Music isn’t music anymore

The other day I ran across a quote from someone named Pete Waterman. Since it appeared in a music column, I realised he was some sort of pop celebrity, which concept is defined as ‘someone I’ve never heard of’.

One of course doesn’t expect intellectual depth from a pop star, but Waterman’s words struck me for the refreshing cretinism going beyond even the demands of his field: ‘Music isn’t art,’ he said, ‘it’s for enjoyment… Music has always been written for a purpose, be it a wedding, a funeral or a birth, and people have always got paid for it. Mozart, Beethoven and Handel all got paid.’

Point made. Anything enjoyable produced for a fee isn’t art. In other words, art in general, not just music, doesn’t exist: after all, Velasquez got paid for those portraits of Philip IV, Tolstoy got a large fee for War and Peace and Bach raised his 20-odd children on the proceeds of his work.

So if art doesn’t exist, what does? Why, the music business of course. It has always been so, and Bach and Mozart working for subsistence wages are no different from the tattooed plankton paid millions for belching their I’ll-slash-you-up-bitch nihilism into microphones the world over.

Underneath the obvious symptoms of the speaker’s mental retardation, one detects something more pernicious: egalitarianism run riot. That the likes of Waterman can’t understand one iota of the divine inspiration behind, say, St Matthew’s Passion goes without saying. But, like a savage trying to eat a Stradivarius, they actively wish to destroy what they don’t understand. And they are encouraged in this gruesome endeavour by the whole ethos of modernity, devoid as it is of any conception of hierarchies. I like Amy Winehouse, you like Maria Callas — what’s the difference? We’re all equal, innit? None of it is art anyway, djahmean? It’s all cult personages earning a crust.

The cult aspect was already evident in jazz, the precursor of pop. Jazzmen could also attain cult status and, as the quasi-biblical figures they had become, they were identified either by their Christian names or nicknames: Oscar, Miles, Dizzy, Bird, King, Count, Duke. So, had pop not come along, jazz would have tried to take up the slack. But it would have failed.

The trouble with jazz is that it still requires some musical attainment from its practitioners. The best of them, such as Art (‘Tatum’) or Bird (‘Parker’), were first-rate talents. As far as modernity was concerned, this was a disqualifying circumstance. That sort of thing smacked of élitism, one of today’s most frightening bogeymen. Musically, however, jazz influenced pop quite a bit. Traces of swing or rhythm-and-blues are prominent in the output of the early pop stars, such as Elvis Presley or Chuck Berry. But even in those salad days of rock ‘n roll, music played second fiddle to the cult. Presley in particular became a Christ-like figure, even acquiring aspects of resurrection after his death.

This cult aspect of pop became particularly prominent with the Beatles, who started out as singers of cute little songs and ended up as false prophets, cult leaders of modernity. Somewhere along the way they acquired the help of musically trained assistants, so their later records display competent harmonies and even direct quotes from real composers, including Bach and Beethoven.

Paradoxically, it is precisely in their late albums that music, even at its most primitive, no longer mattered. No one listened to it any longer anyway. Instead, hysterical audiences of youngsters were hanging on to every garbled word of the semiotic message they discerned behind the expertly harmonised pulse. Unlike real music, the Beatles’ had no spiritual content as such. Theirs was a cult appeal, the marching orders screamed by a victorious modernity. In some extreme cases, the orders were literally understood and faithfully followed. For example, Charlie Manson and his ‘family’ went on a rampage of horrific murders partly as a result of the message they had perceived in the songs of The White Album.

While the Beatles still tried to preserve a semblance of musicality, their followers have abandoned any such attempts. More and more, pop began to acquire overtly satanist characteristics. More and more, it began to appeal not just to the darker side of human nature but to the sulphuric swamp concealed underneath it. The appeal continued to be quasi-religious, in the same sense in which the antichrist is the negative image of Christ. While Jesus redeemed his followers by dying on the cross, the messengers of the new god would commit suicide or else die of alcoholism, drug overdose or in due course of AIDS. Improbably, they were all portrayed as innocent victims of some unidentified enemy who, contextually, could only be the conservative establishment. So all those hideous Freddie Mercuries and Amy Winehouses gave their lives for a good cause. They are martyrs at the altar of hatred.

In the process, pop has become a big business, perhaps the biggest of all. Illiterate, tone-deaf adolescents can become billionaires overnight, provided they can tickle the naughty bits of their mass audiences in a particularly effective way. They belch their anti-capitalist invective all the way to the capitalist bank, and many critics sneer at the alleged paradox. There is none, as Waterman unwittingly confirms.

For modern people, including ‘musicians’, don’t make products. They create markets and sell brands. They slap together sub-cultures. They fuse the markets and the sub-cultures into a uniform whole. In this case, pop music is only a part, although the most important one, of what passes for modern culture. It’s the heart of the new Leviathan whose tentacles are numerous and ever-reaching. Pornography, fashion, show business, a great part of the publishing and record industries, electronic media including the Internet, drugs – all reach for the immature hearts and minds of our young.

As in any other area of life, the dominant system affects all others. So classical music too has become a business, rather than art. Musicians have always been paid, Waterman is right about that. But in the past they were Rachmaninov and Glenn Gould. Today they mainly fall into two groups best exemplified by Lang Lang and Imogen Cooper — with the first displaying talents more appropriate for a circus ring than a concert platform, and the second playing with all the verve of your average schoolgirl. Doesn’t matter — they are not artists. They are brands. And we, ladies and gentlemen, aren’t listeners any longer. We are punters. So perhaps Waterman isn’t so stupid after all.

 

 

 

Yo, Dave! You’re well and truly tucked up.

Not a good few days for our PM. First he displayed filial devotion to ‘Barack’ by letting the President put him to bed. That’s what parents do for their children — didn’t Larkin write ‘They tuck you up, your Mum and Dad’ (or words to that effect)? So the hierachical relationship between the British Prime Minister and American President has been clarified (as if it needed clarification): the US is the father, Britain is the son, sometimes slightly naughty but mostly loyal and obedient.

Those of us who still have any taste left had a distinctly emetic reaction to the Barack-Dave love-in. In any case, without going into the nitty-gritty of the ‘special relationship’, one can observe that it’s rather one-sided. I don’t recall any instance in the last, say, 20 years when Britain’s stand made the US change its policy one way or the other, while examples of developments with the opposite vector are too numerous to mention.

Now it has been made clear why: a father (‘Barrack’) has the right to tell the son (‘Dave’) what to do, but not vice versa. One just wishes that the two chaps didn’t rub it in in such a perfectly nauseating manner. You both went to decent schools, gentlemen, didn’t you pick up some modicum of aesthetic sense? Good job we were at least spared a reenaction of Bush screaming ‘Yo, Blair!’ at Dave’s role model.

And that’s not all. First Dave makes a ludicrous spectacle of himself across the pond, then on his return the same thing is done to him by the European Courts of Human Rights. The day that abortion of an outfit comes across as more conservative than the British ‘Conservative’ Prime Minister is when there ought to be much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. So take out your handkerchief: the eurojudges have ruled, correctly, that same-sex marriage is not a human right.

So Dave doesn’t have a natural right to marry George in ways other than those figurative ones in which they are already married. In a way I’m sorry: it would be a sight for sore eyes to have Obama escort either of them down the aisle to the sound of ‘Here comes the bride’. But the federasts made a telling point: allowing civil homomarriage would instantly invalidate any pledge to keep that abomination out of the church. Any church refusing to sanctify such a union would be instantly sued for discrimination, and lose.

Moreover, the law of unintended consequences would predictably add all sorts of nice touches to the outrage: when you undermine an institution going back 2,000 years, there’s no telling what would happen next. Would it not, for instance, be discriminatory to ban marriage between a man and his Labrador retriever — as Florida’s Supreme Court did last year? I know it sounds ridiculous, but all sorts of ridiculous things become possible when tradition is smashed to bits. Whether Dave does the smashing in spite of being a conservative or because of it, is immaterial.

Times, they are a-changing, as Barrack’s favourite singer would have it. Alas, with this kind of government at the helm, they can be guaranteed to change only for the worse.

 

 

 

The Dave & George budget supermarket

I never tire of reminding myself that everything our illustrious politicians do pursues one aim only: reelection. Regarded in that light, Dave and his merry men are doing famously. They are proving yet again that they are hopeless even in their chosen field — not that any further proof is necessary, seeing how they failed to score an outright victory against the worst and the most subversive government in British history.

First, they alienated millions while securing the votes of those few hundred homosexual couples who wish to be pronounced husband and husband or, as the spirit may move them, wife and wife. They could then adopt children and in due course teach them about birds and birds, or alternatively bees and bees. I’d say their votes are in the bag. Ed Miliband, watch out.

Now Dave and George are out to woo an admittedly larger section of the electorate: people with learning difficulties. For it takes a history of serious academic underachievement not to see through the ploy of the ‘transparent’ budget. It is indeed transparent, but not in the way they are suggesting.

The ploy is to turn the impending budget into a simulacrum of a supermarket, where the cost of every item is clearly posted for all to see. Dave and George have nothing to hide: they’ll let us know exactly where every one of our tax pennies goes. Now, assuming that the figures we’ll get are true — and this assumption isn’t based on irrefutable historical evidence — this arrangement is indeed similar to a supermarket. Except for one minor point: in a supermarket we can decide against buying a pound of mince and put it back on the shelf. The Dave & George budget supermarket doesn’t give us this option — what you see is what you pay.

But do let’s indulge our wildest fantasies and imagine that we could indeed tell them what looks good enough to eat and what seems a bit rancid. First, we’d notice that the welfare we’re mandated to buy costs about a third of our tax outlay, which, at some income levels, is twice as much as our defence and public order combined. This is a rotten deal.

It’s a bit like a real supermarket telling you that with every shopping basket of food you must buy DVDs costing twice as much. You didn’t go to the supermarket to buy DVDs — you were under the impression that flogging such items is outside its core business. Similarly, governments were instituted first, second and tenth to provide for their citizens’ safety from both external and internal menaces. That’s what governments are mostly for, everything else is gravy, to extend the food metaphor.

A cursory glance at our governments’ record over the last generation will show that they all have been remiss in this area. As a result, our defence capability these days roughly equals that of Wessex when it was still a separate state — for example, under no circumstances could we now launch anything like the South Atlantic operation of 30 years ago. In parallel, Britain has secured her position in crime, an area where we comfortably lead every Western country (for instance, France by a factor of two).

At the same time our incontinent social spending is acting like a magnet for welfare spongers from this country and all over the world. In any case, it’s not the goverment’s core business to provide for redistribution of income any more than it’s a supermarket’s trade to sell knickers and slippers. The same analogy as before works here too: we don’t have to buy knickers at Sainsbury’s, but we do have to look on helplessly as our hard-earned money is yanked out of our pay cheques and given to those who have neither earned it nor have the slightest intention of ever doing so. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any social spending at all — only that it’s defence and public order that require twice as much spending as welfare, not the other way around.

Interest on the national debt is another item on the shelf that costs more than defence, and the reason for the high price tag is directly linked to the outrage described in the previous paragraph. For it’s to satisfy its egalitarian (or rather vote-winning) cravings that the state has to print money like it’s going out of style and borrow it like there’s no tomorrow. So reducing the welfare budget by about two thirds would kill two birds with one stone: it would eventually get rid of the debt, thereby eliminating the need to service it, and free up the funds the state needs to provide for our protection. As a side benefit, those two birds will be followed, out of solidarity, by a few others, such as the moral malaise of the nation, which is largely caused by all those thousands of strapping young lads on the disability benefit.

And then there’s that mysterious rubric ‘Other’, which presumably covers the running of such vital institutions as the Equality Department. A shopping tip: if you are looking for telltale signs of reduced freedom in a country, look no further than the existence of such government departments as Equality, Culture, Sport, and Environment. I’m all in favour of culture and sport, even though I may be lukewarm on environment and downright opposed to equality. But in all four instances, these things fall outside the state’s remit. We shouldn’t have to pay for any of them through our taxes — they are just sinecures for our assorted spivocrats, and, apart from that, the only role they play is destructive.

And don’t even get me started on such high-priced items as foreign aid and contributions to the EU. If these were eggs, we’d open the carton, catch the stench of sulfur and demand to talk to the manager. No such option at Dave & George. Thou shalt buy the rotten eggs, even if you then will have no use for them.

Yes, this marketing trick may attract buyers from the group of the intellectually challenged. But large though this group is, it’s greatly outnumbered by people endowed with reason, common sense and some knowledge of what governments should and shouldn’t do. Such people will realise they are being taken for a ride and steer clear of Dave & George. Or else, now they know where their tax money goes, they’ll work even harder trying to shelter it from the grubby hands of Inland Revenue.

Of course the danger is they’ll then shop at Miliband Bros across the street, or aisle as the case may be, where they’ll be cheated on an even larger scale. All this goes to show that, unless another supermarket opens soon, we run the risk of death by political starvation.

 

 

 

Archdruid Aneuri: Canterbury’s gain is Cambridge’s loss

In case you’re wondering, Rowan Williams, already the Archbishop of Canterbury, adopted the name of Aneuri when he became a druid. The monicker was chosen partly in honour of Aneurin Bevan, Dr Williams’s idol. Apparently neither his choice of a near-communist for the role model nor his urge to dance around Stonehenge on mid-summer’s day was seen as in any way contradicting Dr Williams’s ministry.

His announced resignation has prompted numerous comments, all following roughly the same pattern: an acknowledgement that Dr Williams is a brilliant mind and scholar, followed by a lament that he is regrettably misguided on whatever issue is the closest to the commentator’s heart. Add those diverse laments together, and one is bound to come to the conclusion that, in broad strokes, Dr Williams is misguided on everything. Thus the second part of the tributes refutes the first part, and you won’t find any disagreement in these quarters. After all, I still haven’t abandoned the view I expressed earlier, that lefties aren’t just misguided but actually stupid.

In this instance such an uncompromising view is supported not only by Dr Williams’s increasingly bizarre personal grooming but, more important, by his views and the way they are expressed. To wit:

‘In a church that accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous biblical texts, or on a problematic and nonscriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentation without regard to psychological structures.’

Excuse me? Can anyone please translate? First, biblical texts, from Leviticus (where homosexuality is described as an ‘abomination’) to Romans, are completely unambiguous on this issue. Second, natural complementarity isn’t at all problematic, for without it the human race — or indeed any biological life — wouldn’t exist. Third, linking this issue to contraception is a non sequitur whose sole aim has to be launching a veiled attack on Catholicism.

But above all else, how could an intelligent and educated man write such an English sentence? I understand that English isn’t Dr Williams’s first language, but surely he has had enough exposure to it by now not to put down unintelligible gibberish. Brilliant minds, which Dr Williams is universally credited to posses, don’t express themselves in such a crepuscular way.

His writing aside, even in his principal occupation Dr Williams is too busy being an Anglican to remember being a Christian. And whenever the two are in conflict (which these days they often are), the former trumps the latter hands down. For example, in 2009 he criticised the appointment of a lesbian assistant bishop in Los Angeles. Not on any Christian grounds, God forbid, but only because the appointment threatened the institutional cohesion of the Anglican church. However, he later realised that even such a meek objection called for a profuse apology:

‘There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them; I have been criticised for doing just this, and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression.’

The old stylist strikes again, as if to vindicate that old fox Talleyrand, who suggested that language is there to conceal our thoughts. Compare Williams’s muddled thought and speech with Dr Sentamu’s view on a related subject: ‘Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.’ No translation necessary, thank you very much.

If the style is indeed the man himself (it was Buffon who said that, now I’m in a name-dropping mode), then Dr Williams presents a sorry sight. This is confirmed by the views he has expressed on all sorts of other subjects.

As a younger man, he was an activist in the CND, demonstrating outside American bases and getting arrested in 1985 for making a nuisance of himself. Now the CND was a training ground for the extreme left, and its links with some foreign intelligence services deserve more attention than they have so far received. Williams was in his mid-thirties when he was associated with it, so this can’t be put down to youthful indiscretion.

His subsequent response to Al Qaeda blowing up public transportation in London was to suggest that terrorists ‘can have serious moral goals’, and that ‘bombast about evil individuals doesn’t help in understanding anything.’ This is a Christian speaking? Never mind a priest? Never mind a prelate? The terrorists’ ‘serious moral goals’, assuming they have them, are indeed evil, as they are themselves. Surely a man in Dr Williams’s job should be familar with the concept of evil? If he isn’t, I’ll be pleased to provide scriptural references.

One hopes his wishy-washy response to that monstrosity wasn’t caused by a general sympathy towards Islam, a suspicion that could arise on the basis of Dr Williams’s comments on the sharia law. According to him, ‘certain provisions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law,… we already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justified conscientious objections in certain circumstances in providing certain kinds of social relations.’ Sorry to be quoting at such length, but I’m always transfixed on fine English prose. As I am impressed by a priest’s dispassionate comments on something he should anathematise.

Dr Williams’s reputation for scholarly achievement rests on his book on Arius and his doctoral dissertation on the brilliant Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the dissertation, but I have read most of Lossky’s work, and he’d be disgusted by everything Dr Williams stands for. And Dr. Williams’s views on Arius, represented schematically, are centred around the proposition that denying the divinity of Christ is no big deal, a result of an unfortunate misreading of philosophy, rather than a deadly heresy. I’m not about to discuss this issue on merit, although one has to suggest that such a relaxed attitude can’t possibly be a job requirement for a leader of a Christian denomination — especially one that claims apostolic succession.

All in all, I’m unlikely to shed tears when Dr Williams finally leaves his post. Magdalen College at Cambridge, whose Master he is about to become, is welcome to him. Good job I haven’t got a son who could become his student.

 

 


 

 


 

 

Give the police the tools to do the job — or the job won’t get done

Visitors to these shores are often amazed to see that British policemen, unlike their colleagues in other Western countries, are unarmed. When the bemused tourists voice their incredulity, they quickly realise that the quaint locals seem to feel that having a police force that’s underequipped and underprotected allows them to claim some sort of moral ascendancy.

It shouldn’t. The issue is free of moral implications — it’s one of those things that ought to be settled not on principle but on empirical evidence. Yes, a country where policemen carry no weapons because they don’t need them should be envied. But a country where policemen need weapons and yet aren’t allowed to have them should be pitied.

Britain used to belong to the first category, but it no longer does. Something is clearly not working, for our crime rate leads the Western world by a comfortable margin. France, with a population similar to ours, has half the number of crimes. And the United States, whose population is five times the size of ours, has only about 40 percent more crime — your parents would have laughed in the face of anyone citing similar evidence 50 years ago.

Moreover, assaults on our policemen, including stabbings, are becoming routine. Every time that happens, the mayor of the city involved expresses ‘shock’, ‘horror’ or ‘disgust’, offering — depending on the outcome of the attack — either sympathy to the officer or condolences to his family. Seldom does one hear any outrage at seeing those young men and, increasingly, women go underequipped and outnumbered into battle against vicious crime.

One does hear outraged gasps all over the place when the government tries to do something about it, such as proposing, meekly, the use of water cannon, which ‘would be valuable in a few rare situations’. Well, we do hope that such situations would indeed be rare — water cannon aren’t really designed to combat traffic violations or overdue tax disks. Their function is to disperse crowds of feral youths doing what comes naturally to them these days: looting, rioting, setting things on fire, paralysing whole neighbourhoods. And, though still relatively rare, such situations are becoming more widespread from one year to the next.

You know, the sort things they did all over London last August, beating, maiming, torching, tossing bottles and causing £200 million worth of damage — while in many instances police officers found themselves helpless to stop the marauding mobs. Hundreds of people lost their homes or businesses or cars, and next time it’ll be thousands, but our police are neither trained nor equipped to protect such people — and nor do we have a specialised riot force similar to the French CRS. Moreover, the latent feeling dug into the country’s grassroots over decades is that it’s not owners of homes, businesses or cars who deserve our support, but the rioters. Their bestial behaviour ought to be met with increased social payments, not water cannon.

‘Policing by consent’ (as opposed to by force) is still the buzz term, as if our society hasn’t changed since 1829, when Robert Peel introduced a professional police force in London, contributing to British slang two terms based on his name: ‘bobbie’ (rather nice) and ‘peeler’ (not so nice). Most Englishmen respected the law then; those who didn’t feared it; and it was clear to all that those who neither respected nor feared it had to be prevented from doing harm to those who did. Hence the police, and hence ‘policing by consent’.

However, now that Britain in general and London in particular have become hotbeds of crime, it’s a safe assumption that such consent is either muted or in many cases nonexistent. The ostrich solution to the problem won’t work — that’s bleeding obvious, as in the blood of riot victims and stabbed or ‘bottled’ constables. Nor will the situation be helped by insisting that policing by consent still has any other than the broadest and vaguest meaning (policing in the West is always by consent in the sense that the government, responsible for policing, governs by consent).

The issue, as I’ve suggested, is purely pragamatic. The task for the police is to prevent riots or, barring that, to minimise the damage they do. The size, training and equipment of the police force must be adequate to achieving that aim, for this aim must be achieved at all costs. As simple as that.

If it takes more policemen, fine. If it takes a specialised riot unit, excellent. If it takes water cannon, splendid. If it takes tasers, tear gas or — I can see the sky opening and the lightning coming down to smite me — firearms loaded with live rounds, then that’s what has to be done. I’d like to believe that there are enough people in Britain who possess more expertise than I do, or any other layman does, to assess the technical means commensurate with the tactical requirements. But the will to do what it takes has to come from the government that supposedly acts in the public’s interests.

It’s within those circles that the will is less pronounced than among the people at large, especially those who live in areas already devastated by riots or in danger of being so devastated next time. Witness Jenny Jones, who is a member of London’s Police and Crime Committee and the Green candidate hoping to drive Boris Johnson from his mayoral office. According to Miss Jones, equipping the police with water cannon is ‘a step in the wrong direction’ as it would constitute ‘dangerous escalation of police tactics.’

Really, Jenny. It’s not police tactics that are dangerous, it’s the mob’s bestial cravings. And we’re not talking machineguns and rocket launchers here — surely a bit of squirting water has to be justified if it can prevent what happened in Tottenham last August? Look at it this way: this would give many rioters a much needed shower, and surely we’re all in favour of responsible hygiene?

As I said, I don’t consider myself an expert on the specific techniques required to do what needs doing. Neither, one suspects, is Miss Jones. Where we differ is that I believe in public order, and she believes in mouthing meaningless bien-pensant clichés. Well, the time for those has passed. We’re entering — have already entered — troubled times, and the sooner we realise this the better. And when we do, we’ll know that police officers already have plenty of courage and determination. What they lack is the proper tools of their trade, and it’s our job to provide those.

Sounds logical, doesn’t it? Alas, when it comes to law enforcement, Bob’s never your uncle, and Fanny is never, ever your aunt. But Jenny is still the Green candidate for mayor of London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this the most aggresively atheistic British government ever?

Our (Conservative!) government has upheld employers’ rights to sack any employee for wearing a visible cross or a crucifix. This is an outrage. But that two British women, Nadia Eweider and Shirley Chaplin, have to challenge that decision in the European Court of Human Rights is perhaps even a greater one.

Their assumption has to be that even the judiciary extension of a socialist Leviathan would be kinder to Christians than HMG. And the greatest outrage of all is that they may well be right.

This is astounding, considering that upon her accession the HM part of HMG had to swear to ‘maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel.’ In other words, in this reign at least, Britain is still legally a Christian country where, logically, the Christian faith has to be held supreme to any other. That means that, if members of any religion are to be banned from displaying symbols of their creed, Christianity should be the last to suffer that invidious fate. This isn’t a matter of faith. It’s a matter of constitutional fact.

So why would anyone object to a woman wearing a cross at work? The two organisations that banned the plaintiffs from doing so, BA and the Royal Devon & Exeter Health Trust, no doubt feel that, say, Muslims would be offended by this statement of infidelity to Allah.

I don’t know if they would or wouldn’t be, though I do know for a fact that none of my Jewish friends has ever expressed such feelings. But even if the Muslims do feel offended, I suggest they ought to grin and bear it — the way we do in, say, Istanbul, where, upon hearing a muezzin sing from his minaret, hundreds of Armani-clad executives drop on the ground where they stand and worship their God.

We know that the country we’re in is Muslim (if the most secular of all Islamic nations), so, if someone is stupid enough to take this as an insult, he’d be better off not going there. And if such an idiot booked the trip without realising that it’s Allah and not Jesus who’s worshipped in Turkey, he should catch the next flight out. This would also be the advice I’d give to anyone offended by the sight of the cross in a constitutionally Christian country.

The government’s defence is that ‘the wearing of a visible cross’ can be banned because it isn’t ‘a requirement of the faith’. I’d prefer to let the church decide such matters, especially the established Church of England, whose authority our head of state has sworn to uphold. But what’s wrong with a woman going beyond the formal requirements of her religion and displaying the most quintessential symbol of her faith?

Assume for the sake of argument that the woman in question isn’t a Christian at all. She just happens to fancy a gold cross as an attractive ornament. You know, the way so many of our youngsters (or not such youngsters) sport Lenin pins on their lapels, CCCP T-shirts on their torsos, or KGB insignia on their hats. Or the way some morons hang on their office wall portraits of the sadistic mass murderer Che Guevara. Or the way the more immature members of the Royal family dress up as Nazi stormtroopers — just for fun, you understand.

I’m willing to allow that most of such ill-advised individuals don’t support the truly satanic theories and, more important, practices such things symbolise. They just think they are kind of cool, and so far I haven’t heard of anyone banning such displays, much though I think it would be a good idea.

In other words, our government finds the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice more objectionable than the symbol of any other religion (one sees a lot of turbans, hijabs and yamulkas in London streets) — and even the likeness of the monster who founded a regime responsible for the murder of 60 million of its own citizens. Why is that, do you suppose? You must admit it sounds eerie — especially coming as it does at a time when our spivocrats are also trying to destroy the institution of marrriage, the bedrock not just of Britain’s established religion but of our very realm.

The only answer I can find is that HMG officials hate Christianity more than anything else. And the reason for that has to be that they love themselves more than anything else. And of course these spivocrats’ self-respect, indeed their self-definition, is inseparable from their hold on power. Hence, regardless of what they do or don’t do on Sunday mornings, they must feel that Christianity puts what’s dearest to them in jeopardy. They are right; it does.

For Christianity represents 2,000 years of tradition, something that our state is trying to undermine through most of its policies, including those that seem to be purely secular. If the worthiest of our traditions were upheld, our worthless politicians would have to look for honest work — perish the thought.

I remember 1997, when the Observer responded to the revolting spectacle of mass hysteria following Diana’s death with a front-page banner headline A Nation United Against Tradition. I dare say it’s not so much the nation but our spivocrats who are so united. And, given a bit more time, they’ll corrupt the nation in their image and likeness.

After writing that last sentence, I realised that the phrase, though here used in an unimpeachably secular context, has Biblical provenance (Genesis 1: 27). How long before HMG will try to ban the use of such references from public discourse? Not very long, if their natural cravings aren’t nipped in the bud.

Shame on them. And shame on us — for letting them get away with such assaults on everything that makes England England.

 

 

 


 

OAPs and SOBs

Some of our spivocrats have a bee in their bonnet. Some, a burr under their blanket. However, in both instances the irritant is the same: money in other people’s pockets.

The LibDem part of the coalition is mostly driven by the traditional socialist vice: envy, and the irrational hatred of the well-off it engenders. I must emphasise that this lamentable animus is indeed irrational, for anyone with a minimum of economic savvy will know that attacks on the top 10 percent of earners are tantamount to a broad-front assault on the economy as such.

Vince Cable, known among his admirers, such as myself, as Vinnie the Poo, possesses more than a minimum of economic education, so he knows this as well as anyone. Yet self-admittedly his viscera override his mind every time. 

For example, when the area in front of St Paul’s was tastefully decorated with malodorous canvas dwellings, our venerable Business Secretary declared that he had ‘sympathy with the emotions that lie behind’ the tent city. ‘Some of their recommendations aren’t terribly helpful, but that’s not the point.’ I agree: never mind ideas — it’s emotions that count.

Driven by his noble feelings and nonexistent ideas, Mr Cable himself ought to have moved into one of those smelly tents, doing on the floor of St Paul’s what he is doing to the British economy. It has to be said that, in choosing emotions over thoughts, Cable has form. Not so long ago he defended the 50-percent tax rate by saying that, though the financial effect of it is negative, it does send the right message. Again I agree; it does. And the message is that in today’s Britain talent, hard work and enterprise will be severely punished — preferably by banishment out of the country.

These days, beaten over the head by the predictable fact that the 50-percent rate is losing the Treasury billions, he’s prepared to abandon it and punish ‘the rich’ in other ways. Such as the frankly idiotic ‘mansion tax’, punishing, among others, poor old widows, who bought their houses for a tuppence 50 years ago, without realising that one day they’d cost millions. Considering that over the last 50 years asset inflation has outstripped the money kind sevenfold, this situation isn’t so much exceptional as normal.

Consequently he wants to launch yet another raid on private pensions, and he’s joined in this iniquitous undertaking by — are you listening? — the ‘Conservatives’. Now this lot for the most part don’t share Vinnie’s phobias, at least not the ones I mentioned. Their motivation, also driving Vinnie and his ilk, is more profound and therefore pernicious.

Private pensions large enough to provide for people’s old age render such people independent from the state. Our spivocrats, regardless of what slogans they choose to appeal to what sections of the electorate, hate that. They don’t want Englishmen to be free, loyal subjects of the Crown. They want them to be the state’s clients and therefore slaves. Just as a slave’s livelihood, sometimes life itself, is at his master’s mercy, so do our spivocrats crave to create the same relationship between them and us. They don’t mind that we resent them; it’s not our respect they want but our docility. And, short of concentration camps, what better way to ensure that than keeping their hands on the taps through which our retirement money flows?

It’s not by accident that one of the first acts of Tony Blair’s New Labour was an annual £5-billion raid on private-pension funds. They are a soft touch for hard feelings. And although our Coalition is drawn from the other parties, the raid has since then turned into a rout.

A few figures, if you can bear with me for a second (I hate maths myself, but it’s useful when one wishes to make a point about money). Our pensions funds have lost 3.9 percent of their value since last July. As a result, annuity income from every £1,000 has dropped by 10 percent. The national shortfall in corporate schemes is a whopping £470.7 billion, and rising. And it’s not as if the state’s generosity made up for these catastrophic tendencies.

In fact, 30 percent of British pensioners live below poverty level, defined as less than 60 percent of the average income. The corresponding figures are 17 percent in Germany and 13 percent in France. In Europe, only Cyprus boasts a higher proportion than ours, so we find ourselves in good company. A few more years, and we’ll be sharing this ranking with Guinea-Bissau.

Much has been made of the increased demand for British bonds in the financial markets, hit hard by the domino effect of the EU on most European economies. Of course, it’s bonds that back annuities, so this ought to be good news for the pensioners. But it isn’t — they find themselves on the receiving end of the unrepealable law of supply-demand.

As the demand for British bonds grows, so does their price. Not only does this then reduce annuity rates, but the soaring costs lead to corporate schemes having to invest greater amounts, which could otherwise be used for jobs and productive investment. And our government’s incontinent quantitative easing, queasing for short, is pulling in the same direction. To prevent this fiscal incontinence from driving inflation into double, and possibly triple, figures, the state has to keep the interest rate at practically zero — hitting savers and pensioners with another whammy.

Everything is interconnected. For example, the higher the marginal tax rate, the less investment, the fewer jobs, the more economic emigrants, the greater the numbers and the fatter the pay cheques of the unproductive gang of those who devote their lives to helping others avoid — and, given half the chance, evade — taxes.

And so our spivocrats’ fiscal policy will affect people’s economic behaviour in all sorts of ways, few of them commendable. Saving, be it in private pensions or anywhere else, will dwindle away: the sacrifice will no longer be commensurate with the return. Instead people, most of whom aren’t natural-born investors, will be taking punts on variously wild get-rich schemes — or else relying on property as something that, unlike pension funds, is unlikely to disappear altogether.

Vinnie and his Tory accomplices will get those who succeed in some other ways: a version of their ‘mansion’ tax, wealth tax, the closing of tax loopholes, you name it. And those who fail will fall into the eagerly awating clutches of the state. Job done, the spivocracts can’t lose. We, however, can. And are. And will.

Watch your tongue, squire

 

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’

 

I remember a dialogue of years ago, when I returned to the office after a client meeting, and our chairman asked me to ‘appraise’ him.

“You’re an excellent businessman,” I offered. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “That’s me appraising you.” “How did the meeting go, is what I mean.” “Oh, so you mean ‘apprise’, not ‘appraise’.” “There’s no such word.” “Yes, there is,” I said, producing my trusted Chambers yet again. ‘I don’t care if the word is in the @£4$%&! dictionary,’ explained the chairman. He then proceeded to call me a pedant (true) and a snob (false).

This episode wouldn’t be worth recalling if it weren’t symptomatic of the collapse of our culture in general, and language specifically. I haven’t had the pleasure of learning proper grammar and usage at an English school, but the impression one gets is that neither have most people. My guess is that such things are simply not taught.

‘Language,’ one hears said so often, ‘is only a means of communication.’ That’s not strictly true: if it were nothing but that, we wouldn’t have Shakespeare’s sonnets to savour. But even so, no communication can be complete without the same word meaning the same thing to both speaker and listener. Otherwise there’s always the danger of the communication turning into Chinese whispers. Alas, our comprehensively educated people have been trained to share Humpty Dumpty’s belief that words mean whatever they want them to mean.

I used to think that the debacle of 1965, which eventually turned Britain’s education from being the envy of the world into its laughingstock, was simply an administrative oversight inspired by vague egalitarian longings. Now I’ve come round to the view that it was an act of conscious sabotage. Our spivocrats actually strive to make the people illiterate.

For it takes an illiterate populace not to realise that our politicians are capable of committing several rhetorical fallacies in one sentence – or to accept that their Robin Hood attempts to rob those who earn for the sake of those who don’t have something to do with ‘justice’ (Chambers: justice. the awarding of what is due).

Advocates of this linguistic mayhem insist this is par for the course, for language develops. The assumption is that any change is for the better, which is as manifestly false in linguistics as it is in politics.

Real development has over centuries turned English vocabulary into the largest of all European languages (twice as large as in Russian, for example). The post-1965 pseudo-developments, however, have had exactly the opposite effect on our language. In fact, apart from the four-letter words having entered the mainstream of discourse, English is getting smaller by the minute.

The warning signals are ringing throughout the English-speaking world. Kevin says ‘masterful’ when he means ‘masterly’ – beware! A good word is on its way to perdition. Jill is ‘disinterested’ in classical music – woe betide ‘uninterested’ (not to mention classical music). Gavin thinks ‘simplistic’ is a more elegant way of saying ‘simple’, ‘fulsome’ is a sophisticated version of ‘full’ or ‘naturalistic’ of ‘natural’ – English is coming down to a size where ignoramuses can handle it comfortably. Trish thinks ‘innocuous’ means ‘innocent’ – in a few years it will. And it’s not just words; whole grammatical categories bite the dust. Present Indefinite, where is your brother Subjunctive? Trampled underfoot by the education our spivocrats spawned.

Once words are deprived of their substance, spivocrats can perpetuate their power by enforcing the formal aspect of any word. That is precisely the impulse behind political correctness that has succeeded only because resistance to it was softened by our so-called education. A semi-literate population is a soft touch for spivocratic Humpty Dumpties insisting that words mean whatever they want them to mean. Who cares about nuances if a lexicon of 1,000 words is sufficient to get one through modern life? So when a dictate is issued that some stylistically neutral word is now taboo, people just shrug with equanimity. We can’t say Negro any longer? Fine, we’ll say black. You prefer Afro-American? yawns the New Yorker. Splendid. Afro-Caribbean? echoes the Londoner. Right you are, gov. Words don’t matter.

And in fact they don’t – as such. What does matter, however, is the spivocratic impetus behind the words, the Humpty-Dumpty power to enforce the arbitrary meaning at the expense of the real one. This matters because the united spivocrats of the world know that they assume a greater power every time they win a linguistic skirmish. Thus, when a New York public official is made to apologise in the press for having used the word ‘niggardly’, yet another triumphal chariot rolls through our modern world.

‘The head bone connected to the neck bone, the neck bone connected to the back bone, the back bone connected to the thigh bone…’ and so forth. If we were to deny the existence of any semantic aspect that’s more or less immutable, words would stop being a means of communication and become an instrument of power – or nothing.

They would be nothing if the speaker could not impose upon the listener the intended meaning of the word. They would be an instrument of power if he could. So do let’s mind our language, shall we?

Putin, the shadowy president of a shadow state

The elections on 4 March rubber-stamped the status quo: Putin has been in control for 12 years, and he remains in control. Or does he?

This question is more interesting than things that excite our press so, such as election fraud followed by public backlash. To be fair, there was enough of that. Moscow alone reported 1,349 ‘procedural violations’, most of them fraudulent, and it’s but one city in a rather large country. And yes, thousands of protesters turned up in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, Petersburg’s St Isaak’s Square and elsewhere; and yes, the police treated them brutally. When the US ambassador expressed a most diplomatic ‘concern’, the Foreign Ministry spokesman undiplomatically suggested he mind his own business. We, said the spokesman, treated our protesters more kindly than you treated your Wall Street occupiers.

Well, not quite. Hundreds of people, including women, were savagely beaten with truncheons, and the human-rights activist Tatiana Kadyrova had to be taken from the police station to hospital, suffering from a severe concussion, broken nose and multiple lacerations. Others weren’t so lucky: one woman had a stroke while in custody, and yet the police refused to allow any medical help. And the protesters arrested outside the FSB (KGB) Headquarters are being held without food or water in unheated cells (it’s minus 10 in Moscow as I write).

All this raises yet again the really serious questions of the nature of Putin’s state and the vector of its evolution. For Putin has definitely created a state in his own image, that of a career KGB officer, who since his retirement has been implicated in shadowy deals that would put any mafia don to shame. He’s definitely a strong leader, drawing public support in Russia and envious gasps from some of our own commentators: ‘We could do with one of them – just look at the nonentities who govern us.’

I too love the idea of a strong leader – provided he displays his strength within the law. A state that lets him operate outside the law is, by way of shorthand, called fascist.

Only the naïve think that the visible physical structure of Putin’s state, with its executive, legislative and judicial branches, is the actual state. The executive subsumes the other two: Russian parliamentarians pass the laws, and Russian judges the verdicts, that Putin tells them to pass. Yet Putin, like any other strong Russian leader, can only govern through some instruments of power that traditionally operate in the shadows, as a sort of collective éminence grise. They form the ruling class usually described by words like ‘apparat’ or ‘nomenklatura’, those terms that Russian has contributed to most languages.

The problem comes from the relative rate of growth: the leader’s power grows in an arithmetical progression, and the apparat’s in a geometrical one. At some point the shadow defies physics by becoming stronger than the man who casts it. The leader is then eliminated, either physically or merely institutionally.

This happened to tsars like Peter III, Paul I and Nicholas II. It happened to Lenin, eventually overpowered by the nomenklatura led by Stalin. It happened to Stalin, reputedly killed by his comrades led by Beria. It happened to Beria, eliminated by Khrushchev and to Khrushchev, ousted by Brezhnev. It happened to Gorbachev and Yeltsyn. And it’ll happen to Putin, though my crystal ball is too murky to say when. Not now, anyway. Not for quite some time.

The wheels of a shadow state need to be greased by shadow money, and in Russia there’s little of any other kind. Loyalty to the apparat and Putin personally is a prerequisite for doing business. Every businessman knows he has to toe the line if he wants to make any sizeable money and especially if he wishes to get a fat government contract. By way of expressing his gratitude, he knows that a large chunk of any large transaction, typically about a third, needs to be transferred into numbered offshore accounts specified by the apparat.

Acting as conduits in such transfers are the loyal oligarchs, mostly residing abroad. In return for their loyalty, they are allowed to keep the leasehold on their capital, with the firm understanding that the freehold is owned by the apparat. Someone like Abramovich is welcome to his 500-foot yachts, but when Putin tells him to spend $230 million on medical equipment for Russia, he does. When Putin tells him to bankroll a Russian football club, he does. When Putin tells him to pay for the Winter Olympics, he does. And whenever an oligarch like Khodorkovsky doesn’t get the message, suddenly he isn’t an oligarch any longer.

Some of the money makes its way back to Russia, where it’s used to pay public officials, whose salaries are usually derisory. Their real pay comes in envelopes stuffed with banknotes; the Russian refer to this system of remuneration as konvertitsia (‘envelopation’). Nothing new there: even in tsarist Russia it was assumed that public officials would live off the fat of the land, and Catherine II stopped paying them altogether, there was no point.

Hence it’s hardly surprising that, in the Transparency International corruption ranking of 186 countries, Russia found herself at Number 143, between Nigeria and Timor, and the TI doesn’t know the half of it. But the word corruption doesn’t really apply – it’s just the way the state is run.

The other power tool used in the shadows is political terror. Sometimes this is exercised through the courts, sometimes in the dark alleys, with opposition journalists, politicians or activists routinely beaten up, maimed or murdered. Putin’s advocates point out, correctly, that the scale of political terror is now immeasurably smaller than it was under Stalin. That’s true, but only because Putin needs less terror than Stalin did to keep things moving along. When he needs more, he’ll use more.

One thing Putin lacks is an ideological umbrella, something to justify the shadow state’s corruption and violence in a marketable fashion. All Russian rulers have had it. For the tsars, it was ‘autocracy, Orthodoxy and populism’, in the words of a government minister. For Lenin, it was communism. Stalin in his turn shot everyone who honestly believed in that nonsense, replacing it with what Mussolini called ‘a Slavic version of fascism’.

There is every indication that what Putin is developing now is a version of the version, some form of neo-fascism with national-socialist overtones. Even if he weren’t that way inclined anyway, he’d have no alternative. Any attempt to introduce a semblance of a civilised, never mind democratic, government would bring about the collapse of the shadow state, which is to say the state. As the experience of the 1990s shows, an out-and-out anarchy would follow, with consequences as unpredictable as they would be undesirable.

That leaves us with the hope that Putin will eschew flexing his neo-fascist muscles internationally, trying to play more of a hands-on role in world politics. As it is, he’s arming and supporting every tyrant on earth, from Chavez to Assad, not to mention numerous groups that haven’t yet attained the state status. Meanwhile, all we can do is stay vigilant – and skip all articles seriously discussing Russia’s democratic prospects.

From an important institution to a mental one: The Times has moved on

I’ve been inside a psychiatric hospital only once in my life (note to my detractors: as a visitor, not a patient). Reading The Times editorial For Gay Marriage enabled me to relive that eerie experience.

It’s not only that I disagree with the views expressed in the article, though I do have a tendency, much and justly decried by my friends, to presuppose intellectual deficiency on the part of my opponents. However, over many years I’ve learned to consider the other man’s well-argued opinion as valid, if ill-advised. In fact, I’m constantly reminded of that great adman who always wore a lapel pin saying ‘Maybe he’s right’.

But whoever wrote that editorial isn’t just wrong — he is mad. When sane people argue a case, they do so by looking at the evidence, analysing it, finding logical links and amalgamating the lot into a coherent point of view. They eschew ignorant, emotive, grossly biased non sequiturs — of the kind this editorial flashes in every line.

‘[Gay marriage] is a cause that has the firm support of The Times,’ it says, because ‘to allow same-sex couples to marry would enrich an historic institution and expand the sum of human happiness.’

This is insane twaddle. Governments have been instituted among men not to create a paradise on earth but to prevent hell on earth. Five millennia of recorded history show that this is only ever achieved by pursuing not happiness — whatever it means, which isn’t much — but justice, social cohesion and, as Edmund Burke put it, prudence, prescription and prejudice. (The last word is getting rotten press from the PC set, but to Burke it simply meant the intuitive knowledge shared by most people — effectively what makes a nation a nation.)

It has been understood from time immemorial that one man’s happiness is another man’s misery. Pursuit of happiness, enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence, is an Enlightenment construct that, in order to mean anything at all, has to be qualified in so many ways as to make any sane person question the validity of the term altogether.

Otherwise one could suggest all sorts of absurd ways in which ‘the sum of human happiness’ could be ‘expanded’. Legalised necrophilia, zoophilia, money laundering, driving without a licence, shoplifting — all these would add no end to the number of happy individuals, thereby achieving the expansion so dear to the warped heart of The Times. They would also knock stones of different sizes out of the foundations of our society.

Marriage, a union of a man and a woman sanctioned by the state and, ideally, blessed by God, is a building block not just of society but indeed of the human race. It’s also a natural competitor to the power of the state. That’s why all tyrannical states in history sought to undermine marriage or even to do away with it.

One of the first acts of the bolsheviks in Russia was to abolish marriage, and Inessa Armand, Lenin’s mistress, likened sex to ‘drinking a glass of water’ (for the sake of the Great Leader’s reputation, one hopes she didn’t mean drinking it in one quick gulp). To the same end, the bolsheviks also legalised homosexuality. Thus the first country to make homosexuality legal was Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1934, a time and place not otherwise known for worshipping human rights. And the Nazis reduced marriage to a gruesome exercise in eugenics, augmented by SS stud farms and euthanasia.

It’s a lamentable fact that Western governments are gravitating towards totalitarianism as well, what with the individual becoming less and less powerful and the state more and more so. And though today’s governments wouldn’t dare abolish marriage altogether, they too have a burning need to take it apart piece by piece.

Ye shall know them by their fruits: statistics in this case don’t lie. Today as many people get married in Britain as did in the 1890s, when the population was half of today’s. In 1950 there were 408,000 marriages in Britain and 33,000 divorces. The corresponding numbers for 2000 are 306,000 and 155,000 — in a larger population, there were fewer marriages, and more than twice as many divorces. Almost 50 percent of all children in the UK are born outside marriage, which usually means they grow up fatherless — with all the well-documented consequences that don’t fall far short of a social, cultural and educational collapse.

Now the government strives to redefine the very concept of marriage the better to destroy it — sorry, ‘to enrich an historic institution.’ Dave wants to do it ‘because he’s a conservative’. Nick wants to do it because he’s a LibDem. Both want to do it because they sense in their statist viscera that, unless marriage is destroyed, their spivocratic power will never become absolute. A stable marriage is likely to keep the man, the woman and their children out of the clutches of the state — they are less likely to become its dependents and therefore more likely to reject its dictates. That just won’t do, will it now, Dave and Nick?

And why stop there in our quest for equality? Commendably, Dave and Nick aren’t sexist but they are still specist. I’m awaiting their unequivocal support of marriage between humans and other mammals. As that too would expand the sum of human happiness, they’d be able to count on The Times as a staunch ally.

‘Reforms to marital law need to be informed by a sense of history, lest they give rise to unintended and damaging consequences,’ continues The Times, as if deadset on proving that it has indeed gone bonkers. Surely any sane person would see that homomarriage isn’t ‘informed by a sense of history’? And surely no one blessed with such a sense would dismiss as antiquated irrelevances the strong protests coming from the leaders of both principal Christian confessions in Britain? That sentence, appearing as it does amid a strident clamour for same-sex marriage, can be used for diagnostic purposes by any competent psychiatrist.

The history of Britain and her realm is inseparable from the church as the guardian and teacher of public morality. The more effectively does the church act in that capacity, the greater the moral health of the nation. An agnostic may question that this is the case. An atheist may even oppose this or that tenet of Judaeo-Christian morality. But, regardless of his faith or lack thereof, anyone with a secure grasp on historical reality will see that every attempt to replace Judaeo-Christian morality with anything else has invariably produced untold misery.

I feel sad every time a venerable British institution bites the dust. The Times has been moving to perdition for quite some time now. Its circulation is now merely eighth in Britain, having declined from 726,349 in 2000 to 405,113 today. A few more editorials like this, and it’ll dwindle away to nothing. Sorry to see that happening.