The other and worse purveyors

We tend to look down on whores.  They may perform a service by trading in lust – Aquinas called them the shield of marriage – but there is something distasteful about their work, rather like that of night-carters.

People who trade in conflict rather than lust are another matter.  They do not seem to perform any useful service at all.  Rather, they trade and profit greatly from getting down in the gutter with the kind of people who will embrace them.  Take those frightful people called shock jocks.  They encourage conflict by appealing to bogans.  What do I mean by ‘bogan’?   Someone who has been brought up without taste, courtesy or tolerance, and who is hostile to people who are better or just different – the kind of person who follow Andrew Bolt or Alan Jones.

In the poem ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’, W B Yeats wrote:

An intellectual hatred is the worst,

So let her think her opinions are accursed.

No one would accuse Jones or Bolt of being an intellectual – the contrary is the case – but they are two of the most opinionated people on earth.  And they trade and profit from giving their opinions on any subject under the sun to bogans; and then they thrive and trade on the conflict that they have generated or fanned.  Each of them comes within a later phrase from the same poem – ‘an old bellows full of angry wind’, or these lines:

For arrogance and hatred are the wares

Peddled in the thoroughfares.

You can see how they ply their trade in arrogance and hatred in the very sad controversy about the aboriginal footballer named Adam Goodes. Goodes has offended Bolt and Jones in two ways.  He complained about being called an ape, and he performed a kind of aboriginal dance during a game.  For those two acts, he is being booed by large sections of the crowd, and as a result he is now thinking of giving the game away.  Try explaining that to someone from overseas.

This is truly awful for the AFL.  They have served up the worst footy ever on the field this year and now they have bogans in the crowd bringing the game into disgrace.

Then an aboriginal team-mate of Goodes upset some people, including a remarkably stupid state premier, by posing as a spear-thrower.  The photo of him that appeared in the press looked just like the famous sculpture of the Artemisian Zeus in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.  There are after all not many ways that you can throw a spear.  I seem to recall a version of this sculpture at Melbourne University.  I don’t recall it upsetting people, although I seem to recall it getting a coat of Kiwi boot polish where it would be most uncomfortable, rather after the manner of the darker side of bucks’ parties as then practised by whitefellas in very ugly rites of passage.

No one – not even Bolt or Jones – tries to justify this appalling conduct of the bogans in the crowd, but both insist on making comments which they know must fan the flames.  They both do so with a level of drivel that would have made Goebbels blush.

Bolt is angry that Goodes referred to rapes, killings and thefts carried out by whites against blacks.  Goodes did so in terms that were less blunt than those used by Paul Keating when he was Prime Minister, but for Bolt this stand by a blackfella ‘was to twist the facts to suit the fiction of a country rived by racism.’  There is something dark in the psyche of Bolt that drives him to enter any discussion of race or racism and always in such a way as to belittle and offend those of a different race.

The arrogance of Jones is boundless.  He says that the problem is all the fault of Goodes.  He says that Goodes always plays the victim.  The crowd are booing Goodes because they don’t like him – they don’t like his behaviour including his spear-throwing and doing a war dance – provoking people.  There you have it.  Goodes has provoked the bogans.  How?  By standing up for himself.  Adam Goodes is just another bloody uppity abo.

Those who do not see this for the frightful racism that it is have not spent enough time with bogans.  When a blackfella got offended by being called a black cunt, I heard him described as a whinger and a girl.  I saw the start of last year’s Grand Final in a pub, and within ten minutes the appreciative bar was told that in addition to being a whinger, Goodes was also a poofter.

The political savoir faire of Adam Goodes may be open to discussion, but he has on any view been what the late Doug Heywood used to call an ornament to the game.  Skunks like Bolt and Jones are not fit to tie his bootlaces, and it is a source of great pain and sorrow to me that our Prime Minister consorts with and is a friend of both of them.

Two big books II – Les Miserables

At least three great novels are blighted by overlays that would not have survived a strong editor – Les Miserables, War and Peace, and Moby Dick.  You can prune the last, and you get used to glossing Tolstoy’s diatribes against Napoleon – but there is a huge amount of fat in the Hugo novel, including long dissertations on Waterloo (to vindicate Napoleon) and the sewers of Paris.  It is curious that the enormous ego of Napoleon should have prompted the equally enormous egos of Tolstoy and Hugo literally to lose the plot and just bang on about their hero or anti-hero as the case may be.  Both could do with being told of the first law of advocacy – if you have a good point, do not spoil it with a dud: you will lose your audience.  As it is, while the Everyman Middlemarch comes out at 890 pages, their Les Miserables comes out 1430.

A strong young man named Jean Valjean is sentenced to the galleys when he steals to feed the family.  With time for escapes, he does about twenty years, and when he gets out he is a marked pariah.  A saintly bishop, a contradiction in terms then, gives him refuge.  Valjean steals the silver, but when he is arrested, the bishop says that he gave the silver away.  This act of goodness changes Valjean forever.  He becomes a man suffused with benevolence, and after perfecting a new process, he becomes fabulously rich, and the benefactor and mayor of a town.

But his past catches up with him in the form of an obsessive police agent called Javert, who pursues Valjean as his life’s work.  A young woman called Fantine is left pregnant by a young man about town in Paris.  She comes to work in Valjean’s factory, and without his knowledge she is sacked.  She sells her hair, her teeth, and then her body to keep herself and her daughter Cosette alive.  She dies in misery, and Valjean accepts responsibility for raising Cosette, in large part in a convent where Valjean works under cover as a gardener.

A link between the two threads is provided by the Thenardiers, frightful people who Fantine first left Cosette with.  We are told that Thenardier was one of those who scavenged the dead after Waterloo, while posturing as a soldier, and that is the model of his life.  He keeps coming back into the story like a cancer through coincidences that are fantastic.

These lives are played out in the aftermath of the French Revolution starting in 1789 and the further revolutions in 1830, 1848, and 1870.  A young student called Marius – whose military father wrongly thought that Thenardier had come to his aid at Waterloo – gets caught up in the revolutionary fervour of the times.  When he is wounded at the barricades, he is saved by Valjean and he will marry Cosette.  Javert is finally unmanned by the goodness of Valjean in saving his life.  When he cannot do his duty and arrest Valjean, Javert ends his own life in the Seine.  The book ends as Cosette and Marius cover the dead hands of Valjean with kisses.

Early on we get this about the Great Terror:

‘1793.  I was expecting that.  A cloud had been forming for fifteen hundred years; at the end of fifteen centuries it burst.  You condemn the thunderbolt’.

It is a good line.  But what happens when the abstraction leads to the dismissal of a class?

They [the Thenardiers] belonged to that bastard class formed of low people who have risen, and intelligent people who have fallen, which lies between the classes called middle and lower, and which unites some of the faults of the latter with nearly all the vices of the former, without possessing the generous impulses of the workman, or the respectability of the bourgeois.

The Thenardiers are awful, and we know such people are about, but is this clever, or merely nasty?  Did George Eliot stoop to this typing or aspire to this judgment?  This preoccupation with abstraction and class looks anything but humanist.

When we get to Waterloo, we get pure bullshit.  We are told it was a great battle won by a second rate general, and that Napoleon lost because fate decided he had had enough – rather like the gods with Hector.  Here is some of the claptrap.

…this war, which broke the military spirit of France, fired the democratic spirit with indignation.  It was a scheme of subjugation.  In this campaign, the object held out to the French soldier, was the conquest of a yoke for the neck of another.  Hideous contradiction.  France exists to arouse the soul of the peoples, not to stifle it.  Since 1792, all the revolutions of Europe had been but the French Revolution: liberty radiates on every side from France.  That is a fact as clear as noonday.  Blind is he who does not see it.  Bonaparte has said it!  The war of 1823, an outrage on the generous Spanish nation, was at the same time an outrage on the French Revolution.  This monstrous deed of violence France committed, but by compulsion; for aside from wars of liberation, all that armies do, they do by compulsion.

This is very nasty claptrap.  A Russian man being bayoneted or a Russian woman being raped takes no comfort from the fact that the crime against humanity is committed in the name of Napoleon rather than Hitler, or in the name of liberation rather than enslavement.

This preoccupation with intellectualism and a refusal to come to grips with history are not helpful to Hugo.  Sometimes the jingoism is breathtaking.

But this great England will be offended at what we say here.  She has still after her 1688 and our 1789 the feudal illusion.  This people, surpassed by none in might and glory, esteems itself as a nation, not as a people.  So much so that as a people they subordinate themselves willingly, and take a Lord for a head.  Workmen, they submit to be despised; soldiers, they submit to be whipped.

It is as if the French had found the answer to peaceful governance and equality, but the whole 1430 pages of a book whose title could be The Have-nots is dedicated to showing that any such proposition must be false and that France had to endure agony for a century after 1789.  The importance of the English 1689 is that they never needed another revolution.

People were slaughtered in France in 1830, 1848 and 1870.

The Revolution of July [1830] is the triumph of the Right prostrating the fact.  A thing full of splendour.  The right prostrating the fact.  Thence the glory of the Revolution of 1830, thence its mildness also.  The right when it triumphs has no need to be violent.  The right is the just and the true.  The peculiarity of the right is that it is always beautiful and pure……

Revolutions spring, not from an accident, but from necessity.  A revolution is a return from the factitious to the real.  It is, because it must be.

This may be par for the course for Continental rationalism, but what happens when the beautiful and pure gets feral, as it did in 1793 (and as it had done on 14 July 1789)?

The Edenisation of the world, Progress; and this holy, good, and gentle thing, progress, pushed to the wall and beside themselves, they demanded terrible, half-naked, a club in their grasp, and a roar in their mouth.  They were savages, yes; but the savages of civilisation….They seemed barbarians, and they were saviours.  With the mask of night, they demanded the light.

Anyone falling for that kind of nonsense has got real problems.  It poses real issues of trust in the author.  It is a pity, because the story is strong, and good when the author sticks to it.  A cohort of Marius at the barricades named Enjolras shoots in cold blood a fellow revolutionary who gets out of line.  Here we meet the credo killer like the Commissar in Doctor Zhivago.

‘Citizens’, said Enjolras, ‘what that man did is horrible and what I did is terrible.  He killed, that is why I killed him.  I was forced to do it, for the insurrection must have its discipline.  Assassination is a still greater crime here than elsewhere; we are under the eye of the revolution, we are the priests of the republic, we are the sacramental host of duty, and none must be able to calumniate our combat.  I therefore judged and condemned that man to death.  As for myself, compelled to do what I have done, but abhorring it, I have judged myself also, and you shall soon see to what I have sentenced myself.’

Those who heard shuddered.

There in truth is the eternal dilemna of the revolutionary – where does the power come from, and how will it be surrendered?  You can get more from that one paragraph than all the reams of political nonsense in the whole work.  And there you can get an idea of the hold of this novel on the French imagination, as great as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and an idea of why it is the subject of more films and theatre than perhaps any other novel.

III  George Eliot and Victor Hugo

Mary Anne Evans (1819-1880) had a religious middle class upbringing; she only rejected the former, although she shed her provincial accent while studying French and the piano at Coventry.  Because she was thought to be plain, she was given a full education.  She got into literary circles and edited the radical Westminster Review for a while.  She lived in a happy de facto marriage for more than twenty years with a writer who was her helper.  She had travelled and could set her writing in Europe.  She wrote a number of successful novels.  Middlemarch is the best known.  According to the Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, she was one of the finest letter-writers in the language, and she stands pre-eminent in a century of gifted women writers.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) was the son of one of Napoleon’s generals.  He studied law, and went into writing.  He became best known in France as a poet, and best known outside France as the writer of two great novels.  France endured unsettled agony throughout almost all Hugo’s life, with one form of revolution and change of government following another.  Hugo was actively involved in politics, as is the way with French intellectuals.  He spent some time in exile in Guernsey, and his views on religion and politics fluctuated, although he was dead against the Church of Rome.  In many ways his ups and downs mirrored those of France.  The whole of France mourned his death, and he was given a funeral for a hero of the nation.  His body lay in state under a black-draped Arc de Triomphe; more than two million showed up for the funeral.

His personal life was at least as vibrant as his public life.  M. Hugo was a man of appetite.  He had wives, partners, and mistresses.  He might maintain three households at once.  He went after actresses, courtesans and any woman except one living under one roof with a husband.   He might bed a prostitute before lunch, then rendezvous with an actress, and then meet in private with a courtesan, before going home to his mistress or his unofficial wife for dinner and love-making.  Alexandre Dumas, the creator of The Three Musketeers, fancied himself with women, but he knew what happened in a straight contest with Hugo.

I can spend many days in the preparation of love with a lady.  I sigh, I send her gifts, I inscribe tender sentiments in my books, I dance attendance on her.  He smiles.  He bends over her hand, and when he kisses it, she believes she is the only woman in all the world for him.  She is not only captivated by him, but she forgets that I exist.

The reputation of M. Hugo was such that women called and waited on him

He had immense endurance.  Breakfast was just coffee, but the light meal at lunch was more serious – pate, an omelette or fish, a roast meat with vegetables, a salad, pudding, and cheeses, all with different wines.  The big meal was dinner.  Two dozen oysters or mussels; a hearty soup; fish, say two broiled lobsters in their shells; roast chicken and then beef; a salad; dessert (say chocolate mousse with brandy sauce), plus four to six oranges, unpeeled.  And again, a different wine with each course.  He did not get fat or contract any venereal disease, and he lived well into his eighties.

It is perhaps, then, not surprising that a novel of George Eliot might have a different tone to a novel of Victor Hugo.

Passing bull 8 Getting validated

If you validate a travel pass, you do something to it to make it operate to cover a cost of travel by ensuring that you will pay a fee for that travel.  If you validate an assertion or argument, you demonstrate that it is valid – you show, either by evidence or logical explanation, that your position is well founded or sound; in the words of the OED, you show that your position is one ‘against which no objection can be fairly brought.’

We are seeing a new emotional kind of validation.  It occurs when one alleged victim finds support from another alleged victim.  So, when the courts in the U S opened the way for long standing complaints against Bill Cosby to be brought on, and others came forward to do that, the original complainants said that their complaints had been validated.  They had not been validated at all.  They had not even been corroborated.  All that had happened was that other complainants had come forward.  If one or other of those complaints were to be found to be valid in a fair hearing, the question would then arise whether that finding could properly be put forward to support the assertion that the accused had been guilty of similar conduct on another occasion.  You do not have to be a lawyer to see the danger of people being found guilty of an offence because someone has found that they have committed a similar offence at another time.  Nor do you have be a lawyer to see the danger of the herd instinct taking over or of the herd becoming a lynch mob.  This is the kind of stuff that evil people like shock jocks peddle.

This emotional kind of validation therefore looks like bullshit.  We have just seen it in Kenya with President Obama.  He called for equality or equal rights for gay people in Kenya.  That led someone from Amnesty to say that the position of Kenyan gays had been validated.  It is hard to imagine any sense of that term that does not lead to bullshit in this context.  Mr Obama is not God.

Someone had apparently said that there might be limits on how far the west could impose its values on Africa – or the Middle East, or the rest of Asia.  Or Russia.  This led the Amnesty lady to ascend the stratosphere of bullshit.  She said that equal rights for gays was a universal value, or something to that effect.  Putting to one side the very big job of teasing out some verifiable meanings in those terms, this statement is obviously false.  There are obviously different views on this issue in say Nigeria and Russia than say Washington, D C.  You do not see gays being whipped by Cossacks in Washington.

The President of Kenya said this was a ‘non-issue’ there.  I am not a Kenyan, but I do know what it is like to be lectured, and what is like to get tired of the arrogant superiority inherent in the lecturer   People in the west who dismiss out of hand the position of people in, say Africa, as not conforming to universal values risk being charged with something far more serious than arrogance.

This is something that our man at the Human Rights Commission, Mr Tim Wilson, he of the alpine salary and expense accounts, might bear in mind.  When someone from a different ethnic background expressed difficulty with those people coming to grips with equal rights for gays, Mr Wilson said that the comment was ‘despicable.’  Some may have hoped for a grain of tolerance.

Still, bullshit might be like cholesterol – there is good and bad.  Here is what I call good bullshit.  It comes from the Preface to a history of England by the great German historian Leopold von Ranke published in English in 1875.

If we were required to express in the most general terms the distinction between English and French policy in the last two centuries, we might say that it consisted in this, that the glory of their arms abroad lay nearest to the heart of the French nation, and the legal settlement of their home affairs to that of the English…..These European emergencies coinciding with the troubles at home bring about a new change of the old forms in the Revolution of 1688, the main result of which is that the centre of gravity of public authority in England shifts decisively to the parliamentary side.  It was during this same time that France had won military and political superiority over all its neighbours on the mainland, and in connection with it had concentrated an almost absolute power at home in the hands of the monarchy.

Now, as the learned author acknowledges, all this may seem large – and to be beyond validation.  But Ranke was a very big hitter, who was entitled to chance his arm now and then, and he just might give us a kind of insight into our past that we did not have before.  He may even have found the vibe.

Passing bull 7 – Remorse in Japan and here

If you got referred to the headmaster for having a cigarette behind his house, and you said ‘I am deeply remorseful about this, sir’, he would know that he had a serial bullshit-artist on his hands – and a serious candidate for high office in this great nation.

If you feel remorse, you show it by saying that you are sorry.  That might be called an apology, and you might say that you apologise, but saying that you are sorry is what counts.  That is what we – the white people who took this land – said to the people that we took it from.  Adding a veneer of depth or sincerity may only suggest the opposite.

There was therefore something hollow about the apology of Mitsubishi for using captured soldiers as slave labour during the war.  ‘Today we apologise remorsefully for the tragic events in our past.’  It is not for the wrongdoer to anoint themselves with the balm of remorse.  And what was ‘tragic’ about these crimes against humanity committed by one of the most vicious, cruel and racist regimes known to mankind?

The Telegraph gave a context from an account given by a Scots survivor to his son:

‘The conditions were horrendous’, Mr Gibson said. ‘My father told us that inside the mine there would be roof cave-ins, flooding and pockets of poisonous gas.

‘It was also high up in the mountains and freezing cold much of the time, yet the PoWs only had the clothes they had been wearing in the tropical jungle.  They used to make mittens and other clothes out of grass.

‘There were no Red Cross parcels as the Japanese used to keep them for themselves,’ he added. ‘My father told my brother about a man who tried to steal a bit of food from the shipyard but was caught and beaten up.

‘The next day, the Japanese staked him out over a bed of fast-growing bamboo, which grew through his body and eventually killed him.’

After the war, Hichiro Tsuchiya, the mine foreman, was sentenced to 15 years hard labour after being found guilty of nine counts of assaulting prisoners, including with the handle of a pickaxe.

The prisoners were ‘treated as rubbish’ because they had surrendered, as the Japanese had been brought up to believe that committing suicide was preferable to surrender, Mr Gibson said.


The worst think about this apology was the time it took.  One victim said ‘For 70 years we wanted this.’  The victims who survived suffered more from thinking that the criminals were getting off – for seventy years, the length of my life so far.  Did the people at Mitsubishi say that they were sorry for the pain that they had caused by refusing to say that they were sorry?  What was it that finally cracked the hard face of the monolith?

But there will be oodles of remorse at Toshiba because unless the law of Japan is very different to ours, big heads there look to be headed for the slammer.  They have been cooking the books to the tune of billions for years and years – and they have been caught – and that is the only reason that we know of it.

The company released a statement: ‘The company takes the situation that it has caused very seriously and we deeply apologise to our shareholders, investors and other stakeholders.’

The report that led to the group resignations at the top said: ‘Within Toshiba, there was a corporate culture in which one could not go against the wishes of superiors.  Therefore, when top management presented ‘challenges’, division presidents, line managers and employees below them continually carried out inappropriate accounting practices to meet targets in line with the wishes of their superiors.’

The word ‘culture’ is suspect, but it does appear that in each case there was a culture that did not allow for personal conscience – before the crime or after it.  The trouble with maintaining a front that says that you do not have to apologise is that you are living a lie and that what once lay behind that front may just shrivel up and die.

Our Treasurer may not be feeling remorse, but he is remarkably rich and thick-skinned if he is not feeling sorry for himself.  His public standing is at best no higher than if he had not sued, but he will be net out of pocket to the tune of about a quarter to a half a million dollars.  He said: ‘After nearly 20 years in public life, I took this action to stand up to malicious people intent on vilifying Australians who choose to serve in public office to make their country a better place.’

That is vintage bullshit.

The press are grizzling.  They never stop.  It is hard to imagine a better deterrent – the press calls the Treasurer a ‘Treasurer for sale’; he sues on a lay-down misere and wins – but he still comes a gutser in an amount that would bankrupt even those who have a decent job.

Passing bull 6 Remorseless politicians

When judges come to sentence a person for a crime, they commonly use the rather old-fashioned word ‘remorse’.  If you feel remorse for your conduct, you are sorry that you have done something wrong.  It is obvious then why this inquiry is made by sentencing judges.  If the criminal is not sorry for the crime, their conduct in the past looks so much more heartless, and their conduct for the future looks so much more risky.  This lack of remorse will obviously increase the penalty.  The ultimate threat is the gloating terrorist.

Yet, for the most part our politicians are reluctant to show remorse; many of them are incapable of it.  They do not like saying ‘I am sorry.’  When did you last hear a politician say that ‘I did the wrong thing and I am sorry’?  This inability to own up is just another reason why we cannot trust the bastards.

One politician claimed expenses to which most would say that she was not entitled.  She repaid the money without any admission.  When asked if she would apologise, she said: ‘The best form of apology is to repay the money.’

This is obviously bullshit.  Covering your rear by refunding a disputed payment is a world away from saying ‘I did the wrong thing and I am sorry.’  That is a tactical retreat by a person not even admitting that she has misconducted herself.  She is having an each-way bet.  She is behaving with the soulless prudence of a claims manager rather than a person in a position of trust responding in good faith to a legitimate question about the discharge of her office – something that even our law requires.

The problem is a little worse for this politician.  She either believes that cutting a cheque is the best form of apology or she does not.  If she does not believe that, this is just another case of deliberate bullshit by a politician, a glib throwaway masking a silly lie, something cosied up by a clever political aide to fend off the press with and to maintain the Teflon status of their boss.  But if she does believe – if she really and truly believes – that repaying the money is the best form of apology, then God help all of us.

Two Big Books I Middlemarch

Early on (page 3) in Middlemarch by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) we get this for the heroine Dorothea Brooke:

A young lady of some birth and fortune, who knelt suddenly down on a brick floor by the side of a sick labourer and prayed fervidly as if she thought herself living in the time of the Apostles – who had strange whims of fasting like a papist, and of stirring up at night to read old theological books!  Such a wife might awaken you some fine morning with a new scheme for the application of her income which would interfere with political economy and the keeping of saddle-horses: a man would naturally think twice before he risked himself in such fellowship.  Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the great safeguard of society and domestic life was that opinions were not acted upon.  Sane people did what their neighbours did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.

Well now – here is a crisp statement of the dilemna of Christianity ever since its founder took to the money dealers in the Temple; and Jane Austen, too, had humour – but as mordant or dry as this humour?

Dorothea sounds a lot like Greer Garson in the movie Pride and Prejudice.  Her naïve idealism leads her into marriage with a frightful pedant, Mr Edward Casaubon, who eventually does the right thing and drops dead in time for Dorothea to reignite a flame with a young man named Will – who really does need a steadying hand.

The other main lead is Tertius Lydgate a doctor at that stage of his career where he can still afford idealism.

Plain women he regarded as he did other severe facts of life, to be faced with philosophy and investigated by science. 

(Gibbon may not have disowned that.)  Lydgate marries the mayor’s daughter, Rosey Vincy.  Her dad was in trade, and her flightiness leads to her being unable to cut her cloth as her husband faces the economic facts of life.  The resulting strain on Lydgate and the marriage is painfully etched in a way that seems a lot closer to home than we get with Jane Austen.  It has a nasty modern quotidian tang.

Another couple sees a strong woman take hold of a young man who prefigures our adult children now who refuse to grow up or move out.

Among the supporting characters is a banker named Bulstrode who has a past that comes back, as they tend to do in French novels, and who brings out the terminal judgmentalism of the small town.  The novel is subtitled A Study of Provincial Life, and it does look right across the range of that kind of life in a way that recalls Balzac rather than Austen.  There is no doubting the art of Jane Austen, but do those stylized comedies of manners offer the kickers you get with George Eliot?

I mentioned the following in a previous note – the frightful cleric, Mr Casaubon, marries the belle of the village, to the disgust of at least one admirer (Will, the ultimate husband).

But the idea of this dried up pedant, this elaborator of small explanations about as important as the surplus stock of false antiquities kept in a vendor’s back chamber, having first got this adorable young creature to marry him, and then passing his honeymoon away from her, groping after his mouldy futilities….this sudden picture stirred him with a sort of comic disgust: he was divided between the impulse to laugh aloud and the equally unseasonable impulse to burst into scornful invective.

Here are some other examples of why this book, although very long, can be sustained in a way that you do not get with Proust.

Indeed, she [Mrs Waule] herself was accustomed to think that entire freedom from the necessity of behaving agreeably was included in the almighty’s intentions about families.

For my part [the author’s] I have some fellow feeling with Dr. Sprague: one’s self-satisfaction is an untaxed kind of property which it is very unpleasant to find depreciated.

‘Yes’, said Mr Casaubon, with that peculiar pitch of voice which makes half the world seem a negative.

Flirtation, after all, was not necessarily a singeing process.

As to Captain Lydgate [the brother of the doctor] himself, his low brow, his aquiline nose bent on one side, and his rather heavy utterance, might have been disadvantageous in any young gentleman who had not a military bearing and moustache to give him what is doated by some flower-like blond heads as ‘style’.

Yes, that is alarmingly modern and might prompt a note from the Sisters.  But our author  makes amends.

Will Ladislaw [the real beau of Dorothea] was in one of those tangled crises which are commoner in experience than one might imagine, from the shallow absoluteness of men’s judgments.

This beautifully composed novel ends this way:

But the effect of her [Dorothea’s] being on those around her was incalculably diffusive; for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

That breadth of mind and warmth of vision used to be called humanist.

Old Jack – Memorial to an Australian Airman

The man the Wolf knew as Old Jack left us yesterday.  He was on any view of a good age.  When he rang me a few weeks ago to say that he was in St John of God at Ballarat with cancer, he told me that he was philosophical – but every time I saw him, I thought he that he looked better.  The last time I told him that I expected him to be playing beach volley ball the next time I dropped in.  He was also philosophical about the fact that since he was in hospital, the Wolf was not allowed in.  He had however told me that he thought that he would fall off the twig in about month, and he was about right.

I met Old Jack when I moved to Blackwood some nine or so years ago.  He had got there a bit before me – in about 1938.  He came down the slope to introduce himself.  He was the only one to do so.  We realised we had so much in common – he was an old styled Irish Mick Collingwood supporter.  For reasons I could follow, he was not all that enthused about the crowd at the pub, and he would drop over for a chat about twice a week.  The house was on a steep slope, and the Wolf and I could see the bottom of Old Jack’s very long legs through the window as he came down.  I would offer him a red and he would always say ‘Only a very small one, thanks Geoff.’  He would then sip the bloody stuff like altar wine.  The Wolf became very fond of him because he stayed with Old Jack when I was overseas.

Old Jack was bloody tolerant for one of that generation.  He had very few demons.  He got a kind of guilty pleasure from fruity or spiced conversation, and general irreverence.  Every now and then we might watch a movie.  I was surprised that he was so taken with Patton, and he read all 1000 pages of the memoirs.  After I had done a course on the Stuarts at Cambridge, he knocked over a very sophisticated long book on the 1641 Revolution.  He loved the scarves and jackets I brought back from Oxford and Cambridge, especially those associated with a Catholic college.  We also liked some comedies.  Some could set Old Jack off on a kind of keening pained laugh – like the scenes between Tom Hanks and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War.

He had a seasoned Irish attitude to the English, especially royalty.  He told me that after his dad got back from the first war, he and others were very dirty on the Poms for their condescending attitude to our troops and to medals.  He said his father used to insult them on the trams.  When I first called on Old Jack the other day in Ballarat, he had a book on Gallipoli.  When I said it was hard on the Poms, he replied instantly – ‘no more than they bloody well deserve, Geoff.’  Old Jack took the same attitude into the next war – and he kept the faith.

Like a lot of those guys, he did not talk much of the war, and he was close to being a pacifist.  He did however show me a written memoir of his life one day, and we discussed it once or twice.  He joined the AIF and went to Syria.  He there got shot at – by the BLOODY FRENCH!  Old Jack took serious exception to this treatment, and he joined our air force.  He went to New York, trained in Canada, and then served as a navigator in Mosquitoes in England.  He flew 47 missions over occupied Europe.  In an RAAF book, I have seen a photo of his shining morning face and lantern jaw during a pre-raid briefing.  He was active over the extension of the D-day front toward Holland.  He told me that their main fear was going down alive and being lynched.  He was always sympathetic to the Germans on the ground, and Black Saturday really unsettled him, as it did most of us because, he said, this was a firestorm like Dresden.  At the end, he got into Hitler’s bunker and he was revolted by the filth and stench left by a boozed Russian peasant army.  He told he could not believe the suffering of the German people.  He flew in the escort for Churchill back from Potsdam and then escorted Atlee back.  He was hugely entertained when I told him what my Oxford tutor said – the Russians asked the English who they had counting the votes.

There was hardly any malice in Old Jack.  I am a very different matter, and any reputation could rocket into the fence when Old Jack and I got going.  I urged him to go and see Helen Mirren in The Queen.  Old Jack was not moved.  He was bloody bog Irish stubborn.  I told him of the scene where she floods the 4WD after saying she had been a driver in the war. ‘Yeah, yeah…we saw her and her bloody sister buggerizing around, but they did not seem to do much, did they?’  Shit – you are not safe for what you did in 1945!

Old Jack even passed a rude remark about my namesake.  He gave me a shy look and said that Guy Gibson was thought possibly to have consorted with other ranks, and that this was definitely not the done thing.  I told him it was one thing to shaft royalty, and another to question the VC winning leader of the dam busters, whose grave I have visited in Holland, and whose name I bore with pride.  I reminded Old Jack that Bomber Harris placed Gibson in Valhalla – far above the salt.  Old Jack withdrew the remark – and he then proceeded to tip a bucket over Bomber Harris.

Well, he’s gone now, Jack Rayner, and he won’t be back.  He will go into the ground at Blackwood in the space he left beside Grace shortly before I arrived there.  It is a gravestone I have tended on cemetery duty.

Rest in peace with God and Grace, Old Jack.  You did us all proud while you were with us here, and the Wolf and I are better off because of you.

Passing bull 5 : Schizophrenia over Greece

The late Arthur Miller was hauled up before McCarthy’s HUAC.  The failure of due process before the HUAC takes your breath away, but it got worse before the courts.  When people were charged with contempt for refusing to answer, the trials did not take long.  The prosecution called expert evidence.  They called an ‘expert on Communism’ to testify that the accused had been under ‘communist discipline’.  When Miller’s counsel announced he was going to call his expert to say that Miller had not been under discipline of the Communist Party, Miller noticed ‘that from then on a negative electricity began flowing toward me from the bench and the government table.’  Miller thought that his expert was good, ‘but obviously the tracks were laid and the train was going to its appointed station no matter what.’

We all know what that is like.  Too many start out on an inquiry that they already have the answer to.  Good judges avoid this; sensible ones hide it.  We are all guilty of prejudice and intolerant of doubt or qualification, or even shading, once we have made up our minds.  The trap is to think that things must be black or white – because grey is just too much trouble.  You rarely see this failing as starkly as in the difference of views of two respected columnists of the Financial Times, which many think is the best newspaper in the world, about the Greek Euro deal reached on Monday morning.  (It appeared in today’s AFR.)  Just watch the way that these two trains leave one station for the next but different stations.  First, Wolfgang Munchau.

A few things that many of us took for granted, and that some of us believed in, ended in a single weekend.  By forcing Alexis Tsipras into a humiliating defeat, Greece’s creditors have done a lot more than bring about regime change in Greece or endanger its relations with the Eurozone.  They have destroyed the Eurozone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step towards a democratic political union……The best thing that can be said of the weekend is the brutal honesty of those perpetrating this regime change.

But it was not just the brutality that stood out, nor even the total capitulation of Greece. The material shift is that Germany has formally proposed an exit mechanism.  On Saturday, Wolfgang Schauble, finance minister, insisted on a time-limited exit – a ‘timeout’ as he called it.

I have heard quite a few crazy proposals in my time, and this one is right up there.  A member state pushed for the expulsion of another.  This was the real coup at the weekend: not only regime change in Greece, but also regime change in the Eurozone.

Is that clear enough?  Here is Gideon Rachman (who could I think pull rank).

Europe woke up on Monday to a lot of headlines about the humiliation of Greece, the triumph of an all-powerful Germany and the subversion of democracy in Europe.

What nonsense.  If anybody has capitulated, it is Germany.  The German government has just agreed in principle to another multi-billion dollar bail-out of Greece – the third so far.  In return it has received promises of economic reform from a Greek government that makes it clear that it profoundly disagrees with everything that it has just agreed to.  The Syriza government will clearly do all it can to thwart the deal it has just signed.  If that is a German victory, I would hate to see a defeat.

As for this stuff about the trashing of democracy in Greece – that too is nonsense.  The Greek referendum…was in essence a vote that the rest of the Eurozone should continue to lend Greece billions – but on conditions determined in Athens.  That was never realistic.  The real constraint on Greece’s freedom of actions is not the undemocratic nature of the EU.  It is the fact that Greece is bust…..Of course the dilemna of ordinary Greek people is horrible.  I was in Athens last week and felt very sorry for many of the individuals I met, who fear for their jobs savings and future.  But the notion that all this is the fault of cruel Europeans, who have mindlessly imposed austerity on the otherwise healthy country, is a neo-leftist fancy.  Greece has been badly governed for decades and was living well beyond its means.

I shall say something more of this later – a triumph of both freedom of speech and bullshit – but I leave you for now with the beginning of the piece by Alan Mitchell, the AFR’s economics editor, that touches on a proposal that one FT commentator thought was brutal and crazy.

Hold on to this thought: What the world saw as Germany’s hardline ultimatum might yet offer an amicable separation of Greece and the Eurozone.  It was the option of a five-year suspension of Greece’s membership…..

Passing bull 4 – our land is girt by a continuum

We now have the Australian Border Force headed by an ex-rozzer named Roman Quaedvlieg.  The website has bullshit that is astounding even by our impressive standards.

We have significant service and enforcement functions, including: 

  • facilitating the lawful passage of people and goods
  • investigations, compliance and enforcement in relation to illicit goods and immigration malpractice; and
  • onshore detention, removals and support to regional processing arrangements

We consider the border not to be a purely physical barrier separating nation states, but a complex continuum stretching offshore and onshore, including the overseas, maritime, physical border and domestic dimensions of the border. 

Treating the border as a continuum allows an integrated, layered approach to provide border management in depth— working ahead of and behind the border, as well as at the border, to manage threats and take advantage of opportunities.
By applying an intelligence-led model and working with our partner agencies across the border continuum, we deliver effective border control over who and what has the right to enter or exit, and under what conditions.  

Officers in the Australian Border Force are operationally focused, uniformed and part of a disciplined enforcement body undertaking functions across our operating environment – patrolling our air and seaports, remote locations, mail and cargo centres and Australia’s extended maritime jurisdiction.

We work closely with other government and international agencies to detect and deter unlawful movement of goods and people across the border.
The integration of our complementary customs, immigration and border protection functions and capabilities provides more diverse and interesting jobs and careers for our people.  They will be supported by better training, modernised business processes and systems, an increased sense of professionalism and a strengthened culture of integrity.
The combination of enforcement resources from both immigration and customs will enable us to boost our capacity over time and maintain investment in key capital infrastructure that supports the protection of Australia’s border.
The full implementation of the Australian Border Force vision, model and workforce transformation will take time and arrangements will be progressively implemented.

Our Prime Minister was prepared to invoke God in launching the Force and its Commander-in-Chief in his suit of French blue with silver leaf on the lapels: ‘May God bless you, may God bless your work, may God bless the country you are helping to protect and prosper.’

You might think that we could spare the Almighty our bullshit.

Passing bull 3

Lucy Kellaway in the FT (in yesterday’s AFR) had some fun with an email from Satya Nadella to staff at Microsoft telling them of their new Mission Statement.  Someone sent it to her, a collector and connoisseur of bullshit, saying that her job was easy.  The first word was ‘Team.’ Then came the usual suspects like ‘platforms,’ ‘drivers,’ ‘DNAs’, and ‘going forwards’ – and a minor classic ‘extend our experience footprint.’  The CEO says their humble mission is ‘to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.’  Achieve more what?  Well, he wants every member of the Team to ‘bring their A game and find deep meaning in their work’, but says that ‘tough choices’ will have to be made.  How many people will lose their jobs to implements created by other teams who have gone after deep meaning?

I set out below material from the Microsoft website.  It says two things.  1.  We want you to buy our products.  2.  When we hit the bullshit pedal, there is no person or organisation on this planet that can stop us.

Microsoft Accessibility

Accessibility makes it easier for everyone to see, hear, and use technology, and to personalize their computers to meet their own needs and preferences. For many people with impairments, accessibility is what makes computer use possible.


At Microsoft, our mission is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential. We consider our mission statement a commitment to our customers. We deliver on that commitment by striving to create technology that is accessible to everyone—of all ages and abilities. Microsoft is one of the industry leaders in accessibility innovation and in building products that are safer and easier to use.

About Accessible Technology

Accessible technology enables individuals to personalize their technology to make it easier to see, hear, and use. Accessibility and accessible technology are helpful for individuals who experience visual difficulties, pain in the hands or arms, hearing loss, speech or cognitive challenges; and individuals seeking to customize their computing experience to meet their situational needs and preferences. Accessibility includes:

  • Accessibility options let you personalize the user experience through the display, mouse, keyboard, sound, and speech options in Windows and other Microsoft products.
  • Assistive technology products are specialty software and hardware products (such as screen readers and specialty keyboards), that provide essential computer access to individuals with significant vision, hearing, dexterity, language, or learning needs.
  • Interoperability among assistive technology products, the operating system, and applications is critical to enabling a world of devices accessible to people of all ages and abilities.


Accessibility, as part of overall usability, is a fundamental consideration for Microsoft during product design, development, evaluation, and release. Microsoft endeavors to integrate accessibility into planning, design, research, development, testing, and documentation.

Microsoft addresses accessibility by:

  • Continuing our longstanding commitmentand leadership in developing innovative accessibility solutions.
  • Making the computer easier to see, hear, and use by buildingaccessibility into Microsoft products and services.
  • Promoting innovation of accessibility in the development community and working with industry organizations to encourage innovation; and,
  • Building collaborative relationships with a wide range of organizations to raise awareness of the importance of accessibility in meeting the technology needs of people with disabilities.


At Microsoft, our commitment to developing innovative accessibility solutions began more than two decades ago and continues with each new product we develop.

Our accessibility efforts are concentrated in four key areas:

  1. Accessibility of our products and services
  2. Leadership and awareness
  3. Innovation
  4. Collaboration

Accessibility of our products and services

Microsoft is making the computer easier to see, hear, and use by building accessibility into our products and services