet theme is that the Americans might have prevented the 1949 communist takeover of China had the Russians not tested the bomb a few months earlier.

If Russia’s nuclear weapons were a realistic military/political threat, then Moscow would not have lost control of 700,000 square miles of territory since 1989 (400,000 square miles of which have since found their way into EU control, with most of the missing area being composed of Ukraine, which was non-aligned until the violent pro-EU mob putsch there in 2014 ).

And, writes Chekhov, if Pushkin hadn’t been a great psychologist, they wouldn’t have erected a statue to him in Moscow. In what part of his body does Mr Hitchens store all his non sequiturs? He certainly shouldn’t talk through it. Those territories seceded by internal uprising, not outside invasion resistible by nuclear bombs.

When the Soviet Union began to creak, Gorbachev had to rely on conventional arms only. He encouraged an internecine massacre in Karabakh, 1988; created a carnage in Tbilisi, 1989; had Spetsnaz storm Baku, 1990; twice introduced troops into Moscow, 1990 and 1991; blockaded Lithuania, 1990; landed airborne troops in the middle of a peaceful demonstration in Vilnus, with entrenchment tools busting the demonstrators’ heads. Such is the difference between military and police action, which is lost on Mr Hitchens.

And the Ukraine was non-aligned until 2014? Really. Yanukovych’s criminal government was Putin’s stooge, and the country effectively Russia’s vassal. That’s why it took a popular uprising for the Ukraine to gain independence.

Mr Hitchens should also try not to reproduce word for word the language of FSB propaganda when talking about the Ukrainian revolution. “Violent pro-EU mob putsch”? Next thing you know he’ll be talking about the Judaeo-Nazi-Banderite plot, standard fare in the Putin press.

Moscow’s riposte to the incorporation of Ukraine into a politico-military alliance with the EU (in the accession to the Association Agreement which was the main aim of the putsch) was extraordinarily limited . The reincorporation of Crimea into Russia was simple opportunism and is now a fait accompli.  The violent harassment and covert warfare in eastern Ukraine was an attempt to deter further action of this kind, but not to recover what was lost.

So Russia’s naked aggression against a sovereign state was extraordinarily limited? Just simple opportunism? Putin didn’t march on Kiev? That’s all right then. And Hitler was simply opportunistic when grabbing Sudetenland in 1938, as was Stalin in helping himself to the Baltics, East Poland, Bessarabia and Bukovina in 1939-40.

Does Mr Hitchens discern obvious parallels? Apparently not. Nor does he realise that the Ukrainian revolution was inspired by anti-Russian, not pro-EU, sentiments. And referring to the EU as a “politico-military” alliance is a bad joke. There’s only one military alliance protecting Europe: Nato.

Russian conventional forces, sustained by a GDP smaller than Italy’s simply could not sustain a major war (nor as we saw, could Saddam Hussein against Kuwait. Nor could the Vandals.).

This is the old saw about Russia being too poor to be a threat to anybody. Now Russia was starving in the 1930s, which didn’t prevent her from effectively dividing Europe with Hitler and creating the world’s best-equipped (if worst-led) army. And in the 1970s, when her GDP was a third of today’s, Russia had 50,000 tanks threatening Europe and fomented subversion all over the world.

Didn’t the Vandals sack Rome in 410? And Saddam could sustain his aggression very well – it took him 24 hours to occupy a much richer Kuwait. His forces were only defeated by a Nato invasion, and the question remains whether Nato would act as decisively if a nuclear-armed Russia grabbed, say, the Baltics.

Also, smaller than Italy’s though Russia’s GDP may be, its military/security spending is 5.5 per cent of it, and close to 50 per cent (!) of the federal budget – something seldom matched by any country even at wartime. By contrast, China, Mr Hitchens’s hobgoblin, is only spending 1.2 per cent of her GDP on war needs.

It’s not the size of GDP that counts, but the intensity of commitment. An aggressive 11-stone bully can beat up a fat 20-stone coward.

Russia no doubt hates the loss of the Baltic states (Gorbachev, as I have personal reason to know, fought very violently to prevent it) but their physical location, and the eventual inevitable fading of American interest in Europe which we will see in the coming century, mean that it is most likely that they will eventually come under Russian influence again anyway.

It doesn’t take Mr Hitchen’s “personal” gnostic powers to know that Gorbachev “fought very violently” to prevent the independence of the Baltics – see above. Stalin fought even more violently to disabuse the Balts of any notion of freedom: about a quarter of them perished in execution cellars and concentration camps.

However, the Baltics are members not only of the EU but also of Nato, which is contractually obligated to defend them against aggression. Should it neglect to do so, Russia’s takeover of the Baltics would lead to her de facto control of Europe, for Nato would be defunct.

Mr Hitchens doesn’t seem to be unduly bothered by the possible repeated rape of the Baltics, which is only inevitable to someone in possession of aforementioned gnostic prescience.

Baltic and West Ukrainian guerrillas heroically fought the Russian occupiers throughout the 50s, with no tangible support from the West. If the Russians move in again, Muslim terrorism would seem like a school outing compared to what will ensue. The Russians know this, which consideration alone may not make their repossession of their former slaves as inevitable as Mr Hitchens thinks (hopes?).

Mr Boot says : ‘Then comes a downright lie: Russia “isn’t interested in us”. On what basis does Hitchens make this assurance?
On the basis of the fact that there is no rational casus belli. We have no territorial or other conflict with Russia, at sea or on land.

If Mr Hitchens thinks that modern wars are caused only by such conflicts, he needs to go back to history books (a short one will do). Putin is committed to undo what he calls “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”, the disintegration of the Soviet empire.

To that end he’s rallying his impoverished population by reviving traditional Russian imperialism, packaged with Third Rome claims to spiritual superiority over the West and consequently Russia’s holy mission to confront it.

Such is the ideology that has replaced communism, and Putin’s kleptofascist junta lives or dies by it. If he wants to live, he has to deliver – otherwise he dies, if only because the Russians have to have some metaphysical compensation for all the physical deprivation.

Surely Mr Hitchens has heard of modern ideology replacing traditional casus belli?

Mr Boot says: ‘Every page of every Putin newspaper spouts unadulterated hatred for the West, especially the Anglophone West. Hardly a day goes by without open threats being made, along the lines of radioactive dust.’ Talk is cheap. Much of our own press is full of similarly empty rubbish about Russia, which is less excusable because the media involved do it of their own accord.

It’s that moral equivalence again.

I don’t know if Mr Hitchens’s Russian stretches to following official Putin TV channels. I suspect not. But if it does, he could do worse than watch the two regular propaganda talk shows, one hosted by Kisilev (whom the Russians affectionately call ‘Putin’s Goebbels’), the other by Soloviov. Both men, along with their guests, are dummies to Putin’s ventriloquist, and here are some samples of what they’ve mouthed over the past few days:

“I don’t care what America does, or Europe – only what Russia does. And we’ll do what we do best: either fight… or achieve our goals by diplomacy. And if they don’t like it, we’ll wipe the scowls off their ugly mugs.”

“No one will give us anything. We must grab everything ourselves. If we miss something, Trump will sink his teeth into us. We must yank his teeth out. That’s what we must do!”

“We win when we attack! The enemy must be conquered on his territory!”

“Many people are trying to understand what the West is trying to say. We don’t need that. Nonsense should be ignored. We should respond in practical terms, so they realise we’ll hurt them. They knew how to do that in the Soviet Union.”

“We’ve changed our policy. They impose sanctions, and we – bang! – whacked Syria!”

[If Americans were to bomb the Syrian army], “We’ll shoot them down”.

“Imprudent behaviour [towards Russia] may lead to nuclear consequences.”

“If the West doesn’t want to talk to Lavrov [foreign minister], it’ll have to talk to Shoigu [defence minister].”

Doesn’t quite sound like Newsnight, does it? This is the kind of rhetoric with which the Russians are bombarded round the clock.

Talk may be cheap but, when used by aggressive dictators, it’s dear at the price. Just look at the history of the twentieth century to see what bellicose mass propaganda can do. And seldom even in Soviet history was it as bellicose as it is now – a point on which all Russians agree who are old enough to compare.

Nor is it just talk. According to our military analysts, such as Gen. Shirreff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Russia is gearing for war.

Putin has committed the country to the £190-billion modernisation of over 90 per cent of her armaments by 2020. Russia has amassed 30 motorised divisions (330,000 troops) on her western borders, with more tanks, by an order of magnitude, than Britain, Germany and France possess put together. She has installed short-range Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad area at the Polish border. The deployment pattern points at a direct threat to the Baltic Nato members.

The civilian evacuation drills involving 40 million people, vast army exercises in offensive tactics, surreptitious call-up of reservists, massive deployment of strategic missile forces armed with the new ICBM RS-28 all cost billions which Russia’s shrinking economy can’t afford for long. That suggests the country is planning some action soon.

Just two days ago, Putin ordered Russia’s air force to prepare for a “time of war”. Those preparations have already begun, according to Russian ministers.

Does Hitchens think the Russians have no vested interest in reducing our defence capabilities? Are they waging electronic war against us just for fun?” [Quote from my article] I cannot for the life of me see why. We have, in the Thatcher-Major-Blair-Cameron-May period  reduced ourselves to military and naval  insignificance entirely by our own efforts.

 Why what? Why they’re waging electronic war against us? Or why they want to reduce our defence capability? The former is a fact, the latter is its explanation.

Mr Hitchens’s ‘us’ seems to imply Britain only. And it’s true that our defence has been criminally weakened. But we’re a member of Nato, a fact even Mr Hitchens must be aware of, and it’s in this sense that I use the possessive pronoun ‘our’.

Why Russia wishes to undermine Nato defences is self-evident: Nato is the only force standing in the way of Putin’s raison d’être, his self-proclaimed mission of rebuilding the Soviet empire.

What the Russians call disinformatsiya is a critical part of this. The unspeakable monstrosity of Russia’s policy over the past century has always been accompanied by massive propaganda effort aimed at weakening the West’s resolve to resist.

Lenin was “a dreamer in the Kremlin”. Stalin was a great, if at times stern, leader. Khrushchev, Brezhnev et al. were committed to eternal peace. Gorbachev and Yeltsyn were liberal democrats. Putin is a patriot and the great leader we wish we had.

This stream of propaganda ebbs and flows, and it’s now at its peak. The flow is fed by numerous tributaries, among which Western “useful idiots”, in Lenin’s apt phrase, take pride of place.

Whether Mr Hitchens acts in that capacity out of ideological conviction, ignorance or merely the desire to be different is a mildly interesting but ultimately irrelevant question. What’s important is that this is exactly the capacity in which he acts, wittingly or unwittingly.

I’m prepared to debate this melancholy conclusion with him face to face, in any format and before any audience of his choice, this side of the Russian embassy. Ideally the audience should be comprised of people able to distinguish between ratiocination proceeding from facts and intellectually puny ideology.







Mother knows worst

Daniel Finkelstein of The Times is in the running for a coveted prize: the most emetic article of the year, and the other aspirants are falling off one by one.

His mother has just died, and he understandably feels grief. Not having had the pleasure of meeting the late Mrs Finkelstein, I can’t share her wayward son’s sorrow, but I do sympathise with it.

However, turning personal bereavement into a public message is no easy matter. Finkelstein only got as far as an acclamation of political vacuousness, pegged on the Lessons My Mum Taught Me.

One of said lessons must have been taught using a smokescreen of mawkishness to envelop an underhanded swipe at people whose feelings about the EU are cooler than Lord Finkelstein’s.

By his account, his mother always refused to make a big deal out of being a Bergen-Belsen survivor, which speaks highly of her character. She does sound like a remarkable woman, but, alas, that doesn’t necessarily translate into being a deep thinker.

According to her wayward son, Mrs Finkelstein preached political moderation above all. Not for her Barry Goldwater’s fiery 1964 oratory that “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”. Justice, schmustice, Mrs Finkelstein’s ship always stayed on an even keel:

“Mum was happiest,” writes Finkelstein, “when she supported the SDP, though she admired John Major”. And John Major self-admittedly admires Neville Chamberlain, thereby establishing the political continuum into which two generations of the Finkelsteins fit.

The SDP was a short-lived splinter group of the Labour Party back in the 80s, advocating, among other suicidal policies, unilateral nuclear disarmament. Its socialist manifesto stated that “The SDP exists to create and defend an open, classless and more equal society…”.

Translating from socialist into English, that means as much state control and as little individual liberty as achievable without resorting to the present-day equivalents of Bergen-Belsen. If that’s moderation, I’ll choose extremism any day.

And it takes a spectacular lack of discernment to admire John ‘Edwina’ Major, a man whose mediocre intellect is only matched by his vapid character and petty deviousness. Raised from political obscurity by Margaret Thatcher, Major in due course led the cabal that stabbed her in the back. He then went on to sign the Maastricht Treaty, which Mrs Thatcher had called “a treaty too far”.

To Mrs Finkelstein’s wayward son, reversing with a flourish of the pen 2,000 years of Britain’s political tradition, effectively turning her into a province of Greater Germany flanked by a post-Vichy France, seems like a display of laudable moderation.

However, the way Finkelstein castigates those whose understanding of such matters is superior to his own doesn’t strike me as particularly moderate: “We find unbelievably stupid people who put the Nazi emblem on the European Union flag or call it the EUSSR.”

As one of those unbelievably stupid people who have on occasion likened the EU to other objectionable regimes, I’d be prepared to debate the issue with Lord Finkelstein, making mincemeat of the puny, wishy-washy, leftie musings he passes for moderation or indeed political thought.

No one in his right mind would claim that the EU duplicates Nazi Germany in every macabre detail. But only “unbelievably stupid people”, to use Finkelstein’s moderate phrase, would fail to see the underlying philosophical and teleological similarity.

Here are snippets from a speech delivered in 1942 by Walther Funk, Hitler’s Economy Minister. Herr Funk spoke from the heart about the EEC, Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft for short:

“No nation in Europe can by itself achieve the necessary scale of economic freedom to meet all social demands… It means a readiness in certain circumstances to subordinate one’s own interests to those of the European Community… The economic unity of Europe is manifest… The new European economy will have to consider as its first task the fulfilment of its social obligations… The new empowerment of the productive and creative power of the individual is grounded in the community, the creation of a uniform economic understanding and attitude, the allocation of decisive tasks through the political leadership… Europe, in fact, meets all the requirements of a complete, self-sufficient economic area…”

Junker or, for that matter, Major would happily sign this EU-presaging address. In fact, just about every programmatic document issued by the EU repeats this line of thought almost verbatim.

Herr Funk’s vision died at the Nuremberg gallows, but it came back in the EU – only an “unbelievably stupid” or else ignorant person would fail to see that. Granted, some people’s rhetoric may go too far in defence of Britain’s sovereignty, but can you blame them?

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, explained Newton. The likes of Lord Finkelstein preach, one hopes unwittingly, Walter Funk’s ideas, which is bound at times to induce some more intelligent and better-educated people to express themselves with excessive fervour.

But, as the same Barry Goldwater remarked, “Extremism in defence of liberty is no vice.” In the interests of moderation so immoderately championed by Mrs Finkelstein, let’s accept that even such extremism may still be a vice – but a much lesser one than the despotic supranational socialism her wayward son evangelises in unison with the EU.

Bent like Beckham?

Regular readers of this space are aware of my idiosyncrasies. Here’s another one: I’m constitutionally incapable of feeling sympathy for tattooed people.

My sentiments about them range from squeamishness to revulsion, depending on the size and number of tattoos. In fact, whenever one is visible, I have to look away.

Consequently, there’s nobody I can ask about the reasons for deciding to parade one’s savagery with such relish. But I can guess at some motives, none of them praiseworthy.

The urge to appear “well ‘ard” must be one: being painful, tattooing is a test of manhood in certain social classes. Then there’s the peer pressure in those same classes, the imperative to conform.

And of course a tattoo is a way of grabbing attention (it has the opposite effect on me, but – thank God – not everyone is like me). Some people may also have aesthetic reasons for decorating their flesh, but what these are escapes me, unless they plan to resettle in Polynesia and sit for Paul Gauguin (he’s dead, chaps, in case you don’t know).

Some tattoos communicate a message, usually that of defiance. Thus exactly the kind of people who often find themselves at the policemen’s tender mercies sometimes sport tattoos of a cop with his throat slit.

A cop dangling off the gallows is also popular, as are the letters ACAB on the knuckles (for the benefit of my foreign or else hoity-toity readers, this stands for All Cops Are Bastards). One wonders how well the canvas for such art is treated at the nick. I know I’d be angered by a tattoo saying “All old English writers of Russian descent are bastards”, although, given the limited number of knuckles, this is unlikely.

This circuitous route brings me to the ex-footballer David Beckham, the most tattooed person I’ve ever seen.

David used to pack a mean bend in his right foot, which celestial talent he has parlayed into a fortune estimated at £508 million (greater than the Queen’s). He also married a pop star nicknamed Posh with a touch of relativism, who augments the proceeds of the famed right foot with her own earnings.

Yet, according to the book Posh and Becks probably haven’t read, man doesn’t live by bread alone. It’s not all about buying mansions and tattoos – money must also act as a social hoist to be truly satisfying. In the British context, money should buy at least a knighthood, ideally a life peerage.

To that end large sums must be donated to charity or, better still, victorious electoral campaigns. Posh and Becks know this, which is why they aren’t short of purposeful generosity.

Yet all Becks has managed so far is an OBE, and even that was 14 years ago. Year after year, since 2014 when he was first nominated, he has been bypassed for higher honours – much to his rage.

Why, even the singer Katherine Jenkins got the lousy OBE, which Becks indignantly described as “a f***ing joke”. Who the hell is Jenkins? She can’t even bend it like Beckham.

The problem is that HM Revenue & Customs runs ‘probity checks’ on people nominated for honours, and Becks’s probity didn’t pass muster. Apparently Becks shelters some of his money in avoidance schemes, than which no worse crime exists.

On finding out that his knighthood had been red-flagged yet again, Becks reacted furiously, firing off a series of synechdoches – without, at a wild guess, realising that’s what they were.

The honours committee, he fumed in some leaked e-mails, are “a bunch of unappreciative c***s”. He then lamentably dispensed with a comma in expressing his disdain for a lesser honour: “Unless it’s a knighthood f*** off!”

Now I don’t mean to pry into David’s tax affairs, and nor do I know whether the venerable members of that committee deserve such unflattering designations. Moreover, I deplore the present vulgarisation of the honours system making it possible for a footballer who hasn’t won anything with England even to be considered for a knighthood.

However, in this case I’m prepared to overlook all such considerations, along with my detestation of body art, to stick up for Becks – and for all other tax avoiders out there, including Donald Trump.

At the government’s ad nauseam instigation we’ve lost the distinction between tax avoidance and tax evasion. Yet it’s valid: evasion is criminal, avoidance is clever.

I may think that the fortune David’s right foot has earned is obscene, but the money is his, not the government’s. If he chooses to invest it in ways that reduce his tax exposure, more power to him, provided he hasn’t done anything illegal.

One can understand the taxman’s rage, though: clever investments rob the state not only of money but, more frustrating, power. By extorting people’s money, the state increases its control over their lives, which has become the principal desideratum of modern statehood. This, I must confess, I detest even more than tattoos.

One wonders how Becks’s creative use of English has affected his future chances of a knighthood. The c***s would have to display oodles of Christian forgiveness to overlook his justified opinion of them.

Moral equivalence is back

If you aren’t old enough to remember the ‘60s, the extreme left applied the term to Russia and America or, more specifically, to the KGB and the CIA.

That was firing both barrels: by putting the USSR and the US on the same moral level, the left exonerated the former and demonised the latter.

The KGB has murdered 60 million of its own citizens? Yes, but Joe McCarthy accused good communists of being communists. The Russians introduced concentration camps to half the world? Well, Americans had the audacity to resist communism in Korea and Vietnam. The Russians spy on America? We spy on them too.

In those days such rhetoric was mainly associated with pimply youths who marched through campuses singing “Ho, ho, ho, Ho Chi Minh”, “Hell no, we won’t go”, “Off the pigs” and “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”.

Having done their marching and singing, the youths would usually grow up and begin to pursue happiness in downtown offices and suburban bungalows. They still called themselves liberal at cocktail parties and voted for chaps like Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey.

Amazingly, it has taken a supposedly conservative US president to bring back these nostalgic memories. But then Donald Trump probably doesn’t know the difference between a conservative and a third baseman.

This he proved by taking moral equivalence off the mothballs. A Fox News interviewer queried Trump about his affection for Putin, whom the journalist described as ‘a killer’, specifically of political opponents.

The president replied: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”

No, it isn’t. Ever since Adam and Eve indulged their taste in fruit, we haven’t been blessed with unadulterated innocence in human institutions. Now, having got this theological point out of the way, let’s make an empirical one: all countries may be sinners, but they don’t all sin to the same extent.

A country that executes one wrongly convicted man commits an evil act. So does a country that murders millions of people by category, be it class, race or wealth. Both countries should be condemned.

But, this side of a lunatic asylum, they can’t be condemned equally. If they are, that means somebody’s moral compass has gone haywire.

Now at least 200 journalists and political opponents have been murdered on Putin’s watch and – as anyone familiar with Russia will confirm – on his direct orders. Some of those murders were committed by Putin’s hit squads abroad, including London and the Home Counties. Hundreds, possibly thousands more dissidents have been imprisoned on trumped-up charges, mutilated, savagely beaten up or threatened into silence.

I’m unfamiliar with any such crimes perpetrated by the US government in recent memory. Journalists can criticise the administration without fearing a bullet in a dark alley, politicians can oppose the government without having radioactive isotopes added to their diets. If Trump has information to the contrary, he should by all means speak up: the world has the right to know.

If, however, Trump can’t list the US equivalents of Litvinenko, Nemtsov, Politkovskaya, Khlebnikov, Magnitsky, Borovik, Shchekochikhin, Baburova – the list is long – then his statement was inspired by what Trump believes to be realpolitik (I’d rather not speculate on what else it might have been inspired by).

This he confirmed by a characteristically platitudinous clarification: “It’s better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against Isis, which is a major fight . . . that’s a good thing.”

If the combined might of America and the rest of Nato is insufficient to the ‘major’ task of fighting Isis, we should all pack up and go home – the West is going to the dogs. By inviting Putin to bomb Syria flat with his typical KGB savagery, all America does is provide a Middle Eastern foothold to a hostile foreign power.

It is indeed better to get along with Russia than not. But not at any price, and certainly not at the cost of sacrificing whatever is left of intellectual and moral integrity in the US administration.

I am, however, grateful to Trump for confirming my lifelong observation. Though I can’t support this by statistical data, I’ve noticed that vulgarity of taste is inevitably accompanied by vulgarity of thought.

Trump has the taste of a parvenu upstart in just about everything: his Tower, the epitome of look-I’ve-made-it kitsch; his propensity to marry gold-diggers with a dubious past; even his neckties, usually three inches too long.

His foray into moral equivalence proves yet again that such aesthetic lapses are unfailing indicators of moral and intellectual ones. The great Greeks had a ready explanation for this link.

They considered what Aristotle called ‘transcendentals’ and what Plato specifically identified as Truth, Beauty and Goodness to be the inseparable ontological properties of being. A deficit in any one element of the triad would automatically produce a failure in the other two.

A.N. Whitehead once described all philosophy as “a series of footnotes to Plato”. Trump proves that the same comment applies to politics.