[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]



In Ancient Greece there was a practice or rite of casting out someone like a beggar or cripple or criminal in the face of some natural threat or disaster.  There are traces of a far older tradition in Syria when a goat would be invoked in the purification rites for the king’s wedding – a she-goat was driven out into the waste with a silver bell on her neck.  More recently, but before the Greek custom developed, the Old Testament, Leviticus 16:8, said that ‘And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.’  The goat of the Lord was sacrificed, and the high priest by confession transferred the sins of himself and the people to the goat that was permitted to escape in the wilderness – where its fate would depend on what sort of predators it may have to contend with.  There was a form of atonement.  The goat that escaped became the ‘scapegoat.’  The traditions or rites might be said to prefigure the role of the Son of God being offered up to redeem mankind by atoning for its sins.  A scapegoat is one who is punished for the sins of others.  This ancient Middle Eastern rite has become a universal custom involving people rather than goats.

But the term has got much wider than that – a scapegoat now is not just one that has to answer for the sins of others; it has to answer for all the problems and failings of what might be called the host people.  So, in the most gruesome example, the Nazis held the Jews responsible for all the lesions on the German people, moral or economic.  The war had been lost only because of the failings of some generals and because Socialists and Communists had stabbed the nation in the back.  Once the German people got released from the hold of these forces of evil, it could realize its potential for the first time, and nothing could stand in its way.  The German character was not just innately good – it was superior; therefore the reason for any failings had to be found elsewhere.  The notion of scapegoat was vital to the perversion of what passed for thought under Hitler.  It is the natural first base for a weak and insecure person who is a moral coward.  It is also the kind of sloppy thinking that attracts insecure people, edgy commentators and journalists, and weak governments.

Scapegoats played a far smaller role in the French Revolution.  Pitt’s gold – bribes from the British government led by Pitt – came to be a convenient source of all of the discontents of the people, and the aristocracy and church were loathed and attacked.  They had been principal pillars of the ancien regime that had failed and that was being rejected and replaced, and large parts of the aristocracy and of the church were opposed to those seeking to advance the objects of the Revolution.  The émigré royals and nobles were a real and not just imagined threat, or one conjured up for the purposes of propaganda.  The aristocracy was no more of a scapegoat than the clergy.

Nor does it make much sense to look for the role of scapegoats in the Russian Revolution.  The convoluted theories of Marx would lead to serious differences of view upon implementation at the best of times.  They were predicated on classes being in a conflict that was terminal, and the theories had an apocalyptic and prophetic air that commanded an adherence that was most devout among those who did not understand the theories – which meant most Communists, let alone Russians.  To that you must had the cold egomania of Lenin, who hardly gave the theories a chance, and the manic paranoia of Stalin, who could not care less, and you see that it hardly helps us in our inquiries to ask if the kulaks may have been seen as scapegoats.  The thinking that determined who might be targeted by regimes led by Lenin or Stalin – or, for that matter, Mr Putin – may be something that just passes our understanding.

A scapegoat may afford a kind of out for a regime, but suspects are at least a potential threat to it, at least ‘suspects’ in the terms that we are about to see.  There is no reason why one person may not fulfil the criteria of more than one category.  An aristocrat may have passed through a journey in time from being an enemy, to a threat, to a suspect, to a scapegoat.  One of the infamies of Hitler was his treatment of the Jews as scapegoats.  One of the darkest parts of the French Revolution is seen to be the Law of Suspects.

That law did not say that certain acts are criminal – rather it just empowers some people to take some action against some other people without the intervention of a court.  But what is clear is that if you had been refused your Civic Card, or if your Committee did not think that you had steadily manifested your devotion to the Revolution, they could cause you to be arrested and be held in prison indefinitely – without any charge having been made or even any breach of the law alleged; without any evidence having been required, collected, or tendered against the target; and without any intervention from any kind of judicial officer whatsoever.  And all at the expense of the victim.

There is nothing in the law that says that a suspect may be executed or otherwise punished for a breach of the law – it merely says that one class of persons may be detained for the duration, or until the peace.  Some historians have believed that your being a suspect might of itself have led to the guillotine – this may have been so in fact, but not because of this law.  It is not at all uncommon to find a law permitting a government to detain certain kinds of persons in a nation at war.

Nor is there much point in talking about onus of proof.  That notion is hardly determinative if lay people are asking whether they ‘suspect’ someone within the terms of the relevant law.  If someone was charged with an offence, then under the general French law, those bringing the charge had to prove facts sufficient to found a finding of guilt.  That was the theory, but the practice was different – for the most part, there was a kind of presumption of guilt rather than innocence, and a kind of onus fell on the prisoner to ‘beat the charge.’  There was a sense that the prosecutor, judge, and jury were all on the same team, and someone on the outer had real trouble getting back into safety.

When the accused were tried, each found himself involved in vague charges, based on a casual word here, or a piece of gossip started by some malicious neighbour – charges which it was pointless to disprove in detail, but which in total were fatal.

In The Russian Revolution, Sheilah Fitzpatrick said this: ‘Suspicion of enemies – in the pay of foreign powers, involved in constant conspiracies to destroy the revolution and inflict misery on the people is a standard feature of the revolutionary mentality that Thomas Carlyle captured vividly in the passage on the Jacobin Terror of 1794…..In normal circumstances, people reject the idea that it is better that ten innocent men perish than that one guilty man go free; in the abnormal circumstances of revolution, they often accept it.  Prominence is no guarantee of security in revolutions; rather the contrary.  That the Great Purges uncovered so many ‘enemies’ in the guise of revolutionary leaders should come as no surprise to students of the French Revolution’.

As the French say, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Here and there – One genius on another


By common consent, Isaac Newton was a genius.  He was born on Christmas Day, 1642.  There were obvious difficulties in celebrating the 500th anniversary of that event.  Instead, the Royal Society put on a week-long celebration in July 1946 at Trinity College Cambridge – the college where Newton had spent so much of his life and where he wrote Principia Mathematica. 

John Maynard Keynes went to King’s College, Cambridge.  He too, by common consent, was a genius – and only gnats straining at a camel (to quote someone expelled from University College, Oxford) would seek to compare or contrast the two.  Keynes would have experienced a special problem in celebrating Newton in 1942.  He travelled with the English delegation to Versailles after the First World War.  He was so outraged by the conduct of the Allies that he went back home and in something like white heat wrote a masterpiece of polemic – The Economic Consequences of the Peace.  In that book he forecast in precise detail why that peace would drive Germany to bankruptcy and to seek merciless revenge.  If you want to know precisely why World War II came about, you need do no more than read that book and Mein Kampf.  It is all there.

But although successive governments had ignored his advice, Keynes led the way during the war in funding it.  Then, after the war, he had to deal with American emissaries who were neither kind nor pleasant about repaying the debt.  The effort killed him.  It is not silly to say that Keynes gave his life for his country.  He was a man of uncommon devotion, not just to his country, but to his school, Eton, and to his college, King’s College at Cambridge.  So, when he heard that Newton’s papers were going up for sale, he intervened personally to buy a large selection and index it.  On the basis of that work, he wrote a paper Newton, the Man in 1942He died before the Tercentenary Celebrations in 1946, but the paper was read by his brother, and you can get it in a slim but handsomely bound volume of those proceeding published by the Royal Society in 1947.  A reference to that paper in a biography of Newton that I re-read recently led me to acquire a copy of that volume – mainly so I could read the paper of Keynes, a man I admire so much.

In taking science away from the theories of Descartes, Newton explored three fields to lay the foundations of modern science – the calculus, the nature of white light, and universal gravitation and its consequences.  The first substantive speaker at the Celebrations said that ‘Einstein’s innovations were less revolutionary to his time than Newton’s were to his.’  Einstein had said that ‘Nature to him [Newton] was an open book whose letters he could read without effort.  In one person, he combined the experimenter, the theorist, the mechanic, and, not least, the artist in expression.’  Newton said, at one time or another:

Philosophy is such an impertinently litigious Lady, that a man as good be engaged in lawsuits, as have do with her.  I found it so formerly, and now I am no sooner come near her again, but she gives me warning…..the cause of gravity is what I do not pretend to know…..I do not deal in conjectures….I do not know what I might appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy, playing on a seashore, and diverting myself, in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

Voltaire said to a man who had measured the equator in order to verify a calculation of Newton:

Vous avez trouvé par de long ennuis

Ce que Newton trouva sans sortir chez lui.

(Roughly: ‘After great troubles you found what Newton found without leaving home.’)

The citation from Keynes that first caught my eye read:

Newton was not the first of the age of reason.  He was the last of the magicians, the last of the Babylonians and Sumerians, the last great mind which looked out on the visible and intellectual world with the same eyes as those who began to build our intellectual inheritance rather less than 10,000 years ago.  Isaac Newton, a posthumous child born with no father on Christmas Day 1642 was the last wonder-child to whom the Magi could do sincere and appropriate homage.

Later, Keynes said:

For in vulgar modern terms, Newton was profoundly neurotic of a not unfamiliar type, but – I should say from the records – a most extreme example.  His deepest instincts were occult, esoteric, semantic – with profound shrinking from the world, a paralysing fear of exposing his thoughts, his beliefs his discoveries in all nakedness to the inspection and criticism of the world.  ‘Of the most fearful, cautious and suspicious temper that ever I knew’, said Whiston, his successor in the Lucasian Chair.’……Why do I call him a magician?  Because he looked on the whole universe and all that is in it as a riddle, as a secret which could be read by applying pure thought to certain evidence, certain mystic clues which God had laid about the world to allow a sort of philosopher’s treasure hunt to the esoteric brotherhood…..He regarded the universe as a cryptogram set by the Almighty…..

Newton was a magician in another sense.  He was fascinated by alchemy and the occult.  He believed that truths could be sought in alchemy and in papers and traditions handed down by the brethren in a kind of apostolic succession from the original cryptic revelation in Babylon.  Some scientists have been scandalised by these preoccupations of the great man.  A bit of hushing up was in order – as was the case with Newton’s denial of the Trinity.  Of the papers that Keynes obtained, he said:

Another large section is concerned with all branches of apocalyptic writings from which he sought to deduce the secret truths of the Universe – the measurements of Solomon’s Temple, the Book of David, the Book of Revelations…..Along with this are hundreds of pages of Church History and the like, designed to discover the truth of tradition.  A large section, judging by the handwriting amongst the earliest,  relates to alchemy – transmutation of philosopher’s stone, the elixir of life.  The scope and character of these papers have been hushed up or at least minimised by nearly all those who inspected them…..

…..But there are also extensive records of experiments.  I have glanced through a quantity of this – at least 100,000 words, I should say.  It is utterly impossible to deny that it is wholly magical and wholly devoid of scientific value; and also impossible not to admit that Newton devoted years of work to it.

Well, being a genius doesn’t mean that you are not human, and the timber of humanity is not straight.  Keynes had been a thoroughly queer member of ‘The Apostles’ but he later settled into sedate married life with a Russian ballerina.  He would say that Newton was walking ‘with one foot in the Middle Ages and one foot treading a path for modern science.’  And who is to say that Newton’s penchant for fads about the medieval and the occult did not serve to grease the cogs in his brain and imagination and help to direct him to walk along paths and byways not even guessed at before?  The inscription at Westminster Abbey reads: ‘Let mortals rejoice that such and so great an ornament of the human race has existed’.

The English have a knack of getting the most out of their geniuses.  Newton and Keynes both studied mathematics at Cambridge.  They would also have two other things in common.  Both served their nation on matters of finance at the highest level – Newton as Master of the Mint, and Keynes as the man who financed England in World War II.  Then, each had to survive a financial crisis that wiped out so many people – the South Sea Bubble and the Great Crash and Depression – but each died a very wealthy man.

Keynes concluded his remarks on the papers of Newton as follows:

As one broods over these queer collections, it seems easier to understand – with an understanding which is not, I hope, distorted in the other direction – this strange spirit, who was tempted by the devil to believe at the time when within these walls he was solving so much, that he could reach all the secrets of God and Nature by the pure power of mind – Copernicus and Faustus in one.

Passing Bull 134 – Useless words


It was a comfort to see government moving to try to do something about the scourge of gambling.  The gaming industry may not be the killers of the tobacco companies, but they live off the earnings that they derive from wrecking lives.  They are evil.  They also ruin the TV coverage of sporting events with blanket advertising designed by crooks to appeal to idiots.  That is now the modus operandi made famous by Donald Trump.  They also employ the technique of Saint Ignatius Loyola and McDonald’s – get’em young enough and you have them for life.  There is now a whole generation of people conditioned to associate any sport or contest with gambling – and they all carry around an SP bookie and a totalisator in their pockets.  It’s a deadly cocktail, an ugly dance between thieves and fools.

And what have we done so far?  We have insisted that they put out the message: ‘Gamble responsibly.’  That’s even less use than ‘Shag safely’ or ‘Drink in moderation’, or the source of a political ad, spat out at you with the speed of Bren gun.  It’s also an insult to our intelligence and a confession not just of failure but of helplessness and the never ending mediocrity of our politics.

It was also a comfort to see the AFL doing something about the reliance of so many of its clubs on income derived from gaming, and poker machines in particular.  You don’t see too many brain surgeons or nuclear physicists queuing up to give their money away to machines that are programmed to give back a fixed amount less than what they receive.  It is, frankly, hard to see how a club can call itself the ‘Family Club’ when it depends on income derived from bringing misery to families.  I am not blind to economics, but I can’t see why the AFL could not put in place a program to ensure that after, say, ten years, it will be ‘clean’.

The financial press, and at least one shareholder, did not take comfort from the CBA announcement of its new CEO, an in-house appointment of a man who was in charge of retail banking.  The Editor of the AFR wondered if the decision was ‘crazy brave or just plain crazy.’  Many, it seems, had hoped for new eyes to look over the wreckage that was a main propellant of the Royal Commission and that made Mr Narev one of the most unloved figures in Australian public life.  Instead, the new old boy put on a Keystone Cops performance for the press, and the Chair, Catherine Livingstone said, with her best Presbyterian headmistress mien:

With Matt [Comyn’s] appointment today, the board believes we are delivering renewal and change, but change that will build on the many strengths of the organisation that have been enhanced or introduced on Ian’s watch,…The board’s main priorities in selecting the new CEO were to identify the candidate who will … transform the business and adapt the organisational capability and culture.

For some reason, that reminds me of Theresa May talking about Brexit, or a geography teacher talking about weather patterns in a Patagonian autumn.  Do you not think that we shareholders – yes, dear reader, I am one of them – could at least have been spared a reminder of ‘Ian’s watch’?  That’s about as sensitive as asking Adam if he still thinks it was a good idea to follow his squeeze and partake of the apple.  But, as bullshit goes, this is as refined a grain as you find.  And it does suggest that only one thing matters for the directors who manage the business of our banks – profit.  Greed remains good.

By contrast, the CEO of another bank found his bank’s submission to the Royal Commission ‘confronting.’  You would think that they may have learned from the scandals that led to another Royal Commission.  What inflames ordinary people is just what gets up the noses of sentencing judges – the absence of remorse.  One of the factors that distinguish clergymen from bank executives is the rate of pay – about ten thousand per cent, say.

Nor was it a comfort to be reminded that Stephen Conroy now fronts for the gaming industry.  In addition to collecting the pension that you and I pay him, he now gets filthy lucre for spreading misery among his fellow Australians.  Is it not time that these double-dipping racecourse touts, bludgers, layabouts, and urgers were brought to heel?




[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]


Popular courts and show trials

The phrase ‘popular justice’ is usually a contradiction in terms – a ‘show trial’ is generally all show and little or no trial.  Two elements are essential to our conception of due process or natural justice.  The body hearing and determining a legal dispute must be neutral and not have an interest in the outcome issue that might prejudice its hearing; and it must give an equal opportunity to both sides to be heard on the issue.  Instances of popular justice and show trials commonly violate each of those precepts quite shamelessly.

A popular court nowadays is likely to be a descendant of the posse, either the medieval common law version or that which was popular in the Wild West, and the lynch mob.  Their political counterparts now are opinion polls and shock jocks, those two forces that demean all decency in democracy.  Just as our politicians now are seen not to act on principles but to respond merely to what people want at the time, so a popular court will be seen, and most likely be welcomed in being seen, to be acting not according to law, but merely to respond to what people want at the time.

The problem can be seen in the term ‘enemy of the people.’  It is ‘the people’ who make that allegation, and if it is ‘the people’ which hears it, then the mere laying of the charge – that in effect says that ‘you are against us’ – just about proves any case, because ‘we’ are gainst ‘you’.  If in a time of conflict, a government says that it is entitled at law to apprehend anyone who is seen to be against or is suspected of being against it, the issue of whether that person has been lawfully apprehended is also effectively answered.  If the only penalty or remedy for being apprehended in that condition is death, then any hearing on any aspect is likely to be at best perfunctory.

The problem is the same if the criterion is being anti – or counter-revolutionary.  Those bringing the charge are those who claim to be behind and to represent the revolution.  The object of the revolution is to do good for the people.  It follows that someone who is against the revolution is against the people.  If you accept the premises, the logic is sound; shock jocks and the gutter press – the descendants of Marat and Goebbels – trade on it all the time.

What you see a lot of in a police state is people who become outlaws – people who are outside the law or beyond the protection of the law.  This was a major part of the enforcement of the law for our Anglo-Saxon ancestors.  A criminal taken in the act was without more an outlaw.  The issue is not whether he has committed a crime, but whether he has become an outlaw, which was effectively a sentence of death.

People making a revolution will want to invoke people’s courts because they claim to stand for the people, and because they say that the people can be relied on to meet current needs better than the old-fashioned and cumbrous system of the judges which was designed to protect the status quo and to shield the guilty.

The Paris Commune asked the Assembly for a revolutionary tribunal.  One deputation said said: ‘The Commune has deputed us to ask for the decree on the court-martial.  If it is not passed, our mission is to wait until it is.’  Robespierre said: ‘If the maintenance of the peace, and above all, of liberty, depends on the punishment of guilty men, you must secure the machinery for this.  Since the 10th [August, 1792, that set up the Paris Commune] the people’s just desire for vengeance has not yet been satisfied….Those men who have covered themselves with the mask of patriotism in order to kill it, those men who affected the language of legality in order to overthrow all the laws….’(Applause.)

The French did not really go in for show trials during the Terror.  A show trial is not a trial at all.  It is a sham.  A trial involves reaching a decision on an issue.  That does not happen in a show trial – the decision on guilt has already been taken by people in government who have the power, either by law or in fact, to take and enforce that decision.  The ‘trial’ is a show for the benefit of the regime, a propaganda exercise to demonise the culprit and to lionise themselves.  It is little like a triumph celebrated by a conquering Roman general on returning victorious to Rome – you humiliate the vanquished as part of the bread and circuses that you feed to the masses; that makes them feel better and it makes you look good.

Hitler saw himself like a Roman emperor or Turkish Caliph, or perhaps, in a lesser moment, as a medieval English king, the source of all law, justice, and authority.  His principal weapon in gaining and maintaining power, the Gestapo, was beyond the reach of the law.  The trial after the burning of the Reichstag was a show trial that flopped.  The court gave a considered judgment.  Having been harangued by Goring, the court concluded that the Communist Party had planned the fire, but that there was insufficient evidence to justify a conviction of the Communists before it.  Hitler and Goring were outraged.  Was not their word good enough?  ‘Treason’ cases were transferred to a special People’s Court by a decree of 24 April 1934.  It dealt with ‘political’ offences.  The decree provided that it should proceed according to National Socialist principles.  Like the French Revolutionary Tribunal, it started slowly but it then picked up speed.  If the Gestapo did not like a result, they would put the released culprit into ‘protective custody,’ or just shoot them.

It is not just Germans who should reflect on these questions.  Lawyers from what used to be East Germany had to face similar questions after the Wall came down in 1989.  These are not easy issues for lawyers or judges who have never been exposed to a regime like this to pass some kind of judgment on.  In April 1933, the Civil Service Law applied to all magistrates and got rid of not just those who were racially undesirable, but those who were politically undesirable – anyone who ‘indicated that he was no longer prepared to intercede at all times for the National Socialist State.’  A Civil Service law of January 1937 called for the dismissal of all officials, including judges, for ‘political unreliability.’ Defence lawyers appearing before the People’s Court or Special Court had to be approved by Nazi officials.  How many lawyers will put their hands on their heart and say that they would have refused to accept such sanctions?

There is not much point in looking at the Russian justice system since Russia has never had a justice system in the European sense of that term.  The Russians have never acquired any sense of the rule of law.  They have gone from the absolute rule of the Tsars to the absolute rule of the Communists to the present uncomely collage of a tolerated corrupt despotism and a subservient legal system.  The very idea of a judiciary was quaint; that of a separate and independent judiciary was absurd.  Yet a man as cruel and paranoid as Stalin would not be able to resist the idea of a show trial, just as Hitler would want to see the frightful death throes of people convicted of trying to kill him – when they were filmed being left to die by strangulation while suspended by piano wire.  One historian says of the show trials: ‘This is revolutionary terror with a difference; one feels the hand of a director, if not an auteur.’

There were clusters of show trials where the accused appeared to make confessions that many found less than convincing.  However, many people outside wanted to believe in the process until the whole regime was unmasked by Khrushchev in the 1950’s.  It is another indication that people believe what they want to believe.

Passing Bull 133 – The agony of CNN


The President of the United States might allow us to add the concept of ‘worst man’ to that of best man.  It’s hard – very hard – to think of anyone less suited to his office.  (Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller?  How could an Almighty be so peevish as to put three such unlovely people in the one room at the same time?)  This gives journalists a problem.  How do we maintain a balance in reporting on a man who seems bent on outstripping himself in nastiness every time he opens his mouth?

CNN is up there with The New York Times as a bête noire of this president.  Given his historically great unpopularity, this would suggest that these two arms of the media are just doing their job.  (It does make you wonder how a politician elected on what is said to be a ‘populist’ ticket can get to be so unpopular.)  But, each of these reporting bodies is respectable, and each therefore may feel acutely the problem of balance.

CNN has in my view come up with the worst possible solution in segments broadcast from Los Angeles anchored by two very sensible and professional journalists, Isha Sesay and John Vause (one of whom is a graduate from Trinity College, Cambridge).  In a nation overloaded with qualified neutral commentators, such as the splendid professor from Loyola Law School who appears on this segment, CNN has inflicted on these two journalists the job of trying to extract sense from sundry partisan spin doctors – one giving Republican spin and the other giving Democrat spin.  Some at least have the grace to blush occasionally, but you will see immediately one problem – in the events that have happened, what, if anything, do Republicans believe in?

The more significant problem is that what drives most people mad is the polarised spruiking and preaching of soi disant politicians and members of the press.  It’s called tribalism.  The ultimate bogey man is Fox News.  (The Murdoch outfit down here, Sky News, is not as bad, but they are working on their game and they may catch up with the U S model.)  The worst of the lot are what are called spin doctors.

But they are precisely what CNN is inflicting on these two fine journalists – and me.  It’s an insult to them, and it’s an insult to me.  If you wanted an analysis of a contest between the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots, you wouldn’t set up a panel consisting of one-eyed desperadoes from the cheer squads of each side.  That would really get up our noses.  What light could be shed by those galahs?

But that is what we get here – cheer squads.  And to show their credentials as spin doctors, we are greeted by men with drop-down smiles like those of Barack Obama, or those that were painted on to the faces of what used to be called air hostesses.  One is so inane that he has no recourse but to giggle at himself – nervously and guiltily.  And there is much reason for both the nerves and the guilt.  The poor man sounds demented at times, as when he raves on about Hillary and Nazis.

It is deeply troubling to watch people grin about something like Charlottesville, Roy Moore, or shitholes.  But that’s what we get – until we turn it off in disgust.  If the object has been to show that the Republicans stand for nothing, or that the average American voter is easily duped, the segment has prospects.  Otherwise it is even worse than morning television.  In an effort to convey an impression of balance, CNN has brought itself into disrepute.

Whether or not this kind of thing finds favour in America, it is doubly offensive down here.  If we want partisan humbug, we can turn on Fox News.  But to get access to either CNN or Fox News, we have to pay a hefty monthly premium to a Murdoch entity that has the rights here.  So, in return for paying Murdoch a fee to enable us to avoid polarised claptrap, CNN is inflicting just that on us poor but suspecting Australians.

The issue came to a head the other night – our time – when Isha Sesay was getting the usual brush-off from a sour-pussed Republican about African shitholes.  Ms Sesay was moved to announce that she is African and that words matter.  That led to another zany pre-recorded political speech.  We pay our premium to get accurate news and fair comment.  This process serves to annihilate both.

This may just be Rupert’s ultimate revenge, but it is so sad that a respectable broadcaster is his accomplice.  It is silly to pile inanity on inanity.


Here and there – The tiresome irrelevance of our national day


On 5 November, 1963, President Kennedy sought to unite the rival claims to Thanksgiving Day of Virginia and Massachusetts, and of the harvest and God.  There had long been secular thanksgivings in Europe; then the new Americans gave thanks to their God.  They started in 1619.

On 4 July 1776, the American colonies declared their independence from Britain.  Their Declaration of Independence said that all men were equal.

On 26 January 1788, the English claimed to own what is now called Australia.  White officers hoisted an English flag and drank porter to toast the Crown.  They had come to open a jail.  A few days later, the women came ashore; the sailors hit the rum; and their pandemonium was an orgy.

On 14 July 1789 the Paris mob stormed the Bastille, the symbol of the ancien régime and feudal Europe.  Then they promulgated their Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The Americans and the French celebrate these days.  Why wouldn’t Americans celebrate the cream of the old world making a brave new world under God?  Why wouldn’t the French celebrate the birth of their freedom and a proclamation that stands with the Declaration of Independence?  These are days of national identity.  But why would Australians want to celebrate the English dumping their scum on this God-forsaken land?

True, these latter-day patriots are like one-eyed Collingwood supporters.  The Puritans were a minority in England, but in America they had the numbers, and the intolerant will to use them.  They gave us Salem and a gritty determination not to pity those who had failed.  The Declaration’s reference to ‘equality’ was a bare-faced lie.  The Founding Fathers were patrician slave-owners.  They disdained commoners and they loathed democracy.  Their war of separation saw terrorism and atrocities.  The atonement for slavery only began with the next Civil War.  It goes on still.

Terrorism was inherent in the French Revolution from day one.  The mob wanted to burn to death a woman believed to be the daughter of the Bastille’s governor before his eyes.  Instead they paraded their victims’ severed heads.  France would know a ghoulish Daesh style depravity.  Napoleon brought order – and the Empire and aristocracy – and more than five million dead in his endless wars.  It took France a century to get over it all.  Their anthem still celebrates ‘Aux armes!’

Both America and France, then, paid a fearful price in blood for their ennobling Declarations.

But we can understand the American and French national days.  The West sees the triumph of the Enlightenment in each revolution.  In Washington on the ‘fourth’ and in Paris on Bastille Day, you might even sense something sacred in the buzz.  But who gets a charge out of opening a slammer?

That’s why some down here can’t get excited about Australia Day.  If anything, its ineptitude seems to be sadly Australian.  But there is more to our queasiness.

First, we can’t have our Independence Day because we are not independent.  We need Britain for our head of state.  We started out under the English Crown and we are still under it.  Should we still celebrate our self-imposed immaturity?  Should we thank God that after 200 years, we still can’t stand on our own two feet?  Or should we not feel humiliated?  And are not those who are loudest in proclaiming the glory of Australia Day on 26 January also the loudest in saying that we should retain our dependence on Britain?

Next, and relatedly, these same people are our own eternal no sayers.  They don’t want change.  I do.  I’m desperate to see us grow up.  But our patriots for 26 January are often against equality, at least in marriage, and against sense, at least on climate, energy and the environment.

Finally, boat people had arrived here before the First Fleet, but how ironic is it that the people determined to celebrate these English boat people are also the most determined to shut out the refugees we demonise as boat people?  Human history has a mean streak that we saw after both the American and French revolutions.  Those who make it into the club want to slam the door hard in the face of those left outside.  It’s dreadful to see migrant nations doing that to refugees.

This conflict between the older, meaner, and more fearful, and the younger, warmer, and more hopeful reminds us of the sad schism of Brexit.  And here, perhaps, is the foundation-stone of our mediocrity and of our fear of the new.

That’s why some Australians can’t take seriously Australia Day on 26 January.  And that’s without one word about the blackfellas.  Or the Honours List.  Or that glorious day at Cambridge University when a lecturer of colour referred to our first white boat people as ‘water-borne parasites.’




[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]



After Osip Pianitsky was arrested on the night of 7 July 1937, his wife Julia would in desperation ask what she really knew of him, although both of them had been active and senior in the Party.  She was not of course told where he was or why he had been arrested, or even if he was alive.  He was nearly twenty years older than her.  At the age of sixteen, she ran away from home to enrol as a nurse in the Russian army.  She married a general who was lost in action in 1917.  In the Civil War, she joined the Bolsheviks, and worked as a spy in the Red Army.  Her cover was lost, and she was lucky not to be shot.  She just made it to Moscow, and then she had a nervous breakdown.  She was in hospital when she met Osip.

Osip was something of a professional revolutionary.  When he married Julia, he was the Secretary of the Central Committee at Moscow.  He then went to Comintern, the international office of the party.  He was so tied up with his work that he did not see much of their sons Igor (born in 1921) and Vladimir (born in 1925).  This caused stress with Julia.  She thought that the party was getting too bourgeois and that it was under a dictator.  Sometimes Osip would be moved to say ‘Keep your voice down, Julia’.  In the 1930’s, Osip did not like the direction that  the party was taking outside Russia – he, like Trotsky, believed in a world revolution, and he thought that Russia had withdrawn into itself.  This was not the view of Stalin who had become very suspicious of Comintern.

In June 1937, Osip Pianitsky made a speech to the Plenum of the Central Committee.  He accused the NKVD of fabricating evidence.  Depending on your point of view, this was either heroic or suicidal.  When Osip finished, the hall was dead silent.  On instructions from Stalin, Molotov and others asked Osip to withdraw the statement and to save his life.  Osip said that he knew the consequences, but he said that he had to stand firm for his ‘conscience as a Communist’, and for the purity of the party.  The next day Yezhov, the NKVD chief, said that Osip Pianitsky was a Tsarist spy sent by capitalists to infiltrate the Comintern.  A censure motion was passed with three abstentions.

The NKVD arrived before midnight a few days later.  Yezhov was there personally to make the arrest.  Julia started to swear and scream at them, and Osip apologised to them for her.  When they left, Julia fainted.  While she was at work the next day, they broke into her apartment, and seized just about everything.  His office was sealed with wax.

Julia did not know where her husband was being held until his trial.  He was moved to Lefortovo prison in April 1938 until he was tried in July.  He was systematically tortured every night.  One hundred and thirty-eight prisoners were tried in one day by the Military Tribunal on charges of leading a Fascist spy-ring of Trotskyists and being Rightists in the Comintern.  Yezhov sent Stalin a list of those convicted.  According to Orlando Figes, from whose work this story is drawn, that list is preserved in the Kremlin Presidential Archives.  It has a handwritten annotation: ‘Shoot all 138.  I. St[alin].  V. Molotov.’  Osip Pianitsky therefore died well before Stalin and Molotov completed their pact with Adolf Hitler.

When Osip was arrested, Julia and her sons were evicted from their home and ostracized by friends and party members.  She sought out old friends in the party, and a friend of Osip for thirty years.  No one wanted to know them – it was too dangerous to be seen with anyone who had been even near to someone who had been arrested.  The housekeeper of the old friend rejected her: ‘He is afraid.  He will throw me out if he sees you here.  He told me to tell you that he does not know you’.  Her sons, Igor and Vladimir, were abandoned by their friends.  Vladimir was taunted and bullied at school.

Julia did not know what to believe when Osip was arrested.  What had made him do it?  The boys were angry.  The sixteen year old Igor was isolated from his mates in Komsomol.  The twelve year old Vladimir blamed his father for ruining his dreams of the Red Army.  A teacher told him his father was an enemy of the people and that it is ‘now your duty to decide your relation toward him.’  Vladimir fought with his mother.  When she declined to write to Yezhov about a toy gun the NKVD had taken, he said: ‘It is a shame they have not shot Papa, since he is an enemy of the people.’  When they had an argument about his marks at school, Julia said that it showed that he was the son of an enemy of the people.’  Vladimir said he did not want her as his mother anymore and would go to an orphanage.

Igor was arrested on 9 February 1938.  Two soldiers took him from school and put him in Butykri jail.  This was too much for Julia who had another breakdown.  She longed for suicide, but wanted to keep on for her sons.  ‘It would be best to die.  ‘But that would leave my Vovka (Vladimir) and Igor without a human being in the world.  I am all that they have, and that means that I must fight to stay alive.’

When Igor was put in Butykri jail, neither he nor his mother knew that his father Osip was there.  Osip’s cell was crowded – it had been built for twenty-five but it held sixty-seven.  Osip had on his face the marks left by the belt of an interrogator.  A colleague found him a ‘thin and crooked old man’ (of fifty-six) whose eyes ‘betrayed an immense spiritual suffering.’

Julia did not know that he was in that jail when she joined the queues outside the gates to hand in a parcel for her son Igor.  The longer Osip was away, the harder it was for Julia to believe in him.  She of course did not know that he was transferred to Lefortovo prison.

Julia decided that it was too late to do anything for Osip, but not for Igor.  She decided to renounce her husband to try to save her son.  She spoke to a prosecutor.  He said that Osip had committed a serious crime against the state.  ‘If so, he means nothing to me.’  She said she wanted to work for the NKVD.  He encouraged her to make a formal application, and said that he would support it.

In May, Igor was charged with organizing a counter-revolutionary student group.  This was too outrageous even for that ‘court’, but they gave him five years in a soviet labour camp on the lesser charge of anti-Soviet agitation.  (In 1941, he got another five years, and when he got out in Leningrad in 1948, he was arrested again, and got another five years of which he served eight.)  Julia was told of the conviction of Igor on 27 May 1938.  She was beside herself.  She demanded that the prosecutor arrest her as well.  ‘If he is guilty, so am I.’ That was, perhaps, the truth.

Julia was arrested on 27 October 1938.  She was thirty-nine.  Her diary was of course seized.  The NKVD used it to convict her of conspiring with her husband.  She was sent to Kandalaksha in the far north of Murmansk.  Vladimir – then aged about thirteen – was sent with her.  He was ill, and was getting over surgery.  He was taken from his bed.  He was kept in the barracks and fed twice a day by an NKVD guard while she worked on the Niva-GES hydro-electric station near the camp.  We shall come back later to the story of Julia and Vladimir Pianitsky.

Here and there – Two sanctimonious politicians


Medieval kings had to rule as well as reign.  They had to be much more like our politicians than our modern kings.  Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V, father and son, provide studies in the dark arts and crafts of politics that throw light on the behaviour of our politicians of today.  They also provide a contrast in sanctimony, that is, a pretended or affected decency.  These rulers smack of hypocrisy, and being other than what they seem.  It’s this two-facedness that gets on our quince with our politicians, and the sanctimony here extends over two generations and four plays.

The character of Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) in Richard II is opaque.  He never soliloquizes, and we do not get a window into his mind.  Was he a born schemer before the time of Machiavelli, so that the Crown came to him –

But as an honour snatched with a boisterous hand.  (2 Henry IV, 4.5.191)

Or did Bolingbroke just go with the flow so –

That I and greatness were compelled to kiss.  (2 Henry IV, 3.1.74)

The question is open, and we are left with the impression that Bolingbroke is somehow hollow.  And with an author like this, you don’t treat that result as an accident.

But when he attains the crown, King Henry IV gets to upbraid his son for his ways, and we get a clear insight into the politics of this man.  This is a man-to-man chat and we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the speaker.  The father tells the son how Richard II lost his crown.  He did so because he debased its currency by taking up with low life.

The skipping King, he ambled up and down

With shallow jesters and rash bavin wits,

Soon kindled and soon burnt; carded his state,

Mingled his royalty with capering fools…

Enfeoffed himself to popularity,

That, being daily swallowed by men’s eyes,

They surfeited with honey and began

To loathe the taste of sweetness…..(I Henry IV, 3.2.60-72)


How apt do those last four lines seem for Donald Trump?  The first line – ‘Enfeoffed himself to popularity’ – might be translated ‘Hocked his soul to Fox News.’  But this description of Richard II, which is fair, applies equally to the conduct of Prince Hal, the heir to the throne.

What then is the sage advice of this seasoned politician who is the father of the miscreant prince?  Make yourself scarce and then put on a front.

By being seldom seen, I could not stir

But like a comet I was wondered at…..

And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,

And dressed myself in such humility

That I did pluck allegiance from men’s hearts…..

Thus did I keep my person fresh and new,

My presence, like a robe pontifical,

Ne’er seen but wondered at; and so my state,

Seldom but sumptuous, showed like a feast

And won by rareness such solemnity.  (I Henry IV, 3.2.46-59)

As Bolingbroke, he may not have followed this policy to the letter.  The king he deposed had observed ‘his [Bolingbroke’s] courtship to the common people’ – even to the point of doffing his bonnet to an oyster-wench.  (Richard II, 1.4.24-31)

But we know that young Hal has already worked out a similar trick for himself.

I know you all, and will awhile uphold

The unyoked humour of your idleness.

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,

Who doth permit the base contagious clouds

To smother up his beauty from the world,

That when he please again to be himself,

Being wanted he may be more wondered at….

So when this loose behaviour I throw off

And pay the debt I never promised,

By how much better than my word I am

By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes.  (I Henry IV, 1.2.182 – 205)


Hal parades as one of the boys, one of the people, but it’s all a game, and a game for his benefit only.  This spoiled royal brat is just a user. ‘When I am King of England, I shall command all the good lads in Eastcheap … I can drink with any tinker in his own language.’ (I Henry IV, 2.4.10-20)  But when the game has served its purpose, these human toys, of whom the prince had spoken with such disgust, may be discarded.  The young prince takes people under him into his trust and confidence, knowing that he will then break that trust – because as king he will have to let Falstaff and the rest of the motley go.  It’s one thing to meet the people; it’s another to sow wild oats before becoming weighed down by care – as we are reminded by some reluctant younger members of the royal family now; but it is altogether a different thing to take up and discard your future subjects when it suits you.

Young Hal is a rat and he knows it.  There is something revoltingly clever about a young man wanting to be seen to be paying a debt he never promised.  You may not want a guy like that standing behind you at a grouse shoot.  When they are play-acting, Falstaff says: ‘Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.’  Hal says, quietly: ‘I do, I will.’  (Part I, 2.4.480-1)  When his father accuses Hal of being ‘common’, Hal says: ‘I shall hereafter … Be more myself.’ (Part I, 3.2.92)  When he casts off Falstaff and the whole Eastcheap crowd – the common people – King Henry V does so with one of the coldest lines of this author, a passage that so upset A C Bradley.  The new king went on to say:

Presume not that I am the thing I was

For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,

That I have turned away my former self

So will I those that kept me company

When thou dost hear that I am as I have been

Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast

The tutor and the feeder of my riots.  (Part II, 5.57-64)


So, the new king is saying that he has changed from his former self. But that was not true. As a prince, Hal had only pretended to engage in the gutter – until he allowed his sun to dissipate the clouds.  He had not changed – he had merely dropped the front.

That story might pass in the Court, but it could not do in Eastcheap.  There they said that ‘the King has killed his heart’, the heart of Falstaff (Henry V, 2.1.91) and the King has ‘run bad humors on the knight’ whose heart was broken. (Henry V, 2.1.125-127)

Even if Eastcheap merely thought that the king killed the heart of Falstaff, it knew that he had endorsed the execution of Bardolph.  Bardolph was hanged for blasphemy – stealing plate from a church.  The pious King says that he will not have ‘the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language.’  (Henry V, 3.6.115-116).  And another sometime mate, or pretended mate, goes under, in order that this king can prove his chivalry to his enemy.

There is something both cold and calculating about each these two politicians, father and son.  They are both two faced, but there is something very chilling about the duplicitous cold-bloodedness of the son.  How do you warm to a man who treats his confidants with less heart than he would show to a stray Tom?  Someone compared the prince to a clever shopkeeper who ‘knows how to display the merchandise of his behavior.’  And in the next play, we will see that that this duplicity runs in the family – the brother Prince John will unload an act of bastardry that may have fazed Hitler.

Hotspur, that soul of chivalry, saw in Bolingbroke ‘this subtle king’ and a ‘vile politician’ (Henry IV, 1.3.169 and 239).  The Oxford Edition gives for ‘politician’ a ‘shrewd schemer, deceitful opportunist’ and refers us to King Lear 4.6.172-174 where the mad old king is talking to a man whose eyes have been put out:

…..Get thee glass eyes

And like a scurvy politician seem

To see the things thou dost not.

For ‘scurvy politician’ the Everyman gives ‘vile politic man,’ while the Oxford goes in harder: ‘worthless, contemptible intriguer.’  If all this means that you regard the man who became Henry V as ‘frankly vicious’, then that was precisely the phrase that Sir Anthony Quayle applied to Falstaff – and Quayle was best placed to know the character of Falstaff.  And do I not think that such an equivalence would for one moment have troubled the playwright.

The three plays where Bolingbroke is in the lead are for many the three best plays of this author in the theatre.  The two great scenes for father and son are two of the glories of our stage, and the failings of these two characters are part of the magic of those scenes.  If you see them better done than by Roger Allam and Jamie Parker in the 2012 Globe production, the gods of theatre have truly smiled on you.  There is a lot more than mere politics here.  When you have buried your parents and raised your children, you will find it hard to go through these scenes with a dry eye.

Passing Bull 132 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny – Part II


We were looking at remarks of Mr Kenny in The Weekend Australian of 13-14 January 2018.  I need not set out those remarks again as this post will end with former posts that contain quotes from Mr Kenny over the years to the same effect.

When Mr Kenny refers to the ‘love media’, what label does he have in mind for his side, or tribe?  All of us are worried about energy prices, but has anyone bettered Mr Kenny’s identification of the real problem when he refers to people who are ‘phlegmatic about alarmist claims on climate’?  When he says ‘even business leaders fuel the left side’, does he accept that that entails two propositions (each of which I would regard as at best odd): that we can give some useful meaning to the word ‘left’ in this context; and that in that meaning, it would surprise us if business leaders supported opinions grouped under that label?  When Mr Kenny refers to ‘the political/media class’ with such disfavour, what definition can he give of that body that does not show him up as its leading exemplar?  For that matter, what ‘elite’ would not have Mr Kenny?  And does he really believe that Trump and Farage were ‘mainstream’ candidates?  Finally, given that a substantial part of the business model of this newspaper is to report on conflicts fuelled by opinion polls, has Mr Kenny not broken all records for hypocrisy with the sentence: ‘It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.’

In fairness to the newspaper, I might say that the same edition carried a piece by Caroline Overington about a suicide that followed cyber-bullying that I thought was first class in every way.  Now, Ms Overington does appear from time to time with the Anti-Christ, the ABC.  Mr Kenny might inquire of Ms Overington how often she gets ‘howled down’ as a ‘heretic’.

Before going to Mr Kenny’s priors, I may report on one of his colleagues in labelling, Jennifer Oriel.  Ms Oriel is a cheerleader in the partisan scolding of those awful people called ‘progressives.’ But Ms Oriel has now made confession – of the sin of apostasy.  She has outed herself as a former Labor supporter.

And old friend asked why, after years of voting Labor, I left the Left.  I considered justifying myself again with the chronology of exodus.  But the truth is plain and blunt.  Why did I leave the Left?  Because two plus two equals four.

Well, there you have it.  Mr Kenny explains everything in politics by reference to the facts (which I assume means evidence).  Ms Oriel does it with arithmetic.  The reference is of course to 1984, but the notion certainty in politics being arrived at mathematically is unsettling.  But, then, how many contented and equable lapsed Laborites do you know?

Here, then, are two previous posts that show that Mr Kenny is nothing if not consistent.  You will see that we begin with a disclaimer by Mr Kenny of ‘partisan or personal cheerleading.’  It fairly takes your breath away.

Passing Bull 18 – The Dean’s Wake Syndrome (19 October 2015)

....unlike progressives, conservative commentators tend to stand on principle rather than indulge in partisan or personal cheerleading….

Chris Kenny, The Saturday Australian, 17-18 October, 2015.

On any given Saturday you can get about five whoppers like this from that newspaper as the ‘conservatives’ make faces at the ‘progressives’, like little girls to little boys behind the shelter-shed.  What was the context?

Rowan Dean, the editor of the Oz Spectator, and the leader of the unattractive pack described in Passing Bull 15, threw a wake for the former PM.  We are told that Dean was smarting if not seething.  The usual idolaters were there – Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Paul Murray (who has been inconsolable on Sky ever since, routinely throwing objects as well as tantrums, and imploring the new PM to be tough on Muslims).

Mr Kenny, another idolater in his time, says he knows how these people feel.  He does so in terms that contradict point blank the silly boast set out above, and which show why Australians are revolted by the cabal of politicians and journalists that have dragged us down to our present level, on both sides of politics, and where all except the addicts, or those who profit from or traffic in the addiction, are praying for relief, if not enlightenment from a mix of the Wars of the Roses and a New Dark Age.

After years of sneering at the poll-driven, media-grovelling superficiality of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor years, the Liberals have descended into the same sand-pit.

And with the ABC, Fairfax Media Newspapers, Canberra press gallery, academe and sundry other elements of the love media and political/media class railing against their version of the anti-Christ – a socially conservative prime minister – a great opportunity to prove them all wrong has been frittered away.

Most of us with a view to the structural ebbs and flows of politics could see that despite the antipathy directed at Abbott, some obvious failings and poor poll ratings, the Coalition was most likely to be re-elected next year.

This would have confounded the love media and twittersphere, and confirmed the good sense of mainstream voters.

In Abbott’s favour were strong policy settings (border protection, climate change, and attempted budget repair), the escalating issue of union power and corruption being teased out in the royal commission he established, and how all this had rendered Bill Shorten nigh-on unelectable.

When an impatient Turnbull launched his challenge the week before the Canning by-election he not only robbed Abbott of a chance for recovery but denied many true believers the pleasure of this social-political experiment – this vindication.

It passes belief.  If you did not know that you were the victim of an experiment, at least you know it is not one that will be repeated.  Here is why politics presently revolt Australians.  There is hardly any reference to principle, but just a focus on partisan political cheerleading.  And do you know why?  The people and their representatives do not know as much as Messrs Kenny or Bolt.  They cannot be trusted.

As usual, the crucial partyroom votes were exercised by inexperienced, impressionable and self-interested MPs, many of whom would not have entered parliament if not for Abbott’s campaigning skills and who might have been less than helpful in briefing journalists and voicing disharmony as they fretted over the polls.

In the next post, I will try to spell out this disease of the mind, but Mr Kenny does offer one frightening thought:

I sense the republican cause may be at the heart of much conservative antipathy.

These embittered relics of Plato’s Republic and the Split are not just harmless Looney Tunes.  They are intent on not allowing us to break with the Mother Country and become self-governing without support from the Anglican Crown.  Bring back 1788 – and the lash.  They are Monarchists envenomed.  Don’t they know about 1789?

Passing Bull 44 – Outstanding hypocrisy in the Press  (26 May 2016)

Politics and politicians are on the nose all around the world.  There is a savage reaction in the West against political parties and political elites.  Since the system as we know it has been worked by political parties run by elites, the results may be disastrous, if not terminal.  Corbyn was bad enough, but Trump is a genuine nightmare.

In Australia there is a very unhappy union between politicians and journalists.  There is much to be said for the view that our press is in large part responsible for the awfulness of our politicians.  They are far too cliquey and close to their subjects; the worst kinds of would-be journalists are tribal, and feed themselves on hits from other followers of the cult on the Internet.  The real disasters are former political staffers who then want to pose as journalists.  Instead, they become boring and loaded cheerleaders.

Two of the worst examples are Chris Kenny and Niki Savva.  They could not hope to pose as being objective, but they sadly think that that they are intelligent.  They live in confined echo chambers quite cut off from the world, just like the politicians in Canberra.  They are part of a useless but self-appointed elite that is quite out of touch with what they call the mainstream.

It was therefore quite a surprise to read the following from Chris Kenny in The Australian last Saturday:

There is a great and pernicious divide in Australia.  It is not between the eastern seaboard and the western plains, or between the rich and poor, city and country, black and white, or even between established citizens and refugees.  The divide is between the political/media class and the mainstream.

There is a gulf between those who consider themselves superior to the masses and want to use the nation’s status to parade their post-material concerns, and those who do the work and raise the families that make the nation what it is.

That is a reasonable statement of the problem, even if it comes from one of the worst examples of those who give rise to the problem.  And what on earth is a former Liberal staffer – attached to Lord Downer; no wonder his syntax is shot – and employed by The Australian and Sky doing referring to ‘the masses’.  Has Mr Kenny ever met one of them?  But then it all becomes clear when we get this:

In this election we are seeing the chasm open up, like a parting of the seas, as the media elites and their preferred left-of-centre politicians seek to determine what issues should be decisive.  They lecture and hector the mainstream.  Worse, they try to dictate what facts can even be discussed.  They seek to silence dissent.  They have compiled an informal list of unmentionables, facts that should not be outed: the truths whose name we dare not speak.

And then Mr Kenny goes on to ‘lecture and hector’ those poor souls who share his echo chamber, the true believers who know that Satan masquerades as the ABC and the Fairfax press.

This is all as boring and predictable as anything said by Mr Kenny in The Australian or one of those ghastly Sky chat shows that demonstrate that the chattering classes, the former chardonnay socialists, have long ago swapped sides graphically and terminally.  We reached a new all-time low recently when Peta Credlin joined Andrew Bolt for a nocturnal tryst on Sky that will be sure to upset at least three dinners a night.  It might all be boring, but the hypocrisy of Mr Kenny takes your breath away…..

…..Does any decent Australian give a bugger about the alleged Left/Right divide or any other of those profoundly stupid chat shows called ‘culture wars’?  Have they not yet seen that everyone else rejects all this bullshit and all those who want to wallow in it?  Does the press just not get that they are an essential part of the package that people are rejecting all around the world?




[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]



It is hard to think of any culture in the West that has ever been in favour of informers.  If the Old Testament bears the mark of Cain, the New Testament is scarred by the mark of Judas.  Judas betrayed his leader, the Son of Man.  The very idea of betraying someone close shocks us; the betrayal is wrong, and diabolically wrong, and it cannot be excused by the lure of specious legalism any more than it can be excused by the lure of actual gold.  But a police state is a dream come true for informers and grudge-bearers.  Such a government offers would-be informers the chance to work off their grudges under maximum security, for maximal returns in the loss and damage to the victim, including death, and with something like carte blanche on the grounds of accusation and the readiness of those in power to accept and act decisively on such accusations.  One function of a police state is therefore to bring out the very worst in humanity.

The poison of informing is seen at its worst in the three reigns of terror that we are looking at because the evidence commonly offered by the informer is put forward to support a most general allegation of lack of loyalty.  The lack of loyalty that matters is loyalty to the regime, but the allegation is frequently dressed up as a lack of loyalty to the nation, and it is loaded up with an invocation of that weasel word patriotism.

In a book called The Police and the People, Richard Cobb spoke from hard experience from looking at records of what people told authorities under the Jacobins and in the Empire.  He said you could formulate at least four rules for reports to authority from informants.  The elementary rule is that ‘if you have nothing to say, say it at length’.  Never use plain speech – always use riddles or euphemisms.  Use two adjectives rather than one.  And, always tell your patron something he wants to hear.  Cobb said that ‘one can go from one end of France to the other to hear the same long-winded information expressed in the same ponderous prose.’  We find precisely the same behaviour in informants for the NKVD, Gestapo, KGB, and Stasi.  People have to say something to avoid being suspect and it needs to be what the police want to hear.

Historians now believe that there were not in fact many officers of the Gestapo on the ground – less than 800 in Berlin, a city of four million, at the end of the war.  Only a small part, about ten per cent, of their work came from referrals from orthodox police.  Most of their work came on referrals by party officials – such as the Block Wardens – or V-men, or informants from the rest of the population.

V-men were Vertrauens-Mann, ‘persons of trust’, rather like kapos in the concentration camps.  A typical candidate was someone that the Gestapo had something over, a person who was compromised politically in some way.  He might have had a doubtful political past, such as having been a member of a banned organisation, or he may have been caught offering a bribe.  Some may have been in camps and let out on a form of probation which meant a promise to cooperate with the Gestapo and to rat on others.  The mere fact of their collaboration with the forces of darkness made them complicit in their secret work, and even more compromised.  They became locked in as both victims of and collaborators with a regime that was bent on inflicting pain and loss on any person that got in its way.  This would be a pattern that would recur in dealings between the Stasi and informants in the DDR, perhaps the grimmest and most drab police state ever.

Prosecutions under the Malicious Gossip Law came from members of the Party, agents, and the general public.  In Saarbrucken nearly 90% of these cases came from innkeepers or people in their bars, work colleagues, passing pedestrians, or members of the family.  Even the loathsome Heydrich was worried by the ‘constant expansion of an appalling system of denunciation’.  Richard Evans says that party leaders were dismayed that people acted out of malice!  This is an example of the kind of moral madness or blindness that descended over these fanatics who were becoming so removed from their own world – they wanted to see denunciation as a sign of loyalty to the regime, a kind of badge of purity, or ascension up the ladder, like those claimed by boy scouts.  They did not understand or they had forgotten how hateful the role of an informer is.  They had lost touch with humanity.

Pubs were a real trap.  Two thirds of defendants in the Frankfurt Special Court were tried under the Malicious Gossip Law after action taken by the innkeeper or other drinkers at a pub.  This of course was noticed, and statistics show a sharp decline in reporting from pubs as the regime sterilised yet another part of social life.  Men did most of the denouncing and were most of those denounced. The Reich proceeded on the same basis as our ancient law of libel – the greater the truth, the greater the libel.  They wanted to strike back at anyone who exposed one of their biggest lies – that the people were massively behind the Leader and the Party and were all so much better off.

Criminologists teach that what deters criminals is the prospect of detection; the Reich worked on another view- it was the randomness, the unpredictability, of denunciation that had such a quietening or chilling effect on the populace.  People literally walked in fear.  What was known as ‘the German glance’ developed – there would be a nervous look over each shoulder before saying something dangerous.

Schoolteachers may have been the hardest hit.  In any school you could expect a couple at least of party fanatics on the staff making the common room a very restrained meeting place.  Students denounced teachers they did not like.

It is idle to speculate on how much the actions of the secret police ensured adherence to the Reich.  Anyone who has seen close up the dead hand of the secret police of a totalitarian state knows how much it can shut down people’s lives.  Their purpose is to extinguish humanity, and even jokes about them could get you a beating and six months.

We see similar trends during the Great Terror in Russia, quite possibly with more sinister and painful consequences because the whole idea of civil rights is yet to take root in Europe’s most difficult neighbour.  The priests under the Tsars had informed on their flock.

‘Lenin taught us that every Party member should become an agent of the Cheka, that is, that he should watch and write reports.’  Party members were ordered to inform on their comrades if any private thought or action threatened Party unity.  Invitations to denunciation became central to the purge culture of the 1920’s and would reach hellish levels in China much later.  No part of the private life was safe – there was no private life.

According to one senior official, every fifth Soviet office worker was an informer for the NKVD.  Moscow was heavily policed and there was said to be at least one informer for every six or seven families.  There were millions of paid ‘reliables’, and the law said that ‘loyal Soviet citizens’ were expected to report suspicious behaviour or speech – ‘lack of vigilance’ was a punishable offence, and this doubtless caused many people to collaborate, or just gave them an excuse to do so.  The Party was a vicious self-policing collective like that in China during the Cultural Revolution.