Passing bull 24– A good mantra?


Two phrases must go on the Blacklist – ‘boots on the ground’ and ‘stand shoulder to shoulder.’  The second is what you do when you don’t have the first.

But our Prime Minister – AND MAY GOD DEFEND HIM! – has unwrapped a pearler.  He said that this is not a time for ‘gestures or machismo’.

Our PM had the Sniper in mind.  The Sniper had nothing but gestures and machismo.  One great gesture told us that he was mad – knighting a duke – and one exercise in machismo confirmed that he was stupid as well as mad – threatening to shirtfront a Mafia Tsar.  In the result, we now have a PM in cities like Berlin and Paris who does not make us ashamed or give us nervous breakdowns while we wait for the next inane gesture or threatening machismo.

Do you, too, still share the immensity of the relief?  Or as Gough said to Margaret: ‘Did the earth move for you too?’  I feel like Kant did when told of the fall of the Bastille – ‘Now let your servant go in peace to the grave for I have seen the glory of the world.’

All we have to put up with now is Doctor Death, the Grecian Poodle, telling us to put boots on the ground and form an alliance with the Mafia Tsar – and put boots on the ground with him.  Doctor Death did not refer to the Death Cult.  The Sniper has world rights to that bullshit.

And how apt is the phrase ‘gestures and machismo’ for the best mates of the Sniper, the Parrot, and the Lowflying Dutchman?  It might remind us of the difference between Shock jocks and hookers; the latter sell some grubby transient togetherness for money; Shock Jocks peddle grubby permanent enmity for money.  Otherwise, they have lots in common.  They cloister around the gutter.

And now look at the two World’s Best Practice in gesture and machismo – Erdogan and Putin.  At each other’s throats.  No one believes a word that either says, but Doctor Death wants us to hold hands and walk in boots on the ground with both.  While they do their best to wipe each other out.  The Leader of the Free World must be deeply grateful for the gratuitous advice given to him by that Master of Wars, the Grecian Poodle.

Should we have our own Thanksgiving Day?  We have left behind what Churchill called ‘a new Dark age made more sinister by the lights of perverted science’ and we now have the chance also described by Churchill to ‘walk in those broad sunlit uplands.’

And while we are on good news for the Liberal Party, take a look at the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Mike Baird!  It is not just that he can make a decision and take a stand, and stare down a fear campaign from yesterday’s tired men – he has the Michelle Payne effect.  An open Australian face and a flat unpretentious Australian voice.  He just oozes political premiership form and style, and good luck to him!

Final Gwen Harwood poem

I apologise for splitting Oyster Cove.  The following may be my favourite poem.  There is more than a bit of Michelle Payne here, too.  It is what I think poetry is about.

In the park


She sits in the park.  Her clothes are out of date.

Two children whine and bicker, tug her skirt.

A third draws aimless patterns in the dirt.

Someone she loved once passes by – too late


to feign indifference to that casual nod.

‘How nice’, et cetera.  ‘Time holds great surprises.’

From his neat head unquestionably rises

a small balloon….’but for the grace of God…’


They stand a while in flickering light, rehearsing

the children’s names and birthdays.  ‘It’s so sweet

to hear their chatter, watch them grow and thrive,’

she says to his departing smile.  Then, nursing

the youngest child, sits staring at her feet.

To the wind she says, ‘They have eaten me alive.’

Terrorism in the Middle East and Paris


  1. A terrorist is someone who seeks to gain political objectives by killing or wounding people to cause terror (extreme fear) in other people. The difference between terrorism and belligerence (war-making) is a matter of degree and possibly just an accident of the history of language.
  2. A principal source or cause of conflict and terrorism in the Middle East has been the conflict between Israel and its Arab or Muslim neighbours or inhabitants. That conflict started no later than 1948 and there is no prospect of its concluding.  It appears to be getting worse because of the refusal of Arab nations to acknowledge Israel, the refusal of Israel to acknowledge Palestine, and the attitude of Israel to further occupation of lands outside its proper borders.  That conflict is partly religious and partly racial.  There is no real hope that that conflict will be resolved in the foreseeable future.  It just looks set to get worse.
  3. The more recent source of conflict is in part religious, between parts of Islam, Sunni and Shia, and is in part racist, in the conflict between Arabs and Persians (Iranians). That conflict is now centred on the claims of IS or Daesh to a new Caliphate in at least parts of Syria and Iraq.  (Who on earth would want to revive the Ottomans?)  Its members seek to achieve their objective by terrorism.  This conflict makes worse other conflicts involving the Kurds, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and others.
  4. The West has been involved in most these sources of conflict. Its world-bending and nation-composing in North Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries and in the Middle East in the 20th were all indispensable to the current crises.  Western nations were seen to betray Arab interests after World War I, and they certainly did.
  5. And then the world changed with the discovery of oil in the region. But for that, which involves real money, this discussion would be very different – if we were having it at all.  Most of the Arab big hitters would now be about as consequential as Eritrea.  Not one could afford to buy a World Cup.
  6. The French legacy in Africa is lethal for all involved. They are now facing a nightmare after the fall of empire that is much worse than that faced by England in the second half of the last century.
  7. The West was the major sponsor of the state of Israel and the US is its major source of arms and political support. The British and Russian imperial wars in Afghanistan and the continuing US military action there have left what is close to a black hole, or at least a worse dark hole, and threaten the disintegration of Pakistan, with consequences for the world’s biggest democracy on its border.  The USSR is a major backer of Syria.
  8. The War on Iraq is widely regarded as a major cause of the present issue with IS. The West removed a regime that held Shia and Sunni together and put nothing effective in its place.  Saddam had held the country together, and he had done so as ruthlessly as Assad, with results that we now see for both Kurds and Shiites.  IS is now seeking to move into the void.  The Iraq War was started on false premises.  The West feared Al Quaida and as a result have got IS, which is seen to be more threatening.
  9. The result is that the West in general and the US in particular have at best no standing in the Middle East, and are seen as unholy infidels who are inept and who will present many just and achievable targets to offended Muslims represented by their champions Daesh, Al Quaida and the Taliban. The West sees these people as utterly uncivilised throwbacks to the apes.  They in turn take that as a compliment.
  10. France has made its contribution to the current problems by generations of misgovernment, military failure, and terrorism in North Africa which now have the consequences for it that we can see in France now (and which the whole world felt also after its failure in Vietnam.)
  11. Another failure of the West has been the inability of its members, especially France and Belgium, to come to terms with significant Muslim minorities, about five million of them in France – and the inability of the Muslims to come to terms with the West. There has been little or no assimilation, but a growing estrangement and discontent, and the mismanagement in Belgium now appears to mean that the disaffected launch their attacks on France from there.
  12. It is hard to see any progress inside one or two generations. But if someone like Le Pen were to come to power, it is hard to see how the de facto civil war in France would not get worse – calamitously worse – and with frightening results elsewhere – including here.
  13. Another source of racial conflict in the Middle East is the desire of the Kurds to gain independence and to secure their own territory in what was Iraq and Syria – and what is Turkey. The Kurds are actively involved militarily for that purpose.  They appear to be the only natives of the area outside Turkey capable of producing a disciplined and motivated military force.
  14. The Turks loath the Kurds. They regard them, not without reason, as brutal and nation-threatening terrorists.  That is at least one reason why the Turks have not wanted to fight IS.  For them to do so would be to support the Kurds, which is unthinkable.
  15. Turkey is as close as any Muslim nation gets to being well run in the eyes of the West. That view is at best borderline and coloured by the wish of the West to have Turkey as a buffer state against Islam.  Ataturk sought to found a secular republic.  That state was until recently secured or enforced by the army.  The present regime has apparently neutralised the army and has ambitions and tendencies that are threatening.  Turkey looks unstable.
  16. Syria and Iraq are failed states that are disintegrating. The lines drawn by Europeans will have to be redrawn – Israel has always said that about its borders.
  17. The two most powerful nations in the region are Iraq and Saudi Arabia. They are both rogue nations fighting wars by proxy.  They are very backward and repressive regimes that are also Islamic but from different and opposed kinds of Islam.  They are both regarded with suspicion or contempt by the West with which they have nothing in common.
  18. The U S and Iraq are sworn enemies. The US claims Saudi Arabia as an ally – as does Australia – and many in the West are revolted by the way that their government fawns on a nation as contemptible as Saudi Arabia, which houses the birthplace of Islam.
  19. Others are equally revolted that the West is concluding an arms deal with Iran, which no one trusts or has a good word for. The current Israeli government flagrantly interfered in US politics seeking to stop that deal.
  20. That gives some indication of the political ambition of Israel. Its safety ultimately depends on the West remaining committed, and that commitment is ebbing, and will continue to ebb while Israel continues to expand.  The worrying thing for us is that this conflict is here now not just in the old Left/Right divide, but it is coming into political party talk.
  21. Russia and the US have been opposed as world powers since the end of World War II. That conflict went quiet after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The current Russian government is not democratic and has no idea of the rule of law.  Its President, Putin, is a former KGB thug who has no integrity.  He is ashamed of the collapse of the USSR and he is determined to reassert Russia in the world.  He will do so if necessary by the use of military force in Crimea and the Ukraine and the Middle East.  His whole regime and nation are corrupt.
  22. The Russians have never come to terms with either democracy or capitalism, and they do not look like doing so this century. They have reinvented feudalism under a corrupted capitalism run by a Mafia that makes sooks of IS.  They deal with their Muslim minorities with ruthless War Lords and Cossacks’ whipping rock singers.  We are yet to face the full fury of the Muslims in the former members of the USSR, or those that now threaten China.
  23. Russia has now intervened on the ground and in the air in support of its client state Syria. It says that it is there to attack IS, but the West does not believe it and says that its only interest is to support the Assad regime in its client state.  The West, including Australia, say that they are only interested in attacking IS, not other opponents of IS.
  24. No one pretends that any of the protagonists in Syria is better or worse than the others. It is idle to ask if IS is worse than Assad.  They are all terrorists.  The Western (and Sunni) pilots will deny that for themselves, but they are on any view using lethal instruments of terror to achieve political objectives.  And, insofar as they are fighting an enemy of Assad, it is difficult to see how they are not supporting him – while using instruments of terror to achieve political objectives.
  25. As best as I can see – and my vision is remote, second hand and imperfect – the current breakdown between Sunni and Shia is broadly as follows. The Sunnis look to Saudi Arabia and the Shia look to Iran.  The old Sunni/Shia split in Iraq has gone.  The current IS jihad is mainly driven by Sunnis.  While Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states supply Sunni pilots to bomb IS, they are also thought to be funding it.  Those opposed include Iran, Hezbollah, the Syrian army, and Shia militias in Iraq – plus the Kurds, Western air forces, and Russian air and ground forces.  If you go back to the Twin Towers, most of the hijackers were Saudis, Osama was a Saudi, and Saudi money funded it.  The US still claims the Saudis as allies.
  26. It is not hard to see how any alliance with any of those forces against IS will give mortal offence to others. According to Patrick Cockburn, who says his best intelligence comes from visits to military hospitals, the US did not want to pursue Al Quaida to the detriment of its relations with Sunni states, so it went soft on Saudi Arabia and invaded Iraq.  For similar reasons, it did not confront Pakistan over its support for the Taliban, so ensuring that the movement was able to regroup after losing power in 2001.  These are only some conflicts in an ocean of them.  It is silly to suggest that outsiders have any comprehension of them.  You have only to look at how the USSR and USA turned over the Afghans.
  27. Again according to Cockburn, the Shia/Sunni struggle is getting more intense. Shia states such as Iran, Iraq or Lebanon think that they are in a fight to the finish with Sunnis led by Saudi Arabia and their allies in Syria and Iraq.  They do not agree with Western analysts who say that the Sunnis might share power in Damascus and Baghdad – they say this is Saudi and Qatari propaganda.
  28. Western bombing has not yet held up IS. It appears to be common ground that IS can only be defeated on the ground.  But no one from the West or Turkey is prepared put those troops in.  However, Russian bombing does appear to be propping up Assad.  Perhaps the bombing of a civilian aircraft might focus Russian minds about bombing, although the Russians are made more able to stomach someone like Assad because of the way that they run their own country and treat their own people.
  29. It is hard to think of any Western intervention in the Middle East or North Africa that has not made things worse. (I supported the bombing in Libya.  I was wrong.)  The West, through, say, NATO, could quickly put enough ground forces in the theatre to defeat and eliminate IS there.  But there is no political will for that – it will not happen as matters stand.  And if they did pull off the quick win, they would be left where they were in Iraq – looking at a void and not knowing what to do.
  30. The UN is hopeless and the U S does not want to do more. Those who criticise President Obama for this are like those who criticise Chancellor Merkel over the funding of Europe.  These people are elected to represent their nation.  Obama was elected on a peace ticket after what a majority in the U S saw as the moral and intellectual disaster of his predecessor.  The American people have no interest in returning their soldiers to fight in Afghanistan or the Middle East.
  31. That is not surprising. It is only their respect for the office and the flag that stops Americans from pouring over George Bush the contempt that the English now show for Tony Blair.  Conservative critics of Obama want to forget the second President Bush, the effective cause of the Tea Party, and they do forget the platform on which Obama was elected – with the goodwill of most in the West.  No one, except Dick Cheney, supports a return to the policies of Bush.
  32. With the Muslims in the West on whom terrorists of IS and others draw, there is a vicious circle. If the receiving nation comes down hard on them, or is perceived to be making unreasonable demands, the Muslims will retire further into themselves, and this aggravates the present problem
  33. Against that obvious truth, the following propositions are received as equally obvious truths by very substantial numbers in the West: not one Muslim country is decently run – the choice is between corrupt and repressive sectarian regimes and black holes; Islam has made little contribution to the progress of mankind sine 1453; few if any receiving countries are happy with their Muslim minorities; one reason for this is the claim that Muslims are not thought to be trying to assimilate, but are intent on maintaining confronting appearances; another is that it is hard to find a Muslim spokesman with sense or authority; another is that they have ideas about the place of religion in the nation that are at best five hundred years out of date and worst terrifying.
  34. Speaking of terrifying political ideas, just look at what is on offer on either side in the U S, and just try to picture for yourself what might have happened after the most recent Paris massacre if one or other of those had been the President of the U S. That is truly terrifying.  (Did Donald Trump really say that the French should have American gun laws?)
  35. Any person in the West who claims to understand all this is a liar or mad. Anyone who claims to have an answer is in a worse position.  We are way beyond the platitudes of simpletons like shock jocks or the Sky commentariat or Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.
  36. Nor does it help to flourish the word ‘terrorist’ like some new or threatening mantra. A revolution is a successful revolt; a liberator is usually a successful terrorist; a failed terrorist remains just a terrorist.  Compare Nelson Mandela and Joan of Arc.  (They made Joan a saint because although she had the misfortune of being burnt, she had the good fortune of being burnt by the bad guys.)  One of the most saintly people of the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was martyred for his part in a plot to assassinate a head of state.
  37. The Roman Empire was in large part held together by terror. One of its more grizzly manifestations was instrumental in the birth of Christianity.  That religion, to its eternal shame, employed the worst forms of terror over many centuries to protect itself by shutting down dissent.  The founder of parliamentary democracy, England, used terror for over 700 years to enforce its racial or racist dominance over Ireland.  The nations of the US and Israel were conceived in and born in terror.
  38. So was the site of the most recent atrocity, France. People gathered to mourn at the Place de la Republique, which is not far from the Place Bastille.  The Revolution began in violence and terror there and on one view only finished with the violence and terror of Waterloo, leaving five million dead in Europe.  If you want the archetypal architect of Terror, look at Citizen Danton.  If you want the archetype of a regime that protects itself by Terror in the form of public beheading, look at Citizen Robespierre.
  39. The mourners at the Place de la Republique sang the national anthem. That anthem was born at about the second anniversary of Bastille Day as men marched from Marseilles to Paris to support a nation in a state of emergency in response to the proclamation that la patrie est en dangere.  An English text of part of it is set out below.  Another part refers to ‘impure blood.’  Some of all our old forms look odd to us today.  We used to ask God to send our Queen victorious, happy and glorious.
  40. Well, all that may be or not be so, depending on where you stand, but it does not allow enough for two factors that I have only touched on. France has its problems, but the nation is a foundation stone of Western civilisation and the city of Paris is one of the glories of mankind.  The Arab and Islamic worlds know nothing like either, and evil like IS could die just from being exposed to this kind of light.
  41. If you put to one side Israel, every problem that I have referred to in the Middle East or North Africa involves an Arab or Islamic government. There is not one good one in the whole world.  All of the problems that have led to the current refugee crisis that looks like it will dismantle Europe come from governments led by corrupt and vicious war criminals like Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad, or the current lot in Egypt.  Every problem comes from failure of Muslim governance.  Even the poor Palestinians cannot find a government that can negotiate on their behalf.  North Africa has little chance of recovering from its revolutions inside the 100 years it took the French.
  42. Politically, Muslims are about 500 years out. IS is just the latest and worst of a bad bunch.  No one in the Middle East has clean hands – no one – but some are a lot dirtier and bloodier than others.  If you want to know how rotten the area is, just look at the response of Islamic nations to the millions of refugees created by the failure of Islam.  You might be forgiven for asking whether leaders of the Gulf States could spell the word ‘humanity.’
  43. It may be worse with religion than politics, although the two are related. It is hard to find any Islamic state that gives effect to the separation of Church and State in any degree at all, let alone what we require.  Nowhere in the world can they produce a leader who is able and allowed to speak sensibly on their behalf.  What we get is some furtive type that the cat may have brought in.  This is just gold for the leerers and sneerers on Sky, and so the gap widens.
  44. Then you get the zealots, the latest terrorists. Using terror for political gain is one thing; to do so for God is altogether another.  Then you get real
  45. The three principal religions all purport to adhere to that part of the bible that we call the Old Testament. To those who do not subscribe to any of those faiths, the God described in that book must be the first of our terrorists.  That God enters into a covenant with one chosen people and then helps them to take their Promised Land from the original inhabitants by force of arms and slaughter and other acts of terror that we now call ethnic cleansing or genocide.
  46. A lot of those people could be forgiven for thinking that that is also where all our troubles started. It lies behind the first source or cause of conflict identified above, but few people of the Book will agree with any of that.  A central part of our fatal human weakness is our inability to see the world through the eyes of others.


Extracts for the Marseillaise

Arise, children of the Fatherland

The day of glory has arrived!

Against us tyranny

Raises its bloody banner (repeat)

Do you hear, in the countryside,

The roar of those ferocious soldiers?

They’re coming right into your arms

To cut the throats of your sons and women!

Tremble, tyrants and you traitors

The shame of all parties,

Tremble! Your parricidal schemes

Will finally receive their reward! (repeat)

Everyone is a soldier to combat you

If they fall, our young heroes

The earth will produce new one

Ready to fight against you!

Passing Bull 23 Downplaying thought and the hope of the side


A full page Hewlett Packard Ad contains the following bullshit.

Tomorrow belongs to the fast.

Winners and losers will be decided by

how quickly they can move from what they

are now to what they need to become.

In every business, IT strategy

is now business strategy.

Accelerating change.

Accelerating growth.

Accelerating security.

And today, to help you move faster

we’ve created a new company.

One totally focussed on what’s next

for your business.

A true partnership where collaborative

people, empowering technology and

transformative ideas push everyone forward.

Accelerating innovation.

Why did it take so long to get to the ‘I’ word, and then only after the bullshit reached gale force?

Oyster Cove


……God’s creatures, made

woodcutters’ whores, sick drunks, watch the sun prise

their life apart: flesh, memory, language all

split open, featureless, to feed the wild

hunger of history.  A woman lies

coughing her life out.  There’s still blood to fall,

but all blood’s spilt that could have made a child.

Passing Bull 22 – The poem


My apologies for forgetting a poem of the poet of the month, Gwen Harwood.  It is below.  I will shorty put out a note on terror and Paris.  First it must be vetted – by lawyers, ASIO, the CIA, and my household fire insurers.

Oyster Cove

Dreams drip to stone.  Barracks and salt marsh blaze

opal beneath a crackling glaze of frost.

Boot-black, in graceless Christian rags, a lost

race breathes out cold.  Parting the milky haze

on mudflats, seabirds, clean and separate, wade.

Mother, Husband and Child: stars which forecast

fine weather, all are set.  The long night’s past

and the long day begins.

To be continued.

Passing bull 22 – I told you so, Paris

Crimes against humanity cross borders and suspend politics.  Not everywhere.

The President of Syria, Mr Assad, fairly smirked.  He said that he had been putting up with this kind of thing for years.

Mr Chris Kenny, of The Australian and Sky, a sadly vacuous twerp who looks like Mr Putin after a hard night on the tiles on Mars, found it his sad duty to remind viewers that he had been writing about this, and that now it was time for ‘jihad denialism’ to end.  He did not say whether he has registered the term ‘jihad denialism’ as a trademark.

What did our former PM Tony Abbott do?  He went on to the show of his bosom friend, Andrew Bolt, the master of ceremonies for divisions of race or creed.  Bolt was in full ‘I told you so’ mode about jihad denialism, as even someone as obtuse as Abbott would have known.  Abbott said, according to The Australian:

Any death-to-the-infidel mindset is ultimately conducive to the kind of vicious evil that we have seen on the streets of Paris and elsewhere in recent times.

And it’s absolutely incumbent on all decent people, particularly on religious leaders, Muslim religious leaders, to say: ‘This is not part of our faith. It never should have been and it must not be now.’

Mr Abbott said it was ‘very important’ that Australia take in the 12,000 Syrian refugees announced when he was prime minister, but warned the effort to resettle persecuted minorities should not harm the national interest.

The point is that we want to take people who have no realistic prospect of peacefully resettling in these parts of the Middle East. And obviously what we want to do as a general matter of principle is bring people to Australia who are prepared to join our team, he said.

We want people who come to this country to feel absolutely welcome, but we want them to join our team.

Mr Abbott said the government should continue to support the US in the Middle East and warned it was not Australia’s role to ‘sit in critical judgment of the leader of the free world.’

Well, at least it was very generous of Mr Abbott to suspend judgment on the President of the United States.

Passing Bull 21 – I am not racist

Almost everyone is.  It is natural for people to feel better than those who are different to them.  We rarely feel that people who are different to us are better than us – luckier, yes; better, no.  If being racist is feeling better than others of a different race, this is natural enough.  Just look at dogs and acts.  We just hope that people are well brought up enough to cancel, control or at least conceal part of our make-up that can cause real harm to others.  If you hear someone say ‘I am not a racist’, you therefore wonder why.  The statement suggests that the contrary is the case.

A piece by George Megalogenis in The Monthly looks at our spotty record.

When Sir Henry Parkes wanted to stop Chinese coming in, he said:

I disclaim any aversion to the Chinese people settled in this country.  I have for thirty years, at many times and often, borne testimony to their law-abiding, industrious, thrifty and peaceable character, and I have never for a single moment joined with those who have held them up as in many respects more disreputable than a similar number of English subjects.

Another time, it was the Irish.

I would advance every opposition in my power to the bringing here of a majority of people from Ireland.  I hope I may be able to express this opinion boldly and without reserve, without being charged with bigotry or with a dislike to the Irish people.

(Is bigotry something to be charged for?)

According to the citation, Chifley was not apologising when he accused the government of preferring ‘dagoes’ to ‘heroes’, a phrase that would have got him a job with a recent P M.

Arthur Calwell was not PM which may be just as well.  His disclaimer in favour of White Australia was the most nauseating of all.

My Celtic ancestry has given me as tender and as sentimental a heart as the next man.  But unlike the irresponsible newspapers and the addle-headed sentimentalists, I have a stern duty to my country and my countrymen.

How like Andrew Bolt.  This will hurt me more than it hurts you.  Don’t they see that singling out people by the ancestry of their race is where the whole bloody problem starts?

Well, racism is not the subject for a bullshit column.  But a sometime PM called Forde gets the Jaffas for pure bullshit on the dagoes.  He said that he was not ‘opposed to the Italians as a race’:

We admit that they make good settlers, and are useful workers.  I recognise too that they are white men, and that their country is noted for its art, science, and learning.

Bonzer, Cobber, but what about their bloody opera?


Poet of the month: Gwen Harwood

I see that lost enchantment wake

in light, on water, and the spirit

like a loved guest on earth can take


its need and its delight, and wander

freely. The dazzling moments burn

to time again.  In simple twilight

water speaks peace, the swallows turn


in lessening arcs.  The dry reeds rustle

and part to the nightwind free.

The heart holds, like remembered music,

a landscape grown too dark to see.


(From Alla Siciliana)

My Compliments to Michelle Payne

Off hand, it is not easy to think of any –‘ism’ that is attractive.  Feminism, at least in its strident or radical form, is plainly not.  There is a war to be fought.  Any parent of daughters knows that.  But wars are not won by bullshit – or by bureaucrats, or by regulations, or by quotas.  We should remember that mordant remark of George Bernard Shaw – those who can do; those who can’t teach.  (This is an uncomfortable truism for think tanks and other parasites and their fellow-travellers in the gospel press to reflect on.)

One fighter and winner like Simone Young is worth more than a battalion of drab but devout acolytes.  She is now joined by Michelle Payne – a woman who fought and won, and then celebrated with a cool radiance that has gone round the world.

I congratulate this morning’s AFR for its editorial which under the heading ‘Tell ‘em to get stuffed’ concluded:

We agree with Ms Payne that anyone who doesn’t cheer this overdue piercing of the grass ceiling can go and get stuffed.

It is just as well that snooty prudes have not got in the way.  Michelle Payne has a grace that does not come from a flash finishing school.  It comes from within – just as it did for Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire.

So, I offer my compliments to Michelle Payne with a note that I wrote on the war ahead of women.  It comes from a book called The English Difference?  The Tablets of their Laws.  And if you don’t like it, you know what you can go and do.



WOMEN (1905 – 2011)

Patriotism is not enough. (Edith Cavell)

In a war-time speech that you do not hear so much now, Churchill spoke of the need to deal with class and snobbery in England.  You would think that he was giving an election speech before the election just after the war, but he was speaking in the middle of the war.  It was as if the politician could sniff the political writing on the electoral wall.  But Churchill also had to face the dilemna of all friends of equality – you do not want to condemn ability and wind up with mediocrity, an appalling result that threatens democracy all over the world.

Well, when it came time for the English to choose after the war, they chose, as was their most perfect right, the Labour Party as the best to rebuild their nation.  There is just no point in talking about gratitude – but the English people do seem to have shown uncommon maturity in quietly dropping the leader who had just brought them through the most dangerous war that they or the world had ever faced – and for whom they would erect a statue outside their parliament.  This shows a hardness at the edge of English politics that you do not see often elsewhere.

There is a famous photo of Lloyd George and Winston Churchill on their way to delivering the People’s Budget on 29 April 1909.  Lloyd George is obviously the older (by about twelve years).  Both men are in pinstriped trousers, frock-coat, waistcoat and watch-chain, wing collar, a bow tie or necktie, and top hat.  Lloyd George is carrying a furled brolly and the red despatch box.  Churchill is carrying a cane and folded gloves.  To our left, Margaret Lloyd George looks wary. (What woman married to Lloyd George would not look wary?)  To our right, a tall and desperately humble functionary is wearing gloves and carrying a brolly and another despatch box.  Behind them is a double-decker bus carrying a sign for Tatcho and Dewars, and a man with a boater and a moustache.

Lloyd George is looking at the camera, unflinchingly; Churchill is looking both determinedly and devoutly at his leader, as if seeking some sort of assurance.  It is of course a still photo, but you can still sense the rhythm and purpose of their stride.  Here are two men on a mission, two men who do not mind a fight – on the contrary, their opponents, both in Britain and in Germany, would from time to time lament that they would rather have had a fight than a feed.

These two, very much an odd couple of the sorcerer and his apprentice, were on their way to take from the rich to give to the poor.  They were intent on developing ‘real change’ in a way and to an extent that the President of the United States and the American nation itself could never even dream of.  And for that purpose they were giving battle – you might as well say that they had gone to war – with the British ruling class in a way that Karl Marx and his disciples could never have dreamed of.  These two fighting men – these two British samurai – were largely responsible for winning that battle or war, and in so doing they led the reshaping of British society and its constitution. We may not see such peace-time leadership again.

Lloyd George was a Welshman, the protégé of a cobbler, a defender of the Welsh church, and a great admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  Churchill was the son of a lord and an American heiress (a popular conjunction for a fading aristocracy).  These two men of very different backgrounds joined together to forge what was in truth a social revolution.  The opposition from entrenched wealth and class was ferocious – they had to use all their political skill, and that of Asquith, their PM, to get by.  They also had to deal with two kings.

The opposition was so visceral because that vicious little Welshman appeared to be committed to something more than equality – he looked like he wanted to make the Sermon on the Mount one of the tablets of the law in England.  Lloyd George had told the Commons: ‘These problems of the sick, the infirm, of the men who cannot find a means of earning a livelihood, are problems with which it is the business of the state to deal.’  Was he quite mad?  Was he really saying that ‘it is the business of the state’ to deal with the sick and the unemployed?  Had this little Welsh lunatic forgotten what happened to the first man who said the meek shall inherit the earth?  Would that the old Duke of Wellington were here – his grace would certainly have known how to clear the stables of this sort of rabble.

Both Lloyd George and Churchill were moved by compassion – nothing more, nothing less; what Sir Lewis Namier in another context referred to as ‘plain human kindness’.  Each of them was also a consummate politician, and each was alert to the politics of what they were about.  Churchill had publicly warned that the Liberal Party had to begin to address social issues or die.  The Labour Party was coming around the bend and might soon gobble them all up. 

Competition with Germany offered a plus and a minus – the need to maintain naval supremacy was a heavy financial strain; but Bismarck had introduced a prosperous scheme for old age, for infirmity, for sickness and unemployment – and it would not do to let the Germans be seen as longer on compassion than their English descendants.  The Germans were, after all, supposed to be the war-mongers, not the peace-makers.

Churchill said that the Conservatives wanted a class war.  Lloyd George said there might be revolution.  He loved ridiculing the Dukes, and he gave cheek to the king.  In the end they got home, but it was a close-run affair.

When Lloyd George died near the end of the Second World War an exhausted war leader, Winston Churchill, stayed up until 4am to write a eulogy that he gave later that day in parliament.  In it, he said:

Most people are unconscious of how much their lives have been shaped by the laws for which Lloyd George was responsible.  Health insurance and old age pensions were the first large-scale state-conscious effort to set a balustrade along the crowded causeway of the people’s life ….  I was his lieutenant and disciple in those bygone days, and shared in a minor way in the work.  I have lived to see long strides taken, and being taken, and going to be taken, on this path of insurance by which the vultures of utter ruin are driven from the dwellings of the nation.  The stamps we lick, the roads we travel, the system of progressive taxation, the principal remedies that have yet been used against unemployment – all these to a very great extent were part not only of the mission but of the actual achievement of Lloyd George ….

Each of these men was Prime Minister of England during a world war, but each is entitled to be remembered for this social revolution alone.  It led directly to the change of the constitution which took from the Lords the right to stop supply.  The Parliament Act 1911 caused the same kind pain as the budget as the Reform Act, 1832, but again the aristocracy did just enough to avoid death – and it was finally euthanased.

These were stirring and progressive times for Asquith, Lloyd George, and Churchill.  There was another hot issue on which they were stirred but not so progressive – the rights of women, especially the right to vote.  Their attitude to women reminds us of Jefferson’s attitude to slaves.  Independence was a wonderful universal good; but it was not for slaves – slaves were not in the same universe.  A universal franchise was a wonderful universal good: but it was not for women; women were not in the same universe.  Some poor men were coming to terms with the view that they had descended from the apes – now a lunatic fringe was saying that men were no different to women.  Where will it all end?  In the trenches, perhaps.

The agitators came to be called suffragettes.  One group started with John Stuart Mill.  Of them, the French historian Elie Halevy said: ‘…its members abandoned themselves to the pleasure which English people enjoy so keenly of founding groups, gathering recruits – they began to come in large numbers – drawing up rules, electing presidents, secretaries, and treasurers, and organizing public meetings in the customary style.’  The other group was more militant.  Its leader was Mrs Emily Pankhurst.  They would use the word ‘militant’ in the titles of their memoirs.  They were long on what cricketers call sledging to sabotage public meetings.  Two of them wrecked a meeting addressed by Sir Edward Grey.  They went to jail rather than pay the fine.  The movement had martyrs.  There is a photo of two others in a carriage on their release – they had garlands in their hair.  They marched in great concourses, mixing with the unemployed.  They especially targeted Grey and Lloyd George.  When jailed, they went on hunger strike, and by violence made force feeding impossible.  They were evicted from the Commons, but then men took their place.  On Derby Day 1913, Miss Davidson committed suicide by throwing herself on the track.  They put bombs in letter-boxes, and they burned down churches.

How did Monsieur Halevy relate to all his when writing in 1952?  ‘The suffragettes exploited the weakness of their sex, its proneness to hysteria.’  It was not all violence.  There was a political movement.  One group broke with the Liberals to support the Labour Party.  The leaders of that party were not wild with enthusiasm about the idea, but the women had real money, and money talks.  Then Mrs Pankhurst got nine years’ jail, but what good would that do in the face of fanatics intent on martyrdom and bombing?  Should the Establishment follow the example of Napoleon and the Tsars and answer fire with fire?

Then a much, much more earthy but powerful force intervened that made all this internal conflict and excitement look both irrelevant and tawdry.  We recall from our discussion of the Anglo-Saxon levee of arms, of the law not simply allowing arms to be borne but requiring their men to carry arms, that such a law promotes a kind of equality.  If the state depends on you to protect and sustain it, then your standing in the state is so much surer.  Even the feudal relation went both ways – the vassal gave service, but the lord had to protect the vassal; if the lord did not discharge his obligation, the vassal was freed from his obedience.  If you fight for someone, you expect them to look after you.

At 6 am at Brussels on 12 October 1915, a German firing party assembled for that purpose executed by firing squad an English nurse named Edith Cavell.  Edith was forty-nine, the daughter of a vicar at a village near Norwich.  She had been practising her profession in Belgium before the war broke out.  Then she was engaged in saving the lives of both British and German soldiers.  She had also spied, but she was tried before a German military court for helping about 200 British soldiers to escape.  She had therefore been aiding the enemy.  She freely admitted what she had done.  The verdict and sentence were open to the German military court, but the latter was a frightful military mistake. 

The night before she died, Edith Cavell took Holy Communion with an Anglican priest.  She told him that ‘patriotism is not enough.’  Those four words should be enrolled on every military school, mess, and court in the land; they are on her memorial at Trafalgar Square, and for them alone Edith Cavell should be remembered.  The next morning she told a German Lutheran chaplain that ‘I am glad to die for my country.’  The German laws under which she was executed did not discriminate between men and women; neither did the English laws; laws against treason or military laws rarely do.  It is not recorded that the condemned prisoner showed any of the suggested weakness of her sex, ‘its proneness to hysteria,’ in the time leading up to her being shot for what she had done for her country.

Now, here you had a hero, a real hero, the kind of hero that a nation can sustain its faith on.  It was open to the Germans to say to Edith Cavell that if it was good enough for you to aid our enemy then it is good enough for you to be executed under the laws of war.  So could the women of England say to their government that if it is good enough for us to die to see that the country is run properly, it is good enough for us to vote to see that the country is run properly.  That argument is unanswerable; it was unanswerable even by those inbred fops out of Eton who had been sheltered from girls by mummy and daddy, but to whom exclusion came naturally, and who believed that old fairy tale about the battle of Waterloo being won on the playing fields of Eton. 

When they voted against these reforms, had Asquith, Lloyd George and Churchill forgotten that their longest serving monarch, before whom all mere Prime Ministers had kow-towed, was a woman; that the monarch who defeated the Spanish Armada, and who had put on a uniform before addressing her troops at Tilbury, was a woman; and that the mother of God was, of necessity, a woman?

These World Wars fell to be won or lost in the great armaments factories at home, and in the great arsenal of the United States.  And those fields of war were mainly staffed by women.  By the end of the First World War, there were nearly five million women in the workforce, and many of them were engaged in armaments and munitions.  You cannot deny the vote to those you depend on to win your wars.

There is another point.  This was not the time for the ruling classes of Europe to be saying ‘Leave well enough alone.  Leave it to us.’  The rulers of Europe behaved appallingly to get Europe into war, and then they behaved even worse in allowing inept officer classes to lead millions upon millions of poor workers to useless death in the mud of the Western Front.  The Kaiser and the Tsar – both deriving from Caesar – were deposed forever, but many of the men at the front thought that in an orderly world the entire officer corps – or at least the entire general staff – should have had to face the penalty faced by Edith Cavell for a war crime constituted by sending men to their death when there was no reasonable prospect of their being able to obtain a tactical or strategic objective.  It is very hard to believe that people like Haig behaved as they did while believing that the men that they were killing were as valuable as those men at the top.

The move to equality therefore was bottom up and top down.  The men and women at the bottom believed that they were worth more, and that those at the top were worse than useless.  Women had to get the vote.  They did in 1918, although then only those who had made it to thirty were trusted.  The battle was in substance over.  But some would not be able to break free of caste.  When the first woman MP took her place in the House, Winston Churchill could not bring himself to acknowledge the presence of this infidel in his temple – although he had broken bread with her in her own house.

[There is an interlude about the rule of law in war.]

The other great constitutional issues for England in the twentieth century were the granting of sovereignty to the colonies and the ceding of sovereignty to Europe.  Neither is part of this book, and we may close the history by referring to two other matters, each, as it happens, involving a woman.

England had to wait more than half a century to see the vote for women being translated into a woman as Prime Minister.  Her name was Margaret Thatcher, and she aroused strong feelings back then.  She arouses even stronger feelings now – and not just in England, but in the colonies.  We will therefore completely ignore her politics.  Why are we looking at her at all in a book about the constitution?  Because the fact that Margaret Thatcher became PM about sixty years after Winston Churchill could not acknowledge a lady friend in the House of Commons says something about the tolerance and capacity of the English to adapt to change and to accept diversity.

Three things about the Iron Lady.  First, to get where she did, she had to get past those who were still the prisoners of their shibboleths about sex, many of the ilk of Monsieur Halevy.  But more than that, she had to confront and overcome the most appalling snobbery.  ‘In the name of Heaven, my dear boy, her father was an alderman – an alderman! – at Grantham – at Grantham! – and she – yes, SHE – stood behind the counter at a shop! Not even trade, Old Boy!  Retail.  Bloody retail, Old Boy.   Not at this club!  If she gets in, she will prove Napoleon right – a nation of bloody shopkeepers.’ 

Secondly, before she was elected, Mrs Thatcher said what she would do.  She had a policy and it was different to that of anyone else.  She was not afraid to adopt a position and then stick to it.  We do not see politicians like that now.  They cower behind minders and opinion polls and the dregs of the press.

Finally, when she became PM, Mrs Thatcher was not going to take any nonsense from any of those boys in either party who had not supported her, or who had let England down – and there were not many boys that were in neither category.  They were lined up on shelves like laced up poodles so that she could from time to time wipe the floor with them.  If the world knew a stronger political leader at that time, it was a very well-kept secret.  Perhaps that is why she still makes so many people generally, and men in particular, anxious.  The only PM since to try to take a position has been sullied by Napoleonic ambitions in the Middle East evidenced by decisions to go to war based on false premises and not even referred to Cabinet –and a Napoleonic refusal to apologize to the nation.

Well, it took time to produce a Mrs Thatcher, but she certainly gave them something to talk about.  The Latin countries have not made it yet.  They are the ones bringing Europe down because they cannot balance their books.  Might there be a causal connection between the inability of France, Italy, Spain and Greece to elect a woman leader, and their inability to run their own economies?  How strong is the economy of the nation being run by Frau Merkel?

Finally, for more than 1000 years, the great stain on England’s record was Ireland.  The history is too long and too painful to recount.  In 2011, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited Ireland, the first English monarch to visit the Irish Republic.  A descendant of a people that had come over the water from Saxon forests, this singular queen is descended from another German line from around Hanover.  She was visiting a land of Celtic people with their own royal line.  The visit was an unqualified success.  The Irish President, also a woman, palpably gasped when the queen began a major speech in Irish in one of those parts of the program broadcast live on TV to a breathless Irish diaspora around the world.  There is good reason to believe that the peace will now hold, and that both nations can move on.  This was an affecting instance of the way that the English crown still holds an essential working place in the English constitution whose story we have tried to trace.

Serving it up to the boys – at the Cup

She did not just win, comfortably – she stuck right up them.  She said that some in a chauvinistic sport had tried to get her off the horse – they could go and get stuffed. As could those who did not think that women were up to it. She radiated defiance, in a great moment, a very great moment for us, and not just in sport.  It was thrilling.  it was like an America’s Cup moment.

And then it got surreal.  Instead of this bright new star, we got three bourgeois suits – one of them with a gong, in the name of God – just banging on.  And on.  The trainer brought us back to earth.  A true man of the soil from Ballarat – who had stuck by his jockey in the face of opposition.  He said there would be a do at the pub.  The jockey was again not short for words.  And her brother, who suffers from Down Syndrome, got an award as the strapper.

Not all the toffs or the money in the world can top that story, and some day the timeless Australian face of Michelle Payne   will look down on us from a postage stamp.

Passing bull 20 Think tanks’ drag

Mr John Roskam is a God-send to a bullshit column; almost as solid as Freedom Boy.  In his AFR piece the other day, Mr Roskam was on a favourite mantra.  Mr Turnbull should not raise taxes.  Why?  He shouldn’t even be contemplating raising taxes.  Australia is already a high-tax country.  The second reason is that raising taxes is easy.  Mr Roskam says that the Productivity Commission supports the IPA research.  He laments that neither received media coverage.  Have you noticed this paranoia on that side?  Someone actually complained that Christianity was not getting a fair run.  Try that on a Muslim or Buddhist.  In a nation whose head of state has to be an Anglican.

Then we go straight to another mantra or slogan.  ‘There’s one thing that’s even harder to do in Australia than cutting government spending, or restoring freedom of speech – although it’s not as hard as Turnbull seems to think it is.  Does anyone honestly believe that in a free country it should be against the law to insult someone?’

In Victoria, you can go to jail for insulting, indecent or offensive behaviour in public.  Take the following examples.

On a tense, packed train full of drunks after a Collingwood v Carlton match, one supporter says to one of the opposite camp ‘You’se sucks were hiding behind the fuckin’ door when they handed out guts.  You are a push-over.’

On a less packed tram to North Balwyn during the daytime, a fourteen year old girl discusses her sex life on her mobile phone loudly enough for the whole tram to hear.  ‘I was so horny, I could have fucked a horse.’  After that, it gets a little personal.  Other people of various ages and backgrounds are discomfited – except for one evidently stimulated bogan who is showing unsettling symptoms of becoming amorous.

While he is opening a garden show, the Governor General is insulted in obscene terms by a group of men naked except for lippy, tattoos and tutus, who claim to be upset that His Excellency, Sir Peter, sold out for a gong.

A very well dressed group of people who object to the grants made to performing arts and the mining company sponsoring this concert take a seat for the Mozart Requiem and start insulting the miner on their mobile phones during the Kyrie.

At a military funeral in Australia for an Australian soldier killed in Afghanistan, a well-dressed and quietly behaved group of demonstrators parade outside the church in silence.  Their only protest is to carry placards denouncing going to war for the U S.  The placards say that the Americans are fascists.  The widow is horrified.  The brother of the deceased vows to kill the demonstrators.   Comrades in uniform look like they will do just that.

A frustrated suitor marches up and down the street outside a wedding with a loud hailer saying that the bride is a slut but Snow White compared to Mum.  On the bride’s side, deranged Black Belt Martial Arts Champions are foaming; the groom’s side is quieter – they are down from the sticks.  On Ice.

Mantras and slogans collapse in the light of the facts.  They are like bats.  They disappear in the light.  The first object of the law is to keep the peace.  That is why it is against the law to engage in conduct that will lead to a breach of the peace. Offensive or insulting conduct in public can lead to a breach of the peace.  Does Mr Roskam honestly believe that in a civilised country, the police should be powerless to intervene in these cases because to do so would inhibit people from expressing their views?  If the offensive or insulting conduct is based on race, is it not so much more dangerous?

This deformed simplicity was at the heart of the Abbott disaster.

Poet of the Month: Gwen Harwood

He sings, often at night; his voice is shocking.

The embarrassed aristocracy are fuel

for his crude wit, and something wild and cruel

flashes through early sweetness.  Fate is knocking


……Half his life is gone.

Now from your dolphin hands I learn the strong

leaping of spirit through a temporal sea

of human love and grief.  Pain breaks upon

these notes in splintering twills; here, changed to song,

wears the calm aspect of divinity.

(From Beethoven, 1798)

He couldn’t dance either.

PS I have a small investment on the German horse in the Cup, but I offer hope, not warranty.