Saddam Hussein hanged: is Iraq a better place? A safer place? Gaddafi murdered in front of the viewers: is Libya a better place? Now we are demonising Assad. Can we try to draw lessons?
— Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, United Nations, 1 October
Russia was right about Iraq and Libya, and America and Britain were dead wrong. Regime change doesn’t seem to have changed Middle Eastern countries for the better, as Vladimir Putin has been warning for years.
Pope Francis’s three-week Synod on the Family began on Sunday. Most of the 279 ‘Synod Fathers’ are senior bishops, many of them cardinals. They have no authority to change any aspect of Catholic teaching or pastoral practice. They are discussing the ‘hot button’ issues of communion for the divorced and remarried and the spiritual care of gay Catholics — but, once the meeting is over, power will rest entirely in the hands of the Pope.
To my astonishment and delight, the phrase ‘virtue signalling’ has become part of the English language. I coined the phrase in an article here in The Spectator (18 April) in which I described the way in which many people say or write things to indicate that they are virtuous. Sometimes it is quite subtle. By saying that they hate the Daily Mail or Ukip, they are really telling you that they are admirably non-racist, left-wing or open-minded.
The Republican party is showing all the attention span of a hyperactive toddler this primary season, moving from one shiny toy to the next. Donald Trump still dominates the nursery, like some giant plastic fire engine. But the pieces are starting to look careworn and the battery is going on the siren. The former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, now tied with Trump in some polls, is the teddy bear dragged around the playground a few times and now slumped in a corner.
As a result of a ruptured appendix, I am infertile. The appendicitis was followed by gangrene and peritonitis, which permanently blocked my fallopian tubes and left me having to do IVF for a chance to have my own child.
I have never felt shame about my situation but I have felt isolation and grief, both of which would be very much more bear-able if people were prepared to talk openly about in-vitro fertilisation — to dispel the taboo that still surrounds it.
I have a sinking feeling that Joe Biden might be the next president of the United States. In a brilliant essay published by the American Spectator in 2010, Angelo Codevilla of Boston University foresaw a popular revolt against ‘America’s ruling class’. What he calls ‘the Country party’ repudiates the co-option of the mainstream Republican party by the bureaucratic behemoth that is Washington, DC. You cannot understand the popularity of Donald Trump until you grasp the essential characteristics of this Country party.
What a fate it is to be hung next to the most famous painting in a gallery. To be overlooked, a framing device, just out of shot of every selfie taken in front of ‘The Ambassadors’ or ‘Mona Lisa’.
The painting immediately to the left of Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ in the Mauritshuis is Gerard ter Borch’s ‘Combing for Lice’. The weary mother in this close interior has none of the pouty lusciousness of Vermeer’s pin-up, but no Madonna ever cradled her bambino with as much maternal tenderness as this Dutch huisvrouw inspects her son’s blond head.