Vegetables can’t pick fruit

Much of our asparagus harvest has rotted on the ground, and the same is likely to happen to the strawberry crop.

Social benefits on display

Taking a short-term view, one can legitimately blame Covid: because of it, to quote David Aaronovitch of The Times, “The country is short of 80,000 workers, usually supplied by the EU nations.”

However, judging by the title of Mr Aaronovitch’s article, Britain Won’t Work Without Unskilled Migrants, the short-term view isn’t the one he favours.

For he believes that, by ending EU-dictated free movement, HMG will do the work of coronavirus. The present arrangement will be replaced by a points-based system, whereby only qualified immigrants earning over £25,600 a year will be admitted. 

Mr Aaranovitch hates the idea. In fact, he takes little trouble to conceal his distaste for leaving the EU. And he’s particularly scathing about our arch-Leaver Home Secretary Priti Patel who spearheads the points system.

“If we were to erect a Statue of Liberty in the Patel era its plaque would read: ‘Give me your huddled Nobel prize-winners, your future tech billionaires yearning to breathe free’,” writes Mr Aaranovitch in an attempt at devastating irony.

He then uncorks what he sees as a clincher: “Under such a regime my own illiterate grandparents would have been turned away from the Port of London when their ship docked in 1904.” Some may feel such a tragedy would have been a small price to pay for the subsequent generations to be spared Mr Aaranovitch’s musings.

He is entitled to feel about Brexit as he sees fit. But this argument against it is as weak as Mr Aaronovitch’s humour.

His main idea is that we need Bulgarians and Romanians to do unskilled jobs because indigenous Britons won’t do them. This argument would be valid – if only it ended with a small proviso: “as things are”.

Then the numbers quoted by Mr Aaronovitch would indeed end the discussion, for some people at least: “The first instalment of a campaign to get furloughed Brits to do the work began a few weeks ago. One organisation reported last month that of 50,000 people who had applied, 6,000 accepted an interview but only 150 had taken up offers of work.”

Others acted in the manner of one healthy young man Mr Aaronovitch gives as an example. Instead of looking for a job, he stays at home all day playing video games. That, I’d suggest, is an improvement on going out to mug passersby for drug money, but yes, asparagus still stays in the ground.

Mr Aaronovitch has outlined the problem well; shame about the conclusion: “The only viable options for fruit picking are migrant labour or mechanisation. There will be no British jobs there… [And in social care] even if you were to put the salaries up by 15 per cent that computer boy still wouldn’t want to care for dementia patients.”

The problem indeed seems unsolvable, but I’m happy to lend Mr Aaronovitch a helping hand and solve it. For, in a flash of epiphanous inspiration, I’ve found a way for ‘that computer boy’ to get off his calloused rump and go off to work.

Why doesn’t he do so now? The answer is, because he doesn’t have to. Assuming he gets a full range of social benefits, he’d have to earn roughly the income required by Miss Patel to match them.

As with most epiphanies, the conclusion is so simple that it’s amazing Mr Aaronovitch hasn’t thought of it: The computer boy should be taken off the welfare rolls.

Paying young able-bodied people to do nothing is morally wrong, economically ruinous and socially disastrous. It creates whole generations of parasite classes sponging off the rest of us, through the good offices of the megalomaniac state.

Sociologists will tell you that there exist two main incentives to work: survival and the improvement of one’s lot, with the first being much stronger than the second.

Thus someone getting enough to buy computers and electronic games may not want to work simply to buy more recent computers and more elaborate games. But he’d have to work if his food and shelter were at stake.

Considering the level of our compulsory and comprehensive education, the computer boy wouldn’t be able to command a wage to match his benefits. But if he didn’t get those benefits he’d be happy to pick asparagus or care for demented patients. For, as St Paul explained so lucidly, “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

Clearly, neither Mr Aaronovitch nor his ‘liberal’ colleagues can entertain this thought. They see no difficulties with having, say, three generations of the same family never doing a day’s work and living off public money.

Then again, they may feel that protesting against this outrage is akin to remonstrating against hurricanes. Such things just are, and must be accepted as they are.

However, such submissive equanimity contradicts a writer’s remit. It’s his duty to analyse the problem in its fullness, not to use it for the sake of scoring cheap political points.

In this duty Mr Aaronivitch is demonstrably remiss. And incidentally, I bet his illiterate grandparents went to work directly they arrived in Britain. After all, they must have had to. And look at their grandson now.

Russia isn’t a country

It’s so much more than just that. It’s a unique civilisation, without any close analogues in history.

Embodiment of a unique civilisation

Thus spake Vlad Putin in his speech the other day. Or rather he spake nine months ago, but the speech was kept on the back burner until the time was judged propitious for its release.

He then evoked a vivid memory of one of Chekhov’s short stories, where two officers argue whether or not Pushkin was a great psychologist. One of them wins the argument with an irresistible logical flourish: “If Pushkin hadn’t been a great psychologist, they wouldn’t have erected his statue in Moscow.”

I don’t know if Vlad has read that story; I rather doubt it on general grounds. However, he did employ similar logic to prove his point about Russia being not just a country but a civilisation:

“This is already an obvious fact: [otherwise] we would never have had modern weapon systems, high-tech systems, high technology indeed, that no other country possesses, at least not yet…”

The US may take exception to that last claim, but the conclusion was unassailable: in order to preserve this civilisation “it’s precisely high technologies and their future development that we must definitely emphasise.”

By singling out the kind of high technologies that kill people en masse, Vlad sold his great civilisation short. It has also perfected technologies involved in hacking, trolling, applied toxicology and money laundering.

However, his conclusion can’t be faulted. Without keeping pace with Western science and technology, Russia is destined for ever to stay on what Russian journalists call “the oil needle”.

Yet that fix depends on fickle markets: when oil prices are high, Russia can indulge her affection for designing sophisticated weapons and trying them out on those who can’t respond in kind. When the prices are low, the unique civilisation totters and begins to fall into China’s eagerly open arms.

Putin and his cronies will amass their billions either way, but the rest of the population may get restless. To wit, Vlad’s approval ratings have already dropped by some 40 per cent, and they are heading in only one direction, what with oil currently selling for less than it costs to produce.

Last year, even before Covid, the Federal State Statistics Service reported that 20.9 million Russians, more than 14 per cent of the population, were living on less than £163 a month.

The situation is even worse in areas where no natural resources are extracted. Thus in Smolensk (p. 330,000) more than 16 per cent of the people are trying, and often failing, to survive on less than £4.50 a day.

And of course coronavirus, while devastating all economies, is even deadlier in places like Smolensk. “Never… have I seen so many hungry and desperate people as during these months of coronavirus pandemic,” said a spokesman for a major local charity.

So yes, high technologies may well be a solution. However, developing them to a level where they could help the people eat regularly involves two things, and both are in short and dwindling supply.

One is money, which rushes out of Russia in a mighty stream, eventually settling in the numbered accounts of Putin and his immediate entourage. The other is brains, which follow the same path, ending up in Western companies, research centres and universities.

There they prove yet again that, if Russia were indeed a real country, rather than a mythical ‘civilisation’, she’d have no shortage of talent. After all, say what you will about Google and Facebook, but we’ve got both courtesy of Russian immigrants.

As it is, the brain drain has reached diluvian proportions. Apparently, Russian scientists and engineers stubbornly refuse to abandon the habit of eating, even in exchange for the privilege of living in a unique civilisation held together by unrivalled spirituality.

A scan of Appointment ads in the Russian press explains this exodus adequately, with no commentary needed.

For example, Vektor, one of the country’s leading research centres, is advertising a vacancy for a senior scientist in the genome research department.

Research areas: human genome, gene editing, development of anti-HIV and cell technologies. Required qualifications: a degree in biochemistry, numerous publications in science journals, at least 10 years’ R&D experience in such areas as molecular biology, virology, biotechnology.

Salary: from 20,000 roubles a month (about £225).

Now, I don’t know how much a scientist with such qualifications would earn anywhere in the West. But even in the absence of such detailed information, one can see a potential candidate jumping on the first plane out of Russia, whenever they start flying again.

We aren’t talking about more or less comfort here. At stake is basic survival, and the law of self-preservation hasn’t yet been repealed even in Russia.

Putin is half-right: Russia indeed is no longer a country. But neither is it a unique civilisation. It’s a mass of poor, desperate, brainwashed people bossed by a state that’s indeed unique.

It’s history’s only fusion of secret police and organised crime, with the two constituents forming a homogeneous elite. The elite relies on fascistic methods of boundless propaganda and violence to keep the population in check, while siphoning trillions out of the country.

Nowhere this side of tinhorn Third World dictatorships is the contrast between the rulers and the ruled so vast. Yet none of those dictatorships gets the kind of good press Russia receives from the West’s fascisoid papers and parties.

But then some of those purloined trillions can buy any number of papers and parties. Alas, there’s little left to keep the people fed and the brains in the country.

P.S. Umberto Eco, RIP

Boris should do a Maggie

In 1985 Margaret Thatcher decided she’d had enough of the Greater London Council, which at the time employed 35,000 subversive parasites.

Where are real men when our government needs them?

Under the stewardship of ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone, it pursued communist policies, hampering Mrs Thatcher’s efforts to get the economy back on track.

The Council had the means of engaging in Luddite sabotage, what with London accounting for some 22 per cent of Britain’s GDP. Moreover, Livingstone was part of a hard-left crusade to take over first the Labour Party and then the government.

Red Ken wasn’t especially reticent about that. In one interview he said: “We have turned [GLC] into the most effective platform the radical left ever had in Britain, and it has started to win massive popular support. That scares them because if we can do this here, think what we could do if we got our hands on the national Government.”

Mrs Thatcher clearly did think about it. That’s why on 1 April, 1986, the Council was abolished.

Fast-forward to the present, and the situation is eerily similar. The country is in the midst of her greatest economic crisis ever, although its magnitude hasn’t quite sunk home yet.

Our ministers haven’t yet announced a coherent plan for reversing the downslide. The early hints at their intentions inspire little confidence and a whole raft of less positive emotions.

The only proven route out of a precipitous economic downturn lies through intensifying commercial activity by every imaginable means. Conversely, anything slowing such activity down may well push the economy into a bottomless pit.

London is as critical to the British economy as ever or, considering the likely post-Brexit, post-Covid global realignment, even more so. And, just like in the 80s, London is again run by a radical leftie, prepared to destroy the city and the country for ideological gain.

London is of course a Labour bailiwick. Blair’s strategy of making Tories unelectable by importing swarms of potential Labour voters from the low-rent parts of the world has paid off to a large extent.

Nationally, it has succeeded in pushing the policies, if not always the votes, the Labour way. In London, with its mere 40 per cent of indigenous population, it has succeeded both ways.

As Boris Johnson has twice shown, a charismatic Tory can still win London’s mayoral elections, provided he isn’t really Tory. But normally a London mayor will always be Labour.

This brings us to Sadiq Khan, who is as ideologically Luddite as a Labour politician has to be nowadays. Except that the radical left ideology is a liquid that has since the ‘80s flown into new vessels.

The biggest of them is coloured green and contains every conceivable shibboleth about ‘saving the planet’. Yet, a few Gretinous fanatics aside, left ideologues don’t really care about the carbon footprint.

They use green puffery the same way as their fathers used anti-nuke propaganda: as a leftie battering ram smashing a breach in ‘the establishment’. The putative central issue was, and still is, always wrapped in the banner of anti-capitalist afflatus.

Acting in that spirit, Sadiq Khan is introducing measures tantamount to stepping on London’s economic throat just as it’s trying to rise from the ground.

Citing the information that since the lockdown London’s pollution levels have dropped by 60 per cent, he’s trying to make the city effectively car-free.

Now, the only way to eliminate anthropogenic pollution altogether is to stop all commercial activity. Some pollution and higher CO2 levels are the tax on widely spread prosperity. Even ploughing the soil releases CO2, which can only be prevented by accepting murderous famines for the sake of a pernicious ideology.

Not much soil is ploughed in London; its economy is mostly service. The City is arguably the country’s most important hub of economic activity, but London isn’t all about finance.

Restaurants, bars, shops, department stores, estate agencies, construction, hotels, entertainment, design, fashion, consultancy, tourism, professional services and so forth – all these make London the most vibrant European capital, a magnet for job-seekers from all over the continent (walking around my area, one hears more French than English).

Most of these oxygen tanks of the London economy depend on vehicular traffic to keep going: private cars, black cabs, car services, delivery vans and so on.

Moreover, HMG has advised that travelling by car is much safer than taking public transport, for obvious reasons. But, under Sadiq, one gets the impression London isn’t part of Her Majesty’s realm.

He has raised the congestion charge from £11.50 to £15, which is painful by itself. But, until now, the charge has only been applied between 07:00 and 18:00, Monday to Friday.

Thus, those who depended on their cars to get to Central London had to bite the bullet, a large-calibre one, considering that on top of that parking in London is more expensive than, say, in Paris or Rome.

The bullet will now grow to the size of an artillery shell, but that’s only the beginning. For many people, who rarely have to drive into the very centre during the day, use their cars in the evenings and on weekends to eat out, go to the theatre, visit museums, shop or see friends.

Now Sadiq has extended the charge until 10pm, seven days a week, which, on top of the extortionate parking costs, will make thousands of people stay away. This will have a devastating knock-on effect on London’s core industries, already crippled by the lockdown.

Moreover, the mayor is making many major roads around the City car-free, which will make even financial services harder to provide. And those stubborn souls who’ll cling to their cars will have to contend with much heavier traffic.

For, labouring under the misapprehension that London is indistinguishable from Amsterdam, one-tenth London’s size, Sadiq has introduced hundreds of miles of extra bicycle lanes. We should all swap our polluting monsters for bikes, as far as he’s concerned.

Traffic in London already crawls along at 7mpg on average, and Sadiq’s new bicycle lanes and road closures are guaranteed to reduce it to walking pace. That means that the thousands of businesses forced to close because of Covid may never reopen.

Britain in general, and London specifically, need to make doing business as easy as possible, both to intensify domestic economic activity and to attract foreign companies. Yet Sadiq’s needs are different: he clearly follows Lenin’s cynical strategy of ‘the worse, the better’.

The next mayoral election is a year away, which is enough time to do irreversible damage. Moreover, for reasons I outlined above, there’s every chance of Sadiq being re-elected, or replaced with his ideological twin.

Margaret Thatcher chopped through that Gordian knot by abolishing the GLC. Boris Johnson could, in my view should, do the same by getting rid of the mayor altogether and replacing him with a cabinet minister for London, with more power relegated to borough councils.

That would raise hue and cry from various quarters but, capitalising on his sterling knowledge of history, Mr Johnson could quote Guy Fawkes on the subject of desperate times and desperate measures.

But he’d have to be the man Maggie Thatcher was, and that would take more (or, in her case, less) than the ability to impregnate girlfriends. It would take qualities I doubt Mr Johnson possesses, but I’d be happy to be proved wrong. 

Happy LGBTQIA2S+ Day!

You know how it is. You get caught in some maelstrom, Covid in this case, and forget important dates in the calendar.

Covid deprived us of solemn public celebrations

Your wedding anniversary. Wife’s and/or girlfriend’s birthday. Children’s confirmation and/or bar mitzvahs (today’s young people like to keep their options open). All such milestones can fall by the wayside in general tumult, much to your later embarrassment.

Embarrassment is exactly what I feel for having overlooked yesterday’s vitally important event. Actually, it’s known by another snappy acronym, IDAHOTB, but I think the one in the title communicates its positive content more clearly.

IDAHOTB stands for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which all progressive people, among whom I proudly number myself, celebrate with great pomp on 17 May.

Yesterday, the pomp had to be somewhat subdued due to Covid, but what matters is what happens in one’s heart, not out in the street. And my heart, while singing a joyous song of praise, is saddened by the negative overtones conveyed by the preposition ‘Against’.

While acknowledging the noble need to rise against HTB and, for that matter, HIV, I still believe that we should above all celebrate the lifestyles those HTB mongers attack. If some troglodytes have panic attacks at the sight of differently sexual persons, which is what ‘phobia’ really means, they don’t deserve recognition even in a negative context.

Hence another, admittedly slightly longer and to most people enigmatic, acronym is better suited to this glorious occasion. Yes, ladies, gentlemen and others, this acronym exists, and I think it should replace IDAHOTB.

That is, the ID part could remain, as in “show me your ID, and I’ll show you mine”. But it must be followed by LGTBQIA2S+.

Perhaps some may feel the term doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as, say, HIV. Still others may not even know what all the initials designate. Since my purpose in life is mostly didactic, I’m happy to fill this shameful gap in popular education.

LGTBQIA2S+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, Plus the countless affirmative ways in which people choose to self-identify.

What the term lacks in concision it makes up for in inclusiveness. For example, if you choose to self-identify affirmatively as, say, Napoleon Bonaparte or Teresa of Avila, you’ll no longer be committed – you’ll be celebrated.

My slight problem is the double meaning of the Q. Until I learned this essential acronym, I thought Q referred to the Aramaic proto-Gospel later used by the Evangelists. Its existence is accepted by most theologians, even though it was never found.

However, what until now has been accepted by most progressive people is that Q stands for Queer in the now common acronym LGTBQ. This is one example of an insider word, offensive when outsiders use it, proud in the mouths of actual Qs (the n-word is another such).

Yet progress is expansive. As our sensitivity to the widening plethora of affirmative identity grows, so does our lexicon. That much is par for the course.

It is therefore natural that Q should now also designate torn souls pursued by what Dostoyevsky called ‘accursed questions’. In this case, the accursed question is what mammal (or perhaps an avian or marine creature) the affirmative identifier would like to copulate with.

My objection isn’t to the substance of the new Q category, but to the somewhat clumsy language in the acronym. I’d suggest that the lesser evil would be simply to add another Q, for the acronym now to read LGTBQQIA2S+. The more, the merrier, wouldn’t you say?

But we shouldn’t get hung up on such technicalities. Instead we should celebrate this occasion, if only belatedly.

Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau yesterday issued a rousing message of welcome: “No matter who you love or how you identify, you should be able to be yourself without fear.”

Again, I applaud the sentiment while taking issue with the language, and it’s not just the use of who where whom would have been appropriate. All those –phobias in H, T and B refer to the inordinate fear troglodytes feel for the affirmatively identified H, T and B persons, not the fear felt by them.

This possible confusion is another reason for renaming the International Day as I suggest. “We are all stronger when we embrace diversity …” concluded Mr Trudeau, and I couldn’t agree more.

We must all embrace diversity and anything else that moves or even, at a pinch, doesn’t. Diversity to us is what Mother Earth was to Antaeus, a source of titanic strength, and moral judgement be damned.

Happy LGBTQIA2S+ Day!

Where does Scotch come from?

Since the name seems to be a dead giveaway, this question shouldn’t be hard to answer. Or so one would think.

You can’t buy happiness. However…

Yet in a survey carried out ahead of World Whisky Day, 10 per cent of Britons couldn’t make the connection between Scotch and Scotland.

Another 10 per cent thought bourbon was Scottish and 22 per cent identified American Rye whisky as Japanese. They must have felt the modifier ‘American’ was there to throw them off the right track deliberately.

Such facts can open various avenues to explore. One could, for example, contemplate a political system in which people who can’t connect Scotch and Scotland are entitled to decide how, and by whom, the country will be governed.

On a different day, I’d probably pursue this line of thought, but today I’d rather celebrate Scotch whisky, that splendid achievement of the human spirit (or spirits, if you’d rather).

Single malt is, as far as I’m concerned, the best after-dinner drink in His creation. It’s also, next to the composer of genius James MacMillan, the greatest contribution Scotland has made to the world – and I hope James won’t take offence at being mentioned in that company.

How a nation with such an execrable taste in food could come up with such a refined beverage is a mystery. Can a man truly appreciate a wee dram with his deep-fried Mars bar or macaroni pie?

For whisky is like wine in that it must be consumed in the right setting, at the right time and with the right accompaniments.

This point is lost on the French. They are the opposite of the Scots in that their taste in food is superb, but their taste in whisky is awful.

They drink neat blended whisky as an aperitif, which is morally wrong. Even blended stuff has a strong taste that cauterises the taste buds, rendering them numb to the fine flavours of food.

That’s criminal, especially considering that the French have a wide array of aperitif wines ideally suited for the purpose, not to mention champagne. If, however, they need a mightier kick-off to their meal, a very dry martini would do the trick.

However, in all my years in France I’ve been unable to convert my friends in that direction, although a few of them have learned to appreciate shots of ice-cold vodka in a different setting.

Speaking of shots, some Scotch whiskies work, provided they aren’t too rich in taste. Speyside malts, such as Glenfiddich, or the blended J&B are perfectly fine when one drinks mainly for effect.

But there Scotch has worthy competitors, such as vodka, grappa or tequila. Where it’s sans pareil is as an after-dinner drink.

It’s ideal as a follow-up to a bottle of decent Burgundy and a prelude to a relaxed drive home, when one can treat with insouciant equanimity such road hazards as deer, boar and les flics.

There a rich, smoky, peaty taste is at a premium. Talisker and Macallan are good, but my favourites, Laphroaig and Lagavulin, come from the Isle of Islay.

To establish my qualifications to judge their merits, I bought my first bottle of Laphroaig for seven dollars in Houston. Now, 45 years later, it’s still my house tipple – there at least is one thing to which I’ve been staunchly faithful.

The French tend to prefer cognac or Armagnac, and some of those are sublime – if you can afford the really good stuff. As a birthday present every year, Penelope used to give me a bottle of Armagnac as old as I am – until I got too old for her purse.

However, sticking to commercial brands, a VSOP cognac or a comparable Armagnac is simply not a patch on a similarly priced Laphroaig or slightly more expensive Lagavulin. Moreover, if you don’t like peaty smoke, you can find among Scotch whiskies an infinitely greater variety of taste than among French or any other brandies.

I don’t wish to make frivolous medical claims – God knows we have enough people making those at present – but single malts contain more antioxidant ellagic acid than red wine does. That means Laphroaig has medicinal properties, which you negligently deny yourself if you don’t have at least a double every evening.

My affection for Laphroaig is shared by the Prince of Wales, a man of taste and discernment, in this area at any rate. Hence it’s the only whisky to carry his Royal Warrant, a worthy accolade for a nectar that five years ago celebrated its centenary.

Anyway, Slange Var!, which is the Scottish for Cheers. I’ve no idea how it’s spelled in Gaelic – but at least I do know Scotch comes from Scotland.


Boris, meet Jeremy

In a conference video call with 125 MPs, Prime Minister Corbyn yesterday outlined his plans for handling the post-pandemic pandemonium.

That venerable symbol of British common sense

What? It isn’t Corbyn but Johnson who is our PM? Could have fooled me.

Looking at Boris Johnson’s pronouncements, one struggles to discern anything that Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t have said. For every measure mooted by Mr Johnson is as socialist as it’s possible to get this side of concentration camps.

The MPs reported that, according to Johnson, “There was no question of moving to austerity and he would double down on capital projects like Northern Powerhouse Rail.”

The second promise, that of doubling down, was worded in blackjack terms. This would suggest that Mr Johnson sees socialism run riot as a gamble worth taking, whereas in fact it’s suicidal recklessness, like doubling down on a pair of twos.

Giant construction projects financed by the Exchequer are a short-term measure whose long-term effects are invariably ruined public finances, an increase in the number of people dependent on the government and a growing power of the state.

Such measures are called socialist, and in the last century they were put into effect, albeit for different reasons, by every known type of socialists: democratic (Roosevelt), national (Hitler) and international (Stalin).

Then, anyone who describes post-Blair economic policies as austerity is either dishonest or stupid, and Mr Johnson isn’t stupid.

When a state practises economic austerity properly defined, it shows a budget surplus and a reduced sovereign debt. Stretching the term as far as it can go, perhaps austerity could at a pinch mean merely a balanced budget.

None of those conditions was met during so-called austerity. The term is misused to mean the deficit and the debt growing at a slightly slower rate than before.

To scale this model down, when a family used to spend 20 per cent more than it earned and is now spending only 10 per cent more, it’s not practising austerity. It’s still being irresponsibly profligate, but slightly less so.

No Tory who uses the term the way Mr Johnson used it is really a Tory. This he joyously acknowledged with his usual bonhomie.

According to the MPs, he repeatedly said that “unlike any other Conservative government we have had, we are going to make sure we level up across the country and keep faith with the people who voted for us.”

Not being like any other Conservative government in history means not being a Conservative government at all, and Mr Johnson must be complimented for being upfront about it. His frankly expressed commitment to socialist levelling should further enhance his burgeoning reputation for honesty.

However, he then undoes his good work by claiming that going all-out socialist is a way of keeping faith “with the people who voted for us”.

The people had the option of voting for a socialist government – and rejected it. I’m not convinced they had a clear view of what the Conservative alternative would entail, but they certainly believed it was indeed an alternative.

The word, as the classically educated Mr Johnson doubtless knows, derives from the Latin alter, meaning other. Hence the people voted for something other than socialism, and imposing it on them anyway means betraying, rather than keeping, their faith. 

Mr Johnson then flaunted both his vocabulary and his vacuity by complimenting “the marmoreal Mount Rushmore common sense of the British people”. First, Mount Rushmore is American, not British. Second, it’s granite, not marble. Third, it’s a rotten metaphor, most unfortunate in a professional writer.

The PM’s attachment to giant socialist projects seems to be not only intellectual, but also emotional. Thus he claimed that his own Covid ordeal taught him “love and admiration for the NHS”.

This is a classic trick of socialist propaganda, encouraging people to love and admire socialist enterprises, rather than weighing their pros and cons rationally.

Instead of worshipping the NHS like some pagan demiurge, people should be encouraged to compare it with other ways of providing medical care, those practised by other Western countries. Such an exercise would show how woefully ineffective and exorbitantly expensive the NHS is.

The word “taught” suggests that before his own illness Mr Johnson had felt no love and admiration for the NHS. That certainly didn’t come across during his campaign, when he pledged unwavering loyalty to that socialist contrivance.

The crisis could be a “springboard for our ambitions”, Mr Johnson concluded. That much is doubtless true, if “our” means the modern socialist state, and the word “ambitions” denotes its in-built imperative for self-aggrandisement.

Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t have put it better himself.

Do we secretly hate the Dutch?

‘Secretly’ is the operative word here, for I can’t think of a single ethnic slur for the Dutch on either side of the ocean.

The Dutch invader gets his prize

That’s odd, considering how many exist for just about everyone else: blacks, Jews, Spaniards, Mexicans, Latin Americans, Vietnamese, French, Germans, Chinese, Italians, Czechs, Poles, Russians, Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs – did I leave anyone out?

However, no other nation comes anywhere near the Dutch in the number of negative idioms in which they are mentioned. Why?

After all, idioms appear for a reason; they reflect some deep-seated perceptions accumulated over time, often centuries. Even when such perceptions no longer pertain, idioms elucidate a nation’s mentality more brightly than just about anything else.

For example, many idioms refer to Dutch drunkenness, even though here the British are the pot calling the kettle black: Dutch courage, Dutch cheer and Dutch milk all mean booze; Dutch concert is drunken noise; Dutch headache is hangover; Dutch agreement is one made by drunk people; Dutch lunch is liquid.

The Dutch are also supposed to be pedlars of fake goods. Thus Dutch leaf is false gold leaf and Dutch gold is the yellow alloy of copper and zinc.

Though Sweden has the highest suicide rate in Europe, we describe suicide as Do the Dutch, not Do the Swede.

Double Dutch means gibberish, even though, being a Germanic language, Dutch is more comprehensible to an Anglophone than, say, Finnish, Hungarian or even Russian.

Dutch treat or to go Dutch means splitting the cost of a meal, with an implication of  meanness.

To be (or get) in Dutch means to be or get in trouble.  

To beat the Dutch is to exceed expectations, and That beats the Dutch! is an exclamation of surprise.

Dutch relations also come in for rough treatment. Dutch uncle is a compulsive fault finder; while Dutch wife or Dutch widow is a prostitute.

Dutch comfort is cold, telling distressed people that things could be worse; Dutch defence is sham defence; Dutch talent is more brawn than brain; to get one’s Dutch up is to lose temper; to Dutch something means to ruin it; neither Dutch bed nor Dutch bath would meet your expectations; Dutch cough is flatulence.

And so on, ad infinitum: dozens of such expressions exist or have existed. One gets the impression that whenever the English dislike something they describe it as Dutch. Why?

One may think that such hard feelings go back to the Anglo-Dutch fight for maritime supremacy in the 17th century, and indeed some of the cited idioms go back to that time. It was early in the century that Shakespeare wrote of “Those frothy Dutch men, puft with double beer, That drink and swill in every place they come, Doth not a little aggravate mine ire.”

Yet most of such expressions date back to the next century, the 18th. What happened then for the English to see the Dutch as a bunch of duplicitous, tight-fisted, drunken, riotous, licentious swine?

True, in the second half of the 17th century, after Holland gained her independence from Spain, England and Holland fought three wars.

During the second of them, in 1667, Admiral De Ruyter inflicted on the Royal Navy one of the worst defeats it has ever suffered. De Ruyter’s armada sailed into the Thames estuary and then into the Medway, where the British fleet was routed (Ruytered?).

Yet Holland isn’t the only country ever to win a war against England: the French Normans conquered England in 1066.

Then between 1337 and 1453 England and France had a series of clashes known as the Hundred Years’ War. During that conflict between the Houses of Plantagenet and Valois, England won every major battle but lost all her holdings in France, roughly the western third of the country.

So why doesn’t the English language reflect any hostility towards the French? All we get is French letters and French leave, for which the French equivalents pay back the compliment: capote anglaise and filer à l’anglaise respectively.

This, though the latest wars against France (1803-1815) were fought more recently than England’s wars against Holland.

So what is it about the Dutch? One might find plausible explanations for each swathe of pejorative idioms, but not for the sheer number of them.

For example, the Dutch brought gin, the corruption of the Dutch word jenever, to England, where it became known as ‘mother’s ruin’. That may partly explain the idioms referring to Dutch boozing.

Also, Holland had some of Europe’s busiest ports, where beached sailors must have drunk up a storm. Prostitution was also rife in port towns, which may account for all those Dutch widows or wives.

Then Holland is a predominantly Calvinist country, and parsimony is a doctrinal requirement in that dubious version of Christianity – hence Dutch treat and variants. Holland is also a trading nation, and traders tend to be accused of double dealing, rightly or wrongly.

However, the French brought wine to England, and yet they haven’t rated any drink-related idioms. Also, Spain and Portugal were great trading powers competing with England, and yet we don’t talk about Spanish gold or Portuguese leaf.

I suspect that the Dutch were singled out because Holland was the only post-1066 country to have occupied England. For unfathomable reasons that occupation went down in history as the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689.

The stadtholder of Holland, Prince William of Orange, and his wife Mary, daughter of James II, came to England on the crest of anti-Catholic animus. James II was a Catholic and, when in his 50s he produced a son, some aristocrats and bishops worried about a possible Catholic restoration in England.

A Dutch invasion was preferable, and they committed what anywhere else would have been regarded as high treason by inviting William and Mary over. The stadtholder’s fleet of 500 ships promptly landed a force of 21,000 men.

The loyal army, dispersed all over the country, was pushed back. The Dutch entered London, and it stayed under their military occupation for 18 months. The English king was deposed and deported to France.

The invasion was accompanied by a Dutch propaganda offensive, claiming that William came to protect Englishmen’s liberties and the Church of England. Yet his real aim was to use English troops to fight the French on the continent.

That he proceeded to do, sending some two-thirds of the English army to the Low Lands. His heart was in Holland, and his body soon followed when he too left to fight the French.

It was because of this foreign invasion that the constitution of England changed to emphasise the supremacy of Parliament over the Crown. The wearer of that headgear lacked legitimacy, and his power was weak. The 1689 Bill of Rights simply reflected the status quo.

The Bill quelled the growing popular resistance, involving most Londoners and eventually most Englishmen. But it didn’t reduce the popular resentment against the Dutch invaders. Is that why so many negative idioms involving the Dutch appeared after the Glorious Revolution?

Let me tell you, if that Revolution was Glorious, then I’m a Dutchman.

Covid also infects minds

The WHO, whose collective mind was never the sharpest, has come up with an interesting simile.

Yes, this could work too…

It’s quite possible, said its spokesman, that coronavirus will stay with us for ever. We’ll just have to learn to live with it, like we’ve done with HIV. Not the aptest of comparisons, is it?

Learning to live with HIV is a doddle: all one has to do to stay safe is steer clear of certain types of sexual intercourse with certain types of people, and forswear shooting up with dirty needles.

One can’t catch HIV by just walking down the street or touching a doorknob. One can indeed catch coronavirus that way. Big difference – big enough, actually, to make that simile frankly idiotic.

Then our lovely mayor Sadiq Khan has proved yet again that he missed his true calling. Rather than trying city administration, for which he has no aptitude whatsoever, he should have gone into the extortion gig full-time.

Even when Sadiq only practises it part-time, his talent shines through. This morning, for example he sent this message to Boris Johnson, who used to have Sadiq’s job (I’m not sure I’m quoting verbatim, but the content is intact):

“Listen, you sh*te, you got till end of play today to slip two billion quid under me door. You don’t, I’ll cut the throat of London transport, making those human sardines travel in a crowd. I don’t give a monkey’s if thousands more will then croak, djamean?”

Whenever Sadiq’s career ends, as it regrettably must one day, he won’t have to make a crust by delivering speeches after boozy dinners, which, as a good Muslim, he must abhor. Instead, he’ll be able to live high on the hog (if, as a good Muslim, he’ll pardon the expression) just sending out notes opening with the words “If you ever want to see your [children, wife, parent, sibling, best friend] again…”

Speaking of good Muslims, you know how a silly question gets stuck in your mind, and you can’t have a moment’s rest until you’ve found the answer? Well, that’s happening to me even as we speak.

The question is, what about those gorgeous and other creatures sporting burqas? If we are all obligated to wear facemasks, will they get a special dispensation not to? Otherwise, would they wear those masks underneath or over the burqa? We the people have a right to know.

In conjunction with that impending requirement, I’d like to resuscitate the proposal I made a few weeks ago – a proposal that, false modesty aside, betokens my unrivalled ability to think outside the box.

Since our industry clearly can’t cope with the demand to produce 65 million facemasks, an even more severe shortage is bound to arise. At the same time, seeing that Londoners don’t seem to bother muzzling their dogs, there must be a glut of unused dog muzzles swelling warehouses all over this great land.

These can be profitably used as improvised facemasks, and we won’t even have to walk on all fours, chase cats around the block, drink out of puddles and get amorous with strangers’ legs.

Something to ponder there, on this Thursday afternoon. And please don’t bother sending me messages to the effect that it’s my mind that has been infected. 

Russian ventilators are really hot

Q: What’s the difference between a coronavirus ventilator and an improvised incendiary device (IID)? A: The manufacturer.

Coronavirus may have unexpected side effects

And, when the manufacturer is Russia, the borderline between the two devices may be blurred. First, one ventilator made at the Urals Instrument Factory ignited in a Moscow hospital on 9 May.

One patient died, hundreds of others were forced to evacuate. Then yesterday another Aventa-M ventilator made at the same factory short-circuited and created a fire in St George’s Hospital, Petersburg, killing five.

“The ventilators were being pushed to their limits. Our preliminary information suggests there was an overload and the equipment caught fire,” explained a Russian source. Oh well, that’s all right then.

Those Russian medics made the fatal mistake of actually using those ventilators, rather than keeping them safely tucked away in a warehouse. That was a mistake the Americans learned from.

For in early April Russia kindly sent a consignment of the same model ventilators to the US, where a shortage was expected. The Russians extracted much publicity value out of that transaction, promoting it as a selfless gift of humanitarian aid.

They must have been congratulating themselves on making a big stride toward the lifting of US sanctions, for the factory in question belonged to one of the sanctioned companies.

Meanwhile the Americans objected that the transfer hardly qualified as a gift, seeing that they had to pay for it. Preoccupied with that technicality, they almost lost sight of the tragic truth that Russian gifts may keep on giving.

Almost, but not quite. Following the two conflagrations, New York, that received 30 Aventas, and New Jersey, grateful recipient of 15, have returned the machines to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), saying they had no intention of using the de facto IIDs.

What FEMA is going to do with them now is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it may take only minor modifications to convert the ventilators into flamethrowers or, better still, Kalashnikovs. That’s one of the few Russian products that actually do what it says on the tin.

If Virgil were still around, he could give the Americans a good piece of advice: “Timeo Russi et dona ferentes.” But that Latin would be all Greek to FEMA.

Living argument against atheism

Atheism can make even bright people sound dim. For someone like Richards Dawkins, it’s deadly.

“There is no god; therefore, Britain should remain in the EU.”

Dawkins isn’t really a new phenomenon; he merely represents one. People like him have always been with us, those trying to support a silly idea with a load of illiterate gibberish.

What’s new these days is that there now exist millions ready to listen. That’s testimony to the abysmal level of public education, with people no longer taught to discern puny arguments and crepuscular logic.

Dawkins’s readers don’t even realise that he uses words he doesn’t understand. Just follow his latest rant about “religion’s pathetic bid to trump science”. He then proceeds to accuse “religious people” of “a pathetic lack of logic”.

Now, Dawkins levelling that accusation is akin to Hitler decrying anti-Semitism. His glass house has been shattered, reduced to glistening shards on the ground.

Dawkins’s lack of intellectual rigour shines through his use of the word ‘science’, which he clearly thinks means natural science only. I could recommend a few books on that subject, specifically those by Jacques Maritain, but I’d hate to take Dawkins out of his depth – the poor lad clearly hasn’t opened a book of philosophy in his life.

In fact, theology and philosophy are both sciences, each with its own object of study and methodology, though these largely overlap. The two sciences occupy a higher rung on the intellectual ladder than natural science because they deal with higher things.

To paraphrase Wittgenstein, natural scientists may get only as far as wondering how the world is – but not that it is, and especially not why it is. Only philosophy, mostly, and theology, exclusively, deal with such questions.

The answers to them are called first principles, and everything, including natural sciences, can be traced back to them. In fact, natural scientific inquiry has become more or less the exclusive domain of the West specifically because only our civilisation has come up with a coherent, intelligible narrative of first principles.

A natural scientist, at his best, tries to discover some universal laws of nature, taking as read the axiomatic assumption that such laws exist. Yet the greatest scientists realise that the existence of rational laws presupposes the existence of the natural law-giver.

That’s why more than half of today’s scientists believe in God, according to a mournful admission by Lewis Wolpert, as strident an atheist as Dawkins, but, unlike him, a real scientist.

All this goes to show that religion can’t by definition try to “trump science”. The two fields of endeavour are simply too different to step on each other’s toes, although they can complement each other.

In fact, the more natural mysteries scientists uncover, the more they realise that their findings support the theological view of the world.

For example, the Big Bang theory, put forth not by curates but by astrophysicists, proposes a cosmological model that vindicates Genesis. And in Dawkins’s own field, when Watson and Crick, both incidentally atheists, discovered the DNA helix, they realised it put paid to Darwin’s slapdash theory.

Actually DNA has something to do with Dawkins’s latest diatribe. Apparently, “religion” (another word he doesn’t understand) takes issue with his pet theory of RNA having originated as the simpler form of DNA.

That’s where “religion” displays what Dawkins calls ‘a pathetic lack of logic’: “Science of course has gaps in it… But to say… religion can fill that gap is utter nonsense – religion hasn’t the faintest idea how to fill that gap.”

That much is true: religion isn’t in the business of solving the conundrum of DNA and RNA. No serious religious thinker would suggest otherwise, which is why one suspects this particular conflict is a figment of Dawkins’s fecund imagination.

This is an old technique perfected by Stalin, Richard’s fellow atheist. He too would come up with an imaginary stupid opponent, only then to demolish his made-up arguments.

Meanwhile, Dawkins forged ahead: “You cannot say ‘we have here two possible ideas, A and B: A has an enormous amount of success under its belt but there are little gaps still remaining to be filled; B has absolutely nothing going for it, but because there’s a gap in A’s understanding, therefore B must fill it’ – utterly illogical.”

One can’t argue against such crazed rants. All one can do is put a hand on Richard’s forehead, solicitously enquire after his health and tell him in a quiet voice to take things easy for a while.

I especially like the part about B (that is, our civilisation resting on the two Testaments and the great body of resulting thought), having ‘absolutely nothing going for it’. Dawkins ought to ponder the fact that Trinity College, Cambridge, – just one college in one Western university – has produced 34 Nobel Prize winners in natural sciences, whereas the entire Islamic world has merely managed six.

I’m not suggesting Dawkins consider great Western music, art, architecture, philosophy, political institutions or legal tradition, all inspired by what he calls ‘religion’ – such things are clearly beyond him. But perhaps he would be capable of pondering his own field properly, if he weren’t too busy frothing at the mouth whenever he hears the word God.

Dawkins does have political views though, ignorance being no hindrance there either. They can be broadly summed up as “There is no God, therefore Britain should remain in the EU”. That’s what one expects from the master logician.