Mea culpas for 2020 sins

Now is the time to cast a glance over a year drawing to a close and repent any sins one has committed. In that spirit, though I’m incapable of emulating St Francis’s saintliness, I’m adopting even as we speak his penitent pose, as depicted by Zurbarán. So, in no particular order:

Several times over the past 12 months I’ve enjoyed a cocktail called Negroni, a mixture of gin, red vermouth and Campari. Yet never once did I stop to think of how criminally racist the drink’s name is.

That is doubtless a symptom of unconscious bias, and I am deeply sorry. Anyway, the cocktail is bright red, not black. So why give it that offensive name if not for the beastly purpose of expressing implicit racism?

By way of redemption I propose that this drink be henceforth called Uguaglianza, which is the Italian for Equality – and that every bar using the old name be summarily closed and ideally razed.

Now, my heart is racing and my throat feels constricted, but I have to make this next admission. On numerous occasions this year I’ve revealed my subcutaneous racism by using words like niggardly, niggling and renege.

Also, even though I’m aware of how offensive certain words can be even in seemingly innocuous contexts, I’ve callously neglected to replace apes and monkeys with simians, bananas with curved yellow tropical fruit, coconut with the fruit of the palm tree, spade with shovel (as in ‘call a shovel a shovel’) and watermelon with a Cucurbitaceae, a much safer word, though not easy to pronounce. I apologise unreservedly.

Then earlier in the year I wrote that President Macron of France had decreed that the French national anthem La Marseillaise be replaced with the hymn O Come Emmanuel. It turns out my friend Manny never did any such thing, and neither does he have any intention of ever doing so, much as he would like to. I apologise to him, France and anyone whose religious feelings I might have offended.

And, following today’s fashion, I apologise on behalf of Western civilisation for bringing our planet to the verge of extinction, using scientific and technological progress as a lame excuse.

I also apologise on behalf of all those who insist on citing irrelevant statistics, such as those comparing our life expectancy now, at the time of the wholesale rape of the planet by science, industry and intensive agriculture, and in the morally impeccable old days, when energy was produced by muscle, wave and wind.

Trust those materialists to point out that we now live twice as long. They don’t realise that what matters isn’t the length of life, but its moral quality.

In this connection, I’d also like to apologise to Greta Thunberg, whom I have on several occasions inadvertently called retarded, evil, hysterical and generally mad. I now know she’s a brilliant, saintly young woman ideally suited to lead the world towards extinct…, sorry, I mean excellence.

I also apologise to no one in particular for driving a car powered by a 3-litre diesel engine.

By way of extenuation, I’ve proposed to Penelope on several occasions that we replace that offensive vehicle with a tandem bicycle. However, she has vetoed this environmentally responsible shift, saying that if I want to cycle all the way to France, I’m welcome to do so. She’ll be driving that planet-killer come what may. I’ll continue to work on her, but knowing how bloody-minded she can get, I’m not holding my breath.

Even though no one has authorised me to speak for our whole civilisation, I’ll still take this opportunity to apologise for its racist, colonialist past. Especially objectionable is Britain’s pathetic excuse for it, so-called liberal interventionism. Far from being liberal, all such interventionism was criminal and none was necessary.

After all, we can see how well all African countries are doing at present, now they are free of the trammels of Western colonialism. Those who point out that over 10 million people have been murdered in Central Africa over the past few decades are inveterate racists, and I apologise for them humbly.

Also I can’t help noticing that animal proteins have featured prominently in my 2020 diet. I apologise unequivocally for this barbaric carnivorism. Only consuming naturally grown grasses, nuts and tree bark would obviate the need for apology, and I hope to do better next year, although honesty prevents my issuing any ironclad guarantees.

Finally I apologise to the NHS which I have been known to besmirch. Far from being the unwieldy socialist Leviathan I called it so many times, it’s the paragon of efficiency, fairness and equality, the envy of every country in His creation. If they aren’t falling over themselves trying to imitate it, I apologise for their tardiness in seeing the light.

Having got that burden off my chest, I wish you all a happy, or at least happier, New Year. And if your 2020 wasn’t entirely ecstatic, I’m genuinely sorry. 

Tennis is life

Not so long ago, John McEnroe fluffed up a sitter. A radio interviewer put the ball in his court, and Mac missed terribly.

Surely he can’t be serious?

The question was where in his view Serena Williams ranked among the greatest tennis players. That looked like an easy, no-pace shot down the middle. She is, replied Mac, unquestionably the greatest female player in history.

He thought he had won the point, but the interviewer thought otherwise. What do you mean, the greatest female player? he asked. Why not the greatest player of all time?

Now, Mac is nothing if not politically correct – in general. But that subject wasn’t general. It was specific, and it concerned his life’s work.

“Whoa,” he said, holding his open palms in front of his chest. “That’s a different story.” Clearly, Mac’s feet weren’t set properly, because his next shot missed by a mile. “If she played on the men’s tour, she wouldn’t get into the top 700,” he said, watching the shanked ball sailing out of the studio.

The interviewer and his other guests were aghast. So were the thousands of irate tennis fans who later wrote to complain and protest. How could he say that?!? He knows nothing about tennis, and even less about life!

At roughly the same time, a challenge of the sexes was being mooted between Serena and Andy Murray, who wasn’t yet crocked. However, when a question about that possibility was put to Serena at another chat show, she just laughed.

“Are you kidding?” she said. “I’m not going to play Murray. I don’t want to be embarrassed. He’d beat me love and love in 10 minutes flat. I’m happy playing the girls, it’s a totally different sport.”

Both McEnroe and Williams know all there is to know about tennis. But one doesn’t have to be a world-class player to realise they are right. Anyone who has ever wielded a tennis racquet in anger is aware that men and women play a different game.

The men are faster, stronger, more athletic, more technically accomplished, more tactically astute and so forth. It’s the same in all sports.

Since I don’t follow women’s football, I don’t have a clue who is regarded as the best female player of all time. But whoever she is, how would she compare to Maradona or Messi? I bet the same way as Serena compares to Federer, Djokovic, Nadal or, well, McEnroe.

Mac and Serena spoke the truth, but it was a mundane, physical truth residing in the realm of facts. There exists a higher, metaphysical truth that soars high above facts, reaching the stratosphere of ideology.

And in that rarefied medium it’s impossible even to consider the possibility that men can be by definition better than women at anything. As a certain Eton teacher will confirm, anyone daring to suggest that had better be prepared to collect unemployment benefits. Virtual reality exists, and it trumps the actual kind every time.

Any psychiatrist will tell you that mental divorce from actual reality is a clinical symptom of schizophrenia, and this progressive disease is indeed besetting our progressive people.

Their fevered minds create a warped picture of life, wherein men and women are the same, the Earth has never been warm before, comprehensive education educates, sex and race are a matter of personal choice, the NHS is the envy of the world, and Richard Dawkins is a serious thinker.

In the past, schizophrenics were hospitalised, treated and kept in isolation until their disease was in remission. Now they set the tone of public discourse, and the state is ever ready to support them with the full weight of its laws.

If the disease progresses, as it surely will, what will happen to us all? Oh well, that doesn’t bear thinking about. Tennis, anyone?

Quo vadis, Britain?

Two articles in today’s Times have pushed this question to the front of my mind, not that it ever was too far back.

Who won the election, Mr Gove?

One is by Michael Gove, who did much to secure the Leave vote in the 2016 referendum. The other is by Max Hastings, who thinks the vote went the wrong way. Amazingly, though the two articles look at the problem from opposite directions, both are equally worrying.

Actually, Gove’s piece is even more so, if only because his government job makes him one of the navigators of the course Britain is likely to follow. Hastings’s article is interesting only because it illustrates widespread Remainer fallacies.

“The completion of Brexit,” he writes, “represents a declaration of British exceptionalism… [reflecting] a yearning to reassert a British tribal identity.” And there I was, thinking Brexit only “represented a declaration” of British self-government.

Hastings clearly feels that sovereignty is synonymous with exceptionalism and a yearning for tribal identity, but it isn’t. If his rancour of a sore loser didn’t override his mind, he’d notice that the only political term sovereignty is synonymous with is national independence.

Exceptionalism and tribal identity are emotional and ideological constructs that may or may not have anything to do with reality. Sovereignty, on the other hand, is merely a statement of legal status. It’s not entirely free of emotions, but it’s not rooted in them. In other words, Hastings commits a category error, and fully engaged minds tend to sidestep those.

Then, for a change, he makes an unassailable statement: “… most of our national problems – education, productivity, housing, sustaining the NHS – have nothing to do with Europe.” In fact, the statement is so unassailable that it’s hard to see why it has to be made.

But what matters here isn’t denotation but connotation, the implication that, though our problems have nothing to do with Europe, continued EU membership could have solved them. One wonders on what basis Hastings has reached this conclusion.

Uncontrolled immigration, largely, though not exclusively, enabled by the EU law on free movement? Billions we’ve been pouring into EU coffers every year? Suffocating red tape imposed by Brussels? Being steadily dragged into a single European state ruled by practices alien to Britain’s political, cultural and social ethos?

Yet it’s unfair to criticise Hastings’s article on rational grounds because he doesn’t even try to put together a semblance of a rational argument. His purpose is different: to draw the lines of future attacks on the government and specifically Johnson, whom Hastings cordially loathes (not always without reason). Now every faux pas committed by HMG will be seen through the magnifying glass of the Hastings Manifesto, with the author and his friends bathing in the tepid water of I-told-you gloating.

Judging by Gove’s idea of future governance, they’ll have rich pickings. The idea already comes across in the title: We Have Taken Back Control, Now We Can Level Up at Home.

Had I known that the purpose of taking back control was to “level up”, I would have supported Brexit less enthusiastically. However, not many of us are any longer surprised to see a supposedly Conservative government pursuing unapologetically socialist desiderata.

Gove then proves he really campaigned for Brexit in pursuit of political advancement only, not because he understands the wicked nature of the EU: “Whatever the original nobility of the European project, the reality for so many Britons was an erosion of control of their lives.”

One detects little nobility, original or otherwise, in a project that has from its very inception veiled its true aims in a tissue of lies. These were designed not to scare off potential members by openly proclaiming the true objective of creating a giant pan-European state, with constituent nations specifically designed to suffer “an erosion of control of their lives”. Gove’s phrasing suggests he sees said erosion as a betrayal of the founding ideals rather than their realisation, which is arrant nonsense.

“We have a duty to spread opportunity more equally across the UK. Outside the EU, with a good trade deal in place, we can tackle the injustices and inequalities that have held Britain back,” continues Gove’s analysis of the situation.

Any remotely conservative, which is to say sound, thinker would argue that most of Britain’s problems have been caused not by too much inequality, but by too little. Or rather they have been caused by successive governments preaching and enacting the socialist egalitarian dogma that’s guaranteed to compromise the economy and social cohesion.

One doesn’t see anything in Gove’s daydreams that couldn’t have been written by a rank Labourite. To wit: “We are committed to a fairer, more inclusive country in which those whose horizons were narrowed through no fault of their own enjoy the dignity they deserve.”

This is the usual socialist bilge encapsulated in the ubiquitous mantra of “it’s all society’s fault”. Within that idiom, fair means unfair: severing the link between work and reward. Yet even at its worst, Britain offers enough opportunities for anyone to keep his horizons as wide as his abilities allow.

In any system of thought unsullied by socialist afflatus, being on the receiving end of state charity confers rather the opposite of dignity – and any wholesale attempt to solve economic problems out of public funds will be ineluctably tantamount to state charity.

Lest you might think that Gove thinks strictly in generalities, he does mention a couple of specifics, all coming from an impeccably woke wish list: “we can… invest more in the environment” and we’ll “support our manufacturing sector… as we develop new electric vehicles.” (This last means beggaring car manufacturers by forcing them to abandon IC engines.)

This wish list is actually an economic suicide note, outlining as it does the intention to convert Great Britain into Greta Britain. This ‘project’ is guaranteed to deliver an accelerating descent into economic hell, but at least we’ll go there in our own fashion.

Hastings is right: most of our problems haven’t been caused by Europe. They have been caused by the Majors, Blairs, Browns, Camerons, Mays, Johnsons and Goves of this world, whose idea of governance isn’t bono publico but bono privato – serving themselves under the guise of serving the people. At least now they’ll no longer be able to use the EU Leviathan for that purpose.

Why did Christ have to be born?

Christianity is founded on the belief that Christ’s mission was to sacrifice himself to redeem the sins of the world. But which sins?

Surely not just a little boy telling his mother to shut up, or a fair maiden turning out not to be quite so maidenly? Anyway, according to another basic tenet, all individual sins derive from the original collective one.

So, in the conviction of any Christian regardless of his confession, it was that sin that God redeemed by being incarnated, living for 30-odd years as a man and then accepting an awful death.

Hence His sacrifice wiped man’s slate clean of the Fall and therefore of wholesale guilt. Yet since the evidence before our very eyes shows that man didn’t become pristine as a result, a second sin, Mark II as it were, must have replaced the first one, and this substitution could only have occurred after original sin had been redeemed.

Logically, this must have been the sin of rejecting Christ. That offence isn’t identical to original sin, though neither is it dissimilar to it. Both, after all, represent rejection of God: the first by disobeying and the second by failing to recognise Him.

If Original Sin Mark I was disobedience and therefore rejection, then Mark II is rejection and therefore disobedience. But mankind in its entirety never rejected Christ. Some – arguably most – people did so, yet some – arguably few – didn’t.

However small the second group may have been, it was made up of people who of their own accord chose to belong to it, thereby, if we follow this logic one step further, cleansing themselves of the new version of original sin.

Therefore the choice between acceptance and rejection cannot be collective. It has to be individual and it has to be free. That’s the meaning of John 32:8 – “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Knowledge of truth is the first step towards freedom, and it’s up to each of us to acquire this knowledge – or at least to accept it if it’s offered by an outside donor.

This can only mean that after Christ’s sacrifice each individual can establish a personal account with God, and, even if we start out that way, we don’t have to stay tarred with the brush of original sin for ever, be that Mark I or Mark II.

It stands to reason that a man could do nothing to redeem the collective Mark I, which is why Christ’s sacrifice was necessary. But it’s equally clear that a man can do something to redeem the individual Mark II.

This understanding has a far-reaching significance in secular matters as well. For, whenever we demonise some people for presumably belonging to a diabolical corporate entity without any proof of individual wrongdoing, we dehumanise not only them but, by denying free will, all of mankind.

Thus a German who belonged to the SS was complicit in its atrocities, by association at least. But if one accuses an ordinary person who lived in Germany at the time, the accuser must bear the burden of concrete proof. The same goes for Russia and her KGB. Neither nations nor religions do murder; it’s people who do that, and they do so because they freely make a wrong choice.

It can still be argued that, since the world at large demonstrably didn’t accept Christ, we may be slated for collective perdition. But what’s undeniable, at least for any Christian, is that Christ showed a clear path to individual salvation, and we are free to take that path or not.

Free will thus becomes the most important possession of man, which it can only remain if we stand to gain from a correct choice or suffer the consequences of a wrong one (this is a veiled argument against the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, but we won’t go into that now). God’s is the absolute freedom, but if we are truly created in his image, ours has to be at least a relative one. Only God can be totally free, but that doesn’t mean man has to be totally enslaved.

Such thoughts are hard to escape on this day. And when they flood in, all those Brexits, Covids and trade deals begin to look puny and trivial. Well, until tomorrow at any rate.

A blessed Christmas to all of you, whatever your religion, origin, race or sex. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”  

Third Rome or second Sodom?

During this Christmas season, one’s soul naturally turns to matters religious and ecclesiastic. This has to direct one’s thoughts towards Rome, but which Rome?

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Geographically there’s only one worthy of mention, but religiously there have been at least two – or three, if you accept Moscow’s claim to the title of the third Rome.

The idea that Moscow had a legitimate right to that lofty title originated in the Grand Duchy of Muscovy during the reign of Ivan III. He ascended to the Moscow throne in 1462, just a few years after the fall of the second Rome, Constantinople.

Byzantium was no more, and Ivan felt its mission had been passed over to Moscow and him personally, especially since he was married to Sophia Paleologue, the daughter of the last Byzantine ruler. However, Ivan died in 1505, and the third Rome doctrine was coherently formulated during the reign of his son, Vasily III.

The man responsible for explaining the concept to the Grand Duke was the Pskov monk Philotheus, who wrote to Vasily: “So know, pious king, that all the Christian kingdoms came to an end and came together in a single kingdom of yours, two Romes have fallen, the third stands, and there will be no fourth.”

But there was work still to be done. Yes, explained Philotheus, the first two Romes had sunk into debauchery and heresy, thereby dropping the mantle of holiness into Moscow’s lap. The Russians had become God-chosen people, having relegated the Jews and the Greeks from that status.

Philotheus scolded Vasily for failing to accept such indisputable facts and act accordingly. However, the Russians too had room for self-improvement. For them to lead the world until the Second Coming they had to get rid of certain practices Philotheus found incompatible with their sacred mission.

Specifically, they still insisted on crossing themselves with two fingers, rather than the three prescribed by the Greek Orthodox Church. That deadly heresy was only abandoned in the late 17th century, when many of the two-finger schismatics were burned at the stake. Vasily, however, failed to act on the monk’s command, thereby doubtless consigning himself to the fire of hell.

Then Philotheus took exception to the Russian princes’ propensity to rob churches of their valuables. Now that charming tendency never quite went out of fashion.

For example, Ivan the Terrible and the two Russian tsars who merited the sobriquet of ‘Great’, Peter and Catherine (Ivan III was also called Great, but he wasn’t strictly speaking a tsar), didn’t mind replenishing their treasury at the expense of churches and monasteries.

And of course the Bolsheviks outdid them all by not only robbing the churches but also murdering over 40,000 priests and God only knows how many parishioners – all still on Lenin’s watch (d. 1924). It appears that Philotheus’s second warning fell on deaf ears.

All that is straightforward, but his third gripe was far from straight, as it were. For Philotheus accused the Russians of fondness for what he called the “Sodomite sin”. Moreover, according to him, “that abomination was widespread not only among the masses, but also among others who will go nameless, although the reader will understand.”

What the reader was confidently expected to understand was that Vasily himself wasn’t alien to that little indulgence. In fact, he shocked the Muscovites by shaving his face (which was extremely risqué at the time), surrounding himself with a bevy of muscular Adonises and ignoring his wife Solomonnia, whom he confined to a convent.

Yet eventually dynastic duty prevailed. Vasily remarried and, when he was well into his 50s, even produced an heir. The Russians, however, had good reasons to regret that Vasily had strayed from his natural inclination. For his heir went on to become the first Russian tsar, Ivan IV, better known by his richly deserved nickname The Terrible.

Was Philotheus right in implying that the “Sodomite sin” was more prevalent in Russia than elsewhere? Since he wasn’t a well-travelled man, the monk had no basis even for anecdotal comparison, and I doubt he had any statistical data at his disposal.

However, fast-forwarding four centuries, the first European country to decriminalise homosexuality was Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1934, a place and period not otherwise known for a laissez-faire attitude to life. After 1934, however, Comrade Stalin could no longer reconcile his high moral standards with such permissiveness.

Laws against homosexuality appeared on the books, and they were often enforced with brutal severity. And of course the current tsar, Vlad II, regularly rails against homosexuality and other vices that he ascribes to Western dissipation and degeneracy. (If you detect excessive vigour in his diatribes, you are a Russophobe.)

Russia has thus come full circle, and the idea of the third Rome has been taken off the mothballs too. Some spoilsports still insist that Russian history, especially over the past 100 years, makes it hard for any but an extremely perceptive analyst to detect any signs of holiness. But what do they know?

It’s the thought that counts, and this persistent thought vindicates adherents to the cyclical nature of history. One of them was Ecclesiastes: “And the wind returneth again according to its circuits.” (It is seasonally fitting to end on a biblical note.)

Christmas is cancelled!

This morning’s newspaper headlines terrified me so much I didn’t even bother to read the articles. No more Christmas, that’s all I needed to know.

No more

No more Incarnation, which is what people celebrate at Christmas. Therefore no Jesus Christ. No Crucifixion. No Resurrection. None of that.

Extrapolating just a little, also cancelled must be Christian civilisation. Along with, according to the distinction popular in German philosophy, Christian culture. No Bach, Handel, Monteverdi, Palestrina, not to mention carols and hymns. No Dante, Donne, Bunyan, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis. Certainly no Augustine and Aquinas. No painting earlier than the 18th century.

And what’s going to happen to all those great cathedrals? Chartres, Rheims, Bourges, Lincoln, Durham, Seville, Duomo? Are we going to blow them up, the way the Soviets blew up the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 1931? Or, also following the Soviets’ lead, convert them to warehouses and museums of atheism?

I was panic-stricken, desperate to do something about that outrage, even more desperate knowing there was nothing I could do… As I was hyperventilating, Penelope came in and told me not to be a bloody fool. Read the articles, she said, don’t just skim the headlines. Who knows, you may even learn something in your dotage.

Women can be so cruel, don’t you think? Anyway, just this once I suppressed my normally assertive masculinity and did as I was told. And what do you know? It was a false alarm.

Nobody is cancelling all those things, the possibility of losing which threw me into a tailspin. Some pedants may argue they were cancelled long ago anyway, if only figuratively speaking, but we’re not going to indulge such casuistry, are we now?

So what then is cancelled? Something must be, for otherwise the papers would be lying, and we know they never do. Sure enough, something is.

Cancelled, or rather curtailed, isn’t Christmas qua Christmas, but the shamanistic rituals surrounding it. Such as the last-minute stampede of grex venalium threatening to bring the walls of department stores down, Jericho style. Or sacramental sacrifices to the God of Christmas Sales. Or long queues to sweep up millions of useless trinkets that, come 27 December, usually end up in the bin, attics or at the back of countless wardrobes.

Cancelled are interminable days in the company of Nan, Grandpa, Mum, Dad, numerous cousins once removed though not, as one may cordially wish, once and for all, Uncle Roger and Auntie Sharon, all wearing silly paper hats and jumpers with reindeer embroidered across the chest.

Cancelled is the throng of humanity listening with half an ear to Her Majesty’s speech, while keeping half an eye on the oven, where the last drops of juice are being cooked out of the plastic supermarket turkey.

Cancelled are the aforementioned relations straining to have fun as they know they must, and only succeeding in coming across as people who pretend to be enjoying themselves.

Also cancelled is the pile of gift-wrapped presents under the Christmas tree, which the children are about to distribute and the adults will accept with fulsome expressions of put-on gratitude and elation. Can you just hear those shrieks of feigned joy? Well, you can’t. They’ve been cancelled.

And then comes the desperately hungover Boxing Day, with the cocktail of Gordon’s, cheap plonk and bad port still churning in the blood stream to deadly effect. A hair of the dog would be nice, but that’s not something Nan and Grandpa will countenance.

For the outlanders among you, Boxing Day isn’t the time for Uncle Roger and Auntie Sharon to go a couple of rounds, as they probably do back home. It’s when all those useless trinkets are put into boxes, along with the tinsels, serpentine and funny hats. Well, that can still happen but, with Christmas cancelled, shoe boxes may replace the usual cardboard crates.

You might have detected a note of sarcasm in this verbal picture. You and yours may well have looked forward to the annual experience I’ve described so unkindly. Now it’s cancelled, please accept my apologies. I didn’t mean to gloat at your misfortune.

My aim was merely to rue that the real meaning of Christmas has been so widely forgotten, replaced as it has been by variably nice or sometimes annoying rituals. Such forgetfulness ineluctably leads to mass amnesia of what makes Western civilisation Western, of what makes it sublime.

If people actually celebrated the Incarnation of Our Lord on 25 December, then those festivities, no matter how tasteless and tedious, would acquire a deep meaning: “with God all things are possible”, even listening to Uncle Roger’s endless complaints about his gout. As it is, the resulting yawn becomes insuppressible.

So, in case I’m too lazy or too drunk to put pen to paper between now and Friday, a merry uncancellable Christmas to you all. As Diogenes would say, Covid too will pass, and there are still 369 shopping days to Christmas, 2021.

I spy with my little eye…

We like people for something; we love in spite of everything. Love transcends, sometimes contradicts, reason, and it’s impervious to facts.

Love conquers all, including facts

Thus no evidence of Putin’s beastliness will extinguish the flicker of love in the hearts of his Western fans, all those Liddles and Hitchenses, not to mention Merkel and Macron. However, when expressing such feelings in writing, professional integrity demands that affection be explained and justified.

This is becoming harder by the day. If extolling Putin’s kleptofascism only betokened ignorance, stupidity or immorality in the past, these days such encomiums may well rate a visit from men in white coats. Realising this, our Putin lovers keep shtum, and one has to praise their prudence. They know that valour isn’t the only thing discretion is the better part of.

But those of us who love not Putin but truth find plenty of nourishment in the news. For example, a Russian cyber attack on US infrastructure has just been detected, and it far surpasses the scale of any previous such crimes.

The Americans only tumbled after the assault had lasted nine months, with the hackers penetrating the security of the Pentagon, FBI, Treasury, State Department and nuclear security agencies. The full scale of the information stolen and security compromised will never be known, but apparently the Russians could paralyse some vital functions at will, not just spy on them.

Having thus proved that the new-fangled electronic aspect of their hybrid warfare is ticking along nicely, the Russians also flexed their muscles in the more conventional arm. A squadron of 10 warships entered British waters the other day, bringing back fond memories of the Cold War and, one hopes, encouraging self-analysis on the part of the Royal Navy.  

And then of course there is the amply documented report by the British investigative website Bellingcat, showing that an FSB murder squad had been trailing Navalny since 2017, before finally managing to poison him with novichok last August.

This subject came up the other day, during Vlad Putin’s press conference. Since the intrepid leader hasn’t left his bunker since Covid struck, the event was conducted by video link – unlike Western leaders, such as Trump, Johnson and Macron, Putin isn’t going to risk his precious health by indulging in face to face contacts.

Speaking from his underground haven, Vlad swore the Russians had nothing to do with the attempt on Navalny’s life. No, he didn’t bother to deny that the FSB had been tracking Navalny. After all, what do you expect, considering that this vermin is in the pay of US intelligence, as is everyone who disagrees with Vlad?

But the purpose of such tracking was strictly surveillance, not assassination. We would have had nothing to gain and much to lose from whacking him, said the peerless leader. That argument from expedience didn’t feature any moral aspect whatsoever, leaving the listeners in no doubt that, if Vlad indeed had something to gain, any annoying pest would be pushing up daisies.

Then came the incontrovertible proof of Putin’s innocence in this sordid affair. “Had we wanted to kill him,” said the KGB colonel, “we would have finished the job.” When I read that statement, I wiped my brow in relief. There was that exhaustive proof, more than sufficient to convince Liddle-Hitchens.

Alas, the rest of us can’t overcome some scepticism. For Vlad’s explanation presupposes that the KGB/FSB always acts with the kind of efficiency that’s beyond all other Russian institutions. When my alma mater whacks somebody, Vlad was effectively saying, he stays whacked.

That wasn’t true even in the golden days of the Cheka-GPU-NKVD-MGB-KGB (I left a couple of nomenclatures out). To name just one case, Trotsky survived numerous assassination attempts before Mercader’s ice axe caught up with him. One such attempt was led by the Mexican artist Siqueiros, who, along with the Chilean poet Neruda, was one of the bright lights in the NKVD’s Latin American network.

The Ukrainian nationalist leader Bandera also had escaped several attempts on his life before a KGB agent discharged a cyanide pistol into his face in Munich. And poisonings were often botched as well. For example, the Soviet defector Nikolai Khokhlov was poisoned with thallium in 1957, but lived to tell the tale, just.

Those were the times when KGB spies and assassins were selected mostly on the basis of their operational expertise. This is no longer the case: now that the KGB/FSB runs the country dictatorially, selection criteria are almost exclusively based on loyalty, ideally proximity, to the throne.

Today’s heirs to Dzerjinsky mostly specialise in protection rackets, extortion and suppression of dissent, reflecting Putin’s own raison d’être. That sinister organisation has always been evil and criminal, but these days such fine qualities are channelled into different conduits.

Several prominent dissidents, Politkovskaya, Bykov (a dissident only intermittently) and Kara-Murza were poisoned unsuccessfully, the latter twice. Politkovskaya was then dispatched by the common-or-garden bullet, but the other two are still kicking.

All such facts, and many more, are in the public domain. Putin knows this, and he is smart enough to realise that his ‘explanation’ had to come across as nothing but a cynical cop-out. Yet Vlad, drunk on his power, seems to be saying to the nay-sayers among us: “So what are you going to do about this?”

Nothing, really, other than pointing out that every word out of the mouth of Putin or any of his henchmen is a barefaced lie. Characteristically, this time even Liddle-Hitchens haven’t regaled us with their usual mantra of “Where’s your proof?” For once they are being smart.

Good cause, shame about its champion

Julie Burchill’s book Welcome to Woke Trials was cancelled by the Hachette imprint of Little, Brown just a couple of months before release date. The reason cited for that action was a tweeted spat Burchill had had with the Muslim hack Ash Sarkar.

It started when Sarkar took exception to a post by another journalist, Rod Liddle, who wrote: “The only thing stopping me from being a teacher was that I could not remotely conceive of not trying to shag the kids. We’re talking secondary level here, by the way – and even then I don’t think I’d have dabbled much below year ten, as it is now called.”

That statement was either a joke or it wasn’t. If Liddle was simply upholding his reputation as an ideologically folksy wag, then no response was called for, other than a smile or absence thereof.

If he meant it in all seriousness, then he ought to have been commended on his self-knowledge and moral sense. Liddle knew that shagging 14-year-old pupils (Year 10 in English schools) was wrong, and he made a conscious and courageous decision not to expose himself to that temptation.

Sarkar decided that the statement was jocular, which it probably was. Naturally, such levity couldn’t be allowed to go unpunished.

After all, our woke opinion formers have stricter standards of the allowable humour than even Jesus Christ had. He told people they could mock anybody, including him, provided they left the Holy Spirit alone.

Since signalling carnal virtue occupies the same slot in the woke moral code as the Holy Spirit does for Christians, Sarkar had to emit such a signal at a siren pitch: “It’s astonishing that both he and his editor thought guffawing about hypothetically being a paedophile made for a good article.”

Liddle is capable of handling himself in such jousts, but Burchill decided to jump in. “Can you please remind me of the age of the Prophet Mohammed’s first wife?” she wrote. “Thank you in anticipation.”

Actually, Aisha was Mohammed’s third wife, but it’s true he married her before her tenth birthday, perhaps even when she was six or seven. Some Islamic scholars claim the marriage wasn’t consummated until Aisha reached puberty, others argue the act occurred when Aisha was nine.

Yet neither Burchill nor Sarkar is an Islamic scholar – they were simply brawling. And, when it comes to fisticuffs, the objective is to hurt the opponent, not to settle the original bone of contention. Burchill landed the more telling blow by indirectly pointing out the conflict between two irreconcilable pieties: wokeness and Islam.

Say what you will about Islam, but politically correct it isn’t. That’s why it’s so satisfying watching the likes of Sarkar, whether or not they are Muslims, tie themselves in knots. On the one hand, Islam is anti-Western, ethnic-minority and generally third world. That means it has to be extolled.

On the other hand, its doctrine calls for mistreating women, stoning adulterers and homosexuals, and killing infidels. That means it has to be rebuked. Yet it can’t be rebuked because doing so would brand the rebuker as an Islamophobe, right-wing fanatic, Leaver and a Tory voter.

This conflict is more interesting than Mohammed’s taste in women, but Burchill always prefers to aim below the belt. She went on to accuse Sarkar of worshipping a paedophile, to which I would have replied: “Yes, but that’s not all I worship him for”. But the woke don’t do humour, while the Muslim woke may kill you for it.

Anyway, once that tiff became public, the publisher dropped Burchill’s book like a bad habit. Though the book itself must have passed muster, Burchill personally no longer did because her comments were “not defensible from a moral or intellectual standpoint”, having “crossed a line with regard to race and religion”.

Banning (or for that matter burning) books because their authors err against religion and race has a rich history in Europe, and parallels with the less savoury regimes of the past really draw themselves. This is so obvious that it really doesn’t merit reiterating.

However, if I were a publisher, I too would steer clear of Burchill’s work, but not because of her views on race, religion or wokeness. My problem with Burchill isn’t that she isn’t politically correct, but that she is a committed, ideological vulgarian. That’s probably why she sprang to Liddle’s defence: they share this charming trait.

Burchill is a talented writer, one with a recognisable idiosyncratic voice. I can only wish that so many things she intones in that voice weren’t so objectionable.

For Burchill (and Liddle, come to think of it) has elevated chav vulgarity to an aesthetic and philosophical virtue. She doubtless feels that mocking everything refined establishes her bona fides as a maverick champion of the common man, whose side she takes in the class war. Burchill is vulgar not because she can’t help it, but because she is proud of her vulgarity.

And she is proud of being proud, as shown by the Welcome to Woke Trials synopsis she either wrote herself or at least endorsed: “It will also be a characteristically irreverent and entertaining analysis of the key elements of a continuing and disturbing phenomenon – all told with the common touch and rampant vulgarity that has made Burchill a household name.”

Rampant vulgarity isn’t to be hidden any longer. If a writer wants to become a household name, he must wear it on his sleeve, lovingly watching it getting caked in grime.

Julie Burchill has joined the rearguard action against the onslaught of the rolling juggernaut of wokish modernity. Yet one of the sharpest blades sticking out of its wheel spokes is indeed rampant vulgarity.

If all we have to resist it is more rampant vulgarity, then it’s not immediately clear why we should bother. We might as well stand still and let those blades cut us down at the knee.

Justice with a touch of class

Many traditions that used to seem indestructible are now extinct. Getting up when a woman walks into the room, respecting one’s elders, teaching children right and wrong all fall into that category. And, joining them there is the antediluvian principle of equality before the law.

“What, 80 grand? Some people have to work four days for that kind of dosh”

In our reactionary past, the same laws were supposed to apply equally to all. The English Common Law was supposed to be impervious to class and wealth, and that’s what it usually was. Yes, people being fallible, laws were sometimes abused and justice wasn’t always served equally. But at least everyone understood what constituted justice, the same for all.

In the past few decades, however, many of our erstwhile legal certitudes have fallen by the wayside. Even such formerly ironclad principles as double jeopardy and the right of refusing to self-incriminate are now seen as merely optional.

They are often superseded in terrorist offences, and the people don’t object much. We’d hate to let a terrorist get off on a casuistic technicality, wouldn’t we? Yes, but we used to hate abandoning our legal principles, the sole guarantor of our liberties, even more.

We used to understand that, though murderers can kill Britons, they can’t kill Britain. On the other hand, replacing our ancient laws with kneejerk responses to class war, racial tensions and faddish biases can have just such an effect.

That understanding is no more, and every day provides illustrations to this melancholy observation. The latest one is the case of the footballer Jack Grealish.

Like so many prodigiously gifted people, Jack struggles to squeeze his effervescent personality into the corked bottle of decent behaviour. Thus, the other day he staggered out of a Covid-defying party the worse for wear and bizarrely wearing shoes that didn’t match.

CCTV cameras caught him zigzagging to his Range Rover, which he then used for a nice game of pinball. First, Jack reversed smack into a parked Citroen. He then backed into a Mercedes, this time quite fast. Bouncing off that vehicle, he mounted the kerb and slammed into a wall.

Some of Jack’s wits, however, remained intact, and he had the good sense to leave his car where it was and run away. That way he wasn’t breathalysed, and by the time the cops found him he was nice and sober.

His much-vaunted ability to think on his feet served Jack well. He avoided the charge of drink-driving and was only convicted of driving without due care and attention. Jack was then banned from driving for nine months, which sentence I find derisory.

Having a few drinks before driving is to me malum prohibitum (wrong only because it’s illegal), provided the chap still operates the car responsibly. However, driving irresponsibly, especially but not exclusively under the influence, is malum in se (wrong in itself).

Hence I would decriminalise the former, but step heavily on the latter. As far as I am concerned, Jack should have been banned for at least three years and warned that the next violation would result in a custodial sentence.

Had he been driving impeccably but found in a spot check to be over the limit, he would have been banned for at least a year. This way, even though he was driving criminally, he was only banned for nine months. That, to me, is a miscarriage of justice.

Alas, not the only one. For, in addition to his derisory ban, Grealish was fined £82,499, which brings us back to that outdated notion of equality before the law. And also another one, that of punishment being commensurate with the crime.

With the crime, ladies and gentlemen, not the defendant’s wealth. Yet a chap earning a fraction of Grealish’s £130,000 a week would be fined quite a bit less, probably by two orders of magnitude.

One has to assume that, rather than observing the fundamentals of the English Common Law, our judges are now committed to the New Testament commandment: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.”

Such faux piety strikes me as misplaced, tireless though I am in stressing the scriptural roots of our jurisprudence. What’s the justification for punishing two perpetrators of the same crime by such hugely different fines?

It’s true that a levy of, say, £800 wouldn’t make a hole in Grealish’s pocket – he tips barmaids as much. Hence a fine of that amount wouldn’t really punish him the way it would punish, say, a teacher.

The logical inference is that punishment for any crime must be determined on the basis of the pain it can cause the transgressor. Hence, £800 would be a sufficient punishment for our hypothetical teacher, but not for Jack.

Now let’s take this notion to the next logical step. Suppose our teacher for once had a few too many, got behind the wheel and killed a pedestrian on a zebra crossing. Further suppose that an identical crime was committed by a tattooed, facial-metalled thug in and out of prison his whole life.

Obviously, both men should be sent down. However, the thug’s sentence must be at least 10 times as long because he wouldn’t suffer imprisonment as acutely as the teacher would. This way we’ll affirm our commitment to custom-tailored punishments evidently favoured by the British courts.

What’s happening to our law is a tragedy. For I’d suggest that no other nation depends on its constitutional tradition as much as Britain. The monarchy, sovereign parliament and the English Common Law are the three supports on which British nationhood rests.

Britain isn’t France, which, since 1688, when the English constitution adopted its modern shape, has been ruled by several monarchies (constitutional or otherwise), an ad hoc revolutionary committee, a Directory, a military dictatorship, an emperor, five different republics and, from 1940 to 1944, by the Nazis, first de facto and then de jure.

That France has remained France under such circumstances shows how little her national survival depends on her constitutional and legal system. Britain’s survival, on the other hand, is gravely imperilled by our government and courts playing fast and loose with traditions of long standing. Even in such seemingly trivial matters.

The end of democracy is nigh

“No Deal would be a nail in the coffin of Western democracy and celebrated by Russia and China,” writes Andrew Neil, one of our most incisive and tenacious interviewers.

Upset them, and there goes democracy

He can take expert demagogues apart with the ease of a master butcher, and more power to him. Mr Neil brings to the task his natural aggression, a clear sense of purpose, an ability to think on his feet and a knack at finding fault in faulty arguments.

However, the written genre also requires some deeper-lying qualities, such as analytical ability, some sound philosophical premise and a thresher’s skill at separating the wheat from the chaff. Alas, Mr Neil’s article on No Deal Brexit suggests a certain deficit in these qualities.

Speaking of the 21st century, Mr Neil laments that “its first two decades have been marked by the rise of authoritarianism.” This he pinpoints both geographically (“from Beijing to Moscow through Ankara, Riyadh and other major capitals of the world”) and by name: Donald Trump, among others.

Anyone who equates Trump, for all his objectionable personality, with Xi, Putin and Erdoğan brings into question his qualifications for enlarging on such subjects. In general, drawing analogies and parallels is a perilous business. Numerous traps await along the way, and in this case one of them snapped shut on Mr Neil’s ankle.

His opening statement is only half right: Russia and China would indeed celebrate a No Deal Brexit, as they rejoice at any hint of discord in the West. In fact, sowing such discord is their mission in life, one to which they dedicate all the vast resources of their intelligence services.

Yet it’s an elementary logical fallacy to think that everything Putin and Xi like is ipso facto wrong, or that everything they dislike is ipso facto right. Our policies should stand on their own two feet, without relying on evil dictators’ likes and dislikes to prop them up.

The first part of Mr Neil’s statement, that a No Deal exit would put paid to Western democracy, is, kindly speaking, debatable. And his support statements for that view are at best too facile and at worst too wrong.

Britain and the EU, he writes, “have so many common interests: joint defences against authoritarian aggression, security and intelligence co-operation against the ever-present terrorist threat, support for free trade among nations to spur prosperity across the globe, a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

The first two aspects of commonality mentioned here require serious qualifications. The fourth one, about the carbon emissions, is a reference to the West’s suicidal surrender to the illiterate, subversive Greta doctrine on global warming, which Mr Neil clearly regards as praiseworthy. And the third one, about our shared commitment to free trade, is frankly risible.

Mr Neil is simply repeating the EU propaganda on this issue. Like most propaganda, it’s mendacious. The EU is a protectionist bloc, which is as opposite to free trade as is possible to get. It imposes punitive tariffs on all exports from outside the EU, an area where Britain is about to find herself – so much for free trade.

As to the EU’s commitment to democracy, which Mr Neil also extols, it’s no doubt true – if his definition of democracy is different from one traditionally accepted in Britain.

A functioning democracy presupposes the sovereignty of an elected body accountable to those who have elected it. Yet the European Commission which runs the EU is neither elected nor accountable. It defers to the European Parliament in word, while riding roughshod over it in deed.

And the EU’s relations with its peripheral members, which is to say all of them apart from Germany, France, the Benelux and – stretching reality a bit – Spain and Italy, doesn’t fit any reasonable understanding of democracy.

Far be it from me to equate democracy with political virtue under all circumstances, but this is an equation that’s apparently chiselled in the stone of Mr Neil’s mind. I’m afraid it doesn’t quite add up in most cases, and certainly not in this one.

“If two entities that share so much that is good in the world, and are largely united in hostility to what is bad, cannot agree their post-Brexit arrangements in harmony and with mutual respect, then be in no doubt – authoritarians everywhere will be celebrating,” continues Mr Neil.

The two entities differ on the kernel of the argument, which concrete consideration ought to trump Mr Neil’s generalities. The EU is maniacally dedicated to creating a single European state run by Germany, with France bringing up the rear. Britain, on the other hand, wants to have no part of it.

This divergence naturally creates a diametrically opposite approach to the Brexit negotiations. Britain indeed wants a mutually beneficial post-Brexit arrangement, whereas the EU is prepared to sacrifice every mutual benefit to make sure Britain doesn’t prosper outside the suffocating confines of the EU.

If a No Deal Brexit presents a threat to the largely mythical world democracy, it’s significantly smaller than Britain’s surrender to EU tyranny would be. Asserting our right to be governed by our own sovereign parliament is a blow for, not against, democracy.

Mr Neil agrees, but only begrudgingly: “Yes, Brexit should mean greater British sovereignty. But sovereignty is not cost-free. It can have consequences. If exercising our right to diverge results in an adverse EU response then that is something we will have to weigh in the balance at the time.”

But we have already weighed it, Mr Neil, when we voted for Brexit in 2016. Only the naïve thought that Britain’s reclaiming her sovereignty wouldn’t result in an adverse response on the part of the EU.

The British people weighed such consequences in the balance and decided that national independence was worth the risk. It’s the same choice as one the earlier British people made in 1940, during Germany’s previous attempt to unite Europe.

The rest of Mr Neil’s article describes in vivid detail the economic hardships Britain and the EU will suffer if they don’t part amicably. That’s fair enough – for reasons I’ve mentioned, the EU has a vested interest in visiting such hardships on Britain even at the expense of its own.

It’s also true that British politicians haven’t been exactly forthcoming on what they are planning to do after Brexit. But first things first: let’s shake the dust of that contrivance off our feet – with a deal ideally, without one if we must. But it’s a gross fallacy to argue, as Mr Neil does, that the future of democracy hangs in the balance.