Passing Bull 95 – Introducing the feral – Flat Earth Reactionary (and Religious) Amateur Loser


For reasons set out in an extract from a book that Chris Wallace-Crabbe and I are writing, I’m against labels, such as Left and Right.  However, I do think that the term ‘feral’, as defined above, could be applied to at least three politicians – Abbott, Andrews, and Bernardi.

What do they have in common?  They believe that the earth is flat and that the climate isn’t changing; they object to the people of Australia having an Australian person (who is not obliged by the Constitution of a foreign power to be in communion with the Church of England) as their head of state; they object to gay marriage on, among other things, grounds of religion; they freely admit,  or they emphatically deny, that their political views are driven by their religious faiths; and they yearn to be free to insult and offend others on the ground of race.

The odds are that these amateurish types will lose and wind up in the dustbin of history on each of those issues, but they feel born to react against anything that might be branded as progress. They are preoccupied, to put it softly, by the number of Muslims in our midst; they’re still bitter that we gave up on God Save Our Gracious Queen; they get very defensive about Australia Day and they are very protective about Anzac Day; they’re very dirty that that little four-eyed socialist said ‘sorry’ to the blackfellas; and they are revolted by the thought that our flag might be better off without the flag of some other foreign nation on it. They don’t just want to hold the line – they want to go back in time.  In the immortal words of Spike Milligan:

I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
Across the Irish Sea,
I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
It’s the only thing for me.


I’ve tried walking sideways,
And walking to the front,
But people just look at me,
And say it’s a publicity stunt.


I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
To prove that I love you.


Can we detect the time when the feral cancer set in?   Yes – it was when the Liberal Party lost its nerve and its mind, and it sacked Malcolm Turnbull, and it unleashed the ferals. What was Turnbull’s crime?  There were two – he was sane about climate change, and he did not believe in opposing the government just for the sake of it. He didn’t just want to put a spoke in the wheel. What has been the result?  Total chaos, and a complete failure of government.  We are now witnessing the horrifying apotheosis of the partisanship championed by the ferals in the form of Trump and Bannon.  And the worst of it here comes with the national humiliation on energy and climate change and a moral and intellectual collapse on gay marriage.

Do the ferals have a set of beliefs?  Not really – we are not big on ideology down here.  But they get cheered on by those cranks in the IPA.  Here is some of their bilge in the AFR today.

At least part of the reason for the success of One Nation is that Pauline Hanson is not afraid to talk about culture and values. Specifically, she’s willing to support the sort of values that too many commentators are too eager to dismiss as quaint, old fashioned, or as a ‘‘sideshow’’ to the business of politics.

 One Nation is simply filling a void left by the Coalition and the Labor Party.

 In response to the survey question, ‘‘How important is freedom of speech to you?’’, 95 per cent of respondents answered either ‘‘important’’ or ‘‘very important’’. One Nation has a policy position in favour of freedom of speech. The Coalition and the ALP don’t.

 The story of Georges River College, a public school in Sydney, is another example of the difference between One Nation and the major parties.

 It was revealed this week the NSW Education department has allowed the school to establish a policy whereby male students can refuse to shake the hands of women. The policy supposedly respects ‘‘the cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds of all students’’, and so, in the department’s words: ‘‘At the school’s2016 presentation day, the principal explained to invited guest making awards that some Muslim students may place their hand across their chest instead of shaking hands.’’

 Rob Stokes, the Liberal education minister, refused to say what was his view on the policy. Labor’s education spokesperson also refused to comment. One politician wasn’t afraid to say what she thought. Hanson called the policy ‘‘rubbish’’ and contrary to Australian values.

 The practical consequences of a school endorsing male students not shaking hands with women are legion. An education system that doesn’t prepare boys for the world of work and the possibility that one day they might have a female boss is fundamentally failing its responsibility to its pupils.

This is at best silly, petty, bullshit.  Do the Liberal and Labor parties really not have a policy in favour of freedom of speech?  Are they against it?  Are they against peace, motherhood, or mates?  Or are we banging Mr Murdoch’s can on hate speech?  Then there is this nagging worry about the practices of those who have a different faith to that which members of the IPA were born into. The practical consequences of a school endorsing male students not shaking hands with women are legion. Is the man serious?  Who could give a bugger how school kids shake hands?  Did Ms Hanson proffer reasons for her weighty decretal?  Or does our grave IPA champion of freedom of speech believe that our subscription to Australian culture and values entails that school kids of a different faith MUST shake hands whether they bloody well want to or not?

And may God save and preserve us from those who are married to Australian culture and values.

I now hereby give up on all form of politics in Oz forever.  And I solemnly make this declaration before lunch!

Confucius says

When the Master went to Wei, Jan Yu drove for him.  The Master said, ‘What a flourishing population!’

Jan Yu said, ‘When the population is flourishing, what further benefit can one add ?’

‘Make the people rich.’

‘When the people have become rich, what further benefit can one add?’

‘Train them.’

Analects, 13.9

Book Extract on Labelling

11      The vice of labelling

Some years ago, a lady at Oxford, en route from the reading room to the dining room for breakfast, was heard to say: ‘I have just been described as a typical Guardian reader, and I’m trying to work out whether I should feel insulted.’  A discussion about the meaning of the word ‘presumptuous’ then followed.

There is no law or custom that says that we should apply a label to people – or put them in boxes, or in a file, or give them a codename.  There is no law that we should not.  But most of us can’t help ourselves.  So what?

Well, most of us don’t like being put into boxes.  That is how we tend to see governments or Telstra or a big bank behaving toward us.  Nor do most of us want to be typed.  When someone says that an opinion or act of yours is ‘typical’ of you or your like, they are very rarely trying to be pleasant to you.

Most of us just want to be what we are.  You don’t have to have a university degree specialising in the philosophy of Kant to believe that each of us has his or her own dignity, merely because we are human.  We are in a different league to camels and gnats.  So, if I am singled out as a Muslim, a Jew, or an Aboriginal, what does that label add to or take away from my humanity?  What good can come from subtracting from my humanity by labelling me in that way?

So, the first problem with labelling is that it is likely to be demeaning to the target, and presumptuous on the part of the labeller.  We are detracting from a person’s dignity.  We put registration numbers on dog collars, and we brand cattle, but we should afford humans the courtesy – no, the dignity – of their own humanity.  After all, we can scarcely bring ourselves to think of that time when some people were tattooing identifying numbers on the bodies of other human beings. 

The second problem with labelling is that it is both loose and lazy.  If you say of someone that they are a typical Conservative or Tory, that immediately raises two questions.  What do the labels Conservative and Tory mean?  What are the characteristics of the target that might warrant the application of the label? 

In this country, at the moment, the terms Left and Right hardly mean anything at all – except as terms of abuse – which is how the words Tory and Whig started in England.  These terms are now generally only applied by one side to the other.  Not many people are happy to have either of those labels applied to themselves.  The categories are just too plastic and fluid.

There is one curious distinction in the way that these terms are applied in this country at the moment.  The Murdoch press is happy to call followers of the Fairfax press or the ABC ‘the Left’ (or ‘the PC Left’ or ‘the Love Media’), but those members of the press very rarely respond by calling readers of the Murdoch press Right Wing (or Far Right, or worse).  Is the difference one of custom or courtesy – or don’t we know or don’t we care?

Similarly, the labels Liberal and Labour hardly stand for any difference in principle any more.  At the time of writing, on any of the major issues in Australian politics, what were the differences in the policies of those parties that derived from their platform?  (We will come back to this point later, too.) The old forms of name‑calling between Liberal and Labour mean nothing to our children – absolutely nothing.  These old ways are as outmoded as name‑calling between Catholics and Protestants.  And there is some common ground in the two shifts – very many people have lost faith in both religion and politics.  The old tensions or rivalries just don’t seem to matter anymore.

Unfortunately, and notwithstanding the obvious problems we have just referred to, labelling is not just common but mandatory in far too much political discussion in the press, and certainly for shock jocks and those who make a career out of working TV chat shows.  While some people naturally thrive on conflict – Napoleon and Hitler are two bad cases – some journalists in the press engage in conflict, for a living.  These people rarely have a financial motive to respond reasonably, much less to resolve the conflict.  To the contrary, they have a direct financial interest in keeping the conflict as explosive as possible.  It is notorious that controversy feeds ratings and that bad news sells newspapers.

If you put up an argument to one of these people who live of the earnings of conflict, the response will very commonly involve two limbs – a personal attack  on you (the Latin tag for which is ad hominem), followed by some labels, which are never meant as compliments.  So, for example if someone, were to query the rigour of the policies of the government toward refugees, a predictable response would be ‘What else would you expect from someone who subscribes to the ABC?  How would you like these people to move in next door?’  There is no argument – just vulgar abuse.

The disintegration of thought is palpable, but a lot of people are making a handy living out of it – and not in ways that do the rest of us any good.

There is commonly a third problem with labelling – it generally tells you a lot more about the labeller – some would say the sniper – than the target, and the answer is rarely pretty.  And if you pile cliché upon label, and venom upon petulance, the result is as sad as it is predictable.  You disappear up your own bum. 

Let us take one label that became prominent in 2016 – right across the western world.  There has been a lot of chatter – some call it white noise – about populists.  Who are they?  One of the problems with this word is that people who use it rarely say what they mean by it.  If you go to the Web, you will find references to ordinary or regular or common people against political insiders or a wealthy elite.  These vague terms don’t help – to the contrary.  What do they mean? Is dividing people into classes a good idea in Australia now – or anywhere at any time?  And if it is simply a matter of the common people wresting control from a wealthy elite, who could decently object?  Is this not just democracy triumphing over oligarchy?

Populus is the Latin word for ‘people,’ with pretty much the same connotations as that word in English.  Do populists, therefore, appeal to the people for their vote?  Well, anyone standing for office in a democracy does just that.  The most famous political speech in history concludes with the words ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’.

But the word populist is not used to describe anyone standing for office.  It is used to refer to only some of those, and the difference seems to be in the parts of the people that are appealed to and the way in which that appeal is made.

So, what kind of public do populists appeal to?  Well, those who use this word say that the people appealed to are anything but the ‘elite’ – those who have got on well in life because of their background or education, or both.  In both the UK and the US this feeling about the elite – which might look like simple envy to some – is linked to a suspicion of or contempt for ‘experts’.  People do, however, tend to get choosy about which experts they reject.  This rejection does not extend to experts who may save their life (in the surgery, or at 30,000 feet) or their liberty, but it may explain the curious intellectual lesion that many people of a reactionary turn of mind have about science and the environment.

Another attribute of the public appealed to by populists is that they have often missed out on the increase in wealth brought about by free trade around the world  and by advances in technology.  These movements obviously have cost people jobs and are thought by some experts to be likely to cost another 40% over the next ten years.

A third attribute of those appealed to by populists is said to be that, in their reduced condition, they value their citizenship above all else, and they are not willing to share it.  They are therefore against taking refugees or people whose faith or colour threatens the idea of their national identity. 

Now, if folk who use the word populist are describing politicians who appeal to people with those attributes, they may want to be careful about where they say so.  The picture that emerges is one of a backward, angry, and mean chauvinist.  That picture is seriously derogatory, but it adds warmth and not light to the discussion.  If that is what people mean when they refer to populists, then it is just a loose label that unfairly smears a large part of the population.  The term does then itself suffer from the vice of labelling that we have identified. 

So, we would leave labels with George Bush senior, who said that labels are what you put on soup cans.



The Nationalists

An occasional series on the new nationalists –  dingoes and drongos like Trump, Farage, and Bernardi – and other Oz twerps.


The New Yorker opines

Has it occurred to you that the Executive Order banning Muslims was not addressed on its face to Muslims because that would have made it too difficult to enforce at the border – as well as being difficult to defend in court?  ‘I see that you come from Iran and you are wearing a tea towel.  May I take it that you are a Muslim?’  ‘No you may not.  I’m Catholic and proud of it.’  It could have got very tricky at the airports.

Well, as best I can see, no one before the Ninth Circuit argued that the ban was not a Muslim ban because it did not extend to all Muslims – a proposition of profound inanity embraced by a Harvard professor.  So, the President and his disjointed team are closeted trying to develop a lawful order, while abusing the judges that have made them do so.  It is taking them a lot longer than the President thought or wanted.  Government is hard.  Campaigning is so easy – and oh so good for the ego.  So, after just four weeks, Trump stopped governing and took off to campaign again, and just to feel the love.

Well, that statement might obscure the truth.  The whole life of Trump is a campaign.  He may even have said so himself – in which case we could chalk it up as a rare true Trump statement.  Trump doesn’t just thrive on conflict – he lives on it.  His whole life revolves around two points – the mirror and his enemies.  During the campaign, he had Hillary Clinton as an enemy, and one made for him in heaven.  Now that Hillary’s gone, he has to find new enemies.  He’s got plenty – the press, the security services, the judiciary, and doubtless there will be more to come.

Trump is apparently still carrying his supporters.  If they think that this intellectually crippled thug is delivering good government they are quite mad.  He is in truth carrying on his campaign for the benefit of his ego and to satisfy the delusions of about one third of the American people.  That is not what they elect presidents to do.  It is hard to think of a time when the nation has been more divided against itself since the time that Abraham Lincoln took office.  Nor does it seem to be an essentially American notion that the government should be carried on by and for the nation’s losers.

Although most people that Trump has appointed to government appear to be either billionaires or generals, and the awful Bannon is a quintessential member of the Establishment, some silly people still want to talk about the elite.  If you wanted to describe a member of that curious body, you could say that it was a person who gets The New Yorker, the snooty East Coast liberal journal of letters that I have been getting for nearly forty years.  It has been in mourning since the election, but it has now spoken, and it has done so in terms written by Adam Gopnik that I wish to set out here at length.

The human capacity for hatred is terrifying in its volatility…… Americans have a hard time internalising that truth, but the first days of the Trump Administration have helped bring it home.

Within two weeks of the Inauguration, the hysterical hyperventilators have come to seem more prescient in their fear of incipient autocratic fanaticism than the reassuring pooh-poohers.  There’s a simple reason for this: the hyperventilators often read history.  Regimes with an authoritarian ideology and a boss man on top always bend toward the extreme edge, because their only organisational principle is loyalty to the capo.  Since the capo can be placated only by uncritical praise, the most fanatic of his lieutenants end up calling the shots.  Loyalty to the boss is demonstrated by hatred directed against his enemies.

Yet what perhaps no one could have entirely predicted was the special cocktail of oafish incompetence and radical anti-Americanism that President Trump’s Administration has brought.  This combination has produced a new note in our public life: chaotic cruelty.  The immigration crisis may abate, but it has already shown the power of government to act arbitrarily overnight –  sundering families, upending long-set expectations, until all those born as outsiders must imagine themselves here only on sufferance of a senior White House counsellor.

Some choose to find comfort in the belief that the incompetence will undermine the anti-Americanism.  Don’t bet on it.  Autocratic regimes with a demagogic bent are nearly always inefficient, because they cannot create and extend the network of delegated trust that is essential to making any organisation work smoothly.  The chaos is characteristic.  Whether by instinct or by intention, it benefits the regime, whose goal is to create an overwhelming feeling of shared helplessness in the population at large: we will detain you and take away your green card – or, no, now we won’t take away your green card, but we will hold you here, and we may let you go, or we may not.

This is radical anti-Americanism – not simply illiberalism or anti- cosmopolitanism – because America is not only a nation but also an idea, cleanly if not tightly defined.  Pluralism is not a secondary or a decorative aspect of that idea.  As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, the guarantee of religious liberty lies in having many kinds of faiths, and the guarantee of civil liberty lies in having many kinds of people – in establishing a ‘multiplicity of interests’ to go along with a ‘multiplicity of sects’.  The idea doesn’t reflect a ‘weak’ desire for niceness.  It is, instead, intended to counter the brutal logic of the playground. When there are many kinds of bullied kids, they can unite against the bully: ‘Even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves.’

There is an alternative view, one long available and articulated, that America is not an idea but an ethnicity, that of the white Christian men who have dominated it, granting a grudging or probationary acceptance to women, or blacks, or immigrants.  This was the view of Huck Finn’s pap, as he drank himself to death; of General Custer, as he approached Little Big Horn; of Major General Pickett, as he led the charge at Gettysburg.  Until now, it has been the vision of those whom Trump would call the losers.

The three figures Mr Gopnik referred to were losers – bad losers.  With the Republicans bereft of decency, and the Democrats in disarray, it will be left to the press to carry the torch of civilisation in America.  It is of course nearly insane that those who blather on here about western civilisation are the ones who stand up for Trump – but if you wish to be reminded of what fascism looks like, turn on Fox News.  You may only last thirty seconds, as I did last night, when I was told that the American press had betrayed the first Amendment by declaring war on the President of the United States.  I had just finished reading Nineteen Eighty-Four for the third time, and the horror slipped easily from fiction to fact.  And the minions of the owner of Fox News want a licence here to offend and insult people on the ground of race.

The Executive Order was headed ‘Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States’.  It is full of tendentious nonsense of a self–serving nature about 11 September 2001, the perpetrators of which came from Saudi Arabia, which is not on the banned list.  The Ninth Circuit asked in vain for evidence that the banned nations were a source of terrorism.  According to reports of findings by the Cato Institute referred to in our weekend press, there have not been any terror-related killings of Americans on U S soil committed by nationals of any of the seven countries in the Order since 1975.  Since then, there have been three fatal terrorist attacks, all committed by Cubans – and unlikely to have been Muslims!  The report I read said that the data showed that the prospects of dying in a terror attack at the hands of a refugee of any religion to be one in 3.64 billion.  Gun violence leads to more than 13,000 deaths a year, excluding suicides.  That rate is likely to go up under Trump because he is in the pocket of the gun lobby.

Passing Bull 94 – A miscellany of pure bullshit – and starting on Confucius

A major Australian law firm announced a move into forensic investigation – or the like.


It brings a holistic offering to the market place in response to what we have seen over the past five years as a real client need, which we think will complement our core legal skill set. That’ll give us great ability to engage early on anti-bribery, cyber risk and fraud. Regulators across the world are getting much more sophisticated in their cross-border communications.

Dear, dear, dear – holistic and core and skill set in the one sentence.  Little Johnnie nixed core for eternity.

Your taxes help fund bullshit like that which follows.


Should they enjoy a drink or smoke while watching an arts festival on TV, they can take pleasure in knowing that their taxes are contributing significantly to it, with Australian cigarettes the most expensive in the world and alcohol taxes not far off it. Of course, the most prolific smokers are our poorest people including regional Aborigines. So much for closing the gap.

And should they speak up about the less successful aspects of multi-culturalism, they can be hauled before a bunch of antidiscrimination bodies to explain themselves.

No major political party is interested in winning the vote of Australia’s poor.

Labor is no better than the Liberals on this. They might claim to stick up for battlers, but rarely take their side on any of the issues mentioned here. This is mainly due to Labor’s relationship with the unions, which care about workers who have jobs rather than those who don’t. And Labor is also now competing with the Greens for middle-class progressive voters who couldn’t give a fig about the impact of power prices or the price of cigarettes on the poor.

In fact, every week we hear how progressives have a new idea to make life harder for poor people. Even the push to replace cage eggs with free-range eggs will lead to substantial price increases, and now they’re talking about a sugar tax.

The poor are hectored and spoken down to. They have few choices in relation to their education and health. They are told when, where and how they can drink, smoke, eat, gamble and enjoy themselves. They are told they are cruel if they enjoy greyhound racing and too ignorant, stupid or incoherent to manage their own lives. Increasingly they are considered less important than animal rights and the environment.

Our governments are elected by the middle class to serve the middle class, so it’s hard to see how any of this is going to change.

So whatever you do, try not to be poor.

The gun-happy Senator Leyonhjelm suffers from a dual disability – he fancies himself as an ideologue, and he is seriously thick.  Shame on those shameless progressives – members of the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, or both? – for making it so much harder for blackfellas to kill themselves on fags or grog.  And did you see the mandatory Murdoch Union reference to hate speech laws? This guy reminds me of a remark of the late Jim Kennan – when you meet someone from the gun lobby, you might be looking at a person that you would least want to see behind a gun.

Next, I must stop buying North American scholarship blind.  I bought a book on historians of the French Revolution by Professor Steven Kaplan of Cornell University.

This argument was quite potent and tonic when reasoned in terms of the Braudelian reading of time (and space) and of the asphyxiating intellectual consequences of a historical (and academic) periodization generated by the reification of the Revolution’s self-representation.  To fathom the causes and outcomes of the Revolution, to understand how institutions really worked and how traditions came into being, to make cogent diagnoses, historians needed to insert it in a comparative, multivariate, long run context ( a sort of Annalesization of Tocqueville).

That is extreme bullshit.  And do you notice how the computer encourages further parenthetical mutilation of the language?

I admire the work of the late François Furet.  His writing is lucid, and to the point, and he is one of the very few historians who understands just how silly it is to look only at events in France 1789 to 1793.  Here is Kaplan again.

…..Furet becomes one of Tocqueville’s abstract thinkers, unable to navigate in the real world.  Thus, for instance, Furet is interested in the people-as-concept for the role they play in legitimising the Revolution and filling the political vacuum.  But he is indifferent to the people-as-people.  The true people are those who inhabit the collective imaginary.  Language crowds out its referent – or the referent is absorbed by the concept.  The notion of the people matters, not their comportment.  The conceptual ‘reality’ takes precedence over its social counterpart, whose existence is without significance in the sense that it resides outside Furet’s semiotic circuit.  The discordance between the Revolution-as-people brandished by the leaders (and appropriated by the galactic historians) and the revolutionaries lived by the people is neither pertinent nor profound.  And as long as he defines his démarche as conceptual rather than commemorative, Furet can comfortably march to the drumbeat of the Revolutionary protagonists.  For him the Revolution has a life of its own outside the social, a discursive autonomy and a sort of anthropomorphic existence.  Thus he can write a metahistorical phrase such as the following: ‘If, as I believe, the French Revolution was really what it set out to be…’

That isn’t bullshit, it’s gibberish.

Finally, there was a piece in the weekend press that shows why people are being turned off the big political parties.  This one was about the Liberal Party in Victoria.  A young whizz kid called Bastiaan is apparently getting on people’s nerves.  He is described by The Age, in a piece that looks to have been legalled with caution, as 27-year-old former ‘bellicose Brighton Grammar debater’.  He has the same old mantra.  The party has been overrun by ‘lobbyists, political staffers or people who have worked in government the entirety of their careers.’  Does he too want to drain the swamp?  What is the life experience of this 27 year old public school boy debater that enables him to offer this world view on his elders?  According to The Age:

A three-time university dropout, Bastiaan got into business with the aid of his father, dabbling in an antiques dealership while at university, before moving into a software design business.

He now spends his time leaping between an e-commerce start-up and politics.

The comparison with Trump gets closer.  But the politics get even denser.  His partner is a 25-year-old woman who challenged for a seat in State Parliament. She has apparently firm religious views, and she believes that women who have been raped, according to The Age, should be denied an abortion.  ‘Like Bastiaan, she claims to be focused on returning the party to its members and challenging a Parliamentary team that has abandoned its values and lost touch.’  They are like broken records.  Her partner had invoked Menzies in support of his brand of reaction, and as we were reminded in another piece on the weekend, Menzies deliberately chose the word Liberal because he did not wish the party to be seen as conservative.

But the partner of Bastiaan is, apparently, the complete reactionary.  The Safe Schools program teaches ‘radical gender theory and warped graphic sex education centred around promiscuity…’  We are ‘seeing the destruction of religious freedom, free speech, a push towards gay marriage (which won’t stop there!)  and euthanasia.’  She sees a state/nation-wide push to bring ‘conservative’ politics back into fashion.  She likes people like Cory Bernardi, Andrew Hastie, George Christensen, and Kevin Andrews.  Last year, she hosted a gala fundraiser for Andrews where the main attraction was Tony Abbott.  In the name of God – perhaps literally – the ‘Bulleen dinner featured a Latin grace and a rendition of God Save the Queen’.  (Did they offer a salute?) According to the paper, ultraconservative churches and the Mormons are fertile recruiting grounds.

What sane person could think of joining an outfit that engages in bullshit like this? It reminds me of my childhood and youth, a period of say twenty years, where this country had an opposition party that completely failed to discharge its function in opposition because it was hopelessly split by factions and dragged down by selfish idiots who cared more for ideological purity than the prospects of their party ever getting into government.  (As it happens, the split was engineered by the same denomination that this young woman adheres to.) In a way, my generation was disenfranchised, and it looks like the Liberal Party in Victoria may go the same way if these fanatics get what the press calls traction.

I have long been of the view that we should have a legal mechanism by which Opposition parties can be subjected to a form of impeachment for failing in their function.  Just look at the mess that the English Labour Party has got into with their fanatics.

Poet of the Month: Dante, Inferno, Canto 1.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,
“Have pity on me,” unto him I cried,
“Whiche’er thou art, or shade or real man!”

He answered me: “Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.

Sub Julio was I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just
Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
Why climb’st thou not the Mount Delectable
Which is the source and cause of every joy?”

“Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?
I made response to him with bashful forehead.

“O, of the other poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,
Thou art alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble.’

Confucius says

There is a nasty false form of what is said to be ‘conservatism’ that claims to identify with something called ‘western civilisation.’  It’s as if we are meant to think that there is something inferior about the civilisation of the East.  Such a suggestion would be at best hilarious and at worst outrageous to the substantial part of the world’s population who live in China, India, and Japan, for example.  You might wonder if ‘western civilisation’ is code for white supremacy, but to confront this narky parochialism, we will replace for the foreseeable future what has been the ‘Poet of the month’ with ‘Confucius says’.  The context is that these sayings of Confucius were uttered about a century before the death of Socrates, and about five centuries before the Jew called Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount – in Asia.

Tzu-kung asked the Master about what a man must be like before he can be said truly to be a Gentleman.  There followed a discussion about degrees of Gentlemen.

‘What about men who are in public life in the present day?’

The Master said, ‘Oh, they are of such limited capacity that they hardly count.’

Analects, 13.20.

Two and a half millennia ago. In the boondocks of China.

The Nationalists

An occasional series on the new nationalists –  dingoes and drongos like Trump, Farage, and Bernardi – and other Oz twerps.

IV Politics as reality TV

CNN has become a constant freak show – or horror show – about a president who looks like a punch-drunk prize fighter.  No attempt is made by either side to hide a state of war.  There is also no attempt on either side to hide the fact that a state of war exists between this president and the very large security services of the U S.  The Wall Street Journal, a quality paper of a conservative nature and Republican leaning, reports that security services are withholding material from the White House.  But two explanations can be found on offer.  One is that the White House leaks – that is notorious.  The other is the apprehension that the Kremlin has ears in the white House – that is not so notorious.  The two explanations are not exclusive.

The leaking and lying are of Himalayan dimensions.  The press is now informed – presumably by the FBI – that Flynn lied to the FBI.  If that were proved according to the criminal standard, Flynn would be in jeopardy, as they say over there, because lying to the FBI is a felony offence.

Everyone has their own morbid favourite of the act of this president that is the  most rank or the most stupid.  The blanket ban on Muslims?  The rubbishing of the judges?  Giving carte blanche to the laughing out loud Bibi Netanyahu and his religious fanatics back home?  Going feral at a press conference and yet again revealing his fixation about the margin of his win?  Telling guests at his resort – for which he has just doubled the $100K entrance fee – that that dude over there is the one with the nuclear codes?

For me, the lowest of the low was the response to the suggestion that Putin was a killer. ‘We have plenty of those here.  Do you think we are that innocent?’ or words to that effect.  It is not just that this was a reverse ad hominem with full pike and twist – it is a shocking thing for any national leader to say.  And it happened on a home ground – Fox News has gone from M K (Mein Kampf) to SOT (State Owned Television.)  Of course US presidents are killers.  They do it with drones.  But of course that was not the kind of killer up for discussion here.

The total breakdown of trust and government is patent.  Any Republican president knows he is in real trouble when the WSJ runs stories against him, and one editorial is headed  Another Trump Casualty and the leading article beside it is Is This Trump’s Watergate? The editorial,  after a presidency of four weeks, has the following.

The White House should be especially concerned that Republican Senators dumped Mr. Puzder so easily. As many as a dozen were worried about the left-right assaults and asked the White House to spare them from a vote to confirm by withdrawing the nomination. So much for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s promise that all Trump nominees would make it. This is what happens when Republicans begin to feel they must distance themselves from an unpopular President.

It’s too early to be talking about the Titanic.  Doing the best I can with the tea leaves, Miller appears to be just a young man on the make who lacks judgment and doesn’t know it; the real villain is Bannon who is both bright and venomous and intent on blowing up the Establishment that he has turned on; Trump is an idiot who has no ideology at all and who will go with the flow that lifts his ratings; Mattis and Tillerson are two people of substance who are used to running their own show and who have got better things to do with their names than seeing them trashed by an idiot.  If that’s right, the sooner we see the showdown at the OK Corral, the better.

It was obvious from the notorious press conference that Trump is unbalanced or, if you prefer, deranged.  You don’t have to be an expert to say that.  (There is now a division within psychiatry as to whether it is appropriate to express a professional opinion without talking to the subject.  I have a lot of sympathy for the side of reticence, but if a woman on TV said that she was going to kill her husband because he was cheating on her, I would have no hesitation in expressing an opinion, if asked, that if she went ahead and killed him, she would be liable to be found guilty of the crime of murder.)  The manifest lack of balance in the President led me to write this to journalists at the WSJ.  The letter contained the following.

In common with a lot of Australians, I have been watching events in the US with mounting amazement and horror.  If it matters, I am an ageing lawyer come writer who has been happy to visit your country on a number of occasions, once to do a Summer School at Harvard. 

May I put three questions from our side of the Pacific?

  1. Your paper is of a conservative bent with Republican leanings.  Is it common ground that Trump is neither a conservative nor  a Republican?
  2. If a head hunter was retained to put up a candidate for CEO of a major US listed company, and the head hunter put forward someone like Trump, would the best result be that  he could look to be summarily dismissed?
  3. If a management consultant was hired to restructure the management of a major listed US company, and the consultant put up the model of the current White House, would the best result look to be a lot worse than summary dismissal?


I need not remind people at a paper as respectable as yours that the role of the press at this moment in US politics is as fundamental as it can get.  The people of the US, and people here, are relying on you to help see us through these hard times.  And we are confident you will do so – even if you do get up the noses of two of the most powerful people in the world.

You can test the issue as follows.  If the board of a public company found its CEO acting in the course of his employment as irrationally and impulsively as Trump is, would it have any option other than to fire him?

Where are decent Republicans?  I have given up on McConnell, not just because of that stunt with the Supreme Court next last year, or with Elizabeth Warren this year, but because his eight years of mindless partisan stonewalling is largely responsible for this mess.

What about Paul Ryan, a sane and decent man of a faith that would be repelled by everything that Trump is?   Do you remember The Caine Mutiny?  A US navy ship has a very unbalanced skipper, Captain Queeg (Bogart).  His very decent second in command is Maryk (Van Heflin).  Keefer (MacMurray) is a bright and social Communications officer.  He tries to incite Maryk to get rid of Queeg, but Keefer goes to water.  In a typhoon, Queeg breaks down, and Maryk has to take over.  In the trial for mutiny, Keefer rats on Maryk, but Queeg breaks down in cross-examination – the strawberries and ball bearings – and when Keefer tries to cosy up to Maryk at the end, Maryk’s lawyer (Jose Ferrer) throws a glass of grog in his face.

Which role will Mr Ryan play – Maryk or Keefer?

Passing Bull 93 – Bull about conservatism

There is a growing consensus that the terms ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ no longer have any useful meaning.  It may be time to say the same for the word ‘conservative’.  To conserve something is to preserve it in its existing state from destruction or change.  For ‘conservative,’ the OED has ‘characterised by a tendency to preserve or keep intact and unchanged; preservative’ and ‘designation of the English political party, the characteristic principle of which is the maintenance of existing institutions, political and ecclesiastical.’

I would have thought that in ordinary parlance a ‘conservative’ is someone who wants to keep existing institutions as they are unless there is a compelling need for change, and someone who wants government to have as little to do with them as is decently possible.  In that sense, I would, in common with a lot of people, happily describe myself as a conservative – but it does leave a hell of a lot of work to be done by the modifying terms ‘compelling need’ and ‘decently possible.’

For example, whether you think it is ‘decently possible’ for a government to stay out of healthcare might depend on whether you live in Australia or in the United States.  We think that the Republican view on affordable health care verges on madness, and that if that position derives from their ‘conservatism’, then conservatism is evil.   If the last election showed anything, any suggested tinkering with Medicare is a form of political suicide here – and as someone who has been treated for cancer for nine months by the best doctors in the world, with not a bill in sight, it is a subject on which I have strong views.

The problem with using the term ‘conservative’ is brilliantly highlighted by Simon Blackburn in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy.

conservatism Originally in Burke an ideology of caution in departing from the historical roots of a society, or changing its inherited traditions and institutions.  In this ‘organic’ form, it includes allegiance to tradition, community, hierarchies of rank, benevolent paternalism, and a properly subservient underclasses.  By contrast, conservatism can be taken to imply a laissez-faire ideology of untrammelled individualism that puts the emphasis on personal responsibility, free markets, law and order, and a minimal role for government, with neither community, nor tradition, nor benevolence entering more than marginally.  The two strands are not easy to reconcile, either in theory or in practice.

Disraeli may be taken as standing for the first strand.  Margaret Thatcher may be taken as standing for the second.  As it happens, I admire both of them, but in that I am in a minority (and one that I don’t own up to in Cambridge or Oxford).  Professor Blackburn is plainly right in saying that the two strands are not easy to reconcile.  But even in his formulation, there is plenty of what we call wriggle room in either strand.

Jennifer Oriel is a keen student of ideological terms.  In a piece in today’s Australian she says that the emergence of what she calls ‘the new Right’ means that we have to define conservatism.  ‘The task of definition is urgent. Unless a well-defined, muscular conservatism emerges, the best of Western civilisation will not survive the 21st century.’ Goodness, gracious me – well, we won’t be here for the grand exit or Armageddon.

My view is that we may just as well drop the word, but why mention Farage or Trump in this context?  Each is rigorously anti-conservative.  Farage quit the Conservative Party because he wanted to tear down a central pillar of the governance of Great Britain.  Trump is not a Republican – he wants to blow up the Washington establishment.  Apart from wanting to shed the past, these two have five things in common that few conservatives would want to have imputed to them – an entire indifference to truth; an insular nationalism; a willingness to discriminate against at least one other creed (even though they have no creed of their own); a readiness to get into the gutter to get votes (this is called ‘populism’); and an unimaginably huge ego.  With the possible exception of the last, it is impossible to imagine either Disraeli or Margaret Thatcher having anything to do with any of these traits – or looking upon either Farage or Trump with anything but disgust.  The failure of ‘conservative’ Australians to call out either of these obnoxious clowns is a symptom of a serious intellectual malaise.

Ms Oriel says the following.

The Conservative Mind sparked the post-war conservative intellectual movement in America. In it, Kirk provides a definition of conservatism that comprises four substantive doctrines. The first conservative doctrine, “an affirmation of the moral nature of society”, rests on the belief that virtue is the essence of true happiness. The matter of virtue is family piety and public honour. Their consequence is a life of dignity and order.

Kirk’s second doctrine of conservatism is the defence of property. He defines it as “property in the form of homes and pensions and corporate rights and private enterprises; strict surveillance of the leviathan business and the leviathan union”.

The third conservative doctrine is the preservation of liberty, traditional private rights and the division of power. The absence of this doctrine facilitates the rise of Rousseau’s “general will”, made manifest in the totalitarian state.

The final doctrine of Kirk’s conservatism is “national humility”. Here, Kirk defines the nation state as vital to the preservation of Western civilisation. Politicians are urged to humble themselves in the light of the Western tradition instead of indulging in cheap egoism by promoting policies that buy them votes, but weaken the West.

English philosopher Roger Scruton identifies the political, pre-political and civil components of Western civilisation that sustain the free world. They are rooted in the uniquely Western idea of citizenship, which is influenced by Christianity. The core components of Western citizenship are: the secular democratic state, secular and universal law, and a single culture cohered by territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty. Like Huntington, Scruton analyses the core foundations and animating principles of Western civilisation in contrast to Islamic civilisation.

Conservatism stands in contrast to both small “l” liberal and socialist ideas of culture, society and state. Its central tenets are: moral virtue as the path to happiness, supporting the natural family, promoting public order and honour, private enterprise, political liberty, the secular state and universal law. The central tenets of conservatism are sustained by a single culture of citizenship that enables the flourishing of Western civilisational values.

Conservatism remains the only mainstream political tendency whose core objective is the defence and flourishing of Western civilisation. In its federal platform, the Liberal Party defines its liberal philosophy as: “A set of democratic values based upon … the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all people as individuals.” There is no discussion of Western civilisation or Western values. However, it shares with conservatives the principles of limited government, respect for private property, political liberty and the division of power. And conservative prime ministers from Menzies to Howard and Abbott have led the defence of Western civilisation in Australia against its greatest enemies: socialists, communists and Islamists.

It is on the questions of immigration, transnational trade and supranational governance that the primary distinction between conservatives and the new Right is drawn. For example, there is growing tension fuelled by the belief that mass immigration, especially of Muslims, constitutes a demographic revolution that threatens Western values. Mainstream conservatives, including Cory Bernardi, reject the idea of a ban on Muslim immigration. But it is clear that policy resonates with many.

Roger Scruton is a very bright and sensible philosopher, but what Ms Oriel attributes to him here says nothing about conservatism.  For that matter no one talks of ‘conserving’.  Let’s then look at Mr Kirk.  He has contributed nothing to our discussion of conservatism either because, with two possible exceptions, no one could be bothered to assert the contrary of his positions.  Are those people who are opposed to conservatives opposed to the defence of property or the preservation of liberty?  The first proposition of Mr Kirk on its face is just silly.  Who’s going to buy a political platform based on ‘virtue’?  The last politician to do that was Robespierre, a defining terrorist who took his doctrine from Rousseau in a movement that inspired Burke to invent a brand of conservatism*.  The last proposition of Mr Kirk would of itself disqualify Trump and Farage, and every politician in Australia, but I have no idea what ‘national humility’ might mean, not least because I have a problem with the idea that a nation can have feelings.  But I must say that any reference to the ‘state’ makes me nervous.

That leaves opposition to socialism and Islamists or Islamic civilisation.  As to socialism, I’m not sure what that means, partly for the reason I have given above, and partly because the word is hardly used now in Australia.  Is there anyone left who claims to be a socialist?  As to the second enemy of the West, I object to what Ms Oriel says on three grounds – it is wrong to discriminate against people on the ground of faith; it is wrong to brand whole peoples or nations because of the actions of a few; and if Islamists are a threat to us, I don’t think it promotes our security to brand or discriminate against all Muslims.  As Macaulay said of the Elizabethan persecution of the Puritans in England:

Persecution produced its natural effects.  It found them a sect: it made them a faction. To their hatred of the Church was now added their hatred of the Crown.  The two sentiments were intermingled; and each embittered the other.

Whatever else ‘virtue’ might mean, it doesn’t mean looking down on people just because they have a different faith – especially when so many people have no faith at all.

So, I am afraid that it is bullshit as usual for Ms Oriel.

Thank heaven we don’t go in for ideology down here.

*Simon Blackburn calls Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France ‘a masterly attack on the danger of airy political abstractions.’  As you will have seen, that danger has not passed.  Some people can’t go past airy political abstractions.

Poet of the month: Dante, Inferno, Canto 1.

She brought upon me so much heaviness,
With the affright that from her aspect came,
That I the hope relinquished of the height.

And as he is who willingly acquires
And the time comes that causes him to lose,
Who weeps in all his thoughts and is despondent,

E’en such made me that beast withouten peace,
Which, coming on against me by degrees
Thrust me back thither where the sun is silent

While I was rushing downward to the lowland,
Before mine eyes did one present himself,
Who seemed from long-continued silence hoarse.

Passing Bull 92 – Bull about swaggering

Whenever I see that lout Trump, I see a swaggerer, and I think of one of the funniest scenes in English theatre.  Hostess Quickly, a role claimed by Dame Edith Evans, is a most put-upon innkeeper who has to put up with the drunken and louche Falstaff and his dirty rotten loud mates like Ancient Pistol.  (I have been looking at this play for fifty years, and for the first time I see these dudes described as ‘irregular humorists’.)

If he swagger, let him not come here.  No, by my faith.  I must live among my neighbours.  I’ll no swaggerers.  I am in good name and fame with the very best.  Shut the door, there comes no swaggerers here.  I have not lived all this while to have swaggering now.  Shut the door, I pray you……Cheater, call you him?  I will bar no honest man my house, nor no cheater.  But I do not love swaggering, by my troth.  I am the worse when one says ‘swagger’.  Feel, masters, how I shake, look you, I warrant you.

Well, that may be more informative than our political commentators.  Here’s an extract from one piece. (Readers of our newspapers will pick up on the authors.)

That a political correction is taking place in Australia and other Western liberal democracies is undoubted. Even the political/ media class recognises the obvious. But perhaps because the correction is largely directed at the political/media class, it misinterprets what is unfolding.

It is all about perceptions and perspective. The establishment politicians and their media clique think mainstream voters have changed — but in reality it is the voters who are pulling back on a runaway political class

Politicians of the Left have drifted away from the public on fundamental issues and the prevailing wisdom of media and academic voices creates the siren song luring many centrist and centre-right politicians away too.

In Europe, North America and Australia the political establishment has understated the importance of border security and national interest, overstated the role of supranational and multilateral bodies, and bowed to the whims of political correctness across issues such as education, immigration, gender, climate change and law and order.

Progressive voters have gone along for the ride but mainstream people aren’t so sure; they tend towards conservatism. Of late they have flocked to disruptive outsiders because the political establishment gave them no alternative.

Voters in last year’s US presidential contest weren’t given much of a choice. As Mark Steyn pointed out long before Donald Trump’s victory, they were being offered a choice between the continuation of a Clinton Democratic dynasty or a Bush Republican inheritance. Middle America confounded expectations by choosing a disrupter instead.

In Australia, after the overthrow of Tony Abbott, voters ended up with the leaders of both major parties who were deferential to global climate strictures, were unknown quantities on border protection and seemingly uncomfortable calling out the threat of Islamic terrorism.

There was little product differentiation — except between the political class preoccupations of gay marriage and climate change and mainstream concerns about national security and the cost of living.

Pauline Hanson’s extreme plan to ban Muslim immigration became a viable protest avenue for those dismayed that the political establishment couldn’t even utter the word Islamist. One Nation’s simplistic economic nationalism was a foil to major parties incapable of reining in debt and deficits, and determined to increase power prices in order to meet meaningless agreements struck in Paris talkfests.

Then, a week before, another, in the same paper.  This, too, is an extract.

As Donald Trump’s new presidency surges across our politics, creating chaos and uncertainty, there is one element in his victory where most Australian politicians remain in ideological denial — the revolt against identity politics.

Trump, in effect, was given permission to win the election by the US progressive class despite his narcissism, his coarseness and his smashing of the orthodox bounds of political and policy behaviour.

In retrospect, the 2016 US election story is a grand joke — enough voters in Middle America decided to tolerate Trump’s juvenile viciousness because they felt the narcissism of prevailing closed-minded progressive ideology was no longer to be tolerated. In the end, the alternative was worse than Trump. Is this too difficult an idea to grasp?

During the Obama era the US underwent a cultural revolution. Fuelled by social activists on race, sex and gender issues and the decisive swing by younger people to social liberalism as a way of life, the Democratic Party embraced identity politics as a brand. It mirrored the values transformation that swept through many American institutions: the academy, media, arts, entertainment and much of the high income earning elite. But revolutions are only guaranteed to bring counterrevolutions in their wake.

Barack Obama won two presidential elections enshrining identity and minority politics at the heart of his campaign. But Obama is a unique historical figure. What works for him doesn’t work for other Democrats — witness Hillary Clinton. In 2016 minority politics failed to deliver. Its momentum has been checked, with American progressives sunk in an angry valley of rage.

Last year Clinton, after a long and often tortuous journey, embraced not a call to all, but a collection of separate identity groups, a pervasive agenda of political correctness and pledges to end discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This testified to the US Supreme Court decision in favour of samesex marriage, the injustices visited on African Americans, the voting power of minorities and their decisive capture of the soul of the Democratic Party. The problem for the Democrats is now obvious: managing the Obama legacy without the magic of Obama.

This election, beyond its madness, was about a clash of moral vision. Trump stood for three visions: economic protection against free trade, nationalism against internationalism, and cultural tradition against social liberalism. In Australia there has been immense coverage of Trump’s victory combined with denial of its full meaning. It is a historic failure of progressivism.

They are like faded 33 rpm microgrooves.  Are they talking about the same planet?  This is abstraction, labelling, and tribalism gone crackers.   It might even be too much for the IPA. I think I counted the word ‘class’ nine times in the first piece, and many might wonder if they know of a more prominent member of the ‘political/media class’ than the author.  Karl Marx would be shocked.

Well, at least the second piece recognises how plain nasty Trump is.  The author refers to Trump’s ‘juvenile viciousness.’  But did those who voted for Trump really ‘feel the narcissism’ of ‘progressive politics’?  If they did, were they stark raving mad by rejecting that narcissism while voting for the most singular narcissist on earth since Cleopatra emancipated the eunuchs?  But later we get this.

The genius of Trump’s ‘make America great again’ slogan was that it resonated at multiple levels— with people who saw their jobs and incomes were being eroded along with something even bigger: they felt the values of their America were being stolen, that they were losing their country.

This is the legendary rust-belt of overlooked and under-employed white people.  Trump addressed this kind of sore loser and won.  Both sides played ‘identity politics’, whatever that means. It’s just that the Democrats picked the wrong losers.

This is bullshit as pure as it gets.  Why can’t our press try some comment without abstraction, label, or cliché, based on a verifiable statement of fact?  Let us drop this swagger about ‘political/media class’ and ‘identity politics’ and leave that nonsense to those who go in for polls and focus groups.  Or if you like your politics delivered as broad brushed impressionism, try the following. A brash nouveaux riche oaf, with no brains and less manners, guilefully manipulated by a sinister and fallen member of the elect, got way with enough pure nonsense and outright lies, about scapegoats and their own magical powers, to steal an election by appealing to gullible losers against a washed out dynasty, and although they did not win the popular vote, they just managed to squeak into power, with help from Putin’s secret service and the FBI.

And ‘swagger’ – the  Oxford English Dictionary has ‘external conduct or personal behaviour marked by an air of superiority or defiant or insolent disregard of others… behave with an air of superiority, in a blustering, insolent, or defiant manner; now walk or carry oneself as if among inferiors, with an obtrusively superior or insolent air.’

What a beautiful thing our language is.  Our press should try it more often – and leave the six day old blancmange to the birds.

Poet of the Month: Dante, Inferno, Canto 1.

And never moved she from before my face,
Nay, rather did impede so much my way,
That many times I to return had turned.

The time was the beginning of the morning,
And up the sun was mounting with those stars
That with him were, what time the Love Divine

At first in motion set those beauteous things;
So were to me occasion of good hope,
The variegated skin of that wild beast,

The hour of time, and the delicious season;
But not so much, that did not give me fear
A lion’s aspect which appeared to me.

He seemed as if against me he were coming
With head uplifted, and with ravenous hunger,
So that it seemed the air was afraid of him;

And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings
Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,
And many folk has caused to live forlorn!

Hasta la vista, Bernardi

The state funded Judas routine of Cory Bernardi is a ghastly instance of what is making people sick about the major political parties.  He is spitting in the face of all of those who keep his party alive and who got him elected again to bludge off the rest of us for another six years.  He has been contemplating this treason for years while looking at the mirror.  Nothing has changed since the party got him elected again – except for one thing.  He was given a junket – a rort – to go to New York.  He there spoke to Kellyanne Conway, a leading attack dog prime time liar, and he there saw the end of western civilisation as we know it.  But Cory had an epiphany like that of his sponsor, Andrew Bolt. The second coming was at hand.

It is not surprising that a jerk like Bernardi should fall for a jerk like Trump.  They are both loudly brash, completely brainless, and deeply in love with themselves.  When you look at Trump, you find it hard to imagine any man being more in love with himself – until you see Bernardi. (Trump is at worst when signing orders and holding them up like a preening spoiled five year old child in kindergarten  Show & Tell.) And it is this self-love that makes each of them so brittle to criticism – and that’s a real problem, because they each have so much to criticise. And it is an even worse problem if you keep getting sacked for being a noisy dill.

The Australian had this to say today about our own nauseating egomaniac.

But one colleague is blunt — three-quarters of Bernardi’s motivation is “payback” against Turnbull.

He has never forgiven the Prime Minister for being dumped from the frontbench, and believes Turnbull is under the thumb of senior moderates in the party, including Pyne.

Others are brutal about Bernardi’s motivation, saying he is a “narcissistic egomaniac and a selfish bully” with “delusions of grandeur” that have been stoked by far-right commentators.

They point to comments from Bernardi’s wife, Sinead, who once quipped that their marriage was perfect because they’re “both in love with the same man”.

“Cory obviously has this huge belief in himself,” a source says.

“If you didn’t love a guy who was so in love with himself, you’d have a lot of trouble living with Cory.”

Those attributes show another trait that Bernardi has in common with Trump.  He cannot be a team player – how could a person so in love with himself think of anyone but himself?  Bernardi has not sought to hide his loathing of Turnbull and Pyne.  His attacks on both have been despicable.  The best that Trump and Bernardi can do is sound and light shows.  Trump wants a military parade and golf at Balmoral – and God bless the Speaker of the House of Commons for saying that Trump is not fit to address them; Bernardi started Party meetings with a communal rendering of the National Anthem.  Did they sing with their hands on their hearts, or did they just raise an arm in a salute?

But, sadly, Bernardi is in one respect even worse than Trump.  He claims to have God.  (Trump does, too, but that’s one of his sillier fibs.)  That makes me feel sorry for God.  In the name of heaven, how can a man who claims to follow the teaching of the son of a carpenter seek more freedom to insult and offend blackfellas on account of their race?  In a piece in the AFR this morning, Craig Emmerson referred to the damage done to the Liberal Party by the ‘religious right.’  I agree, but the damage is also in my view being suffered by religion.

It is therefore ironic that the intimation of betrayal should have downplayed news item that was second on the BBC about sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church – that also has the misfortune of hearing Bernardi call himself one of its acolytes.  Analysts say they were shocked to find that seven per cent of Catholic priests were alleged to have been involved in abuse. I think that figure sounds low for a body that denies marriage to its priests.  Yet Bernardi says God makes him deny marriage to others – even if as a result of its denial of marriage to its own, his church has discharged a swamp of evil all its own. You can see now why people’s aversion to politics is matched only by an aversion to religion – it is all very sad.

So, hasta la vista, Bernardi, you rat.  You are there on false pretences, bludging off us again.  As a keen student of the Book, you will know that Judas was decent enough to hand back the thirty pieces of silver, and that he then had the courtesy to hang himself.

Well, at least we were spared the kiss.

Passing Bull 91 – How are the mighty fallen

William Dameron Guthrie was a distinguished American lawyer. He was educated in Paris, London, and at Columbia Law School. He appeared in major cases before the Supreme Court.  He was a Storrs Lecturer at Yale and for many years a Professor of Constitutional Law at Columbia.  He was, I think, a Republican, and a consultant to the Rockefellers.  He is therefore entitled to be called a jurist, a fine lawyer and thinker from the great juristic nation that gave the world Holmes, Cardozo, and Pound. He was plainly of the elite.

In 1916, Guthrie published a collection of addresses and speeches under the title Magna Carta.  I bought it two years ago for the 800th anniversary, but it was only recently, that I looked at it properly.

The first address in the book was given in 1915 on the 700th anniversary of Magna Carta.  In my experience, Americans, or at least the sane and sensible ones, show more veneration for the achievement of Magna Carta than either we or the English do.  As the author remarked, ‘it was Magna Carta that established the greatest of all the English constitutional doctrines, that of the supremacy of the law over every official however high.’  The king is under the law because the law makes the king. Professor Guthrie then referred to the article in the Charter that said that the Crown would ‘appoint as justices, constables, sheriffs, or bailiffs only such as know the law of the realm and mean to observe it well’.  That provision is of course flouted whenever the government makes what are called ‘political appointments’ to the judiciary.

But the comment that really caught my eye is on the first page.

This ceremony must again emphasise the great truth that everything which has power to win the obedience and respect of men must have its roots deep in the past, and that the more slowly institutions have grown, so much the more enduring are they likely to prove.

Although labels are very dangerous, that proposition does seem to stand for much of what I understand the word ‘conservative’ to stand for.  It is certainly a proposition that I would embrace.

The second address concerned The Mayflower Compact, that means so much for Americans, with its reference to ‘just and equal laws.’

Surely, this simple, comprehensive and lofty language, in the style of the Bible open before the Pilgrims, embodies the true and invigorating spirit of our constitutional polity as it flourishes today.

The third address is in my view the most important for our purposes today.  Its title is ‘Constitutional Morality.’  It begins as follows.

The text of this address is taken from Grote’s ‘History of Greece.’ The historian, reviewing the state of Athenian democracy in the age of Cleisthenes, points out that it became necessary to create in the multitude, and through them to force upon the leading men, the rare and difficult sentiment which he terms constitutional morality.  He shows that the essence of this sentiment is self -imposed restraint, that few sentiments are more difficult to establish in a community, and that its diffusion, not merely among the majority, but throughout all classes, is the indispensable condition of a government at once free, stable and peaceable.  Whoever has studied the history of Greece knows that the Grecian democracy was ultimately overthrown by the acts of her own citizens and their disregard of constitutional morality rather than by the spears of her conquerors.

In my view, the collapse of faith in government that we are witnessing across the Western world is in large part linked to the failure to embrace what Professor Guthrie calls ‘constitutional morality’ – and in my view in each of the UK, the US and Australia, it is the parties who like to style themselves as conservative who have been in the vanguard of this collapse.   They have abandoned all ‘self-imposed restraint’.

On the next two pages of that address, this learned jurist makes observations about relying on the ‘people’ that go to the very heart of our present problems.

We are meeting again the oldest and strongest political plea of the demagogue, so often shown to be the most fallacious and dangerous doctrine that has ever appeared among men, that the people are infallible and can do no wrong, that their cry must be taken as the voice of God, and that whatever at any time seems to be the will of the majority, however ignorant and prejudiced, must be accepted as gospel.  The principal battle cry today seems to be that, if the people are now fit to rule themselves, they no longer need any checks or restraints, that the constitutional form of representative government under which we have lived and prospered has become antiquated and unsatisfactory to the masses, and that we should adopt a pure democracy and leave to the majority itself the decision of every question of government or legislation, with the power to enforce its will or impulse immediately and without restraint.

We find many political and social reformers advocating an absolute legislative body, whose edicts, in response to the wishes, interests, or prejudices of the majority, shall at once become binding on all, no matter how unjust or oppressive these edicts may be.

Remember that those remarks were made when Lenin, Mussolini, and Hitler were barely clouds the size of a man’s hand.  Today we are looking at a building called the White House and at a scarcely literate rogue bully who tweets contempt at a federal court for suggesting that the President of the United States should be under the law, a proposition established for the Crown of England more than 800 years ago.  This federal court decision could unhinge this president because it shows that he is not as powerful as he thinks he is.

How are the mighty fallen.  It took us 800 years to build this edifice, but the evidence of last century shows that it can all fall over in a hurry.

Only God knows what the good William Dameron Guthrie would make of all this.

Poet of the month: Dante, Inferno, Canto 1.

Then was the fear a little quieted
That in my heart’s lake had endured throughout
The night, which I had passed so piteously

And even as he, who, with distressful breath,
Forth issued from the sea upon the shore,
Turns to the water perilous and gazes;

So did my soul, that still was fleeing onward,
Turn itself back to re-behold the pass
Which never yet a living person left.

After my weary body I had rested,
The way resumed I on the desert slope,
So that the firm foot ever was the lower.

And lo! almost where the ascent began,
A panther light and swift exceedingly,
Which with a spotted skin was covered o’er!

Passing Bull 90  –  The Validation Fallacy


Does the election of Donald Trump entail that his policies have been validated in some way?  No.  His winning the election means that he did well enough, without winning the popular vote, to be first past the post.  Even if he had won the popular vote, that would not in some way validate his policies.  His win means that more people preferred his case to that of his opponent.  It is like the result of a civil action heard by a jury.  Their verdict does not say what happened in fact – it says that on the balance of probabilities (say, 51 to 49)  they preferred the case of one side to that of the other side.  For this purpose, the jury represents the nation, and in each case the verdict is inscrutable.  We do not enquire about what passed in the jury room, and we have only the haziest notion of what went through the minds of some voters.  For example, we don’t know how many people voted for Donald Trump or against his opponent, but he doubtless got a lot of votes from people who disliked both him and his policies but who disliked even more both his opponent and her policies.

So, Trump has what is called a ‘mandate,’ which the Compact OED says is ‘the authority to carry out a policy regarded as given by the electorate to a party or candidate that wins an election.’  If he has the numbers in all the right places, he can turn his policies into law; if he does not, the mandate evaporates.  The process can get muddy where there are two houses of parliament, or where the executive branch is completely separate from the legislative branch, but in any event the result of an election does not say anything about the validity or goodness of the policies of the winner.  For example, the policies of Adolf Hitler were evil before he became Chancellor, and they remained evil after he became Chancellor.  If anything, they were more evil, because he then had the power to implement them.  But otherwise, the result of the election does not bear on the worth or validity of the policies, and it is wrong to say that people objecting to or protesting against those policies are rejecting or casting doubt on the results of the election.  If you believe that abortion is morally wrong, it does not become morally right just because your side loses an election.

Questions about the legal validity of the election process are of a different order.  An election may be invalid as a matter of law if a mandatory legal process has not been followed.  But the election does not become legally invalid just because the discussion was disturbed undesirably – by, say, the covert action of a foreign power, or the overt action of a government office, either of which obviously helped one side over another – unless that disturbance is itself unlawful, and the law entails that any breach of that law makes the election invalid.  If that extreme case arose, it would not be a case of awarding the win to the runner-up – there would have to be a new election.

These distinctions have not been observed by either side of politics here or in the U S.  People want to say that the policies of Trump are beyond criticism because he won.  That is just wrong for the reasons given, and its wrongness is now demonstrated by the fact that Trump fervently spruiks it.  Trump is what is called a populist who was popular enough to get enough of the popular vote to win.  People can then make their own assessment of the contribution of this exercise in populism to Western civilisation.

In 1936, the two most popular leaders in the world were probably Adolf Hitler and F D Roosevelt – although Hitler, like Trump, did not I think get to 50% in a straight out election contest.  Hitler probably had a higher approval rating than Roosevelt, but both he and his policies remained what they were.

While Trump gets less presidential every day, his assault on truth, sense and courtesy is disorienting the best.  The Wall Street Journal savaged the Muslim ban bit said this:

The larger problem with the order is its breadth. Contrary to much bad media coverage, the order is not a “Muslim ban.” But by suspending all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations, it lets the jihadists portray the order as applying to all Muslims even though it does not. The smarter play would have been simply to order more diligent screening without a blanket ban.

 Is the argument that if there are 15 Muslims in a room, and you only ban 10 of them from leaving it, then you have not imposed a Muslim ban?  That is a simple non sequitur.  And what do the last three words ‘a blanket ban’ mean?

No wonder the bad guys think that all their birthdays have come at once.  A declaration of war on Islam is a gift to them beyond price.

As to the infamous phone call, where the spoiled child became a rabid dog, there are three questions.  If I do a deal with BHP, that is what it is, and a change in governance does not affect it – why is it not the same with a deal with the U S?  Secondly, if the deal is open to renegotiation, will Trump, who doesn’t go for win/win, want troops or warships from us?  Thirdly, what does it tell you about the White House that they think this leak would be good for Trump, including the nonsense about the vote and the crowd?  What does it say about their view of their base?

Well, as Carlyle said of the French Revolution, ‘every dog has his day, even a rabid dog.’

This month’s poet of the month means that the poems of my colleague Chris Wallace-Crabbe have been sandwiched between the poetry of Virgil and Dante.  That’s my doing, not his.

Poet of the month: Dante, The Inferno, Canto 1.

MIDWAY upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

But after I had reached a mountain’s foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,

Upward I looked, and I beheld its shoulders
Vested already with that planet’s rays
Which leadeth others right by every road.

The Nationalists

An occasional series on the new nationalists –  dingoes and drongos like Trump, Farage, and Bernardi – and other Oz twerps.


The Nuremberg Offence in Washington

During the War Crimes trials at Nuremberg, some accused Germans pleaded as a defence to the crimes alleged against them that they were acting under orders.  The court found against what has come to be called the Nuremberg Defence.  You can’t justify a criminal offence by saying that you were merely carrying out orders.  The law prevails over orders, and thank God that is so.

Now Donald Trump has created the Nuremberg Offence.  He believes his orders prevail over the law.  So, when his acting Attorney General expressed a legal view that he did not like, and refused to implement an order she believed to be unlawful, he fired her.  Trump puts his orders above the law.  The last people to do this in England were the Stuart kings.  Trump’s actions have a fascist air about them.  When his first Law Officer did what she saw was her duty to the law, Trump accused her of betrayal.  This is as terrifying as it is nauseating.

Are we too quick to use the terms ‘fascism’ with Trump?  In another time, I sought to explain fascism as follows.

What do I mean by ‘fascism’?  I mean a commitment to the strongest kind of government of a people along overtly militarist and nationalist lines; a government that puts itself above the interests of any or indeed all of its members; a commitment that is driven by faith rather than logic; with an aversion to or hatred of equality, minorities, strangers, women and other deviants; a contempt for liberalism or even mercy; and a government that is prone to symbolism in weapons, uniforms, or its own charms or runes, and to a belief in a charismatic leader. 

The word came originally from the Latin word fasces, the bundle of rods and axe carried before Roman consuls as emblems of authority, and was first applied to the followers of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, and then to the followers of Il Caudillo, Generalissimo Franco, and the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.  Fascists are thick-skinned, thick-headed, and brutal.  They despise intellectuals – who are after all deviants – but they may have an untutored and irrational rat cunning.

As Professor Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University tersely remarks: ‘The whole cocktail is animated by a belief in regeneration through energy and struggle’ (kampf).  To an outsider, it looks like pure moonshine that is the first refuge of a ratbag and a bully, a brilliant and seductive toy for the intellectually and morally deprived, and an eternal warning of the danger of patriotism to people of good sense and good will.  But while that ‘cocktail’ may look a bit much for Plato, it looks fair for Sparta.

It also looks to me to be fair enough for Trump – and certainly so for the vile Stephen Bannon.  We know from history that people like Trump and Bannon almost unforeseeably squeak into power in the vacuum of a loss of faith that follows  a breakdown in world order, and that the times were ripe for the raw nationalism of  those two – and of Farage, Gove, and Johnson – all five of them ratbags of the first degree.

In the meantime, Sean Spicer, a punching bag for a punch drunk bully, continues his assault on language and truth.  Not only is the Executive Order not a Muslim ban, which Trump promised he would give – it is not ban at all.  The Compact OED says a ‘ban’ is ‘an official prohibition’.  Well, that’s what this is – otherwise Uncle Sam will be paying out damages forever.  Unless of course he can persuade the courts that he really is above the law. But the Press Secretary waffles on.  He says it is ‘extreme vetting’ and not a ‘ban’.

Poor Theresa May is now at the cross-roads of two nationalisms.  The nationalism that drove England out of Europe leads her to lean more heavily on the U S which is now in the hands of this nationalist ogre.  And I see in the press that the signs are that Trump will invoke the bullshit of ‘extreme vetting’ to welch on that dirty deal with us.  You would naturally not want to use either the word ‘poetic’ or the word ‘justice’ with Trump, but we shall see.

Meanwhile, the editor of The Australian doesn’t think that Trump issued a ‘Muslim ban’, and three of the most repellent people in Australia – Rowan Dean, Ross Cameron, and Mark Latham – think Trump is wonderful.  The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of what passes for conservatism in this duckpond is as frightening as it is staggering.