Dogs are supposed to take on the character traits of their owners. But what about wild animals?
London’s Richmond Park is the place to answer that question. It was laid out in the 17th century for Charles I to do some deer stalking.
Some 700 red and fallow deer still roam the park, and I’ve been observing them for 32 years. (These days one can look, but one can’t stalk.)
And what do you know? The social interplay between the stags and the does is remarkably, well, English.
Most Englishmen are in no rush to go home to their wives after work. Typically they go ‘down the pub with the lads’, sink a few pints, spend an evening chatting about football or those twats back in the office and then catch the train home, to arrive at 10pm or so.
Women, they often say, are only good for one thing.
Some chaps even insist that ‘wife’ is actually an acronym, standing for ‘washing, ironing, f***ing et cetera’. Yes, it’s jocular banter, but jokes always have a smidgen of reality about them.
Now, I lay no claim to being a present-day Konrad Lorenz, that great observer of animal behaviour. Yet I too can observe, and those stags in Richmond Park are clearly English.
They stick together or wander off on their own, leaving the does to their girlish chatter. In the absence of pubs, the stags go grazing, always making sure there’s plenty of green grass between them and the does.
Where they differ from Englishmen is in the frequency of their use of females for the only thing they are supposed to be good for.
For, contrary to malicious French claims, English libidos demand gratification more often than once a year.
In that sense, those Richmond stags are more English than the English. The only time they go anywhere near the does is during the rutting season in October. The rest of the time they turn their backs on the females and go off to graze together.
What do those stags and does talk about among themselves? One can only guess.
But the guesses don’t have to be uneducated: much can be deduced from the animals’ body language.
All I can say is that, whenever they spot me, their body language isn’t altogether complimentary.
Such is the view of the Rev Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, president of the US National Abortion Federation (NAF). To a British ear this acronym sounds like an aptonym, though I don’t think it evokes the same phonetic associations in America.
The Rev Katherine has issued a statement, saying, inter alia, that: “Abortion providers are some of my personal heroes and modern-day saints.”
These words would sound incongruous when uttered by just about anybody, never mind a Christian minister. Then again, it’s conceivable that the Episcopal Church, to which the Rev Katherine belongs, has its own standards of sainthood.
It certainly has its own, generally accepting, stand on abortion, even though the Anglican Church, with which it’s in communion, still opposes it, if only halfheartedly.
If pressed, the Rev Katherine would doubtless argue that neither Testament contains an explicit injunction against abortion.
However, such a literalist stand, typical of Protestant denominations, would set her up for a counterargument: homosexuality, on the other hand, is prohibited in both Testaments, which doesn’t prevent the Rev Katherine being married to another woman. How consistent is that?
Actually, she interests me much less than the relevant general question. Can a Christian, lay or especially ordained, be pro-abortion? Both apostolic Churches, Western and Eastern, answer this question unequivocally: no.
However, most mainstream Protestant denominations give a different answer, mainly because Christian tradition means nothing to them. As St John Henry Newman once put it, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”
Yet my subject here is neither the inherently heretical nature of Protestantism nor the Rev Katherine’s objectionable personality. For I don’t think an argument against abortion can only be made from a theological, indeed any fideistic, viewpoint.
One can argue the case persuasively from secular morality (if such a thing exists), logic, or even Aristotelian philosophy. For a sensible exponent of any religion or none will accept this starting moral position: any innocent human being has an inalienable right to life.
Hence any abortion advocate has to argue that a foetus isn’t a human being. Thus the whole complexity of the issue can be stripped down to its bare bones. We must simply agree when a human life begins.
There’s the rub – we can’t. Proceeding by elimination, we can agree when it clearly doesn’t begin: at the moment the neonatal baby crawls out of the womb. Those who think otherwise will face an unenviable task of arguing that a foetus becomes a human being one minute after delivery, but not one minute before.
That’s illogical on any number of levels, including the biological one. Prior to delivery the baby already has the same DNA, organs and sensitivity to pain it’ll have immediately thereafter and for life.
Clearly, all those aspects of a human being are developed at some time during gestation. But when exactly?
In the UK abortion is allowed 24 weeks into pregnancy. Implicitly therefore, the authorities believe that’s when a foetus becomes a human being with an inalienable right to life.
That belief is flawed. What about 23 weeks and six days? Precisely what happens in that seventh day of the 23d week to change the foetus’s status so dramatically?
And what about 23 weeks and five days? Four? Three? In other words, it’s easy to show that the 24-week cut-off point, as it were, is arbitrary. In fact, at any time during gestation at least some doubt should persist that abortion just may be tantamount to killing a human being.
Now, our jurisprudence demands proof beyond reasonable doubt to sentence a pickpocket to six months in prison. Shouldn’t at least as rigorous a standard apply to a situation where a human life may be at stake?
The only point that’s not open to such speculation is that of conception. Any other point is subject to reasonable doubt, which has to rule abortion out.
As far as I’m concerned, this clinches the argument. However, I mentioned Aristotelian philosophy earlier, and it can be brought in by way of reinforcement.
The anti-abortion argument can draw on Aristotle’s teaching about potentiality and actuality. As applied to the issue at hand, the argument from potential will point out that, unless its development is interrupted, a foetus will eventually become a person. That’s the potential that abortion nips in the bud.
Opponents of the argument from potential, such as the ‘philosopher’ Peter Singer (who, as a side line, advocates sex with animals) argue that a foetus hasn’t yet developed a consciousness and hence the will to live. Nor can it survive without its mother’s body.
Yet Prof. Singer would be hard-pressed to argue against post-natal abortion on that basis (actually his ilk don’t argue — they pronounce).
After all, a new-born baby’s consciousness is no more developed the day after delivery than the day before. And in neither case can it survive on its own. It can, however, develop to term in vitro from an early stage of gestation, with mother’s body nowhere in evidence.
As ever, the apostolic Christian position on this issue is more rational than any other. Although one has to admit that the Rev Katherine is a living argument in favour of postnatal abortion – say, 60 years after delivery.
Watching Her Majesty’s inspiring, dignified speech yesterday, I realised there’s something we have to thank coronavirus for.
Because of it, the world has been spared yet another emetic show of aggressive militarism, pagan worship and hatred for the West. That spectacle is otherwise known as the military parade in Red Square, cancelled this year for obvious reasons.
In Britain VE Day celebrations feature prayers of thanks, memorial services, survivors’ recollections, photo retrospectives and reprints of old newspaper articles. The Victory Day in Russia is only the culmination of incessant, all year round hysteria with distinct pagan overtones.
The victorious war seems to be the only ideological adhesive today’s heirs to Stalin have identified as a means of keeping the nation together. They also insist that, by having played the leading role in the defeat of Nazism, and having suffered greater casualties than all the other combatants put together, Russia is entitled to a leading status in the post-war.
Such claims are impossible to sustain without presenting a lying version of the events, and here the Russians can indeed claim primacy. Their politicians and ‘historians’ travel a well-trodden path: all the same lies were packaged and served by Stalin’s clique.
It’s partly for that reason that Stalin is again being extolled as a great leader who saved the world from Hitler. Amazingly, most Western historians lap up and regurgitate the same lies.
Falling by the wayside is the food and drink of history: facts. The most obvious of them is that, following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Soviet Union entered the war as Hitler’s ally.
The two predators agreed to divide Europe between them, and Stalin effectively untied Hitler’s hands. Germany, whose economy was only kept afloat by the printing press, had no option but to go to war. The Pact gave her a temporary guarantee of a secure rear, allowing her to concentrate all her efforts on the Western campaign.
Stalin gave Hitler invaluable help with raw materials, especially oil. (In 1939 Germany had barely a million tonnes of oil in its reserve. By contrast, Britain had 30 million, and the US 275 million.) Then the Soviet Union also attacked Poland, described by Molotov as an “ugly child of the Versailles Treaty”, enabling the Nazis to end the campaign before winter.
Stalin’s plan was simple: let Germany get bogged down in the western carnage, similar to the First World War. Then, when both sides got exhausted, the Red Army would roll over Europe.
Stalin, that ‘leader of genius’, badly miscalculated. He didn’t think that the Wehrmacht, whose build-up only started in 1935, would be able to take over the continent so quickly.
Stalin’s other mistake was in believing that Hitler would never dare attack the Soviet Union. The ‘great leader’ compared the two forces and found that the Soviets enjoyed an overwhelming superiority in both personnel and armaments.
In tanks, for example, the Soviets outnumbered the Nazis six to one – and that’s just the machine deployed in the western military districts. And the new generation of Soviet tanks, the KV and the T-34, didn’t have even approximate German analogues.
Every strategic plan revealed in the Russian archives provides for an in-depth offensive operation, with map arrows pointing at Krakow, Warsaw, Prague and so on. No other plans ever existed.
Alas, the Germans knew what was going on, as they were bound to: it was impossible to conceal millions of Soviet troops and thousands of trainloads of armaments moving westwards. As Hitler explained in a letter to Mussolini, “I have decided to cut the Soviet noose tightening around my neck.”
In what he described as the toughest decision of his life, Hitler ordered an attack because he felt, rightly, that he had no other choice.
What followed was the greatest military catastrophe in the history of warfare. In just eight days, the German army advanced over 300 km into the Soviet Union. In the next couple of months, the Soviet regular army ceased to exist – by December the Germans had taken over four million POWs (one of them my father).
How was that possible? How could an army greatly outnumbered in every category advance at marching speeds? How could the greatest casualties suffered by the Soviet army be in the POW and deserter categories, not wounded and killed?
That was another gross mistake by Putin’s favourite leader: he thought wars were fought by tanks, cannon and planes. They aren’t. They are fought by people, and the Soviet people didn’t want to fight for bolshevism.
This brings us to the crux of the matter. In 1917, Lenin identified his goal as “transforming the imperialist war into a civil one”, thereby gaining power.
That he did, and the world is still reeling from the result. Yet the observation that escapes even many historians is that Russia’s three wars described as ‘Patriotic’ were all civil wars at the same time.
The relationship between the Russian state and its people is traditionally that of masters and slaves, not government and citizenry. And, when the state is otherwise occupied, the people rebel.
Afterwards, professional liars (or simply misinformed patriots, like Tolstoy) paint the picture in the rosy colours of patriotic heroism, and the image is implanted into the collective psyche by mass propaganda.
Thus, Tolstoy’s version of 1812, expounded in War and Peace, has become the official history, taught to this day. The writer talks about the Russians “picking up the cudgel of people’s war and smiting the French with it.”
Said cudgel was indeed picked up, but it came down on the heads of local administrators and land owners. Several dozen popular revolts broke out all over Russia, and the army had to dispatch a whole corps to quell the unrest at the critical moment of the war, after the Russians had abandoned Moscow.
What happened in the first months after the Nazi attack was a version of the same thing: Soviet peasants, dispossessed, humiliated, starved, enslaved and murdered en masse refused to fight. They threw away their weapons, abandoned their tanks and artillery, and either ran away or marched into German captivity.
That rebellion was suppressed by the same methods as all others: with unrestricted violence. Military tribunals were passing verdicts, 2.5 million of them during the war. Of those convicted, 157,000 were shot – and easily as many without even that travesty of justice.
The Soviets thus inflicted heavier casualties on their own army than the Nazis managed to score on the Allies in their Western Front. At the same time, Stalin ordered his air force to strafe Soviet POW camps – and of course the soldiers were informed that their families were hostages to their bravery (the infamous Order 270).
Those measures, assisted by the Nazis’ brutality, worked, and the Red Army began to fight. Yet only in the second half of 1943 did the ratio of killed, wounded, taken prisoner and deserting reach the level traditionally expected in a fighting force.
The skill of the Soviet generals increased as the war went on, but their regard for soldiers’ lives didn’t. The Red Army didn’t win a single battle in which it didn’t enjoy an overwhelming numerical superiority, and even those victories came at an awful cost.
The Soviet Union lost 27 million in the war, but it would be wrong to say that the survivors won. And here we come to the real difference between VE Day and Victory Day.
Yesterday, the British people, led by the Queen, celebrated the heroic defence of the country’s freedom that ended in the defeat of one of history’s two most satanic regimes. Today, the ex-Soviet people celebrate the victory of their enslavers over those who wished to assume that role.
This isn’t to say there’s nothing to celebrate. The defeat of Hitler undoubtedly reduced the amount of evil in the world – after all, one satanic regime lording it over the continent is better than two.
And the memory of those 27 million deserves remembrance and a mournful glass or two. However, having played their role in liberating Europe from Nazism, the Soviet people didn’t gain one iota of their own liberty.
Popular revolts against the Soviets were raging throughout the war, and in West Ukraine and the Baltics they continued till the late ‘50s. And let’s not forget that some 1.5 million Soviet citizens fought with the Nazis during the war – in the vain hope that Hitler would bring freedom from Stalin.
Soviet soldiers had high hopes too, and those were similarly frustrated. Having replaced the old ‘proletarian’ slogans with imperial ones (those still going strong today), the Soviets celebrated the victory with mass executions, the GULAG – and yet another artificial famine, this one killing some two million victors in 1946-1948.
Eastern Europe, occupied by Stalin, replaced one brutal regime with another. Yesterday, the foreign ministers of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia joined the US Secretary of State in issuing a joint statement to that effect:
“While May 1945 brought the end of the Second World War in Europe, it did not bring freedom to all of Europe. The central and eastern part of the continent remained under the rule of communist regimes for almost 50 years. The Baltic States were illegally occupied and annexed and the iron grip over the other captive nations was enforced by the Soviet Union using overwhelming military force, repression, and ideological control…”
So yes, thanks to coronavirus for making the contrived enthusiasm in Russia more muted and less nauseating. At least, we haven’t been treated to another Red Square show of strength, accompanied by brainwashed patriots screaming “On to Berlin!” and “We can do it again!”
No, the former president of France hasn’t confessed to anything, quite the opposite. The title above is just a feeble bilingual pun based on the French word for buttock: fesse.
For it’s that anatomical feature that figures in an accusation of sexual assault allegedly committed by the frisky nonagenarian.
In 2018, when Mr Giscard was 92, he was interviewed by the German reporter Ann-Kathrin Stracke. At some point Miss Stracke asked Mr Giscard to pose for a photo with her, thus paving the way to her eternal victimhood.
According to her filed complaint, “the former president wrapped his arms around her, touched her waist, and placed his hand on her buttock.”
I’d suggest there were two possible ways of dealing with such brutal assault. One was to remove the offending hand; the other, to bring charges.
To her credit, Miss Stracke tried the first course before resorting to the second. She valiantly attempted to remove the ex-president’s hand from her buttock, but he proved too strong. According to her, “I tried to push back the hand of Mr Giscard d’Estaing, without however succeeding.”
Considering the culprit’s age it’s possible that he simply used Miss Stracke’s buttock for support in order to stay upright. Then of course it could have been a nostalgic statement of carnal interest conveyed semiotically. One way or the other, one has to congratulate Mr Giscard on his wrinkled hand still being too strong for a hale 37-year-old woman to dislodge.
Still, hand on buttock or knee, while doubtless constituting brutal assault, is still more nuanced than Joe Biden’s alleged technique. According to his victim’s accusations, he pinned her to the corner, “penetrated her digitally” and said, “I want to f*** you.”
Mr Giscard communicated the same message in a more subtle and less invasive manner, but then he is heir to Gallic subtlety that stands in marked contrast to Anglo-Saxon directness.
On the face of it, Miss Stracke’s case is somewhat weakened by her having waited almost two years to bring the charges. Yet one has to assume she was so deeply traumatised that she had to wait for the shock to subside. That way she was able to assess the damage and decide how deep the trauma was.
This might explain her own explanation: “At first, I didn’t think about filing a complaint, especially since I had no idea how French justice works.” Of course, in our Internet age the requisite information could have been obtained in some 10 minutes, but clearly not by someone in protracted shock.
But then Miss Stracke compromised the purity of her motives by admitting that she was encouraged to act by the growing momentum of the MeToo movement: “This movement has shown me how important it is to debate these issues in society.”
Quite. In fact, it’s hard to think offhand of any issue more important to debate than the odd stray hand on buttock. One might suggest that perhaps there’s a difference between debating and filing criminal charges, but one shouldn’t, on pain of being named as an accomplice.
Anyway, bring charges Miss Stracke did. Yet the culprit refused to admit his guilt, or fess up, if I wish to persist with that puerile pun.
According to Mr Giscard’s spokesman, “If what is alleged against him were true, he would of course be sorry, but he does not remember anything.” The culprit’s age makes this statement eminently believable. A nonagenarian can’t possibly remember every buttock he used as a crutch two years ago.
But seriously now, if I am to retain a modicum of respect for French jurisprudence, I hope the judges will throw out this complaint faster than one could say ‘woke publicity-hogging’.
Miss Stracke ought to build her career on journalism, not the subversive campaign to destroy normal relations between the sexes. Real women, even those blessed with architecturally sound bottoms, used to know how to discourage unwanted attentions.
All it took was a smile, a sweeping move with the hand or, as in Miss Stracke’s case, possibly just a step sideways. That was all part of an eternal game, the give and take of courtship and flirtation.
By mentioning such things in the same breath as real sexual assault, and equating cheekiness with brutality, MeToo ideologues devalue actual rape. Does Miss Stracke feel she deserves to stand side by side with, say, Lara Logan, the CBS reporter assaulted by hundreds of Egyptians who tore her clothes off, ripped her hair out and raped her with their hands and sticks?
I wonder if these modern cretins have in their minds an ideal world they’d like to create. If they do, I certainly wouldn’t want to live in it.
I tend to follow news in general, but especially if it concerns places where I live now and have lived in the past.
Houston is one such place, and I look back on my 10 years there with mixed feelings. In broad strokes, I hated the city but liked the people who lived there, and Texans in general.
There were invariably hidden depths there, and I always wondered how such interesting people could live in such an unremittingly dull and ugly place. Many other American cities are just as ugly, but at least nature provides patches of beauty all around them.
Houston holds the rare distinction of being equally ugly in its man-made and natural aspects. And the climate isn’t much help either.
For some seven months every year it’s what I called 95/95: the first number being degrees Fahrenheit and the second, per cent humidity. This is accompanied by at least one annual flood, one tornado, and a hurricane every other year.
The worst one, Hurricane Harvey, hit the city in 2017, leaving 80 people dead and 800,000 homeless. That was worse than Hurricanes Sandy and Catrina combined, which is going some.
In my day, Houstonians took disasters in stride. If they blamed them on anything, it was themselves for having incurred God’s wrath. But much has changed since 1984, when I last lived there.
God is no longer a consideration, but global warming is. All natural disasters are deemed to be the work of that wrathful deity, and in some quarters it’s even implicated in coronavirus.
I would have thought Houston would be the last place to succumb to that cult, and perhaps it was. But succumb it has, judging by the news.
Its mayor has announced a plan to move the city to 100 per cent renewable energy, with the long-range goal of making Houston carbon-neutral by 2050. Houston’s Climate Action Plan also includes a commitment to “developing more public transportation options”.
Now any public transportation would constitute an improvement over the Houston I remember. In my day, I vaguely heard of a bus route or two, but I never saw a single bus. One had to hop in a car to buy even a pint of milk or a pack of cigarettes.
Most streets had no pavements, on the correct assumption that the weather was usually so awful that no one would go anywhere on foot anyway. One moved from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car, to an air-conditioned office, to an air-conditioned bar, to the air-conditioned car one was by then in no condition to drive, and then back to the air-conditioned house.
So yes, some public transport, provided it’s air-conditioned, would be an improvement. But the rest of it?
I’m not going to repeat my usual diatribes against foolhardy, ideologised attempts to phase out fossil fuels. I shall, however, comment on the staggering hypocrisy of pushing for that in Houston.
Amazingly, in commenting favourably on this development, our papers omitted to mention that Houston is the world capital of the oil, gas and petrochemical industry.
If there exists a major one-industry city, Houston is it. Oil courses through the city’s veins. You can wake any five-year-old in the middle of the night, and he’ll give you yesterday’s Brent price of crude to the last cent.
There are some 5,000 energy-related firms in the city, 17 of them Fortune 500, making the city the country’s top job provider. Even businesses that ostensibly have nothing to do with awl (that’s oil to all you Yanks and other foreigners out there) live off hydrocarbons and petrochemicals.
For example, I worked for an advertising agency, but all our accounts were related to the oil or petrochemical industry, and our competitors were exactly the same. Even the Johnson Space Center, where I had worked before, was built by Brown & Root, mainly known for designing and manufacturing offshore platforms.
Houston turning against awl and touting the virtue of renewables is like the City of London declaring that trade in securities is evil and committing itself to being speculation-free by 2050.
Except that, and this is where hypocrisy comes in, even if Houston turns itself into one giant solar panel and uses nothing but renewables to keep the thermostats low, it’s not going to wipe out its whole economy and perhaps 90 per cent of its jobs, is it?
Of course not. Houston will always be dedicated to supplying the world with sinful hydrocarbons, even if it itself switches to virtuous renewables. If you’ll forgive another simile, that’s like a ‘dry’, Bible-thumping town built around a brewery providing all the local jobs and exporting beer around the world.
I wonder what my old Houstonian friends are going to say about this plan. At a guess, “Those folks are so full of shit it’s coming out of their ears.”
The Times obituary of Sir John Houghton says as much about the paper as about the eminent environmental scientist.
Sir John was a fanatic of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) who co-chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the driving force behind the Kyoto treaty.
In recognition of this body’s achievement in drawing the world’s attention to warm weather, it was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, which distinction it shared with Al Gore and Yasser Arafat…
Sorry, slapdash research there. Yasser received his Nobel in 1994, and it was only Al who got a share of the 2007 accolade. Both awards, however, bolstered the credibility of the Nobel Committee no end.
The obituary was as eulogising as the genre requires. Also, whoever wrote it wasn’t reticent about letting his own views on the issue known. On purely professional grounds, I admire the skill involved in conveying bias with only a few words in a long article.
Thus, Sir John “spent his career getting people to listen to the scientific consensus on climate change”. It would be tedious to list all the scientists who stand outside that consensus, but trust me: the list is long.
Or, “Houghton persuaded the world to listen to what the vast majority of scientists were saying about climate change, namely that it was extremely likely that human activity was the main cause of it.” Ditto.
That a serious and widespread scientific opposition to AGW exists never got a mention. Instead, the reader was made to believe that the only opposition came from countries “whose economies rely on oil… those whose economies relied on revenue from fossil fuels… [and] some countries that, for reasons of self-interest, tried to obscure the growing evidence for anthropogenic climate change.”
All this is par for the course. One would be foolish to expect a liberal paper to buck the liberal consensus, and the writer’s bias is hardly worth a mention.
What does strike me as unfortunate, on the part of both the obituarist and his protagonist, is the attempt to use biblical references as justification for what’s so aptly called Gretinism.
Sir John was an evangelical Christian, which term I find misleading — all Christians are evangelical because Christ told them to be. However, the way that designation is used, it’s synonymous with ‘fundamentalist Christian’ and hence also with ‘rubbish at theology’.
Those chaps can twist the scripture into supporting any message whatsoever. All it takes is a nimble mind, and, by the sound of him, Sir John’s was as nimble as they come.
Thus, says the obituary, “He… thought that Christians were obliged to act on climate change by their duty to be Good Samaritans, as it would affect poorer countries more than rich ones.”
This is nonsense on several levels, not all of them theological. What would affect poorer countries is the removal of fossil fuels, which provide 85.5 per cent of world energy. Obliterating them would lead to famines, epidemics and violence all over the globe, but especially in its downmarket part.
Scientists, those outside the aforementioned consensus, estimate the likely death toll of that exercise at somewhere between one and two billion souls. Not very Good Samaritan, is it?
Then, claims the obituary, Sir John believed that “God commanded humanity to look after the planet in Genesis 1: 28.”
According to that verse, “… God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth”.
Deriving the Kyoto treaty from this verse takes no mean sleight of hand. The operative words there are subdue and dominion. These words [in the original, kabash (כָּבַשׁ) and radah (רָדָה) respectively] mean that the Earth was created for man to rule, dominate and use for his own ends.
Employing the obituarist’s language, this interpretation is based on consensus formed by the vast majority of theologians. The Earth and everything in it is there to serve man, not the other way around.
That doesn’t preclude responsible environmentalism: for the Earth to fulfil its God-given mission, it should be used rationally and lovingly. The nature of the argument here is exactly what practices are consistent with that goal, and the consensus on that is nowhere near universal.
Like most things these days, this issue has become thoroughly politicised. By way of proof, try this test on anybody you know.
Ask him a series of political questions designed to establish where on the right-left spectrum he belongs. In nine cases out of ten, you’ll find that those on the right won’t be suffering from Gretinism, and those on the left will.
Since the second group is more numerous, active and vociferous, it has succeeded turning this issue into an ideological battleground. The late Sir John Houghton was in the vanguard of the wrong side, for whatever reason. One can only wish he hadn’t used the Bible as a weapon of mass instruction.
Assuming that the pandemic will at some point end, people will look back and judge their governments’ response.
Since Descartes postulated that all knowledge is comparative, that judgement will inevitably necessitate a search for comparators, and here the example of Sweden will prove invaluable.
After all, most European countries have handled coronavirus in roughly the same manner. Lockdowns, curfews, confinement to quarters, closures of most businesses are common features, as are the disastrous economic consequences of such measures.
Exactly how disastrous, we don’t know yet. But there’s no conspicuous reason to be optimistic: it will take at least a generation for things to get back to normal, and they may actually never do so.
Since all of us are affected, I shan’t upset you any more than you are already by mentioning some of the lurid details of the likely catastrophe, not just economic, but also social and political. Yet here too most European countries are in the same boat, and the vessel resembles the Titanic more than Noah’s Ark.
Sweden, as you know, is an exception. She staged an experiment, thereby kindly giving us grounds for comparison. Her economy won’t collapse because the government has kept it going throughout the pandemic.
People have been going to work, paying those exorbitant prices in bars, eating in restaurants, having parties – and dying. Surely whatever comparisons will be made in the future will have to take the death statistics into account.
The most valid comparisons will be those drawn between Sweden and the countries that have similar demographic, meteorological, social, cultural and economic conditions. In other words, Denmark and Norway (and to a lesser extent Finland and Iceland).
This is how the pandemic markers have been evolving in Scandinavia. On 21 March, Sweden had 2.3 times fewer cases than Norway. On 2 May, Sweden had a third more. During the same period, Sweden started out having a third fewer cases than Denmark and ended up with more than a quarter more.
At the beginning of that period the mortality rate in Sweden was approximately 1.5 times higher than in Norway; at the end, it was almost seven times higher. Compared to Denmark, Sweden’s mortality rate was 13 per cent lower in March and more than three times higher in May.
(In Finland the mortality rate is 6.7 times lower than in Sweden; in Iceland, nine times lower.)
Adjusting the numbers for population density won’t be much help. True enough, Sweden, at 22.5 people per square kilometre, has a slightly higher density than Norway (17). Yet in Denmark the density is much higher still (133.9).
Translating proportions into absolute numbers, had Sweden adopted the same restrictive measures as her Scandinavian neighbours, she would have already saved about 2,000 lives up to now, and the pandemic is still going strong.
In other words, the Swedish experiment came with a price attached, payable in human lives. That doesn’t mean that the Swedes got it wrong. Such a conclusion would be too straightforward, and nothing about this pandemic is.
There was a Cartesian exercise involved, with the credits weighed against the debits. The Swedes decided that keeping the economy healthy and the people free was worth thousands more dead. Other Europeans decided it wasn’t.
Now imagine yourself as a European prime minister. Would you be prepared to tell the people that the cost of letting them get on with their lives as normal will run to thousands of casualties?
How many thousand, you don’t know. May be ten, may be a hundred, may be considerably more. Yet you, taking advantage of your constitutional mandate, have decided this price is worth paying. Our prosperity and civil rights are too precious to sacrifice for a paltry [insert the likely number] deaths.
Would you be ready to do this? Knowing in advance that you’ll be blamed in any scenario other than a Sweden-style experiment coming relatively cost-free? Would you be prepared to face hundreds of thousands of bereaved relations, weeping and wailing and baying for your head?
Would I? I wish I had the moral certainty of some of our columnists. But I don’t, so I think I’ll stay on the fence in this one. And I certainly don’t envy those who didn’t have that luxury, including our own much maligned government.
Every day I go through what athletes call warm-up and warm-down, except that mine are mental rather than physical.
I warm up by doing newspaper puzzles, and in the evening I warm down by watching some TV series. Presence of sex scenes, ideally gratuitous, can move a show to the top of my choices, and I know Fr Michael would disapprove.
I divulge this information to forestall suggestions that I reject films simply because of their depictions of graphic sex. I don’t.
I do reject erotic films pretending to convey a serious message, whereas their real purpose is to attract viewers by titillating their naughty bits. This brings me to the current BBC hit Normal People.
It traces the story of two young lovers, Marianne and Connell, who first hook up at school somewhere in Ireland when both are 18. By the final episode they’re 23-year-olds who have been through Trinity College, Dublin.
Their relationship is on-off: sometimes Marianne is on Connell, sometimes she’s off and he’s on her. In some episodes their nude lovemaking takes up over half the total footage, leaving this viewer wondering why good celluloid was wasted on the other half.
Yet according to most reviewers, the other half is what makes the effort so worthwhile. Marianne and Connell aren’t merely two youngsters intermittently rutting away, and the series isn’t just soft porn. It’s a distillation of the present generation, the millennials.
If so, this generation is dishonest, neurotic, tasteless, ignorant, immoral and stupid. It is, however, undeniably woke, which reviewers regard as a redeeming feature.
They praise the series for its sensitive treatment of consent and mental ‘issues’, which is the millennial for ‘illness’. I wasn’t aware that consent to sex was a wide-reaching existential problem, but then I’m behind the times.
When they are still at school, Connell is peer-pressured into keeping his relationship with Marianne secret. He’s a popular athlete, while she’s regarded as ugly and unworthy of him.
That’s where dishonesty starts, for no effort was made to make Daisy Edgar-Jones look any less pretty than she is. Casting a plainer actress would have strengthened the story, but weakened the soft port aspect of it. And that’s where the money is.
Since consent now tops the Decalogue in the commandments sweepstakes, Connell has to deflower Marianne in compliance with the strictest requirements. Hence just before penetration, or possibly even during it (the camera angle isn’t definitive), he keeps reassuring Marianne that they could stop at any moment.
Well, 18-year-olds are certainly different from what I distantly remember. In the old days, it would have taken a crowbar to prise a boy that age from a naked supine girl. But back then we were unaware of the existential value of consent, nor indeed of its cosmically broad definition.
Both protagonists, especially at first Marianne, are supposed to be exceptionally bright. Yet in my experience, intelligent people tend to say and do intelligent things.
Marianne, however, says nothing clever and acts in an erratic manner. And Connell at first comes across as borderline retarded. Where Marianne is truculent, he is taciturn – and not just the clichéd strong and silent type.
As Connell explains, he can’t express his thoughts in words. That’s not known as a sign of dazzling intelligence, especially in a chap who, like Connell, is a budding writer.
I’ve met many writers in my life, some of them more talented and indeed more intelligent than others. Yet I’ve never met a tongue-tied one. An aspiring writer who can’t put his thoughts into words is like a budding Formula 1 driver who can’t get a driving licence.
Anyway, having had countless clandestine trysts with Marianne, Connell then takes another girl, one more befitting his public image, to a school dance, leaving Marianne home alone and lachrymose.
Again this doesn’t ring true. By now we know Connell loves Marianne. Also, the girl scrubs up well: even though she wasn’t an ugly duckling to begin with, now that her inner sensual self has come out, she wears revealing jumpers and looks gorgeous.
No man would be ashamed to be seen with her, yet Connell commits an unwarranted act of unspeakable cruelty. No wonder Marianne ignores his protestations of love and stops taking his weepy phone calls.
Cut to them meeting at Trinity a year or two later, having been out of touch in the interim. Both have other lovers, and Marianne is now presented as a beautiful, popular girl – although her appearance hasn’t changed one iota since school.
Before long, they ditch their current paramours and resume the rutting, with Marianne spending most of the screen time stark naked. Sorry, I’ve misrepresented the situation.
Both of them are stark naked, which Miss Edgar-Jones highlighted in an interview as a blow for ‘gender equality’. When we were both topless, she explained, gender equality suffered because, when both sexes expose their torsos, the woman actually exposes more, existentially speaking.
However, when they were both starkers, equality was served. Here, as a lifelong champion of gender equality, I beg to differ. For a man’s primary sex characteristics are more visible than a woman’s.
In one shot we actually catch a glimpse of Connell’s, mercifully flaccid, penis. To match that on equal terms, Marianne should have faced the camera with her legs open. Yet the grateful audience was spared that delight.
For some negligently unexplained reason the two drift apart again, with Marianne passing like a relay baton from one lover to another. She is shown enjoying a full alphabet of sexual variants, S&M, B&D, you name it. Yet her heart isn’t in it because she never stops loving Connell.
Why not spare herself all that humiliation and stay with Connell in the first place? The show regards such questions as superfluous and tactless.
Connell, meantime, goes to pieces – partly because he loves Marianne who’s doing S&M with someone else, and partly because his school friend killed himself. Why, we aren’t told because it’s none of our business.
The suicide affects Connell deeply even though he hasn’t seen the lad for three years. He goes off the rails and ends up in free counselling. That’s where the sensitive treatment of mental ‘issues’ comes in.
The shrink mouths the usual banalities and asks the usual questions, along the lines of “How does that make you feel?” Connell provides a vivid answer by throwing a hysterical fit, something he managed to do well enough even without professional help.
The moral of that sensitive episode is that, rather than keeping one’s ‘issues’ inside, it’s much better to let it all hang out. Yet such emotional incontinence doesn’t do Connell much good, by the looks of it.
Round and round she goes. Marianne follows her abusive lovers to Italy, Sweden and back to Ireland, with Connell chasing her, or her chasing him, with varying persistence.
Each rutting get-together is followed by a breakup for no good reason. One gets the impression that, now unable to satisfy her masochistic cravings physically (Connell is rather orthodox in that department), Marianne seeks to satisfy them through mental anguish.
That said, the two actors are good, Marianne is lovely, Connell looks like a dead ringer for the ManU defender Harry Maguire, and the location sequences are shot well.
The show is reasonably entertaining – shame about the story, character development, believability and especially emetic messages. Soft porn should be served neat.
These words don’t often roll off my tongue when I read newspaper articles. So much more pleased I am to report that this morning they did.
The Telegraph piece that elicited my enthusiastic reaction was written by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet. The long title is self-explanatory: We French Love Our Health Service, But It’s Not a National Religion.
As a rule, I fill this space only with my own efforts, modest as they may be. But today I’m going to cite whole passages from Mme Moutet’s article, on the realisation that I couldn’t have put it better myself.
Also, having spent quite some time in both British and French hospitals, I can validate her comparisons of the two, unflattering though they regrettably are to Britain.
“Unlike you, we don’t and never did worship La Sécu: we see it not as one of the glories of our Scepter’d Nation, but as the kind of public service one expects from a modern country, like good trains.” I wish she hadn’t mentioned good trains, unless that was meant as a sly dig at Britain.
“The… romanticisation of your health system seems very strange. It’s as if you are afraid that… any change would destroy the mysterious compact initiated by Beveridge. The NHS seems replacement and compensation for your lost Empire. Staffed by so many Commonwealth nationals, it becomes a post-colonial iteration of goodwill…”
I’m not sure about the post-colonial aspect of NHS veneration, but it’s clearly treated as more than just a method of providing medical care.
However, having spent quite some in London hospitals, both private and NHS, I can testify to the preponderance of Commonwealth nationals, from the subcontinent, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, the West Indies. Yet that, I suspect, is merely a matter of dire staffing necessity, rather than “a post-colonial iteration of goodwill”.
“Most hospital rooms [in France] are for one or two patients only; the notion of mixed wards is rightly seen as unacceptable.” Again I can validate this statement on the basis of personal experience.
The first time I found myself in an NHS hospital (Chelsea & Westminster, brand new at the time), I shared a room with a couple of dozen patients, half of them women. Generally speaking, I don’t mind sharing my sleeping quarters with scantily dressed females, but the circumstances were just wrong.
It’s also true that in my several stints at a provincial French hospital I never had to share a room with more than one patient, and usually not even that.
“As patients, we feel you get a raw deal… French doctors, paid less than half their British counterparts, would never countenance denying procedures for having the ‘wrong’ lifestyle.”
True on all counts. My local GP in France actually gets less than half the average salary of his NHS colleagues. And a Gorgon of a GP in London once asked me in a peremptory manner: “Why should I treat you if you smoke?”
“Because it’s your job?” I suggested. “Because you took the Hippocratic Oath?” Wrong answer, as it turned out. The buzzer went off in her head and she dumped me from her practice.
“When I felt a lump in my breast two years ago, a text got me an appointment the following day, testing within the week, and an operation three weeks later: never was I happier to be living in France rather than in the UK.”
The timings Mme Moutet cites are, give or take, standard only for private medicine in the UK. However, anyone with personal experience of the NHS would react to Mme Moutet’s description of her ordeal with a rueful smile and perhaps some words that only appear in unabridged dictionaries.
The sacralisation of the NHS is an interesting phenomenon that requires serious study. Actually the National Insurance Act was only part of the whole story. A whole raft of socialist policies were adopted at the time, including wholesale nationalisation.
But the NHS, that child of William Beveridge and Aneurin Bevan, went to the top of Mount Olympus and there it has stayed as an object of pagan worship. The impetus might have come from the loss of religion rather than of the Empire. Cradle to grave socialist propaganda certainly was a factor as well, as it continues to be.
Bien fait, Mme Moutet, and thank you for never mentioning insufficient funding as the source of NHS ills. Somebody has to tell the truth: the NHS is bankrupt because it’s based on a bankrupt philosophy. C’est tout, as they say in France.
By now you must be sick of coronavirus, if only, one hopes, figuratively. Seeking to provide some relief, I noticed the consonance of coronavirus and Coriolanus.
That turned my thoughts to Shakespeare, or rather the way his work is interpreted. I’d suggest we try to remould him in a modern, progressive image, which is understandable.
It’s a natural tendency to whitewash people we admire. And in the Anglophone world, no one is admired more than the Bard.
Hence we gloss over some of Shakespeare’s traits, those that would get him ostracised in our enlightened times. Such, for example, as his ageism, crassly displayed in Sonnets 2 and 18: “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow/ Thou art no longer a darling bud of May”.
But I digress. My subject today is Shakespeare’s sexuality that still remains as enigmatic as his true identity.
Modern commentators go out of their way to insist that Shakespeare was an active practitioner of the alternative lifestyle, which, incidentally, was a hanging offence in Tudor England.
One such commentator is the celebrated actor Sir Ian McKellen, noted for his performances in many Shakespeare roles, including, I think, Lady Macbeth and, in his younger days, Ophelia. “Did he sleep with another man?” Sir Ian asks himself. “I would say yes.”
This is a deplorable attempt to bring Shakespeare up to date. It’s true that in his sonnets the poet sometimes refers to young men as ‘sweet boy’ or ‘lovely boy’. Yet one can admire the beauty of an Adonis without wishing to copulate with him.
The same goes for Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” This apparent love poem is clearly written to a man, as proved by the use of the masculine personal pronoun further down:
“And often is his [my emphasis] gold complexion dimm’d;/ And every fair from fair sometime declines,/ By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;/ But thy eternal summer shall not fade…”
Then, in Sonnet 20, Shakespeare refers to his love object as the “master-mistress of my passion”. This sexual ambivalence might suggest homoerotic passions to some. To me it spells nothing but aesthetic appreciation, something to be expected from a sublime artist.
Some relationships between male protagonists in Shakespeare’s plays also give grounds for speculation. One Antonio seems to be in love with Sebastian in Twelfth Night; another Antonio dotes on Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice; Patroclus seems to enjoy a tender friendship with Achilles in Troilus and Cressida.
Yet it’s only to the dirty, sex-obsessed modern mind that love between two men must have an erotic component. For example, my male friends and I love one another. However, though I can’t vouch for them, I’ve never felt the need to express such feelings in ways that Leviticus and Romans don’t condone.
Then there’s Shakespeare’s family life. People with dirty minds ignore the three children Shakespeare produced with Anne Hathaway, the lesser known person of that name.
Instead they point out the difference in their ages, which may sometimes be a marker of a ‘lavender marriage’. But Anne was only eight years older than Will, not thirty, as in some marriages I could mention (not that I’m trying to impugn anything untoward in Manny Macron’s marital life). So that argument doesn’t cut much ice either.
And it’s certainly demolished by the evidence of Shakespeare’s homophobia I uncovered the other day when rereading Hamlet. In his instructions to Laertes, Polonius says: “Neither a burrower nor a bender be.”
‘Burrower’ is clearly a reference to a perverted practice that has since acquired a different name I can’t repeat out of decorum. And ‘bender’ is a widespread pejorative term for a homosexual.
Until the other day I thought this objectionable word was of a more recent provenance. Yet it’s clearly one of the 1,700 neologisms Shakespeare contributed to the English language.
You must agree that no man using such abusive terminology to describe… hold on a second.
Penelope has just looked over my shoulder, called me a name I dare not repeat and said I needed a new prescription for my reading glasses. Apparently I misread the cited quotation.
According to her the actual line was “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” Hence Polonius was merely warning his son against fiscal, rather than sexual, incontinence.
Be that as it may, such moralising is odd in a man who advised his son to sink into expensive drug addiction: “Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy…”
Here comes Penelope again, telling me I should stop wasting space, which could instead be devoted to deep insights. Oh well, never mind.